Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
I knew it.
If the white feather necklace that Lia treasured was made from Cal’s feathers, then there was no doubt that the Beastfallen she was talking about was Cal.
“That woman was too much of a coward. She wouldn’t even go out into the yard because she was afraid of stepping on bugs. I used to carry her around.”
His voice was gentle and filled with nostalgia. I pictured a little hawk Beastfallen flying around, carrying a little girl, and it made me smile despite myself.
“And on top of that, she was a clumsy crybaby. Even as she grew up, no one took her in. In the end, I left the orphanage before she did. I promised her that I would become a mercenary, make money, and then take her into my care.”
“So why didn’t you go pick her up?”
“I didn’t make it in time. When I went to the orphanage, she was already taken in by some traveling merchant.”
“Orphans don’t get to choose their foster parents, I guess.”
It didn’t matter if Lia didn’t want to leave. If someone came along to take her in, she would have no other choice but to go with them.
“I tried to forget about her. But that woman is so slow, you know. I was worried that she’d have a terrible time at her new home. I know. I just don’t know when to let go.”
“So anyway,” he continued, “I had no other goals in life, so I’ve been looking for her for a long time. Then one day I found out that she became a saint creating miracles. I’m not gonna lie. I was disappointed, ’cause she didn’t need me anymore. But I was happy too. She always said she wanted to help people, and now she’s actually helping a lot of people.”
“Unfortunately, things were not that simple.”
“Yeah. A lot of people died because of her thoughtlessness. The rich got healthier and the poor got sicker.”
I heard a click. It was the sound of Cal’s sharp talons tapping on the stone walls.
“She’s a bit of an idiot. She would pour water on ants’ nests because they might be thirsty. She thought the ants squirming meant they were glad.”
“Sounds like a mean idiot.”
“Her stupidity causes problems, yes. I figured if that’s the case this time too, I’d have to tell her what she was doing wrong. Who she ended up killing. How many.”
Cal’s talons made a grating noise as they dug into the stone wall. Contrary to his behavior, his voice was quiet and calm.
“I have to tell her everything and hold her accountable for what she did. Ask her to heal this sick country. I couldn’t get to her in time. Because of that, she became a saint that’s killing people. I’m partly to blame.”
“I get it now. That’s why a Beastfallen like you is leading a bunch of sick people.”
“Talba was actually their leader. I needed allies, and they needed a leader with purpose and power. So I used my experience as a mercenary to win their trust by taking over the fort from the bandits who used it as their base. Do you get the whole story now?”
I nodded. If Cal told Lia the truth and she decided not to use Magic anymore, the powerful people who cared for themselves so much would panic. If Lia said she was too busy helping the poor to have the time to treat the powerful, the latter might even use their own money to send in doctors to get the poor out of the picture.
Cal knew what Lia was like. That’s why he ordered Talba to kidnap her, not kill her.
They met each other at the orphanage and promised to see each other again one day. Cal being the leader of the anti-saint faction, then, was not a mere coincidence. It was inevitable.
“But still, if you kidnapped her and told her what was happening, I doubt things would go that well. In my experience, cowards tend to not accept their mistakes.”
That fainthearted woman believed she was saving people. Could she face the reality that she was, in fact, killing them? She might even continue helping others, convinced she was doing the right thing, and end up killing even more people.
“If that happens…”
What are you gonna do? Before I could voice my question, Cal continued.
“I would have no choice but to kill her.”
His reply was immediate, his words devoid of any emotion. It even felt like he already had the answer from the start.
Perhaps it was on his mind all the time. That he would have to kill his timid, helpless, and good-to-a-fault childhood friend, solely because she possessed the power to heal people, an ability that would normally be regarded as a blessing.
“I pray that it doesn’t come to that, though,” Cal said as cheerfully as possible, as though trying to get rid of the heavy atmosphere. “Did you know? You can ask anyone about who gives the mark, and they’ll all give you the same answer: it’s a masked manservant. They say it’s never the saint who gives it. Do you know what this means?”
“Me neither. But it sounds significant, doesn’t it?” Cal chuckled.
Whether we spared Lia or killed her would depend on her actions. Cal and I shared the same goal in this case. For the first time since coming to Fort Lotus, I finally relaxed.
“I’m glad we can join forces,” I said. “We’re suspected of attempting to assassinate the saint, so we can’t get close to the Holy City anymore. And since the bridge is down, there’s little chance that the saint can get out of the city. She’s basically blocked in from all directions.”
“The bridge is down? You mean the Holy City’s, right?”
“Yup. Blown to bits by a cannon.”
“Sounds like a big deal.” Cal laughed.
“It’s no laughing matter.”
“I know, but it’s still funny,” he said without showing any signs of guilt.
I think I understand why the people here in Fort Lotus gathered around a Beastfallen like him. It wasn’t only because their interests aligned, but he had the power to laugh away gloom.
“No wonder the city was a little noisy. So that’s what happened.”
“You can get into the Holy City from the sky. I mean, you can fly, right? You can kidnap the saint under the cover of night.”
“I can’t fly at night, unfortunately. My eyes aren’t good in the dark.”
“Oh. That explains the lanterns in the woods.”
“Yeah. I can’t do anything otherwise if we’re attacked at night. And as you know, my body is not exactly tough. If they shoot me with a bow, I’ll fall, and if I fall, every bone in my body will break, and I’ll die.”
“Damn. Sounds like you got the short end of the stick.”
Beastfallen were creatures abhorred and feared by the masses, but they were way stronger than the average human. A powerless Beastfallen was just a target for ridicule.
“But I can fly,” Cal said, not feeling particularly disappointed. “Besides, you see what I look like. My sharp talons are terrifying, and I’m good with a bow. I can reduce the enemy’s numbers by simply hiding in the shadows and shooting them with my bow or throwing knives. I’m good at bluffing as well. I’m good enough to take this fort from the bandits, at least.”
As a matter of fact, when he fired an arrow at me earlier, I was quite intimidated as I didn’t know that he was actually a Beastfallen. In that sense, his bluffs were probably effective.
“I’m awful at close combat, though, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m more useful for transportation or delivering messages. Flying in broad daylight makes me an easy target as well. That’s why I left the kidnapping to Talba and the others.”
“Sorry for foiling your plan,” I said.
Cal gave a strained laugh. “It’s fine. Even if you guys weren’t here, the priest would have destroyed our plan anyway. But now, that same priest is here. It would be great if he agreed to help us. And we have one more ally we can count on. With their help, we can afford to be a little reckless.”
“An ally, you say? You mean in this puny bandit gang?”
“Boss! We got trouble!”
Suddenly, a man came running from across the hallway, screaming. It was the smaller guy on guard duty with Talba earlier.
“What is it?! Are we under attack?!”
Breathing heavily, the man shook his head wildly and pointed down the direction he came from.
“I-It’s Talba! H-He’s ki—”
“Did he kill the priest?!”