Saturday, June 9, 2018

Cooking with Wild Game Volume 7 Chapter 3

Malefic Star

Translator: SkythewoodEditors: Ratorasepo
1

It was the Blue Month 15th.


Although this day didn’t end peacefully, it began in the usual manner.
Forest's Edge remained on high alert. We woke at dawn and carried what we needed to wash and went out. The Dom house men who kept watch over our house stood in front of our door.


There were four of them, and they lit fires at all four corners of the Fa house and took turns to rest and keep watch against any attacks.
「Good morning, we are going to clean up last night’s dinner.」


The four men wearing kiba skulls nodded silently.
It was a bit embarrassing to treat them to the leftover merchandise, but I served them 『Myam-roasted meat』 for dinner last night. Of all the honest and strong denizens of Forest's Edge, the men from the north were especially fierce. As Zattsu Tsun had trampled the honor of the Dom house, they were infuriated. However, their expressions seemed to be carved from stone and didn’t show any emotions.


One of the four men stayed behind to keep watch over the house, while the other three followed us to the water source. After being attacked by Zattsu Tsun and letting Tay Tsun get away, they volunteered to protect the Fa house to redeem the honor of the Dom house.


They were eager to take vengeance against the vicious criminals themselves. They intended to protect the Fa house at all hours, so we didn’t need to worry about the house being set on fire or our food being poisoned, and could focus on doing business in the Post Station Town.


After finishing the morning chores, we dropped by the Wu clan village, met up with Shela Wu, Ludo Wu, and the others, then headed to the Post Station Town.


We thought that the attack would most likely happen on our trip there, but we managed to reach the Post Station Town safely and began working quietly.





Kamyua Yost and the others should be in the middle of the Morga forest now.


I thought in a daze as I roasted the meat with the griddle.
They set off from Genos at dawn and reached the Wu clan village in 40 to 50 minutes. After that they spent two hours to travel south to the Sauti village— so they should be advancing through the forest right now.


They would go around the Morga mountain and head to the east and get out of the forest after half a day. The route seemed incredibly long, and this was just the beginning of a two-month journey.


Where will Zattsu Tsun strike…? Or will Ludo Wu’s words come true, and he will just pass away quietly in the forest…?
I sighed without realizing it when I thought about this.


My partner Lala Wu standing beside me grumbled unhappily:


「Hmm〜, there are so few customers. I’m losing my drive.」


「That’s not true. Our sales aren’t that bad.」


That being said, business was a little slow. Our sales were the same as before because westerner customers were rare in the first place.
However, Uncle Dora still visited while holding Tara’s hand tightly and bought the pot dealer’s and clothes shop owner’s, as well as his and Tara’s share. Yumi showed up as she promised yesterday. I could only hope that they wouldn’t get caught up in any trouble and work hard with my teeth gritted.

「Ah, welcome!」


At this moment, a group approached us, as if they came to cheer us up. I received them with a sincere smile.


The 《Silver Vase》, the merchant group from the east, were all here. Shumimaru took off his hood as usual, then stood in front of my stall wordlessly and stared at me.

「Erm〜, five each for today too?」

「Yes.」


He nodded and then fell silent again.


Was it my imagination? His eyes seemed a little sad.

「What’s the matter, Shumimaru?」

「No… something, I hear.」
「Something?」

「Inn southerner, your food, eat.」

「Ah, are you referring to the 《Big Tree of the South Inn》?」
He was quiet again, with sorrow in his eyes.

At this point, I could more or less guess what he was thinking.

「W-Well, because the innkeeper of the 《Big Tree of the South Inn》 is a mixed blood between the south and the west, so when he heard about the rave reviews of my cooking, he requested us to cater dinner for them…」

「Your food eat, dinner, blessed.」

「T-Thank you. But this has to depend on the innkeeper…」

「Innkeeper, westerner, cannot?」

「W-What?」

「《Cryptic Venerable Inn》 innkeeper, westerner. Westerner, no like?」

「T-That’s not true. We have westerner customers at this stall too. I also hope that the denizens of Forest's Edge could get along better with westerners.」
Shumimaru leaned forward a little.

「Innkeeper 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》, same wish. 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》, dinner, yes?」

「I-Is that the name of the inn you are lodging in? If he is willing to work together with me, I will be happy to…」

「Him, I tell. Innkeeper 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》, happy will be… We all, happy.」

「I will be glad if we can work together. Shumimaru, thank you for always giving me wonderful suggestions, I’m very grateful.」

Shumimaru shied away and lowered his head a little.

「… I, composure lost, ashamed.」


Did he lose his composure just now?

In that case, wouldn’t I be agitated the entire time?

「But can you give me some time? I can’t move about freely during this period. Given the current circumstances, it is better for me not to travel around the Post Station Town too much…」
「It’s fine, ending soon, the disaster.」

「Huh?」

「My brethren, astrologist. Say he, Forest's Edge, malefic star, vanished.」


Speaking of which, the eastern kingdom of Semu was also known as the kingdom of magic and shamanism. It wouldn’t be strange for astrologist to exist.

「Will sure disappear. Disaster, resolve. Star movement, absolute.」

「I see. Alright then, if you are still in Genos when the felon is arrested, I will discuss this with the innkeeper…」

Shumimaru shook his head, as if he was trying to interject.


It was rare saying this calm young man show such an anxious attitude.

「No, malefic star, vanish will— today, vanish.」

「Today?」

「Today. Malefic star, vanish will, today.」

Shumimaru leaned forth once again.

「Asuta, careful. Strong star vanish, affect will, other stars. Change fate many… When vanish disaster, weak star affect.」


How should I describe my current emotions?


In English culture, the phrase ‘someone walking over my grave’ comes to mind… An indescribable chill went down my spine, and I shivered.


「… Innkeeper 《Cryptic Venerable Inn》, I inform. Disaster end, please do.」


Finally, he narrowed his eyes as if he was pitying me and left together with his brethrens.

「He is as elusive as ever.」

Lala Wu said with a smile. But I couldn’t smile back.


I felt unease in my chest.


“The malefic star will vanish. The fates of many will be affected.”— this was an ominous prophecy. If Zattsu Tsun was the malefic star, then everything fitted, which made me afraid.


Instead of him dying quietly in the forest, I hope he can be apprehended. However…
Would I suffer heavy losses too? Zattsu Tsun had been bedridden for very long years, did he really have so much strength lingering in his body?
I couldn’t fathom the results of that divination and felt more and more uneasy.

「… Ah, it’s a Totos.」


Lala Wu muttered nonchalantly.

An easterner came alone from the north with a Totos in tow.

「It was noisy early in the morning today. Rimee and the others were excited because of the Totos walking inside Forest's Edge.」

「Oh, so the caravan transports their cargo with Totos. Lala Wu, did you see them off too?」

「Yes, I just finished my work at the water source and was about to head out. They were a group that gave off bad vibes. All of them had their faces covered like Semu people.」


I chatted energetically as usual with Lala Wu, and my unease was soothed a little.

Not just Lala Wu, all the Wu clan women had strong wills and didn’t show any fear towards the possibility of Zattsu Tsun attacking. They felt so reliable, and I couldn’t match their courage at all.

「It feels uncomfortable seeing people from the city walking arrogantly inside the Forest's Edge settlement. I hope this will be the first and last time this happens.」

「No, this isn’t the first time, right? A caravan passed by Forest's Edge before, when they were heading towards Semu.」

「Ah, that’s right. I don’t remember something from so long ago, I was just two back then.」

「Huh? Had it been that long since the last caravan passed by Forest's Edge?」

I was a little surprised and asked. Lala Wu nodded.

「Shin Wu’s first younger brother was born that year, so it has been ten years. I was two back then, so, of course, I can’t remember.」

「I see… so that’s what happened…」


But why?


Why did I feel a sense of unease?


It shouldn’t matter to me how many years ago that happened. It shouldn’t matter to me— but I felt something stir in my chest.

A decade ago, a large caravan passed through the Forest's Edge settlement. However, they were all wiped out in a kiba attack. It wasn’t clear if the guide was inept or the caravan was ill-prepared.


Tens of lives were lost in the forest.


They were residents of Genos, not denizens of Forest's Edge.


Could it be…
A sense of dissonance was taking a vague form.


This wasn’t the first time I felt like this. I felt the same way two days ago.


Back then, Zattsu Tsun was still imprisoned in the Jean house. Therefore, I was just worried about the meeting between Kaslan Lutim and Kamyua Yost and didn’t think much about Zattsu Tsun. I then thought about what happened when Kamyua Yost arrived at the Wu clan village twenty days ago…


That’s right, Kamyua also mentioned the caravan back then… No, was it Donda Wu who brought it up? Anyway, they did discuss this matter. To think it happened ten years ago…


I already forgot what they said. I thought that matter happened a few years ago and had nothing to do with me.


That remained the same now. Whether the tragedy with the caravan happened five or ten years ago, it had nothing to do with me.


