Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Interlude: Disease Worsening
Five men were running through the forest, heading towards Fort Lotus.
Wounded, they couldn’t move as fast as they wanted with the bad footing. Even when moving slow, however, Sect was still falling behind. Desperately, he forced his legs onward, yet the distance between him and the other men only grew. His companions, out of concern for him, paused for a while, but he just couldn’t catch up.
We were just unlucky, Sect thought. It was no one’s fault that they failed in kidnapping the saint. It was simply bad luck.
Bring her back alive. I know how you feel, but don’t kill her.
So five capable men ambushed the carriage.
The saint’s party stopped by at a church in a small town. The bandits then caused trouble to keep the priest busy, and while the saint and her attendant went ahead without him, they launched their attack. They never expected a Beastfallen who was just passing by to intervene.
Nevertheless they lived. So perhaps they were lucky. They could be dead by now, but they all left with only minor injuries. And Theo, who got separated from them in the middle of executing the plan, left them a knife before leaving, allowing them to cut the ropes. Now they were on their way back to their base, Fort Lotus.
But it was too late.
Sect couldn’t feel his legs anymore. He was in an awful state. Not because of his injuries. He started feeling worse past noon, which could only mean that the witch had done it again.
Sect fell down to his knees. One of his companions immediately rushed over and helped him get up on his feet. His name was Talba, a middle-aged man whose face was half-covered in facial hair.
“Get up, man! I can see the fort! Don’t give up. Walk!”
“I can’t… go on… I can’t breathe…”
His breathing was hoarse, like a whistle. When did his breathing become so painful? When did his limbs become so heavy? Things started being unusual over a year ago. Before he knew it, he was eating less, and drinking water brought him pain.
It was slowly eating away at him. And now, the fangs of the disease devouring his body had finally reached his heart.
“There’s a doctor in the fort! He can look at you. You’ll live!”
He clawed at the ground in pain. His eyes were drawn to the brand of the goat on the back of his hand.
Fuck this thing! Fuck this thing!
He dug his nails into the back of his own hand, tearing his skin apart. Sect laughed as the blood blottted out the mark. Tears streamed down his cheeks down to his hand, washing away the blood. The mark came into view again.
“I’m such an idiot… for thinking money is important than my own life…”
He never expected death to be so painful. That it would be so terrifying.
“Damn it,” he groaned, pressing his forehead to the ground.
I can’t take it. I can’t take it. It’s too much.
“No, don’t die! What do I tell the boss if you’re dead?! I’ll get you home, I promise. I’ll carry you on my back.”
Talba’s arms were warm, yet felt extremely distant. Sect couldn’t breathe nor speak. All four of his friends held his flailing arms. All of a sudden, he was breathing comfortably. He had lost all his strength, and he realized that he was dying.
In his darkening vision, he could see the pathetic, tear-stained faces of filthy men.
Perhaps I was lucky to spend my last moments with these guys.
“Hey. What’s wrong? Is he dead?”
Sect didn’t move. Holding his dead comrade’s body, Talba stifled the sobs threatening to escape his mouth.
Sect, weakened by the power of the saint, wanted to join the ambush. Their leader opposed the idea, but Talba persuaded him, and brought Sect with them for the operation.
I should have left him behind, Talba thought. That way, he could have died more peacefully on a bed at Fort Lotus.
“Am I gonna die like this too?” one of his companions muttered. He had the mark of the goat on the back of his neck.
“We should have killed that fuckin’ witch on the spot!” another shouted, punching a nearby tree. Flapping sounds echoed in the woods.
They all turned their heads. A figure with a cloak covering his whole body stood on a tree branch.
“B-Boss! We failed! A priest and a Beastfallen ruined our plans… And Sect is…”
The boss shook his head. “I see,” he said. His voice was despondent, as if mourning the death of his friend.
“Where’s Theo? Isn’t he with you?”
“He’s headed to Ideaverna. He was hired to be the saint’s guide.”
The next moment, the figure vanished.
“Ahahaha! Splendid! I expected nothing less from the saint. You healed that sick son of mine in no time at all! If it weren’t for you, my son wouldn’t be alive right now.
The governor smiled heartily, a glass of wine in one hand. Luxurious dishes were laid out on the round table before him.
Sitting on the same table was the priest, a vein clearly visible on his forehead. Lia herself wore a troubled expression. Next to the saint was her attendant, followed by Theo, trying to stuff his stomach with as much extravagant food as he could.
Next were me and Zero then back to the governor in a circle. Needless to say, it was an unusual situation. Having the saint’s attendant, the enigmatic Zero, and Theo present was already strange in itself, but a Beastfallen like me would not be able to dine with a governor unless the situation was desperate.
Yet here we were in the servants’ antechamber—the one Theo and I were in—gathered around one table. For some reason a banquet was suddenly prepared and the governor appeared with Lia and Zero in tow.
“I said I would dine with Mercenary,” Zero said. “The governor insisted on staying with me.”
They couldn’t possibly invite a Beastfallen into the prestigious castle’s dining room, so the governor proposed to have the banquet in the servants’ chamber instead.
It didn’t end there, however.
“You called the saint for someone with a mere cold. He didn’t even have a lung problem. What’s more, he was almost over it.”
No wonder the priest had a vein or two popping on his head. After being attacked by bandits, they rushed to get here just to find out that the patient only had a cold. On top of that, he had to eat at the same table as the Beastfallen he so despised. Even the most virtuous saint couldn’t possibly remain calm.
“Your Grace. Her Eminence is a busy person. Next time, I would like you to ask for her aid only if the doctors in the castle have done everything they could and were still not able to heal the patient.”
