Saturday, July 21, 2018

Cooking with Wild Game Volume 8 Chapter 6 Part 2 & Mid Meal Snack

Translator: Skythewood
Editor: Ratorasepo

3


「Alright then, let’s start cooking.」


Everyone returned to the stove room in Shin Wu’s house.


The participants were the members helping with the stall, Vena Wu, Shela Wu and Lala Wu.


After that, Shin Wu lost his next battle to Jii Mamu who challenged him and got knocked out of the competition with one win and two losses. After watching his intense battle, we started preparing dinner.


I was worried about Ai Fa who was still in the tournament, but since her battle with Darum Wu ended without incident, I could only pray that there won’t be any accidents.


「Let’s start with the preparation work for offal, their freshness is the most important factor.」


The pot by my feet was filled with the kiba offal from Ai Fa’s hunt today. Since Ai Fa wasn’t here, I performed my first evisceration in a long while.


I already planned for this in advance. If Ai Fa hunted a kiba today and bloodlet it properly, I would prepare this dish for everyone.


We carried the kiba to the stream behind the village. This was downstream of the water source used by the main house. This river meandered around the east of the Wu clan village. I guess the Wu clan settled here because of this beautiful river. Eighty years ago, when the denizens migrated to Forest's Edge, the Wu clan was already a powerful house.


Upon reaching the water source, I taught the Wu clan women the washing method I just learned yesterday. With their great cooking skills, they cleaned the bloodied offal in no time.


「Please remember the color of the organs. When kiba falls ill, the color of its organs will turn strange. Eating them will result in serious food poisoning, so just return it to the forest if they make you feel uneasy.」


「Hmmp, what a pain… Is the offal of the kiba so delicious, that people are willing to spend so much effort on it…?」


「Everyone has different preference. Those who like it will love it, while the opposite is also true.」


When we came back to the Shin Wu house, Shin Wu and Ryada Wu were waiting for us in front of the stove room.


「Asuta, if you need to skin the kiba, we can help.」


「Ehh? Don’t you need to watch the competition?」


「The eight braves have been decided, and the competition will stop for a short break. I’m not a hunter, so that ceremony has nothing to do with me in the first place.」


Ryada Wu answered.


Father and son resembled each other; both of them had long dark brown hair, high corner eyes that looked like a Semu, and quiet expression. Shin Wu would definitely become a calm and mature man in the future.


「Thank you, Ryada Wu… Ah, Shin Wu, did Ai Fa progress to the next round?」


「Yes. A man from the Lei house challenged her and lost. She also defeated Darum Wu and Jii Mamu and deserves to be called a brave… By the way, she wanted me to relay to you that she apologizes for not being able to help with the hearth during rest time. Rimee Wu dragged her to Jiba Wu’s chambers, so she had to go.」


After hearing Ai Fa’s message, Shin Wu was worried that we won’t have enough help and came here together with Ryada Wu. Including Shela Wu, I was very much indebted to this family.


「Can you tell me who else are left? Aside from Papa Donda, Dan Lutim and Ai Fa, are Jiza-nii and Kaslan Lutim in the tournament too?」


Shin Wu nodded at Lala Wu’s question.


「The other three are Ludo Wu, Rau Lei, and Mida.」


「Ehh〜, Mida actually qualified!? How cocky! Hmm, Jii Mamu didn’t make it?」


「Yes, Mida defeated him.」


Lala Wu opened her arms and yelled again: 「How cocky!」


Shela Wu who looked dejected for a while said timidly.


「Then… Is Darum Wu alright?」


「I didn’t see him, but he should be fine. If he got hurt, Ai Fa would be disqualified and someone else would become one of the eight braves… But Darum Wu only lost once, and he went home without challenging anyone else.」


「I see…」


Shela Wu sighed sorrowfully.


Shin Wu looked at her for a moment and then shifted his gaze back to me.


「Well then, let’s start our work. Is the kiba inside this room?」


「Ah, please wait! I need to do something before you skin it.」


I placed the pot full of offal back into the stove room, picked up the necessary tools, and followed Shin Wu and the others to the slaughterhouse.


「Hold on a bit.」


A 60-kg kiba that was one size bigger than yesterday was strung up in the middle of the room.


We took the eviscerated kiba down and placed it on a platform and then painted the oil I brought from the Fa house only on its right hind leg.


「Asuta, what are you going to do?」


「It might be a bit of a waste, but I want to burn off the fur from this leg.」


As both father and son fell into puzzled silence, I used the Rana grass to lit a stick and moved the fire near the kiba hind leg. The dark-colored fur smeared with oil started to burn, and the mix of stenches coming from blood and burning fur gave off a terrible smell.


If I burned it too much, the skin would get scorched too. So after burning as much fur as I could without harming the skin, I doused the flame with water and was done.


「Alright then, before skinning it, can you cut off its right hind leg? I plan to use it to make a dish tonight.」


Parent and child probably had plenty of questions, but they didn’t ask anything. Be it good or bad, the two silent men wouldn’t comment on the work in the stove room.


「After cutting off the right hind leg, can it be skinned as usual?」


「Yes, thank you. I still need to prepare the food for my stall, so you will be a big help.」


After thanking the quiet father and son, I returned triumphantly with my prize.


「Uwah〜, what is that?」


Lala Wu, the girl who was not quiet at all, asked me.


「As you can see, it’s the leg of a kiba. I just burned off its fur. The next steps will be much easier now.」


Before that, we had to take care of the offal.


I marinated the chopped offal in a liquid made from myam, fruit wine, and Tau sauce, and buried the heart, liver, and kidney with Pico leaves. I planned to season it with salt and Pico leaves which would take the place of pepper.


「And then, I need to remove the singed fur on the kiba leg.」


I used the cleaver in the stove room to shave away the black burned fur.


After cleaning off most of it, I soaked the entire leg in a pot full of water and used the brush for scrubbing— which was actually hard kiba bristle— to clean it. It was ironic that I was using a brush made from kiba to deal with the kiba fur.


Anyway, after taking care of it carefully, the skin on the hind leg was exposed. The pinkish skin resembled that of a human or a pig. In the past— or should I say, in my previous life— before I came to Forest's Edge, I participated in a farm experience camp. Back then, the hunting hobbyist once told us verbally how to deal with the fur. I tried it out once in the Fa house, and the hide that had been burned couldn’t be sold, so Ai Fa gave me the stink eye that day.


The truth was, Ai Fa secretly gave out the hide of the kiba she hunted to the minor houses. This was an open secret, but she still insisted that she threw away all the hides. I felt bad that Ai Fa couldn’t complain to me because of her lies, so I only used fire to remove the fur just that one time.


「And so? Why are you burning the fur? The bigger the hide, the more copper plates it can be exchanged for, right?」


「I can only answer 『it tastes better this way』. Everyone can only enjoy this luxurious meal during festivals… Can you accept this explanation?」


「I don’t know. It’s fine, right? This kiba was caught by Ai Fa anyway, so the Fa house can do whatever it wants with it.」


That was right, I only dared to use this method because Ai Fa caught this kiba, but I felt relief that she agreed with me. With the simple and thrifty lifestyle of Forest's Edge, I had to avoid any actions that might get interpreted as splurging.


After receiving Donda Wu’s request, I only had one day to think up the dish. I could only re-mesh the dishes I tried out in the Fa house and try to serve a brand new dish. It was a little troubling.


「And so, how will you deal with this leg? The contest of might will end before dusk.」


「I need time to marinate the meat, so that is just enough time… Shela Wu, do you want to learn this cooking method? It’s different from the way I usually do it.」


I said that because Shela Wu looked distracted and looked different from usual.


「Ehh? Ah, sorry… I should concentrate on work.」


Shela Wu patted her own cheeks.


「I will focus… My house probably can’t burn the kiba fur away.」


「This dish is just for the feast today. I wanted to make it feel more lavish, so I left the skin. If Ai Fa didn’t hunt this kiba, I was planning to make this dish with normal leg meat. Let’s start the preparation work then.」


I deboned the leg and carved it out into large pieces. I would present one kg of it to the winner of the Battle of Skill and use the other three kg for the other dishes.


I carefully tenderized the meat with a clean stick and then rolled the one kg of meat with rock salt and Pico leaves. It was roughly twice the size of a normal steak.


I then cut some slit on the meat and stuffed myam into the openings in the place of garlic. And with that, the preparation work was complete.


「We will let the meat rest for a while, about the same amount of time we marinate the 『Myam-roasted meat』.」


Which meant, we would leave the meat there for an hour and another hour was required to cook it. The dish would be done when the sun sets.


「Before that, we need to take care of the stall preparation for tomorrow. Vena Wu and Lala Wu, please help me with mincing the meat for the hamburg steak. Shela Wu, please dice the aria.」


I started cutting the meat to be used in the other dishes.


While Shin Wu and his father were helping me skin the kiba, I cut off some loin and abdomen meat from the torso. The way the meat was cut would affect the taste, and I couldn’t let others do this delicate work.


I used the knife Ai Fa gave me to cut them into slabs and then used the Santoku knife to cut them into thin slices.


I’m working my dad’s knife too hard, it’s about time to buy a specialized meat cutting knife.


That was what I thought, but after browsing the meat cutting knives sold in the Post Station Town, I realized that their sharpness was on par with hunting knives, so I couldn’t push myself to make the purchase. On top of that, I bought a top of the line vegetable cutting knife from Shumimaru recently, so I was even more reluctant to make a compromise.


High-quality knives were probably sold in the castle town, but I needed to see the blade personally before making the purchase. It would be great if Shumimaru also sold meat-cutting knives.


When I was thinking about this, the plaza became rowdy again. It seemed that rest time was over, and the Battle of Skill was restarting.


Fifteen minutes later, Rimee Wu charged into the stove room with ragged breath and her face red.


「Amazing! Ai Fa won again! Ai Fa just needs to win two more matches to be the number one brave!」


「Ehh〜? Who did she win?」


Lala Wu asked in my place.


「Her opponent was Rau Lei! Rau Lei was good, but Ai Fa threw him out easily! Easily!」


Her opponent was Rau Lei, huh.