However, one thing did change. I knew a person who passed away because of the Genos incident ten years ago. I heard about it from someone unrelated to the matter.


That person was Milano Mast’s close friend, his wife’s brother.


That unnamed person died a decade ago.


Was he… a member of the caravan?
Milano Mast claimed that a denizen of Forest's Edge murdered his close friend. The evidence was the necklace of kiba tusks and horns clasped in his friend’s hand.


I remember that he fell off a cliff…
Thinking about it carefully, there were no hills near the Post Station Town. From what I knew, only the Morga forest had cliffs that would be fatal to fall from.

So Milano Mast’s close friend was a member of the caravan and died in the forest?
The one who attacked him wasn’t the kiba, but a denizen of Forest's Edge.


A decade ago— Zattsu Tsun stepped down from the post of clan head. Anyway, it was more likely for Zattsu Tsun to do something so lawless, compared to Zuro Tsun. Even if he was already ill, he could order his minions to act and didn’t have to do it himself.

Was the 「minion」 Tay Tsun?


I tried piecing the puzzles together, and an unsightly picture appeared.


But the image wasn’t finished. It seemed that the possibility of Zashuma’s caravan getting attacked was more likely now.


This wasn’t surprising news. The possibility might be ten percent or ninety percent, but Kamyua Yost and the others couldn’t let their guard down. Even if the possibility of Zattsu Tsun attacking had grown, it wouldn’t affect the caravan any differently.

However, this wasn’t enough.


The dissonance in my heart still lingered.

「… Asuta, are you alright?」

Lala Wu suddenly poked my flank. I was genuinely surprised.

「We have customers. If you are not feeling well, let me handle it.」

「No, it’s fine. Please wait a moment…」


I got even more surprised mid-sentence.


The one standing with a smile in front of the stall was Leito.

「Huh? Leito, are you staying behind in Genos?」

「Yes. The work this time is very dangerous, so Kamyua ordered me to watch the house. How mean, I will be alone for these two months.」


Leito showed an innocent smile, then tilted his head cutely and said:「I just want one portion today.」, and handed over two red copper plates.


「Thank you for your patronage… What will you do now? Is Genos your hometown?」

「Yes, but I don’t have a home or any family.」


The brown-haired boy was still smiling.

「My mother passed away after giving birth to me. I resided in the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》 because of fate. Two years ago, I met Kamyua who happened to lodge at that inn and became his disciple.」

「Ehh? Are you Milano Mast’s adopted son?」

「No, he only let me stay with him out of good will. I’m a family member of Kamyua now and am paying lodging fees to Milano Mast too.」


He had a harder childhood then I imagined.


That must be why this boy had such a mature air about him.


「Milano Mast treats me well, but I want to see the different sights of this world, so I chose to stay with the nomadic Kamyua. If I stay by his side, I will learn the skills to live on my own.」

「I see… It should be hard to live alone for two months.」

「Not at all, I have always been alone.」


Leito showed a warm and tamed smile.

「My father was the bandleader of a large caravan, but he died ten years ago in an unfortunate accident. My mother passed away shortly… I was just born then and therefore don’t have any memories.」

I almost dropped the 『Kiba burger』 I just made into the pot.


Leito stared at me with his brown eyes.

「You didn’t know? Kamyua didn’t tell me to keep it a secret, so it’s fine.」

「Leito… Then, Milano Mast’s close friend is…」

「You mean the Milano Mast’s brother-in-law? My father was his business partner. Milano Mast must have overlapped his wife’s image with my mother’s and thinks that I’m very pitiful. He treats me and his daughter the same and cares for us.」

「…」

「Please don’t show such a face. I didn’t have any parents in the first place, so I don’t understand the pain of losing them.」


Leito’s smile looked even more innocent as he took the 『Kiba burger』 from me.

「I’m going then. I will be visiting every day.」


Leito’s petite figure disappeared in the other end of the street.


I watched him go in a daze and heard the last piece of the puzzle clicking into place.

Kamyua Yost already suspected that the murderer behind the caravan that was wiped out ten years ago could be a denizen of Forest's Edge.


That was why he formulated this plan.


And didn’t take Leito with him.

He didn’t want to see Leito suffer the same fate as his father…


But the situation now is different from a decade ago. If that incident ten years ago was a scheme of the Tsun clan, only Zattsu Tsun and Tay Tsun could pull off such a barbaric act. The two of them alone can’t take out the caravan protected by the four hunters and five 《Guardians》… They would fail if they attack forcefully…
Even after the jigsaw was completed, my conclusion remained the same.


But my heart still felt uneasy.


I was worried during work the entire day, and time seemed to pass even more slowly.

2
Work finished smoothly today too.


There weren’t any issues with work today.


We had just finished packing up when a certain group of people reached the Post Station Town.


After we were done with the food preparation at the 《Big Tree of the South Inn》, I met up with the rest at the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》 like I did yesterday.


Ai Fa was the one who noticed 「them」.

「… The other end of the street is noisy.」


Ai Fa pushed me to the side of the road when she said that and covered my entire body. Before I noticed anything was amiss, Ludo Wu directed the women behind him and looked to the south with hunter’s eyes.

「W-What is it? What’s happening?」

「I don’t know, there’s a disturbance in the air… Something is coming our way.」


This was the middle of the Post Station Town. Zattsu Tsun and Tay Tsun wouldn’t just walk here in broad daylight, right?

「In that case, we should hurry and return the carts, then leave the Post Station Town.」

「Don’t move for now. The vicious criminals don’t intend to attack. But, this is…」

Ai Fa became quiet. Her profile was filled with doubt and wariness.

And then… 「they」 came.


The pedestrians who didn’t notice stopped and fled to the sides of the road.


The noise approached gradually like the signs of an earthquake.


Screams from young girls seemed to be coming from afar.

「That’s…」


I couldn’t help putting my hand on Ai Fa’s shoulders and leaning forward. But Ai Fa wouldn’t budge, and I couldn’t poke my face in front of her shoulder.


A strange group was coming our way from the south.


It was a big procession, with all of them wearing hooded cloaks and walking at a leisurely pace.


The head of two Totos Moa suddenly poked out from the crowd. These two Totos were pulling one large wagon.

The road was about 10 m wide, so the pedestrians could easily avoid them and move on. But everyone just kept to the side of the road and stopped to watch the procession with bated breath. That was how queer the air about this group was.

「Sorry! We are not dangerous, so don’t worry! But don’t come too close!」


A stout man standing at their very fore laughed heartily.


His voice surprised me. We were 7 to 8 meters from that group, and they were wearing hooded cloaks, so I couldn’t see his face. But I have heard this crude voice before.


The owner of the voice shouldn’t be in the Post Station Town… He was the bandleader of the caravan heading towards Semu— the voice belonged to Zashuma.


Which meant that the procession he was leading consisted of his caravan members.


However, they were supposed to be in the forest at the foot of the Morga mountain.


Besides, despite the caravan’s great numbers, I only saw two Totos, and they didn’t have any other cargo with them.

And then… my sense of smell told me the true nature of this strange atmosphere.


Two different scents entered my nasal cavity.


One was a bittersweet fragrance of an overripe fruit, while the other was a sour stench of iron rust.

These are… the scent of the fruit that attracts kiba and the stench of blood.


While I stood there in confusion, they walked by us.


The man in front was definitely Zashuma. I could see the familiar beard and his large mouth under his hood.


His cloak was covered in red bloodstains.

「… Oh, you are the owner of that stall.」

Zashuma suddenly stopped, looked our way, and said that.


The men behind followed his lead and looked at us absent-mindedly.

Zashuma had a grin on his face.


The other men were emitting bloodlust.


「Aside from the sexy ladies, you have hunters with you today too, huh. The residents of Genos must be freaking out at the sight of so many denizens of the Forest's Edge.」

「You are… Zashuma, right? May I ask what is going on here…? Didn’t you set off for Semu?」

「We did plan to do that, but our cargo has been trampled, so we came back in disgrace! We can’t do any business even if we head to Semu empty-handed.」

Zashuma laughed heartily after saying that.


He had a fierce and dangerous demeanor, like a bandit boss. His bloodied appearance and hearty laugh were in no way like a merchant at all.


Also, I could see a saber secured to his waist. Not just that, he showed no fear before the ten-odd denizens of Forest's Edge in front of him.


Seeing that I was confused, Zashuma continued cheerfully:

「This is the result of a justified self-defense in accordance with the laws of Genos! You might be denizens of Forest's Edge, but you are still under the jurisdiction of Genos, so don’t think of doing anything funny now.」

「Justified self-defense…?」

「Can this be a coincidence? We encountered a unique denizen of Forest's Edge, and his appearance makes it impossible to mistake his identity. Help me confirm that. This might be the last time you can get to meet him.」

Zashuma snickered and then gestured to the men behind him with his chin. The men who were gathered together shifted to the middle of the procession, splitting into two groups in front and behind the Totos.


What I saw made me dumbfounded.


Three men stood behind the wagon.


One of them was Kamyua Yost.


