Saturday, April 28, 2018

Cooking with Wild Game Volume 6 Chapter 2

House Head Conference
Translator: Skythewood
Editors: Ratorasepo

1


Finally, when the sun reached the western edge of the sky, we finished all the dishes.


There were some mishaps while we were cooking. But aside from the appearance of Mida Tsun, we weren’t disturbed by anyone else from the Tsun clan main house. In a way, the job was over in a blink of an eye.


However, we still couldn’t let our guard down. The other party didn’t interfere when we were cooking, but they might have some devious scheme or traps for us during or after dinner.


The reason they asked us to come here was neither curiosity about me nor Mida Tsun’s tantrums. There must be a more serious reason.


Were they trying to make me theirs because I could earn a huge amount of copper plates?


Or did they think I was an eyesore and wanted to get rid of me?


I didn’t know what their true objective was.


However, they were definitely up to no good.


And so, I didn’t relax my tense emotions after the dishes were done and started distributing the meal.






「— Sorry to intrude.」


Vena Wu and I carried the reheated pot of『Kiba meat soup』 to the Ceremonial Hall while numerous pairs of sharp gazes locked on us.


The sun was about to set, and the Ceremonial Hall was darker than outside. The candle stands at the corners of the rooms were already lighted. Illuminated by the orange light, the eyes of all the buffed Forest's Edge men were burning like beasts.


The house head conference was now in recess.


But the atmosphere was unbearably tense.


Vena Wu and I walked through the tense air and headed to the stove by the wall.


As its appearance suggested, the inside of the Ceremonial Hall looked like a cave. The floor was about a meter below ground level, which made the ceiling look even taller and wider.


There were four pillars inside the hall connected to beams. Wood columns radiated out from the beams to support the dome-shaped roof. The deterioration inside the hall wasn’t as serious as the exterior.


Stoves were set up on the four walls, and we placed the pot on the stove nearest to the entrance. When we started the fire, the men were still silent.


The chief Tsun clan and the heads of 36 houses were gathered inside the Ceremonial Hall.


The male followers accompanying the house heads were also here.


There were more than 70 people inside the Ceremonial Hall, but I didn’t hear any whispering or chattering. Everyone sat on their rugs and watched our every move quietly. The men all wore hunter’s cape, and the blades were all kept in a corner.


There were four entrances to the Ceremonial Hall. The other women entered from the other entrances with their pots. Everyone kept quiet, as if we all agreed on this ahead of time.


I didn’t think the hearth caretaker had to greet everyone. When we started the fire and was about to leave the Ceremonial Hall, to bring in the other dishes—


A voice finally broke the silence.


「Hearth caretaker of the Fa house, women from the Wu clan and Lutim house… thank you for your hard work.」


His voice sounded slurred for some reason, so it was a bit hard to make out what he was saying.


I slowly looked in the direction where the voice came from.


「So it is the kiba meat that the people in the Post Station Town are willing to spend copper plates for… I can finally taste it…」


A large man was sitting there, with two other men sitting by his side.


This might be a circular building, but that man’s seat was probably the seat of honor. Behind him was a strange altar, with the skull of a large kiba looking down from above.


So this is the head of the Tsun clan Zuro Tsun…


That was definitely him.


Because seated on both sides of him were the eldest and second son of the Tsun clan, Diga Tsun and Doddo Tsun.


Diga Tsun looked at me with a mocking smile.


Doddo Tsun stared my way like a famished wild dog.


Zuro Tsun was seated between his sons; his toothy smile sent shivers down my spine.


Hmm...


Contrary to my expectation, he wasn’t fierce or intimidating.


However, he had a strange air about him.


His body was massive and one size bulkier than Diga Tsun.


It wasn’t as bad as Mida Tsun, but he was quite fat.


His hair was sparse, and his eyes and cheeks drooped down in a hideous manner. The wideness of his mouth was amazing, like a toad that got bloated after being soaked in water for too long.
Zuro Tsun was wearing clothes commonly seen in Forest's Edge. But like the women of Forest's Edge, there were bunches of accessories on his fat arms and legs.


On his chest was an amazing amount of tusks and horns.


The denizens of Forest's Edge treated such necklace as a hunter’s pride and proof of a hunter. But in my eyes, Zuro Tsun was just treating it as a symbol of vanity.


Given his body shape, he can’t do any hunting...


In terms of just body figure, Mida Tsun was closer to being a meatball. But he still possessed physical prowess, such as ability to sprint fast, as well as enormous arm strength.


However, people with large statures would normally have an intimidating air about them, but I couldn’t sense this from Zuro Tsun.


His sitting posture was terrible, slouching slightly to the right as he sat cross-legged.


His beady eyes had the glint of obsession, while his expression looked lazy.


This person ill befitted the title of the tribal chief of the righteous and serious hunters.


「What’s the matter… I’m thanking you, you know…?」


He smiled with his huge mouth and said with his slurred voice again.


「It’s nothing.」


I bowed.


「I’m working in exchange for remuneration, so there is no need for thanks.」


I answered in a tone which was as calm as possible, and the corner of Zuro Tsun’s lips rose higher.


「That’s true, I said something careless… Carry on then.」


「Alright, excuse me.」


We quietly resumed our work.


The Tsun clan women returned to their own home, and the food was served by the women from the Wu clan and Lutim house.


As the air in the Ceremonial Hall was incredibly heavy, the usually cheerful ladies were also affected. Their faces were all incredibly stiff.


「… We need to eat there too…?」


When we left the Ceremonial Hall and returned to the stove room, Vena Wu muttered to herself exasperatedly.


「That’s right. This is the rule of Forest's Edge.」


The women from the Tsun clan branch houses had to return to their own homes to serve the food to their family. Because of the rule that the 『Hearth caretaker must eat together with the diners』, I thought the branch house members would also dine in the Ceremonial Hall. Looked like they had relaxed this rule.


I was very surprised that Yamiel Tsun and Mida Tsun didn’t dine in the Ceremonial Hall.


「My mood is so heavy… There won’t be any danger if Papa Donda is with us… But the atmosphere there is terrible…」


The feuding Tsun clan and Wu clan were gathered in the same place along with their kins, of course the air would be stiff.


Just how intense were their debates during the house head conference?


Did Ai Fa complete her job properly while the two sides were standing off?


What did the other house heads think after listening to her?


I needed to dine without knowing anything, which increased the stress on me.


Even so, I still had to complete my own work.


After carrying in the 『Kiba meat soup』, we carried in the grilled poitan, 『Myam-roasted meat』 with aria, thigh steak, and spare ribs into the Ceremonial Hall. With the soup given out to everyone, the distribution of the food was finally done.


「…Asuta, over here.」


After finishing my work, I heard Ai Fa calling out to me. Vena Wu and I walked over.


Familiar faces were gathered to the right of the seat of honor.


Donda Wu, Darum Wu, Dan Lutim, Rau Lei— all 14 kins of the Wu clan and Ai Fa were seated here.


Mama Mia Lei and Leina Wu had already joined them. They also placed Vena Wu and my share of the food at our seats.


「Everyone’s safe, that’s great.」


I sat down beside Ai Fa and whispered to her.


Ai Fa had her usual serious face.


「… How goes the house head conference?」


「I can’t really say. After the head of the Tsun clan heard what we said, he just kept smiling and insisted we discuss more after dinner.」


Since the dishes being sold at the Post Station Town were a part of tonight’s menu, that might be prudent.


「What about the other things? Like Doddo Tsun’s violent action in the Post Station Town, or them barging into the Lutim house wedding banquet. This conference is the chance to tell on them, right?」


「They glossed over it in the usual way. If the head of the Tsun clan lowers his head in apology, these matters will be put to rest.」


Kaslan Lutim also told me about this trick of theirs.


If their wayward acts were ever to surface, the head of the Tsun clan would use his ultimate move—「apologizing」.


Their pride was worthless.


But— it’s because of people like him that causes the matter to be so complicated.


Shameless people are the scariest.


When I met Doddo Tsun for the first time, I learned this fact personally.


「… Well then, let’s dine in…」


The leader of the shameless said with a slurred voice.


「We talked about the hearth caretaker from the Fa house during our conference earlier, and this is his cooking. Let us taste this carefully…」


He then said the familiar phrase:


「… We give thanks to the grace of the forest… We give thanks to the member of the Fa house, the Wu clan and their kins, and the Tsun clan for letting us extend our lives tonight...」


As almost everyone here was men, deep voices echoed in the hall as they repeated his words.