Since she was victorious against Darum Wu, she could definitely defeat Rau Lei. This meant that Ai Fa had made it into the final four. I didn’t know whether I should be happy for her performance and felt conflicted


「What about the others? Ludo?」


「Ludo lost! He tried to trip Mida, but fell down himself!」


「Hmmp〜, in the end, he still can’t get a match against Papa. He must be frustrated. In that case, the ones left are…」


「Papa Donda, Kaslan Lutim, Jiza-nii, and Dan Lutim! Jiza-nii is up next, I’m going to watch!」


Donda Wu against Kaslan Lutim and Jiza Wu against Dan Lutim… Coincidentally, this was the head against heir cross match from the Wu clan and Lutim house. What an incredible lineup, which made feel like watching, and, at the same time, I didn’t feel like watching it too.


「Jiza-nii and Kaslan Lutim are both amazing, but they can’t defeat Papa Donda and Dan Lutim. These two were the finalists for the past ten years.」


I was surprised to hear Lala Wu say that.


「T-Ten years? What an incredible record… There are three harvest festival every year, correct?」


「Yes, one large scale and two smaller scale festivals every year. By the way, today’s festival is small scale. All the kins will attend the large-scale festival.」


Three times a year, that meant thirty times in a decade. Either Donda Wu or Dan Lutim had won the tournament every single time. Their prowess was outstanding amongst the denizens of Forest's Edge; I had always vaguely felt that point.


And then— Ai Fa would be matched up with one of them. Although the Battle of Skill would ensure the safety of all participants, my stomach still hurt from thinking about that.


It’s impossible for Ai Fa to win the tournament.


That thought also gave me stomach cramps. If Ai Fa had to battle with Donda Wu in the finals, I would be terrified.


Time flew by, and the preparation work was ending soon. From my body clock, I estimated there was still one more hour before sunset. I had to prepare the dish for the winner.


「Well then, I’m going to start. First, sear the outside with a strong fire, just like braised kiba.」


I placed the completely marinated chunk of meat onto the griddle, and the surface turned brown. Just like the preparation of steaks and hamburg steak, this was done to seal in the juice.


「After that, spread the cut vegetables into the pot with a small fire.」


I chopped the arias and Chachi ahead of time.


The arias were quartered into crescent shapes, while the Chachi was split boldly in half. I spread them across the entire pot and then placed the grilled meat on top.


「Next, pour in a quarter bottle of fruit wine and then cover the lid. We will need to weigh it down with rocks.」


「Is that all? This is really similar to that 『Braised kiba』 dish.」


「That’s right. However, we cooked 『Braised kiba』 by using water and sauce and only added fruit wine to this dish for the aroma. This dish uses the moisture from fruit wine and vegetables to steam it, instead of boiling it.」


When adding more firewood, I took care not to let the fire get too big.


「When making 『Kiba burgers』 or steaks, I would switch to steaming midway to cook the dish thoroughly, right? This meat is even thicker, so the steaming would be even longer. You can think about it that way.」


「I see… What dish is this?」


「For now, I dub it 『Roast kiba』.」


This wasn’t a dish served in my home or restaurant, but the method to roast beef which I used when Dad, Leina, and I went camping.


It would be great if there was an iron lid that covered the pot tightly. Unfortunately, the Post Station Town in Genos didn’t sell such lids. However, I already tried steaming 10 cm thick slabs of meat, and it was proven to work.


The plan this time was to prepare an amazingly thick slab of meat. I thought that presenting a generous dish to the winner of the contest of might was fitting, but I wondered if the champion would think so.


「The important thing is the fire. Please keep it at a weaker level than the usual weak fire. If the flame is too big, the vegetables touching the bottom of the pot will burn.」


We just needed to continue steaming it for 40 to 50 minutes, and we would be done.


The preparation for tomorrow was finished too, and the girls were free to go now. I was just thinking that when Rimee Wu ran over again.


「Asuta, you are still not done? The next match is Dan Lutim against Ai Fa!」


「Ehh! The semifinal is Ai Fa against Dan Lutim?」


「Yes! Both Jiza-nii and Kaslan Lutim lost! After Ai Fa’s match is Papa Donda versus Mida!」


Ai Fa against Dan Lutim and Mida against Donda Wu, huh.


What a heart-pounding pairing.


「Asuta, go take a look, I will watch the fire.」


Shela Wu said with a calm smile.


「Vena Wu, Lala Wu, you are worried about Donda Wu’s match too, right? Just leave this place to me.」


「Ehh〜, can I?」


Lala Wu looked at me squirmingly.


I was troubled, but I still restrained my desires.


「I will be there when the job is done. Lala Wu, go watch the match. You too, Shela Wu.」


「No, my family isn’t competing… Asuta, is this really fine?」


「Yes. Dan Lutim definitely won’t hurt Ai Fa. I will also do my job properly.」


「Alright then, we are off! I will let you know the result of the match!」


The sisters from the Wu clan main house left, leaving just Shela Wu and me to work in the stove room.


That might be so, but we didn’t need to do anything other than adding firewood every few minutes. I stared at the wavering orange flame as I kept praying for Ai Fa’s safety in my heart.


「… Ai Fa is really exceptional as a hunter. Recently, Darum Wu and Rau Lei can fight on par with Jiza Wu and Kaslan Lutim in a match, you know?」


Shela Wu and I squatted before the stove, and she finally said quietly.


「I see. Ai Fa is hunting kiba at an alarming rate too… By the way, I hope Darum Wu will get well soon.」


When Shela Wu heard what I said, she just sighed depressedly.


Feeling uneasy, I continued:
「Oh right, Darum Wu got badly injured when he protected Shin Wu last month. I interact with him the least of all the Wu clan main house members, what kind of person is he?」


「Darum Wu… is very rash. According to my father Ryada, of all the main house siblings, Darum Wu resembles Donda Wu the most.」


「That’s true, his eyes look just like Donda Wu.」


「Yes… I think Donda Wu and Darum Wu are both outstanding hunters that befit the status of the tribal chief house.」


I couldn’t get along with both of them though.


However, I have known since a long time ago that Donda Wu wasn’t a simple brute. I might not get along well with him, but I didn’t hate him either. As for Darum Wu— because of the commotion with him over Ai Fa, there was a deep gulf between us. When I heard him mocking Ai Fa intentionally, I thought of him as lowly as Diga Tsun; both of them made me mad.


「… Does Ai Fa plan to be a hunter until she withers away in the forest?」


Shela Wu finally spoke quietly again.


「She is a woman, but instead of raising children, she lives as a hunter… No, I’m not refuting her lifestyle, but I don’t understand why she thinks in such a way.」


「I don’t know either, but I think this suits her really well.」


「I just hate the life of waiting for the men to come back everyday…」: Ai Fa told me that in the past. Instead of being protected, she would rather be the one protecting others.


I didn’t really understand the truth behind her words, but my wish to respect her feelings remained the same. However, I didn’t want to be a carefree character that gets protected. Aside from strength, I wanted to watch over Ai Fa in other areas.


「… Ai Fa has no intention of marrying anyone?」


「Yes, that’s probably so…」


I was surprised at mid-sentence. Shela Wu was hugging her knees, squatting on the floor, and staring at the flames; her face looked really red.


「S-Shela Wu, what’s wrong?」


「Ehh? Is something the matter?」


「No, it’s just that… you look different from usual.」


「Is that so? Maybe…」


Shela Wu covered the lower half of her blushing face with her arms that were hugging her knees. Her helpless gaze shifted towards me.


「Just the thought that you might know how I really feel made me embarrassed. Sorry.」


「Y-Your feelings? You mean… for Darum Wu?」


「P-Please don’t say it!」


This was the first time I saw her being so panicky. For the first time, the mature and quiet Shela Wu showed her girly side.


Even though Shela Wu looks so mature, she is just one year older than me.


I felt a little distraught. Was this unfamiliar feeling the so-called protective instinct?


「… Asuta.」


「Yes.」


「… Please don’t tell anyone else, okay?」


「Okay! I will keep it a secret!」


「Also, don’t worry or sympathize with me. I'm just a woman who can’t even move a water flask, and I don’t have the rights to pick a husband.」


「That’s not true!」


I thought over it for a moment and decided to stand up.


「Shela Wu, can you help me cook this piece of meat that has its skin attached?」


「Ehh?」


「I plan to grill this into a simple meat steak and give it out to everyone. I want you to help me cook this meat and make the sauce by yourself.」


「W-What should I do…?」


「You have to decide by yourself.」




Shela Wu lowered her head with her face still red.


She then tilted her head puzzledly.


「Speaking of which, Lala Wu and the others aren’t back yet. She said that she will tell you the results after Ai Fa and Dan Lutim are done competing.」


「Ah, that’s true.」


It has been 15 minutes.


The uneasiness I had suppressed was starting to swell again.


「Ehh〜, does one match take so long?」


「No. I’m baffled by it too.」


Cheers continued coming from the arena.


「Well then, they probably can’t leave the plaza because Donda Wu and Mida’s match is right after that match, right?」


「No, after finalizing the elite eight, there will be a break after every match… Asuta, you should go check out the situation.」


「But…」


「You have always been looking out for me, so I’m just paying you back. Please go over… I also want some time to mull over my feelings.」


She probably said all that after noticing how I felt. But even if she didn’t, I could no longer suppress the uneasiness in my heart.


「Excuse me, I will go take a look.」


With that, I charged out of the stove room.


Ai Fa’s opponent was Dan Lutim. He called the Fa house his friend, so things wouldn’t go badly… That’s what I thought, but I couldn’t keep my heart from wavering.


Did one of them suffer a serious injury?


Or did a malicious third party disrupt the contest?


I entered the plaza worriedly, and the hearty laughter of Dan Lutim wiped all my unfounded fears away.


「Ai Fa! You are really a superb hunter! Aside from Donda Wu, this is the first time I have met such a challenging opponent!」


Dan Lutim stood in the center of the arena with his feet wide apart. His Ebisu-like face, shiny bald head, and round tummy were drenched with sweat.


Facing off against him a few meters away was the equally sweaty Ai Fa. She had a casual expression on her face in her match against Jii Mamu, but she was sweating profusely now, with her shoulders heaving widely.


It seemed that they had been going at it for the entire 15 minutes.


「But it is about time to end this! I’m getting hungry!」


After saying that, Dan Lutim spread out his arms and attempted to grab Ai Fa.


I was shocked by his nimble movements. His massive body weighed over 100 kg, but his explosiveness was on par with Ai Fa and Darum Wu.


Ai Fa barely dodged him, but Dan Lutim didn’t stop.


One of his arms shot out at Ai Fa so fast that the air howled.


Ai Fa kicked off the side of Dan Lutim’s stomach and lept further back.


