Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Hey, wait! We have to stay together!”
My words didn’t reach their ears. Without much of a choice, I ran after them, shouldering my way through the crowd, and when I finally caught up, I found them munching on the same food—perfectly-grilled meat scraps and vegetables sandwiched between bread.
The stall owner was beaming after Zero, oblivious to prices, handed him an absurd amount of money. When he realized I was with her, he gave me an extra-large sandwich as well.
“The meat is delectable,” Zero said. “You must try it.”
“The veggie’s so crunchy! So yummy!”
Giving them an earful while they were stuffing themselves with food, meat juices all over their mouths, would be too crass. Instead I quietly took a bite of my own sandwich.
Finding an inn wasn’t difficult. In a big town like this, you’d find quite a few places that would cater to certain kinds of guests. Not even frowning at the sight of a Beastfallen, the old man at the reception gave us one single and one double room.
“You’re with me, kid,” I said.
“What?! Why? No way!” Albus protested. “I’ll get my own room, then!”
“No can do. There’s no guarantee you won’t run away from us. You will stay within my sight at all times.”
“You might lose your head in your sleep, you know.”
I silently grabbed the rope dangling by my waist. Unfortunately for him, I wasn’t exactly a good-natured man. I wouldn’t feel bad about tying a kid up and leaving them in the corner of a room.
“Z-Zero! Help!” Albus once again took refuge behind Zero.
“You should not be cruel on children, Mercenary,” the witch said.
“Except this child is after my head.”
“I’ll stay in Zero’s room, then!” Albus said. “Someone just has to watch me, right?”
Clinging to Zero’s waist, Albus started making ridiculous demands. Horny brat. If you think good looks will let you get away with anything, think again. Albus squirmed about as I grabbed his collar without a word, and dragged him into our room.
Despite all the whining and thrashing about, it didn’t take long for Albus to fall asleep after I tossed him onto his bed. So much for complaining about the animal stench or whatnot. I checked to see if he was just pretending to be asleep, but it seemed that wasn’t the case.
“Still a kid, all right.”
His fatigued body just couldn’t resist a soft bed and warm bed sheets. He must’ve been exhausted, having chased me through the woods, spent a whole night trying to get out of Zero’s Etrach, then hunted me down again the next morning. He hadn’t had a decent rest. Getting a good night’s sleep in that deserted house seemed unlikely too.
“I can understand wanting power.”
I poked at Albus’s cheek with my round claw. Seemingly annoyed, he frowned and curled up, like some kind of an animal. I felt like pulling a prank, but held myself back. Sure he’s a kid, but he’s still a sorcerer. Better not do anything stupid.
I needed a warm bath to wash off all the dirt from the long journey. While a mercenary that’s too hygienic sounds weird, I can’t stay too filthy, as I might catch skin diseases. Beastfallen sometimes get fleas too.
First I needed to ask the old man from the reception to prepare some hot water. Cleaning a body fully covered in fur is not simple. It takes more than just dampening a piece of cloth and wiping the body down. Filling a huge tub with hot water and bathing in it is the only way to remove dirt and fleas from a Beastfallen’s body.
Picturing myself having a relaxing bath and drying myself under the sun, I left the room while the sun was still out. Then I returned to tie Albus up on the bed before leaving once more.
“Taking a bath, Mercenary?” Zero sauntered towards me and crouched down, watching me with great interest.
The blood, dirt, and grass stains on my body must’ve terrified the old man as he was very accommodating, preparing a tub full of hot water and three extra buckets to rinse myself. We struck a deal: I would pay a tiny amount for the labor and fetch water from the well to replace what I used. The soap he handed me was clearly for laundry, but then again, I don’t think there’s that much difference between cloth and fur. So there I was in the backyard, covered in bubbles.
“You look like a hairy bubble monster,” Zero said. “Children from the neighborhood were spying on you. They seemed eager.”
“You mean scared?”
“Fear is an acquired thing. If you do not intimidate them, I am certain they will not be too afraid of you.”
“So you say, but little kids cry at the sight of me.”
“I said ‘too afraid’. Anyone would get scared if a giant carnivore appeared before them. It is simply their instinct at work.”
So they do get scared. I glared at Zero, who glanced briefly at the kids’ hiding spot. There were three of them, staring at me like I was some kind of a rare exhibit. Baring my fangs, I roared, and they ran away screaming at the top of their lungs.
“Do you want people to fear you?” Zero asked.
“I just did what they expected me to do. Better they stay away from Beastfallen anyway. We’ve been treated like monsters our whole lives, and a lot of us do grow up to become actual savages.”
“Humans create monsters, is what you are saying.”
“Exactly. It could just be in our nature, though.”
“That is not true. In fact, your soul is very much human.”
“I don’t know about that one.”
You can’t measure your humanity on your own, only others can. In my case, I don’t have anyone around to judge me, since we Beastfallen can’t even build decent relationships with people in the first place. Mulling over it, then, was utterly pointless. Although when I hear talks about what it means to be human, I tend to think I’m far from being one.
“Cheer up. If you are a monster, then I will wish for the world to be filled with monsters too.”
“That coming from a witch? I don’t know how to feel about that.”
I appreciated the thought. Not that I’m gonna tell her that. Turning my gaze towards the sky, I drew a short breath and blew bubbles into the air. Zero, poking the bubbles, suddenly stood up, as though struck with an idea.
“It must be difficult to wash such a large body,” she said. “Allow me to help clean your back.”
“Well, aren’t you nice? I thought you hated sweating.”
“I will not work myself that hard, of course. I am certain washing a huge beast will be quite fun.”
Her bare hands touched my back without reservation. Her fingers tickled as she rubbed my fur, lathering up the soap. I couldn’t relax.
“Mercenary,” she said. “Towns sure are fun.”
“They’re filled with people, who work different jobs, each having their own way of thinking. I find it very fascinating. I fancy the food at the stalls as well.”
“That’s pretty normal for a bigger tow—” I stopped myself.
Right. Zero had not ventured out of the cellar before, so this was her first time entering a town. No wonder she was so amazed and excited. I found crowds annoying and the food at stalls were no big deal to me. But to Zero they were fresh and novel experiences.
There was no doubt that Zero, being a witch, possessed vast knowledge that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Yet she was too ignorant of the outside world. What was common knowledge to her might not be common knowledge to me. By the same token, what was normal to me might be unusual to her. We could be looking at the same things, but we would see those things differently.
“Wenias is a country of travelers, and Fomicaum is the center of its commerce. People and goods from all over the world gather here. It’s not that big, but the population is dense.”
“Oh,” Zero’s eyes lit up. “I would not have been able to enter this town alone. Even if I did, there would have been trouble. You made me experience something I would never have on my own. I am glad to have met you.”
Must be one of those techniques only the ignorant can pull off. Her cheesy words made me scowl at her.
“Listen,” I said. “You should really stop saying that.”
“‘I like you’ or ‘I’m glad to have met you’. Corny shit like that. Women shouldn’t show too much affection. Especially not to someone like me.”
“Affection,” Zero repeated curiously. “But it is true. I have fun talking to you, and keeping quiet is boring.”
“I just told you to stop—”
“Do you find talking to me annoying?”
I found myself at a loss for words. No, that’s not it.