Everyone then picked up their utensils.


… What comments will they give?


This wasn’t just a normal dinner. In a sense, this was closer to a taste-test session.


The new techniques of bloodletting and butchering change the kiba meat. We hope to give value to kiba meat, so everyone could trade them for copper plates. In order to achieve this goal, with the assistance of the Wu clan and Lutim house, the Fa house is currently setting up shop in the Post Station Town— before dinner began, we told the house heads of Forest's Edge these details.


The kins of the Tsun clan, the kins of the Wu clan, the smaller houses not affiliated with either side… what did their house heads think— we were still figuring things out, so we could only take things one step at a time.


「… Hey Molun, why is there just one spare rib for everyone? How can one spare rib satisfy my stomach?」


Dan Lutim intentionally lowered voice entered my ears.


「We had to prepare 130 meals, you know? It’s tough enough to give one rib to each person, so stop complaining.」


「But…」


「I get it I get it. I will give you my share, so be quiet… But I will take your 『Myam-roasted meat』 in return, okay?」


What a peaceful conversation between father and daughter. In this tense atmosphere, their bold actions made me feel at ease.


Alright, I will offer my spare rib to Dan Lutim too. As I was about to turn to him, someone spoke.


「Is that it? I was wondering just how delicious this could be, but it’s just normal kiba meat.」


The one who spoke was Diga Tsun.


The heir of the Tsun clan continued in a slow tone:


「Did you really earn more than a hundred white copper plates with this thing? Unbelievable.」


I started considering my options.


Well, I already knew that the Tsun clan could either criticize or praise my cooking, looked like they decided to bash my cooking first.


「Eldest son of the Tsun clan Diga Tsun, are you talking to yourself, or questioning the Fa house? If you are questioning us, I can answer your question.」


Diga Tsun glared at me with his murky eyes.


On the day Ai Fa picked me up in the depths of the forest, Diga Tsun was lying in wait near the Fa house. That was the first time I met him, and he was the second denizen of Forest's Edge that I encountered.


After a month or so, I saw him again. He barged into the Lutim house wedding together with Doddo Tsun and Mida Tsun.


This was our third meeting— I wasn’t afraid of this person at all. But I learned once again how arrogant and sly he was.


「Yes… The head of the Fa house only mentioned that they earned more than a hundred white copper plates in ten days… Can you tell us the details now…?」


Diga Tsun’s father asked.


I put down my plate.


「Firstly, regarding the accuracy of this statement, I can give you a definite answer. What Ai Fa said is true. We sold more than a thousand dishes within ten days and took in more than 200 white copper plates. Excluding the ingredients and other costs, the profits are 123 white copper plates, which is around 100 kiba worth of tusks and horns.」


The house heads were eating quietly, but now they were whispering among themselves.


In order to stop others from thinking that I was showing off, I announced our gains as calmly as possible.


「However, we didn’t prepare enough portions during our first few days of opening, so the sales numbers were lackluster. Nowadays, we can sell 150 meals a day, and earn between 17 to 18 white copper plates… Two days later, we will provide meals for an inn, and our profits will exceed 20 white copper plates.」


「Earning 20 white copper plates a day… That is an incredible number.」


Zuro Tsun laughing voice reverberated in the hall.


「… Are sales so impressive because the stall owner is a foreigner? The residents of Genos loathe the denizens of Forest's Edge, will they really buy kiba meat from us…?」


「Obviously, we had to spend time to build up our reputation with the people of the town. The women from the Wu clan were also helping out at my stall, so the townspeople got to know how the denizens of Forest's Edge really are through them. Their baseless prejudice and fear will fade away one day.」


I continued with slightly more strength in my eyes.


So it depended on whether the fear the people in the city had towards the Forest's Edge is really baseless If the denizens of Forest's Edge did commit felonies, that will be a different matter.— If you want to obtain more wealth, then stop your nefarious ways— that was what I was hinting at.


Zuro Tsun still showed a faint smile on his face.


Never mind, if something of this level could change the behavior of the Tsun clan, we wouldn’t need to work so hard. I sighed in my heart.


「Not everyone present would want to interact with Genos in such a manner. But the Fa house isn’t doing this for the money. I hope everyone can understand this.」


「Yes… I heard that your plan is to make the Forest's Edge more prosperous…」


Why?


Why couldn’t I deduce what Zuro Tsun was thinking?


His toad-like face had a faint smile, and there wasn’t any obvious malice despite his insulting tone. He seemed uninterested in this matter.


If he showed his obsession for copper plates openly like Zwei Tsun, I would have an easier time dealing with him. But I couldn’t understand what he was scheming, so I didn’t know what to emphasize.


Why did he ask me to come to the Tsun clan…?


Zuro Tsun continued dining with a faint smile on his face.


Diga Tsun was also biting into the kiba meat with a silly smile.


Doddo Tsun— I wasn’t paying attention to him at all, but was he eating the food properly? He kept drinking fruit wine.


「However… Do we need wealth…?」


After staying quiet for a while, Zuro Tsun finally said in a hoarse voice.


「Wealth will make people depraved… As the tribal chief of Forest's Edge, I often meet with the people of Rock City. I understand more than everyone here how much this rings true… Excessive wealth is like wine that leads down the path to debauchery…」


Did he have to right to say such things?


But there was no point in lecturing the Tsun clan here.


So I shut my mouth, but there was someone who couldn’t stay silent. That was the head of the Lutim house, Dan Lutim.


「Tribal chief Zuro Tsun, if you know that, then why are you keeping all the prize money from the city to yourself? If you think excessive wealth is like evil wine, then you should return the money to Rock city, right?」


He didn’t sound agitated, but his unhappiness was obvious.


After saying that, Dan Lutim bit into the spare rib in his hand.


Ema Min Lutim seemed to have given him the third rib.


「Dan Lutim, that’s a retarded question.」


A young voice answered.


It came from diagonally behind me, which meant that the one answering wasn’t from the Tsun clan.


The one who spoke was the head of the Lei house, Rau Lei.


「Dan Lutim, don’t you understand how kind and merciful the tribal chief is? In order to keep us safe from harm, he had drunk all that evil wine by himself. Can’t you understand such a simple matter?」


「So that’s why.」


Dan Lutim laughed out loud.


The next instant, several black figures sitting to the left of the Tsun clan emitted strong bloodlust.
「Heads of the Lei and Lutim houses! Are you trying to slander the tribal chief clan without any proof? The tribal chief already explained many times that the copper plates are all used to protect the Genos farmland!」


A buffed man wearing a fur cape with the kiba skull still attached said.


One of them who was incredibly swole said in a deep voice on par with Donda Wu:


「That’s right, the tribal chief sincerely thinks that Forest's Edge didn’t need this wealth, so he hired people from the city to gather wood and erect wall to protect the farms of Genos. You have no reason to slander him!」


「Head of house Zaza, the things you mentioned are the ones without proof. You make the same excuse every year, I’m already tired of hearing it.」


Dan Lutim continued chewing on his rib calmly. That made the head of house Zaza even more furious.


「I have witnessed that wall being built myself! In order to erect such a grand wall, dozens of Genos men need to be hired to work on it, and large amounts of copper plates and time will be spent!」


A wall to protect the farms?


Did the Tsun clan really build such a thing?


If what those men said was true, Uncle Dora the vegetable peddler won’t need to worry about kiba.


「… They are referring to the northern farms. As the people from inside the rock wall own these farms, secured wooden wall was erected to protect the fields from kiba— Grandma Jiba told me about that a long time ago.」




Ai Fa whispered to me.


I see. The farms of the Post Station Town citizens were located to the south of the city, and that wall didn’t extend that far. Hence, the farms to the south were ravaged by the famished kiba.


「The Tsun clan claimed that the erection of that wall exhausted all the prize money… But is that possible?」


I asked Ai Fa as quietly as possible so others wouldn’t overhear. Ai Fa shook her head.


「Impossible. Grandma Jiba once said that the wall that protect the noble’s farms was completed decades ago. It goes without saying that they would need to be maintained if hungry kiba damages the wall.」


「Yes…」


「Besides, Grandma Jiba once said with a laugh that the prize money given by the Rock City is meagre, so it can’t be used to erect such grandiose wall.」


In the end, even the house head of Zaza was tricked by the Tsun clan.


The Tsun clan actually conned such scary people, I couldn’t help sighing.