He was wearing a hood, but I recognized his tall and slender build, hooked nose, and blonde beard covering his jaw.

The other man was Han of Dabag.


He wasn’t wearing a cloak, and his head was covered in bandages, and rugged clothes enveloped his buff body. The two swords on his waist were clearly visible. His grey reptile-like cold eyes looked at us without any interest… interest towards our group from Forest's Edge.


One man stood between the two groups. He was all skin and bones and was wearing torn garments like a living corpse.

He was the former clan head of the Tsun clan, Zattsu Tsun. There was no mistake.


He looked terrible, his skin seemed to be covering his bones directly.


His head had the shape of a skull, his eyes and cheeks sunk in, and yellow teeth were visible through his dry lips. The top of his head that had just a few strands of black hair had deep wrinkles too. The color of his skin was dark purple, which made people doubt if he was still alive.


His limbs, neck, and body seemed shriveled like a withered branch. His wrists were chained to the back of the wagon. I could barely make out the swirly pattern on his torn garments.


He was tall, but his back and knees were bent, as if he lacked the strength to stand up straight. His frightening appearance was unpleasant, as if a corpse in a grave was standing right there.

「Is this man the felon from the Forest's Edge, Zattsu Tsun? He threw strange fruits at us and drew in a lot of kiba! Thanks to him, we suffered injuries and lost our cargo. Most of the Totos were gone too. We managed to capture him, there shouldn’t be any laws in any kingdom that will turn a blind eye to such a grave crime!」


After listening to what Zashuma said, I finally realized the contents of the wagon being dragged by the Totos.


Lying inside the uncovered wagon were several bloodied men, some of them groaned painfully, while others were as still as a corpse.


There were six of them. Six out of the caravan’s group of twenty-three.


The other men surrounded the felon and wagon quietly. Their cloaks were all dyed red, probably from the blood of kiba.


Fruits that attracts kiba… I see, he attacked the caravan with those fruits…


If they weren’t lying, I could have a rough idea of what actually happened. The clue was the suffocating bittersweet smell in the air. Ai Fa could probably smell it too.

「The Sauti clan… What about the denizens of the Forest's Edge guiding you through the forest?」


I asked on reflex, and Zashuma laughed coldly.

「Ah, they were the first to engage and took the brunt of the attack. But there were too many kiba, so all four of them were heavily injured. We sent them back to their village. It ended terribly, but they are tough denizens of the Forest's Edge and will probably live.」


「What about Tay Tsun…? Did you only met one felon?」

「You mean that grey-haired old man? 《Double Fangs》 slashed him and knocked him off a cliff. He is probably Munto fodder now. Even if he survived, he will probably succumb to his injuries. From tomorrow onwards, we don’t need to fear the felons of Forest's Edge anymore!」

「… Tay Tsun…?」


When that voice that sounded like an echo from hell came out, everyone grew tense.


Zattsu Tsun who was hanging his head low slowly raised it.

「… Where is Tay Tsun…? We have to reclaim the Tsun clan’s lost glory… Tay Tsun…?」

「That surprised me. This walking corpse still has the strength to speak.」

Zashuma looked as if he was about to puke. He turned towards Zattsu Tsun with a stiff smile:

「Your comrade has died in the forest! Your life will end tonight too! Dream all you want before that happens!」

「… What are you saying, filthy resident of Rock City… Have you forgotten the debt you owe the denizens of Forest's Edge? You will soon suffer a terrible fate!」


His eyes were sunken deep like a real skull, and there were creepy black flames burning in them.


His dry skin splintered, and a malicious smile slowly appeared on his face.

「You are powerless to hunt kiba by yourself, why do you treat us with contempt…? You only disparage us for the sake of your own pride! Weak scions of Selva! Filthy residents of Rock City! You will be cursed!」

「Hmmp, why are you talking smack all of a sudden, felon? What about your attempts to rob the riches from Rock City? Do you have the rights to be so cocky? Despicable man!」

Zashuma’s voice was loud and firm, but there was a hint of fear on his face. What spooked him wasn’t the content of Zattsu Tsun’s words, but the evil aura in his voice.


I felt the same way too. Zattsu Tsun showed incredible life force, and I couldn’t feel that he was on the verge of death… Diga and Doddo were also filled with fear after witnessing Zattsu Tsun’s monstrous obsession. And now we were witnessing the same thing with our own eyes too.

「Accursed residents of Rock City, say what you want… Your wealth is built on our blood and honor! You ingrates! Vicious usurpers! Our efforts protected your peace!」

「Enough! You are the one who is shameless and forgot about our honor!」


A steel-like voice broke Zattsu Tsun’s cursing.

It was Ai Fa.

「You hogged the prize money, stole from the forest and neglected your duties as a hunter. You have no right to speak of the honor of Forest's Edge!」

「Oh… So you are that female hunter… I heard you are the fool who obtained enormous wealth by fawning over the residents of Rock City, that shameless house head…」

He slowly shifted his grudgeful gaze that was like hellfire towards Ai Fa.

Ai Fa was like a pissed-off cat. Her fiery blue eyes glared unhappily back at him.

「You have no rights to call me shameless! Former clan head of the Tsun clan, you chose the wrong path!」

「You are the one who chose wrongly… The residents of Rock City are all enemies! Unforgivable sinners! For their own peace and well-being, they trapped us in the prison called Forest's Edge! They are all filthy criminals!」

「The forest is our god! You call the forest your prison, you have no rights to call yourself a denizen of Forest's Edge!」


「Fool… The forest didn’t bestow us with any grace, how can it be our god!? Our ancestors had been conned! We live in the forest, but we will starve to death if we don’t earn copper plates, how is that a life of a hunter! The glory of the denizens of Forest's Edge had already been shattered four score years ago! It had already been trampled! You are just risking your lives to hunt copper plates in the form of kiba!」

Ai Fa gritted her teeth.


Before she opened her tightly closed lips to shout, Ludo Wu took half a step forward.

「What are you rambling about all this time? No matter how you try to hide it, you have committed a crime! You have disgraced the honor of Forest's Edge!」

「No… I’m taking back our honor… Zuro couldn’t inherit my will after all… If not for my illness, the denizens of Forest's Edge would have seized back our glory! And we wouldn’t need to swoon and submit to anyone, and could enjoy the fruits of the Forest's Edge, and live on in Forest's Edge in the way we should live!」

「Are you stupid? Is attacking travelers and robbing them the way the denizens of Forest's Edge should act?」

「Even if we commit any felony, those from the Genos castle won’t punish us! Ten years ago, they also pretended that nothing happened! They can’t hunt kiba, so they won’t dare to punish the denizens of Forest's Edge!」

His words pierced through my heart like a stroke of lightning.


Ten years ago, he really… Zattsu Tsun really committed the same crime.


His plan succeeded that time.


He lured in the kiba and killed the entire caravan, and seized their cargo— but no one persecuted him, so he could smile so confidently now.

「If we save up a little bit more power, we can be liberated! You lots wasted all that effort! The Fa house! The Wu clan! If not for your meddling, the Tsun clan would have walked Forest's Edge down the right path!」


The next instant a sheathed blade swung down onto Zattsu Tsun’s back.

Zattsu Tsun groaned like a beast and collapsed onto the stone-paved road.

Han of Dabag was the one who hit him.
「Criminal scum.」

After saying that through his bandaged mouth, he raised his sheathed blade again. But Kamyua Yost blocked it quietly.

「We might have apprehended the felon, but we don’t have the authority to sentence him. Han, don’t waste all the effort we went through to accomplish this.」

Han looked at Kamyua Yost with his cold reptile-like eyes and tied his sword back to his waist nonchalantly.

Kamyua Yost sighed in relief and then looked at Zashuma who has turned completely silent.

「Zashuma, there’s no point in talking anymore. This man had lost his senses after being tormented by his terminal disease. We should hand this troublesome fellow to Genos castle quickly.」

「Ah, yeah… right.」: Zashuma glared down at Zattsu Tsun and advanced northwards.

「I know you can stand. If you don’t, I will slice off the meat from your knees.」
Threatened by Kamyua Yost, Zattsu Tsun slowly got up.
He then laughed maniacally like a demon.

「Filthy residents of Rock City, shameless fraud hunters who have betrayed the Tsun clan! Bask in your hatred for each other and head towards destruction! Only inevitable strife and despair awaits you! I curse the western god Selva! I hope for the downfall of the southern god Jaguar! We will not worship the wrong god again!」


The men spread out around him gathered again to conceal him, and when his hoarse laughter faded away, only silence that was like chaotic miasma remained.

With Zashuma leading the way, the procession of cloaked men followed slowly. At this moment, Kamyua Yost turned and looked our way.


He removed his hood, and didn’t have his usual fake smile, and looked a little apologetic… He then showed us a lonely smile, as if begging for our forgiveness.

「… And now, the Tsun clan is finally finished.」

Ludo Wu said softly with a shrug.
When I was about to look at Ludo Wu and the others, I was surprised and stood in place.


