Interlude: Their Morning Together
I opened my eyes, and Ai Fa’s sleeping face appeared before me.
We were so close that my heart almost stopped.
Her pink lips were slightly open, making rhythmic breathing sounds. Her blonde eyelashes were long, and her similarly colored hair covered her forehead and cheeks like a decoration.
Ai Fa’s slumbering face was peaceful, as if her pained expression last night was just a dream.
Her sleeping face made her look more childish than her actual age, as unguarded as a baby, pure and innocent. But her face was just a few centimeters from my nose, that was too close.
Ai Fa rested her head on my left shoulder and was sound asleep.
An indescribable feeling of happiness welled in my heart, yet, I felt confused at the same time.
Ai Fa’s body leaned to the right as she slept on her side.
She was asleep while leaning on me.
When I realized that, my left half of the body sticking close to Ai Fa rapidly heated up.
My left arm was a bit numb, probably due to poor blood circulation.
… I had to calm down first.
My heart was thumping, but I still needed to deal with this situation calmly.
I searched my memory in a hurry to find out how I fell asleep last night.
Yesterday, Ai Fa suffered a serious injury during her hunt. Her left elbow dislocated.
She slept until dinner.
I fed her dinner myself.
The fever medicine had probably taken effect, so Ai Fa was drowsy the entire time. If I let her eat herself, she would probably drop the utensils onto the floor.
Besides, we don’t have a dining table in our house, and she couldn’t eat with one hand. I spent half an hour feeding her soup, hamburg steak, and grilled poitan slowly.
After dinner, Ai Fa leaned against the wall in a daze and didn’t move. Her fever had subsided, and her dislocated elbow didn’t seem to hurt too badly, but she still sat there without moving.
Lome leaves might have sedative effects. Ai Fa back then wasn’t tense like she usually was, and looked pure, innocent and frail.
Seeing Ai Fa not acting like herself breaks my heart, but I still had to prepare the food for tomorrow. I started cooking the tarapa sauce and cut 90 portions of kiba meat needed for the 『Myam-roasted meat』.
As I did my preparations, Ai Fa was silent and dozed in and out of sleep.
When I was finished, Ai Fa was in a daze again because of her fever.
I fed her some fever medicine, but Ai Fa seemed to still be in pain. I kept wiping Ai Fa’s face with a wet piece of cloth, but that would only bring her a moment of relief.
「Enough… Sit by my side…」
I answered confusedly, and Ai Fa leaned her entire body on my shoulder.
Her body was very feverish, and her forehead was blazingly hot.
「This is enough… When my fever subsides, I will recover my strength…」
Ai Fa’s body shivered a little.
Her forehead and body were hot, but the fingers on her right hand grabbing my chest were as cold as ice.
I held her icy fingers tightly, and Ai Fa’s eyes that were moist because of her fever stared at me.
「… I want to be like this, will it make you unhappy?」
「Not at all, don’t worry about me for now.」
Until the candle burned out, I kept staring at Ai Fa’s pained profile.
The candle burned out, yet, I could see her due to the light of the moon.
When her face turned peaceful again, I could hear her steady breathing.
That’s great— I remembered being relieved, and didn’t have any further memories after this.
Which meant, I fell asleep.
The sunlight shone through the window.
I observed the brightness in the room and noted that we didn’t oversleep.
On a closer look, Ai Fa was right next to the wall in our house. We fell asleep leaning against the wall and probably slid down onto the floor. I hoped my body had cushioned her and protected her left arm from any harm.
I would gladly cushion her fall, but our positions were really awkward right now.
But I was afraid of aggravating her wounds if I moved, so I had to wake Ai Fa.
「Ai Fa, it’s morning… Can you get up?」
Ai Fa grunted angrily.
Speaking of which, it was rare for me to get up earlier than Ai Fa.
Furthermore, Ai Fa opened her eyes immediately when I called out to her.
That was why I felt so flustered. Her childish and pouting face was so cute that it was a crime.
「Get up first, then sleep later. I can’t move like this.」
「… You are noisy…」
Ai Fa complained softly, then rubbed her head against me.
Sigh, how did things turn out like this? After finally calming down, my brain was in a mess again.
「I’m the house head… you can’t speak in such an arrogant tone…」
She was still half-asleep.
The sight of Ai Fa who was in a daze due to sleepiness was rare, like Darum Wu’s smile.
But I couldn’t keep admiring her cute face.
「Dear house head, it’s time for morning ch.o.r.es. I need to clean up dinner from last night, so can you please get up for a while?」
Ai Fa made a cute sound again and opened her eyes.
Her unfocused blue eyes looked at me from a close distance.
「…Asuta, it’s you…」
「Yes, it’s your family member Asuta.」
「…Hmm… It’s Asuta…」
Ai Fa needlessly repeated herself, then smiled sweetly.
The prim and proper Ai Fa was actually smiling so sweetly.
Ai Fa showed a pure and innocent smile unlike her usual smile, then slowly closed her eyes.
「… So it’s Asuta…」
「N-No, that’s not it! It’s morning! It’s already morning, house head!」
She finally opened her eyes wide when she heard me saying that.
After sighing in relief, Ai Fa’s looked at me quizzingly with her bright eyes.
