—At the previous night.
I had come out from the fragrant female team paradise into the chilling blizzard.
Zephyr and Byakuya were sleeping side by side. They must be warming themselves up with each other’s heat.
This is the first blizzard of Zephyr. His intelligence is quite high and him staying by the side of Byakuya who is familiar with this land is reassuring.
“…I am counting on you with my Zephyr, Byakuya.” (Solje)
Byakuya looked at me and slightly lowered his head. That might have been the gesture for ‘understood!’.
This might have been the first time Byakuya has shown me animal-like emotions. I see…I might have been prejudiced.
Unicorns are outstanding warriors. I am beginning to think that Byakuya is the owner of a knight’s heart. He protects Loroka (princess) with bravery, without saying a word, and fulfills his duty with simple honesty. He is even trying to protect his junior in this crew that is Zephyr.
“…Do you understand words?” (Solje)
I use the power of Ares to look at his heart. I couldn’t see it until now, but this time I see a gentle golden light from the unicorn.
“I see, you must be happy to have returned to your homeland.” (Solje)
Byakuya neighs and looks up at the blizzard.
I see, my view of the world has once again been widened. Unicorns love snow. And they are gentle and great warriors. They most likely understand words and have incredibly high intelligence.
“Then…I was forgetting about this.” (Solje)
I unsheathe the dragon longsword.
Byakuya showed tension for a second, but this great warrior didn’t panic. I silently lower my dragon longsword towards the very personification of a clear mirror.
“Byakuya, I acknowledge you as a comrade of the Banjar Mercenaries. Hit your horn to Ares’s dragon longsword and make a sound with it. That will be a welcoming sign, and will be a pledge.” (Solje)
The unicorn slowly moved his head, and lightly hit the dragon longsword with his horn.
That kind of clear sound reached my ears even within this intense raging blizzard.
“…I will be counting on you from now on as well, Byakuya.” (Solje)
Looks like I deepened my relationship with the unicorn. Well, the unicorns of Barrow Gawick are apparently pretty hostile, so I probably won’t be able to get along with them in this way. Looks like I have managed to gain a sense of worth I didn’t have until now.
This world really is interesting.
Hey, Garf Cortez.
The Banjar Mercenaries that you created and I succeeded is slowly becoming an interesting crew… Just how far can we get? Watch that journey of us from up there while enjoying your drinks.
——-The great white lion, Garf Cortez, gathered many demi-humans.
Listen well, Solje, they possess quite the strength.
There are many interesting guys amongst them, so let’s gather more and more.
We are gonna be fighting the Empire, you know? Let’s be together with the enemies of the Empire!!
——The White Lion always liked a good drink.
Listen well, Solje, alcohol is awesome.
As long as we have this, we can become friends with anyone.
Hm? That only applies to me? Then, you search for your own way.
——The White Lion couldn’t hate anyone, so no one hated him.
I am not telling you to not have hatred, emotions are the ‘meaning’ that colors life after all.
Revenge, anger, hatred…that’s fine, they are the best colors.
But you know, Solje, with only one color, it would only make a boring ‘painting’, you know?
——Anger is fine, hatred is fine, but if you had more colors than that…
It would obviously be a whole lot better.
…That’s why, Solje.
Learn about the world, that’s the trick to enjoy life.
After forming a friendship with the unicorn, I was beginning to get cold, so I returned to the men’s tent.
Now then, let’s enter—is what I was about to do when I crouched but…I could hear a moaning-like voice from inside.
Jean is moaning? What’s the matter?! A cold?!
“C-Could it be…?!” (Solje)
Oi oi, Jean, could it be that…you are masturbating? You thought I was going to be returning late? You thought I was doing something perverted with Riel and Loroka?
No way…but it is possible. The sexual drive of the young has no limits.
Also, when I was drinking with Sharon, Gindo, and Jean, I said about how when having sex with a mercenary girl, the best scenario would be attacking her when she is treating your wounds…
We are talking about Jean who memorizes my words perfectly. Maybe he got excited remembering that and began to do it?
…Damn, here’s the number one tent I don’t want to enter.
Oi oi, Jean, doing things like that outside is an unwritten rule of men, you know?
But well, yeah, the weather is incredibly bad. If you were to die from the cold by doing that, it would be the ultimate embarrassment…!
That’s youth for you, I suppose.
Now then, what to do. I want to return to the women’s tent.
I want to return to that paradise, but the doors to that paradise are already closed. Riel has set up magic landmines already after all.
Should I tell them the circumstances?
…If I were to tell them the straight truth, I feel like the tent will be closed even tighter…
Damn it…my body is beginning to get cold. My body and heart are!!
There’s no point worrying here. I should just shout ‘I returned’ in a loud voice…and give him ten seconds of leeway.
Make sure to hide it, okay? If you hide it, we can play it as if nothing happened.
“Oi, Jean!! I am back!! I will be entering the tent soon!!” (Solje)
I gift Jean 10 seconds and I slowly enter the tent.
Jean, please feign sleep. That’s the last gentleman act you can do.
The inside of the tent was in complete silence.
What a relief. Jean is rolled up in his blankets and playing it off. Good good, that’s how it should be.
I immediately entered my own blanket and close my eyes.
After a while, Jean begins to moan again.
Is he going at it again? Youth is scary.
Damn it, can’t be helped. I’ll have to lecture him a bit here. Masturbating inside the tent is forbidden; I will have to teach him that unwritten rule of the Banjar Mercenary men.
I resolved myself and throw my blanket away, standing in anger. Right, when angry, you have to clearly show it!!
“Oi, Jean!! Don’t you understand the rules of society—!” (Solje)
Aah, I really don’t understand the heart of my subordinates.
Those were not moans of pleasure. It looks like he was having a nightmare.
Even within this crazy cold snowstorm night, he is sweating bullets. And he is moaning and struggling around.
“…Oi, Jean. Oi!! What’s the matter?! Wake up!!” (Solje)
I crouch to the side of Jean and call him. Even so, he didn’t wake up. This is abnormal. Is this really a nightmare?
…For mercenaries that have been in the battlefield for long, people who show this kind of sights isn’t rare, but…Jean hasn’t shown this before. At least from what I know.
I called him and shake his body, but he wasn’t waking up.
That’s why…sorry, but this is a desperate measure.
I slap the face of Jean.
“Gafuh?! …E-Eh?” (Jean)
“You woke up huh, Jean.” (Solje)
“Y-Yes… Wait, my face hurts like hell.” (Jean)
“That’s not important. What’s the matter? You were moaning there, you know?” (Solje)
“…Eh? Aah…I see…” (Jean)
“Were you having a scary dream?” (Solje)
“I see.” (Solje)
Mercenaries don’t laugh at other mercenaries that moan at their nightmares. In our line of work, we have tasted many an experience that are worthy of having nightmares about.
The moment a person kills another brutally, women who have been raped and have had their stomachs broken open, children who have been torn to pieces…
You can see those kind of things.
And so…I don’t think mercenaries who see those kinds of nightmares as cowards.
“Are you okay?” (Solje)
“…Y-Yes, thanks to you.” (Jean)
“…Is that so. Should I go to Riel and ask her for medicine that can help you sleep well?” (Solje)
“…No, I will probably be okay.” (Jean)
“I see.” (Solje)
“I have troubled you here.” (Jean)
“No…I should be the one apologizing.” (Solje)
“It is nothing. I slapped you to wake you up, you see.” (Solje)
“A-Aah, that much is okay…” (Jean)
“…Right. You are one of our mercenaries after all.” (Solje)
“…Then, can you sleep? We will be travelling quite a lot tomorrow too.” (Solje)
And then, we went back to our blankets.
The guilt was killing me inside.
Was my evaluation and trust of Jean so low? …That’s why I made such a stupid misunderstanding?
What a hopeless superior I am.
Aah, Garf, you died way too soon. I now have one more thing I want to ask you for advice about.
While reflecting on how shortsighted of a leader I am, I pondered about how to become a better leader, and couldn’t sleep from that.
But maybe because it goes with my blood, I am simply no good at thinking too deeply.
It made me even more sleepy…
At that time, my important subordinate spoke.
“…Captain, are you awake?” (Jean)
“…Yeah, what’s the matter?” (Solje)
“…Actually, I had a bad dream. It was a dream of my childhood.” (Jean)
A dream of your childhood? Do you mean a tragic period of yours? I know a little bit about it, but which is it? You had so many tragedies that I can’t tell which one would be enough to have it as a nightmare.
“It was…a dream of when I became a wolf for the first time.” (Jean)
“…The time when your beastkin blood awakened, huh.” (Solje)
That must have definitely been a sad memory. I have heard that the awakening of a beastkin will have your fangs directed at the people in the surroundings.