The people standing along the streets were looking at us with strange gazes.


The peculiar gazes were filled with extreme fear, rage, and doubt, as if they were observing an unfamiliar beast.

Zashuma’s group had already disappeared on the other end of the road, but no else had left. Everyone just stood in place and stared at us. They seemed to be afraid that they would be cut down if they turned their back on us… Everyone was frozen on the spot.


At this moment, someone tapped my left shoulder. I almost jumped from fright.

I turned around and found Milano Mast standing there.


Speaking of which, we were standing right in front of the 《Kimyusu’s Tail Inn》.

「M-Milano Mast…」

「Stop talking. Hurry up and go.」

Milano Mast’s eyes were burning with agitation like the other pedestrians.


No, the fire in his eyes was more intense than the others and raging with hatred.

「I will settle the carts; take your things and go… If not, I don’t know what will happen.」

「But…」

「Don’t be mistaken, my impression towards you all remains unchanged.」

Milano Mast said that as he watched with hatred at that man disappearing into the north.

「… He killed my friend.」


I could barely make out what he was muttering under his breath, but that was what he said.


At this moment, I finally realized that Leito was standing beside him.


The boy smiled quietly.


He stared at the north with his usual innocent smile.


I couldn’t guess what he was thinking… But I did see tears slipping down the smooth ivory cheeks of the boy.


A few hours later, we received news of Zattsu Tsun’s death.

Donda Wu who went into the Genos castle as the representative of the three tribal chiefs brought back this piece of news to Forest's Edge.

Zattsu Tsun was locked into the prison in Genos and died because of his frail health before his interrogation could begin in the night.


True to the divination of the Semu astrologist, the malefic star disappeared without a trace.


He left the world unhesitatingly, as if he was mocking the twisted fates of those he had left behind.



3

「… Dali Sauti’s group that led the caravan into the Forest's Edge was heavily injured, but, fortunately, everyone survived. Two of them had serious injuries and won’t be able to enter the forest for now.」


After dinner, we stayed in the Wu clan village to listen to Kaslan Lutim’s report.


The threat of the vicious criminals disappeared suddenly. But we couldn’t celebrate yet. To obtain more information, Ai Fa and I went to the Wu clan village instead of going home.

「I’m not sure of the actual amount, but they were attacked by more than ten kiba. Zattsu Tsun and Tay Tsun probably lured the kiba by drenching themselves with the sap of the fruit that attracts kiba and leading them near the caravan… They then threw the fruits at the caravan, shifting the attention of the kiba to it.」

The content of the report was as I expected.


They used the basics of the 『Sacrificial Hunting Method』 and lured over ten kiba by using their own bodies as bait… They were mad.

「Four hunters against ten-odd kiba, it was hopeless. It’s a miracle that everyone survived.」


Kaslan Lutim nodded gravely in response to Ludo Wu.

「However, Dali Sauti still bears regrets for not defeating Zattsu Tsun and Tay Tsun. According to the messenger from the Sauti clan, he will come personally to apologize once he recovers.」

「There’s no need for that. Never mind, it might not be so troublesome if that bony former Tsun clan head just dies in the forest.」


There were eight people in the hall.

They were me, Ai Fa, Kaslan Lutim, Ludo Wu, Donda Wu and Jiza Wu, as well as Grandma Jiba and Mama Mia Lei.

Grandma Jiba had grown frail, so it was rare seeing her here. But when she heard news of Zattsu Tsun’s death, she insisted on participating in this heavy meeting.

「The biggest problem is that Tay Tsun is still at large. What has Dali Sauti got to say about that?」

Jiza Wu asked Kaslan Lutim in the stead of his silent clan head.

「Yes. Dali Sauti did see the man with bandaged face slashing Tay Tsun. After taking a vicious cut to the chest, Tay Tsun grabbed that man’s cloak and got kicked off the cliff.」

「Yes, but since we didn’t see his corpse, it’s safer to assume that he is still alive. After all, someone on the verge of death could still commit arson and harm the women. In the end, we still need to stay on high alert.」

After saying that, Jiza Wu turned his slit-like eyes towards me and Ai Fa.

「Asuta, are you planning to enter the Post Station Town tomorrow too?」

「Yes, I’m more or less done with the ingredients. Genos castle also wants us to carry on with our business… However, I think we should be extra cautious from tomorrow onwards.」

Zattsu Tsun’s existence made the residents of the Post Station Town fear the denizens of Forest's Edge even more. That unforgivable criminal had the gulls to accuse Rock City of setting him up.


I couldn’t refute what the man that resembled a malefic star said. Eight decades ago, when Genos castle first started interacting with Forest's Edge, they probably did so with deceit and twisted attitudes.


However, Zattsu Tsun shouldn’t be the one to say this. The denizens of Forest's Edge who had been suffering all the while should be the ones to resolve this problem.


In addition to robbing travelers, this felon committed murder and arson. Hearing him reveal the crimes of Genos would only induce fear and anger. When the people of Post Station Town simmered in rage because of the felon’s accusation, their fear towards Forest's Edge increased too.


They might have realized the discrimination they held towards the denizens of Forest's Edge all the while, and when they did so, their fear could only grow.


They would think that the denizens of Forest's Edge bore a grudge against them and were filled with complaints and dissatisfaction despite appearing calm on the surface.


But that wasn’t true. It was unclear if this was a good thing, but the denizens of Forest's Edge had no interest towards the residents of Genos. They just pursued their own glory with a single-track mind and didn't even notice they received unfair treatment.


As the tribal chief needed to interact with the Genos castle, Zattsu Tsun’s heart became filled with grudge. He got too caught up in his hatred and humiliation, and it was the main reason why this situation arose.


For eight decades the relationship between Genos and Forest's Edge was complicated. We wanted to sort out our differences slowly with time, but Zattsu Tsun opted to attack the other party with his stubborn views.

Going to the Post Station Town under the current circumstances would be more dangerous than before.

「Zattsu Tsun… chose the wrong path…」

Grandma Jiba suddenly muttered.

Ludo Wu and Jiza Wu wanted to speak, but they remained quiet.

「Zattsu Tsun probably thinks that he can salvage the glory of our tribe by doing this… He thinks we have to break our bonds with Genos that spanned over eighty years, and we should live on freely…」

「Hmm? But he stole from the forest and neglected the important job of hunting. Won’t that render the honor of the hunter worthless?」

「If the number of kiba increases, the residents of Genos would be troubled, but that’s not true for the denizens of Forest's Edge… So if everyone in Forest's Edge lives just like the Tsun clan, the kiba might destroy all the farmland in Genos…」

「I see. He wants Genos to learn the importance of our tribe. Zattsu Tsun is really shameless and unforgivable… Never mind, even if he continued being the tribal chief, the denizens of Forest's Edge won’t obey his commands.」
Jiza Wu said it matter-of-factly and seemed uninterested. His words were filled with confidence, showing his resolve to disobey such an order, even if it would lead to violence.

Maybe Zattsu Tsun was planning to gradually spread his obsession across Forest's Edge… After the Tsun clan, he could target the Tsun clan kins like the Zaza and Dom, then the minor houses, before finally moving on to the opposing forces like the Wu and their kins.


He would then tell Genos:「We will not hunt unless our demands are satisfied」. Then with the safety of the farmlands as bargaining chips, he would negotiate for better terms.


If Zattsu Tsun didn’t fall ill and continued holding the position of tribal chief, how far would his influence spread? This wasn’t a laughing matter.

「I think so too, Jiza… But Genos’ way of doing things isn’t right either… Eating the fruits of the forest and living in the woods… That’s how we lived back in the dark jungles of the south… Zattsu Tsun thinks we should go back to such a lifestyle…」

「Grandma Jiba, are you defending that stinky bag of bones? Are you saying that his thinking is correct?」

Ludo Wu frowned and seemed uneasy.

Grandma Jiba’s eyes were half-covered by her thick drooping eyelids. She swept her gaze across all those present.

「I would like to ask… what are your thoughts after hearing Zattsu Tsun’s words…?」

Donda Wu sat in the seat of honor beside the grand elder and answered after taking a swig of fruit wine:

「Like what the head of the Zaza house said, if he was unhappy with the way Genos did things, he could just leave the Morga Forest's Edge. Instead, he hogged the prize money and robbed travelers, that is not the way of a hunter.」

「… I concur with the house head.」

「That’s right, I think the same way too.」

Jiza Wu answered, and Ludo Wu nodded in agreement.

Kaslan Lutim replied after thinking for a moment:

「But the Morga forest is his second home, abandoning this place isn’t a simple matter. He might be branded as a traitor to the western kingdom and be persecuted. They might not allow us to change our god of worship for the second time… If that is the case, I think he should have sought out the correct path in the Morga Forest's Edge instead.」

「You are as straight-laced as usual… Asuta, Ai Fa, what about you?」

Ludo Wu asked, and Ai Fa tilted her head slightly.

