Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
All’s well that ends well. As soon as I’d confirmed we were far away from the gate, I smacked both of them hard.
“How could you hit me for coming up with a clever excuse?” Zero muttered, rubbing her head as she watched the throng of people curiously. “From time immemorial, warriors are known to own slaves. Various books claim that if people are suspicious of your relationship with someone, simply say they are your slave. It worked this time, did it not?”
“Yeah, what she said,” Albus agreed, pouting. “You have a shabby-looking woman and a boy like me with you. It was the best explanation we could come up with in that situation.”
“I don’t care! Thanks to you, they think I’m a fucking degenerate who plays around with his pitiful slaves every single night! And one of them is a guy! Oh, no, no, no… the symbol of corruption…”
“Who cares what the gatekeeper thinks as long as you get the permit? What were you gonna tell them anyway?”
“I, uhh… was just gonna wing it.”
“Wing it, huh? Oh, I’m sure that would’ve worked out great,” Albus said. “It doesn’t matter what excuse you come up with, Zero’s clothes are too worn-out. Look, they’re all staring at her. Even slaves nowadays dress more decently.”
Albus examined Zero from top to bottom. It was then that I noticed for the first time that Zero didn’t have any footwear. Her cloak was in complete tatters. She could’ve passed herself off as a broke traveler if she was alone, but I was a fully-equipped warrior, with leather armor, a sword, knives, and explosives. Albus seemed like the maid of a well-groomed merchant. All that considered, declaring Zero as a slave was definitely the easiest and surest option.
I don’t think Albus really needed to pretend to be a slave, but whatever. We got into the town without trouble, so all’s good.
“Mercenary, Mercenary. What is that?” Ignoring me and Albus completely, Zero pointed curiously at an intimate couple.
Huddling in front of a stall, they were cheerfully trying out the necklaces on display, discussing which ones looked good, while sneaking kisses in between.
“I wish I had one—” No. I quickly corrected myself. “Just a happy couple. They’re too absorbed in each other, they don’t even care about the people around them.”
As much as I hated to admit it, I felt extremely jealous. Unfortunately I wasn’t mature enough to not feel that way. I had given up on hopes of romance, but if Zero could make me human, perhaps there was still a chance for me in the future.
“Why do they press their lips together?” Zero asked.
“You don’t know what a kiss is?”
“Kiss?” Seemingly surprised, Zero eyed the couple, then looked back at me. “Kissing is an act of pressing your lips to a demon’s phallus—”
I quickly covered Zero’s mouth. I thought I just heard something revolting that should not be uttered in public. Seeing the witch squirm about, it didn’t seem to be some kind of a nasty joke either.
“Hey, kid. Don’t tell me you don’t know anything about it too.”
I didn’t have to specify what exactly I meant.
Albus shook his head rapidly. “I-I’m not that ignorant!”
“Good.” I turned my attention to Zero. “Now listen here, Witch. A kiss is used to express affection, not something sick and disturbing like putting your lips on a demon’s whatnot. Where’d you even get that?”
“Burying yourself in books and devoting your whole time in research will make you ignorant in the ways of the world.”
So you say, but you sure were quick to come up with the sex slave excuse.
“That is because I am a genius,” Zero said.
“Stop reading my mind!”
“It was your expression I was reading, not your mind.”
“I was born and raised in the cellar. I only left recently.”
For a moment I thought she was joking. I glanced at Albus, who looked confused, then he nodded, his expression saying it was possible. All right. I guess she’s not kidding. She was dead serious.
Unsure how to react, I regarded Zero with a frown, but she didn’t seem the least bit disheartened. In fact, she looked back at me as though something just came to mind, her eyes shining with curiosity.
“Have you done it before?” she asked.
No! I bellowed in my mind. At least, that’s what I thought.
“No!” I shouted, even louder than in my thoughts.
Zero smiled and nodded firmly. “Then we are the same.” She turned to Albus. “I take it you have not done it as well, lad.”
“M-Me? No, no, no, no! I-I don’t even have someone I want to do it with…”
Really? That’s unexpected. Good, good. I have not lost to this kid in manliness.
“Showing affection with a kiss…” Zero murmured. “Yes, that is fascinating. I want to try it.”
“Do you wish to try it with me, Mercenary?”
