Volume 1 — Chapter 1: The Witch and the Fallen Beast
“How… what the heck is goin’ on?!”
I glanced at the traveler, not expecting to see anything out of the ordinary, but froze in shock.
The traveler’s hood had come off, revealing shimmering silver hair which billowed as if caught in a gale.
An exceedingly beautiful woman at that.
Although my life was in danger, I couldn’t help but recall how light and slender she had been in my arms. She had spoken in a confident, calm manner, but her voice had been too high-pitched to be a man’s. My male instincts were telling me that I should have felt her up more, among other things inappropriate in the current situation. What a waste.
But could it be?
This woman—was she doing this?
Besides her, the witch and I were the only ones here.
It was obvious that the witch was the target of the cataclysm, and just as obvious that I couldn’t pull off such tricks. There wasn’t any other way of looking at these facts.
In the blink of an eye, it was over.
The walls had formed a giant earthen box, which looked as natural as if it had always been there, yet stuck out like a sore thumb because of its intimidating presence.
“This is the Book of Capturing, verse three: Etraak. It would take a week to escape with something as weak as Staim. Using Edarest would allow her to get out easily—but she looked quite tired. She would need to rest for a while first. Now—I would like to hear an explanation for all of this.”
Her red lips curled into a cold smirk. I could now see that she had long eyelashes, barely obscuring unnaturally clear, blueish-purple irises which shone like gemstones.
I stayed where I was, mouth agape, staring at her like an idiot.
“You… you’re… a witch…?”
The woman turned to face me. As I expected, she possessed fear-inducing beauty. But, from the confident look that replaced her smirk, I could detect immaturity and innocence.
It was as if she had become a different person.
“Certainly—I am a witch. A witch of the Murky Black who extracts meaning from meaninglessness, and conjures forth something from nothing!”
Oh. Alright. I see. Got it.
Without further ado, I stood up… and ran out of there as fast as I could.
If there were one good thing about being born a fallen beast, it would be that my physical abilities far surpassed those of normal humans.
If I were to run at full speed, no one would be able to catch up. If I were to get into a fist fight with a normal human, he would die and I would walk away unharmed. This was the perfect body for fighting.
It seemed that I’d managed to lose the witch.
I raced through the forest, following a trail of bare dirt cutting through the grass. Breathing heavily, I hid behind a tree and warily scanned the woods in the direction from which I came. The forest was enveloped by darkness at this point, but I couldn’t sense anyone in pursuit. However, I couldn’t let my guard down just yet. After confirming that I was indeed completely safe, I breathed a sigh of relief and slid down into a sitting position with my back against the tree.
Seriously—what a disaster that was. I looked around for danger one last time, and began setting up camp in the dim moonlight.
Even if a witch possessed unrivaled beauty, she would still be my worst enemy. Even if I were so enthralled by a witch’s beauty that I wanted to let her kill me, my instinct for self-preservation would still be stronger than my sexual desires. In any case, no one would grieve over the death of a fallen beast. I was the only person who would mourn my death.
The fallen were disliked throughout the world. Of course, the primary reason was that our appearances were strange, but because the majority of fallen beasts became mercenaries and bandits, we were essentially murderers. If I were a human parent, I would do everything I could to prevent my child from approaching fallen beasts. “Don’t come into our villages, our shops, our sight—.”
Ultimately speaking, there wasn’t a single ally of the fallen beasts on the planet.
I was lucky to be a mercenary because I never had to worry about having enough to eat, but having to take the lives of others, whether I wanted to or not, bothered me.
All I wanted to do was to open a small bar somewhere, settle down with a lovable woman, and live a leisurely life until I died, but… unfortunately, the world wasn’t going to allow me such pleasures.
“With an appearance like this…”
Sighing, I looked contemptuously at my fur-covered hand.
Most fallen beasts had bodies of large, carnivorous animals. Many possessed the bodies of bears and wolves, but I didn’t know what animal I was. It was probably some feline, even though it would be too cruel for me to be a cat. My fur was white with light black stripes, although the white mostly won out over the black, creating a complex pattern. I was fairly certain that this was just an idiosyncrasy, but it made me stand out at night, so I used my black cloak to cover myself.
“Well, at least it looks better than havin’ no pattern at all.”
In an effort to cheer myself up, I forced a smile.
I was turning introspective, but in my youth, I had brooded over this to the extent of cutting myself and watching my blood well up. I had pondered until, eventually, it had hurt too much and I had been forced to give up. This had taken place right after I left my village. I had been living on a deserted mountain while covered in blood, eating birds and mice to sustain myself. I may have been able to reflect on my own nature because of that experience.
