Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Women flocked to jewelry stores, even the ones set up as stalls on the side of the streets. If not women, then fashionable men.
A huge, suspicious-looking man who wore a cloak covering his entire body couldn’t possibly approach such a stall, much less a Beastfallen. And so I had Theo choose the item for me.
Theo went to the stall to check the goods out and came back to describe them to me. Then I decided which one to buy. The whole process was a huge pain in the ass, but this was the best way to avoid trouble.
“Hmm. A silver bracelet with a fine design on it,” Theo said.
“Nah. She’ll probably complain about rings and bracelets being too constricting.”
“What about a necklace with many gems?”
“No. Anything that hangs from the body will only be in the way. It could get stuck in a tree or something.”
“What about a golden hairpiece with red gems on it?”
“No way! Red gems are a bad omen. Thirteenth… I mean, it’s just gonna cause all sorts of mess.”
I knew what he was trying to say. Do you even plan to buy anything? I went silent. I had no interest in jewelry that had no practical use, and even more so when it came to women’s goods. You could ask me what I wanted, but I wouldn’t be able to answer.
Jewelry was meant to make one more attractive. Zero was plenty beautiful already, so she didn’t need any.
“I’m here helping you out. Think about it more seriously! Don’t you want Zero to forgive you?”
“What’s there to forgive? I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You still honestly believe that? Don’t you like Zero?”
It was such an abrupt question that I turned to look at Theo reflexively. His reproachful eyes startled me.
“You’ve grown to like the saint more than Zero. That’s why you don’t want to give her anything!”
“How’d you even come up with that?! That’s not it at all.”
“So you like Zero?”
I couldn’t answer. I knew that children’s words didn’t have any particularly profound meaning to them, but my whole being refused to readily admit liking anything. It was a word far too alien to me.
Zero, however, said the words like it was nothing.
“Well, I don’t dislike her…”
Theo didn’t seem satisfied with my answer. “What about the saint? You don’t like her?”
“No, I don’t…”
“So you like them both equally?”
I guess that’s one way to put it. But that wasn’t the case. In my mind, there was a difference between Zero and Lia. Perhaps it would be better to call it a distinction rather than difference.
Zero was my employer, my partner, and I considered her a friend. She called me a friend too. We were friends, basically, which was perfectly fine. Lia was more like… yes, a stranger.
As I stood there confused, unable to explain things properly, Theo let out a disgruntled sigh.
“What you’re doing to Zero is terrible. Do you understand? Zero said she likes you, but you care more about the saint. You don’t think you’re doing anything wrong? That’s not very nice. I’m not gonna help you anymore!”
Theo turned around and ran off, disappearing into the crowd in no time at all.
For a while, I just watched him go, dumbfounded. Then seconds later, I snapped back to my senses and went after him.
I can’t return to the castle without the saint’s crest!
I left the harbor and ran back towards the town.
The scent of imported goods mixed in with the strong smell of the sea made it difficult to follow Theo’s scent. At first I managed to keep track of his brown hair through the crowd, but I eventually lost him. I stopped in my tracks, at my wits’ end.
What do I do? I’m sure Theo will return to the castle at some point and I can just meet him there. Should I just go back without looking for him?
I shook my head. This was my fault. I didn’t think about Theo enough, or Zero, for that matter.
“Theo! Where are you?! I was wrong. Get back here!” I shouted in the middle of the crowded street, like a man looking for his lost son.
With my shady black cloak, however, I might just look like a slave trader searching for an escaped slave. In fact, there were many human traffickers in port cities targeting children. Once a child was taken away by boat, there was little to no chance of finding them anymore. Thinking about it made me panic even more.
I didn’t want to draw attention, but I needed to find Theo quickly.
“Theo! Answer me!”
I heard a reply. One filled with urgency. I immediately ran towards the voice.
I slipped past the main street and onto a side road to find someone fully covered in a cloak just like me, pushing Theo away and running towards a back alley.
Whether it was a human trafficker or a degenerate who targeted children, I didn’t know. They probably realized he couldn’t escape from me while carrying Theo.
“Theo, are you okay? Are you hurt?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Wait here. I’ll be right back!”
“Gramps! You don’t have to chase him!”