「…Asuta, why are you sticking so close to me?」
「N-No matter how I look at it, aren’t you the one sticking close to me…? Last night, we accidentally leaned on each other and fell asleep.」
「… I see, I don’t remember.」
Ai Fa closed her eyes quickly.
「Thanks to you, my fever is down… Phew…」
She then let out a cute snore.
「Don’t sleep anymore! Work! We still have work to do!」
Seeing that Ai Fa wasn’t in pain anymore, I felt relieved and couldn’t help yelling.
Ai Fa opened her eyes for the third time and looked at me unhappily.
「… It’s morning.」
「Of course. The house is already so bright.」
「That’s true. Lome leaves disrupted my sleep cycle. I want to rest a bit more.」
While she was saying that, Ai Fa rubbed her head on my chest again.
She then ignored the dumbfounded me and sat up suddenly.
「But I can’t let myself sleep anymore. Asuta, sorry for troubling you.」
「Not at all… I’m glad that you feel better now.」
These few minutes were the most difficult of them all. I complained in my heart and got up slowly.
Ai Fa sat cross-legged on the bed and stretched her right arm.
「My fever is gone, and my wound doesn’t hurt that much. I can start doing the morning ch.o.r.es now.」
「Ehh? Go and rest, I will wash the things.」
「What are you saying? What will you do if the Tsun clan people go there?」
「They are not that senseless, and won’t attack us so early in the morning! In a way, this is the most prominent time… More importantly, you are hurt now and can’t protect yourself, right?」
「Hmm? Only my left arm can’t move, you think I will lose to them!」
Ai Fa pouted unhappily.
「As long as my right arm can move, I will be fine even if all three Tsun clan brothers were to attack me… In case of the eldest son of the Wu clan I would have to run.」
The denizens of the Forest’s Edge could determine their opponent’s strength accurately.
Speaking of which— if Ai Fa didn’t dislocate her left arm, she had the confidence of defeating Jiza Wu?
What Ludo Wu said flashed across my mind. He said that only Donda Wu could defeat Kamyua Yost.
「… You can’t wash anything with your hands anyway. If I run into danger, I will sprint home, so you just need to have a good rest.」
「Hmm… never mind, I don’t want to walk around the village like this. I will leave the ch.o.r.es involving the water source to you.」
Ai Fa said with a hint of unhappiness on her face.
「Well then, I will take care of the ch.o.r.es at home then. Be careful, alright?」
「Okay. But shouldn’t you rest? It will be bad if you get a fever again.」
「I already said that I’m fine. My bones don’t hurt anymore, and my limbs are filled with strength. I need to move my body as usual to heal myself faster.」
She looked at me solemnly.
「Besides, I can feel that last night’s dinner has become a part of my flesh and blood. Compared to my injury last year, my fever subsided faster this time. It’s all thanks to you, Asuta.」
「… I’m glad to hear that.」
I finally started smiling.
Ai Fa’s eyes were smiling too.
「Asuta, let’s get to work.」
Naturally, I wasn’t assaulted by the Tsun clan during my trip to the water source.
Unless under the infuence of alcohol, the Tsun clan didn’t dare to make any trouble in public. So there was no need to be so tense in the morning.
However, I did run into Mida Tsun and Tay Tsun in the Post Station Town last time.
They probably wouldn’t create havoc by acting drunk.
But they had a creepy air about them, which made it hard to predict how they would act.
Even if the head of the Tsun clan ordered them to not stir up trouble, was Mida Tsun smart enough to understand his clan head’s orders? Tay Tsun, on the other hand, was hard to understand. Hence, we could only be on guard for 24 hours a day.
「Hmm? Why are you dressed like that?」
When I returned home after cleaning the utensils , Ai Fa had already changed into her hunting attire.
She didn’t just wear her cape, she was fully armed with the sabre on her waist.
「Do you even need to ask? I already finished the house ch.o.r.es and am going to forage for firewood and pico leaves.」
「No, your injury is recent, so you should rest for today. Going into the forest while you are injured will be too hard on you.」
I placed the pot I just washed onto the stove, scooped two ladles of water into the pot and started burning wood. Before heading into the edge of the woods, I had to cook the poitan.
I then hung the freshly washed clothes on the wall. My only t-shirt and the white towel were all worn out.
Ai Fa stood majestically in the center of the room, her eyes tracking me as I walked around the house. She said unhappily:
「Don’t worry about my injury. Resting will just increase the load for tomorrow’s work. Anyway, after we started running a business in the Post Station Town, the pico leaves are spoiling even faster, right?」
Of course, I noticed that.
Pico leaves were a type of spice and could absorb the moisture within the meat and had the effect of a preservative. I buried the meat patty and meat slices into pico leaves one day earlier, and the larger surface area of the processed meat resulted in the pico leaves absorbing even more moisture.
「We might need to change all the pico leaves in less than a month. In that case, we need to forage as much pico leaves as we can.」
「Hmm〜 That’s true…」
「And I sweated a lot yesterday. I want to bath, it feels really uncomfortable.」
Ai Fa said while scowling her nose.
「The cape will conceal my injured arm, so don’t worry.」
Even if she said that, I still felt troubled. When she saw my face, Ai Fa’s expression changed.
