Volume 2 — Chapter 1: The Republic of Cleion
Zero tore apart the shrimp’s shell, which had been split using a stone, and sank her teeth into the crustacean’s exposed flesh.
—This woman. She paid me no mind while I was reading Albus’ letter, had she?
I felt a slight bit of anger as I watched her happily stuff her face with shrimp, so I snatched the shrimp out of her hands, tossing it whole into my mouth.
I crushed the remaining shell of the head between the specialized teeth I possessed as a beast of prey, and basked in the sweet taste of seafood that exuded from the shrimp’s tender meat. Hm, tastes great.
The entire shrimp disappeared down my gullet in but a moment. Zero, who was thoroughly dumbfounded, turned pale and stood up.
“My…my herb-steamed, fruit-sauce covered Kelzus! Why?! Why would you take it from me…why?! How long do you think I waited for it to properly steam through?! Why are you so cruel, Mercenary? What did I do to deserve this?!”
“—I saw a shrimp. I ate it. What more reason do I need?”
“You…! You heartless, bestial monster!”
“Hey, Witch. You just about crossed the line right there. There’re things ya really oughtn’t say in this world, and that was one of ‘em.”
Mmh, Zero gave me a serious look.
In the image reflected in her violet irises, I looked, just as she said, like an animal.
My head was that of a carnivorous beast, and my body was covered in fur. My gargantuan hands harbored claws, which, when sharpened, could effortlessly rend a human in two.
A half-man, half-beast monster—a fallen beast.
That was me.
Fallen beasts were symbols of indecency, seen as savage and warlike. As such, we were feared the world over. But, well, it would be difficult not to be scared around a monster who could crush a human’s head barehanded.
Even in a dining hall packed with travelers, there was a desolate zone of unoccupied tables around me.
To normal humans, it would probably feel the same as having a meal with some repulsive cockroach or the like. The moment I walked into the eatery, all conversation in the hall ceased. Only after everyone had confirmed I was a good fallen beast just there to eat a meal did the talking resume bit by bit. As of now the dining hall had regained its liveliness, but a tinge of tension remained.
Now and then, sprinkled amongst the hubbub, I would hear complaints like: “why’s there a fallen beast eating with us?…” but I would act like I heard nothing. The speakers probably thought they were discreet enough, and besides, there would be no end if I tried to stare them down one by one.
In truth, I was a mercenary, and I had killed many, many humans for money’s sake. The only humans who would look upon me favorably would be fellow murderers.
Still, I was a timid person, barely making a living for myself. I had a bloody line of work, having been born a monster, but I liked to cook as a hobby, and my dream was to open up a small tavern somewhere—but that dream was never going to come true. Besides, who would go to a tavern where the barkeep was a fallen beast? Even I wouldn’t.
—But Zero said that she could turn me into a normal human.
And thus, she and I began our dealings with each other.
Witches are the evil of this world, and are in constant danger of being put to death by burning at the stake. In exchange for me protecting her from such dangers, Zero would someday make me human.
This someday was ridiculously vague in reference as to when, but…anyhow, Zero had expended a large amount of magical power in fixing a mess of a situation caused by her brother, Thirteenth. Thus, she didn’t have enough strength remaining to turn me into a human for now.
And thanks to my body being possessed by a demon for a while, the beast’s soul within my body adhered more strongly to my own, or something like that, and so even more magical power was required to do so.
I decided to continue guarding Zero, hoping her magic would recover enough during our trip, but when the hell was that going to be?
Mercenaries were nomads traveling from battleground to battleground anyway, so at this point, having a witch follow me around on a journey didn’t pose me any difficulty. I was okay with it, pretty much.
If there was one problem, though, it was that Zero lacked any semblance of common knowledge about normal society.
For example, even if it were true, calling a fallen beast a monster to his face could result in a bloodbath. I maintained my gentlemanly composure and chided Zero, whereupon she cocked her head as if troubled.
“I see. I’m sorry, Mercenary. I didn’t mean to anger you. I was but simply—“
“No, I ain’t angry. I just felt a bit hurt—“
“—speaking the truth.”
“I take back what I said. I’m mad now.”
I shoved Albus’ letter into Zero’s solemn face.
“S-stop! What is this?! I can’t eat now, can I?!”
“It’s a letter from that kid. There’s no news ‘bout the magicians that got outta Wenias.”
Zero leaned her head backward, struggling for a while, before wrenching the letter off her face in an effort to escape my hand.
“I have ink on my face now,” Zero grumbled, running her gaze over the letter’s contents. Then, looking bored, she blew at the letters inscribed on the parchment.
With a rustle, the characters lost their shape and vanished.
Woah…holy—now that’s a witch.
I acted like I hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary.