Saturday, February 10, 2018

Cooking with Wild Game Volume 4 Chapter 2

The Day of Decision
Translator: Skythewood
Editor: Tokumei, Ratorasepo

1


The next day after we met Kamyua Yost, Ai Fa and I visited the Lutim village early in the morning.


To be honest, Ai Fa and I couldn’t handle that madman by ourselves anymore.


After heading to the south of the Wu village, we found five large houses grouped tightly together. This was the Lutim village, and I had visited this place several times before the wedding to consult the newlywed’s opinions.


Fortunately, Kaslan Lutim was already up when we visited the massive main house.


「Hey, it’s Ai Fa and Asuta. What’s the matter?」


Kaslan Lutim received us with a smile.


The house head Dan Lutim was still fast asleep. But that was fine since Kaslan Lutim was the one with an earnest character, and a flexible, open mind. We needed to consult him now.


「Sorry for visiting at such a time.」


「It’s fine, the custom of the Lutim house dictates that husband and wife don’t need to work three days before and after the wedding. I’m very happy about your visit.」


Kaslan Lutim had a calm smile.


Even so, I still felt guilty about visiting the groom two days after his wedding.


But we were very confused and had to seek the opinion of a third party.


「Yesterday, when Kamyua Yost visited the Fa house, our conversation developed in an unexpected manner.」


When Kaslan Lutim brought me into a large hall that was on par with the Wu clan in terms of size, I started the topic.


What we wanted to discuss was the insane idea proposed by Kamyua Yost last night.






「Why do we have to open a stall in the Post Station Town?」


When I answered in a panic, Kamyua Yost didn’t seem bothered at all.


「For the sake of making the denizens of Forest's Edge stronger and more prosperous of course.」


I sighed, then scratched my head on reflex.


「If I open a stall, why would the denizens of Forest's Edge obtain more strength and become more prosperous? I don’t get the logic behind your words.」


「Why? Asuta, you might have come from a foreign land, but you are now a member of Forest's Edge. When you become wealthy, that means life in Forest's Edge will be more prosperous too, right?」


「Don’t think so. The earned copper plates will only make the Fa house richer. Furthermore, there are only the two of us in the Fa house, with no other kin or family. No one will share our gains.」


「Hmm? What do you mean?」


I started explaining to the uncle that the denizens of Forest's Edge was a tribe that deepened their bonds through blood ties.


He probably knew, but I still told him that 「commerce」 didn’t exist in Forest's Edge. And so, money would stay within relatives.


Still,there was a faint smile on Kamyua Yost’s face.


「I can’t agree with that. Going by what you said, the denizens of Forest's Edge don’t care about anyone except their family. What I mean is, do you think everyone but your family is insignificant?」


「That’s going too extreme. Of course we have friends too. But even if we become wealthy, it will have nothing to do with their lives.」


「That’s only if you hog all the wealth like the chief clan.」


At this point of the conversation, Ai Fa had completely showed her hunter’s eyes.


That was a natural reaction. I wasn’t angry yet, but my distrust of this uncle had been pushed to the limits.


「I’m just chatting about something that flashed across my mind, I never thought you would be so resistant against it.」


「… Of course. Even for idle chatter, that came out of nowhere.」


「Is it? I think this sudden inspiration isn’t bad at all. After all, opening a stall in the Post Station Town isn’t that hard.」


Kamyua Yost said casually. He was about to get up, but he sat back down and stroked his stubby beard.


「I got it. I will explain to you from the very beginning. The first thing on my mind is the value of the kiba meat.」


「… The value of the kiba meat?」


「The people in Forest's Edge sell kiba horns, tusks, and hides in exchange for food. In that case, why not sell kiba meat?」


「The people in the city don’t eat kiba meat, right? They fear the kiba, and even mock the Forest's Edge denizens as 《Kiba Eaters》.」


「Only the locals in Genos fear kiba. The travellers and migrants are just influenced by them.」


「No, that might be so——」


「Let me ask you, do you think it is right for the people in Genos to discriminate Forest's Edge denizens as 《Kiba Eaters》 and fear them? Will that make the denizens of Forest's Edge happy and proud? If the denizens of Forest's Edge don’t mind, then it’s okay. I can understand why you don’t want the people in the city to know how delicious the kiba are. You are free to ignore my proposal… But if that isn’t what the denizens of Forest's Edge really think, I really can’t imagine a reason why you won’t sell the kiba meat.」


The denizens of Forest's Edge discovered the delectability of kiba only recently, in this very month—— There wasn’t any point for me to rebuke him like this.


Since we could peddle kiba tusks and horns, there wasn’t any reason why we couldn’t sell kiba meat.


「You want me to open a butcher shop in the Post Station Town? Is that really profitable?」


「You won’t earn money in the Post Station Town if you start with a butchery right off the bat. We need to let them know how tasty kiba meat is. That’s why I suggested for you to open a stall…  Not a butchery, but a food stall.」


「……」


「If you succeed, the kiba meat could then be sold as merchandize. Everyone thinks that kiba meat is nasty and stinks, but if your delicious food becomes popular in the Post Station Town, you can overturn this misconception. When everyone will be willing to pay for kiba meat with copper plates, your success will lift up Forest's Edge, right?」


Kamyua Yost looked really chirpy, as if he just wanted to chat.


「The tusks and horns from one kiba could be exchanged for at most one silver plate. The hide goes for about the same amount. The hunters in Forest's Edge risk their lives to hunt, so this pittance is too unreasonable… I found this unsettling since a long time ago.」


「However—— the denizens of Forest's Edge lived for eight decades this way. If we destroy this pattern now——」


「Asuta, what I’m going to say might be a little rude. You just became a denizen of Forest's Edge, right? I asked my friends in the Post Station Town, they have never seen a foreigner in Forest's Edge clothing in the past.」


「… And so?」


「I just want to tell you that I might be more familiar with life in Forest's Edge than you.」


Kamyua Yost had an arrogant smile.


「There are plenty of hunter’s pride hanging on Ai Fa’s neck. The Wu clan has many kin, and there’s also the Tsun clan hogging all the prize money… Asuta, have you ever interacted with the other houses before?」


No.


Why did Kamyua Yost ask that?


「The answer is simple. When you know what kind of life the average denizens of Forest's Edge are living, you won’t be against the idea of improving their lives.」


「The average—— Forest's Edge denizen? You are not even a denizen of Forest's Edge, how would you know——」
「I’m not a denizen, so this is just my guess. If I’m wrong, I hope Ai Fa will correct me.」


Ai Fa didn’t say a word.


However —— I sensed another agitated emotion other than rage in her fiery eyes.


「Most of the Forest's Edge denizens only eat aria and poitan because they couldn’t afford other ingredients. Only a minority of the Forest's Edge denizens has as much savings as Ai Fa, most of them are suffering in poverty. Their homes are empty, and not because they wish for an ascetic lifestyle. Many couldn’t afford aria and poitan, and couldn’t eat anything except kiba meat, leading to a premature death—— That’s my assumption. From the information I garnered in the Post Station Town, and inspecting Forest's Edge personally, that’s the conclusion I arrived at. Ai Fa, am I wrong?」


「… The capable houses lead wealthy lives, and the powerless families lead impoverished lives. That is just the way things are.」


「Which means, there really are people who only live by eating meat in Forest's Edge, and die prematurely. There are even those who fail to hunt kiba and starve to death. Is that true?」


「… To avoid being forced to such an end, we have to work hard and become stronger. That’s what I have been taught since young.」


「Since the denizens of Forest's Edge teach their children this concept, that means such a risk exists.」


Why did things end up like this?


I started deluding—— that compared to Ai Fa who seldom mingled with the other denizens, Kamyua Yost from the city understood the situation in Forest's Edge better.


「Outsiders have a clearer view.」


Kamyua Yost smiled again, but his expression changed this time.


He narrowed his drooping eyes, and a clear light appeared in his purple iris, like an elderly philosopher—— Even though he was clearly suspicious, his eyes were as intelligent as Grandma Jiba’s.


「The denizens of Forest's Edge live a honest life… If the kiba gets hungry, it would charge out of the forest and destroy the farmlands of the Genos. To keep the kiba from starving, the people in Forest's Edge are not allowed to forage food from the forest. As a mere man, I couldn’t understand why they would rather starve to death than violate such an unfair agreement. Not just that, the kiba that the denizens of Forest's Edge risked their lives to hunt is only worth a silver plate or two. I don’t agree to such a way of living. I think the people in Forest's Edge should have a more prosperous life.」


「But… Excessive wealth will make one depraved. Just like the Tsun clan…」


「Their wealth was obtained by unjust means without any effort. I don’t think Ai Fa and Donda Wu would become depraved because of wealth. Even if the necklace on Ai Fa’s neck increases by a hundred, she won’t give up on being a hunter, right?」


Ai Fa—— she definitely won’t give up.


It was the same for Donda Wu.


The Wu clan would hunt large numbers of kiba everyday, but they would just use the copper plates to buy vegetables or accessories for their daughters. They won’t squander any of it, or neglect their hunter’s work. They spent all their time hunting kiba and felt proud about that.


The figure of Shin Wu appeared in my mind.


That youth had to support five family members.


And of course, they wouldn’t starve if he could rely on the other kin in his village. But for the sake of protecting his family, he would go as far as to adopt the dangerous 『sacrificial hunting style」.


If instead of being from the Wu clan, he would be like Ai Fa and come from a family with few blood kins—— he would need to hunt a little more than one kiba every two days to provide enough aria and poitan for his family.


「What do you think? My opinion is that the people in Forest's Edge should live with more abundance. Do you believe that is unreasonable?」


「… From what I have seen, I don’t think the denizens of Forest's Edge are living a life of misfortune.」


I have met the women of Forest's Edge at the water source before, and also saw small groups of men heading into the woods. Even though I never mingled with the other houses, I often saw them walking around Forest's Edge. Their eyes were clear and bright, although not to the extent of the Wu clan.


They might be poor and discriminated in the city, but they didn’t seem to be living a life of misfortune.


「I agree with you. The denizens of Forest's Edge are a tribe that keeps to themselves… That is why I hope they can live a more prosperous life.」


Kamyua Yost closed his eyes, concealing his unfathomable gaze.


When he opened his eyes again, he smiled casually again.


「I’m just sharing what I thought on a whim. I will let the two of you judge the rest. Only the denizens of Forest's Edge can decide the future of Forest's Edge. Please choose a path you think is right, and strive forth.」


「… Are you still insisting this is something you just thought up?」


Agitated emotions came over me, and I glared at Kamyua Yost’s unfathomable face.