「Asuta, I know you are worried. But you don’t really need to be concerned. I’m just following what my body is telling me… You have to trust my judgment.」
「… I know.」
Ai Fa’s gaze was strong and unwavering, filled with strength and reliability.
Ai Fa was proud of herself as a hunter and wouldn’t be stubborn and push herself, which would delay her recovery.
I had to believe in her.
After drying the poitan for the stall and for dinner, we picked up the sack to hold firewood and pico leaves and headed for the edge of the woods.
It was the usual morning scene.
However, Ai Fa adjusted the opening of the cape slightly to conceal the left half of her body. She tied her blonde hair loosely to the side. Ai Fa usually bundled her hair above her neck into a complicated pattern, but her hairstyle today was not much different from Vena Wu.
「Ai Fa, your hairstyle is really refreshing today. It’s hard to tie your hair into your usual complicated pattern with just one hand, right?」
「Yes, that is tough.」
「It’s nice to change your hairdo every now and then; it suits you.」
Anything looked good on a beautiful girl. I added in my heart.
Ai Fa snorted disinterestedly as we walked along the dirt path.
「Long hair is a hassle, I always wanted to cut it. I really hope that denizens of Forest's Edge will abolish the rule about hair.」
According to the rules of Forest's Edge, women can’t cut their hair before marriage.
In the future, will Ai Fa’s beautiful long hair be trimmed short?
We reached the Lante river as we chatted.
This was a slow-flowing river at the edge of the woods. The river bank was covered in rocks; the greenery was dense upstream, and loads of pico leaves could be found there.
Going by our usual habits, the members of the Fa house were supposed to bath in the stream before picking the pico leaves.
「Will you really be fine? Don’t get washed away by the water, okay?」
With those words, Ai Fa handed me her necklace and cape for safekeeping.
As I held the cape, Ai Fa took out a cloth for wiping her body from inside the cape and a change of clothes that had swirly patterns.
「Oh right, you didn’t go to the water source today.」
Ai Fa usually changed her clothes early in the morning and washed them at the water source.
「Can you do your laundry with one hand…? Never mind, you can’t let me help either.」
「… If you already know, then don’t say it out loud.」
After glaring at me with squinted eyes, Ai Fa went around to the cover of the boulder. This was the usual scene too.
I had lived in Ai Fa’s abode for almost 40 days. During my first morning in the Fa house we were attacked by a madarama snake and a kiba consecutively.
After that, we didn’t encounter such a crisis again. Even now, I still prayed that God wouldn’t let us meet with such a disaster in the morning when Ai Fa was injured.
While I was leaning against the boulder and keeping an eye on the woods, Ai Fa called out to me from the stream.
「What is it?」
「… You have lived in the Fa house for over a month now.」
So Ai Fa was thinking about the same thing. This made me a little happy.
「That’s right, 40 days passed in a blink of an eye— but I also think that a lot happened in these 40 days.」
「Yes… Today is the second day of the blue month.」
It was rare for Ai Fa to mention the date.
In order to grasp the migration cycle of the kiba, Ai Fa knew the dates very well. However, everyday life wouldn’t be an inconvenience even if one didn’t know the calendar, so I was clueless about it.
「Is that so. Then Kamyua will be heading to the eastern kingdom in another 13 days… And are there any events in the blue month?」
「No, nothing important.」
「Is your birthday coming soon?」
「My birthday is in the red month.」
When the h.e.l.l is the red month?
At this moment, I realized I even lost my birthday.
If I was to count backward, I could calculate when my next birthday would be. But in this world, the solar calendar was not of much use. According to the calendar in this world, there was an additional 13th month every third year. So there wasn’t much meaning in calculating my birthday.
No matter what, in my original world, I was just a second-year high schooler that was just 17. It had only been half a month since my birthday when I ran into that disaster.
In that case, could I treat the day I appeared in this world as my second birthday?
Will I still be here in a year or two?
Or will I be pulled back into the scene of the fire, and let fate run its original course?
Or maybe I will be transported to another world— no, please, just no.
If that happened, I would lose everything I had. I was weak mentally, and wouldn’t be able to bear such an experience.
While I was lost in these thoughts, Ai Fa called me again:
「Asuta, come over here.」
「Ehh? Are you done bathing?」
「Are you clothed?」
「… Just what are you thinking?」
There was anger simmering in Ai Fa’s voice. I quickly moved behind the boulder.
Ai Fa sat there cross-legged and glared at me with a slightly ferocious face.
And of course, she was already wearing her clothes, and even her left arm had been bandaged. Her head was tilted slightly to the right, and her long wet hair flowed to the ground.
「It’s hard for me to dry my hair with one hand.」
Ai Fa handed me a cloth angrily.
I knelt on one knee in the rocky ground and tried to carry out my mistress’ request. If performing such a trivial task could help Ai Fa, I was glad to do so.
「… Long hair is such a bother.」
Ai Fa complained as she scowled her mouth.
「Don’t say that, you have really nice long hair.」
「Hmmp, my hair reflects the light and gets in the way of my hunt. If I had black hair like my father Gill—」
Ai Fa stopped a little unnaturally.
