Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Theo was an incredibly hardworking boy. No wonder he volunteered to be a guide. He proceeded onward without even glancing at the map. He gathered firewood along the way without me asking him to. He knew about the river located deep in the woods, and he was quite good at catching fish.
“I caught one!” Theo shouted. “That’s five! Look, Gramps! It’s huge!”
Theo was knee-deep in the river glistening in the noon sun, holding the river fish he’d stabbed with his knife up high. He puffed his chest out in my direction as I was preparing to make food on the riverbank.
Beside him was Zero, down on her knees, crestfallen. She had taken off her cloak, boots, and socks, leaving only her incredibly short pants and shirt. Just looking at her made me feel cold. She wanted to try catching fish after she saw Theo having fun.
Her results, however, were tragic.
“What is happening?!” Zero cried. “How can he stick a knife into a moving fish with such accuracy?! I cannot even follow the fish with my own eyes!”
“You’ve been holed up in the cellar all this time,” I said, “and those fish have survived in a harsh world. No way you can catch them that easily. It’s all about practice.”
“Cursed fish! I could catch every fish in this river if I really wanted to.”
She can’t be thinking about using Magic in front of Theo. I warned her, just in case.
Zero pursed her lips and looked away, as if saying “I know.”
“It’s okay. You just need more practice,” Theo said, repeating my words. “I’m sure you’ll catch one eventually.” He laughed as he tried to comfort Zero, probably assuming that she was sulking about not catching anything.
“I had to try over and over too,” he added. “Survival of the fittest. For a kid like me to survive, they should at least be able to catch a fish.”
“Must’ve been rough,” I said.
“Oh, stop it. You’ve been a mercenary since you were a kid, right? Cal said all Beastfallen are like that.”
“I mentioned I knew a Beastfallen.”
“Oh, yeah. You did.”
“He looks scary, but he’s a nice guy. He teaches me a lot of things. Cal said he used to be a mercenary.”
Theo climbed out of the river with the fish in his arms, shaking his head to get the moisture out of his hair.
Zero was still glaring at the water, muttering, “If I can predict its movement, I should be able to capture it. Watch the flow of the water, the fish’s movements… Think of the fish as a line, not a single point.”
Yeah. She’s not getting one, I thought as I put a dry cloth on Theo’s wet hair.
“True. Most Beastfallen either become bandits or mercenaries,” I said. “Those are the easiest options.”
“That means you’re strong, right? Must be nice. Killing in the battlefield is something I can never do. I could try, but I’d probably end up dying first.” Pouting, Theo crouched down beside the fire. “How does it feel to be strong? You can kill everyone you don’t like, right?”
“That sounds awfully disturbing. You shouldn’t be saying things like that. If I killed everyone I didn’t like, I’d get caught eventually, and then killed.”
“Still, if you wanted to kill someone, you could, right? Me? I’d probably get killed first.”
“Sounds like you actually mean it. Is there someone you want to kill?”
Theo frowned. “Yeah,” he answered. “There have been some people I wanted to kill. Like those who didn’t pay the promised amount after all the work I did. When I complained, they would hit me, saying, ‘Don’t get too cocky, kid.’ I really hate it when they look down on me. If only I was strong like you.”
“It comes with the problem of scaring others. You can’t even enter decent establishments. Like taverns along the main street, diners, and pretentious craftsmen’s shops. I liked theater when I was a kid, but I couldn’t even get close to one. Also, I couldn’t see the performances of travelering performers in the front row.”
“Same goes for me. They say filthy kids should stay away.”
“But you’re a child. You can make money when you grow up. Then you can enter shops along the main streets, and if you’re lucky, you can watch theater. You’re not like me, a Beastfallen.”
“I get what you mean, but still…” Theo mumbled, sounding convinced and unconvinced at the same time. He carefully wiped the fish blood off his knife, and held it up to the sun, squinting.
It was a large knife, clearly too big for his hands, but it was well-cared for and had seen some use.
“That’s a nice knife.”
“Yeah? It’s my dad’s memento.” Theo gave a wide grin. “My dad fell ill. My mom went to call for a doctor, but she had to go very far. She didn’t make it back in time.”
“He gave this to me right before he died. He told me to grow up to become a strong and respectable man who can wield it properly. He also told me to protect the people I care about. So I want to grow up and be strong as soon as possible. That’s why I envy you for being a Beastfallen.”
“I want to be a normal human being and live a normal life, though.”
“What? What a waste. You’re so strong.” Theo pouted, and I lightly smacked his face with the tip of my tail.
“What are you doing?!” he said as he turned away.
“Listen. The world sees Beastfallen as bad guys. They’ll whisper awful things about you behind your back, throw rocks at you while hiding, and lastly, no women will approach you.”
“Just kill those kinds of people. And you can just kidnap women. If you’re about to get caught, just kill them all and run away. You can do anything you want when you’re strong. Am I wrong?”
Ah, kids… How do I explain this to him? Being a Beastfallen is not good, and you can’t just go around killing everyone you don’t like. Question is: how do I make a child understand that?
“If you hit someone, you’ll get hit back,” I said.
“If you kill someone, people will resent you. Every time you kill someone, you get more enemies, and eventually all you will have is enemies. Then, no matter how strong you are, you’ll still get killed. Being strong doesn’t mean you’re immortal. Numbers win.”
“I get that, sure…”
“So I only kill people when I have no other choice. People on the battlefield come prepared to kill and die. So I kill them. Nevertheless I still incur grudges. If I killed people I don’t like on top of that, I’d only be putting my life in more danger.”
“Hmm… I don’t know…”
“Besides, in my opinion a strong person is someone who gets hit but doesn’t hit back. A guy who can remain calm despite all the shit thrown at him, someone who doesn’t get mad at every single thing, is the truly strong one.”
Theo racked his brains hard. “But isn’t there a difference between not being able to do anything and not doing anything even when you can?”
“You don’t get it, do you? You can kill people too, you know. You, a child, can kill anyone, if you really wanted to. All you have to do is stab someone to death with a knife. It’s easy to catch your target off guard too ’cause you’re a child. It’s not that you can’t kill anyone. You just don’t.”
Theo’s gaze dropped to the knife in his hands. He fell silent.
For a moment, I wasn’t sure what to do. Then mustering some courage, I placed a hand on his head. It would hurt my feelings for sure if he got scared, but Theo let me pat him.
“Which is why I think you’re strong,” I said. “People look down on you, yet you still persevere. You’re suppressing the urge to kill those you don’t like.”
Theo touched his head with a confused look, then glanced at me before returning his gaze to the knife again.
“It’s a little too hard for me to understand…” He dropped his shoulders and sheathed the knife. “But I’m kinda glad to hear you say I’m strong.” Theo scratched his freckled cheek, giving a bashful smile.
“I caught one!” Zero yelled out of the blue. “I caught one, Mercenary! I have triumphed over nature’s law of survival of the fittest!”
Apparently, she used her cloak to corner the fish. Zero proudly showed us the fish flailing about. But she let down her guard. The fish slipped out of Zero’s arms and jumped back into the river.
Zero let out a cry of despair.
Theo and I exchanged glances and burst into laughter.