Yours must have been the same. You were raised in an orphanage, but…one time, your blood awakened, and the children and the staff of the orphanage…
“I remembered the time when I ate everyone…” (Jean)
“…I see. That certainly is a sin of yours, but don’t let it weigh you down. There’s no way your child self would have been able to hold down the impulse of your blood.” (Solje)
“…Yeah, I regret it heavily. But that’s not it.” (Jean)
“What do you mean by that?” (Solje)
“…There was an Agarm today, right?” (Jean)
“…Yeah, Mistral. What about him?” (Solje)
“The presence I felt from him…I have smelled that same scent twice in the past… One of those times was at that day…” (Jean)
Seriously? The sense of smell of a beastkin can even sniff out a Zeruaga’s presence? …No, that’s not possible. Only people who have made direct contact with the Zeruaga can detect the presence of a Zeruaga—wait, could it be…
“The one who awakened your cursed blood was that Zeruaga…and the Zeruaga that made a contract with Mistral was that same Zeruaga?” (Solje)
“…Most likely.” (Jean)
“It is possible. Zeruagas play with this world. Beastkins and Mistral; in their eyes…we are probably simply toys and tools.” (Solje)
“…Sorry, I might have been insensitive there. You are an important comrade of mine.” (Solje)
“…T-Thank you very much…!” (Jean)
Jean seems to be crying a bit.
He is one of the people that had their life messed up by a Zeruaga.
That’s right, Zeruagas don’t do anything good. They may try to destroy a nation or the world…but there are times when they would awaken the blood of cursed bloodlines like that of Jean as a joke.
Awakening a single beastkin won’t destroy the world. But if a young child were to be forcefully awakened when he can’t control it…it is highly likely that a tragedy like that of Jean will happen.
Jean attacked indiscriminately the people around, and ate them. And then, he fell into loneliness. Chased by villagers, he had no choice but to hide in the Redwood Forest.
For several years, he had to live a life of solitude in that forest till Garf and I went there.
“…Next time we meet Mistral…I will forcefully have him spit out his religious inclination. Jean, I will definitely kill the Wicked God that played with your fate.” (Solje)
“Thank you…very much.” (Jean)
“No need to thank me. Let me hear that after we defeat it.” (Solje)
“Yes… A-And so…Captain…” (Jean)
“…I said I smelled it twice, right?” (Solje)
Hm? Wait, meaning that he smelled that Zeruaga or that apostle of it some other time too?
“Jean, when and where?” (Solje)
“…Today in the morning, when Captain was going to the fortress, in the Zakuroa city…I feel like I sensed the evil presence of someone I knew. I don’t know where, but…there was definitely someone who gave out the scent of a Zeruaga…” (Jean)
“Then, are you saying that ‘someone’ is in Zakuroa?” (Solje)
“…Y-Yes. I am not sure about it, but…after seeing that nightmare just now, I thought that…” (Jean)
“I trust your instincts.” (Solje)
“You are an excellent mercenary of mine. Your nose has not missed until now.” (Solje)
“…Thank you very much…!” (Jean)
“Geez, just sleep already. I will be thinking for a while. If you begin moaning again, I will wake you up, so sleep without worries.” (Solje)
“Y-Yes…good night, Captain.” (Jean)
“Good night, Jean.” (Solje)
And so, Jean goes into his blanket. Will he be able to sleep? …Yeah, he most likely will. He continuously ran through snow for half a day and fought against Ice Wolves. He must be tired. That’s why, sleep in peace.
…But it is getting more and more fishy.
In this time when we have to make the Ludo Kingdom and Zakuroa form an alliance, and have to do something about the 5th division…there’s even a Zeruaga roaming? …Or is a familiar acting on its own?
What’s clear is that the culprit who requested of Mistral is someone who has been shared the power of a Zeruaga. If not, there’s no way they would be able to request something of Mistral…and it looks like it is someone that has made contact with me.
Moreover…if we trust the hunch of Jean…it is someone in Zakuroa.
Who is it?
First, we met the merchants at the forest of skeletons…I was hugged by Victor Laichi there.
Later on, I also exchanged handshakes with the staff of the inn that have been working there since long ago. And, that night, we were attacked by the Reis Legion.
Victor…it pains me to suspect that kind hearted old man, but if the Reis Legion attack was already within the plans of the Zeruaga… Also, Victor had been taken hostage by an Agarm, yet he wasn’t killed.
Even if it killed him, we would have still gone to search for him. And yet, Victor was ‘miraculously’ unscathed.