「What’s the matter?」
When I asked that, she lowered her eyelids and said:「It’s nothing.」
「I suddenly remembered that a long time ago, I also mentioned this to Grandma Jiba and Rimee Wu.」
Speaking of which, I felt that I had grown apart from Grandma Jiba and Rimee Wu. Our lives were getting on track now, but I still missed the time we spent in the Wu village.
「…Oh right. Ai Fa, you can’t hunt like this, right?」
「Of course. I need to recuperate between ten days to half a month.」
「During this time, do you want to stay in the Wu clan village during the day?」I suggested while drying her hair.
Ai Fa looked up at me in surprise.
「But why? I have no reason to do that.」
「You can only rest if you stay at home, right…? Besides, we need to be wary of the Tsun clan.」
「The Tsun clan don’t know that I’m hurt.」
「Even if they don’t know, they might still come and pick on us?」
「If that happens, they will suffer my fury. I can’t hold back now, so those Tsun clan r.e.t.a.r.ds will be in danger instead.」
「Asuta, we are not the kins of the Wu clan, we shouldn’t rely on them.」
Ai Fa’s stern eyes looked straight at me through her wet fringe.
「We are merely paying an adequate amount of copper plates in exchange for the help of the Wu clan’s women. We don’t have any special relationship with the Wu clan.」
「But Rimee Wu and Grandma Jiba are both special to you. I think this is a good chance for you to chat with them.」
Ai Fa’s eyes turned gentle.
She poked my chest gently.
「Thanks to you, I renewed my bonds with Rimee Wu and Grandma Jiba. I have no other wish other than that… even without any dialogue, my heart is still bonded tightly with them.」
「Leaving my relationship with them aside for now, I don’t think I should rely on the Wu clan. I have turned down their marriage proposal before. Besides, when a member of the Wu clan suggested that you should join another house, I also rejected them.」
I see. I kept quiet.
But even so, I still thought the Fa house should work hard on building a normal relationship with the Wu clan. However, Leina Wu thought that it was dangerous for me to stay in the Fa house. If we were to go to the Wu clan because of Ai Fa’s injury, it would be a slap in her face.
「I understand. Let’s ignore what I just said, I didn’t think it through properly.」
「Your thinking is always too shallow.」
「You never think things through, right?」
「Hey! The truth hurts, you know?」
「I’m just kidding, don’t be mad.」
Ai Fa said nonchalantly.
She poked my chest gently again.
「You are always saying things I don’t understand, but I don’t always feel unhappy about it. If it makes me uncomfortable, I will just beat you up. So don’t hold back and say whatever you want in the future.」
「… I don’t want to get beaten up, so I will talk less.」
I answered without much thought, and Ai Fa answered sternly:
「You can’t, you have to tell me how you feel and what you are thinking, don’t hide anything.」
「… Will you also do the same?」
When she heard my answer, Ai Fa pouted a little and replied:「… I’m doing my best.」
I felt a fluttering in my chest, and I patted Ai Fa’s head.
「Alright, your hair is almost dry.」
Ai Fa nimbly manipulated a string with her mouth and right hand and tied up her long hair again.
「… Right now, the most troubling person isn’t the eldest, nor the second son of the Tsun clan, but the youngest. In that case, your situation is more precarious than mine.」
「That’s right. I’m very cautious every day.」
「Since I can only rest and recover, it makes no difference whether I’m home or in the city, right? If we can see each other, we will both be more at ease.」
Ai Fa stared at me closely.
「I won’t get the way of your work, and I can help carry some luggage too. If I feel sleepy, I can rest adequately… It won’t inconvenience you, right?」
「Not at all. I will feel more at ease if you are with me.」
I said sincerely.
The Post Station Town wasn’t safe, but compared to leaving Ai Fa home alone, I would be able to rest easier if she was with me
We never imagined that this day would not end normally.
Our business in the Post Station Town was going smoothly, and we had no idea that starting from today we will have to stay in the Wu clan village.
Staying in the Wu clan had nothing to do with Ai Fa’s injuries. While we were operating our stall in the Post Station Town, the appearance of a certain person threw our plans awry.
A member of the Tsun clan we had never seen before was finally targeting Ai Fa and me.
Chapter 3: Sixth and Seventh Day - The Immoral Messenger
Business was going smoothly.
This was the sixth day of business, and a large crowd of southerners and easterners were still gathered in front of my stall today and purchased a large number of my food. I prepared 150 portions today. What will be the result at the end of the day? I was filled with antic.i.p.ation since morning.
「Hmm… I think the crowd yesterday was bigger.」
Lala Wu commented after the morning rush period was over.
「That’s right. When they saw us still operating in the afternoon, some of the customers stopped going out of their way to queue in the morning.」
「Is that so? What should we do if we can’t sell everything?」
「I will try to negotiate with the people in the Wu clan village for trade of this food for meat or poitan. We can’t waste so much food after all.」
While we were talking, there was a small number of easterners and southerners patronizing our stalls.
There was also a group of westerners watching from the side, their numbers were the same as yesterday. Thinking back, on the first day of opening this road was pretty much deserted. In comparison, the street was incredibly crowded now.