「After knowing I was the chef for yesterday’s banquet—— you requested to have dinner at my place in order to ascertain my cooking skills?」


「You flatter me, I’m not that brilliant… However, when I saw the blissful faces of everyone feasting on the kiba, I was confused. Since kiba is so delicious, why don’t they sell meat along with the tusks and horns?」


Kamyua Yost mentioned casually.


My head was a mess.


It was probably the same for Ai Fa.


This man—— just who was he?


「Asuta, after dining with you, I’m certain that your cooking will sell in the Post Station Town. But what I think isn’t important. The crucial thing is, which path is the right one for the denizens of Forest's Edge?」


Kamyua Yost stood up briskly, his cloak rustling in the air.


「It is your freedom to choose whichever path you like. If you wish to discuss further details, you are welcome to visit me anytime. I will be staying in the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》 until the 15th of next month. I will also visit you when I come to Forest's Edge to scout again—— only if you still welcome me.」






Kaslan Lutim remained calm the entire time, and didn’t interject at all before I finished.


At the very end, he commented——「What a surprise」.


「No one from the city ever interacted with the people of Forest's Edge in such a way before. How surprising.」


Ema Min Lutim had excused herself, so only the three of us were left in the room.


I leaned forth and asked:


「What do you think? After listening to Kamyua Yost’s words, what should we do?」


「That will depends on what you think. If you want to know my views——」


This is too retarded… If Kaslan Lutim were to answer like this, Ai Fa and I might have an easier time.


But reality was cruel.


「—— I think his proposal makes a lot of sense.」


Kaslan Lutim said with certainty.


「I see…」


「Yes. It’s not against the rules to exchange kiba meat for copper plates. If we plan to do so, the residents in the Post Station Town have to taste the kiba meat first. Regarding a prosperous life for the denizens of Forest's Edge—— I concur with that man’s opinion.」


Kaslan Lutim showed no hesitation in his eyes.
If Kamyua Yost would have had these eyes, I might have agreed to his proposal without any hesitation.


This couldn’t be helped. Leaving aside the fact that everyone has different personalities, Kaslan Lutim was a denizen of Forest's Edge, while Kamyua Yost was from Rock City, their background was drastically different.


「Excessive wealth will make people depraved—— That’s how I feel. Do the denizens of Forest's Edge think this is an insult?」


「No. After all, you already know about the depraved Tsun clan, so having such thoughts is unavoidable. However, this is similar to hamburg steak, right?」


「H-Hamburg steak?」


「That’s right. Those who are not disciplined will be obsessed with the taste of hamburg steak, and allow their teeth and jaw to turn weak. Medicine will become poison if taken in excess. In my eyes, excessive wealth is the same thing.」


Kaslan Lutim smiled quietly.


「For example, eight decades ago, the people in Forest's Edge suffered greatly from poverty. They didn’t have proper weapons and didn’t know the habits of kiba. They were prohibited from foraging the forest for food —— Many either died from fighting the kiba or hunger. That’s what I learned from Jiba Wu.」


「… Yes.」
「Even so, the people in the past still lived in Forest's Edge proudly, and learned the skills and knowledge of hunting kiba. They sold the kiba’s tusks and horns to buy steel, pots, food, and cloth, successfully building the lives we have now. The Wu clan and Lutim house are wealthier, and are purchasing other types of ingredients and accessories for the women on top of daily necessities. Grandma Jiba and the others knew how tough the past was, and are satisfied with their current life. As long as people like that exist—— a wealthy life won’t make us depraved.」


「Yes.」


That’s all I could muster.


After hearing Kaslan Lutim’s words, my feelings became clearer.


Ai Fa listened to our conversation quietly. What were her thoughts about this?


「… I want to make an assumption…」


Kaslan Lutim continued speaking seriously.


「Asuta, If your work in the Post Station Town is successful, and the kiba meat is sold for copper plates—— As only the kins of the Wu clan has learned bloodletting from you, we will be the only ones who can  peddle meat.」


「That’s right.」


「If the Wu clan’s wealth increases with time and surpasses the Tsun clan in the future, wouldn’t the people think that hunting kiba is the right path to a prosperous future?」


I was shocked.


Kaslan Lutim smiled.


「I don’t know what Kamyua Yost is thinking. Going by what you said, he is planning to weaken the Tsun clan’s power. And so I wondered what I would think if I were in his shoes —— and so, I tried thinking what kind of impact the selling of kiba meat will have on the Tsun clan. But in order to arrive at the conclusion I stated earlier, he needs to know that 『Only the Wu clan and their kins have learned bloodletting』.」


That man probably knew that already.


Compared to Kamyua Yost’s schemes, Kaslan Lutim’s conclusion surprised me more.


「Kaslan Lutim. You… You are incredible. I can’t think that far ahead.」


「I’m not that good. My only strong points are thinking and hunting kiba.」


Kaslan Lutim stared at me with his honest eyes.


「However, I have not seen Kamyua Yost in person before. I can’t trust someone I have never met. But I trust you, Asuta and Ai Fa… What are your thoughts about this?」


Ai Fa answered his query.


There was a strong light in her blue eyes as she looked at Kaslan Lutim’s earnest face.


「Kaslan Lutim, I can’t talk about such lofty aspirations like you. No matter what happens in the future, I don’t think the Tsun clan can regain their guts as a denizen of Forest's Edge.」


「Yes.」


「However—— If Asuta and my decision can benefit life in Forest's Edge a little… I will feel pride in that.」


「… I see.」


Kaslan Lutim smiled gently.


He turned towards me.


「I concur with what Ai Fa said. But we don’t understand Kamyua Yost enough, and can’t agree to his proposal so easily. We need to check for any traps in his suggestion.」


「That’s true, you are right.」


Kaslan Lutim nodded firmly.


「Ai Fa, Asuta, when you find the right path and need any help, don’t hesitate to visit again if you need the aid of house Lutim. You might not be kins of house Lutim, but you are good friends that are trustworthy. House Lutim will always welcome you.」


「Yes, Thank you. I’m very grateful.」

I reached out my right hand unconsciously, then pulled it back quickly.


「Sorry. In my country, shaking hands is a sign of friendship. I don’t think there is such a custom in Forest's Edge.」


「I just need to shake hands?」


Kaslan Lutim tilted his head quizzically, then extended his right hand.


I gripped the hunter’s big strong hand with all my might.


He grasped my hand with equal strength.


「Asuta, your capability might far exceed my imagination. I hope you can be a medicine for Forest's Edge.」


After Kaslan Lutim said his piece, we left the Lutim house.

2


After leaving house Lutim, we headed straight for the Post Station Town.


We wanted to end this preposterous issue as soon as possible, so we decided to visit Kamyua Yost during our trip to buy a pot.


Ai Fa placed a necklace worth 20 kiba into a bag usually used for vegetables, and hung it under her underarm.


After Kaslan Lutim told us the shortest route from house Lutim to the Post Station Town, we passionately—— actually, we weren’t that hot blooded—— walked towards the Post Station Town.


「… The more I think about it, the more ludicrous this proposal seems.」


I said to Ai Fa on the way there.


「It is surprising that down to earth Forest Edge denizens like you and Kaslan Lutim actually agreed to this. However, everyone wishes for the denizens of Forest's Edge to live a more prosperous life after all.」


「That’s only natural. I experienced the pains of such poverty too.」


Ai Fa looked away, and muttered:


「I told you before, right? When my father Gill couldn’t do his work as a hunter due to a leg injury, the Fa house almost got wiped out. The Fa house didn’t have any kins. If my shoddy trap didn’t capture a young kiba—— at that time, we would have starved to death.」


「Oh right… You did mention that.」


「When the entire family was forced to the brink, I understood how terrible my father felt. I don’t think anyone should undergo such pain.」


「… Hmm.」


「This idea might be coming from a citizen of Rock City, but, as long as we earn the money by our own means, even Donda Wu who hates Rock City won’t be able to complain about this. This is a match between Forest's Edge and Rock City.」


Ai Fa finally glanced my way.


Her voice was heavy, but her eyes were clear..


「… As long as you are by my side, we will have the upper hand in this fight.」


「What, I won’t give you anything even if you flatter me you know?」


I felt so proud that my heart was almost bursting. In order to hide how I felt, I intentionally showed a cheerful face.


「But we need to investigate Kamyua Yost first. If that uncle has any schemes, things will be bad. We need to ask about opening a stall in the Post Station Town, and try our best to probe what his true intentions are.」


「… You are right.」


Ai Fa’s expression became serious and she turned to the front.


Letting the people in the city understand the value of kiba meat is a ludicrous fight.


But since Ai Fa and Kaslan Lutim found great meaning in it—— I was willing to fight this uphill battle.


First, we need to face the man of dubious origins again—— Kamyua Yost.


The first step of this battle was to determine if this man will be a medicine to Forest's Edge or a poison.






And so, we went to the Post Station Town once again.


The sun had already gone past the peak, compared to our last visit, we arrived later, and there were more people in town.


Before us was a 10 m wide stone street, with tall buildings erected on both sides of it. All sorts of people in various attire were walking around. The huge Totos Moa were pulling wagons. The crowded streets were hot, noisy and full of heat from the people.


The crowded Post Station Town made me dizzy. I turned to Ai Fa as I walked in the crowd.


「Let’s settle the troublesome matter first. Besides, I don’t want to visit the inn with an iron pot.」


Where was that 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》Kamyua Yost was lodging?


On a closer look, almost all the buildings here had gigantic signboards, with curvy hieroglyphs drawn on them.


I asked Ai Fa what the signs said, and she answered:「How would I know.」


I could only ask a pedestrian.


And so—— We started observing the people in the city once again.


The pedestrians were roughly divided into four skin colours, yellowish brown, ivory, black and white. Yellowish brown and ivory were about equal in number. Blacks and whites were relatively fewer.


Most of the people who were looking at Ai Fa with suspicious eyes had yellowish brown skin.


Those with ivory skin had similar reactions.


In comparison, the whites and blacks didn’t show any fear or disdain in their eyes—— However, their attitude wasn’t friendly. Some didn’t care about us at all, while others stared at Ai Fa curiously.


I thought it would be more appropriate to talk to someone that looked similar to me, so I decided to talk to a ivory skinned youth.


「Excuse me, do you know about an inn called 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》?」


The youth had short brown hair. He stopped in surprise, and alternated his gaze between Ai Fa and me suspiciously.


