Volume 2 — Chapter 1: The Republic of Cleion
I sighed, rolling up the parchment and stuffing it into my bag. For the time being—
“…Kid, if you’re awake, feel free ta move around,” I said to the kid who seemed to lie asleep on top of the hay.
Once I spoke, the child instantly stiffened and sluggishly got up.
It was to be expected, but he was very alarmed.
He had just fallen unconscious in the dining hall, and woken up in a stable next to a fallen beast. A strange kid who looked ten years old wasn’t going to be able to remain calm in a situation that even adults would find themselves frightened in.
The boy had faded, sunburnt tawny hair, a heavily freckled face, and a far-too-slender frame. Seeing his fear of me as he sat on top of the hay made me feel distinctly uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry. I’m a fallen beast, as you can see, but I ain’t gonna eat you. You hurt? Feel any pain anywhere?”
I spoke in the gentlest voice I could muster, and the child stirred in the mountain of hay, nodding.
“I’m okay…just a bit sticky…”
The child furrowed his freckled visage. I figured he was referring to the half-dried cream soup. It must have gotten on him as I carried him up, but there was no reason for me to tell him that.
“…Hey pops, who are you? Are you the inn’s bouncer…? W-what are you gonna to do to me?”
Pops? Did he really call me pops…
Well, there was no helping it. It wasn’t reasonable to expect him to tell the age of a fallen beast by appearance. From a ten-year-old’s perspective, I well fit the criteria for being called pops.
It’d only cause trouble if I get mad and scare him, so don’t get mad, don’t get mad…
“I’m just a travelin’ mercenary. Oh, and I’m also the one your cart crashed straight into.”
The child’s face turned pale, and his eyes widened.
“—I-I’m really sorry! I tried to stop it…but the horse didn’t listen at all…! Please don’t eat me! I’ll do anything you say!”
“I just told ya I ain’t gonna eat ya! Ya insolent kid, I’ll eat ya for real!”
“Calm yourself, Mercenary. I’m afraid there is a contradiction in what you have said.”
Shit. I was acting like a kid.
I was used to being discriminated against for being a fallen beast, but I did not expect being called pops to get to me. I had overreacted to what was basically everyday speech.
I turned to look at the frightened child and coughed awkwardly.
“Ah…sorry ‘bout that. You’ll be fine. I don’t eat people, ’n even raw meat’s hard for me ta deal with in the first place. If I’m gonna eat, I’d carefully get my ingredients ready, do some cookin’, plate it, then eat.”
“That’s what makes it so scary!” The boy gave a high-pitched yell.
“Oh, that was just an example. Cooked or not, I don’t eat people. It’s a pretty famous rumor that fallen beasts eat people, but that’s only true for a tiny part of us.”
“I know that…!”
I asked instinctively. The child nodded deeply.
“I sort of know this fallen beast…”
Wow, huh. Well that makes things easier.
“That’s right kid. I’m a gentlemanly, calm fallen beast, ’n a reasonable one at that. There’s a single reason why I brought you here. And that’s ta ask ya about somethin’.”
“I ain’t here ta ask about why ya came in on that cart. Your answer ain’t gonna be good enough, anyway. I’m sorry for puttin’ ya through what’s next.”
“But, I’ve got…”
Nothing I can tell you, his fearful gaze said.
“Tell us about the saint,” Zero and I said as one.