All of them looked as intimidating as Donda Wu...


They were perfect specimens as the denizens of Forest's Edge.


Having the life force and aura of wild beast, the pure and powerful tribe of 「hunters」… The kin houses of the Tsun clan, Zaza, Dom and the Jean, all looked strong and outstanding, and were fitting of this name.


The eyes of the swole Zaza head were burning from outlandish rage as he glared at Dan Lutim and Rau Lei.


「Excessive wealth will make the hunters depraved! That’s why the tribal chief used all the money to protect the Genos farms, and didn’t bring it back to Forest's Edge! What problem do you have against tribal chief’s decision?」


「If what you said is true, we won’t have any qualms about it. But head of the Zaza house, how many years do we have to wait until work on that wall is finished? I have waited so long that my neck is getting as long as the Totos in the Post Station Town.」


Dan Lutim answered without any agitation at all. He seemed so tired of this exchange that he almost yawned.


They must have said the same thing during previous house head conferences. The kins of the Wu clan would point out the shortcomings of the chief clan, the kins of the Tsun clan would protect the chief clan. The Tsun clan managed to hold on to their chief clan status because of this strange power balance.


Donda Wu didn’t participate in this meaningless debate and drank his fruit wine with a terrifying fire burning in his eyes.


The Tsun clan is doing things too sloppily...


If a conflict started between the Tsun and Wu clans, the Forest's Edge would be embroiled in a civil war that could split it in two. But that was only if the kins of each clan joined in. Without the aid of their powerful kins such as Zaza and Jean, the Tsun clan won’t be a match for the Wu clan.


Even so, the Tsun clan still depended on deception to earn the trust of their kins. Their scheme seemed so easy to defeat.


The Tsun clan’s methods are full of holes. Kamyua or I could easily tear apart their lies with slightly underhanded schemes.


Such a thought even came to my mind.


I knew that I shouldn’t be overconfident, but the Tsun clan’s poor imitation of civilization was too rough on the edges and had plenty of holes.


As I was thinking about it, the other party suddenly lashed out:


「… The Fa house is attempting to bring excessive wealth to Forest's Edge, that will only cause depravity to the denizens of Forest's Edge!」


I raised my head in surprise.


The Zaza house head was glaring at Ai Fa and me with hunter-like eyes.


「I don’t care if you seduced a foreigner and used him to earn copper plates. That isn’t a violation of the rules of Forest's Edge… However, if you try to bring down the morals in Forest's Edge with that wealth, I will purge you with my blade!」


They suddenly shifted the topic to us.


No, it wasn’t sudden at all. After hearing Ai Fa’s speech during the house head conference, they were probably harboring such thoughts.


Excessive wealth might bring depravity to Forest's Edge— I was also worried about that when I thought to open shop in the Post Station Town.


Kaslan Lutim and Ai Fa wiped away my worries.


Ai Fa was now staring right back at the Zaza house head with her back straight in a proper sitting posture.


「Head of the Zaza house, you think that excessive wealth will make the denizens of Forest's Edge deprave?」


「That’s right. If you want to earn copper plates with kiba meat, that’s up to you. But don’t splurge that money in Forest's Edge… However, if the Wu clan and Lutim house want to wag their tails to the Fa house, you can share some of the copper plates with them, I will turn a blind eye to that.」


「Oh...?」


Dan Lutim’s huge body shook.


With a happy smile on his face, his large eyes were starting to boil with emotion.


「Head of the Zaza house, you said something interesting. You think we built bonds with the Fa house for the sake of copper plates?」


「Am I wrong? The Fa and Lutim houses have no blood ties, so why else will you act together?」


「Because the Fa and Lutim houses are friends!」


Dan Lutim roared and slammed his fist into the ground.


The dirt-covered rugs sunk in.


「Blood ties are important, but that’s not everything! Forget it, you will do whatever the Tsun clan says just because you are their kin. There’s no way you can understand how we think!」


「Are you trying to mock the chief clan again!?」


The atmosphere in the hall reached boiling point.


At this moment, someone mediated between them. It wasn’t the leaders of these two men, Donda Wu or Zuro Tsun, but Ai Fa.


「Lutim and Zaza house heads, please calm down. We are discussing excessive wealth, right?」


A serious glint flashed in Ai Fa’s eyes.


But her tone and expression were calm.


Ai Fa nodded at Dan Lutim to soothe him, then turned to the Zaza house head— and said quietly.

2


「Excessive wealth will bring depravity to Forest's Edge… I understand what you think, but we weren’t trying to earn great riches when we chose to start a business in the Post Station Town.」


Ai Fa continued intermittently.


「I only wish for a prosperous life for the denizens of Forest's Edge. There are many denizens in Forest's Edge living in extreme poverty, if their lives become better, they would obtain more power and put in more effort into their work as hunters.」


「Hah!」


The head of the Zaza house cleared his throat crudely and said:


「Is that really true? If a kiba can be traded in for more copper plates, they can survive without needing to hunt more kiba. That’s being depraved!」


「Can they perform their jobs as hunters properly if they are starving? Leaving big houses like Zaza, Jean and Dom aside, the smaller and weaker houses also need to live a better life.」


「… If they lacked the ability, let them wither away in the forest. That’s how we train the power of our hunters.」


A deep voice interjected.


Until just now, this buffed man wearing a skull of a kiba had been listening to his comrades quietly. He was a member of the Dom house.


「Weak hunters don’t have the rights to live. The strong hunters that survive will allow the tenacious bloodline to carry on. If the useless wealth allowed weak hunters to survive and their floundering heritage is passed on, it will lead to the Forest's Edge’s demise.」


「What is useless wealth? How do you know that the wealth earned through kiba tusks and horns is useful, while the one made from kiba meat is useless?」


A blue flame raged in Ai Fa’s eyes.


「Head of the Dom house, the tusks, horns, hide and meat are all wealth brought in by kiba. Can you explain what is their difference?」


「… We had been using tusks, horns and hide to trade for wealth for the past eight decades. That is my answer.」


「That’s because we couldn’t trade kiba meat for money in the past, right? Since we have learned how to sell kiba meat, I think we shouldn’t just abandon it.」


Ai Fa’s tone turned a little gentler, but her aura did not lose out to the fierce head of the Dom house.


「Head of the Dom house, I spoke with the Grand Elder of the Forest's Edge last night.」


「… What about it, head of the Fa house.」


「I was puzzled. The people in the city exchange the meat and hide of an animal called karon for money. But the denizens of Forest's Edge only trade in kiba hide for money but throw the meat away into the forest. Why is that?」


I was listening in last night too.


Only then did we learn of the unknown history of Forest's Edge.


「Jiba Wu and other denizens of Forest's Edge once lived in the dark jungle in Jaguar. Aside from the giant dark apes that ate humans, there were only small snakes and lizards in the jungle… As the people were strictly prohibited from eating dark ape meat, they could only sustain themselves on snakes, lizards, and bugs.」


「I heard all that in the Dom house too. It’s nothing special, our ancestors kept hunting dark apes to protect themselves and their families and honed their skills as hunters.」


「You are right. Our forebears skinned the dark apes and wore their hides to display their abilities… Simply put, this was the reason why we could skin hides, but couldn’t process the meat properly.」


「……」


「After that, our ancestors moved from the southern jungle to the edge of the Morga Forest. They didn’t hunt dark apes anymore and switched to hunting kiba. They could eat kiba meat now, but didn’t know the correct way to handle this meat. According to Jiba Wu, just getting to eat kiba meat satisfied them and filled them with joy.」


「And so? If that is the case, we should be satisfied with just eating the meat.」


「No… I don’t think so.」


Ai Fa must be thinking about the expression Jiba Wu showed last night.


Jiba Wu’s eyes were strange back then. Even though they were overflowing with sorrow, they had a glimmer of hope in them.


「Jiba Wu thinks that the denizens of Forest's Edge back then were too lazy. They rejected any interaction with the people in the city and didn’t attempt to determine the reason why kiba meat couldn’t be traded for copper plates. Eight decades were wasted, and Jiba Wu is filled with regrets.」


「Why does she feel regret? There is no need for our forebears to feel that way. If not for the path they had shown us, we won’t be here today.」


「Jiba Wu thinks that they could have shown a more prosperous path for us, that’s why she feels regret. If life in Forest's Edge wasn’t so harsh, many of our ancestors wouldn’t have died in vain.」


Back then, several thousand refugees settled in Forest’s Edge, at the foot of the Morga Mountain.


