Volume 2 — Chapter 1: The Republic of Cleion
It was said that the Saint of Arcadius was a young maiden, just over eighteen years old, and more beautiful than any goddess. I felt that calling a saint a beauty was likely hyperbole, but as beauty was an accurate way to describe a witch, I withheld my doubts.
She was described as overflowing with compassion and kindness, willing to treat anyone and everyone’s hurts and illnesses, and a veritable angel of God descended from the heavens. However, strangely enough, such descriptions made the fur of my tail stand on end.
Rumors were exaggerations of the truth, but this was still way too cheesy. In fact, the boy who had told us these rumors about the saint seemed completely unconvinced of them himself.
“The saint pretty much never leaves Arcadius. Sometimes she’ll leave for some rich guy who’s too sick to get to the holy city. But people who want to get help basically have to go to the holy city themselves.”
“The holy city…say, didn’t ya mention somethin’ about how poor people can’t get…”
“Technically anyone can go in, but really there’s a lot of people who can’t. They’re all like, ‘poor people’re thieves, ’n they’ll taint the saint’s gentle heart.’”
“Ah. Well…that’s reasonable for keepin’ the peace.”
If the poor were being turned away to maintain order, then it was a foregone conclusion that fallen beasts were too. Still, we did have a document of passage stamped with the seal of the kingdom of Wenias.
As far as documents that vindicated oneself went, this one was fairly effective. Even if I were told that fallen beasts disrupted the peace, insisting that I was escorting Zero should be enough.
“…You two sick? That why you asked about the saint?”
“Huh? Ah, no…nothin’ like that—“
“Yes…I am sick with that incurable illness called love. I, a devastating beauty, pine for an unfeeling fallen beast, a mercenary with an animal’s body; forbidden—“
“I’m not sure what you’re sayin’ anymore, but won’t you please be quiet for a while, master?”
This woman was quickly picking up knowledge she didn’t need on this trip.
It was getting annoying to deal with them one by one.
“‘In-cue-rabble illness’…you mean a disease you can’t cure? That’s real bad.”
Look, he actually believed her, didn’t he? This innocent boy’s eyes’re full of pity now.
Even as I glared at her, Zero didn’t seem bothered.
“Whatever it is you’ve got, the saint could maybe help you out…”
The child was skin and bones. He slumped and hung his head, which made him look small enough to crush in one hand.
“Do you…hate the saint?”
It was Zero who asked. The same question had entered my mind.
This child was acting surprisingly negative about a saint who could cure any illness.
“Hate? Nah, not that. Just…”
His eyes as he looked at Zero and me were the eyes of prey gauging distance from a predator.
—He was unexpectedly cautious.
He wasn’t some carefree idiot.
“You two saw, right? What I did. We need doctors. They say we don’t need ‘em ‘cause we’ve got a saint now…but we’d be in trouble with no doctors around. The saint’s someone above the clouds to people like us.”
A charming yet flat smile affixed itself to his face.
I rested my weight on the writing desk, combing the long whiskers on my chin with my claws.
Doctors were leaving because of the saint. —It was a predictable story. With the birth of a better technique, the old technique becomes obsolete and disappears.
From sorcery to magic. From earthenware to iron.
Just like that, society was a river that would always flow toward comfort.
Just as how patients had flowed from the Church’s vague treatments to the doctors’ exact sciences. Now that there were miracles from a saint, they flowed from doctors to miracles.
Yet, there were those who couldn’t cope with rapid changes in society. There were probably many who would be left with no recourse as the number of doctors dwindled.
But doctors couldn’t stay when the saint was snapping up all their patients, so they had no choice but to move elsewhere to earn their incomes. Thus, even though there were people who needed help, their sacrifices were necessary to keep the doctors from going bankrupt.
The problem could be solved by murdering the saint—but that would be bad, of course. As far as I had heard, all the saint did was treat others. She was not a bad person in any right.
“…Hey, you two. You’re going to the holy city, aren’t you? You wanna meet the saint?”
“Yeah…I guess so.”
Was the saint using magic or not? And, if so, where had she learnt it from? Did she know about the copy of the Book of Zero? If we wanted to investigate those topics, we would rightly set course for the holy city first. The boy hesitated for a while, squirming, then looked at me as if he had made up his mind.
“Um, can’tcha take me with you?”
“Wouldn’t it help to have a guide ‘till you get to the holy city? It takes a week to walk there on the roads usually, but if you take the back streets ’n such, you’ll get there in half the time. I do a bunch of odd jobs here ’n there, so I wander ‘round all over the country. I know lots ‘bout the back roads, so I’ll be a big help. I live right near the holy city too. I wanna go home, but there’s lots of bandits ’n stray dogs out so it’s spooky all by myself…I don’t got money, but I can help with chores ’n stuff. Please! Take me with you!”
My eyes met Zero’s. She gave a little shrug, probably telling me to do what I wanted.
It seemed we were set on going to Arcadius anyhow. If he was going to volunteer as a guide and do chores for us, that just about balanced out the effort it would take to protect a child.
Supposing there were bandits, it would be simple for Zero to just grab the kid and run.
“Well, alright then.”
“Really?” The child’s speckled face glowed.
“Thanks a lot! My name’s Tio! You can call me Theo.”
Theo unreservedly flashed his teeth, with one front tooth missing, in a hearty smile.
His lisp and boundlessly cheerful face were strangely endearing.
“So then…oh—what should I call you?”
“Zero is fine with me.”
“Mm, Zero huh? Got it. How ‘bout you, pops—“
I was about to give my name when I hurriedly closed my mouth.
—I will bind you to me by your name, and make you mine for all eternity. So, come now, give me your name at once!
I had not yet forgotten the time Zero threatened me with those words.
In other words, once Zero knew my name, I would become her manservant.
A fallen beast as the manservant of a witch—I had a very wicked and ominous feeling about that. I felt even the title alone was enough to bring about the world’s destruction.
I absolutely refused to live that way. I was adamantly against it. Once I was human again, I had my heart set on retiring to the country and living out each day quietly and peacefully.
“I can’t tell ya my name for various reasons. Just call me whatever ya want.”
“Really?” Theo looked at me curiously.
“Then nice to meet you, Zero, Pops!”
He’s settled on Pops, huh…
Even big bro’d be—ah, this is just pointless struggle now huh. Whatever.
I covered my face with my hands, crying quietly on the inside.