Dan Lutim changed direction with the same blazing speed in pursuit.


Ai Fa bent down and counter-attacked with the sweep she used to defeat Jii Mamu. But Dan Lutim evaded it easily with a jump.


Ai Fa immediately pushed off with her palms, dodging like a jumping lynx. Dan Lutim’s fingers closed around the space where Ai Fa’s head was a moment ago.


The cheers were thunderous. It was the loudest cheer of the day. Did such an amazing match continue for fifteen minutes? I was at a loss for words.


Dan Lutim was an extraordinary individual. How could he move as fast as Ai Fa despite that large tummy of his? His body weight was twice that of Ai Fa; this was too illogical.


Not just that, Dan Lutim also laughed loudly from time to time. He looked incredibly gleeful.


On the other hand, Ai Fa was going all out. Like a lynx being attacked by a brown bear or lowland gorilla.


「Ai…」


I shouted unconsciously.


「Ai Fa! Don’t give up! Get him!」


Did she hear me…? Ai Fa braced herself and charged into her opponent.


Dan Lutim didn’t dodge like Darum Wu. Standing his ground firmly, he swung his arms at the approaching Ai Fa.


Ai Fa twisted her body and went around to Dan Lutim’s right.


Dan Lutim finally caught her arm.


At the same time, Ai Fa bent down in an attempt to sweep Dan Lutim’s leg.


After grabbing Ai Fa firmly, Dan Lutim could have gone for a bold throw. However, he let go of Ai Fa’s arm without hesitation and avoided the attack by lifting one leg.


Ai Fa’s attack whiffed, so she was about to fall onto the ground. At this moment, Dan Lutim tried to grab her back.


「Ai Fa!」


Ai Fa used one light as a pivot and swiftly turned towards Dan Lutim.


Dan Lutim grabbed her shoulders with his big hands.


It was over.


Ai Fa was falling backward, as if she couldn’t withstand Dan Lutim’s charge.


However… while she was falling, Ai Fa’s right arm grabbed the front of Dan Lutim’s shirt, and her left leg kicked at her opponent’s right ankle.


Dan Lutim lost his balance for the first time.


If this continued, Ai Fa would fall too and get crushed by his giant body. Hence, she pressed her knee into his large tummy and shifted her center of gravity downwards.


She grabbed his chest, kicked his feet and lowered her body. All these actions worked in tandem together… and Dan Lutim’s massive body leaned forward and into the air.


This was probably the circular throw in judo.


But while Ai Fa was doing that, she looked as if she wanted to support herself with her left arm on the ground.


No, I probably saw it wrong. In the end, Ai Fa’s left hand didn’t touch the ground, and she threw Dan Lutim out with her left knee on his belly.


Dan Lutim’s huge body drew an arc in the air before falling with a thud.


The ecstatic crowd erupted in cheers.


However, Raa Lutim’s stern voice cut through the cheers.


「Victor, Dan Lutim of the Lutim house! Ai Fa of the Fa house is disqualified!」


The cheers turned into grumble and boos.


The white-haired and muscular elder of the Lutim house stared at the crowd with eagle-like eyes.


「Before Dan Lutim’s torso touched the ground, Ai Fa’s waist was already grounded. Hence, Dan Lutim is the winner!」


That was why Ai Fa tried to support herself with her left arm midway through the match.


Ai Fa laid sprawled on the ground and panted. Dan Lutim who was thrown two meters away was also out of breath as he laid on the ground.


Kaslan Lutim charged out from the crowd to check on his father. I also entered the plaza. With the grumbles coming from behind me, I rushed to Ai Fa’s side.


「Ai Fa, are you alright!?」


「I… I’m fine…」


She opened her mouth wide with her eyes tightly shut and answered hoarsely. This was the first time I have seen Ai Fa so exhausted.


「Shoulder… Lend me your shoulder… I can’t walk by myself…」


「I understand.」


I picked up Ai Fa’s right arm, supported her back and propped her up. Ai Fa’s body was burning hot, and she leaned weakly onto me.


「My sweat… might dirty you…」


「It’s fine, don’t worry about that.」


At this moment, Dan Lutim who was helped up by the powerful arms of his son showed a weak smile:


「I thought that I lost! Ai Fa, why didn’t you support yourself with your left arm? If you did, you would have won!」


「… My left arm just healed; I wasn’t sure if it could support your huge body. If my arm dislocates again, I won’t be able to hunt.」


「I see, so that’s the reason! I understand.」


Dan Lutim pulled Kaslan Lutim to walk towards us and suddenly leaned his sweaty smiling face towards Ai Fa:


「You are really an exemplary hunter! Not only are you powerful, you also know what is important! Ai Fa, I’m glad to be friends with an outstanding hunter like you!」


「You flatter me… I will make a move first.」


After saying that, Ai Fa kicked my leg.


She was hinting that 「it is time to go」. I nodded at the gleeful Dan Lutim and Kaslan Lutim who was smiling awkwardly and left the plaza with my battle-worn house head.


The crowd gave their generous applause and cheers for Ai Fa. I couldn’t help smiling awkwardly at how great my house head was.


「… What’s the matter, Asuta? Are you laughing at me for losing so terribly?」


「Ehh?」


I looked at Ai Fa in surprise and found her pouting and leaning against my shoulder.


「How was that terrible? There aren’t many hunters amongst the kins of the Wu clan who could fight with him to such an extent, right?」


「… A loss is a loss.」


「Ehh〜, didn’t Lala Wu tell you earlier? Winning is an honor, but there is no shame in losing. Besides, you performed admirably, so you don’t need to feel frustrated over this match.」


「No way. I almost won, so, of course, I will feel frustrated.」


My house head was still pouting cutely, as she pressed her blonde head against my cheeks firmly in retaliation against me.


4


「Sorry for the wait, this is the dish I prepared for today.」


When the sun set beyond the western woods, torches were lit around the plaza, and I presented the dinner of blessing to the champion of the Battle of Skill tournament.


As expected, the winner was Donda Wu.


In the end, I didn’t see any of Donda Wu’s matches. In the semi-finals, when Mida who had the size advantage charged at him, Donda Wu took him on directly and then tossed Mida aside, displaying the difference in power between them. In the match against the exhausted Dan Lutim, Donda Wu didn’t stall the battle, twisting the arm of his opponent with exceptional skill and pushing him onto the ground.


The champion sat on a mini wooden platform, and he crossed his legs with one leg propped up as usual. The grand elder Grandma Jiba placed a grass crown of blessing on his messy brown hair.


He showed his usual sour face, with his usual intimidating aura. But he fought elites like Kaslan Lutim, Mida, and Dan Lutim in quick succession earlier, so his face was full of sweat, and his shoulders and chest were rising slightly. His gaze fell on the plate I presented to him.


This was the biggest plate in the Wu clan village, and I placed the dish for today in it. It was full of steaming hot Chachi, aria, and one kg of 『Roast kiba』 in the middle of the plate.


「… I thought you would present something more spectacular, but it looks really normal.」


「Yes, but I hope it suits your taste.」


I cut the 『Roast kiba』 into thick slabs instead of thin slices and poured a special sauce over it. This was made with Tau sauce and fruit wine as the base, and diced aria, myam, salt, Pico leaves, and the caramel-colored kiba juice that dripped off during the roasting were other ingredients. It was the most delicious sauce I had ever made.


「Please eat it while it’s hot. The special thing about this dish is that it tastes delicious even if it gets cold. But the denizens of Forest's Edge prefer hot dishes, correct?」


「Hmmp.」


Donda Wu grunted before standing up.


The seventy-odd kins stood around the platform and awaited the start of the feast.


「Well then, let the harvest feast begin! Kins of the Wu clan, offer your thanks to the forest and let its grace become our flesh and blood!」


「Whoooaaa!」: the people responded with courageous cheers and then grabbed their skewers and fruit wines.


After seeing that, Donda Wu sat down heavily and reached for the plate. He picked up a piece of 『Roast kiba』 with his skewer and bit down with his white teeth that looked strong enough to crush stones.


The meat in 『Roast kiba』 wasn’t as tough as normal steaks, but it wasn’t too tender either. After all, I avoided using loin meat and chose the tougher thigh meat.


Unlike roast beef, the insides of 『Roast kiba』 had to be cooked thoroughly. But I didn’t roast it until it was dry, keeping the pinkish meat juicy and concentrating the fresh taste inside the meat. The tender lean meat that had been adequately stripped of its fats, and the skin had been roasted again until it turned a caramel shade, giving it more variety of taste and texture.


In order to draw out the basic taste of the ingredient, I didn’t pour too much of the sauce I took pride in on it. Just the salt and Pico leaves I carefully smeared over the meat, and the myam I embedded inside was enough to season the roast meat. The taste would be more prominent after it has cooled down, but it was equally good fresh out of the oven too.


I had been in Forest's Edge for about 60 days, and this dish combined all the techniques I had learned after coming to Forest's Edge. How did it taste? I wasn’t expecting for Donda Wu to compliment the food when…


「… Delicious.」


「Ehh?」


I lifted my head in surprise.


Donda Wu had his usual sour face as he took another bite of the 『Roast kiba』 without even looking at me.


He shifted his gaze suspiciously to his feet. There was a bowl of kiba meat soup prepared by the women of the Wu clan, filled with vegetables, and a plate of grilled poitan and offal.


「Hey, what’s that? There’s some unfamiliarly shaped meat in there. Did you use the meat of some other animal?」


「Ah, those are the offal of a kiba. I learned to cook it yesterday, it has an interesting taste.」


There were grilled kiba heart, liver, kidney, and other offal cut into large pieces.


「Ai Fa likes the kiba heart. It doesn’t have any unique flavor, and the texture is the same as meat.」


「… Heart of the kiba, huh.」


Donda Wu picked up a piece of kiba heart with the skewer and put it in his mouth. He closed his blue burning eyes and chewed slowly.


Donda Wu swallowed the heart and then took off one of the necklaces from his neck and handed it to me.


「Thanks for your hard work, here’s the payment.」


「Ehh? Payment?」


Now that he mentioned it, we didn’t discuss the payment term at all.


Be it the house head conference or the uproar that happened after that, the Wu clan had taken great care of us. So I prepared these dishes without expecting any remuneration.


「Thank you. But isn’t the payment too much?」


There were around 20 tusks and horns on the necklace, about 5 kiba’s worth or 60 red copper plates.