In the first few years, almost half the denizens died while battling kiba or wasted away from hunger. Jiba Wu told me that when I met her for the first time.


「The people in the city already knew the correct way to prepare kiba meat. If our forebears didn’t discriminate against the people in the city and had build proper relations with them, we could have trade kiba meat to them for copper plates. Because they were apathetic, Forest's Edge is so impoverished that denizens still starve to death in their own homes. Grandma Jiba feels that this is their sin.」


「……」


「Head of the Dom house, I can’t refute your belief that excess wealth will invite depravity. However, I believe that more wealth will make the weak and smaller houses stronger. I hope that the denizens of Forest's Edge won’t ever need to starve.」


Ai Fa glanced at me.


「You might think my proposal is ridiculous. But with Asuta’s prowess, I don’t think it is impossible… Does everyone think Asuta’s cooking is delicious?」


No one answered.


Even so, Ai Fa’s eyes turned calm and serene. She then lifted the corners of her lips.


「I think the dishes are wonderful and delicious. That’s why, I will strive on this path that I believe in… I hope you can agree with me.」


The Ceremonial Hall was completely silent.


Most of the people had yet to finish their meal, but everyone stopped what they were doing.


Be it the Tsun clan and their kins, or the Wu clan and their kins— the women tending to the hearth, the heads of the minor houses, everyone stopped with bated breath because of this wondrous feeling—


At this moment, someone broke the silence.


「… The Fou house concurs with the head of the Fa house.」


Everyone looked at the source of the voice.


A middle-aged man stood up from a corner of the Ceremonial Hall.


「The Fou house is a small house and has few kins, so couldn’t hunt enough kiba.」


The man who was about forty had a black messy hair, a similarly colored beard. He was tall and thin.


「We have abundant meat, but insufficient tusks and horns. A child was finally born to us, but it almost starved to death. If our men have more power, our family won’t suffer so much.」


His light blue eyes burned in the dim hall.


There was a mixture of the pride and pain of a hunter in his eyes, which gave off a terrifying light.


「We don’t need any charity from Rock City. But I think the wealth I get by hunting kiba is my just reward. If we can gain more strength from this, I swear that we will put in more effort into my work as a hunter… Hence, the Fou house concurs with what the head of the Fa house said.」


「… The Latzu house also concurs.」


A man stood up from the side.


It was a man in his twenties.


「In this year, we lost two of our kin houses, the Mei and Jimu houses. The head of the Mei house was an exceptionally brave hunter, but he became ill because of a small wound and passed away… If we had more savings, we could have bought medicine from the Post Station Town and cured him.」


His eyes were full of rage as he glared at the head of the Dom house.


「According to the Dom house head, weak houses like Mei and Jimu deserves to die out. I don’t agree with his assertions, that’s why I concur with the Fa house head.」


「No need to be so agitated. The Dom house head doesn’t wish for the demise of the smaller houses either.」


A hoarse voice sounded out, and someone else stood up.


The one speaking was a thin old man, who had white hair like Jiba Wu.


「There are 300-odd denizens in Forest's Edge who aren’t related to the Tsun clan or Wu clan by blood. No one should treat their lives lightly. If the smaller houses die out slowly, we wouldn’t be able to hunt enough kiba.」


「You are the elder of the Sauti clan… Do you concur with the Fa house head too?」


The Zaza house head who had been quiet stared at the old man with fiery eyes.


「That will be decided by my house head. However, after listening to the Grand Elder’s words, these old bones feel the same way. Because of the wrong path chosen by we old fools, the young ones had to take unnecessary winding roads.」


The old man was a denizen of Forest's Edge, but his eyes were steady and calm.


His gentle eyes turned from the Zaza house head to me and Ai Fa.


「The people of the city fear the denizens of Forest's Edge, Forest's Edge denizens are also wary of the people of the city. This might be an unavoidable fate, but we didn’t try to do anything about it… Maybe the Fa house can open a new path for Forest's Edge in the stead of us old ones.」


「How can that foreigner do something that incredible!?」


「He can build proper bonds with the people in the city. This is something no one from Forest's Edge can do.」


After the old man answered steadily, the Zaza house head’s face turned even more ferocious, and his cheeks started cramping.


「Not just the kins of the Wu clan, even the Sauti clan wants to slander the chief clan? Don’t forget that it was the Tsun clan that forged our ties with Rock City!」


「It is true that the Tsun clan forged ties with the Genos city. But the citizens in Rock City are different from the people of the Post Station Town… Unfortunately, the Tsun clan people didn’t build proper relationships with the people in town. Did you forget? The second son of the main house drew his blade in town.」


「That’s because the people of Post Station Town berated the denizens of Forest's Edge…」


「Zaza house head, is there a rule in Forest's Edge that compels us to draw our blades when we are insulted?」


Aside from the Tsun clan, there were actually other clans that dared to disparage the Tsun clan. I was surprised.


The old man smiled quietly and looked our way.


「Head and family of the Fa house, an old fool like me can’t decide the path the Sauti clan should take. But I wish to offer you my blessings.」


「Elder Moga, if you really think that, then don’t neglect your house head.」


The young man beside the elder stood up majestically.


He had a bulky figure and was a young man with his own style just like Jiza Wu or Kaslan Lutim.


「I’m the head of the Sauti clan, Dali Sauti. I have a question for the head of the Wu clan Donda Wu. What are your views on this matter?」


Donda Wu stared at the young man quietly.


「The head of the Lutim house calls the Fa house his friend. But the ones actually assisting the Fa house are the women from the Wu clan. Do you also think of the Fa house as friends, and are working towards the same goal?」


「… I have no intentions of calling those people friends.」


Donda Wu’s voice was deep and vague, he stood up slowly.


「That dummy is a woman, but works hard to pretend to be a hunter every day. That foreigner is of dubious origin, why must I treat them as friends?」


「In that case, why did you lend him the Wu clan’s women? Is it just for the money?」


The young man named Dali Sauti tilted his head with a puzzled face.


Donda Wu stared at his honest face, and said quietly:


「They want to give value to kiba meat for it to become exchangeable for copper plates. I don’t think such dream talk will come true that the retards in the city will change their mind. I merely lend him the women as part of a proper trade.」


「I see, then—」


「However, if their delusions come true, then Forest’s Edge will obtain enormous strength.」


Donda Wu’s stern voice was like a machete, cutting off the young man’s words.


His eyes started shining, and a fearless smile formed on his lips.


「The excessive wealth will lead to the denizens of Forest’s Edge becoming deprave… How can such a retarded thing be possible? People who think that way are the ones that will make Forest's Edge depraved.」


「What did you say…?」


The men from the Zaza and Jean house responded immediately.


「Zaza, Jean, if you all had 100 copper plates, will you play around all day and only start hunting kiba when you spend all your copper plates?」


「Head of the Wu clan! What kind of joke is this!? Are you trying to mock us too!」


「Your outraged reaction is the answer.」


Donda Wu was still smiling.


Speaking of which, even though his face always looked sour recently, he was finally showing his true nature now.


He was a fiery heroic figure who could always crush his enemy with a smile.


「Head of the Zaza house, I’m not mocking you, it is you who are mocking us. You think excessive wealth will make the denizens of Forest’s Edge fall into depravity? These kind of people are unfit to be hunters in the first place! They have no right to live in Forest's Edge!」


「But…!」


「If anyone falls into depravity because of wealth, we will just need to chase them out of Forest's Edge. We can keep the peace and order in Forest's Edge this way.」


Donda Wu’s mouth twisted cheerfully.


He was insulting the Tsun clan in a roundabout way, declaring war against the Tsun clan.


The head of the Zaza house didn’t understand what he was implying and showed a ferocious face after hearing Donda Wu’s words.


「The Wu clan didn’t need any more wealth. It’s the same for the Lutim and Lei houses… But the Lilim and Mufa houses are still lacking in power. Without the aid of their kins, they might die out just like the Mei and Jimu houses.」


「……」


「However, when the Fa house started doing business in the Post Station Town, the Wu clan obtained more wealth. Because we lent our women to the Fa house, we didn’t have enough people to tan the hides, and had to share them with the Lilim and Mufa houses… That’s probably the so-called 『making lives more prosperous』. Am I wrong, Zaza house head?」


「……」


「Life in Forest's Edge isn’t so well off that people will fall into depravity. We can worry about that when no denizen of Forest's Edge starves to death.」


「Donda Wu, so you have the same goal as the Fa house?」


Dali Sauti interjected.