「Okay, there won’t be many customers for the time being, let’s take breaks in turns and have a light meal. Lala Wu, please watch the 『Kiba burger』 stall.」
「Okay, I understand… What are we eating today?」
「I’m planning to pour tarapa sauce over the meat slices used in the 『Myam-roasted meat』. This is a special dish made especially for the staff.」
Lala Wu opened her blue eyes wide in surprise.
I was a bit taken aback by how shocked she looked.
「What’s the matter? The marinated meat suits tarapa sauce really well, right? The ingredients used in both dishes are similar after all.」
「No, that’s not it. I was just thinking that eating it that way will be nice. I was just surprised that you thought the same way too.」
「I see. I knew you would like it.」
When I said that, Lala Wu asked in surprise again:「But why?」
「Because… you didn’t like the soft texture of the hamburg steak, and you mentioned you like tarapa sauce. So I thought this combination will fit your ideal.」
「…Why do you remember so clearly? I said that more than ten days ago, right?」
「Huh? Because the denizens of Forest's Edge don’t often give specific feedback, so what you said left a deep impression on me.」
When she heard my reply, Lala Wu hesitated for a moment before thanking me.
I replied with a smile:「You are welcome.」
「Well then, who will rest first? Lala Wu, can you eat now?」
「Yes, I can eat any time… Is Ai Fa eating too?」
Ai Fa did what she said she would. After accompanying me to the Post Station Town and helping carry some of the load, she was resting in the shade of the woods behind us.
She concealed her left arm with her cape and sat cross-legged with one knee up. She had the sabre in her right arm. There was some distance between us and her, so I couldn’t tell if she was asleep.
「I prepared her share. We have to check if she is awake.」
「Ah, I will go check.」
Lala Wu walked briskly towards Ai Fa with these words.
Ai Fa appeared to be awake. They talked for a bit, and Lala Wu immediately came back.
「She can eat. So let’s eat with Ai Fa.」
By the way, judging from Lala Wu’s actions, I thought she wanted to deepen her relationship with Ai Fa.
Ai Fa said we shouldn’t rely on the Wu clan, but we don’t need to misinterpret the goodwill of others.
And so, I asked Shela Wu to attend to the 『Kiba burger』 stall, Vena Wu to watch the 『Myam-roasted meat』 stall, and we briskly walked to Ai Fa’s side with our staff meal.
「Sorry for the wait. Here’s the grilled poitan and kiba with tarapa sauce.」
Ai Fa nodded magnanimously.
She had been busying herself since morning, but her wounds didn’t seem to be hurting, and her temperature’s normal, so she maintained her usual serious expression.
Lala Wu and I sat on either side of Ai Fa.
「Your condition seems good. We had to carry a lot of things today, you were a big help.」
「Before I recover from my injuries, I can help every morning. But after I become strong enough to enter the woods again, you will have to think of another way.」
「There’s nothing to think about either, I can only settle it with brute force and endurance.」
As we chatted idly, everyone finished the mini meal in no time.
I intentionally stayed quiet, and Lala Wu used this chance to say:
「Ai Fa… I want to thank you.」
「… Thank me?」
「Yes, shin Wu told me about the 『sacrificial hunting style』. If not for your talking him out of it, shin Wu would have acted dangerously. Thank you.」
Lala Wu bowed towards Ai Fa with her veiled redhead.
Ai Fa tilted her head quizzingly.
「I merely stated what I thought. During a hunt, there will be a large number of kins staying by his side, right? In such a situation, using the fruits that attract kiba will be too r.e.t.a.r.ded. And he was planning to use the 『sacrificial hunting style』, which would endanger those around him.」
「Yes, shin Wu is very depressed. He felt selfish for only caring about his own glory.」
「… He just didn’t want to rely on his kins. There is no shame in that.」
「That’s right, I think so too.」
Ai Fa’s voice and expression were cold, but Lala Wu nodded happily.
「Well then, let’s go back. Vena Wu is probably starting to get anxious.」
Lala Wu and I stood up.
Ai Fa called out to me.
「You just started working but I can already feel how responsible you are.」
She raised the corners of her lips a little.
「I just wanted to tell you that. Go back to work.」
「Yes, I know.」
I felt very encouraged and walked back to the stall.
On the short trip there, Lala Wu said to me immediately:
「I’m really surprised. Ai Fa is actually smiling.」
「Eh? Ah, yeah.」
Recently, Ai Fa was smiling more often, and I felt her smile was very reserved. But Lala Wu was still surprised. It seemed that Ai Fa would only show a poker face in front of outsiders.
After Vena Wu and Shela Wu also took their rest, I switched the jobs of the two new employees. I took care of the 『Myam-roasted meat』 with Shela Wu, while the Wu main house sisters handled the 『Kiba burger』.
I didn’t want to rush their training, but their learning speed exceeded my expectations.
「Both of you are very capable. We had worked together to prepare the banquet for the house Lutim wedding, and it looks like that experience served you well.」
「Thank you for your compliment, I’m very honored.」
Shela Wu smiled calmly.
She sure liked to smile. When I realized that, Shela Wu was staring at the plate used for samples.
