Volume 2 — Chapter 2: The Saint and the Father
Theo was frighteningly good at doing odd chores.
It made sense why he volunteered to guide us to Arcadius. Theo forged ahead on the path without ever consulting a map, all while gathering firewood as he walked, before I could even point out we would need it.
He even knew the location of a river deep in the woods, and was adept at catching fish.
“Gotcha! That’s the fifth one! Hey Pops, look! Giiiii-normous, ain’t it?!”
Theo was ankle-deep in the stream, the surface of which glittered under the midday sun. He held aloft the fish he had speared with his knife, shouting.
Carrying his catch, Theo proudly puffed his chest out toward me as I made meal preparations on the shore.
Beside him, a dejected Zero fell to her knees on the riverbed.
She had taken off her coat, socks, and boots, which meant she was wearing only a pair of severely length-challenged trousers and an undershirt. Her getup looked like it had to be chilly, but it seemed that seeing Theo having so much fun catching fish made her want to try it too.
Unfortunately, all it did was make her look miserable.
“How…?! How can you so accurately knife these fish as they swim, when even catching sight of them is so…!”
“You’ve been shut up in your cave ‘till a while ago; there’s no way you’re gonna land fish that’ve grown up in a survival-of-the-fittest world that easy. That takes practice, practice.”
“You fish! Were I to employ my true strength, capturing all the fish that swim within this stream would be—“
“Don’t. Don’t ya dare.”
Ya aren’t gonna use magic in front of Theo, are ya? I tried warning her.
Zero pursed her lips and looked away in a huff.
“You’re fiiine. It’s just practice, nothin’ else. I’m sure you’ll catch some no doubt,” Theo assuaged as he mimicked my words, laughing. He must have misunderstood her to be sulking because she hadn’t managed to catch any fish.
“Even I had to put in a lotta practice to get this good. Sur-vi-val-of-the-fit-test. If a kid like me’s gonna keep on living, I gotta be able to catch some fish, at least.”
“It’s gotta be hard on ya, ain’t it…”
“Oh c’mon, you’ve been a mercenary since you were kid, weren’t ya, Pops? Karl told me all fallen beasts’re like that, he did.”
“I told you there’s this fallen beast I know, right?”
“Ah…yeah, ya did, didn’t ya?”
“He looks scary, but he’s actually a good guy. He’s willing to even teach someone like me, after all. Karl used to be a mercenary way back when, too, he said.”
Theo got out of the stream with his catch in his arms. He shook his head, droplets of water flying from his hair. Zero was still there, staring at the fish. “I should be able to catch them by predicting their movement. Watch the flow of the water and motion of the fish…think of the fish not as points but as lines…” Zero muttered to herself.
It doesn’t look like she’s gonna catch a single one, I thought as I draped a dry cloth over Theo’s head.
“He’s right. Most fallen beasts become either bandits or mercenaries, ‘cause to us, those are the most comfy jobs.”
“That’s gotta be nice…it’s ‘cause you’re strong, right? There’s no way I could do battle on a battlefield; no matter what I did, I’d probably be the first to get killed.”
Theo pouted and squatted next to the bonfire.
“Pops, what’s it like to be strong? You could kill eeeveryone you didn’t like, couldn’tcha?”
“Don’t go sayin’ things like that. If I did do that, I’d get caught sooner or later and I’d end up gettin’ killed myself.”
“Still, if you wanted to kill someone, you could, ain’t that right? I’d be the one to get killed if I tried.”
“You sure are bein’ serious ‘bout it…’s there someone you want ta kill?”
“Hmm,” Theo frowned.
“If you mean someone I wanna kill, then there are. Like people who give me things to do but don’t pay me like they said they would, then hit me when I say anything. Kids shouldn’t say selfish things like that, they say. I really hate bein’ looked down on. But if I was strong like you, Pops…”
“Then there’s the problem that everyone’d be scared of ya for no reason. They won’t let ya in any decent store, not any bar or eatery that opens onto main streets, not any fancy artisanal shop. I really admired theatre when I was a kid…but it’s not like they ever let me get close though. Ya can’t even sit in the front row ta watch the travelin’ actors.”
“That’s the same for me too. ‘Beat it, filthy kid,’ they tell me.”
“But you’re just a child. Children grow into adults, so they can earn money. If they do that, they can go to the shops on the big streets. If they get lucky, maybe they can even go to the theatre. It’s different for a fallen beast like me.”
“I guess,” Theo mumbled vaguely. I couldn’t tell whether or not I had convinced him. He took his knife, covered with the blood of the fish, and carefully wiped it clean, squinting as he held it aloft.
It was on the larger side as far as knives went, and it was clearly too large for Theo’s hands. However, it was well-cared for, and well-used.
“…Nice knife ya got there.”
“Really? It’s a keepsake of my dad,” Theo gave a toothy grin.
“My dad was sick. My mom went to look for a doctor, but she had to go a long way away to find one…she didn’t make it in time before he died.”
“When he did, he gave me this knife, told me to use it well, and to become a strong and good adult when I grew up. ‘Take care of the people you care about,’ he said, too. So I want to hurry up and become a grownup, and be strong. That’s why I’m jealous of you, Pops.”
“And I want ta live a normal life as a normal human…”
“Huuuh? What a waste. Even though it’s not easy to get strong…” Theo pouted again. I brushed his face lightly with the tip of my tail. “What do ya think you’re doing?” Theo said, turning away.
“Hey, Theo. Just so ya know, fallen beasts’re the bad guys of this world. They whisper insults at us. They throw rocks at us from hidin’. And even worse, not a single girl wants ta get close to us.”
“Then all you gotta do is kill the ones that do that, right? As for girls, can’t ya just carry one off? And when you’re about ta get caught, just kill everyone and keep running. You can do anything if you’re strong. Right?”
This is why kids are kids…
How should I explain it to him? Fallen beasts ain’t liked, so there’s no way I could kill everyone that didn’t like me anyway. But in what words could I explain that to a child?
“…If I did that, I’d get killed in return.”