「If we can’t get along with Genos no matter what, we can only defeat them or leave Forest's Edge. However, I want to follow the rules set by Grandma Jiba and our other forebears as much as possible and live on in Forest's Edge.」

「I concur with Ai Fa. I don’t really like the residents of Post Station Town, but I like living here.」

After Mama Mia Lei who was attending to Grandma Jiba expressed her opinion, Ludo Wu said in a slightly gauche manner:

「I don’t want to leave Forest's Edge either. What about you, Asuta? Never mind, I can tell without even asking.」

「Yes, I feel the same way too… One additional point is that Zattsu Tsun chose the wrong method. His way of doing things can’t lead the denizens of Forest's Edge forward.」

「Huh? Dad said the same thing.」

「That’s right, and Zattsu Tsun even resorted to stealing from the forest. If he had the conviction to better the lives of the denizens of Forest's Edge, he should have explained it better. For someone like me who just arrived in Forest's Edge, I don’t understand why anyone would rather starve to death if the only alternative is to eat the fruits in the forest.」


Someone glared at me from the right.

In other words, the heads of the Wu clan and Fa house were both glaring at me.

I changed my tone and said to Donda Wu:

「And of course, I can’t accept Zattsu Tsun’s words either. Not just because of his banditry, but because the branch house members of the Tsun clan didn’t seem happy at all… Zattsu Tsun was probably a tribal chief that ruled through fear. He would demand others to do what he felt was right. No matter how good his intentions were in the beginning, he can’t guide the people towards the right path if he resorts to such means… That’s what I think.」

「You think Zattsu Tsun’s opinion isn’t wrong?」

Ai Fa asked with a troubled expression.


As I worried that her head could start to hurt, I shook my head.

「Even if the denizens of Forest's Edge are being discriminated unjustly, there is no justification for Zattsu Tsun to attack travelers. If he thinks the people in the city shouldn’t be biased towards the denizens of Forest's Edge and that the denizens of Forest's Edge should live a freer life, he should have shared his thoughts during the house head conferences. He could then exchange views with others and seek out the right path. It is a pity that he didn’t do that.」

「Pity… Such a pity…」

Grandma Jiba mumbled.

「Zattsu Tsun’s father was an outstanding hunter… That’s why when the previous tribal chief clans, the Ga-ze and Reamer, fell, the Wu clan let the Tsun clan take on the role of tribal chief. Even brutes like the Dom and Zaza were willing to submit to him. However, Zattsu Tsun inherited his father’s pride and ambitious nature, but not his love for his fellow tribemates… Such a pity… Such a pity…」

「… Grand Elder, we should focus on the present, not reflect on the past.」

Donda Wu mumbled and then looked towards Kaslan Lutim again.

「Is this everything the Sauti clan messenger said? If that is so, that means what Ludo and the others heard in the Post Station Town is true.」

「No, there is one more thing we can’t ignore… Almost all the wagons pulled by the Totos fell off the cliff, but when a kiba trampled over a bag that fell from the wagon in front of Dali Sauti, the contents spilled out.」

「What, were there corpses in there?」

「No, the bags were filled with normal sand.」

Donda Wu frowned in surprise.

「No one would trade copper plates for sand, right? Could it be a type of food that looks like sand?」

「I asked the same thing. But when the kiba appeared, the caravan ditched the wagons and Totos and fought bravely with their blades drawn. They fended off the kiba, apprehended Zattsu Tsun, and then returned to the Post Station Town happily without any concern for their cargo that had fallen over the cliff… They probably didn’t intend to head to the Eastern Kingdom in the first place.」

「… What is going on here?」

「I think they disguised themselves as merchants to bait Zattsu Tsun out… Kamyua Yost said there were 18 merchants and 5 escorts, but Dali Sauti couldn’t tell which is which.」

「Hmmp〜, so that’s how it is. They could still walk just fine too, only five or six of them were groaning on the wagon bed. Those kiba inflicted serious injuries on the men from the Sauti clan, but the merchants from Rock City were tough enough to survive that attack. That is strange.」


Kaslan Lutim nodded when he heard Ludo Wu’s analysis.

「But…」: Jiza Wu started speaking:


「Didn’t they spend two months to plan the expedition from the Forest's Edge settlement to the Eastern Kingdom? Even if it was a lie, we heard about this at least twenty days ago. The Tsun clan had not fallen then. The entire thing doesn’t make sense.」

「Yes, we are stumped about this too. They probably came up with this plan immediately after learning that Zattsu Tsun is on the run. Since Kamyua Yost is a part of their gang, they should be able to do this easily.」

「No…」: I said.


Saying this might result in Donda Wu getting angry at Kamyua Yost. But as a denizen of Forest's Edge, I had to speak up.

「Having them change such a grandiose plan so suddenly is very unlikely. I think their goal from the very start was to lure the Tsun clan into a trap, that would be more natural. The people in the Rock City probably had evidence that the caravan passing through Forest's Edge ten years ago had been sabotaged by a denizen of Forest's Edge.」

「… What exactly is going on?」

Kaslan Lutim looked at me with strong and quiet eyes.

Is this really what happened…? I withstood his gaze as the thoughts flashing across my mind left me gasping for air.

Right from the very start, Kamyua Yost already suspected that the Tsun clan was behind that incident a decade ago. I thought that him knowing that wouldn’t affect the other matters. That was why I suppressed the dissonance in my mind. But I was wrong.


I didn’t know there was a scheme hidden behind this.

Kamyua Yost and the others weren’t simply on guard against the Tsun clan’s attack, they were master baiters luring the Tsun clan to bite the bait.


I felt an indescribable sense of exhaustion as I continued:

「A common acquaintance of Kamyua Yost and me was related to that caravan. That acquaintance firmly believes that the criminal was from the Forest's Edge… I only learned today that the person who died is related to the caravan, but Kamyua Yost probably knew from the very start.」

I turned and looked at Donda Wu. He was silent, and a fire raged in his eyes.

「Do you still remember, Donda Wu? Twenty or so days ago, Kamyua Yost visited the Wu clan village and mentioned that caravan. He even stated his suspicion of the denizens of Forest's Edge.」

「… Brat, you think I will forget his insult against Forest's Edge?」

Jiza Wu also said:

「I still remember his words. Father Donda said that the caravan who attempted to cross the Forest's Edge was all wiped out, and Kamyua Yost remarked that it isn’t clear if the murderers were the kiba.」

「Amazing, I can’t remember something from that long ago.」

Ludo Wu shrugged.


I also forgot all that too. Even if I did remember, I couldn’t have prevented what happened today… Despite this, I still hated myself for being so careless.

「The Tsun clan must have attacked the caravan in the same manner ten years ago. They would have succeeded this time too… if the caravan members were frail merchants.」


Unfortunately, the ones transporting the cargo weren’t merchants, they were probably all experts in handling troublesome matters— 《Guardians》.


And the cargo wasn’t a merchandise to be peddled in Semu, but just ordinary sandbags. All this was done to lure the Tsun clan into this trap.

「Right now, only Zattsu Tsun and Tay Tsun of the Tsun clan could move freely. Normally, they wouldn’t have the capability to attack the caravan. Hence, it would be too unnatural if they came up with this plan all of a sudden to bait Zattsu Tsun. I think they have been planning this for two months and didn’t expect the Tsun clan to lose their power in Forest's Edge.」

「I see…」: Kaslan Lutim muttered, and the others fell silent. Kamyua Yost and his gang thought up such a complicated scheme to trick the Tsun clan, which was far beyond the expectations of the denizens of Forest's Edge.

「If the Tsun clan didn’t spark off those troubles during the house head conference, they would still be the tribal chief clan. When the caravan requested for a job similar to that a decade ago, they would attack them again. Kamyua Yost’s gang probably expected that, so they came up with this plan. When they learned that the denizens of Forest's Edge pulled the Tsun clan down from the position of tribal chief, they were probably shocked… But they couldn’t just pretend that this plan didn’t exist. Besides, the felon Zattsu Tsun might still attack the caravan at the risk of his life, so they decided to proceed with the plan.」

「But who is the mastermind behind this plan? The landlord of Genos allowed the Tsun clan to do whatever they wanted, so why would he suddenly swing down the sword of justice?」

Kaslan Lutim asked in an urgent voice, and I shook my head.

「I don’t know the details… But I don’t think Kamyua planned such a grandiose trap by himself. He had to make the request to the Tsun clan through the Genos castle. If the Genos castle was not in the know, that means he had deceived the landlord of Genos. Therefore, I think the landlord also helped with this plan.」


Did the landlord of Genos come up with this plan and task Kamyua Yost with its execution?

Or did Kamyua Yost plan all this, and the landlord of Genos aided him?

No matter what, the landlord of Genos was definitely involved.

「… So this is the way the Genos castle do things.」

At this moment… a raging flame burned in Donda Wu’s eyes.

「In order to apprehend the vicious criminals of the Tsun clan, the people from Rock City deceived us? If they told us this from the very start, the men from the Sauti clan wouldn’t have suffered serious injuries.」

「That… would be hard to tell. Kamyua Yost only asked Dali Sauti to be a guide, and Dali Sauti’s group engaged the kiba on his own judgment.」

Kaslan Lutim answered calmly, and Donda Wu looked at him with feral eyes.