「Asuta, this dish has a very strong taste, can the seasoning be plainer?」
「Of course. The denizens of Forest's Edge will probably think the seasoning is too thick, right? You just need to shorten the marinating time, and it will be plainer. I will adjust the saltiness by using this method when making 『Myam-roasted meat』 at home.」
Shela Wu suddenly looked at me with pitiful eyes.
「Pardon me… I want to let my family taste this dish… Can you tell me how long to marinate and how to make the sauce…?」
「I can tell you right now. Shela Wu, you have six people in your house, right?」
I did a rough calculation in my head.
「Erm… for the fruit wine, you will need a quarter bottle. And a quarter diced aria. One finger length of myam will be enough. The time I marinate is roughly the same as drying the poitan, so use that as a guide and shorten the time… You can slice the meat a little thicker. For the denizens of Forest's Edge, you don’t need to cut it so thin. The taste won’t be so strong then.」
「Alright, thank you.」
I continued after seeing Shela Wu’s relieved smile:
「However, you don’t have to insist on this method of seasoning, this is just my personal preference after all. If you want it to be sweeter, you can decrease the amount of myam. If you want a gentler taste, you can add more aria… You can also try adding other diced ingredients. Please figure out the taste you like the best by testing it out.」
Shela Wu looked surprised, but she then showed a brilliant smile.
「Thank you. Ever since I met you, my heart has been filled with happiness. Seeing my family enjoy my cooking makes me really happy.」
「I’m glad to hear that.」
While we were talking, an odd couple appeared.
Kamyua Yost’s disciple Leito was here together with Tara.
「Asuta onii-chan, two please!」
「I want two too.」
「Alright, thank you… Your mentor isn’t coming today, is he?」
「Kamyua was busy with work until the morning again and is resting in the inn right now. He isn’t willing to miss your food two days in a row, so he asked me to run this errand for him.」
Leito said with a gentle smile.
Tara was also all smiles.
When they stood side by side, the difference between them was more prominent. Tara’s smile was filled with pure bliss, while Leito’s smile was much more mature.
Leito was the disciple of that suspicious man, so maybe I had some preconception about him. But I still didn’t think he was a normal innocent boy.
「Here, sorry for the wait.」
「Thank you… Sorry, is that the head of the Fa house? Did she come to town with you today?」
As expected of Leito, his eyes were really sharp. I showed him a business smile.
「Yes. She helped me to carry the goods here today. Hunting kiba is very tough work these days, so she is taking a break for a while」
「I see, so that’s how it is.」
Leito was still smiling calmly.
Kamyua Yost didn’t show up two days in a row. Just what was he busying himself with? I didn’t plan to probe this boy about that.
After the two young patrons left, the stalls gradually turned busy.
The sun reached its peak, and there was an obvious increase in human traffic.
Business in the beginning wasn’t as good as yesterday, but we still sold 63 portions. Compared to other stalls, this was incredibly good sales. Two days ago, we sold 70 meals at noon, so the speed of sales didn’t vary too much.
Business was going smoothly.
It looked like I didn’t need to regret preparing 150 meals.
「Sorry, Lala Wu, can you run an errand for me? Help me buy two tarapa, two tino, and 20 aria.」
Lala Wu ran off with the copper plates in hand.
At this moment, I felt someone standing behind me.
「Hmm? What’s the matter, Ai Fa?」
Ai Fa suddenly appeared behind us.
Shela Wu also turned towards Ai Fa in surprise.
Ai Fa narrowed her eyes and looked to the north.
「… It’s denizens from Forest's Edge.」
Since they came from the north, they might be from the Tsun clan.
As expected— one of them was the grey-haired Tay Tsun,
And the one walking beside him wasn’t the human balloon Mida Tsun, but a slender woman wearing a veil and shawl.
These two had an ominous air about them as they approached the stall.Thankfully, there were no customers at this moment.
「Hmmp… I still can’t believe it, there really are denizens of Forest's Edge doing business in the Post Station Town.」
I could hear a high screeching voice of a woman entering my ears.
Just who was this woman? Just standing face to face with her sent a chill down my spine.
She was a beauty.
She had proportionate features, and her figure could rival Vena Wu.
The brown hair of the woman was carefully tied into many plaids, which flowed out from the veil.
Her slightly dark eyes had a strong gleam in them.
It was a cruel, cold, and merciless light as if belonging to a venomous snake.
The smile on her face had a hint of poison too.
「I did hear rumors that a strange foreigner was staying in the Fa house. But I never imagined that the head of the Fa house would go to town herself. You must be the only female hunter in Forest's Edge,. head of the Fa house, Ai Fa. Right?」
I understood at that moment.
The chill I felt on my back wasn’t because of her cruel appearance or her high pitched voice, but the smell.
In the stall that was surrounded by the aroma of fruit wine and myam, an ominous scent came from the other party.
It was the scent of rust— obviously, it was rotting blood.
「… Who are you?」
Ai Fa asked quietly.
The woman with the ominous scent raised the corner of her lips in a faint smile.
「I’m the eldest daughter of the Tsun clan, Yamiel Tsun. Female hunter of the Fa house, my younger brothers Dida and Doddo were in your care before.」
So this was the eldest daughter of the Tsun clan, Yamiel Tsun.