「… Are your skills that cheap?」


Donda Wu tossed the necklace to my chest and focused on eating his 『Roast kiba』.


He then glared at me unhappily:


「How long are you going to watch me eat? Your work is done, go eat your food.」


「Y-Yes. I’m going off now.」


With an indescribable feeling of hype and happiness in my heart, I left the platform.


The next instant, a figure charged out like a hound and grabbed my chest.


「Hey, Asuta! What’s going on here!?」


「T-That scared me. Why do you look so upset?」


He had blonde hair, which made me mistake him for Ai Fa, but he was actually the young head of the Lei house, Rau Lei. His aqua-colored eyes were burning as he stared at me from close up.


「How dare you even ask! I ate your cooking!」


「Oh, is that so? So why do you look so furious? Was it not to your liking?」


「How can that be!? I was surprised by how delicious it was! Did you pull your punches for the house head conference!?」


I was confused.


However, I had seen a lot of people lose it because of delicious food, so I wasn’t too shaken by his reaction.


「I’m curious too. Asuta, did you hide your skills during the house head conference? Or did you improve that much in this half a month?」


The sky was getting dark, and the only sources of light were the torches. A large figure walked over from the other end of the plaza. He had a squarish face, mature demeanor, and well-toned body…  He was one of the three tribal chiefs I had not met for a long time, Dali Sauti.


「Ah, Dali Sauti, you have recovered from your wounds.」


「Yes.」


He nodded magnanimously.


Ai Fa met him recently because of the Totos issue, but the last time I saw him was right before Zattsu Tsun and gang caused an uproar. Like what Ai Fa said, he had recovered from his injuries.


By the way, he was speaking with Kamyua Yost in the Post Station Town when I last met him, and he was rather excited. He had reverted to his calm personality tonight and was smiling cheerfully.


「Sorry for the trouble I caused the other time. It’s great that you look lively… Well then, can you answer the query from the head of the Lei house and me? We have no rights to be mad even if you conceal your true abilities, but I will feel uneasy if you don’t tell me the reason why you did so.」


「Do you think I hid my skills…?」


A few days ago, the people from the Wu clan main house praised my improving culinary skills, but, seeing how worked up Rau Lei was, I thought he wanted to tell me something different from that.


「What are you arguing about? Asuta only made this little, it will be all eaten up if you don’t pay attention.」


Ludo Wu was holding a large plate as he walked over while eating a thigh steak. That was the thick cut steak I made with the 3 kg of meat. It was complemented with steamed aria, Chachi, and other vegetables. There was only about a quarter of it left.


「Save me my share! I haven’t eaten my full yet…! Asuta, what’s going on here? You agreed to tend to the hearth for the house head conference for the sake of letting the house heads taste your cooking, correct? So why did you keep your power level a secret?」


「I’m sorry to hear you say that, but I always give my all in my cooking.」


「Then, did your skills improved by leaps and bounds in half a month? I also tried your dish during Kaslan Lutim’s wedding! That was twenty days before the house head conference, but the improvement wasn’t so prominent!」


Rau Lei wasn’t angry, just confused. But I was even more lost than him.


Ludo Wu easily sorted out our confusion and questions.


「So, is Asuta’s cooking so delicious that you are shocked? Rau Lei, this is no surprise at all.」


「But why? Ludo Wu, do you know the reason why his delicious turned delicious?」


「Of course. The food at the house head conference wasn’t prepared by Asuta. Although Shin Wu and I only ate jerky that night and didn’t taste the food at the house head conference.」


I didn’t get it immediately.


After a while, I realized what Ludo Wu was saying.


「Ah… so that’s how it is.」


「That’s right. You said that the goal on that day is to teach the Tsun clan woman how to cook, so you and the others would refrain from doing the cooking. Even if they followed your instructions, their cookings wouldn’t be as delicious.」


But even so, for the people who ate kiba meat that hadn’t been bloodlet everyday, the taste made a great impact. So did the grilled poitan.


The dish I chose for that day was 『Myam-roasted meat』, and even a poorly skilled person could prepare it. That might be so, but how well cooked the meat was, and the way it was grilled with the sauce would affect the tenderness of the meat and the taste of the dish. The standards of me and the other women instructing the Tsun clan was low to just make sure the meat wasn’t undercooked or burnt.


No matter what, I felt honored that brutish men like Rau Lei and Dali Sauti were so surprised by the difference.


「I ate the food at Asuta’s stall in the Post Station Town before. It didn’t taste this delicious.」


Rau Lei pressed me for answers, and I explained:


「Back then, I didn’t prepare additional meat patties, so what you ate were 『Myam-roasted meat』, seasoned to the taste of the people in town. Denizens of Forest's Edge might find the taste to be too strong.」


「That’s right. During the Lutim house’s wedding, the food was prepared by the women of the Wu clan. Rau Lei, this is the first time you are tasting food cooked by Asuta for the denizens of Forest's Edge.」


Ludo Wu explained as he tossed a Chachi into his mouth.


「Ah, it tastes great! The meat is tasty, but this Chachi is delicious! I like Chachi.」


Ludo Wu relaxed and showed a smile as adorable as a girl.


The matter had been resolved. As I was sighing in relief, someone grabbed Rau Lei’s arm from the side.


「Hey, head of the Lei house, why are you doing something so rude to Asuta? If you don’t have a good reason, I will be happy to take you on.」


It was Ai Fa.


Rau Lei looked troubled and finally let go of my T-shirt.


「We are not arguing, don’t be so mad… Ai Fa, you want to have another match with me?」


「No matter how many times we fight, the result will be the same.」


Ai Fa said with cold fury and flicked away Rau Lei’s hand.


Rau Lei scratched his nose childishly.


「Ai Fa, Asuta, you two are too sly! Your house has only two people, but one is the best hearth caretaker, the other is a hunter that pushed Dan Lutim to the limit. I don’t get this!」


「Who cares what you think.」


Ai Fa crossed her arms under her breasts smugly and looked at Rau Lei sideways. At this moment, the quiet Dali Sauti laughed softly.


「When I learned that Donda Wu is holding a harvest feast during such a turbulent time, I thought he was an unexpectedly easy-going man. But at least for me, today has been a meaningful day… Since we have the convenient Totos now, I should have invited Graff Zaza to make a trip here too.」


「Ehh, what’s that about Graff Zaza?」


「The Wu clan is outstanding. Not only is the hunter’s prowess impressive, I feel that all the kins of the Wu clan are filled with energy.」


Dali Sauti surveyed the entire plaza.


Illuminated by the torches and the makeshift stoves, everyone was smiling happily. It was a joyous feast, and I saw the same thing during the Lutim house wedding banquet too.


Everyone and their beloved family and kins were enjoying delicious food, drinking wine and making merry. For someone from another world, this powerful and heated scene made me dizzy… Wasn’t this a familiar scene when a feast was held in Forest's Edge?


「Other than the Wu clan, the Zaza house and the northern houses are the most powerful group, followed by us, the southern houses. However, we wouldn’t be smiling so blissfully during a small harvest feast. Kiba meat and the vegetables from the Post Station Town are food that allows us to survive, just like air and water. We won’t feel any special joy or bliss from them.」


「I see…」


「Every meal gives us joy for surviving another day. The greater the joy, the stronger the will and power to survive. Asuta, that’s what you said, correct? I heard that from Donda Wu.」


「Donda Wu told you that?」


「Yes. Just from today, I understand how powerful the Wu clan is. At the same time, I realize the capability of the Fa house.」


There was a bold smile on Dali Sauti’s squarish face.


「We will be meeting the people from the Genos castle in 3 days. The denizens of Forest's Edge need to obtain even greater strength and work together. Asuta, Ai Fa, I hope the two of you can do your best for our tribe in the future too.」


「Y-Yes.」


「This is only natural for denizens of Forest's Edge.」


After Ai Fa and I nodded in agreement, Dali Sauti turned around.


「Well then, let us enjoy the dishes that the women of the Wu clan prepared for us. I will take my leave now, please stay safe.」


After Dali Sauti left, another figure appeared. It wasn’t just one person, but Lala Wu, Shin Wu, and Mida.


「Finally found it! Ludo, don’t take Asuta’s cooking away! I searched all over for it!」


Lala Wu led the way and charged towards her brother, and then pinched his left ear with all her might. Even though Ludo Wu got the title of a brave, he still couldn’t evade the attack while holding such a big plate.


「That hurts, retard! If I leave Asuta’s dish unattended, that big guy there will devour it all!」


「You are as much of a glutton as Mida! Enough, hand it over!」


As the siblings squabbled, Mida stared at me with his pig-like small eyes.


「… Mida won’t eat all of it. Mida wants to try Asuta’s cooking too…」


He didn’t make a scene like he did in the past and muttered to himself a little sullenly with his cheeks trembling.


「I understand. There’s just a bit left, so eat it cherishingly, alright?」


「Yes… I will cherish it…」


「Tch… Hey Mida, I won’t lose to you in the next contest. So don’t lose to anyone else aside from me, okay?」


「… Hmm…?」


The atmosphere was harmonious.




During the Lutim house wedding banquet, I worked behind the scenes the entire day and didn’t enjoy it with the others at all. Although I didn’t cook too much, just what was on this plate, everyone had blissful smiles as they tasted the cookings made by Mama Mia Lei, Leina Wu, and the others. It was a feast the denizens of Forest's Edge only get to enjoy every few months.


Grandma Jiba was seated on a rug not far from here, surrounded by many kins. The large figure laughing heartily with ribs in both hands was definitely Dan Lutim. The small figure mimicking his posture his feet might be Rimee Wu. Two tall figures were chatting some distance away with fruit wine bottles in hand. They were probably Jiza Wu and Kaslan Lutim.


Everyone was enjoying the feast. Be it man or woman, or the small number of elderly and children— the torches shone on the 70-odd kins of the Wu clan. They ate, they drank, and they celebrated life in Forest's Edge.


Dali Sauti was right. Three days later, the tribal chiefs would have a meeting with the people from the Genos castle. Donda Wu intentionally held a harvest feast during such a turbulent time so they would experience the life they want to protect and the happiness that they had.


「Asuta, did you eat anything?」


Ai Fa glared at me with her eyes half closed.


「I just grabbed a few bites when I was cooking.」


「I knew it! You never learn, do you? You are always…」


Ludo Wu’s cheerful voice cut off Ai Fa’s words.