「The men of Sauti thought they were powerless merchants, that’s why they drew their blades and took on the kiba. If they knew these people were like soldiers of Rock City, they would have acted differently… And when the Sauti clan suggested escorting the caravan with all the men in their clan, they were turned down.」

「… That’s true.」

「In their bid to lure out Tay Tsun, the Genos castle still didn’t let the Fa house stop doing business… Everything they said is lies. How can we trust those fellows who won’t reveal their true intentions?」

A fruit wine bottle shattered in Donda Wu’s hand.


The few remaining drops of red liquid drenched his fingers and the rug.

「Donda Wu… No, head of the Wu clan and tribal chief of Forest's Edge, please don’t be rash. Your actions as the tribal chief will decide the fate of Forest's Edge.」

「You don’t need to tell me that. The ones leading our people are Graff Zaza, Dali Sauti, and me. Genos castle ordered us to guide a right path for the people in eight days.」

Donda Wu’s emotions were as heightened as that night during the house head conference.

「Donda Wu, may I say something? I don’t agree with the methods employed by the people from the castle, but there is one other thing… You said that Kamyua insulted Forest's Edge? What are your views on that right now?」

Donda Wu shifted his blue burning eyes swiftly from Kaslan Lutim to me.


I gulped, steadied my breathing and continued.

「What Kamyua said twenty-odd days ago was the truth. Not only that, he even taunted the denizens of Forest's Edge… No, he was warning us. That if we carried on like this, he might bring the Tsun clan to justice before we could… But when you heard his words, you thought that the denizens of Forest's Edge would never commit such banditry and felt you were being insulted, correct?」

「… What of it?」

「But the one who betrayed your trust and harmed the honor of Forest's Edge is Zattsu Tsun, not Kamyua, right?」

「Asuta, are you still covering for that man at this juncture?」

Jiza Wu’s tone was as calm as Kaslan Lutim’s, but there was a different implication in it. That made me break out in cold sweat.

But even so, I still had to continue:

「I don’t intend to cover for Kamyua. However, we didn’t notice the grave sins of Zattsu Tsun and had just let him be. This means the denizens of Forest's Edge and the people in the castle both have to take responsibility for his crimes.」

「… Are you saying that we are just as bad as the castle people?」

「That’s not what I mean. But we need to reflect on whose mistake resulted in the situation today… During that incident ten years ago, Zattsu Tsun harmed neither the denizens of Forest's Edge nor the people of Genos castle; instead, the residents of the Post Station Town were victims. Do you think all the blame should rest on the people in Genos castle?」


Who cares about the residents of Post Station Town! … If he answered that way, it might destroy my impression towards the denizens of Forest's Edge.

However, Jiza Wu merely shook his head lightly and said:

「We never brought the Tsun clan to task because we didn’t have evidence of their crimes. The people in Genos castle had the evidence but refused to act on it. Please don’t lump us together.」


「Yes, that’s why…」

「I know. We didn’t bring the Tsun clan to task, resulting in the corruption of the tribal chief clan, and that is our sin… Clan head Donda said that before. But I still want to tell this: I don’t trust the people in Genos castle.」

Jiza Wu looked at his father with his narrow eyes after saying that.

Donda Wu had been glaring at me all the while.

「… I understand what you are saying and will take it into consideration when deciding the path we should take.」

Donda Wu kept quiet after that comment, and silence engulfed the hall.

Finally… Grandma Jiba’s sorrowful voice echoed out:

「… If we had formed deeper bonds with Genos from the very beginning, this wouldn’t have happened…」


The next instant, Ai Fa shouted angrily:

「You are wrong! Grandma Jiba, we are only here because our forebears carved out an arduous path! And paving a way through the difficulties we are facing is the responsibility of the denizens of Forest's Edge who are here today! … Grandma Jiba, you are still here suffering alongside us, you are also a denizen in the present. You should stop wallowing in sorrow.」

「… You are right… Instead of sighing, we have more important things to do…」

A warm smile appeared on Grandma Jiba’s wrinkled face.

「Ai Fa, thank you… I was almost caught up in my memories of the past again…」

Ai Fa averted her face while still looking angry.


As she had turned her face my way, our eyes met.

「… What are you looking at?」

「I’m looking at my house head.」


In the dimly lit hall, Ai Fa hit my head as she blushed.


And so, the emergency meeting that carried on until deep into the night ended.

4
Before heading back to the Fa house, we went to find Yamiel Lei and company who had been gathered in the Wu clan village.


More accurately speaking, Kaslan Lutim was the one who wanted to do that, and we are just accompanying him.


After passing through the plaza where a bonfire burned, we reached the empty house we lodged in in the past. The young house head of the Wu clan branch house was on sentry duty.

「I wish to speak with the people inside. Donda Wu has granted permission.」


After Kaslan Lutim explained himself, Shin Wu nodded and knocked.

「This is Shin Wu, guests from the Lutim house and Fa house wish to meet you. If you agree to that, open the door.」
The other party seemed to be hesitating. A short moment later, the door was pulled open from the inside.

Yamiel Lei poked her head out, and an intense smell of herbs assaulted my nasal cavity the moment she appeared.

「What business do you have with us…? Did you find Tay Tsun’s body?」

「No, we are here to ask you about the Tsun clan main house.」

Yamiel Lei sighed softly and then quickly backed away.

We entered the house one by one, and Shin Wu who stayed outside by himself closed the door.

「Oh, so it’s the lot of you.」


A nostalgic high-pitched voice echoed in the darkness. The members of the Tsun clan main house had been assigned to their new families, but they got gathered here once again.

Yamiel Lei became a member of the Lei house, Aura and Zwei joined the Lutim house, while Mida was now a part of the Wu clan.

「Excuse me for intruding on you so late. I just want to chat with you a little, I promise I won’t stay long.」

As Kaslan Lutim and Ai Fa took off their leather shoes, I observed the Tsun clan members whom I had not seen for a few days.

Aura and Zwei sat near the wall to the right, clinging close together. After receiving us, Yamiel Lei walked sexily to the left wall and sat down. Mida who was like a small hill made out of flesh sat heavily near the wall opposite to us.

「What is it now? We already told you everything… Besides, the former clan head is dead, there’s no need to worry about anything.」

Zwei was younger than she looked with her hair tied up high like an onion. Her voice had a higher pitch than a bird chirping. Compared to the last time I met her, she seemed more melancholic.


The others were the same. Aura clung on to her daughter’s thin shoulders with her eyes closed. Yamiel Lei leaned lazily against the wall. As for Mida— I still couldn’t figure out what this weird guy was thinking, but he was staring at us with his beady eyes.

「Zattsu Tsun might be dead, but we don’t know where Tay Tsun is. I want to ask you about what kind of person he is.」

Kaslan Lutim walked to a spot where he could see all three sides and sat down. Ai Fa and I sat down behind his dependable back.

「I already said, we told you everything! Grandpa Tay spent too much time with the former clan head, now he is just a bum who can’t think for himself! He will follow any orders and will do nothing if left alone. He is just like a mud doll!」

Zwei clamored hysterically.

Tay Tsun and Zattsu Tsun were both her grandfathers, and their blood flowed equally in her veins. Both of them fled from the Forest's Edge settlement as vicious criminals. If blood relations were very important to her, her feelings had to be complicated.

「Zwei is right… Father Tay served as the aide of the former clan head since his youth, attending to his every need. His soul got corrupted faster than anyone’s else. Therefore, he won’t act out of line unless a member of the Tsun clan main house orders him to…」

Aura, Zwei’s mother and wife of the clan head Zuro said in a monotonous voice. Her eyes used to be murky like her father’s, but they were filled with sorrow like a normal person now, as she stared into the empty mug.

「I don’t doubt your words. If Zattsu Tsun gave him an order when he was still alive, how will things turn out? Even if Zattsu Tsun passes on, will he still carry out that order?」

「I don’t know… Maybe he will disregard that order if he knows that the former clan head is dead. But don’t worry about that… Is father Tay dead?」

「We don’t know. We didn’t find his body, so we are assuming that he survived.」

Kaslan Lutim must be restraining himself during his questioning. He didn’t fault them for using the term 「grandpa」 or 「father」 even though they were no longer part of the Tsun clan.


Even though their relations were nominally severed, Tay Tsun was still their family by blood, that remained an irrefutable fact. My heart felt heavy when I looked at Aura and Zwei who were closely related to him.


At this moment, Mida suddenly yelled slowly:「Ahh, you are that man who can cook yummy food… And you are the woman who scolded Mida… Why are you here…?」


I almost fell onto the floor.


My beloved house head sat cross-legged with one leg propped up and looked at Mida relaxedly.

「You just realized, huh, you are really slow… But it’s great that you are still the same.」

「Yes… Why are you here…? Mida feels hungry when I see you…」

He was probably referring to me. That reflex wasn’t anything to be happy about.