…Aah, I don’t want to believe it. I don’t want something like that to be true!! That old man is a good guy!! He remembered my mother and my father…he remembered my family!!
…I want to believe that’s not the case…
And then…I suddenly met him the next morning.
He grabbed my hand while I was flustered by the sudden visit and secured a handshake.
A Zeruaga familiar would be able to curse me at that instant, I think. He knew that I was an assassin of Queen Claris. It wouldn’t be strange if he were to wish for my elimination.
In terms of motives, he would be the most suspicious.
And then, this is something I don’t want to think but…
I hugged a whole lot of knights at the fortress and exchanged handshakes as well.
First is Vashiri Nova, then Rodoni, Mariel, Woodhead, Nyukam, Russelback, Judo, Elizabeth, Rafa, Sid…there’s many.
Jean said…at the time when I headed out to the fortress, he smelled the scent in the city.
Then…is it okay to exclude the people of the fortress? Or is the distance between the city and the fortress within the margin of error for detecting the presence?
The wind was blowing from the east at that time, it wouldn’t be strange for the scent to be carried from the fortress to the city with ease.
If we are talking about the city, there’s the commercial district, the western urban areas…and the store of Julian Laichi and the congress…
I am no good.
My thoughts are being mixed with my feelings. Julian Laichi being the culprit would make me feel somewhat better… With that kind of emotion in me, my thoughts are being distorted.
I am…not composed here.
Right…let’s consult with Loroka. Also, if it is Jean who can detect the Zeruaga…finding the culprit shouldn’t be difficult…
I have decided. Right, now that it has been decided, let’s sleep.
Jean is already sleeping comfortably. He is not having a nightmare.
Right, nightmares, troubles, are things that can be made less heavier by speaking them out.
—–Jean saw that nightmare again.
But after being given courage by the leader of the pack, he won’t waver anymore.
Watching that figure of his devouring his own friends.
The soft meat of children in between his teeth was similar to that of chicken meat.
——Jean saw that nightmare again.
The staff that worked them to the ground and abused them were delicious.
Even though they were so scary before, they could only be described as delicious right now.
It felt really good.
——That’s right, I was eating them without killing them.
In front of overwhelming power, the struggle of the common people was pointless.
I shouted ‘serves you right’ at the manager that was having his stomach eaten.
You always bullied us and assaulted Rea-chan, right?
——’Bring divine punishment to the adults’.
He heard the gentle voice of a woman, Jean who doesn’t know about having a mother…thought of that voice as a mother.
‘Eat their legs, and once they have lost their way of escaping, eat them while alive’.
Yes, Mother, I will obey your words.
——’Bring salvation to the children’.
Being starved, punched, assaulted; their eyes project no future, right?
Save these helplessly weak children from the pain of the world.
Turn them into blood and meat, and teach them the joys of the strong.
——Become one with them, save the people devoid of hope by devouring them.
Bring punishment to the adults that have no worth saving, that is your duty.
That’s you, Jean.
You are an incredibly scary werewolf.
——Jean was happy and performed his duty, it was a time of supreme bliss.
Everyone was saved; everyone was punished.
He showed this off and puffed out his chest.
How is it? The world has become red and silent.
——How can this be…W-Were you the one who did this?
And then, the voice of a man was heard.
Jean opened his eyes…and Mother looks at him.
Mother likes that person…
——Jean opens his eyes, narrowing his eyes inside the tent.
…That’s right, a Zeruaga was there at that time.
I awakened as a wolf and saved everyone.
And then…the ‘man’ that was there at that time…was most definitely…
——Even if pondered on, he couldn’t get a clear image.
Can’t tell face or voice, in the first place, it was in a dream.
There’s no assurance of it…but there’s no doubt about it.
That’s right, the wolf’s instincts were telling him, that man is cursing Captain…
——And he has hopes for him…
What does that mean…?
Ah, sorry, Captain…
I am stupid, so I don’t know the reason for this feeling.
——Even though I should be scared, anger was flowing out.
I feel bloodlust towards the evil that try to approach you.
Zeruaga…are evil gods that invade from the Spirit World.
But I want to fight and kill them and their familiars.
——You and the family, the mercenary crew, that you gave me.
I don’t want them to be hurt…
That’s why…ancestors that left this cursed blood in me.
My real mother…please give me more of the cursed power.
And now, the group was stepping into the metropolis with blissful feelings, unbeknownst to the tragedy that lies ahead; sealed from the outside world as if it was a world of its own, enclosed in this prison of ice.