Anyhow, I was a monster, and no one would pity me if I perished. I would at least be motivated to live on if someone pitied me even the tiniest bit.
More than ten years have passed since then, and the wounds of that period have completely disappeared. Even the devastating loneliness I had felt has faded due to all the hardships I have endured since—no, the loneliness has only dulled.
At any rate, living alone was fun. Besides, there might be a woman in the world with strange enough tastes to reciprocate my love. I could only hope. I didn’t believe those stories about even harlots refusing to provide company to fallen beasts, but—
“If only I were a cuter animal…”
For instance, although I didn’t know if there were fallen beasts with bodies of cute wildlife like rabbits, they would certainly receive better treatment than fallen like me, who had the bodies of carnivorous beasts.
I stirred my soup and worried about things I couldn’t do anything about.
I accidentally left behind the rabbit I had killed before the witch started chasing me, so I had to make a soup out of herbs I found nearby and some dried meat I saved for emergencies. I sprinkled some salt into the pot, and put in a chunk of animal fat that I had kept, wrapped in leather, in my bag. After tasting the soup, I added another pinch of salt. Hmm, I guess this is as good as it’ll get. It just had to simmer a little while longer to let the flavors mingle properly. I rummaged through my bag and took out a compass and a map, which I unfolded on my lap.
—Map of the Vanias Kingdom, Revised Edition—
Many merchants go to the city of Foamicaum to sell their goods. There, one can find luxuries from around the world.
In the imperial capital of Prasta, there are performances in the city square every week on the day of the goddess.
Specialty: Roasted Ebru boar (A giant boar native to Vanias). Its flesh is tender and succulent.
Warning! Wild Ebru boars live in the woods. Hunting them is forbidden. Always stay on the road.
Reading the last line, I frowned.
“I’m not in the woods ’cause I wanna be, so gimme a break, eh?”
Speaking to no one in particular, I attempted to determine my current position from the positions of the stars and the point on the map where I was attacked.
The Vanias Kingdom was located roughly at the center of the continent. It was formerly an isolated state surrounded by a mountain range, but by tunneling through the mountains, they were able to secure trade with neighboring countries, and successfully attracted numerous travelers and merchants.
The mountains were so difficult to cross that no matter how high the toll for entering Vanias was, travelers would pay up to use the tunnels. The underpass was unimaginably massive, and had so many inns that they were practically situated storefront to storefront. Here and there in the pitch-black tunnel, variegated colored lanterns lit up the surroundings and inns, which made such spots look like dreamscapes. If I were a child, there would be no doubt that I’d have been extremely excited. But nowadays, there was a rumor going around that the Vanias Kingdom was dealing with just a teeny tiny problem.
With the kingdom going through tough times, thievery was running rampant. Starting with the merchants, travelers began to avoid this country, because getting caught in combat would mean endangering their lives.
As a result, Vanias, which was built on revenue from wayfarers, was heading toward collapse. Of course, the kingdom’s higher-ups dedicated themselves to solving the problem. The first thing they did was strengthen their country militarily—by hiring mercenaries. This information spread both inside and outside the kingdom, and reached the ears of mercenaries like me.
Such being the case, I was heading toward Prasta, the imperial capital of Vanias, to seek employment. According to the border patrol, the main force was to consist of fallen beasts, so I was ordered to take my letter of introduction and go to the capital, though this was fairly bothersome.
There were a great number of endemic species in Vanias, so to avoid their habitats, I had to take a winding path through the countryside. Owing to that, I couldn’t part with my map. I traced my finger over the parchment, which was worn out from countless rewrites. From the path where I initially set up camp, through the woods to the path I was on now, that would mean Prasta was—.
Looking up after confirming my course of travel, I froze. A hooded figure, illuminated by the flickering flame, was using a wooden ladle to drink my soup.
As one would have expected, I screamed. Normally, I was extremely aware of my surroundings, even for a fallen beast. Nothing had ever successfully snuck up on me before. But even with my superior senses, I had been completely oblivious to this person’s approach. On top of that, it was the same exceedingly beautiful woman from earlier—in other words, the witch. To make matters even worse, she was eating my dinner. I wasn’t sure which of these things upset me the most.
“Hey! Stop helpin’ yerself to mah soup!”
It became clear, from what I blurted out, that I was most concerned about my soup.