「Ah, Darum-nii, you are finally up. Look, this is a dish cooked by Asuta.」


Ai Fa and I exchanged a look and then turned to Ludo Wu. Darum Wu pushed his brother’s petite body aside gently with the back of his palm and stood before us.


「Hearth caretaker of the Fa house, I have something to say to you.」


The eyes he inherited from his father had a strong light in them.


Ai Fa wanted to speak, but Darum Wu stopped her and continued:


「I already spoke with the head of the Fa house. Hearth caretaker… no, Asuta of the Fa house, you are next. I just want to speak with you without being disturbed by others.」


「Second son of the Wu clan, are you willing to swear that you won’t hurt him?」


Ai Fa interjected with a sharp voice, and Darum Wu replied quietly:


「I promise. You can take my arm or leg if I break my promise. In the name of the second son of the Wu clan and as a hunter in Forest's Edge, Darum Wu hereby vows that he will not harm Asuta of the Fa house. All who hear me are my witness.」


「Wait! Darum-nii, what are you saying all of a sudden!」


Lala Wu yelled angrily, Ludo Wu frowned troubledly, Shin Wu remained expressionless, and Mida was the same as usual. As for Rau Lei— he glared at the side of Darum Wu’s face with hound-like eyes.


「Are there any problems between you two? Never mind, I heard your vow just now. Darum Wu, if you go against your promise, I will cut off your arms.」


「Whatever.」


Darum Wu muttered softly.


Ai Fa bit her lips tightly and looked at me. I nodded at her and looked up at the tall Darum Wu.


「I understand. Where should we talk?」


「Anywhere is fine, as long as no one disturbs us.」


I followed the poker-faced Darum Wu out of the plaza. We went into a dark alley between two houses.


It was some distance from the noise of the crowds and the torches. Darum Wu checked the surroundings for anyone hiding in the dark and then turned towards me.


「Asuta of the Fa house, did you hear the promise I made with Ai Fa before our contest of might?」


「Yes, I did.」


「In the end, I lost to Ai Fa. I don’t have the rights to stop her anymore… Only you can stop her now.」


「Stop Ai Fa?」


Darum Wu’s expression was blank, but his blue eyes were burning.


If Rau Lei’s eyes were like a hunting hound, then his eyes were like that of a wild wolf.


「I’m not good with words, so I will just say what I think… Asuta, don’t you want to stop Ai Fa? Can you live carefree even if she withers away in the forest?」


「Are you saying… that Ai Fa should give up her work as a hunter?」


「Of course, what else could I mean?」


His words were too unexpected.


「W-Wait. Darum Wu, you are also doing the dangerous work of a hunter, correct? But you are refuting the job of a hunter?」


「She is a woman. She doesn’t have the responsibility of being a hunter, unlike men. Don’t make me state such common sense.」


「But Ai Fa takes pride in being a hunter. She just happens to be a woman; she has the soul of a hunter, just like you…」


「That’s not important. Asuta, I want to know what you think.」


With the sound of a footfall, Darum Wu took one step my way.


There was no use in retreating. If Darum Wu wanted to harm me, I couldn’t evade at this distance.


「Can you bear with such a fate? She might wither away in the forest tomorrow, you understand? If that happens, will you still accept the reason 『because she is a hunter』?」


「That’s… Not all hunters die young in the forest. Even though Ai Fa is a woman, she is still an amazingly capable hunter…」


「Hypocrite. No matter how good she is, she can’t live forever. Didn’t she suffer a heavy injury just a few days ago? If she ran into a kiba on her way home back then, she would have died.」


The piercing light in his burning eyes leaned in close.


I could feel his rage and regret.


「Besides, she even used the dangerous 『Sacrificial hunting method』. She even went that far, just how long can she stay safe? Answer me, Asuta. If Ai Fa withers in the forest tomorrow, will you be fine with that? Is that how insignificant Ai Fa is to you?」


「To me, Ai Fa is more precious than anyone else! But I… don’t want to refute her lifestyle.」


「Is it fine even if you lose her? I— I don’t want to lose her!」


Darum Wu could no longer suppress his voice.


The scar across his right cheek turned red.


「I don’t want to lose Ai Fa! I can’t bear seeing her face such a fate! So I want Ai Fa to live on as a woman! But I — I know I can’t stop her anymore.」


「That’s…」


「That night during the house head conference, I failed to protect Ai Fa. And today, I lost to her. I don’t have the rights to say anymore… I can’t protect her, I’m powerless now!」


Darum Wu grabbed me by the chest.


He was stronger than Rau Lei, and his fingers were trembling from regret.


「Aren’t you going to stop Ai Fa? You are her only family… She already acknowledges you as a member of the Fa house, don’t you want to protect her?」


「Of course I want to protect her! But…」


How should I express my feelings?


I didn’t wish Ai Fa to die. That much was obvious.


However, I didn’t want to refute Ai Fa’s way of life, because…


「… I want to protect Ai Fa’s feelings, thoughts, and pride. If Ai Fa wants to live as a hunter, I will protect this wish of hers.」


That wasn’t it.


After saying that out loud, I felt that I didn’t state the most important point.


I didn’t even agree with what I said.


And of course, Darum Wu looked as if he didn’t agree and pulled at my chest harder.


「Then, can you bear losing Ai Fa?」


「I might not be able to bear it. I might regret it for the rest of my life. But if I want to prioritize Ai Fa’s feelings and live with her, I can only steel myself for this.」


Was I wrong?


When the women of the Wu clan sent off their men into the woods, they did so with a resolve I couldn’t imagine. In my eyes, they cared for their family more than anyone else, but they accepted the cruel fate that their family might die at any moment. They could only trust their family, and pray for their safety.


What I lacked was this resolve. And so, just like how they trusted their family… I should trust Ai Fa too. Was I wrong?


「… You are very capable. In this short period of time, you have proven this point. Only you can earn copper plates by working in the Post Station Town. Hence, Ai Fa doesn’t need to work as a hunter anymore, correct?」


Darum Wu grit his teeth hard as he squeezed out these words with a low and hoarse voice.


So Darum Wu was so worried about Ai Fa. That was a big shock to me.


That made me waver a little. The person most suited for Ai Fa… the one who could save her from this cruel fate wasn’t me, but someone like him…


I…


I looked quietly at Darum Wu’s twisted face.


I didn’t know how much time went by… Darum Wu finally let go of my chest, and he averted his face exhaustedly.


「… When Ai Fa withers away in the forest, I will take your life. Even if I die in my attempt, I will not let this matter rest.」


Finally, Darum Wu turned and left with these words.


I stood in place, unable to move.


Darum Wu left the dark corner, and I felt a slender figure with a plate rushing over… I was probably mistaken. My senses seemed to be failing me.


I could return to the bright and warm world just by advancing a few meters. The orange flame, the noise of the crowd, the heat and vigor of the feast were everywhere.


But, did I have the right to return to that place? I didn’t know.


Am I… just relying on the strong will of Ai Fa?


Ai Fa was an outstanding hunter. She told me often that she wouldn’t throw her life easily and the proper way of the hunter was to live a long life and hunt as much kiba as possible. I believed her, and, in the end, I was relying on her.


I didn’t think Ai Fa would die.


I assumed that fate wouldn’t take Ai Fa away unreasonably.


I didn’t understand anything.


And despite not understanding, I…


「Asuta, how long are you going to stay here?」


I turned back in surprise.


I definitely won’t mistake this voice. With the plaza dyed in reddish-orange color behind her, Ai Fa stood tall in front of me.


「Ai… Ai Fa, what’s the matter?」


「Do you even need to ask? I saw the second son of the Wu clan coming out, but you were still nowhere to be found, so I came to fetch you.」


Ai Fa took large strides towards me with a sulking face.


I backed away unconsciously, but she grabbed my arm.


「Why are you running away? Why do you look so sad? You shouldn’t be affected by whatever nonsense that second son told you.」


Ai Fa glanced up and down at me with angry eyes; she probably wanted to check if I suffered any violence.


「… Did you eavesdrop on us earlier?」


「I’m not Kamyua Yost and won’t do something so shameless. If you say something so rude again, I will make you pay for it.」


「… That’s true. Sorry.」


「What’s wrong? The one you are angry with isn't the second son of the Wu clan but me?」


Ai Fa lowered her head a little and pouted like she usually did.


As there wasn’t anyone else here, she showed her feelings freely. She looked adorable and made my heart ache at the same time too.


「If you are mad at me, I will apologize. Asuta, don’t look so sad.」


「Ehh? You don’t need to apologize…」


「Is that so? When I lost to Dan Lutim, didn’t I vent my anger out at you?」


I didn’t care about such trivial things.


Even though Ai Fa always did that.


「Back then, I couldn’t suppress my frustration. After calming down, I realized that despite the many restrictions of that contest, I still fought on par with Dan Lutim… who was on equal footing with Donda Wu, so it was something to be proud of.」


Ai Fa smiled a little bashfully.


「My father Gill taught me well. I’m now more confident that I’m a qualified hunter. I made you worried, but the contest of might is very meaningful to me.」


「… I see.」


「What’s the matter, aren’t you happy for me?」


Ai Fa frowned again and leaned in close to me suddenly.


「You are acting weird. It’s rare to see you show such a pained gaze. Asuta, I already told you to not hide anything from me.」


「… That might be so, but some things are hard to say.」


Ai Fa seemed peeved by my answer.


She then said: 「Don’t wanna.」


Instead of 「You can’t」, it was 「Don’t wanna」.


The subtle change in her tone was her childish side she would show every now and then.


「I earned my pride as a hunter, and your cooking skills got acknowledged by Donda Wu once again. Your eyes can’t be so sad on this joyous day.」


「Even if you say that…」


「Don’t wanna, don’t wanna.」


Ai Fa clutched my fingers tightly with hers.


「Somehow, I feel that you are so far away. No, not simply far away… I feel as if you are going to disappear.」


Ai Fa walked towards me with an anxious face.


「I already told you. Asuta, I won’t permit you to disappear in front of me.」


「…」


「You are my irreplaceable family. If you are gone… I won’t be able to hold on too.」


I could feel Ai Fa’s breath on my face.


Her sweet fragrance tickled my nasal cavity.


I could feel the warmth from her fingertips.


「… If I made you uncomfortable, I apologize.」


Ai Fa said quietly, relaxed her fingers, and then hugged me from the front.


