Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Soon my nose caught the smell of a bonfire. Mixed in with it was the faint smell of blood, and the unpleasant, sour odor of someone who hadn’t bathed.
“It’s most likely bandits,” I said.
“Should I join in the fighting?” Zero asked.
“No, it’s fine. Casting Magic will only consume your mana, preventing you from using other spells.”
“The amount of mana consumed depends on the spell. But yes, all spells consume mana.”
“Then don’t cast any spells. It’ll only delay my becoming human.”
I could handle a few bandits on my own. As we proceeded further towards the smell, I finally heard voices. Men. And there was several of them.
Judging from their crude laughter and mocking whistles, they were in high spirits. Apparently they had some appetizer.
Making sure that Zero’s arm was wrapped firmly around my neck, I climbed up a nearby tree. As I made it to the tip of the thick and high branch, I saw five men surrounding a campfire.
Yup. Bandits, no doubt about it.
They all had matching tattoos—probably a goat—and there were two women among them who clearly looked kidnapped.
One was a woman with short, red hair in cheap-looking clothes, and a woman with long, braided, pale scarlet hair cascading down to her waist. Judging by the fine clothes the latter was wearing, they were probably attendant and master.
Threatened at knifepoint, the attendant couldn’t move, while her master was standing in the center of the circle of men, trembling in fear, her face red.
No wonder they’re celebrating.
It was easy to imagine what would happen next. And while I was imagining it, the woman standing in the middle put her hand on her clothes. Her bright, purple cloak fell to the ground, the huge, white feather necklace on her chest swinging.
If I keep dawdling around, I’ll turn into a voyeur.
I looked at Zero, my eyes asking, “Which one of them used Magic?”
Zero raised her finger. After hesitating for a bit, she pointed at one person with certainty—the timid-looking woman who was about to get stripped naked.
“Are you sure?” I asked out loud.
“I am,” Zero replied. “There is no doubt.”
Our voice reached the bandits’ ears.
“Where are you?! Come out here! We’ll fucking kill you!”
Spouting overused threats, the bandits stopped moving completely.
Amateurs. You call that being on guard? At least hide in the bushes or something.
I pulled throwing knives from my belt and hurled them at the legs of the four bandits, like I was playing target. The last one standing, a bearded man, screamed and backed away, using the braided woman as a shield.
“Fuck. No one told me they’d catch up to us this fast! Come on out, you fucking coward! You don’t want this woman dead, do you?! Come out right now and drop your weapon, or I kill her!”
“No! Please, I’m begging you!” the lady attendant cried. “Please don’t hurt the Lady Saint!”
My eyes grew wide open. Saint? The one from Akdios?
The bandit’s loud laughter drowned the attendant’s pained cries.
“Saint, my ass! Fuck miracles! We don’t need the saint. In fact, we’re better off without her! So I don’t mind killing her right here and now. I swear I will—”
Then the flames died. No, it was extinguished.
I sensed five bandits and two women. No one else. But there was someone out there.
“What?! What happened to the fire?! Hey!”
The bearded bandit yelled in panic, then crumbled to the ground the next instant. I had pretty good night vision, but I couldn’t see anything, perhaps because the fire just died and my eyes had not yet completely adjusted to the darkness. That was probably what the assailant was aiming for.
I pulled my body back as hard as I could as something zipped in front of my eyes at an incredible speed. Too close. A sharp object cut the tip of my whiskers, scattering it in the wind.
Someone just attacked me. From where? By who? When did they notice me?
Leaves drifted silently from above. There’s something up there.
I felt the hair on my neck stand on end. I jumped down from the tree, Zero in my arms. Immediately after the branch I was on was severed.
Rolling on the ground, I avoided the falling branch, pushed Zero behind a tree, and drew my sword.
“Stay hidden!” I shouted. “This one’s no pushover!”
“Beasts sure are sharp,” said a low voice.
Before I could recognize that it belonged to a man, something hissed sharply through the air. Following the sound, I blocked it with my sword. It felt like metal.