「We are asking about Tay Tsun… Mida, what kind of person do you think Tay Tsun is?」

「Mida… likes Tay Tsun… Mida likes Yamiel, Aura, and Zwei, and then Tay Tsun…」

「Shut up, stupid!」: Zwei yelled again.

「So… Mida is happy to see Yamiel, Aura, and Zwei, but if Tay Tsun is dead, Mida will be sad… Where is Tay Tsun…?」

「Hey, don’t cry.」

Ai Fa said in a sharp voice, and Mida, whose entire body was about to shiver, stopped immediately.

「Mida won’t cry… So don’t scold Mida…」

「I won’t scold you if you don’t cry.」

Ai Fa answered with a stern face, and Yamiel Lei who had been silent all the while let out a pretentious smile.


「Head of the Fa house, Ai Fa, you can already get Mida to listen to you, huh. Can you talk to animals too?」

「You treat your former brother like an animal? I advise you to stop with your barbed words… Anyway, why do you smell so strongly of herbs? My nose is starting to hurt.」

「Can you complain to the men beside you? Especially that buff boy from the Lutim house.」

Yamiel Lei shrugged off the question.

And of course, Kaslan Lutim replied puzzledly: 「What did I do?」

「It’s because of your interesting father coercing the head of the Lei house. He said I have the stench of kiba blood on me, and I won’t be able to marry if I don’t remove that odor… Thanks to him, the head of the Lei house ordered me to scrub my body with the sap of lilo when bathing.」

Yamiel Lei flicked her brown hair that had been beautifully dreaded up and glared at me frostily.

「The head of the Lei house only urged me to do so after learning that Asuta also noticed the smell. Thanks to you, my nose is going bad… Asuta, do I really smell that bad?」

「Erm, yes, right… Because of the nature of my work, I’m very sensitive to smell.」

「… Hmmp.」

Yamiel Lei continued glaring at me while brushing her hair back. Ai Fa said unhappily as she looked at Yamiel Lei’s arrogant eyes:

「Even though you got separated from the head of the Lei house, you still kept your promise faithfully. You are an unexpectedly obedient woman. Not only did you obtain the Lei family name, but also he is even looking out for you so you could marry in the future. Your clogged heart feels a little better, right?」

「You people are the ones that ordered me not to go against the Lei house. I’m just following the end of the deal; you have no rights to complain about me. Besides, I don’t want a female hunter yammer at me about marriage.」


The atmosphere in the room was getting hostile.

And the reliable Kaslan Lutim mediated for them:

「Enough about that. Yamiel Lei, what are your thoughts on Tay Tsun? If he is still alive, what do you think his most likely course of action would be?」

「Only Tay Tsun himself would know… However, if you think he is just another man from the branch house, you will suffer for that.」

「What do you mean?」

「Tay Tsun isn’t just the branch house member who spent the most time with the former clan head, he spent more time with him than any member of the main house. That corrupted his soul completely… Do you know why Tay Tsun often stayed beside Diga, me, and the others?」

We didn’t know. Kaslan Lutim, Ai Fa, and I could only answer with silence.

Yamiel Lei let off the cruel air she had in the past faintly and curled her lips disinterestedly.

「Because the former clan head ordered him to do so. The clan head Zuro is lazy by nature, which disheartened the former clan head. In order to determine the best candidate to be the next clan head, he sent Tay Tsun to spy on us. Even though the former clan head commanded him to follow our orders, he was actually the eyes and ears of Zattsu Tsun and kept watch over us.」

「… That means that you could become the clan head, even though you are a woman.」

「Not ‘could’. If the Tsun clan hadn’t fallen into ruins, I would have definitely become the head of the Tsun clan. Nominally, the title would be given to the man I took in as my husband…  Anyway, there is no question that Diga and Doddo lacked the caliber to lead the tribe, so Zattsu Tsun planned to insert my spouse as the tribal chief.」


This was the first time I heard of that, and it was a huge blow to me.


If Tsun clan headed in such a direction, what would the Forest’s Edge be like? Zattsu Tsun who wanted to control the Tsun clan despite being bedridden, passing on the position of clan head to Yamiel Lei who sought the Tsun clan’s ruin…
I shook my head and quickly dismissed such thoughts.

No matter how I thought about it, the future seemed to be dark. It would be fine if Zattsu Tsun left this world, but if he clung on to life like a vengeful spirit, Yamiel Lei would be burdened with heavy sins.

「Tay Tsun is an obedient servant. After Zattsu Tsun became bedridden, Tay Tsun worked for him like the extension of his hands… That’s why, if Tay Tsun is still alive, don’t come near me. Zattsu Tsun might have ordered him to let the Tsun clan lineage continue, and he would come to save me instead of Zuro or the eldest son Diga.」

「… This is the first time I learn how deep the relationship Tay Tsun had with Zattsu Tsun. It’s also the first time I heard that you could become the next clan head.」


The corner of Yamiel Lei’s lips raised even higher after hearing Kaslan Lutim’s words.

「I didn’t think there was a need to bring it up, so I didn’t tell you. If that made you unhappy, you can punish me however you like. You can make me leave the Lei house and let the Jean or Dom houses who are raving mad from their recent humiliation take me in.」

「No, please wait, Kaslan Lutim…」


I quickly sound out to stop this.


I didn’t think Yamiel Lei was doing this to save her own hide. She must have kept quiet for the sake of Tay Tsun. When Zattsu Tsun got executed, Tay Tsun’s soul would be liberated.

Before I could continue, Kaslan Lutim stopped me with a look.

「I don’t plan to fault you. Even if you had told us about this ahead of time, no one would have expected the deathly-ill Zattsu Tsun to escape by himself. Hence, the results would be the same. Besides, Zattsu Tsun was the one who chose you as his heir, so your crimes won’t be any heavier.」

Yamiel Lei stopped her cold smile, and it was Kaslan Lutim who started smiling confidently.

「And you are already a member of the Lei house now. Rau Lei would not allow us to send you to the Dom and Jean house… Yamiel Lei, Zattsu Tsun has already passed on, it is about time you free yourself from his bondage.」

「… If I could forget that man so easily, I wouldn’t be having such a hard time.」

Yamiel Lei said and lowered her head, covering her face with her long hair.

「Tay Tsun is the same… But if Zattsu Tsun didn’t give any orders before he died, Tay Tsun could finally act on his own accord.」

「His own accord?」

「… He wishes for someone to destroy him.」

A heavy silence spread in the room.

Aura still looked at the floor sadly, and Zwei clung tightly to her as if she was trying to cheer Aura up. Mida still had a blank face as he looked at everyone else. Ai Fa was silent and had a serious expression.

Kaslan Lutim looked at Yamiel Lei’s meek appearance. After a while, he slowly stood up:

「Sorry for intruding for so long… You will return to your respective homes in the near future. Before that, I seek your understanding to bear with this accommodation for now. Please live your life correctly as a denizen of the Forest's Edge in the future.」


No one answered him.


Ai Fa and I stood up together with him.

「Are you going…? Mida still doesn’t know your name…?」


Mida suddenly spoke. Ai Fa who was about to turn and leave looked back in surprise.

「You can’t even remember our faces, and you still want to know our names?」

「Mida doesn’t know your name, so Mida can’t remember your faces… Mida is Mida of the Wu clan…」

「We still remember you… I’m the head of the Fa house, Ai Fa.」

「I’m a member of the Fa house, Asuta.」

「Thank you… Mida hopes to see you again…」

「If fate wills it, we will meet again.」

Ai Fa’s cape flicked in the air as she finally turned away.

Mida said timidly behind Ai Fa:

「Ai Fa…Asuta… If you find Tay Tsun, can you spare him…? He is a really gentle grandpa…」



After bidding farewell to Kaslan Lutim who was staying in the Wu clan village, we walked on a path while the Forest's Edge was shrouded in darkness.


We borrowed two candle stands filled with large quantities of animal fats and began my first trek in the night. After staying in the Fa house, I learned to be wary of Gizu and Munto at night but wasn’t sure how should I do that.

「Asuta, don’t leave my side. If you follow this rule, you won’t meet any danger.」

Ai Fa sounded very tense.

We would be safe if we aren’t careless. Conversely, it would be dangerous to let down our guard. Until the very last moment, Mama Mia Lei urged us to stay in the Wu clan village. But Ai Fa insisted on not doing that with the excuse of there being no empty houses.

Fortunately, I was less afraid of the dark compared to my fear of heights. I didn’t show a miserable display like during my first time crossing the suspension bridge, but I was still a little scared.

There weren’t any street lights in Forest's Edge, and the dense vegetation around us stopped the moonlight from shining through. If we lost the light on our candle stands, we wouldn’t even see our fingers in the darkness. If Ai Fa wasn’t accompanying me, I wouldn’t be able to stride forth fearlessly.

「… This is such an unusual day.」

Ai Fa muttered.