Donda Wu’s feral smile disappeared, and his face turned stiff with impatience.


「I already said this, right? I don’t believe in such dream talk.」


「But—」


「If they really pulled it off, the denizens of Forest's Edge would obtain enormous strength… There’s no reason for us to stop them, right?」


「Ara ara…」


Someone muttered behind me.


I quietly peeked at the source of the sound and saw Mama Mia Lei smiling awkwardly.


Her face was saying 「Our clan head sure is stubborn.」


「Hmm… This is interesting.」


— A slurred voice that didn’t fit the atmosphere echoed in the hall.


Zuro Tsun had spoken.


Donda Wu looked at him with hunter’s eyes.


「However… they will still need some time to realize this plan. Our goal is to sell kiba meat instead of cooked food to the people in the city, so that will be tough… In that case, why don’t take some time to observe the situation…?」


What a laughable comment.


After such a heated debate, he could only manage such a pitiful comment?


I couldn’t feel the direction of his plans and will.


「How boring. To think that aside from the Fa house, the other houses would be tricked by the Fa house’s flowery words.」


Diga Tsun who was beside Zuro Tsun said slowly.


「The Fou and Latzu houses… looks like we need to remember your names?」


The two house heads were still standing in the Ceremonial Hall and they glared at Diga Tsun with knife-like gazes.


A raging anger burned in my heart for the first time. Before I could explode, someone who had a lower boiling point than me erupted loudly:


「Hey, eldest son of the Tsun clan, what do you mean by that! When was there a rule in Forest's Edge that forbade associating with the Fa house!? You despicable man, you are the one who broke the rules in the first place, stop bearing a grudge!」


Dan Lutim roared loudly.


Thick veins appeared on his bald head, and raging flame shot out from his large eyes.


That’s right… For a long time, many heads of smaller houses broke off their ties with the Fa house out of fear of the Tsun clan. And now, after two years, they are trying to change this situation.


This flame would never fade.


「L-Lutim house head, what do you mean by despicable? You have no reasons to accuse me of that, right?」


Diga Tsun was still smiling cheekily, but his face was starting to cramp up. Dan Lutim once threw a kiba over a hundred kilos at him, and he probably remembered that nightmare.


At this moment, I observed the faces of the other people— not just Zuro Tsun, even the heads of the Zaza and Jean houses looked displeased.


Zuro Tsun probably wanted less trouble, but the kins of the Tsun clan— despite our difference in opinions, had no intentions of defending Diga Tsun’s despicable actions in the past.


They loathed Ai Fa who called herself a hunter as much as Donda Wu and the foreigner who claimed to be a member of the Fa house. They voiced their objections against us regarding the matter of excessive wealth on their own accord.


For them who believed in the chief clan, they had to be truly disgusted about the fact that Diga Tsun infiltrated the Fa house without permission on the night when Ai Fa lost her father.


Diga Tsun didn’t understand that at all. He just kept abusing the authority of the chief clan and didn’t consider the limits of other people’s patience with him.


That was why— he would always be just a small fry.


Maybe we just need to wait for the day when Diga Tsun takes over Zuro Tsun’s place.


Such a thought even appeared on my mind.


Once Diga Tsun becomes the clan head and tribal chief, Dom and Zaza would lose their confidence in the Tsun clan before long.


In that case, Donda Wu wouldn’t need to resort to violence, there wouldn’t be any need for underhanded means. The Tsun clan would destroy itself.


This might be very passive, but in a way, this is probably the most peaceful way to resolve this matter.


The current tribal chief Zuro Tsun looked at Dan Lutim, trying to calm him.


「… Head of the Lutim house, no need to be so loud… are you talking about what happened two years ago? There’s no need to bring up the past, correct…?」


「If you want me to let that matter rest, then ask your useless son to shut up! Just hearing him speak disgusts me!」


Dan Lutim sat down heavily and crossed his legs. He then reached below with his right hand subconsciously.


I had quietly pushed my plate over, and even though Dan Lutim had been glaring at the Tsun clan this whole time, he still grabbed the spare rib flawlessly. Why was his perception so amazing?


Dan Lutim helped me voice out my mind, and this was just a small token of appreciation for him.


「… You don’t need to bother with the names of the Fou and Latzu houses. You just need to etch the name of the Sudora house into your heart.」


A gloomy voice boomed out.


At the seat far away from the Tsun clan, a man who was in no way buffed stood up.


「The head of the Sudora house concurs with the head of the Fa house… Our houses need to live a more prosperous life.」


Another man some distance away got on his feet.


「… Gazu house also concurs with the Fa house. When they were talking about the tastiness of kiba meat earlier, I didn’t understand what they were saying. After tasting this kiba meat, I changed my mind… There is a possibility that the people in the city might purchase this meat.」


Me too— people all around them wanted to express their agreement, but Zuro Tsun stopped them.


「My fellow house heads, please wait… I have no intention of judging the actions of the Fa house here… Like what I said earlier, it will be quite some time before we know if the Fa house can reach this goal… So let’s take our time and observe in the meantime...」


「So that means the tribal chief has no objection with the Fa house’s actions?」


Dali Sauti interrupted.


「But the kin houses of the Tsun clan, the Zaza and Dom houses sounded their objections. What are your views on that?」


「It goes without saying that the views of the Zaza and Dom houses make a lot of sense. I do think there are risks in bringing in excessive wealth and can’t just ignore it… However, like what the Wu clan head said, giving value to the kiba meat is nigh impossible… Let’s not get into a dispute over this trivial matter…」


Zuro Tsun shifted his sly gaze to the heads of the Zaza house and the others. They stood in place unhappily.


「House heads of Zaza, Jean, and Dom, kin houses of the Tsun clan… Can you let the matter rest on my account…? Until we determine whether the Fa house will bring prosperity or depravity, this way, we can keep the order in Forest's Edge in the usual manner…」


「… If that is the tribal chief’s will.」


The head of the Zaza house and the others answered with restrained emotions and sat down.


After seeing that, Donda Wu also took his seat.


The representatives of Fou, Latzu, Sudora, and Gechi houses and the men from the Sauti clan all followed the tribal chief’s instruction, bringing the atmosphere in the hall to a low.


「… Head of the Fa house and hearth caretaker, there should be a conclusion by the next house head meeting… Before that day, work hard towards your goal…」


Ai Fa nodded seriously.


「Asuta… What’s going on…?」


Vena Wu grabbed the hem of my T-shirt.


「In the end, nothing got resolved...」


「Hmm〜 who knows… from another perspective, everything has been settled.」


In a sense, the tribal chief Tsun clan was telling us 「Do what you want for now」.


Hence, if our actions didn’t bring depravity to the denizens of Forest's Edge, the scary people from Zaza and Dom won’t be able to pick on us.


Did the Tsun clan really let us have our way so easily?


This man Zuro Tsun… Is he a completely passive man?


I would rather he make a decision by polling for a majority.


Even though four houses including the Fou and Sudora concurred with us, there were 37 houses including the Tsun clan gathered here. Just how many house head agreed with Ai Fa and me? We only told everyone about this matter in order to confirm this.


But the Tsun clan’s conclusion was— 「Discuss it next year」.


Before we could bring about our full power, they already made this conclusion.


This felt like a waste of our effort.


Donda Wu drank his fruit wine unhappily. Dan Lutim also chewed on the white bones absentmindedly. Before the house head conference, they had probably resolved themselves— if push were to come to shove, they were ready to resolve the issue with violence. I was glad that it didn’t come to that, but they didn’t have any place to vent their anger now.


Maybe the Tsun clan wants me to tend to their hearth for the sake of placating Mida Tsun… Is that possible?


Yamiel Tsun had a malicious air about her, but I couldn’t feel anything from Zuro Tsun. He was slow, lazy and weak. He had a casual attitude and didn’t care about the future if he could maintain the current peace.


Was this Zuro Tsun’s true nature?


Is Yamiel Tsun the mastermind for the entire thing…? Even so, nothing much can be done once the house head conference is over. If Diga Tsun, Doddo Tsun, and the others obstructed our business, they would be going against the tribal chief’s decision… In the end, what is their motive?


Zuro Tsun’s face had a satisfied smile.


Diga Tsun seemed to be a little peeved.