「Stay by my side forever. I will promise to accompany for the rest of my life too.」


Ai Fa’s arms circled around my back and hugged me tightly, and I felt that I was going to be crushed.


Although I couldn’t hug her back equally hard, my arms still went around her back quietly.


「If you permit it, I want to stay by your side too.」


「What are you saying? I’m the one who wants us to be together forever.」


I realized one thing.


I liked how Ai Fa was right now.


Be it her pride as a hunter, her stubbornness, her childlike fragileness, her kindness hidden behind her acting difficult — I liked everything about Ai Fa.


I didn’t want to lose her.


If possible, I hoped she wouldn’t do anything dangerous.


But what I really wanted… was for Ai Fa to never change.


If Ai Fa could transfer her pride and conviction to a work other than a hunter, I would give her my heartfelt blessing… But since living as a hunter brought Ai Fa the most happiness, I had to support her and protect her instead of refuting her.


That was the only thing that I could promise for now. With that in mind, I finally hugged Ai Fa tightly.


After about 15 seconds, Ai Fa complained: 「It hurts.」


And so, the 27th of the Blue Month, on the 64th day since I arrived in this world, with the thoughts of many people entangled in my fingers, I spent a quiet night.


Mid-Meal Snack: The Melancholy of the Wu Clan’s Eldest Daughter


Vena Wu melancholically watched her kins enjoying themselves at the banquet.


Today was a wedding banquet of the head of the Lilim house taking a woman from the Lei house as his wife, and it was held in the Wu clan plaza. All one hundred-odd kins were here to witness this marriage. Torches were lit all around the plaza, and makeshift stoves were used to grill meat or reheat the soup. The celebration was so heated that it was bordering on madness.


Aside from influential people, a wedding wouldn’t normally be held in the Wu clan plaza with all the kins in attendance. The banquet today was special. Because the Lilim house that wasn’t related to the Wu clan by blood was now a kin of the Wu clan, it was cause for celebration.


To think a minor house like Lilim can become a kin of the Wu clan…


Vena Wu who was in an elegant banquet attire sighed quietly in the night.


Vena Wu just turned 15 a few days ago. Denizens of Forest's Edge could be wed when they were 15. Young people of marriageable age would seek out their spouses during such banquets. And so, Vena Wu hid in an inconspicuous corner of the plaza and looked at the figures of her kins enjoying the party from afar.


I just turned 15, so why are so many people proposing to me…


Vena Wu thought as she looked at the bride and groom clinging to each other on the ceremonial stage.


The head of the Lilim house was a man in his prime who was close to 40. His bride was a 16 years old girl from the Lei house.


The difference in age wasn’t important; the head of the Lilim house was a capable hunter and had to leave his strong bloodline behind. Since he got widowed while he was still young, it was only natural for him to remarry. For powerful hunters, this was part of their noble obligations.


The Lilim house was a surprisingly small house. Including the house head, they only had four members and two young children. Normally, such a minor house couldn’t become a kin of the Wu clan. Vena Wu could understand if they forsook their family name and joined the Wu clan. After all, according to the tradition in Forest's Edge, it was only natural for the weak houses to lose their family name.


Despite that, the Wu clan allowed the Lilim house to join them as a kin house. Amongst the Wu clan’s kins, the Lei house was the third largest, right behind the Wu clan and Lutim house. After obtaining permission from the six house heads led by Donda Wu, the Lilim house took in a Lei house woman in marriage. They became related to the Lei house through marriage and were now the seventh kin house of the Wu clan.


It went without saying that there were heated arguments at the start, but the head of the Lilim house showed great sincerity and prowess as a hunter, and his wish got granted.




Vena Wu heard that the girl from the Lei house also showed her will and determination to the head of the Lei house and Donda Wu. This couple met each other along the road, but they yearned for each other so strongly and won this uphill battle. Just what kind of emotions made them do something so reckless? The young Vena Wu couldn’t imagine.


They could actually fall so deeply for another person… I’m very envious, but on the other hand, it fills me with fear…


The men who proposed to Vena Wu or expressed their wish to marry into the clan for her were as numerous as the stars. As the eldest daughter of the Wu clan main house, Vena Wu couldn’t be wed to someone of dubious standings. She got her hands full dealing with the Wu clan branch houses, the Lei house, the Lutim house and men from other powerful houses. Turning down all these men one at a time annoyed her to no end.


I didn’t even talk much with them, why did they think I’m someone they can spend the rest of their lives with…


Vena Wu couldn’t understand.


She was convinced that these people were only after her looks or her status as the eldest daughter of the Wu clan.


They don’t care what kind of person I am… How can I marry a man like that?


Vena Wu didn’t share her thoughts with them.


Vena Wu who was just 15 understood that very few people in Forest's Edge had the same troubles as her.


There wasn’t any need for a reason to love somebody. After falling in love, you would want to spend the rest of your life with them, share all your joy and suffering, and the urge to raise children would come naturally. There was no need for reasons or words… Vena Wu grew up where such an idea was prominent.


Vena Wu’s parents met few times during banquets and decided to marry. But even so, they still loved each other deeply and had seven children. After twenty years of marriage, their feelings for each other remained unchanged. This was the way that the denizens of Forest's Edge should have.


… How did they manage to do that…


Vena Wu loved her family deeply. To her, her parents, grandmother, great-grandmother, and siblings were all irreplaceable existences. If the heavens were to take any one of them, she would gladly go in their place. She couldn’t bear seeing righteous souls of her family return to the forest, while someone with a twisted personality like her gets to live. That was how deeply Vena Wu loved her ten family members.


A thought arose in her. If she couldn’t love her spouse with the same feelings, there was no point in getting married.


… Everyone has so sincere thoughts; why am I the only one with such twisted thinking…?


Vena Wu sighed as she thought about that. She had lost count of how many times she had sighed today.


At this moment, some noise came from the trees beside her.


Was it the pup of a Gizu? Vena Wu stood up hurriedly.


However, it wasn’t a beast but a man of Forest's Edge wearing a hunter’s cape and a saber by his waist.


Vena Wu sighed in relief, but the man seemed troubled. He looked around him and was more flustered than Vena Wu. He knelt down on one knee as if he was pleading for something.


「Pardon me for surprising you. I didn’t come here with malicious intent.」


Vena Wu didn’t understand what he was saying in the beginning.


However, his words fermented slowly in her mind, and she backed away on reflex.


「You… You are not a kin of the Wu clan…」


「Yes, I’m from the Dai house. My name is Diru Dai, I’m the second son of the main house.」


Vena Wu had never heard of this house before.


No matter what, this man wasn’t a kin of the Wu clan.


「Why is someone from the Dai house intruding into the Wu clan village…? As you can see, we are having a wedding today…」


「Yes, I’m sorry. I heard that the scale of the Wu clan banquets is very big, so I couldn’t suppress my curiosity and came to take a look.」


Diru Dai didn’t look particularly ferocious or brave and seemed a little weak amongst the men of Forest's Edge.


He was tall but wasn’t bulky, and his expression had a hint of gentleness. Diru Dai had brown hair that reached his shoulders and meek-looking brown eyes. Vena Wu was used to the fierce and strong appearance of men in the Wu clan, so Diru Dai seemed unreliable to her.


「Curiosity, huh… But isn’t it against the customs of Forest's Edge to peek at the banquet of a house that isn’t your kin…?」


「I can’t deny that. I have been feeling melancholic recently and lost control.」


Even his words sounded weak. Was he someone from the Post Station Town pretending to be a hunter from Forest's Edge? Vena Wu couldn’t help imagining.


「… Why are you melancholic…?」


She only asked on a whim.


After all, this young man seemed incapable of harming Vena Wu. Besides… compared to her kins who looked so happy, she felt closer to the gloomy young man. She was more suited to being with dreary people today. She couldn’t refute that she harbored such depressing thoughts.


Diru Dai remained on one knee and blinked.


「Right… No, this isn’t something I can tell others…」


「I won’t force you if you don’t want to tell me… But since you surprised me, shouldn’t you tell me about it as compensation…?」


「Alright… I just… fell for someone who has a huge difference in status from me, and it fills me with pain.」


「Is that so…」


Vena Wu was a little disappointed.


「So it’s love troubles, huh… I was hoping for something more interesting…」


「T-That’s rather mean. For me, it’s something that will decide my future.」


「The subject will definitely think that… But to think a man could be troubled over something like this…」


「Of course I will feel troubled. Choosing a spouse is the most important matter in one’s life, correct? It’s the same for both men and women.」


「Really…?」


Vena Wu said disinterestedly and then sat down on the log again.


「It’s my first time seeing a man talking about such things with a woman… You are really weird…」


「You are the one who asked me to tell you.」


Diru Dai said and suddenly raised the corners of his lips.


「You are also weird. Are all women in the Wu clan strong and cold like you?」


「… This has nothing to do with the Wu clan… I’m just me…」


Vena Wu answered a little unhappily, and Diru Dai continued smiling, but his eyes were a little sad.


「I see. But if the denizens of Forest's Edge didn’t place so much emphasis on one’s heritage, I wouldn’t have to be so troubled. I’m proud to be a denizen of Forest's Edge… but I hate the customs of Forest's Edge.」


「You are exaggerating…」


Vena Wu shrugged.


「Just who did you fell for… Is it a kin of the Wu clan…?」


「No, it’s…」


「What are you doing!」


When Diru Dai was about to answer, a stern yell came from the direction of the plaza.


Vena Wu’s older and younger brother, Jiza Wu and Darum Wu came over.


「Who the hell are you? You are not a kin of the Wu clan, correct? Are you from the Tsun clan?」


Darum Wu reached for the blade at his waist as he asked a series of questions. He was just fourteen but was tall and a very capable hunter. After seeing Darum Wu’s burning blue eyes that were just the same as Papa Donda’s, Diru Dai quickly lowered his head.


「No, I’m from the Dai house. I don’t wish to intrude into the Wu clan’s banquet…」


「The Dai house is a minor house situated further to the north, correct?」


Jiza Wu asked calmly this time.


Even though Jiza Wu’s voice and expression were calm and steady, his body was much bulkier than his brother. Jiza Wu who just turned eighteen could already make it into the elite eight in the contest of might.


「No matter what, houses not related to the Wu clan may not participate in the banquet. Hurry up and leave.」


「No, that’s…」


「If you don’t leave, that would be committing the taboo of transpassing the home of another family. I will have to take your toe.」


Diru Dai stood up, his face twisted from sadness, and his head hung low.