His face—— showed no signs of fear.


Or any obvious hint of disdain.


He seemed troubled and confused.


「……《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》 is that building with red roof tiles.」


「I see, thank you.」


The youth quickly turned and left.


I have nothing to do with the denizens of Forest's Edge! He seemed to be doing his best to express this fact.


That was a natural reaction, so I scratched my head.


「Alright, let’s go.」


Most buildings here were built from wood, and at first glance, the bare wooden planks could be clearly seen. But there were also many walls and roofs that were painted either red or green.


Were they decorations or some form of preservatives? Maybe both? I couldn’t tell.


No matter what, we have arrived at our first destination.


This large building had two floors like the other houses. I saw a cursive drawing on the sign board, a part of it resembled the feathers of a bird..


When I tasted a meat bun in the Post Station Town last time, Kamyua Yost said that was a kimyusu meat bun. The meat inside the bun tasted as bland as chicken fillet, so that was probably the name of a type of bird.


「……Ai Fa, are you alright?」


「What’s the matter?」


「Nothing, just that this is probably the first time you entered a building inside the Post Station Town.」


Ai Fa shrugged silently.


Her gestures were implying:「There isn’t any place more dangerous than the forest, is it?」


However, I think the real threat to hunters weren’t the horns of the kiba but the blades wielded by humans. But if we were to leave now, there wouldn’t be any progress.


The door to the inn had metal hinges instead of a sliding door. As there wasn’t any handles on the door, I placed my hands on the double door and pushed it open gently.


「Welcome…」


The other party’s voice stiffened midway.


A middle aged man sat behind a waist high counter and looked at us in surprise.


He was a slightly plump man with yellowish brown skin.


I couldn’t tell his stature since he was seated behind the counter, but he didn’t seem to be too tall.


He had a cylindrical shaped hat on his head, wore grey clothes and a grey apron. I often saw such a style of clothing on the streets.


「… Here for a meal?」


You ain’t here for lodgings, right? The store owner’s large eyes seemed to be intimidating us.


The contempt in his eyes exceeded his fear.


「No, we are here to visit Kamyua Yost who should be lodging here.」


「Kamyua?」


The middle aged man opened his eyes wide in surprise again, with still a hint of caution on his face.


He then muttered:「That madman…」 and turned his neck to gaze the inside of the inn.


「Kamyua! You have guests! Can I let them in!?」


There was a restaurant inside the inn.


It was afternoon, meal time had already passed and the crowd in the restaurant was sparse. There were three long wooden tables and chairs inside. The atmosphere here wasn’t bad, and reminded me of the cabins in ski resorts.


However—— the men seated inside had a dangerous air around them.


They had different hair and skin colour, but all were burly built with sinister faces. Three out of the five had leather chest armour and steel gauntlets. They had weapons like blades, axes and maces on their waist—— and they were drunk.


If they could earn a livelihood, I wouldn’t mind them drinking in the afternoon. However, I found their gazes to be unpleasant when they turned their faces our way.


Curious gazes.


Looks of contempt.


Suspicious stares.


And—— lustful leerings.


They didn’t fear Ai Fa.


Some of them acted as if they were looking at something filthy, others showed a malicious smile like Doddo Tsun.


The atmosphere was terrible.


「Hey, Kamyua, are you there? Are you asleep!?」


The middle aged man yelled again.


「Yes!」


At this moment, a cute voice rang out.


A boy with light brown hair ran out from the depths of the restaurant.


The boy was about ten years old and had a pair of brown eyes filled with intelligence.


「Are you Ai Fa and Asuta from house Fa? Welcome! I’m Kamyua Yost’s disciple Leito. This way please.」


Disciple?


In what sense?


The boy’s light brown hair was rather long, and his face was gentle.


He wore a sleeveless shirt and long pants, with a small pouch and knife on his waist, and leather boots on his feet. His dressing was tidy and looked kind and docile, if I was his family, I would definitely tell him not to get involved with that suspicious looking uncle.


But I was a guest and not his family, so I could only follow the boy’s lead and meet with Kamyua Yost.


「Hey, since you are in my restaurant, you have to place an order.」


The middle aged man called out to us.


「Oh, that’s right. What would you like to have?」


The boy turned towards us.


「Hmm? It’s my first time in a place like this, I’m not too sure——」


I whispered to the boy:


「Also, I don’t have any copper plates right now.」


「I see, I got it.」


The boy smiled gently and turned towards the owner.


「I want to order two zozo tea. Please add it to our tab. We will be sitting at the usual place.」


「Alright.」


The middle aged man waved his right hand.


As I looked at the stairs leading to the second floor, the boy, me and Ai Fa entered the inn in that order.


The eyes of the men drinking alcohol followed us.


Fortunately, they didn’t taunt us when we passed by their table.


At the end of the passage, I saw an entrance without any door. After passing it, I saw a room which was about the size of the restaurant. The tables were smaller, but much more numerous than the other room. The other furnishing was about the same.


I saw the familiar golden locks in the furthest seat.


That was Kamyua Yost.


He was sleeping soundly.


He leaned against the wall behind him while seated in his wooden chair, with his long legs resting on the table rudely. He breathed steadily during his slumber.


There weren’t any other guests in the room.


「Kamyua, your guests are here! The guests from Forest's Edge you have been waiting so eagerly for. Get up!」
The boy sat beside Kamyua Yost and clapped loudly before his nose.


「Nyaa.」


Kamyua Yost made an unhappy grunt.


I’m sorry, but that wasn’t cute at all.


「Ughh, what is it? I still want to sleep more… Hmm? Ai Fa? Asuta? You are here so soon!」


He opened his slightly drooping eyes, and a gleeful smile appeared on his long face.


「That was unsightly of me. Please have a seat! Leito, get them some tea.」


「I already asked the inn owner to send some over. You can put your legs down now.」


「Ah, sorry sorry.」


The feet in leather boots disappeared from the table, and the boy wiped the table nimbly with a rag.


「Please have a seat.」


「Thank you.」


After sitting down, I realized that Ai Fa was a little hesitant.


Speaking of which, I had never seen a chair in Forest's Edge.


Even so, Ai Fa still sat down coldly with her cape flowing behind her.


「Oh, I never imagined that you would visit just one day later. Ai Fa, Asuta, I’m really happy.」


Kamyua Yost gave a big yawn after saying that.


「Sorry sorry, I was working the entire night and lack sleep.」


「I see. What work did you do after that?」


「Hmm? I was scouting out Forest's Edge the whole night.」


「… Aren’t you afraid of the Gizu biting your legs?」


「Compared to kiba and hunters, those Gizu are nothing.」


By the way, the Gizu they mentioned were about the size of weasels. They were nocturnal and had a likeable appearance, but ate rotten meat like munto. It was said that wounds from their bite would rot.


「Since you made the trip to visit, have you seriously considered my proposal?」


「We hope you can provide us with some information to help us make our decision. However, the main reason we are here in the Post Station Town is for shopping, and this is along the way.」


An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, since he was taking things so lightly, I responded with the same attitude.


We couldn’t let him lead us by the nose.


「Here, the zozo tea you ordered.」


The previous middle-aged man came over.


He placed porcelain cups before Ai Fa and me.


The grey round cups had handles with wavy patterns carved on it. It looked like a beer mug.


「Oh, the owner is serving us personally, thank you for your hard work.」


「What choice do I have, my daughter is too scared to come here.」


That man glared at Ai Fa and me.


He wasn’t tall, but he was stout and burly, and should be quite strong.


「Kamyua, anyone who places an order is a customer in my shop. But in case of any disturbance, I will have to ask you to leave.」


「Have I ever caused any trouble before? You worry too much.」


「… Whatever. But this is still a restaurant, go back to your room if you want to sleep. You have to order something if you want to sit here.」


「Ah, you have a point. Leito and I will each have a zozo tea—— and also give me one person’s portion of Kimyusu salted meat.」


「There’s four of you, but you are only ordering one portion.」


The man turned and left after saying that.


Even though he was in the service industry, the middle-aged man was very rude. Was it because he dislike the denizens of Forest's Edge? Or was he always so brusque towards Kamyua Yost…? Probably both.


When I fell into deep thoughts, Ai Fa scrawled her nose as she sniffed the tea. Just like an animal.


「… What is this?」


「Since it’s called zozo tea, it’s probably tea made from that shriveled snake-like vegetable.」


I remembered this herbal fragrance. Maybe zozo wasn’t an ingredient meant for cooking.


「Should your reaction mean that Forest's Edge doesn’t have the practice of drinking tea? Please have a try, just think of it as experiencing a different culture.」


「…Kamyua Yost, I have no reason to accept your offerings.」


「Didn’t you treat me to a meal yesterday? This is just me returning the favor.」


「That was in exchange for the fruit wine you brought. We have no debts between us now.」


「…Asuta, what should we do?」


Kamyua Yost looked my way.


I fell into deep thought.


「In that case, Ai Fa, let’s give him something in return? Since we didn’t bring any copper plates with us, we can barter with him by offering something of similar value.」


After tilting her head slightly, Ai Fa took out a palm-sized package wrapped in fake rubber leaves.


「This is kiba jerky, are you willing to accept this in exchange?」


「Kiba jerky! I’m intrigued! Leito, this is kiba jerky!」


「Uwah, let me try some later.」


Ai Fa looked at the two of them as they conversed.


She met two citizens of Rock City that didn’t shun kiba meat. As Leito was a disciple of Kamyua Yost, his reaction wasn’t a good reference, but we still made a mental note about this.


By the way, after I took a sip of zozo tea, I found the strong fragrance of the tea very palatable, I didn’t mind its taste.


Sitting in a chair and sipping tea made me a little nostalgic of home.


「Well then… it’s about time to go into the main topic.」


Resting his elbow on the table, a smile appeared on Kamyua Yost’s thin face.

3


「It’s easy to open a stall in the Post Station Town. Erecting a new shop is tedious, but everyone can peddle their merchandize in the market after paying a cheap venue fee.」


「Cheap venue fee?」


「Yes. Just one white copper plate for ten days, a great bargain, right…? That’s about one kiba worth of tusks and horns.」


「One kiba can be exchanged for one white copper plate… Wait, how many red copper plates are in one white copper plate?」


When he heard my question, Leito who was seated beside Kamyua Yost opened his eyes wide.


That was only natural. My question was like asking how many ten yen coins a hundred yen coin could be exchanged for.