Doddo Tsun was drinking quietly.


Did we— overestimate our enemy?


Beneath the halo of of being the tribal chief clan, was the Tsun clan just a group of small-time delinquents?


I had no way of knowing.


I didn’t receive a proper answer— and finally, the dinner ended without any disturbance.


When the Tsun clan announced the end of the house head conference, they went back to their homes. The other participants had to sleep right in the Ceremonial Hall.


After surviving this night, we could return to our home sweet home.


… And of course, things couldn’t end so simply.


I thought to myself after cleaning up post dinner.


Even if the Tsun clan were just a group of small-time delinquents, I couldn’t just ignore them.


Once Diga Tsun inherits the position of tribal chief, the Tsun clan will head towards destruction. Despite this, I couldn’t wait for 5 or 10 years. This wasn’t just a problem for the Forest's Edge settlement.


The figures of Milano Mast, Uncle Dora and Yumi and what they said flashed across my mind. Even if they believed me and the people around me, they still couldn’t stand the existence of the denizens of Forest's Edge— that was their common consensus. As long as the Tsun clan people forgot their honor as a part of Forest's Edge and continued their debauchery actions, we wouldn’t be able to reach an understanding with the people of Genos.


And we met the members of the Tsun clan branch houses here. After seeing the dead eyes of those women, I couldn’t just leave them be. Even if I made it through this night safely, there was still a mountain of problems.


Never mind, let’s leave it to tomorrow...


I thought to myself quietly.


Back then, I thought I could leave these things for another day.


As for me who already knew how things would turn out—


That night, the real disaster in the Tsun clan village clawed its way at us.

3


「Alright then, I will leave the rest to you, Darum.」


With those words, Donda Wu left the Ceremonial Hall.


He took all the women except Ai Fa with him.


The house heads were to sleep inside the Ceremonial Hall, but the women couldn’t do that. So the Tsun clan gave an empty guest house to them.


He felt uneasy about letting the women go to the empty house by themselves, so Donda Wu intended to spend the night with them.


「… Asuta, Ai Fa, it’s better for you to come with us.」


Until the very end, Mama Mia Lei was still worried about us. But we still decided to stay in the Ceremonial Hall.


Being in a room that could be barred was definitely safer. Diga Tsun, Doddo Tsun, and the others could still ignore the clan heads orders and act willfully. Since the kins of the Tsun clan were also staying in the Ceremonial Hall, the Tsun clan wouldn’t dare act out of line in front of them, so it was safe here,


Donda Wu might be away, but the other warriors were still here.


There were thirteen men led by Dan Lutim and Rau Lei. The tens of neutral denizens who were also here couldn’t be ignored either. Even if the Tsun clan was scheming something, they had to break through this meat wall to do anything conspicuous.


Besides, there was another reason why we chose to stay here, aside from the safety concern.


We needed to interact with the other houses.


The house heads who concurred with the Fa house and those who were curious all gathered around us, and kept asking us questions.


The questions were mainly asked by the house head of the Sauti clan Dali Sauti and their Elder Moga Sauti.


「The Sauti clan resides in the southern end of Forest's Edge. Our clan leads five kin houses, and you can think of us as the third largest clan behind the Tsun clan and Wu clan.」


Dali Sauti had an honest appearance but had his own style. His rectangular face wore a smile as he introduced himself.


「That’s why we can’t side with the Tsun or Wu clans easily. If we become a kin of either side, the power balance between the two clans will be disrupted… Furthermore, our village is closer to the Wu clan, so the Tsun clan is rather guarded towards us.」


「I see.」


「We have no intentions of bringing chaos to Forest's Edge, so we avoid being involved with the Tsun and Wu clans… Besides, we are all from the same Forest's Edge tribe and are saddened by the animosity between the Tsun and Wu clans. To be honest, I hope they can stop their feud and hunt kiba properly.」


The kins of the Wu clan were drinking wine and merrymaking some distance away. Dan Lutim’s laughter could be heard constantly.


「Ai Fa and Asuta of the Fa house, even if we ignore the power struggle between the Tsun and Wu clans, we can’t ignore what the Fa house is doing. I hope you can explain the entire plan to me in detail.」


When Dali Sauti spoke, the house heads from Sauti’s kin houses and house heads from the minor houses such as Fou and Latzu also gathered over.


Excluding the 7 kin houses led by the Wu clan, the 8 kin houses affiliated with the Tsun clan, and the Fa house, there were 21 other smaller houses. About eight-tenths of them gathered around us. Not everyone agreed with our opinions, but everyone wanted more precise information.


「I heard the kins of the Wu clan have learned the technique called bloodletting. Is everyone able to learn it…? Once we learn this technique, will all the kiba meat taste the same as dinner tonight?」


「Yes. It might fail occasionally but bloodletting isn’t a difficult skill. The Wu clan and Lutim house learned it in just a few days. I don’t have much experience with butchering kiba too… By the way, how was dinner?」


「It’s very delicious. To be frank, my heart almost stopped from surprise.」


Dali Sauti scratched his head hard with his huge fingers.


「Leaving your business in the Post Station Town aside, we want to learn the bloodletting technique. But the Sauti clan is at the southern end of the settlement, and every house is some distance apart. Out of the Wu clan’s kins, only the Mamu and Min houses are closer to us, but not within an easily traversable distance either. Can we still learn this technique?」


「Yes, I have already discussed this matter with Kaslan Lutim, the eldest son of the Lutim house. If the distance is too far, you just need to exchange men for a few days.」


「… Exchange men?」


「That’s right. For example, the Lutim house and Sauti clan can each send out two men to each other’s home. The men from the Sauti clan will learn the techniques at the Lutim house, while the Lutim house men will demonstrate the skills at the Sauti clan village. That way, the number of men at both houses would be the same. They could both perform their duties as usual while learning this technique.」


Dali Sauti widened his eyes upon hearing that, and the other house heads also started chatting among themselves.


「That is… a unique method… Although it’s just for a few days, men who aren’t kins have to live in each other’s homes.」


「Correct. Unless the two houses have a relationship of trust, they can’t afford such an extreme method… According to Kaslan Lutim, he thinks the denizens of Forest's Edge should reforge their trust in each other this way. After all, all houses are at a significant distance from each other, so aside from kins, the relationships between the houses will grow weaker over time.」


「… The eldest son of the Lutim house is the heir of the Lutim house head over there?」


「Yes, you are right.」


「How intriguing. The heir of that fiery house head actually thought of such a method. I really want to meet and chat with him.」


The air around Dali Sauti was a little similar to Kaslan Lutim.


Not just his bulky figure or honest aura, his matured style, logical and steady character— they were all similar to Kaslan Lutim’s good points.


The two of them and Jiza Wu would be an amazing group, it seemed like there wasn’t any place for Diga Tsun at all.


However, the opinions of these three were different.


But I thought that was a good thing.


Jiza Wu who prioritized order in Forest's Edge, Kaslan Lutim with his revolutionary ideas, the conservative but proactive Dali Sauti — I thought it was meaningful for these outstanding youths to exchange their views and figure out the correct path to take.


… I’m only thinking that way because I’m an outsider.


No matter what, I didn’t have the resolve to be in charge. I hoped the denizens of Forest's Edge could use my ideas as a draft, and figure out the best route by themselves.


As a member of the Fa house, my failure was also Ai Fa’s failure. Hence, I had to resolve myself to take the same path to the future as these capable youths. I had to muster my courage and sound out my views on which was the right path to take.


Besides—


Ai Fa might forge a path right beside this group of outstanding youths.


When I saw Ai Fa exchanging views directly with the heads of Zaza and Dom, such a thought appeared in my mind.


Ai Fa didn’t just repeat Kaslan Lutim’s view, she used her own words to engage with the heads of these two houses. After thinking about what Jiba Wu said and felt, she formed these words with her own opinion and feelings. I think that would be difficult for even Jiza Wu or Kaslan Lutim to achieve.


Yes, it’s the same for the kins of the Tsun clan—


I slowly shifted my gaze over.


The head of house Zaza sat in the corner opposite Dan Lutim and drank fruit wine.


Mama Mia Lei thought they were even more stubborn than Donda Wu. Their views reminded me of Jiza Wu. They placed great importance on rules, customs and order, and were a conservative and inflexible group. They must detest Ai Fa and me.


The kins of the Tsun clan weren’t the enemy. I saw their actions as appropriate for a Forest's Edge’s denizen. Could I receive their acknowledgment and proceed with the first 「revolution」?