「I will leave right now. I apologize for my impudent actions… Farewell.」


「Ah, wait…」


When he heard Vena Wu’s words, the youth glanced at her sadly and disappeared into the night.


「What a suspicious man, I should inform the clan head Donda.」


After saying that, Jiza Wu looked at Vena Wu with his slit-like eyes.


「You should call for us when you see a suspicious character. Why did you chat with him so leisurely?」


「It’s nothing… I only talked with him because I was bored…」


「Vena, you are the only one who thinks this is boring.」


Jiza Wu tilted his thick neck quizzedly.


「It’s almost time for the women to dance and you should get ready too.」


「Don’t wanna… I don’t want to dance…」


「You are already 15; you should dance for everyone so you can find a good spouse.」


Jiza Wu insisted, but Darum Wu spoke up for her:


「It’s fine even if she doesn’t dance. Even if you leave her alone, there will still be plenty of men proposing to her. She doesn’t need to flaunt her beauty; leave the chance to the other girls.」


「Darum, thank you… you are so gentle…」


「Don't treat me like a kid, I’m already a hunter.」


Darum Wu showed a vicious face, but Vena Wu just found that adorable. Even though Darum Wu was already taller than Vena Wu and had stopped addressing her as an elder sister, Vena Wu still thought of Darum Wu as a cute little brother.


「Jiza-nii, you should go back to the plaza…? This is your only chance to speak with Sati Lei, right…?」


Jiza Wu stared at Vena Wu’s face, shrugged his massive shoulders, and returned to the plaza.


Darum Wu watched him go and then leaned against the tree that Vena Wu was sitting under.


「Darum, aren’t you going back…?」


「I’m just 14 and can’t choose my spouse yet. There’s no point in watching the girls dance.」


He said crudely.


He was staying with Vena Wu because he was worried that Diru Dai would come back; that was his personality.


By the way… Just what is with that Diru Dai…


With her precious younger brother accompanying her, Vena Wu lowered her head and pondered.


Vena Wu would find out in the near future.






The next morning, everyone was busy cleaning up after the banquet.


They needed to clean up after the party of over a hundred people, so just dismantling the temporary stone stoves and the ceremonial stage was tedious work. They had to deal with the remnants of the bonfire, clean the pots and plates that were used, and dump the kiba bones into the woods. When they finished all these tasks, the sun was already high in the sky.


「Alright then, let’s start doing our usual chores. We will forage for firewood and herbs; please tan the hides and do the house chores.」


After their mother Mia Lei Wu gave her instructions, she left for the woods with a few others. Kiba would wake from their slumber at noon, so they had to hurry and forage for firewood, Pico leaves and lilo in the morning. Vena Wu and her sisters were left to house sit and finish the tasks assigned by their mother.


「Vena-nee, the bride from the Lei house yesterday was very pretty.」


They laid out the kiba hide in a sunny place, and Leina Wu started speaking.


Leina Wu was twelve years old and Vena Wu’s first younger sister. Leina Wu possessed black hair, which was rare in the Wu clan, tied up into twin tails and had an innocent smile.


「The next ones to be wedded should be Jiza-nii and Sati Lei, right? Everyone will have to come to the Wu clan and celebrate again.」


「Yes, that’s true…」


「I’m looking forward to it. Vena-nee, when are you getting married?」


Seeing her sister’s expectant eyes, Vena Wu responded with a heavy gaze.


「I’m just 15… I don’t want to have a spouse so soon…」


「Ehh? But everyone wants to marry you! Did you turn them all down?」


「… As the eldest daughter of the Wu clan main house, I can’t choose a partner so thoughtlessly…」


Vena Wu made an offhand excuse, and Leina Wu nodded.


「I see〜,  but I’m looking forward to your wedding! You are already beautiful, so you will be more mesmerizing than any other women on the day of your wedding.」


「… I hope so…」


It was cruel to ask the twelve-year-old Leina Wu to understand how she felt. Vena Wu suppressed her sigh and then hung the hide of the kiba on the rope tied between two trees.


At this moment, there were shouting sounds from the food store behind them.


The commotion originated from their younger siblings, Ludo Wu and Lala Wu.


「What’s all this racket…? You have to do your work properly…」


「Ludo threw Pico leaves at me! They got into my nose!」


「Hmmp! You are so short yourself, and you still call me a shorty; it’s your fault!」


Ludo Wu was ten, and Lala Wu was eight. They were at an mischievous age, but children five years and older had to complete the tasks entrusted to them.


「Mama Mia Lei will scold you if you waste Pico leaves…」


「Vena-nee is so noisy… Where did Rimee go?」


「She went on a stroll with Grandma Jiba just now… Lala, are you alright…?」


「Yes.」


Lala Wu rubbed her nose with teary eyes. One could easily sympathize with her appearance, but Ludo wouldn’t bully his sister without reason. Lala Wu must have acted first, which led to Ludo’s retaliation.


「Really now. I want to be a hunter soon, I can’t wait three years!」


「If you really think so, work hard and build up your strength… Your body is still so small, you can’t work as a hunter yet…」


「Vena, even you are saying I’m too small! Just because your butt has gotten bigger~.」


Ludo Wu’s smacked Vena Wu’s ass with his small palm.


Vena Wu turned red and cried: 「Stop that!」, but Ludo Wu had already scurried off.


「Ludo is being such a bother… I have to get Papa Donda to lecture him…」


「That’s right.」


Although she said that, Leina Wu was all smiles.


「Vena-nee, you will become a great wife after all.」


「Huh…? What do you mean…?」


「It’s probably because you have many younger siblings, so even though you are just 15, you look no different from a mother!」


「… But you are better than me at grilling meat and cooking soup…」


The last night’s wedding probably filled Leina Wu’s mind with weddings and marriage. Vena Wu was the same, but their feelings were worlds apart. That made Vena Wu’s mood even heavier.


「Alright, that’s it with the hide… I will go chop some wood. Leina, can you go sun the Pico leaves with Lala…? If there are any signs of rain, remember to shift the hide and Pico leaves under the shade…」


「Yes, got it!」


And so, Vena Wu managed to get away from her beloved sister. She took out a machete and wood and then headed to the side of the house by herself.


Jiza-nii is 18, Sati Lei is 16… when I get older, everyone will rush me to marry…


Fortunately, her mother who was in charge of all the women— Mia Lei Wu wasn’t rushing her to wed. Mia Lei Wu thought that Vena Wu just had to wait patiently for her fated partner to appear.


One day, even Mama Mia Lei will lose her patience… Can I really meet someone I will want to marry…?


Vena Wu swung her machete while harboring such thoughts.


The wood got split and rolled off the chopping block.


She worked quietly, and when she was halfway done, she felt someone approaching her.


She turned her head back and held her breath in surprise. Diru Dai had appeared before her once again.


「Sorry for disturbing your work, may I have a word with you?」


「You… What are you doing here…?」


「I didn’t intrude in today. I told someone that I was looking for you, and they permitted me to enter the village.」


Diru Dai smiled gently.


Now that she was seeing him in the day, Vena Wu found him to be gentler than the other men from the Forest's Edge and a little unreliable.


「You are looking for me… But you don’t even know my name…?」


「Yes, I just said I was looking for a beautiful lady with light-colored eyes and hair who is around 15, and they assumed I am looking for Vena Wu from the main house… So you are Vena Wu.」


Diru Dai stopped a few steps away and didn’t go any closer to Vena Wu.


It was impossible for him to do anything nefarious in the middle of the Wu clan village. The powerful hunters were resting at home in preparation for their hunt at noon. Moreover, Diru Dai seemed weaker than the youngest hunter in the Wu clan.


「… What business do you have with me…?」


「I want to apologize to you for rudeness yesterday. After I told the women from the branch house that, they brought me over unhesitantly.」


「… I think you should leave before Papa Donda and the rest wake up, you know…?」


「Yes, I don’t plan to stay for long; I still need to perform my duties as a hunter.」


Diru Dai said and stayed where he was.


Vena Wu sighed and waved the machete in her right hand a little.


「You already apologized yesterday… Is there anything else…?」


「No… It’s nothing important…」


Diru Dai narrowed his eyes and smiled sadly.


「… Vena Wu, you are beautiful.」


「… What…?」


「This was on my mind since last night. I have never seen a woman more beautiful than you.」


「… Didn’t you mention last night that you are in love with a woman? And she isn’t from the Wu clan…?」


「Yes. But your beauty mesmerized me… However, it is ironic that you are the eldest daughter of the Wu clan.」


Diru Dai shook his head slowly.


「I came to see you because I wanted to give up on that impossible love. But to think that you have such a high status… It’s really ironic. Seems like I’m fated to fall for women out of my league.」


「That has nothing to do with me…」


Vena Wu pulled back her long fringe and stared at him.


「You were madly in love with another woman, and you are saying this to me even though we just met… Are your feelings so cheap…?」


「That’s not true… I have been tormented by a love that won’t bear fruit, so I wanted to rely on you. But it is probably the will of the forest that I experienced such pain once again.」


「You actually think your own shallowness is the will of the forest; isn’t that too cocky…?」


After saying that, Vena Wu felt a little puzzled.


「Diru Dai… you are really a queer man… You are like a man from the city pretending to be a denizen of Forest's Edge…」


「That’s right, my family often tells me that. I probably turned out this way because I like going to the Post Station Town.」


「… Do you like the Genos city…?」


What a surprising statement.


Diru Dai smiled gently and nodded.


「That’s right. Even if you ask me, I’m not sure how to answer either. But the people in the city are very free, right? Especially the travelers from Semu and Jaguar, they can just come and go as they please. How do they feel about living such a life? I have always been curious about that.」


「…」


「The denizens of Forest's Edge spend their entire lives in the edge of the Morga Forest and would only visit the city occasionally to procure aria and poitan. We never met the people outside. I can’t tell anyone else about this… but such a lifestyle seems too constrictive.」


「Yes… I think so too…」


Vena Wu felt her heart start to race.


That was the thought that Vena Wu hid deep in her heart and had never confessed to her family.


「The people in the Forest's Edge settlement only see me as the eldest daughter of the Wu clan… The people in the Genos Post Station Town only think of me as a barbaric denizen of Forest's Edge… Will the people far away from Genos treat me like a normal girl…?」


「Yes, you are right.」


Diru Dai narrowed his eyes slightly.


Vena Wu’s heart raced even faster.