Something was off, however. The moment I deflected it, it felt like my sword was stuck. Before I realized what exactly was wrong, the assailant clicked his tongue and took a huge leap backwards, landing gently between me and the women, as though intervening.
The man was wielding a huge scythe. It almost seemed like a joke. I wasn’t even sure if it could be classified as a weapon.
A scythe was a farmer’s tool, not a weapon. The one the man was holding looked like it could harvest a large amount of wheat. Only peasants fed up with their lords’ oppression would actually use it as a weapon.
But the man standing between me and the saint was clearly not a peasant. His leather boots and simple clothes that were easy to move in might paint him as one. But there was more. Only certain people wrapped a strip of cloth around their body in place of a cloak—priests.
He was a priest, no doubt about it. A thin, silver chain hung from his narrow waist, shining brightly even under the dim light of the moon.
Gaze fixed on me, the man addressed the saint behind him.
“Your Eminence. Are you hurt?”
He was a man of slender build, with bright, green hair cut neatly around his jaw. If he preached even once at some rural town, non believers would be reformed and start going to church more often.
Personally, of course, my ill feelings towards the man were only intensifying. After all, this priest just tried to kill me with his sinister weapon.
A priest who was also an experienced fighter, with a farming tool as their weapon. There was no doubt about it.
“An adjudicator from Dea Ignis,” I said. “It’s an honor to meet a member of the famous Church-sanctioned death squad.”
The doctor at the inn said that the Church deployed Dea Ignis to investigate the saint in the Holy City of Akdios. Judging from the circumstances, this priest was the one sent for the job.
“You got it wrong, though,” I said. “I’m not trying to do anything to the saint—”
“Repent,” the man said. “You, the most corrupted beings of this world, tried to kill the one that must remain pure. Say your prayers, and beg for the Goddess’s mercy.”
Dude’s not listening. This is the problem with priests.
The priest dashed forward instantly, swinging his scythe. Quickly I drew my sword to block it.
This guy’s serious. He was also terribly strong, despite his appearance. If it wasn’t for my Beastfallen reflexes, my head would be rolling on the ground right about now.
“Son of a bitch! Why don’t you take your own advice and repent, you homicidal priest! And fucking listen to me!”
“Zero! Stay back! Don’t do anything!”
We couldn’t let the priest know Zero was a witch. She could probably kill him with her Magic, but doing that in front of the saint would be a bad idea.
I didn’t want to get killed here, either. My only option would be to fight with the intent to kill, but there was no guarantee I could best him.
Not to mention my opponent was an adjudicator from Dea Ignis. If I killed him, the Church might go after my employer Zero. To avoid that, I would have to kill the two women afterwards to silence them. But killing the saint?
What do I do? I needed him to put away his weapon somehow, but I was a Beastfallen, and he was a priest. We were like polar opposites.
“Wait, Father! He’s not an enemy!”
Aid came from somewhere unexpected. The priest’s eyes, glaring at me with abhorrence, darted to the saint for a moment. He then jumped back, putting some distance between us. He wasn’t done, however.
It was obvious that he would lose in a pure contest of strength, so he distanced himself temporarily.
I could still feel his blade on my neck. Must be his desire to kill me.
“Your Eminence. That is a foul Beastfallen,” the priest said, disgust in his voice. “You need not show mercy to it.”
The saint gently placed her hand on the priest’s arm. “Please, Father,” she said in an imploring tone. “You are wrong about him.”
The priest’s expression softened, and he lowered his scythe reluctantly.
Letting out a sigh of relief, the saint turned to face me. “You… You saved us, didn’t you? You threw knives from a tree. Am I wrong? If you didn’t help us, I’d be…” She trailed off, casting her eyes downward, her face flushed. Tears welled up in her quivering eyes.
“Your Eminence… You must have been terrified. I failed in my duty as your guard!”
His voice filled with regret, the priest lowered his scythe completely. With a single swing, the huge curved blade folded up, transforming the weapon into a handy, long staff.
The Church sure has some interesting toys…