The only dangerous to me… are still the Tsun clan after all.


「Head of the Fa house.」


As I fell into deep thought, someone spoke to us again.


It was the head of the Fou house.


「The Fou house broke off ties with the Fa house because of the strained relationship between the Tsun clan and Fa house. As the house head, I judged that it might be dangerous to associate with the Fa house.」


Ai Fa quietly turned her head.


The head of the Fou house clenched his right hand and pushed it against the ground with his head low.


「I must admit the error in my judgment… Hence, I hope the Fa house can build a relationship with the Fou house again.」


「… Head of the Fou house, I don’t think your decision was wrong. If the Fou house continued interacting with the Fa house, I don’t know what the foolish sons of the Tsun clan could do.」


Ai Fa clumsily placed her hand on the shoulder of the Fou house head.


「You only made such a judgment to protect your family. There is no shame in that.」


「… But even though we broke off ties with you, you still sympathized with our situation and gifted us with hides. And we...」


「That’s a misunderstanding.」


The next moment, Ai Fa showed an unhappy face.


「I already told the women from the Fou house. I didn’t gift any hides to you… Leaving that aside, since the Fou house concurs with my proposal, then do start learning the techniques for bloodletting and butchering. Asuta, you will need plenty of kiba meat, right?」


「That’s right. I have to make a large amount of jerky at the end of the blue month. Before that, I also need to provide meals to the inns. I will need a lot of kiba meat, and we can’t keep relying on the Wu clan for that.」


The head of the Fou house looked at Ai Fa and me with sincere eyes.


A woman named Celice Von Fou once visited the Fa house, could she be the daughter-in-law or daughter of the Fou house? I thought and nodded.


「It will still be some time before we can sell kiba meat in the Post Station Town. But we are running short of kiba meat for the dishes I will be selling. If the Fou house can supply meat to us, we will trade for it with copper plates.」


I made this suggestion because of the Wu clan’s advice.


If this goes on, the wealth would be gathered on the kins of the Wu clan. They were afraid of earning the ire of the minor houses, and hoped I could distribute the wealth more evenly.


The head of the Fou house lowered his head quietly once again.


At this moment, Dali Sauti who was listening yawned.


「We still have much to discuss, but it’s getting late. They seem to be done with their drinks, so let’s turn in.」


On a closer look, Dan Lutim had already walked to the center of the Ceremonial Hall and waved at us.


「Hey〜 Asuta and Ai Fa, how long are you going to chat? Get over here!」


「Got it… Well then, let’s discuss more tomorrow.」


「Alright, do explain to me on our way back. The kins of the Tsun clan are here too, and their gazes are annoying.」


The heads of the Sauti and Fou house also went to an open spot.


Ai Fa and I walked towards Dan Lutim.


「Over here! Just sleep at this spot!」


Dan Lutim patted the rug on the floor.


It was the center of the Ceremonial Hall, surrounded by the kins of the Wu clan.


「H-Here? I can’t rest easy here.」


「But why? No matter what the Tsun clan is scheming, they can’t lay their hands on you if you sleep here! When they step over my body, I will bite off their calf.」


Dan Lutim laughed heartily and lied down.


Darum Wu and Rau Lei also lied down.


This was a really sturdy wall. The Ceremonial Hall might be spacious, but after 70 men lied down, there wasn’t any room to walk at all. No one could traverse this human wall and approach Ai Fa and me.


「Ermm… let’s sleep too?」


「Yes.」


Ai Fa sat down.


During the house head conference last year, did Ai Fa also sleep in the Ceremonial Hall while surrounded by men? The thought of that made my chest fluster.


Never mind, the other men won’t act despicably like the Tsun clan. But Ai Fa is too defenseless.


I tried to keep my distance from Ai Fa in this cramped place and lied down.


However, my considerate action was futile. Ai Fa clung onto me tightly.


「Idiot, stay close to me.」


Ai Fa was sticking close to me.


Her fingers grabbed my chest tightly.


「A-Ai Fa, that’s…」


「Shut up. I’m tired, we will talk tomorrow.」


Ai Fa rested her forehead heavily on my right shoulder.


「I’m really exhausted. I feel as if I had spoken a year’s worth of words… My head hurts a little.」


「… Yes, you worked really hard today.」


I was worried about Darum Wu spying at us from somewhere and patted Ai Fa’s head gently.


「Good night, Ai Fa. Rest well.」


「Hmmm…」


Ai Fa fell asleep easier than usual and started breathing steadily.


Even though Jiza Wu once said that he never thought that the Fa house head who didn’t have any kin could decide the future of Forest's Edge, but this has nothing to do with the size of the houses.


I looked down at Ai Fa’s defenseless and child-like face and pondered:


Anyway, Ai Fa can’t shoulder such a heavy burden by herself. The future of Forest's Edge should be decided by the denizens of Forest's Edge. Ai Fa will definitely do her part as a denizen of Forest's Edge and as a house head of Forest's Edge...


Although the Tsun clan was the tribal chief clan, they didn’t adhere to the rules of Forest's Edge.


If we dealt with those people, the future of Forest's Edge would become bright.


I’m starting to grasp the way to solve this issue. Simply put, we have to create a situation where the Dom and Zaza houses abandon the Tsun clan… If we combine the brute force of the Wu clan and my underhanded schemes, it’s not difficult at all.


Even though the house head conference wasted my effort, I finally figured out a way to bring down the Tsun clan because of this conference. I shouldn’t be too greedy.


Furthermore, we got acquainted with the Sauti clan and Fou house.


And now, the only problem we faced was Mida Tsun who was infatuated with my cooking.


I already thought of a plan for that. Tomorrow morning, I plan to invite Mida Tsun to the Wu clan village.


My plan was 『If you want to taste delicious meat, you should learn how to cook yourself』.


In other words, 『If you are not willing to, give up on that idea』.


I planned to propose this to Zuro Tsun with the Zaza and Dom kins present.


Mida Tsun was charmed with my cooking. If this went on, he might head into the Post Station Town by himself and create trouble. I planned to use the reason that Yamiel Tsun used to threaten me to propose a way to resolve this.


Even if they didn’t send Mida Tsun himself, it’s fine to send a man from the branch house. I hoped the Tsun clan could learn bloodletting and butchering.


If the Zaza house or Dom house were to object for letting a Tsun clan member head to the Wu clan village alone, and wanted to send someone to accompany, that would be even better.


When I suggested this after dinner, Donda Wu thought for a moment and said:「Do what you want.」


He probably realized my true intentions. I thought we shouldn’t feud with the Zaza and Dom, and the Wu clan should deepen their relationship with them instead. That would strip off the Tsun clan’s influence. That was the scheme I thought up.


The Wu clan had no reason to be at odds with the kins of the Tsun clan. The Wu clan loathed the Tsun clan, while the Tsun clan kins believed in the Tsun clan. That was their only difference.


I never thought Mida Tsun’s appetite would be the breakthrough point. How interesting.


Frankly speaking, this might be the last hope for the Tsun clan.


Mida Tsun was like the incarnation of gluttony, and if he led the way in hunting kiba, it could clear the heavy atmosphere lingering in the Tsun clan a little.


The men hunted kiba and the women cooked them. To eat this dish, the whole family had to work together and let their lives become more prosperous. I hoped they could find joy from this and brighten up their dead eyes again.


If my thinking is correct, those people are victims too. Once I reveal the true nature of the Tsun clan, we could strip away the authority of the tribal chief without spilling any blood.


It might take some time, but the Tsun clan had been depraved for decades now. We need to spend some effort to make them turn over a new leaf.


Never mind… Let’s leave all that for tomorrow.


Finally, I looked at Ai Fa’s adorable sleeping face before closing my eyes in this dim hall.




And then, an unknown amount of time passed.


An unknown feeling assaulted me, slowly rousing me from sleep.


… What happened?


I wasn’t sure what was going on.


But things seemed to be awry.


The alarm in my mind rang.


I was still half-asleep when the unfamiliar feeling of 「dissonance」 crept into my brain.


What was that smell?


It was a strange odor with a hint of sweetness stimulating my nasal cavity. Just what was that?


I opened my heavy eyelids.


The world was shrouded in darkness.


The candles had already burned out.


My head was incredibly heavy.


So was my body.


I felt that I was in a dream, and only a part of me had woken.


