Volume 1 — Chapter 3: The Coven of Zero
Albus had to be exhausted. He probably hadn’t gotten even a moment’s rest for the past few days, as he’d chased me around the forest, spent a night escaping Zero’s Etrauk, and attacked me once again the morning after. He probably hadn’t slept well in the broken-down house last night either, so it wasn’t a surprise that he couldn’t resist the beckoning of a soft bed and warm sheets.
“It’s not like I don’t understand the feelin’ of wantin’ to get stronger…”
With a neatly trimmed nail, I gently poked Albus in the cheek.
As I did so, Albus frowned and curled into a ball, behaving like an animal much to my amusement. I began to feel slightly mischievous—but though he was just a kid, he was still a sorcerer.
At any rate, I had to take a bath and wash off all the filth from my long journey. It’d be weird to be too clean as a mercenary, but I didn’t want to contract skin disease from being too filthy. Us fallen beasts could become infested with fleas as well.
First, I had to go find the old man at the reception desk and ask him to get some hot water prepared for me. Since I was covered in fur, washing myself was a more complicated task than just wetting a towel and scrubbing myself with it. The only way for a mucked-up fallen beast to rid himself of dirt and fleas was to find a sufficiently-large pool of steaming-hot water and lower his entire body into it, washing his body whole.
Fantasizing about bathing in the yard before the sun went down so that I could dry myself in its rays, I was about to leave the room—but first, I decided to tie Albus securely to the bed, and made my way out of the room only after looking over my handiwork.
“Taking a bath, mercenary?”
I was in the yard.
The old man at the reception desk had made no indication whether or not he’d felt threatened by my blood-, mud-, and grass-stained self, and performed his duty perfectly.
I was handed a tub used for bathing and given three bucketfuls of hot water. It was decided that, as compensation, I would draw water from the well to replace the amount I use.
“Take this, on the house,” the old man said, handing me a bar of kneaded soap. It was obvious that it was a bar of laundry soap, but to be fair, my washcloth and fur couldn’t tell the difference. As a result, my body was covered in suds when Zero trudged toward me and squatted down beside me, as if she were seeing something very curious.
“A monster of fur and soapsuds, eh? The youngsters of the neighborhood are peeping at you from their place of hiding. Eagerly so.”
“They…they ain’t scared?”
“Fear is acquired a posteriori. Provided that you do not frighten them, I believe that they shall not be afraid beyond reason.”
“Well, the smaller kids’ll get scared ’n cry.”
“Beyond reason, I said. If a colossal carnivorous beast were to appear in front of a person, he or she would fear it instinctually.”
So they are scared, aren’t they? As I mulled over it, frowning, Zero’s gaze flitted over to their hiding place. I saw three kids peeking at me as if they were watching a show.
Baring my fangs, I roared at them, and they scattered while screaming loudly in fear.
“…Do you wish to be feared?”
“I’m not gonna be somethin’ people look forward to watchin’. —Actually, it’s better ta stay away from fallen beasts. We’re treated like monsters all our lives. So ‘course there’s plenty of us who’ve actually become monsters, ya know?”
“Humans make their monsters—yes?”
“That’s right. Well, it could just be in our nature to be monsters.”
“You are mistaken. In actuality, your soul possesses a great deal of humanity.”
I couldn’t possibly judge on my own whether or not I behaved like a human. On top of that, I couldn’t even build normal relationships with humans. Thinking about it was pointless because the point of comparison wasn’t close in the first place. Whenever I heard talk about being human and being humane, I felt like I were no longer human.
“Make not such a face. If you are not human, I will wish for the rest of the world to be the same.”
“Ta have a witch wish for somethin’ like that…”
Well, it was time to stop being gloomy. But in my mind, that meant only changing the words coming out of my mouth. I turned my gaze up at the sky and gave a small sigh, blowing some bubbles into the air. Poking at a gently drifting bubble, Zero leapt to her feet, as though she had thought of an idea.
“It must be toilsome to bathe yourself when you have such a large frame. I will aid you by washing your back.”
“Aren’t ya Ms. Generous. Didn’t ya say that ya hate ta sweat?”
“Of course, I will stop before that point. Moreover, I am sure that washing an enormous beast will be most fun.”