「Ten red copper plates are equivalent to one white copper plate. You remember the kimyusu meat bun Tara ate? You can make the money back by selling ten of them. Increasing the number of stalls in the market will also improve the prosperity of the Post Station Town. The venue fee is just a small token.」


「Please wait, let me think… One kiba can be exchanged for ten meals of aria and poitan… Hmm? I see, a serving of our meal costs about one red copper plate.」


「Dinner last night was too sumptuous, if you want to operate a food stall, the portion needs to be half of dinner. Or even less. It will be best to set the price at two red copper plates. If it is too cheap, it will earn the ire of other stall owners.」


「And so, assuming the ingredient cost is also half of dinner last night, that will be half of a red copper plate. Calculating simply, selling one portion will yield one and a half red copper plates as profit—— We just need to sell seven of them in ten days to offsets the fees.」


「Yes. But if you need to rent a stall, you will need to pay another white copper plate as rental.」


Even with the stall rental, we just need to sell 14 portions to break even. What an easy business.


… Assuming that the pedestrians were willing to eat kiba.


「Meat is usually more expensive than vegetables. Everyone uses higher quality vegetables than aria or poitan. Assuming the owner of that meat bun stall wants to make a profit, she needs to sell ten to twenty meat buns daily. But with the traffic in Post Station Town, this is not difficult.」


Kamyua Yost smiled gleefully.


「How about it Asuta, do you understand why I proposed for the two of you to open a stall? With your culinary skill and the power of the kiba meat, I don’t think you will fail.」


「If our business flourishes, the citizens of Post Station Town will acknowledge the value of kiba meat and their discrimination towards Forest's Edge will gradually fade. I see, there are plenty of benefits in running this business.」


I imitated Kamyua Yost and propped my elbows onto the table and leaned forward.


「Well then—— Kamyua Yost, what do you stand to gain?」


「Hmm, do you think I want to earn some profit? Let me think—— How about giving me a tenth of the pure profits, excluding the ingredient and venue fees to me as thanks.」


「This has nothing to do with money. We just want to know your objective.」


「I already said that I just want to satisfy my own sense of camaraderie! As long as the denizens of Forest's Edge are no longer seen as avatars of horror and the hunters gain more profit, I will be satisfied.」


His uniquely colored eyes looked Ai Fa’s way.


「Ai Fa, did you think my actions last night were out of pity for the denizens of Forest's Edge? I didn’t mean that. I just really like the denizens of Forest's Edge. I can’t be a part of your tribe, so I can only share my ideas with you. Can you understand my feelings?」


「… I don’t think you are pitying us. I believe you are having fun at our expense.」


「That’s great! ——Hmm? Is that a good thing?」


「Don’t mind it, Kamyua. You are always distrusted by others.」


The boy said something mean with a smile.


After hearing that, the subject himself said with a smile 「That’s true.」 Since he already admitted it, we two as bystanders couldn’t add anything.


「Hmm… I see…」


「What are you so troubled about? I already told you plenty of times, only the locals in Genos would be afraid of the denizens of Forest's Edge and kiba for no reason. Besides, the threat posed by the kiba isn’t causing any major catastrophe, and the denizens of Forest's Edge just treat them as harmful pests. The people of Genos already lost their fear of kiba. Instead of the kiba, they are afraid of the people of Forest’s Edge.」


Kamyua Yost pulled his gaze away from Ai Fa and looked my way again.


「It might sound strange, but if the denizens of Forest's Edge would set up a stall in the Post Station Town, no one will dare to visit. But you look similar to the people in the Post Station Town. When they see you selling kiba cookings, they will be confused and curious about you. The southerners and westerners will not hesitate to try your kiba dish. As your cooking is perfect, you will definitely draw in the people in Genos by word of mouth.」


「I see…」


「To be honest, I don’t think such a trivial matter will wipe away their discrimination against the denizens of Forest's Edge.」


Kamyua Yost narrowed his eyes in a smile.


When he smiles like this, his expression becomes similar to grandma Jiba, as if he could see the way the world works.


「The denizens of Forest's Edge have beast-like eyes, extraordinary strength and keep to themselves, that’s why they are feared and respected. This has accumulated over 80 years. Actually, their nature doesn’t fit the impression which the citizens have of them. I don’t mind the people in the city fearing the denizens of Forest's Edge. After all, I have no expectations of the people in the city working happily with the denizens of Forest's Edge.」


「What—— do you mean by that?」


「The hunters from Forest's Edge can continue to be aloof. Hunters are not suited for a peaceful town… I don’t want to see depraved hunters… However, I will be angry if anyone looks down on hunters and think of them as a lowly existence. The citizens can fear and respect hunters, but they should think of them as a sacred existence, not as evil monsters.」


「……」


「We need to wipe away the wrong misconception the citizens of Genos have and stop them from seeing the denizens of Forest's Edge as 《lowly kiba eater》. Who exactly are the ones protecting the fields of Genos, stopping the harassment of the kiba and contributing to the prosperity of Genos? I hope they can figure that out.」


「… I wish you were always showing such a face when talking to us. It would make me believe every word you say without any doubts.」


I remained cautious in my words.


「To be honest, I don’t think you are lying. But I still don’t understand why you are still so persistent with regards to the denizens of Forest's Edge… May I ask, is changing one’s faith a huge matter in this continent?」


The boy Leito was surprised again.


Kamyua Yost’s eyes remained clear.


「It’s very big. Only those who had experienced it will understand how it feels.」


「I see… Eight decades ago, the denizens of Forest's Edge abandoned the southern jungles and moved to Morga Forest. It has been a long time since then, are the denizens in Forest's Edge able to understand how you feel?」


「Of course. That’s why my sense of camaraderie will always be one-sided… It has been eighty years after all. There isn’t anyone older than eighty in Forest's Edge, right?」


Grandma Jiba is probably the only one who was that old.


I still didn’t trust this man enough to bring up Grandma Jiba.


I answered with a vaguely:
「Who knows?」


「…Asuta, since you insist that you are not someone from this continent, you don’t worship the four gods either, right?」


「You are correct. But I’m a denizen of Forest's Edge, so my faith lies with the western god, even if only in name.」


「Hmm, from this perspective, you fit really well in Forest's Edge. The denizens of Forest's Edge used to worship the god of the south Jaguar but switched to the western god Selva. However, their faith lies elsewhere right from the beginning—— What they worship is the forest, not the gods. They see the forest as an irreplaceable existence. Perhaps, it is their simple and selfless lifestyle that draws them to me.」


Kamyua Yost closed his eyes, hiding his incredible light under his eyelids.


A difficult to describe calm filled the entire room—— At this moment, a third party broke the silence.


「Here’s the zozo tea and the kimyusu salted meat you ordered.」


With a thud, the third party placed a giant plate on the table.


The middle-aged man had served our orders.


Kamyua Yost watched the man as he turned and left quickly, and an elusive smile appeared on his face again.


「Asuta, try this. This is a dish sold in the Post Station Town. You worked as a chef before, so this will pique your interest, right?」


「… I already tried a Kimyusu meat bun at a street stall.」


「I see. But this dish tastes different from that meat bun.」


I shifted my gaze on to the dining table.


There was a large plate filled with stewed meat and vegetables.


The vegetables were completely dried up, and a translucent, gooey sauce covered the white meat and several types of vegetables.
On closer inspection, I found diced aria and pula in there, as well as mashed chachi.


This dish had the refreshing fragrance of herbs similar to lilo.


Several pieces of white wraps, which looked like the wraps used in dumplings. This was probably used to wrap the dish before eating it.


The presentation and the aroma of the food weren’t bad.


「Please try some. If you don’t have any appetite, just a bite will do. Please do have some, since the zozo tea alone can’t compare to your delicious jerky.」


I wanted to try it out of pure curiosity.


I glanced at Ai Fa to confirm with her, then picked up the spoon and the small wrap.
Making a rough estimate of the number of wraps and the number of vegetables, I scooped two spoons of it onto the wrap.


After rolling it up into a small crepe, I took a bite——


It was very salty.


The flavoring relied completely on the herbs and their fragrance.


The aria was overcooked, the chachi wasn’t cooked enough, and the pula had a hint of bitterness—— with a side of kimyusu meat that was as tasteless as chicken breast.


On a whole, it wasn’t too bad.


A simple taste.


The meat had been pickled to extend its shelf life. The chef then cooked it together with the vegetables. The chachi will taste better if it was cooked a little longer. Aside from that, this dish didn’t have any flaws worth mentioning.


However—— If you asked me if I was willing to pay money for this, I would be hesitant.


「kimyusu salted meat is the most popular dish in this inn. It has a strong taste and is well suited to be a snack with beer. I think it costs three red copper plates. The people here will eat something light in the day, and when night falls, this inn will be filled with patrons. Everyone will show a satisfied expression when they eat this dish.」


Kamyua Yost smiled like a Cheshire cat.


「The dishes in the Post Station Town are mainly extensions of a home-cooked meal. They are made by the wives and daughters of the inn owners. In Genos, chefs can only be found inside the castle walls.」


「… I see.」


「Asuta, can you rival this salted meat dish and kimyusu bun with your cooking?」


「Are you taunting me? I’m not that retarded, and will not act rashly.」


It was about time to leave. After finishing that piece of kimyusu salted meat, I drank the rest of my zozo tea.


I then whispered to Ai Fa:「Do you want to ask any questions?」. She just shook her head quietly.


「I will discuss with my house head again, and with our friends in Forest's Edge. If there aren’t any problems—— I will then take you up on your suggestion.」


「Asuta, you are really careful! That is a good point about you.」


It’s your fault that I’m so cautious. I shrugged.


「Kamyua, if we make up our mind to open a stall in the Post Station Town, can we discuss this with you again?」


「Yes. You can also speak to the relevant person directly. One of the managers for the marketplace is the boss of this inn, Milano Mast. Anyway, you will be fine if you come over to the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》.」


「Thank you. We have not made our decision yet, but your suggestion made me think about many things. Even if we don’t open a stall, in the end, I’m still glad to have spoken with you.」


「I’m happy to hear that… Are you going already? Leito, I leave the rest to you. After finishing this salted meat, I will take a little nap.」


「Alright. Asuta, Ai Fa, let’s go.」


I looked a little confused at the boy who was all smiles.


「Go? Where? We are going back to Forest's Edge after buying our things.」
「It won’t take too much of your time. Tara’s father wishes to thank you. He runs a stall in the marketplace, I will bring you there.」


During my first visit to the Post Station Town, I met a girl called Tara.