“Now, now, Father. You can relax a little. Eat up, everyone! Ideaverna’s fish dishes are the best throughout the lands! Don’t hold back either, merc! Men of the sea are open-minded. I’m not saying they’re not prejudiced, but they won’t discriminate against you just because you’re a Beastfallen. In the sea, it’s all about whether you can do your job or not!”
The governor’s throaty laughter echoed throughout the impromptu banquet hall. The priest was tapping his fingers on the table in frustration.
“You’re a traveling mercenary, aren’t you?” the man asked. “I’ve been to many countries myself, but lately I’ve been holed up in Ideaverna. I’d bet you have interesting stories to tell. Please, do share them with me.”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Nothing noteworthy happening in other countries lately. Wenias, though, has officially approved of witches and abolished witch hunts. That’s about it.”
“That heretical, barbarian kingdom!” the priest spat out.
The governor glanced at him, somewhat amused. “Yes, the kingdom of Wenias! That was a fascinating incident. The Church’s five-century-long religious influence over it was torn down in just a few days! The evil sorcerer Thirteenth and the young witch Albus who defeated him. What a breathtaking tale! If I recall correctly, the kingdom was recruiting mercenaries to hunt down witches. Did you go there?”
“I did. But I barely did anything. It wasn’t so much a war between the kingdom and the witches as it was a war between witches. Oh apparently, Wenias officially call them Mages now.”
The governor nodded, eyes gleaming. “Yes, that’s it. Mages! The one who brought the news said the same thing too. If both men and women can use this Magic, then that designation is indeed more appropriate.”
His face broke into a wide grin, then he gulped down a whole glass of wine in one go. “Wenias was in turmoil due to a rebellion by witches,” he continued. “I was wondering, Father. Why didn’t the Church help to suppress it? The kingdom is a key stop for overland routes. Even if the king refused help, the Church should have sent troops to quell the rebellion. Don’t you agree?”
Not waiting for the priest’s reply, he continued. “But the Church stood by and did nothing, and as a result, handed over the most important country in terms of transportation to the Mages. Why? Was it the Church’s way of setting an example for the kingdom’s refusal to make outrageous donations? Money. Ah, how it can drive even the followers of God crazy!”
“Please be careful what you say, Your Grace. You are—”
“I hope you’re not thinking I’m insulting the Church. I am a devout believer. I am generous in my donations to the small churches in my territory, and those who serve God can vouch for my piety.” He then shifted his attention to Lia. “Speaking of vouching, Your Eminence. I heard of something interesting.”
Lia gave a jerk, like a cat suddenly poked.
“Have you heard of an adjudicator from the Dea Ignis erring in their judgment? Yes. He wrongly declared a saint as a witch and had her killed.”
The governor lowered his voice, but there was really no point in doing so when an adjudicator was right in front of him.
I was worried that the priest was going to try to cut off the governor’s head with his scythe. But he just sat there quietly, stiff as a board.
I have a bad feeling about this. Is this governor dude for real?
“P-Please stop, Your Grace,” Lia said. “You’re… joking, right?”
“Not at all! I swear to God, it’s true. If I remember correctly, the thoughtless adjudicator was a blind priest with a patch that covered both his eyes.”
“If you’ll excuse me!” The priest stood up, grabbed his staff, and stormed out of the room.
I watched him go, mouth open, then directed my gaze at the governor.
“Oh, did I offend him? No matter. Eat up!” Laughing, the governor clapped his hands loudly as if to get a fresh start.
What a terribly bold geezer.
“You pissed him off,” I said. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Don’t worry about it, merc. As I said before, I have enormous support from the neighboring church’s priests, and as a governor of a port city, I have connections with the Church’s top brass. I introduce women, and my forte is secret cruises. Cutting me off would put them in a bad position.”
“Heh. Spoken like a person of influence.”
“I am a person of influence. I have money and power. I’m smart, and a lady-killer as well.”
Sigh. Competent men of confidence are always like this… Lowering my ears, I ended our conversation and focused on my plate.
Watching the door anxiously, Lia voiced a question. “Um… is it true? Did Father really accuse a saint of being a witch?”
“I swore to God it’s true. But of course, there are two sides to every coin.”
“From what I heard personally, that “saint” was a cruel woman who colluded with a neighboring church’s priests to oppress folks. I heard that the residents were overjoyed when the saint was killed by the adjudicator. But the Church would not recognize that the priests were corrupt and collaborated with a witch. So their only option was to say that the adjudicator killed the saint by mistake.”
As a member of the Church, the priest couldn’t say no to their decision. While I didn’t like that guy, I pitied him a little.
“I hope he won’t succumb to such a cruel betrayal, and continue to make the right judgement in the future. If you couldn’t condemn someone even fully knowing they were a witch, then there would be no point in having adjudicators.”
Big words from the man who just drove the guy off after implying he murdered a good person.
Lia looked pensive as she gazed at the wooden door.
“In my opinion,” the governor continued, “the most terrifying thing is is a villain pretending to be a good person, like poison in a rich wine. They deceive you and earn your trust, but at the end of the day, they slowly eat away at you from the inside. And most frightening of all, you can’t tell the unaware that what they’re drinking is poisoned. We live in a world where those who warn people not to drink are condemned. For me, nothing is more horrifying and infuriating.”
What’s this man talking about?
Before I knew it, the governor’s eyes had narrowed. It even looked like he was glaring at Lia.
“Do you think saints are poison?” Zero asked.
The governor’s eyes widened slightly, and he turned his gaze towards Zero. The scowl on his face was gone, replaced by the expression of a jolly seaman.