Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Did he really just call me gramps?
No, I couldn’t blame him. It was difficult to gauge a Beastfallen’s age based on their appearance alone. From the point of view of a ten-or-so year old kid, I was quite old.
Scaring him would only give us trouble, so I told myself to calm down. Don’t get mad now.
“I’m just a traveling mercenary. I’m also a victim who suffered a direct hit from the carriage you were riding in.”
The kid turned pale, his eyes widening. “I’m sorry! I tried to stop it, but the horse just wouldn’t listen! Please don’t eat me! I’ll do anything!”
“I said I’m not gonna eat you! Damn, what a rude kid! Keep that up, and I might actually devour you!”
“Calm down, Mercenary. You are contradicting yourself.”
Oh, shit. That was a bit childish of me.
I was used to being discriminated against for being a Beastfallen, but apparently treating me like an old man bothered me more than I thought it would. I ended up snapping at the boy for something I’d usually ignore.
Awkwardly I cleared my throat. “My bad. It’s okay. I don’t eat humans, and I’m not fond of raw meat to begin with. I cook my meat properly and serve them on a plate.”
“That’s even more scary!” the boy shouted.
“I was just explaining myself. I don’t eat people either way. I know there are stories of Beastfallen eating humans, but they’re a rare exception.”
“I know that!”
“You do?” I asked, surprised.
The boy nodded. “I know someone who’s a Beastfallen.”
Oh, that’s good. It’ll make things easier.
“That’s right, kid. I’m a well-mannered, gentle, and reasonable Beastfallen. I brought you here for one reason. To ask you something.”
“I won’t ask why you rammed a carriage into an inn. There’s probably some stupid reason behind it anyway. I don’t wanna get dragged into any more mess either.”
He gave a frightened look. “I don’t think there’s anything I can tell you, though.”
“Tell us about the saint,” Zero and I said at the same time.
The Saint of Akdios was a young maiden who just turned eighteen, said to be as beautiful as a goddess. A beautiful saint sounded too good to be true, but considering there was a beautiful witch nearby, I didn’t bother commenting on it.
Her being regarded as a merciful and compassionate angel who descended from the heavens, healing anyone for free, creeped me out, making the fur on my tail stand on end.
Rumors tended to get too embellished, but this was just too corny. As a matter of fact, the boy didn’t seem to believe the rumors himself.
“The saint doesn’t usually leave Akdios,” he said. “She sometimes goes out to heal rich people who are seriously sick and can’t make it to the Holy City, but anyone who wants to be cured of their illness usually goes to the Holy City by themselves.”
“Holy City, eh? You said the poor can’t even get close to it.”
“Officially, anyone can go in, but in reality, a lot of people are denied entry. They say that the poor commit burglary, and it’s bad for a kind saint’s heart or something.
“I see. Sounds like a reasonable way to maintain public order.”
If the poor were denied entry for security reasons, so would Beastfallen, no doubt. But we had a pass from the kingdom of Wenias, a very powerful document that validated one’s identity. If they said Beastfallen were a threat to security, I could just say I was Zero’s bodyguard.
“Are you sick?” the boy asked. “Is that why you’re asking about the saint?”
“What? Oh, no. I’m not really—”
“Yes. I am suffering from a terminal disease called love,” Zero cut in. “A forbidden one, where I, a stunningly beautiful woman, falls in love with a ruthless mercenary in the form of a beast—”
“Can you please shut your mouth, madam? You’re just gonna complicate things.”
This woman’s learning more and more stupid things while traveling. Dealing with every single ridiculous matter she said or did was starting to get annoying.
“Terminal?” they boy said. “That means it can’t be cured, right? I see. Sounds awful.”
Look, he actually believed you. An innocent child is looking at you with pity in his eyes. I glared at Zero, but she seemed unapologetic.
“The saint might be able to heal you, then.”
What a skinny kid. Whenever he slumped, he looked so small that I could probably crush him with one hand.
“Do you despise the saint?” Zero asked. I had the same question in mind.
The kid seemed to have quite the negative impression on her.
“Despise? No, not at all. It’s just…” He trailed off. He regarded me and Zero with the eyes of a small animal measuring its distance from a predator. He was extremely cautious, not the thoughtless idiot I expected him to be.
“You guys saw me causing a ruckus, didn’t you?” he said finally. “There are fewer doctors around. They say doctors aren’t needed because of the saint. But we’ll be in trouble without doctors. The saint is someone just out of our reach.” He gave a pleasant yet dejected smile.
Leaning back on the table, I combed the long fur around my chin with my nails.
The saint’s existence was causing the doctors’ numbers to decrease. It made sense. Older technology became obsolete with the development of superior technology. From Sorcery to Magic. From earthenware to steel. Society constantly leaned towards what made life easier. Just like how the sick moved from the Church’s dubious healing to the doctors’ reliable medicine. If the saint’s miracles were legit, the sick would move from medicine to her healing.
But not all people could adapt to rapid change. Many would be at a loss if doctors suddenly decreased in number. However with their patients taken by the saint, doctors had no other choice but to move somewhere else to earn a living. Otherwise, they would go broke.
Killing the saint might solve the problem, but that would be a terrible idea. From what I had heard so far, this saint simply healed people. She didn’t sound like a bad person at all.
“You’re headed to the Holy City, aren’t you?” the kid asked. “You want to see the saint, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Does the saint use Magic? If she does, where did she learn it? Does she know about the copy of the Grimoire of Zero? To find answers to our questions, heading to the Holy City would be a good start.
The boy mumbled to himself for a while, then turned to look at me as if he’d made up his mind on something.
“Can you take me with you?” he asked.
“Having a guide to the Holy City would be useful. It would take a week to get there if you traveled by the main road, but only about half the time if you took shortcuts. I do odd jobs for all sorts of people, so I’ve been all over the country. I can serve you well. My place is actually close to the Holy City. I want to go home, but there are bandits and wild dogs out there. I don’t have any money, but I can do a lot of things! Please take me with you!”
Zero and I exchanged glances. The witch simply gave a shrug, which I took as “you decide.”
We were going to Akdios anyway. Doing chores and leading the way would be enough in exchange for protecting a lone child. If we ran into bandits, I could easily carry the two of them and run away.
“Fine,” I finally said.
“Really?” The boy’s freckled face lit up. “Thank you! My name’s Tio. You can also call me Theo.” He flashed a bright smile. Though one of his front teeth was missing.
The way he spoke and his cheerful spirit gave a strange feeling of affinity to others.
“So, um… What should I call you two?” he asked.
“You may call me Zero.”
“I see. What about you, gramps?”
Before I could introduce myself, I shut my mouth quickly.
“I will bind you to me through your name and make you mine, and mine alone, forever. Now give me your name!”
I had never forgotten Zero’s threat. If she learned my name, she would turn me into her servant. A Beastfallen that served a witch. It had a sinister ring to it. The designation alone could rock the whole world.
I sure as hell don’t want that. Absolutely not. I had made up my mind that once I became human, I would retreat to the countryside and spend my days in peace and quiet.
“For various reasons, I can’t tell you my name,” I said. “Call me whatever you like.”
Theo regarded me curiously. “Okay, then. It’s nice to meet you, Zero, Gramps!”
So it’s gonna be Gramps in the end, huh? At least call me big bro, or something. Nah, never mind. There’s no point.
Covering my eyes with a hand, I quietly shed a tear in my heart.