Back then, Doddo Tsun was drunk and stirring up trouble in the Post Station Town, and Tara was almost dragged into it. Ai Fa and I intervened and saved her.


That was already ten days ago. I felt a little embarrassed that her father wanted to thank me.


「Why don’t you go and meet him? Tara is a good kid, she will be a beauty in a few years. Now is a good time to befriend her.」


The one who made such a retarded speech was not the boy of course, but his mentor.


I wasn’t Hikaru Genji, so I smiled wryly and stole a peek at Ai Fa… And for some unknown reason, she was staring at me coldly.


Just what kind of person did she think I was?


「Alright then, I will take my leave.」


「Yes, I look forward to meeting the two of you again.」


In the end, no other customers came into the room aside from us, and we headed to the entrance.


The group of men we saw earlier were still drinking in the inn.


One of the men looked our way, his gaze looked drunker than earlier.


「Hey, black-haired kid! How did you make a 《Kiba Eater》 woman your thing? Can you tell us how you managed to do that?」


Hmm, they probably wouldn’t let us go so easily.


I had one rather bad habit. I wouldn’t mind others insulting me, but if they were to make fun of Ai Fa—— I would lose my cool.


「Instead of hunting kiba, she realized hunting men is an easier way to bring in money! Hey 《Kiba Eater》, can I buy a night with you with two copper plates?」


I turned towards the men.


Two things happened at this moment which held my roar in my throat.


Ai Fa who was walking behind me grabbed my arm, and the boy Leito walking in front of me said quietly:


「Please stop. They are my mentor’s guest. A slight towards them means a slight towards my mentor, understand?」


The voice of the boy had yet to break, and his high pitched words didn’t bore a shred of emotion.


He looked at the men. I couldn’t see his expression, but I did notice the changes in the appearances of the men.


The two men who were making the crude remarks stood stiffly with their bottles in their hands.


Their faces—— looked as if they saw a ferocious beast in the jungle, their eyes wide and face stiff.


「What’s wrong with you guys?」


The other men shook their companion’s shoulders.


Leito glanced at them sideways, then smiled at me.


「Sorry about that. Let’s go.」


As expected from a disciple of that man.


After I started walking with a sigh, Ai Fa poked my back.


「Hey, I already told you not to get agitated since you can’t protect yourself. You are too reckless sometimes.」


「…Ai Fa, you become reckless as well when hamburg steak is mentioned.」


「That has nothing to do with what I’m talking about right now.」


She then poked me a few more times as we left the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》.

4


After exiting the building, the sun was still high in the sky and the streets crowded.


「What are you planning to buy?」


「Hmm, I want an iron pot. It’s sold in the marketplace.」


「Iron pot, huh. How big?」


「It’s quite large, about this size.」


The diameter was about 60 cm, and about 30 cm deep. I used my arms to make a half circle.


「The iron pot is heavy. Can I bring you to Tara’s stall? It’s located at the edge of the marketplace.」


「Erm, well, Ai Fa, is it fine?」


「Whatever.」


I couldn’t see any change in emotion on Ai Fa’s face.


But she looked a little tired.


That worried me a little, and I asked her softly:「What are you thinking about?」


「After listening to what he had to say, my impression of him remains unchanged. I don’t think he intends to deceive us, but—— in my heart, he is still a suspicious character.」


「I see.」


I could understand how she felt.


I didn’t think Kamyua Yost was lying.


That man harbored deep feelings towards the denizens of Forest's Edge.


But his passion was too intense, which felt out of place to me.


Besides, there are other issues aside from that guy.


Leito led us along the stone paved path as I thought:


If I open a kiba snack stall in this city, will there really be business?


We just stepped outside when the gazes from the passersby fell on Ai Fa. Not all of them are negative, but the denizens of Forest's Edge would always be out of place in the city.


Even though Kamyua Yost said carefreely that「Just target the travelers in the beginning」, would it be that simple?


If the business were to fail, we would only lose our copper plates. But acting rashly might deepen the animosity between Forest's Edge and the Post Station Town, which would be terrible.


Even if Kamyua Yost had no intention of tricking us, he might still have misjudged the situation. We needed to investigate further.


I wondered if there is anyone who is neutral in the Post Station Town. I wanted to learn their opinion.


While I was still feeling troubled by it, we reached the marketplace.


A familiar woman was inside the stall, making meat buns for the kids.


It had just passed noon, the time when people start to eat a light lunch. On a closer look, I realized that the food stalls around the area were all crowded.


A youth was eating as he walked, having a white wrap in his hand that held brown meat and green vegetables.


A group of men was drinking along the side of the road and snacking on food that looked like bird claws.


I heard a rowdy chatter and looked that way. What I saw was similar to an outdoor restaurant, with a wide roof over it. People sat on chairs and chatted as they sipped on stew in wooden bowls.


「… Why are you looking all over the place?」


「Well~ I’m doing market research.」


I didn’t know how things would turn out.


If I want the development to be to our advantage, I needed to gather more info.


Besides—— I was the only one in Forest's Edge who could do that.


If someone like me didn’t appear in Forest's Edge, Kamyua Yost would never have thought up such a crazy plan.


With some practice, the women of the Wu clan would be able to cook a dish on the level of that salted meat.


However, I don’t think the denizens of Forest's Edge would be capable of 「running a business」. They bartered kiba tusks and horns for copper plates, then used the plates to exchange for food. On the surface, this was definitely a form of commercial trading, but the denizens of Forest's Edge didn’t think of it as such.


In the first place, selling wild games they hunted to traders was different from doing business with an undetermined number of customers.


If I could be of use in such a way, I will do everything within my power.


Since Ai Fa and Kaslan Lutim thought this was the right path, I won’t hesitate in walking down it.


To stop them from making the wrong choices, I had to look carefully at the places they couldn’t see, listen to the sounds they couldn’t hear and convey these to them accurately.


「Oh, that’s the stall. Tara is there too.」


When I heard Leito saying that, I raised my head and found myself at the end of the marketplace.


Before us was a road flanked by trees, and the stone walls surrounding the castle town could be seen far off to the left.


We passed by this place the last time too. As I thought about that—— a surprised voice from a girl came from the left.


「Asuta onii-chan! Leito, you really brought him here!」


Tara appeared before us.


She was wearing an orange one-piece dress today too as she stood under the roof of a certain stall and waved at us.


That stall—— only had a flimsy roof, with a large piece of cloth laid out on the ground and vegetables arranged on it, a simple vegetable stall—— Ai Fa and I bought aria and poitan here before.


A burly man stood beside the girl as he waited for us with a stiff smile.


After Ai Fa and I looked at each other, we walked towards them behind Leito.


「Asuta onii-chan, long time no see! Thank you for saving me the previous time!」


「It’s nothing, no need to thank me. You helped me a lot after that too.」


「I can’t do that! If not for onii-chan, Tara would have been squashed like that bun! Thank you!」


Tara had shoulder length dark brown hair, and her dark brown eyes were lively. An energetic eight-year-old girl.


The middle-aged man stood beside Tara, his hair and beard were similar in color to her, and both of them had yellowish brown skin.


This color combination could be commonly seen in the Post Station Town, so I didn’t notice the resemblance between them earlier.


The hair and eye colors of the Wu clan vary widely, so I thought the people of this world wouldn’t be affected by genetics in such a way and overlooked this detail.


No matter what, this was the second time I have met them.


The middle-aged man stood up straight and took off the white cloth wrapped around his head. He lowered his head, covered in unkempt hair and streaks of white, towards Ai Fa and me in a bow.


「E-Excuse me, you saved my daughter Tara a few days ago… I-I’m very grateful. I wanted to t-thank you in person, so I troubled you to make a trip here…」


Cold sweat rolled down his rounded face.


Even though the denizens of Forest's Edge terrified him—— he still wanted to thank us.


「You are welcome. Tara has also been a great help. When we were almost taken away by the guards, we managed to avoid being interrogated because Tara testified for us.」


「D-Don’t mention it, it was nothing…」


He was burlier than the inn owner we met earlier. He mentioned before that he grew his aria himself, which meant his work straddled both agriculture and peddling.


People born and bred in Genos would probably fear the denizens of Forest's Edge—— I felt bad about him showing such a face in front of his daughter.


Tara also had a blank expression, as if she felt lost.


「… Your daughter only met with danger…」


Ai Fa said suddenly.


「Eek!」


The middle-aged man grabbed Tara’s shoulder and backed away.


Tara also looked at Ai Fa with an uneasy gaze.


「… because I hit that drunkard without any forethought. I knew she was right beside them, but I still acted first to suppress the scum as soon as possible. If Asuta didn’t rush to her aid, that man’s big body would have fallen on her and injured her.」


Ai Fa bowed quietly.


「That was careless of me. I should apologize to you for that.」


「I-It’s fine, well…」


「Uncle, you don’t need to be wary, they aren’t reckless people. When some drunkards insulted them earlier, I was the one who got enraged instead.」


The boy quickly eased the mood with a smile.


Enraged—— I couldn’t tell that he was angered just now.


「Mr. Asuta might be setting up a stall around here in the near future. You will be neighbors then, so now will be a good time to clear up any misunderstandings.」


「Eh? Asuta onii-chan, are you going to open a stall!?」


Tara’s reaction was more intense than the middle-aged man.


「It has not been decided yet… If I do set up a stall, will it be located around here?」


「Yes, there isn’t any more space down the other road. Since you will also be a new stall tenant, your stall will be located in the northern zone.」


「Uncle, are you a new stall owner too?」


「Huh? No, I have been here for twenty years. I will need to bribe the ones in charge to get a spot in the crowded central zone, so I chose to stay here instead.」


Even though he was panicking, the uncle still mustered his courage and answered.


As expected, he was good-natured.


「I still haven’t made my decision. If I really set up a stall here, I will be in your care. I will be buying the food ingredients from you then.」


「W-What will you be peddling?」


Oh right, he was a Genos local, not related to Kamyua Yost. I could use this valuable chance to ask for his opinion.


This might be a chance Kamyua Yost arranged for us—— would it be too nefarious for me to think of it this way?


Let’s do some market research.


「I will be frank, I’m planning to sell food made from kiba meat… Do you have any opinions about this?」


He opened his eyes wide in surprise.


「T-That kind of thing… won’t sell, right?」


I see.


He was shocked, no, he was stunned, but he didn’t seem to be disgusted.