「Zattsu Tsun got arrested and passed away… Just this small matter was enough to make tonight feel as dangerous as the house head conference.」

「That’s right. No matter what his performance during his reign was, he was still the tribal chief of Forest's Edge. Before he fell ill, he should be as ferocious as Donda Wu.」


In the end, that man cursed the world with all his energy and wished for the destruction of this world.


The death of the malefic star resulted in a chasm as deep as a black hole. To avoid being engulfed by this chasm, we had to fight with all our might.

「I wonder how the business would look like tomorrow.」

「Well〜, we will only know after going to town. If we mess it up, all our efforts will be for naught. No matter what Genos castle orders us to do, we should stop if the situation is not conducive to business.」

「… Is this a trial given to us by the heavens?」

Ai Fa stared into the other end of the darkness as she asked:

「Because we didn’t build a proper relationship with the residents of the Post Station Town… And we let the Tsun clan fall to their ruin, so we have to pass this trial?」

「Yes, I think you are right.」


As we chatted on and off, my fear of the dark slowly subsided.

But Ai Fa was still on edge. When we were about half an hour from the Fa house, she suddenly stopped and handed her candle stand to me.


She then gripped her hilt and faced to the left.

「Who’s there, come out!」


What lay in the ambush wasn’t Gizu or Munto, but a man.


I grew tense and shone my candlelight to the left.

There weren’t many people who would try to ambush us. A man appeared from the darkness slowly like a phantom. And as expected, it was the grey-haired man from Forest's Edge.

「Tay Tsun…」

The next instant, the strong mixture of blood and fruits that attracted kiba assaulted my nasal cavity.

Tay Tsun stood between the trees. He was still alive.


I couldn’t tell how serious his wounds were. He wasn’t wearing a hunter’s attire for some reason, and his body was covered with a cloak commonly found in the city.


He probably snatched that off Han of Dabag. I recalled Kaslan Lutim saying that Tay Tsun grabbed the cloak of that bandaged man before falling off the cliff.


No matter what, Tay Tsun was standing before us with a cloak on him. His hair and beard were grey, and his blue eyes that had a shade of black looked like a dead fish, and his aging face didn’t show any expression… His right arm reached outside his cloak, and he was holding a steel knife.

「Hmmp… it seems that the former clan head Zattsu Tsun wants to kill the members of the Fa house instead of the Wu clan? Never mind, this will save me a trip into town.」

Ai Fa faced Tay Tsun with her eyes burning but calm expression.

「You are also a hunter, so this should be clear to you. You are not capable of harming us. If you still have any pride as a denizen of Forest's Edge left in you, put down your blade and let us arrest you.」

「I will put down my blade… But not now.」


His voice didn’t have any emotions at all, just like how he sounded in the past.


Despite suffering an obviously mortal wound and falling off a cliff, he acted just like how he did in the past.


However… although there wasn’t any trace of blood on the cloak Tay Tsun was wearing, I could sense a strong stench of blood on him. He probably was covered in blood under his cloak.

「Head of the Fa house Ai Fa, Fa house member Asuta, I’m not here to harm you. I have a request.」

「Request?」

「That’s right. That’s why I waited here for you. After seeing that only the men from the Dom house were in the Fa house, I came over to the Wu clan village. But there probably isn’t much chance for us to meet in the Wu clan village. I’m really lucky to meet you here by chance.」

「I never knew you are such a talkative man. Looks like you have plenty of strength left in you.」

「Not at all. My life will end soon. Before that, I have a job to do.」

「Wait, I want to ask you something. You already know that the former clan head Zattsu Tsun is dead?」

Tay Tsun nodded like a puppet.

「I know. The men from the Dom house discussed this loudly. That’s why I thought I should meet the two of you.」

「Hmmp, I get it. State your request then.」

Tay Tsun’s reply was beyond my expectation.

「Asuta, can you let me eat your cooking?」

Tay Tsun said robotically in an icy tone.

「My cooking… W-Why do you want to eat it?」

「I heard your cooking brought prosperity to Forest's Edge and formed a proper bond between Forest's Edge and Genos. If your food can really achieve these two points, I hope to savor it before leaving this world.」

「But that’s…」

「If you fulfill my request, I will put down my blade and submit to you. I swear to devote the time I have left to my tribemates.」


That sounded like something a denizen of the Forest's Edge would say.

However, I couldn’t feel any emotions from his voice.


His blue eyes became more murky, and his pale face was expressionless. It didn’t change too much, but the eyes of the Tsun clan branch house members were starting to show emotions. But Tay Tsun remained the same.

「I had the chance to taste your cooking during the house head conference. But I was distracted during my meal and couldn’t feel the full extent of your abilities… I want to confirm your prowess and ascertain that my actions are wrong before I can rest in peace.」

「… In that case, let’s head back to the Wu clan village. The Wu clan are probably more approachable than the Dom house.」

Ai Fa answered quietly, and Tay Tsun shook his head.

「No, the head of the Wu clan won’t spare me. If I forced my way, the relationship between the Fa and the Wu might go sour… Besides, I have already decided to die in Genos city.」

「What?」: Ai Fa narrowed her eyes with a dangerous gleam.

Tay Tsun continued with the same attitude:

「I will visit your stall at high noon tomorrow. Asuta of the Fa house, please let me taste your cooking.」

「Don’t be stupid! You are heavily injured, how can you get into the Post Station Town! Before you can even make it to Asuta, you will be arrested by the Forest's Edge men or the town guards!」

「It’s fine, as long as I wear this cloak, I can move around the Post Station Town without stirring the suspicion of the guards.」

After saying that, Tay Tsun pulled up his hood.

The denizens of Forest's Edge were very proud, so I found it hard to imagine him disguising himself as a resident of the Post Station Town.


That wasn’t the issue here.

「What are you scheming? We can’t grant your suspicious request.」

Ai Fa grabbed her hilt tightly and lowered her stance.

Tay Tsun remained still.

「If you don’t agree, then cut me down here. I will struggle until the very end as a member of Zattsu Tsun’s clan.」

「Why are you so adamant about entering the Post Station Town!? The men from the Wu clan will also be there, that’s the same thing as going back to the Wu clan village with us now!」

「No, I want to go to Genos’ Post Station Town and be apprehended in front of the local residents. I want them to see the denizens of Forest's Edge bringing a fellow tribe mate to justice. That is the only way for me to atone for my sins.」

「… This is nonsense. I don’t understand what you are saying.」

「The residents of the Post Station Town loathe the denizens of Forest's Edge. That’s because of the numerous crimes committed by the Tsun clan. Since Zattsu Tsun is dead, I’m the only one who can atone for these crimes… Because I’m the last man to follow Zattsu Tsun’s biddings and bring harm to Genos.」

Tay Tsun said without any emotions.

「After I eat the food and toss aside my blade, you can do whatever you want to me. You can cut me down or turn me in to the guards. The important thing is that the denizens of Forest's Edge have to bring a fellow tribe mate to justice before the eyes of the residents of Rock City… I won’t die so easily if the people in Rock City try to cut me down anyway.」

「Are you really sane? I can’t believe your words.」

「I think so too. I’m probably proposing this to regain my sanity.」


Ai Fa’s sharp gaze and Tay Tsun’s blank stare clashed together in the dark.


I was worried that Ai Fa’s blade might slash at the other party and said:

「I’m sorry, but we can’t accept your request. We don’t know if we can open the stall tomorrow, and even if we did, the men from the Wu clan will be there with us. We value the bonds with the Wu clan and won’t deceive them. Even if we tried, they will definitely identify you.」

「It’s fine if the men from the Wu clan want to cut me down. If they did so before the eyes of the residents, it will certainly be of help to Forest's Edge… However, if they attack me before I can ascertain your prowess, I can only resist bitterly to the end as a member of the Tsun clan.」

「No matter what you are thinking, you will only stoke the fear in the residents in the Post Station Town if you create trouble at the stall.」

「Yes. The most ideal situation is for the denizens of Forest's Edge apprehend me and hand me over to the guards. This is the only way to appease the hearts of the residents.」
I had the feeling that Tay Tsun was trying to deceive us.

Just like Ai Fa, I couldn’t believe him either.

「… I have said my piece, it’s up to you to decide now.」

「I see… Seems like I should arrest you right now.」


Ai Fa lowered her stance even more.

Tay Tsun nodded emotionlessly.
「Well then, I can only put up a tough resistance… But I can’t defeat you, so I will flee.」


「You already lost your strength, you think you can escape me?」

「I probably can’t flee from you. But only if you ditch your family behind.」
Tay Tsun’s figure slowly moved further away.


「Wait! Don’t move!」

「No, I have to flee. If I succeed, I will go to the Post Station Town at high noon. Please defeat me there.」
Tay Tsun’s figure was already gone from the luminance of the candlelight.


Ai Fa wanted to stomp the ground with all her might and chase him. But she just glared at me vexingly.
「Damn it, what’s with that man!」


In the end, Ai Fa didn’t leave my side, and Tay Tsun went missing once again.


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