The woman with an ominous scent of blood showed a venomous snake-like smile, then stared at Ai Fa, Shela Wu, and me.
Yamiel Tsun’s gaze intimidated Shela Wu, and she took a step back. Vena Wu who was standing in the stall next door called out to her:
「Excuse me, Shela Wu, can we switch places…?」
Shela Wu slowly walked to the stall next door while keeping her eyes on Yamiel Tsun.
Vena Wu handed the spatula for stirring the tarapa sauce to Shela Wu, then walked briskly to us.
「It’s been a while… Do you still remember me…?」
「… Of course, eldest daughter of the Wu clan, Vena Wu.」
Yamiel Tsun smiled coldly.
Vena Wu narrowed her eyes sleepily, she did the same when facing Mida Tsun last time.
「Hmmp, so the Wu clan is involved in this matter after all. I heard a foreigner tended to the hearth during house Lutim’s wedding. The kins of the Wu clan sure are close to the Fa house.
「That’s right… we are really close… So, what brings you here…?」
「Fufu, I’m just here to relay a message from my house head.」
Yamiel Tsun looked at me, her eyes were icy like a snake
「The foreigner from the Fa house, can I have your name, please?」
「… I’m Asuta.」
I wasn’t afraid.
This woman made me shudder more than Mida Tsun and Tay Tsun.
Why was there such a strong scent of blood on her? Even after butchering a kiba, my body wouldn’t give off such an intense odor.
I wouldn’t be so creeped out if this was a butchering room, but the scent of blood was so distinct just with her standing before us. I couldn’t bring myself to trust her and my heart was filled with disgust.
「Asuta of the Fa house, huh… Asuta, the Tsun clan is rather troubled right now.」
「… Is that so?」
「Mida keeps throwing tantrums… Ever since he tasted your cooking in the Post Station Town, he keeps crying about eating it again.」
Mida Tsun, huh.
So, what did she want from me?
「Hence, the head of the Tsun clan Zuro Tsun wants me to relay this to you… Asuta, can you tend to the hearth of the Tsun clan for one night?」
At this moment, I could hear the sound of someone stepping on the ground.
Ai Fa had taken half a step forth.
And, as expected, blue flames were burning in her eyes.
「Are you the eldest daughter of the Tsun clan Yamiel Tsun?」
「Yes, head of the Fa house, Ai Fa.」
「Asuta might be a foreigner, but he is still a member of the Fa house. If you have business with a Fa house member, you need to notify me, the house head, first.」
「Oh, is that so? Well then, will you—」
Ai Fa shot down Yamiel Tsun mercilessly.
Yamiel Tsun let out a shrill laugh
「… You refuse?」
「This will be troubling then…I thought Mida will quiet down after one night. But he made an even bigger fuss two days later instead. Diga and Doddo beat and kicked him in anger, but to no avail. Not just that, his appetite even increased.」
「That’s the Tsun clan’s problem and has nothing to do with the Fa house.」
Ai Fa was furious and was already showing the eyes of a hunter.
Yamiel Tsun was still smiling coldly, while Tay Tsun stood on the side like a shade.
「Why then? When house Lutim held their wedding, he tended to their hearth. But now he can’t tend to the Tsun clan’s hearth. I don’t understand.」
「You don’t understand? Think about everything that the Tsun clan had done to the Fa house.」
「You mean the matter of Diga sneaking into the Fa house? Or Doddo drawing his blade in the Post Station Town and during the Lutim house wedding…? I can only apologize on behalf of my useless brothers. Will you tend to the Tsun clan’s hearth now?」
「I don’t need superficial apologies. If you really want to apologize, then hand over an arm.」
Ai Fa wasn’t loud, but there was a deep rage in her voice. Ai Fa was furious when she heard the ridiculous demand from the Tsun clan, asking me to tend to their hearth.
「If you want to eat Asuta’s cooking, then abide by the Post Station Town’s law and buy the food here with copper plates. That’s the only way the Tsun clan will get to taste his cooking.」
「Copper plates, huh… Just how much copper plates will we have to spend to appease Mida Tsun’s appetite?」
At this moment, a suspicious light shone in Yamiel Tsun’s dark eyes.
She was like a venomous snake that had found her prey.
「Asuta, were you paid a proper amount of remuneration when you tended to house Lutim’s hearth?」
「Ehh?… What about it?」
「That’s true. The We clan has more than a hundred kin. Besides, the wedding for the heir of the house Lutim is a serious matter. Since the Fa house isn’t a kin of the Wu clan, they had to give you remuneration.」
There seemed to be something dangerous hiding behind her words.
Yamiel Tsun appeared to be different from her younger brothers and wouldn’t resort to violence in the spur of the moment. She used devious means to trap her target instead.
「How much did they pay? Ten kiba’s worth of tusks and horns? Twenty? Or was it thirty?」
「… I don’t need to answer you.」
「I see. Never mind then… The Tsun clan is willing to pay you 40 kiba worth of tusks and horns as remuneration.」
I was stiff from surprise.
40 kiba worth of tusks and horns— that’s equal to 480 red copper plates. Even if the Tsun clan kept all the money given by Genos to themselves, would they really waste so much money on such a farce?