It appeared that peddling kiba food in the Post Station Town wasn’t on the level of announcing that 「I want to open a shop to sell food made from spiders」.


「Will it make the neighboring stalls unhappy? Will anyone become furious and demand me to not sell kiba food near his stall?」


「I-It’s not for us to decide… but…」


「But?」


「I-If the kiba food were to give off a terrible stench, it would be troubling for us.」


「Kiba dishes don’t have a stench. If you try it, you will be able to taste its unique flavor. Kiba meat that has been properly prepared won’t have any foul taste.」


「Kiba are harmful pests that damage the farms, right? Will their meat really taste good?」


Tara seemed intrigued.


Kiba were classified as 「harmful pests」 from the perspective of farmers, and has nothing to do with the taste of kiba… Tara probably didn’t understand this yet.


「I think they are delicious, but that’s a matter of personal preference. Kiba do have a unique flavor, and some people might find it hard to accept.」


「I see, that’s amazing. Tara wants to try some too.」


「B-Be quiet…」


Midway through his sentence, the uncle’s eyes started wavering again.


「Excuse me for my late introduction. I’m from the Fa house of Forest's Edge, my name is Asuta. This is the head of the Fa house, Ai Fa. Can you tell me your name, please?」


「… I-I’m Dora.」


The girl was Tara, and the father was Dora. Were they easy to remember, or hard to recall? But the name Dora did suit this middle-aged man.


「Uncle Dora, we are still hesitant about opening a stall. We will suffer heavy losses if our product wouldn’t sell. And most importantly, we don’t want to cause any confusion to the people in the Post Station Town. Uncle, can you share what you really think? For example, do you think『opening a kiba food store here will cause trouble for me』, or 『no one will ever eat that』? I will take your opinions into consideration before proceeding with starting up the stall.」


「I-I wouldn’t mind if you set up a stall. As long as there isn’t any stench… A-Also… it’s bad if there are frequent commotions…」


He started to stutter towards the end.


But he still answered my question clearly.


Uncle Dora was usually a straightforward man, when I told him 「the aria is rotten」 last time, his heated reaction told me this much.


「Commotions huh. If I open a stall here, will the citizens find trouble with us?」


「No.. No one dares to pick on the denizens of Forest's Edge…」


He stammered once again.


「Who knows? When we were at the inn just now, some men taunted us. I’m worried that people might stir trouble at our stall if we do open for business.」


「I-Is that so? I wouldn’t dare to do that.」


He really thinks of the denizens of Forest's Edge as dangerous beasts.


Those ruffians in the inn only showed contempt.


Even though they were living in the same environment, their emotions towards things were different.


And—— Tara said she「wanted to try to eat some kiba」.


She had been stealing glances at Ai Fa, trying to see what kind of person this scary onee-san was.


「So, how do you feel about kiba dishes? Are you against trying them no matter what?」


「I-I won’t spend money to eat kiba meat; I heard kiba meat is tough and they stink. I don’t want to confirm this point.」


「Will you give it a try if it’s free?」


「If there’s no choice, I can try it…」


「Do you think kiba meat is disgusting and dirty?」


「Kiba isn’t like munto or gizu, and won’t eat rotten meat, right? In my mind, kiba is a detestable creature that ravages the farms.」


The uncle made up his mind and looked towards Ai Fa.


「I-I respect the denizens of Forest's Edge for risking their lives to fend off Kiba and am very grateful. However, many of the elderly think… that, that… after eating the meat of the ferocious kiba, you obtained their violence and strength. Also…」


Aside from fear, there was another emotion in the uncle’s eyes.


That should be—— rage?


「… Also, the denizens of Forest's Edge do act violently.」


Ai Fa looked at the middle-aged man in silence.


The uncle’s yellowish face seemed to be drained of blood, and he was trembling.


「Y-Your people rob our farm products, assault travelers and kidnap girls from the city. Not everyone from Forest's Edge is like that, but they do exist. The man you lectured by the roadside that day is one of them, right? If people like him still exist…」


Both sides wouldn’t be able to come to an understanding.


He wanted to say more, but held his peace.


Ai Fa shook her head slowly.


「All I can say is… My conscience is clear.」


She didn’t refute the other party.


Robbing farm products, attacking travelers and abducting girls from the city—— They had actually fallen so low.


I started getting dizzy from the rage I was feeling.


Even among denizens of Forest's Edge, the difference between individuals was as vast as night and day.


Forest's Edge had many denizens that were as kind as Ai Fa and Kaslan Lutim, yet those people—— The chief Tsun clan was actually that depraved.


I couldn’t understand at all.


「Be it the city or Forest's Edge, there are all sorts of people around.」


I turned my head in surprise when I heard the boy’s voice.


Leito was still smiling even at a time like this.


I was reminded once again that this boy was the disciple of Kamyua Yost.


「I need to go back to Kamyua soon. What about the two of you?」


「Ah, we need to get going. We can’t keep intruding on your stall… Thank you, uncle Dora.」


「You are welcome…」


「Asuta, Ai Fa, I’m going off now. I’m looking forward to the kiba dish, good luck!」


In the end—— my head was still in a mess.


5


An hour later, we stood before the Lutim house once again.


Ai Fa and I were carrying a super heavy iron pot.


「Ara, it’s Ai Fa and Asuta! What’s the matter? You have a big pot with you! Are you here to cook dinner for us!?」


「Dan Lutim! Are you already back from the forest?」


Less than three hours had passed since noon. The head of the Lutim house had already put away his cape and blades and welcomed us in casual attire.


「There are too many kiba recently. We already got enough tusks and horns for today. A youngster from the branch family suffered some light injury, so we came home early! What will you cook for us today?」


「No, we are here to discuss something with Kaslan Lutim…」


「Oh, is that so.」


The house head's shoulders that were tense with excitement started drooping depressedly.


The head of the Lutim main house Dan Lutim was bald, wore a brown beard and had a beer belly, resembling that of an Arabian genie. He was energetic today too.


「Dan Lutim, since you are home now, can you join our discussion? I have many things I wish to consult with you.」


「I don’t mind joining the talk…」


He pouted like a toddler.


Please don’t infringe the trademark of my house head.


「Asuta, Ai Fa, you are here. How did your talk with Kamyua Yost go?」


Kaslan Lutim appeared from behind Dan Lutim. They were father and son, but I couldn’t see any resemblance at all.


I nodded and greeted him in a hurry.


「Sorry for intruding on you again. Hmm? Where’s Ema Min Lutim——?」


「In order to master the skills to cook delicious food, she went to the Wu clan with the other women. So I was left behind.」


「I see, that’s really…」


「Don’t mind me, please come in… Will that be alright, house head?」


「Okay…」


He was actually that reluctant.


The head of the Lutim house was regressing towards a child-like state.


And so, Ai Fa and I handed the blades and pot to the Lutim house for safekeeping and visited their place once again.


「—— That’s the gist of what happened.」


There were many things I needed to recount.


「Yes.」


Kaslan Lutim nodded with his arms crossed.


「My impression of Kamyua Yost remains unchanged. But I can feel his strong feelings towards Forest's Edge from his words and action—— or I should say, obsession. I don’t think he plans to deceive you.」


「Yes. I still need to observe the situation in the Post Station Town a little longer. There won’t be any big issues despite opening a stall in town. We might even make a tidy profit… As for the objective of making them recognize the commercial value of kiba meat, I will only know the results after opening the stall.」


After bidding farewell to Leito and uncle Dora, we visited quite a number of stalls to conduct our market research.


In the end, based on the information we garnered, a light meal sold in every stall was priced from one to three copper plates, and they could sell between twenty and fifty portions a day. The peak period was around noon.


If that was the case, we could give it a try—— That was how I felt.


Kaslan Lutim nodded again.


「Hmm, I don’t think there’s a problem either… Do you see any problems, house head?」


「Nothing. That man from Rock city is too nosey, why is he interfering with the future of Forest's Edge? Since he is a citizen of Rock city, he should pave roads from rocks until it reaches the edge of the world… Nevermind that. Hey, Asuta.」


After saying his thoughts unhappily, he looked up at me innocently.


He had the same expression as my house head when she wanted me to do something for her.


「Are you going to serve food to those city folks, but not cook for me?」


「No, I’m just here to ask for everyone’s opinion… Because of the position I’m in, I can’t just open a stall in the Post Station Town so haphazardly, right?」


「Who cares. The head of the Fa house is the one to decide, why are you asking us?」


「You are right. I just wanted to confirm if anyone in Forest's Edge will be unhappy about us opening a stall in the city… Also, I heard that the Tsun clan is in charge of liaising between Forest's Edge and the city. Can we open a stall in the town without going through them?」
「… The Tsun clan you say?」


Dan Lutim’s large eyes started to shine.


「Who cares about those retards! If they dare to complain, the Lutim house will make them suffer! Asuta, are you planning to make an enemy out of them?」


「Please don’t be so happy about that! We are here to discuss this because we don’t want to stir up any trouble!」


「Huh, boring.」


Dan Lutim switched gears into low energy mode again.


Kaslan Lutim said easily:「You don’t need to worry about that.」


「The Tsun clan is responsible for the communication between Forest's Edge and the Genos castle. If you want to open a stall inside those rock walls, you will need to go through the Tsun clan. There won’t be a problem if you set up shop in the Post Station Town.」


「Got it… Is doing this really not a violation of the rules or taboos of Forest's Edge?」


「You don’t need to worry. We can’t forage for food from the Morga mountains or farm the land and promised to never stop hunting kiba. These are the terms we agreed to in order to live in Forest's Edge. In other words, Rock city only permits us to sell kiba.」


「I see…」


「Asuta, this has no direct relation to you, but we are facing a troublesome situation.」


「Eh? What happened?」


「The meat—— We can’t expend it all.」


It was rare to see an awkward smile appear on his face.


「The Wu clan used up a large amount of meat in that banquet, but house Lutim didn’t have that chance. We bloodlet and butchered two kiba a day, so even the food stores of the branch families are filled with meat. Since we are out of storage space, we will have to throw all that meat into the forest tomorrow.」


「Ah… There’s no other way.」


The meat from the kiba Ai Fa hunted was also piling up in the Fa house, and isn’t depleting at all. Even if we were to cover the meat with pico leaves, it could only be preserved for 15 to 20 days at most. We had no choice but to smoke them into jerky, but our stock of jerky was increasing too.