I wasn’t so kind as to let a guy who just tried to kidnap my friends in front of me escape that easily. I’d like to at least sock him once. I told Theo that being strong meant forgiving someone even after they hit you, but these were two different cases. Crimes must be punished.
Realizing that I was coming after him, the kidnapper screamed in panic. “Wait a minute! You’ve got it all wrong!”
“We’ll find out after I beat the crap outta you!”
“You’re crazy! Damn it!”
The man turned a corner, his cloak flaring behind him. I followed him, but then I tripped over something.
“Ow! An obstacle right in a corner? What kinda trap is this?”
As I hurriedly got up, my ears caught the sound of a large bird flapping its wings. The crash must’ve spooked it. A white feather came fluttering down, and I picked it up with a sigh.
I could no longer hear the kidnapper’s footsteps. He must have hid inside a building somewhere. Finding him at this point would be difficult.
“Damn it. I didn’t get to sock him.”
Letting the feather drift into the wind, I checked to see what I stumbled upon. For a second, it looked like a bag full of garbage, but I immediately realized that wasn’t the case.
“Oh, shit.” I didn’t expect to trip over a corpse.
“Stand back, Theo!”
The sound of small footsteps came to a halt around the corner. I bent down to examine the body. I thought the man just now killed them, but a quick glance at the lack of trauma suggested they died of an illness. It didn’t look like death by starvation either.
The corpse was relatively new and mostly still undecayed. Regardless, letting a child near it was not a good idea. A corpse lying in an alleyway was not exactly uncommon.
My gaze was drawn to the neck of the corpse. I crouched down and brushed its hair.
A goat tattoo. No.
The skin around the imprint was hard and twisted from the burn. Tattoos and branding marks were originally used to identify slaves and criminals, but nowadays people had them purely out of interest or as a sign of unity.
Bandits, sailors, and a corpse—goats seemed quite popular in Cleon.
But what does this symbol mean?
I thought I’d seen a goat crest somewhere recently. Perhaps it was the crest of the governor? I couldn’t remember well.
Wracking my brains hard, I stood up. There was no need to stay around the corpse for long.
“Gramps!” As I turned the corner, Theo jumped at me, his face pale as a sheet. “D-Did you kill them?” he asked.
“No, they got away,” I replied.
“And why are you relieved?”
“Uh, actually… I knew that guy.” Theo gave an awkward laugh.
You knew him? My face twitched. “Then why the hell did you scream for help?!”
“I-I actually really needed your help! He’s a bandit! He was trying to take me back, but I don’t want to return, so I called out to you.”
“Don’t give me that! How the hell do they know where you are, anyway?!”
“Well…” Theo laughed. “Don’t get mad, okay? Remember the bandits you tied up? I left them a knife. They should’ve used it to cut the rope and escape. And somehow they found out I was heading to Ideaverna.”
As soon as I heard him say “knife,” I looked at the large knife that Theo always carried around with him—his father’s memento. But it had been hanging around his waist all this time, and it was hard to believe that Theo, who did most of his work with just that one knife, would bother carrying a spare knife with him.
Come to think of it, I recently lost my favorite little knife. It can’t be.
“So you’re the one who stole my favorite knife!”
I thought I dropped it somewhere, but apparently Theo gave it to the bandits.
“I’m sorry! I’m really sorry! They were glaring at me!”
I clenched my fists and hit Theo in the head with just enough force to not kill him.
“Y-You said you wouldn’t get mad!”
“I didn’t say that. Anyway, we rushed to get here. How can those bandits catch up with us so quickly?”
Theo was about to reply when the gold chain around his neck flashed. It was the saint’s crest entrusted to him by Lia’s attendant. Theo was wearing it around his neck, hiding it inside his clothes.
The moment I saw it, the answer that had been stuck in the back of my head suddenly surfaced. I put my hand on Theo’s neck.
“Whoa, hey, wait a minute! I’m sorry, okay?! Please don’t kill—”
“The saint’s crest?! Then why is this mark on the bandits’ bodies?!”
I grabbed the glowing chain around Theo’s neck and pulled the emblem out from underneath his clothes, checking the workmanship up close.
There was no doubt about it.
It was a crest of a goat with imposing horns, exactly the same as the one on the body of the bandits and the corpse.