Was this sleep paralysis?


No...


If this was sleep paralysis, then what was that smell?


This fragrance— was discomforting.


My nose, throat, and lungs all strongly rejected this smell from infiltrating my body.


This was the reason for the feeling of dissonance and the alarm in my brain.


Is the Tsun clan… trying to kill everyone with poison gas…?


Such an incredible thought appeared in my mind.


The next instant, a strong sense of unease gripped me, and I tried to get up in a panic.
However, my body couldn’t keep up with my mind.


I was anxious, but my body was as dull as a tortoise, and I could only move slowly.


I felt a warm weight on my chest.


It was Ai Fa.


Ai Fa’s fingers.


I raised my right arm that was so dull that it didn’t seem to be my own, and covered her fingers.


I slowly felt Ai Fa’s body warmth.


Ai Fa was in deep slumber, but she still held my chest tightly.


I tried calling out her name.


But my throat was constricted and I couldn’t speak properly.


At this moment, I realized how dry my mouth was.


It wasn’t my imagination, and my eyes were hurting too.


My entire body felt dried up.


Is this— smoke…?


Did the candle flame lit the entire wooden building on fire?


No, in that case we would be engulfed in a sea of flames by now.


Besides, others would have noticed the abnormality before me. The ones gathered here were the elites of Forest's Edge after all.


No one got up…?


The Ceremonial Hall didn’t have any windows, so it would be shrouded in darkness no matter how much time passes.


Even if I focused my eyes, the only thing before me was darkness.


However, the silence in the hall felt like a nightmare.


I couldn’t even hear Dan Lutim’s snore.


I could only sense the sweetness of that fragrance and the warmth of Ai Fa’s fingers.


Anyway… I will be done for if I stay here...


I took out a towel from my shirt and covered my mouth and nose.


Just doing so made breathing much easier.


Also, the sweet fragrance was fainter when I sat up.


I didn’t know what was that smell, but it was probably denser than air, something like LP gas.


Alright...


I groped for Ai Fa’s arm in the dark, and put my left arm around her back.


As I was trying to lift up Ai Fa’s body—


I saw posse appearing.
<EN: posse - a group of people who have come together for the same purpose>


「What? That brat is awake?」


The voice of a young man entered my ears. His voice was filled with malice.


His voice was deep and slow and irked me.


It was Diga Tsun.


「Why did he wake up? Tay Tsun, is the effect of the meremere leaves weaker against foreigners?」


「Hmm… I’m not sure.」


Tay Tsun answered emotionlessly.


At the same time, an orange light appeared behind me.


I turned back slowly.


Diga Tsun, Tay Tsun, and even Doddo Tsun were all here.


Diga Tsun was holding a lighted candle stand.


The other two didn’t have anything in their hands.


But there were blades on their waists.


And— all of them had their mouths covered with a cloth.


「Never mind, even if this scrawny brat is awake, it won’t matter. Let’s hurry and carry them out.」


Diga Tsun instructed with a vicious smile, and the other two closed in on me.


There was no way I could resist.


My arm strength was no match for the denizens of Forest's Edge in the first place, and my body was as heavy as lead.


「Stahp…」


I squeezed out with all my strength.


My voice was just like a whimper of a sickly old man.


Doddo Tsun dragged me along while Tay Tsun picked up Ai Fa. Ai Fa’s limped fingers left my chest.


What was going on?


What just happened?


This felt like the deepest layer of a dream and lacked a sense of reality.


「Resistance is futile. Aside from you, everyone else is fast asleep.」


Diga Tsun laughed despicably and kicked the head of an unknown man lying on the side.
That man remained as still as a corpse.


「I burned meremere leaves just now, that’s a herb I bought from a Semu shaman. If only I knew about such an interesting thing earlier.」


Herbs— a type of drug that causes drowsiness like sleeping pills?


Did he use that to put all the elites of Forest's Edge into a deep slumber?


「Anyone who keeps smelling the meremere leaves won’t wake up even if their stomach is cut open. I spent five white copper plates just to buy this tiny amount… Never mind, since it can help me vent the grudge I had been bearing all this while, it’s worth it.」


Diga Tsun’s murky eyes shifted to Ai Fa.


I unconsciously raised my fist but was blocked by Doddo Tsun.


「Shut up and let’s go. If we keep staying here, we will be rendered immobile too.」


And so, we were dragged away from the Ceremonial Hall.


They tried kicking the men beside them, and no one stirred at all.


This was bad.


This was the worst development.


These guys— just how vicious were they?


I thought they had lost their mind.


「You actually did something so terrible… Do you think you can get away without any consequences?」


Once I was out of the hall, it was easier to breathe and I could finally squeeze out some words.


But I still couldn’t shout loudly.


「You dare do such a thing in the presence of all the house heads in Forest's Edge…? Is the Tsun clan planning to antagonize all the houses…?」


「Shut up foreigner, don’t make cocky speeches.」


Doddo Tsun grabbed my arms while Diga Tsun leaned right before my nose with a creepy smile.


「Besides, why would the Tsun clan be blamed? They should gift us with blessings instead.」


「Blessings…?」


「That’s right. The eldest son and daughter are getting engaged at the same time, that’s a cause for celebration.」


A chill went down my spine.


A murky sensation I never felt before churned in my stomach.


「Diga Tsun will take Ai Fa as his wife. Asuta of the Fa house will marry into the Tsun clan and be Yamiel Tsun’s betrothed. Even though your house is on the verge of extinction, but you get to become a member of the Tsun clan, you should be overwhelmed with joy.」




「Don’t joke with me… You think we will agree to this?」


Diga Tsun backed away in surprise.


He then laughed with an uglier expression:


「E-Even if you look at me like that, you can’t get away now! If you refuse, we will push you both off a cliff! The other house heads will just think the Fa house abandoned the Forest's Edge and ran to the city!」


「Diga, stop yelling. The Wu clan head is sleeping in an empty house, not the Ceremonial Hall.」


When he heard Doddo Tsun’s voice that was slurred because of drunkenness, Diga Tsun shirked his large body again.


「D-Don’t scare me, Doddo. Tay Tsun, you brought the Wu clan people to the empty house at the most southern end, right?」


「Yes, I did as you asked.」


「Then there’s no need to worry. That house is too far from the Ceremonial Hall, they won’t hear you no matter how much you shout… Give it up. You have only two choices left. Either become Yamiel’s husband or become fodder for the Munto at the bottom of the cliff.」


Diga Tsun turned to Tay Tsun who was holding the unconscious and limped Ai Fa.


「Bring Ai Fa to my house. She won’t wake up any time soon, so secure her hands and feet tightly. After I’m finished with Yamiel, I will go over right away.」


「Yes.」


Tay Tsun turned and left.


「Stop!」


I screamed at his back.


「If you do anything to Ai Fa… I will never forgive you.」


Diga Tsun stumbled back in fright again.


Despite the smile he was wearing, his face was turning pale.


Tay Tsun remained expressionless.


「… What do you mean by not forgiving us? You can’t even stand by yourself now.」


I felt a sharp pain in my head when Doddo Tsun spoke.


Doddo Tsun grabbed my body and tugged at my hair hard.


「Foreigner doesn’t accept Yamiel’s offer, alright? I have no intention of letting you become a member of the Tsun clan either. I will break your legs to stop you from running and push you into a munto’s den.」


「… Try it if you can.」


There was a light shimmering in Doddo Tsun’s eyes, like a famished dog. He was right in my face, but I still glared back at him.


Doddo Tsun’s body quivered in surprise. As if he felt ashamed of his own weakness, he gritted his yellow teeth.


「Alright, I will do just that, let’s see if you can show such a gaze when the time comes… Let’s go Diga. Tay Tsun, you hurry up too.」


「Yes.」


Ai Fa’s figure disappeared on the other end of the darkness.


I ground my teeth and felt as if they were going to burst. I kept inhaling strongly.


As I sucked in fresh air, strength slowly returned to my limbs.


I was still leaning on Doddo Tsun’s arms, but I have recovered half my strength.


But— it wasn’t enough.


I still couldn’t shake them off and escape.


When I recover a little more, I will run away from them in one shot.


I will definitely— definitely not let them do anything despicable to Ai Fa.


They said that Donda Wu is in the house at the southernmost edge, right?


They kept spilling out critical information, that was why they would always be small fries.


While a flame was burning strongly in my belly— I became a prisoner of the cruel Tsun clan.


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