「If we could barter that meat for copper plates, our lives would be more prosperous. Furthermore —— after realizing how delicious processed kiba meat is, we couldn’t bear seeing that meat turning into munto feed. Just the meat from the kiba we failed to bloodlet will be enough for the munto to have a great feast.」


「We will continue to bloodlet tomorrow! Even if the kiba meat keeps piling up, the ribs are still limited!」


The house head laughed heartily.


His son smiled sheepishly again, then nodded.


「… And so, we will need to abandon the meat other than the ribs into the forest. All of them had been bloodlet and eviscerated from the thigh, shoulders, and back.」


「Uwah, that’s such a pity!」


「That’s right. We can’t share this meat with the other houses. That will make the powerless houses give up on hunting kiba tusks and horns, and eat meat all day.」


Kaslan Lutim showed a serious expression and leaned forward.


「Asuta, we are planning to share the skills you taught us with the Min house, Lei house, and other kin houses. I think that all the denizens of Forest's Edge should learn these techniques in the future.」


「Eh? Including the Tsun clan?」


「Of course. If this can make them pick up their effort to hunt kiba again, then everything would end on a happy note.」


That was true. I wasn’t truly a member of Forest's Edge yet, and only thought of the Tsun clan as an 「unforgivable enemy」.


「However, it’s too dangerous to do this right now. We can teach this skill to the large clans like the Tsun and the Wu, but not to the smaller houses.」


「Huh? But why?」


「Kiba meat is too delicious. The smaller houses have always had the thinking that 『meat from the kiba’s body is unpalatable』, but once they have a taste of properly prepared meat—— As kiba is difficult to hunt, they might give up on the tusks and horns, and live on just kiba meat.」


Would that really happen?


Since meat from the kiba’s body had too strong of a stench, everyone was only willing to eat the thigh meat and did their best to hunt kiba. 「Delicious meat」—— would that really make them relax so much?


That wasn’t impossible.


Since Kaslan Lutim said so, the possibility might exist.


I wasn’t a hunter, so I couldn’t blame those who were weak.


「I think that’s the poison of wisdom.」


「Poison of wisdom huh…」


「Yes, if you take in too much strong medicine, it will become a poison. Under such circumstances, I think your abilities will also become a poison.」


When I heard him say that, my heart started to race.


My abilities will become a poison——


「I think this skill shouldn’t be taught to the smaller houses that aren’t kins of the Wu clan. When kiba meat can be exchanged for copper plates in the Post Station Town, they can then use meat to barter for aria and poitan and have a normal diet, lead a normal life and improve their capabilities as hunters.」


「Yes…」


「When that time comes, your abilities will become normal medicine.」


Kaslan Lutim showed a confident smile.


「Asuta, if the path that you and Ai Fa find will lead to opening a stall in the Post Station Town, I will wish for your success more than anyone else and do what I can to aid you—— Because you two are my friends.」


「Kaslan Lutim. Thank you… Very much. I will think about it tonight before making my decision. I will inform you of my choice then.」


Was I worthy of being a friend of such a great man?


If I am not worthy now, I will have to work hard to be have this right.


When I met Kaslan Lutim for the first time that night—— I never imagined that he will occupy such an important place in my heart.


The strings of fate work in a strange way. My meeting with Ai Fa led to my encounter with Rimee Wu. I then got to know the members of the Wu clan and became acquainted with Kaslan Lutim and Dan Lutim.


And Kamyua Yost——


Will that man become poison or medicine for Forest's Edge? Ai Fa and I had to make our judgment.


I made up my mind to have a long talk with Ai Fa.


「Kaslan Lutim, I’m very grateful. I’m glad that I discussed this with you.」


「I’m honored to hear that, Asuta… are you heading back already?」


「Yes, I’m sorry for intruding so many times today.」


「What, are you really going back!?」


Dan Lutim yelled.


「The sun is setting soon. The Fa house is very far, right? Why not stay the night at my place!?」


「I-I can’t trouble you so much…」


I then realized mid-sentence.


The journey home will take about an hour. It will be some time before it gets dark, but we won’t have time to dry the poitan.


I had not mastered the skill to make poitan in liquid form taste good yet, so I could either replace the poitan with the herb-like gigo or spend some time to cook poitan stew.


「Asuta, the women of house Lutim are still at the Wu clan. They only started learning to cook from the Wu clan yesterday, so their techniques aren’t refined yet… Will you please tend to our house’s hearth tonight?」


Kaslan Lutim probably realized something from either his father or my expression and persuaded me to stay too.


「… Let me discuss with my house head.」


I tried to make a straight face as I leaned near Ai Fa’s ear.


「Ai Fa, if we eat dinner at home tonight, we will have no choice but to drink poitan soup.」


Ai Fa nodded seriously, then whispered to me:


「Don’t wanna.」


And so, I became house Lutim’s hearth caretaker tonight.

6
Contrary to my expectations, the Lutim main house didn’t have many people.


Aside from Dan Lutim, Kaslan Lutim and Ema Min Lutim, the only ones present were the previous house head Raa Lutim and the youngest sister Molun Lutim.


Dan Lutim actually had plenty of children. In addition to Kaslan Lutim and Molun Lutim, he had another son and two daughters, but they had all moved out with their spouses.


The second son of the Lutim house stayed right beside the main house and lived together with his wife and two children. The daughters were married off to a Wu branch house and the Lei house. Before Ema Min Lutim moved in, the Lutim house had only four people.


As the Lutim village had more men than women, everyone would work together to tend the hearth and perform other chores, and wouldn’t be segregated by their houses.


「After all, only eleven of the Lutim house members are women. Normally, the females would outnumber the males.」


「That shows how tough the men of the Lutim house are! And the people in the Wu main house all marry too late! They have seven scions, but only the eldest son had gotten a wife!」


Dinner at the Lutim house was very lively.


It was mostly because of the noisy house head.


The tall and skinny elderly man leading the Lutim house procession during the wedding was the former house head Tsu Lutim, the Grand Elder of the Lutim house. He was younger than seventy, bald, and wore a long white beard with sharp eagle eyes—— He took in Grandma Jiba’s daughter as his wife.


This was the first time I met with the youngest daughter of the Lutim house, Molun Lutim. She was fifteen years old, had a plump body, and had an adorable appearance. Now that I think about it, she resembled her father. She was just fifteen, but she already had the air of a kind mother.


The grand elder didn’t speak much, and everyone got along together noisily. It was a harmonious scene, worlds apart from the tense atmosphere in the Wu clan.


「I learned how to grill poitan today, but I couldn’t cook for my family because I returned too late. Asuta, Ai Fa, you are a great help.」


When we visited this morning, we already greeted Ema Min Lutim. She showed her trademarked calm smile.


Ema Min always had a pure and refreshing air about her. After the wedding, she seemed gentler and more mature than us.


She had cut her dark brown hair until it reached just the back of her neck. Such a bold short trim was a rare sight in Forest's Edge.


As a sign of marriage, her healthy and slender body was covered with one large piece of cloth.


「Ara, this is really delicious! I can’t get tired of ribs no matter what, but the poitan you grilled is exceptionally tasty! After trying grilled poitan, normal poitan soup is impossible to drink!」


He was right, Ai Fa and I stayed in the Lutim house and tended to their hearth because we wanted to avoid drinking this poitan soup.


No matter what, dinner for tonight—— ribs, thigh steak, grilled poitan, and kiba soup with aria and pula—— was served.


After chatting for a while, everyone went back to their rooms to rest.


「Ai Fa, Asuta, do you want to sleep in the same room? We have two spare rooms right now.」


「Yes, we have plenty of things to discuss.」


I answered naturally. When the other party led us to our room, I felt a sudden dissonance.


It was a three tatami big square room, without any furnishing.


The floor was covered with rugs, with a small folded pile of cloth at the innermost side of the room. That was the thing that made me feel that something was off.


「Ah, you need one more bedding; I will go to get it.」


After Molun Lutim who led us here said that, Ai Fa answered:「There’s no need.」


「It’s fine; we usually don’t use beddings.」


「I see. I’m going off then.」


Molun Lutim left with a smile.


We were assigned to the room on the rightmost edge of the house, right beside the newlywed couple.


「Ah… Does something feel off?」


「Why?」


Ai Fa entered the room quickly and placed the candle stand she borrowed by the window.


She then sat on the bedding.


The bedding was right beside the window, so her movement was very natural.


I closed the door behind me, walked to the other side of Ai Fa, and sat down on the rug.


Room for one person.


Bedding.


Someone else’s house.


Is that the reason? The distance between Ai Fa and me was the same as usual, but my heart started to race.


I decided to write 「Serene heart」 on my palm, then swallowed it.
<TL: 平常心, http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=9517>


「What are you doing?」


Ai Fa asked me in surprise, but I couldn’t answer her.


「We have gathered all sorts of information in these two days. Ai Fa, what are your thoughts about this?」


Ai Fa moaned for a moment, then untied her long hair.


She spoke as her golden locks flowed down her shoulders and chest:


「I think… there’s no problem.」


「That’s true.」


「Yes, even if the business fails, we will only lose our copper plates. I can make up for this by hunting kiba—— fortunately, there’s a terrifying number of kiba during this season.」


「Yes.」


「I’m only worried about one thing. The one who suggested that we open a stall in the Post Station Town is Kamyua Yost.」


「It’s hard to place our trust in that man.」


「Instead of trust—— it’s hard to understand him. I can’t grasp what he is thinking. The more I converse with him, the messier my head becomes.」


Ai Fa’s eyes were a little uneasy, and she leaned forward.


I wanted to back away on reflex, but luckily, I restrained myself.


Ai Fa came near me very naturally, if I shy away, it will make Ai Fa troubled and unhappy. If our roles were switched, I would feel really hurt.


But I still couldn’t stay calm.


「That man ate kiba meat. I have never seen anyone from the city doing that. I was shocked and thought I would trust this man more—— but I found him more suspicious instead.」


「I see. I can’t understand how you feel, but you have got that right. We can’t understand him at all.」


「Asuta, do you feel the same way too?」


「Yes.」


「Oh… That’s great.」


Ai Fa sighed as if she had been relieved of a great burden on her heart.


She usually wouldn’t show such a face.


「If our thoughts were different, I would think I couldn’t understand you… I’m so glad.」


「T-That’s true. After listening to uncle Dora and Kaslan Lutim’s advice, it seemed that opening a stall in the city wouldn’t cause much trouble. We don’t need to worry if Kamyua Yost has some ulterior intentions, we just need to do as we planned… Isn’t that right?」


「I was planning to do just that. No matter what choice we made, the two of us will share the responsibility.」


「But I don’t want the stall to be a burden to you.」


Ai Fa was calm, but she was showing a hint of anger now.