My eyes darted at Zero’s lips, so perfectly-shaped, and seemed to glisten a bright red like a polished ripe apple. Planting my own lips on hers would be nothing short of sacrilege. Though that wasn’t even the problem in the first place.
“I told you it’s done to show affection.”
“I do not see the problem, then. I like you.”
“Aight. Sure, I believe you,” I said sarcastically.
“I asked you to be a little nicer before. I am a stunning beauty. I am certain you wish to kiss me.”
“Your words just now made me lose interest completely. Plus unfortunately for you, I hate witches. It doesn’t matter if they’re pretty.”
“What a cold man. Fine. If you do not want to, I can ask the lad.” Zero turned her attention to Albus.
The boy blushed. “I can’t! No way!” he cried as he hid behind me.
“Stop poking fun on kids,” I said. “On a different note, do you have spare clothes?”
“Do I look like I have any?” Zero spread her arms.
I already knew the answer before asking, of course. I couldn’t see any belongings except the little bag dangling by her waist.
“How’d you even get by all this time?”
“I washed my clothes when I came across a river, shot down birds whenever I was hungry, picked fruits if I saw some. Whenever I spotted a settlement, I went the long way to avoid it. If it rained, I took shelter inside a cave. After picking up a pot from an abandoned village, I learned how to make stew as well. In short, I managed on my own.” Zero smiled proudly.
I held back the urge to pull my fur out. “Anyway, we won’t find a place to stay with you looking like that. Inns that allow someone like me would probably only offer me a stable or something.”
“I do not mind camping out. I can sleep buried in your fur.”
“Sure, it’s fine now, but it’ll cause problems later. We’ll draw too much attention. And let me tell you something. Standing out is a crime in and of itself.”
I wasn’t exaggerating. There are plenty of innocent people across the world who are pinned for crimes they didn’t commit and subsequently killed. All because they stood out just a little too much.
We needed decent clothes for Zero. There was just one problem.
“You got any money?” I asked.
I expected the same answer from before, but Zero nodded and gestured to me to hold out my hands, so I did. She then searched her bag, pulled out a bunch of gems, and placed them on my palms.
“I brought a few with me from the cellar,” she said. “I believe precious stones hold some value in any country, in any era.”
My jaw dropped, quite literally. I was frozen in place, every strand of hair on my body standing on end, while I held the pile of gems in my hands. Albus’s eyes, too, grew wide as he peered into my palms.
“You fuckin’ idiot! You can’t just take these out in the open!”
I quickly shoved the gems back into her bag. Zero yelped and looked at me curiously.
“Why would you be furious? You asked if I had money, and I merely showed that I did.”
“Use your brain, will you?! You can’t just pull out a lot in public! If someone asks you if you have money, just one gem, even the smallest one, is more than enough.”
“This one?” Zero asked as she produced a small stone from the bag. Strikingly transparent, one would be enough to turn the life of a poor peasant upside down.
I planned to pay for her clothes if she didn’t have the money, but it would seem our economic standings were now completely flipped. In fact, there loomed a wall I could not possibly scale. As a mercenary, I’m terribly grateful that my employer was loaded, but as a man, I felt like I lost.
I somehow managed to conceal how I felt, and nodded. “Very well,” I said, acting completely composed, but also feeling like a fool for doing so.
“We’ll exchange that for actual coin and buy clothes. There should be a money changer around here somewhere.”
Zero placed the grain-sized gem in my hand, looked at me, and smiled. “You really are a good man.”
“What?” I dropped my head lower. Where’d that come from?
Zero tapped her bag lightly. “You could have come up with a number of excuses to take these from me. Like I said, I am ignorant in the ways of the world.”
“That’s stupid. I’m not bold enough to steal from people who make deals with demons.”
“Were I not a witch, would you have taken them then?”
“Of course. I’m a mercenary, after all. And we mercenaries are greedy when it comes to coin.”
“Yeah, right,” Albus interjected, cackling. “I saw you shaking while holding the gems. You were clearly freaking out.”
I smacked him right on the head.
“Ow! I was just stating a fact! For someone with a huge body, you’re quite the wimp.”
“What’s that? You want a clobbering?”
“No!” Albus cried in a girly voice and hid behind Zero.
Zero chuckled. “Ah, what a beautiful, blue sky.”
What now? I followed her gaze, turning my eyes skyward. Indeed, the weather was perfectly clear, with no clouds in sight.