Volume 2 — Chapter 1: The Republic of Cleion
“We’d get to Edeabelna a lot faster by cuttin’ through this forest. Sure, we’d have ta get through without gettin’ lost, but—“
As I spoke, I heard the rattling of cart wheels and a horse’s braying through the hubbub of the cafeteria.
It was already pitch-black outside the window. A cheap inn like this one, drafty even as it was, probably seemed an absolute paradise to any travelers who had resigned themselves to camping out for the night.
Even then, the cart seemed to be going far too fast for a gravel road at nighttime.
Mulling it over, I glanced out the window.
A moment later, the cart smashed through the flimsy wooden wall. I was sent flying through the air, mowing down the table of another patron before finally crashing into the floor.
—Was I dead?
A lukewarm liquid seeped from somewhere, covering my body.
Could it actually be my blood? If so, it was a frightening amount of blood.
’Twas an unexpectedly short life. I died before getting to be human again, in the end. Thinking back, it was a lifetime riddled with war, though it was fun for a short while near the end—
The liquid seeped into my mouth.
I was suddenly assaulted by the rich aroma of milk blended with the umami of vegetables. …Huh. So this wasn’t blood, but some diner’s cream soup.
“Mercenary! Mercenary, are you alright?! Ah, you look so delicious… Could this be the so-called pre-prepared meal I’ve heard of?!”
It seemed Zero had avoided the cart’s rush. She hurried up to me as she made irrelevant remarks.
When I yelled out of instinct, my sense of pain gradually began to return.
It looked like it was just some light bruising. As one would expect from a fallen beast. Our sturdiness was widely established. Zero looked relieved as I responded, though her face fell—plate of food and wooden spoon still in hand.
When the cart came crashing in, she had probably retreated while protecting the plate. Although I had no real reason to blame her, something about it ticked me off.
Then, from somewhere in the food court came a tense yell.
“—It’s a child!”
The instant the word “child” entered the fray, it spawned unusual tension.
I forgot my pain as I stood up and looked at the cart, which had collapsed on its side.
Nearby was a child, presumably thrown from the vehicle. The kid was thin and lanky, with a small frame—somewhere around ten years old at most. There hadn’t been any children in my vicinity beforehand, so the kid must have come from the cart.
The child’s skin was a sun-burnt dull tawny, mottled with blood. They twitched and struggled, scratching at the floor.
—However, beside them was an agitated horse. If they were to get up now, they would undoubtedly be kicked to death.
I instantly broke into a run.
Besides myself, a fallen beast, there was no one else here who could help the child escape harm without frightening the horse.
As I gathered the child into my arms, the horse reared in terror. It had grown more and more agitated as I, a fallen beast, approached. I lay myself low, but its unyielding hoof still grazed my head, and blood flew into the air.
I continued distancing myself from the horse while maintaining my posture, and checked on the child in my arms.
The kid was limp, and didn’t move.
Blood flowed from his head, and a fragment of wood jutted from his shoulder.
“Hey, any doctors here?! This kid’s seriously hurt!” Yelling, I looked around the cafeteria. Still, I looked the part of a carnivorous beast. No matter what the situation, whenever I raised my voice, normal humans would become frightened and retreat.
—No one came to help.
I failed. I should’ve minded my own business.
Was there still time to leave the kid here and excuse myself from the food court? I wondered if anyone would treat him if I did, but if we had time for that, then doing it ourselves would be faster.
It was first aid I learned on the battlefield, but it should be better than nothing.
“Grab me a leg of that chair there! I’ll stop the bleeding!”
Giving orders to Zero, I lay the child on the floor. By tearing up his bloodstained clothes, I made dressings for his injuries. I took the rod Zero rushed over to me with, placed it on a wound, and fastened it with a bandage. When I turned him, he cried out sharply in pain.
“I’m carrying the kid to our room—can ya help ‘em?”
Zero could heal these wounds with her magic. She nodded.
“The day I make you human will become only more distant, however…”
“It’s fine. I got time. He’s got none.”
Once again I moved to lift the kid’s prostrate body, inserting my hands under his knees and behind his neck for leverage.
But then, out of the throng around us that had been watching from a distance, came a man.
A robe of black covered him, and in his left hand was a weathered black bag. His hand was missing its little and ring fingers. Looking at the disfiguring scars, it seemed his fingers had been torn off by some animal.
The man had got on his knees to examine the child’s injuries, but raised his head at my voice.
“I’m a doctor. My apologies for being so late. I was afraid, seeing a fallen beast.”
The man who had called himself a doctor then turned toward the crowd and raised his voice.
“What are you all waiting for?! There’s wounded here! We’re all doctors, aren’t we?!”
I barely had time to register his words before I understood.
“…Why, it looks like there’s too many.”
Men with black robes, signifying they were doctors, ran out of the crowd with black bags in hand. There were easily over ten of them.
Several ferried the child from my arms to a vacant table and set about treating him. The rest scattered through the cafeteria, looking for other injured and doing their best on each.
“Have doctors been travelling en masse recently?” Zero muttered, stunned.
I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t think of any other explanation for this phenomenon.
—Before I knew it, the food court was jam-packed with doctors.