「In that case, you… can just leave the Forest's Edge settlement, right…? Then you won’t need to give up on your feelings…」


「Ehh?」


Diru Dai opened his eyes wide.


Vena Wu leaned closer unconsciously.


「I don’t know who is the object of your love… But if you leave the forest, you won’t have to worry about the scale of the houses… You will have to abandon your hometown, but your love will blossom, and you can live a blissful life…」


Diru Dai’s face turned pale, and he backed off a few steps.


He then held his right fist to his forehead and lowered his head.


「Oh forest, please forgive this confused denizen… Vena Wu, even if it’s just a joke, you can’t talk about leaving the forest.」


「…」


「The forest bestows us with our souls, and our spirit will return to the woods in the future. This law is absolute, and no matter what doubts you may have, you cannot violate this rule.」


「I see…」


Vena Wu felt her heart cooling down quickly.


「I’m saying this for your own good… It seems you would rather give up on your heart’s desire instead of abandoning the forest…」


「Just harboring such thoughts is desecrating the forest. Besides, there is no way she would agree to this.」


「In that case, you should find a partner that suits you…」


Vena Wu had lost interest in this young man.


Diru Dai was probably showing a sour face. She turned her back towards him, picked up a piece of wood, and set it on the chopping block.


「Alright then, I still have matters to attend to, could you leave…? You have to hunt too, right…?」


「I see… Then, may I ask one last thing?」


Diru Dai went around to Vena Wu’s side with a smile again.


「I heard that the Lilim house became one of the Wu clan’s kin houses. Even though the Dai house isn’t big, we have more members than the Lilim house and are more powerful. In that case, could the Dai house be part of the Wu clan’s kin…」


「The head of the Lilim house defeated the head of the Lei house in a contest of might, you know…? Even though he couldn’t defeat Papa Donda and the head of the Lutim house, they still acknowledge his prowess as a hunter… Can you do that…?」


Vena Wu looked at Diru Dai with a sideways glance.


「You can be delusional if you want… But I have no intention of marrying a weak man like you, please don’t forget that…」


Diru Dai smiled sadly.


Was a person who could smile in such a situation strong or weak? Vena Wu neither knew nor wanted to know.


「… Sorry for disturbing your work. I will be going now.」


Vena Wu didn’t answer and continued chopping wood with her machete.


With Diru Dai gone, Vena Wu was left alone.


He is just a normal Forest's Edge denizen…


Diru Dai’s reaction wasn’t strange at all.


So Vena Wu was the only one with such thoughts after all.


Was living her entire life in the Forest's Edge settlement the right thing to do? No other denizen of Forest's Edge worried about that.


I did something stupid…


She told what she was concealing from her family to someone she met last night. Doing that so thoughtlessly made her emotions even heavier.


Vena Wu didn’t want to abandon her hometown. Just the thought of leaving her beloved family broke her heart.


However, she couldn’t forsake this dream of hers either.


If she really left Forest's Edge, would she be able to live without any regrets? Would she stop troubling over how out of place she was and live on freely?


… It’s impossible for me to leave this place…


Vena Wu swung her machete down with all her might.


The wood seemed to be rotten in the middle and broke into pieces.






A few days later, when Vena Wu had finally banished the existence of Diru Dai from her mind, those people appeared.


It was noon, and the men had entered the woods while the women were taking a short break before embarking on their next chores. Vena Wu was strolling by herself in the village when those people blocked her path arrogantly.


「Ohh… Are you the eldest daughter of the Wu clan?」


One of them was a girl with an ominous aura about her.


The girl was about Vena Wu’s age. Her dark brown hair that had been braided into dreads hung over her shoulders. There was an icy light in her dark eyes, and, despite her beautiful appearance, she felt as dangerous as a snake.


The other person was a gray-haired old man. He had a well-toned body that befitted a hunter, but his eyes were as murky as a dead man. In another sense, the air around him was as dangerous as that girl.


「Who are you…? I have never seen you around here before…?」


「I’m the eldest daughter of the Tsun clan, Yamiel Tsun. This is Tay Tsun from the branch house.」


When Vena Wu heard her answer, she stood stiffly on the spot.


The Tsun clan was the tribal chief clan of the Forest's Edge. They had been on bad terms with the Wu clan since times of old. People had been saying for a long time now that the Tsun and the Wu clan would clash in a battle to extinction sooner or later.


「Why are the people from the Tsun clan loitering here…? Your village is in the northern end of the settlement, correct…?」


「Yes, I’m troubled by this too.」


The woman who called herself Yamiel Tsun raised the corners of her lips slightly.


「However, it’s fortunate that I met you. This might be the guidance of the forest.」


「… What business do you have with me…?」


Vena Wu pretended to be calm, but she was very shaken inside.


All the Wu clan men were in the forest; even if she ran home, there were only women in her village. The man before her might look lifeless, but a woman couldn’t match him.


Forest's Edge did not permit anyone to harm others without any reason. However, when Vena Wu was born, people from the Tsun clan abducted a woman from the Mufa house who was going to marry into the Wu clan and murdered her. There wasn’t any clear-cut evidence, but since that incident, the two clans became sworn enemies. If the two of them killed Vena Wu, the Wu clan would demand the Tsun clan to pay back in blood.


「It’s not a big matter. Do you know Diru Dai?」


「… Diru Dai…?」


「Yes, Diru Dai. He is a troubling man. He hails from a minor house, but wishes to woo me.」


Did this venomous snake-like women win Diru Dai over? Vena Wu was shocked.


「That man accompanied his house head to the house head conference and fell for me at the first sight when he visited the Tsun clan village. To fall for the eldest daughter of the Tsun clan main house, what is he thinking?」


「… What’s so strange about that…? Just let him marry into the Tsun clan, and the matters would be solved…」


「How can a minor house Dai become a kin of the Tsun clan? Their members are few, and they are located far away; it’s impossible for us to acknowledge them… Besides, the Dai house is close to the Wu clan village, who knows when they would betray us.」


Yamiel Tsun smiled viciously at this point.


「I won’t accept his marriage proposal. Even if everyone agrees, the former clan head of the Tsun clan won’t give his approval.」


「… The former head of the Tsun clan…?」


「Anyway, because of the troubles Diru Dai caused me, I advised him to not come near the Tsun clan ever again… But then, I heard him mention your name.」


That man actually mentioned Vena Wu’s name to this woman.


Vena Wu felt annoyed from the bottom of her heart.


「I’m glad that man fell for another girl… but will you marry him? It’s unlikely for the eldest daughter of the Wu clan main house to marry into a minor house like the Dai house, right?」


「I won’t marry over or take him into the clan… I have no plans of making that man my spouse…」


「Really?」


Yamiel Tsun narrowed her eyes.


Her eyes were like those of a venomous snake who had her sight on her prey.


「You don’t have to be concerned about me. I came all this way to break off all ties with that man.」


「I’m not being concerned about you…」


Did this matter make Yamiel Tsun feel ill will towards Vena Wu?


Yamiel Tsun was troubled by a man who kept wooing her, and when she made the effort to warn him against making any more advances, she realized that man had already fallen for another girl. It was hard for Vena Wu to imagine, but if Yamiel Tsun was a prideful person, she might be infuriated by this.


「… I see. If that is the truth, you made a wise choice. If you marry that man who is all talk, you will end up in misfortune.」


「…」


「You don’t need to worry about that man anymore. Diru Dai will be wed to a woman from the Dai branch house.」


「Huh…? How sudden…」


「That’s right. It was decided just now.」


Yamiel Tsun giggled.


「I ordered him to do so. He has a frivolous nature and might appear before us again one day. Do stop him from doing so; I requested for him to get married to a woman from their branch house.」


While Vena Wu was still stunned, Yamiel Tsun walked towards her.


Yamiel Tsun’s glossy red lips breathed out warmly and said venomously:


「Think about it; that man proposed to both the Tsun clan and the Wu clan at the same time. No matter what his intentions were, if we permit his frivolous actions, the Tsun and Wu clan might shed blood in a Clash of Clans. I’m doing this to stop this possibility at the roots.」


「… You are forcing him to marry for something like this…?」


「Ahh, a war between the Tsun and the Wu clans is a serious matter though? If that really happens, the Forest's Edge settlement would be destroyed.」


They were so close that their cheeks were almost touching. Yamiel Tsun showed a venomous snake-like smile.


「I had to do this for the sake of saving Forest's Edge. It would be retarded for that man to cause the destruction of Forest's Edge.」


「… You are a really scary woman…」


Yamiel Tsun was still smiling viciously as she moved away from Vena Wu.


「Anyway, this matter is resolved. If you still yearn for that man, it’s regrettable, but I suggest you find a better partner.」


And so, Yamiel Tsun and the strange follower named Tay Tsun turned and left.


Vena Wu returned to the Wu clan village and sighed heavily.


Could it be… that girl named Yamiel Tsun wants to escape from the Forest's Edge settlement too…?


Both she and Vena Wu held expectations for Diru Dai but were betrayed… Vena Wu couldn’t help thinking that way. If not for that, Vena Wu didn’t think she would treat Diru Dai so cruelly.


Never mind, compared to Yamiel Tsun and me, he will have a happier life with another woman…


Vena Wu had no intentions of belittling herself, but she couldn’t help feeling that way.


At the very least, she did harbor thoughts that went against the rules of Forest's Edge. She didn’t have the courage to realize this thought, but just having this thinking was enough to make her an infidel and betrayer.


It would be best for Diru Dai to marry a woman without such thoughts and live a peaceful and happy life. According to Vena Wu’s observation, a weak person like him couldn’t become the spouse of Yamiel Tsun or herself. It had nothing to do with their difference in status; he just lacked the capacity to match them. That was why Yamiel Tsun turned down his proposal.


That’s right… Yamiel Tsun and I are too strange… It is Diru Dai’s misfortune to fall for women like us…


Diru Dai will live on properly as a denizen of Forest's Edge in the future. Although seeing him spend the rest of his life with a partner he had no feelings for made Vena Wu sympathetic, but he could finally be released from the vicious cycle. What he gained would definitely be more than what he lost.


What kind of fate awaits me…? As a denizen of Forest's Edge, can I accompany my precious family properly until the very end…?


Vena Wu was young and couldn’t imagine that at all.


She would meet Asuta and Shumimaru five years later… and she would spend even longer time to decide her feelings.


With no idea what kind of the future awaited, Vena Wu hurried home to her precious family.


Volume 8 End

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