Her angry expression was more like Ai Fa’s style, but that meant I said something wrong, right?


「Asuta, the ingredients in your stall will use the meat from the kiba I hunt, and ingredients bartered from the kiba tusks and horns, right?」


「Yes, I will use my money too, but I will need your help of course.」


「In that case, why are you separating our positions when you consider these things?」


I realized from her expression that she wasn’t angry, just anxious about something.


Her blue eyes were wavering as if she didn’t know what emotions she should be showing.


「When you decided to tend to the hearth for the Lutim wedding, you did it on an individual basis with Kaslan Lutim. This time, do you still have no intentions of opening the stall as a member of the Fa house? Do you still plan to shoulder the load alone? In that case—— why do you call yourself a member of the Fa house?」


「I-I’m sorry. Do you think I’m too considerate? You know, I’m from a foreign country, so the way I treat my family will be a bit different from Forest's Edge. I didn’t mean to neglect you.」


I cast aside my whimsical thoughts from earlier and couldn’t help leaning forward.


We were about 30 cm apart. Ai Fa looked straight into my eyes as if she was probing.


「… When you are happy, I’m also happy.」


「Yes.」
「When you are sad, I will feel sad too.」


「Yes.」


「If not, why should we be family?」


Ai Fa averted her gaze quickly.


If the atmosphere had been relaxed like usual, Ai Fa would definitely be pouting now—— but she was just whispering with her pink lips.


「If we can’t share everything, we don’t need to become family. Just why did you stay in the Fa house, instead of becoming a member of house Lutim?」


「Because I want to stay with you… Sorry, in my hometown, we have a habit of not troubling our family. I didn’t know my actions would make you so unhappy.」


In order to stop Ai Fa from showing such a sad face, I grabbed her hand.


Ai Fa’s fingertips weren’t that soft, but it was smooth. She gently grasped my hand.


「I want to go through joy and sorrow together with you. Our intentions are the same; please forgive me. I will pay more attention and not make you feel uncomfortable.」


「……」


「Ai Fa, as time passes, we have gotten to know each other better, right? We might be from different countries or maybe even different worlds, but I hope our understanding of each other will improve.」


「… Do we have that much time?」


Ai Fa said quietly.


「I don’t know when I will succumb to the forest. You might disappear from this world at any moment… Do we have time to get to know each other?」


「We do. Until the moment we die or disappear, we will have time. We will continue to work hard, until the day we have to part.」


I gripped Ai Fa’s hand tightly, and she looked at me.


Her eyes that had yet to calm down stared at me.


「If we spend all day worrying about how much time we have, we will lose the will to work hard for the sake of tomorrow. I dislike living like that. Pondering about the current moment is important, but we shouldn’t neglect what might happen in the future.」


「Of course… I know that.」


The corner of her lips twitched for a moment.


She seemed to be smiling, or maybe crying—— her expression was complicated and vague as if she couldn’t even control her own emotions.


「Retard, I don’t need you to tell me this now. If I hadn’t even understood that, how could I have become a hunter?」


Ai Fa then did something unexpected.


She pressed her forehead hard onto my right shoulder.


「H-Hey, Ai Fa…?」


「Don’t look at me right now. I will return to normal soon.」


She didn’t cry like last time.


She just rested her forehead on my right shoulder and stopped moving.


Ai Fa’s body warmth was transmitted to me from my shoulder and my fingers.


Her hair cascaded down to my crossed legs.


Although she wasn’t using 『sacrificial hunting style』 recently, her hair still had a sweet fragrance.


A few seconds later ——Ai Fa lifted her head steadily and shook off my fingers brusquely.


「…Asuta, what do you think?」


She kept her head lowered, her hair concealing her eyes.


From the lines of her mouth, I could tell she had her usual serious expression.


「I already shared with you my thoughts. Do you think we should open a stall in the Post Station Town?」


「Well, I… want to give it a try.」


Although I was worried about Ai Fa, I still answered frankly.


「I agree that we can’t perceive what Kamyua is thinking. I have never witnessed or experienced the impoverished life in Forest's Edge before, so I have no idea what it’s like. However… before I met Kamyua, I already felt indignant about the city people calling the denizens of Forest's Edge 《Kiba Eaters》. I want them to know how delicious kiba is.」


「Yes.」


「And there are still good people in the Post Station Town, like Tara and uncle Dora. Even if we can’t work harmoniously together, we can still try interacting with each other. I think opening the stall is a good chance to promote the relationship between Forest's Edge and the Post Station Town.」


I scratched my head.


「I’m just an outsider, is it really fine for me to be involved with the future of Forest's Edge? I’m troubled about that—— opening a stall will affect the future of Forest's Edge, I hope that I can bring benefit to Forest's Edge by doing so. Since Kaslan Lutim and you agreed to this, I want to try and do it.」


「I see, you still think of yourself as an outsider. Your attitude really makes me angry sometimes.」


Ai Fa said coldly and turned her face away.


Her words and actions might have returned to normal, but her hair was still covering her eyes, so I couldn’t guess what she was feeling.


「You are a member of the Fa house. You are staying in Forest's Edge and living here. You have to express your thoughts from the perspective of a denizen of Forest's Edge.」


「Yes. Even from the perspective of a denizen of Forest's Edge, I still want to take up the challenge of opening a stall. I don’t know what the results would be, but I want to test the limits of my mettle.」


「… It’s decided then.」


Ai Fa kept her head turned and said quietly:


「I will hunt kiba as usual and prepare the meat and copper plates. You can use them to take care of your work.」


「I got it… I will do my best.」


「Hmmp, don’t neglect your work as a hearth caretaker just because you are serving food to the people in the city.」


「I will be selling the food, not giving out free treats.」


Since Ai Fa decided to revert to her usual attitude, I followed her lead.


I forced myself to answer cheerfully:


「That said, after deciding on opening the stall, there will be a mountain of problems for me to worry about. Aside from the ingredients we have on hand, we also need to calculate the cost of other ingredients. How will we transport the ingredients and iron pot to the Post Station Town? That is a difficult problem. It’s not as easy as it sounds.」


「So you have thought that far. Asuta, leaving the opinions of others aside, did you actually really want to open a stall, right?」


「Not really. I’m just having fun imagining it. Looks like I will have plenty to discuss with Kaslan Lutim tomorrow.」


「You are so pragmatic.」


With those words, Ai Fa laid down on the bedding.


In the end, she still wanted to sleep on the bedding. I smiled wryly.


「I will organize my thoughts properly. Since we have decided to take up the challenge of opening a stall, I will definitely make it work.」


When I was about to lie down on the rug, Ai Fa who was lying down on the bedding called out to me.


「Asuta.」


「What is it?」


After my answer, she propped up her upper body with her elbow and scooted a little towards the wall.


「This bedding is unexpectedly soft and really comfortable. Come here to rest too.」


「… What?」


I tilted my head anxiously.


Ai Fa laid down again and extended both her arms:


「It’s really comfortable. They went through the trouble of preparing the bedding for us; it would be a waste not to use it.」


「N-No need, please enjoy it yourself. As long as there are rugs on the floor, I can sleep comfortably.」


「… Don’t you believe me?」


「It’s not like that. The people in my country also use bedding. I know how comfortable it is to lie on one.」


「Since you know, then come over.」


「No, no. The bedding isn’t big enough for the two of us. Don’t mind me, good night.」


「… Why are you so adamant about rejecting me?」


Ai Fa muttered quietly as she laid still.


「Did I do anything to make you unhappy?」


「That’s not it! In my country, only parent and child, or wedded couples sleep in the same bedding.」


「… This is Forest's Edge, not your country.」


Uwah, I started stammering and couldn’t say anything.


I didn’t know if Ai Fa intentionally covered her eyes with her long hair, which made it hard to tell what she was thinking.


If her eyes didn’t revert to her usual calm and kept wavering uneasily—— just that thought pained my heart.


This had to be some sort of test.


Really, I already had enough of such trials!


「… If you are that unwilling, then do what you want.」


Ai Fa turned towards the wall, hiding her face from me.


It was time for me to make my decision.


However—— No matter what I thought, I knew very well that Ai Fa wouldn’t let me marry into the Fa house. There was no way anything would happen between us.


We had always been sleeping together, and we were very close to each other too. I was only so conscious of this fact because there was the bedding on the floor. Now that I think about it, even if I lie on this bedding with Ai Fa, the distance between us would just be tens of cm closer than usual. Enduring this distance would put Ai Fa at ease, so I didn’t need to be that hesitant about this.


I steadied my breathing, did my best to calm my heart, then crawled to the bedding.


「Excuse me.」


Ai Fa didn’t move.


I tried my best to not look at Ai Fa’s beautiful back and laid gently on the bedding.


This bedding had just the right softness and felt really comfortable. I really missed having a pillow, but I couldn’t be picky here. As I thought about the plan to open a stall in the Post Station Town, I closed my eyes and decided to sleep early.


The next instant, Ai Fa turned her body towards me.


「… Asuta, you still came over in the end.」


「Y-Yeah, you invited me after all.」


Ai Fa rested her head on her right arm, laid on the rug sideways and stared at me.


There wasn’t any sadness or unease in her eyes, but instead they were filled with joy.


「… You should have listened to me obediently from the start.」


I couldn’t joke with her right after seeing her honest display of happiness.


Ai Fa’s face was very expressive and would either be angry, sulking, or pouty towards me. But it was rare to see her show joy—— Maybe this was the first time I have seen her like this since I first met her.


As I was panicking because of Ai Fa, she spoke quietly:


「Asuta, in terms of cooking, you are immeasurably powerful. But we have no way of knowing if opening the shop in the Post Station Town will have a happy ending like what Kaslan Lutim predicts.」


「Yes… You are right.」


「No matter what, I won’t regret this. You just need to do what you usually do.」


「Yes, I plan to do that.」


「… I’m proud of you, happy to have met you and take you in as a member of the Fa house.」


Ai Fa closed her eyes.


She had a blissful smile on her face.


「I’m going to sleep. Let’s talk tomorrow…」


A steady breathing came from beside me mid-sentence.


Ai Fa’s face looked as naive as a child, and looked at ease.


… That’s my line.


I thought in my mind, but I couldn’t move my gaze away from her lovable face or close my eyes, so I ended up staying up all night.


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