Ai Fa and Vena Wu stood on either side of me, and I observed their faces.
A fire was still raging in Ai Fa’s eyes, while Vena Wu’s still narrowed her eyes sleepily, with a gleam of doubt shining in her light colored eyes.
「It’s… It’s just tending to the hearth for one night, and you are willing to pay so much? In that case, you can just buy the food here with that money.」
「We can’t afford to spend that much on snacks. We want you to handle a big project that is on the scale of the Lutim house wedding.」
I heard someone’s gasps. From the place it came from, that was probably Vena Wu.
I stared at the evil woman’s creepy smile, and couldn’t avert my gaze.
「On the tenth day of the blue month, we will be hosting the annual house-head conference. All the house-head will attend with one male follower. There will be 80 denizens from the Forest's Edge on that night. I can pay you 40 kiba’s worth of tusks and horns as remuneration. Asuta, will you tend to the hearth for that night?」
「I see, so that’s how it is… I was wondering why you are so generous, so you intend to make all the house-heads pay one kiba’s worth of payment.」
「Yes, Asuta’s cooking is expensive, right? The people in the Post Station Town detest kiba, but he is able to sell kiba food. His culinary skill must be incredible… Asuta, what do you—」
Ai Fa cut her off again.
「This has nothing to do with the payment. We have no obligation to take on this job.」
「Oh… You intend to monopolize the wealth and secret?」
Yamiel Tsun lifted the corners of her lips again.
「There were more than a hundred residents of Post Station Town who bought Asuta’s cooking, right? Everyone thinks kiba is tough, smelly and unpalatable. But Asuta can turn kiba into a delicacy, this is no different from a miracle… Are the Fa house and Wu clan planning to hog the secret and wealth?」
I gulped quietly.
This woman was hiding an ace in the hole as expected. How could she know my sales figures as an outsider?
「That’s not a crime, right? My conscience is clear. If you want to know the truth, then lower your head and beg us. Don’t go the roundabout way and ask Asuta to tend to the hearth.」
「Ai Fa of house Fa, we are doing this for the sake of Mida Tsun. We are not interested in neither your wealth nor secret.」
Yamiel Tsun licked her lips with her slim tongue.
「Tusks and horns from 40 kiba, is this remuneration satisfactory to you? Aside from tending to the hearth for the house-head conference, the Tsun clan head hopes you can prepare the food for Mida Tsun too… If you are not willing to, I can only forsake all hope.」
「… Forsake all hope?」
Yamiel Tsun’s voice and face gave me an ominous feeling.
「Yes… Mida Tsun is my adorable kid brother, but I’m not capable of watching over him. I can only leave his fate to the heavens.」
「… I don’t understand what you mean.」
「I meant it literally. If this goes on, Diga and Doddo will beat him to death. I might as well undo his chains.」
「Yes, I will undo his chains and let him roam wherever he wishes… He might end up getting stabbed to death by the guards in the Post Station Town. But that’s better than a slow death via beatings.」
Was she telling the truth?
I thought there’s a 90% chance that she was probably bluffing. She was threatening us that she could incite Mida Tsun to attack if we don’t do what she says.
Who would chain up their own family? She was probably lying. I won’t, and don’t to believe in those lies.
So she must be intimidating me.
I might not believe it—
But there was still a 10% chance that was the truth. The dangerous aura of this woman made me think that.
「… It doesn’t concern us.」
Ai Fa’s voice didn’t waver at all.
「If the Tsun clan’s youngest son attempts to harm my family, I will cut him down according to the rules of Forest's Edge, without needing the guards to interfere.」
「Hmmp, you sure are stubborn.」
Yamiel Tsun showed a seductive smile and wasn’t fazed at all.
「Never mind, this is just a whimsical idea. I will discuss this with my clan head first. I will be back at this time tomorrow. Give me the answer at that time then.」
「Be it today or tomorrow, the answer won’t ever change. We will do as we wish even if you don’t like it.」
「Ai Fa, I already know what you think. Discuss it properly with Asuta, the Wu clan, and house Lutim then… See you tomorrow.」
Yamiel Tsun gestured with her chin to Tay Tsun standing beside her.
In the end, Tay Tsun held his peace. After acknowledging us with an emotionless gaze, he left alongside his mistress.
They only left behind a silence that was like the aftermath of a nightmare.
「… I have to discuss this with Papa Donda…」
Vena Wu finally broke the silence, and said reluctantly:
「Just what is that woman scheming… I think she just wants to make a mountain out of a mole hole, and create chaos…」
「Who knows. I think this is a scam.」
I didn’t think Yamiel Tsun came up with that idea on the spot. She had a firm grip on our information. She even knew things that Mida Tsun and Tay Tsun couldn’t have known.
After seeing how infatuated Mida Tsun was with my food, Yamiel Tsun decided to make use of it in her scheme.
「…Asuta, what are you thinking about?」
Ai Fa called out to me quietly.
I turned back and found Ai Fa looking at me expressionlessly with flames of agitation still lingering in her eyes.
「Don’t worry, just focus on your own work. Just treat the Tsun clan’s words as a joke.」
「There is no room for discussion. I won’t permit you to caretake the Tsun clan’s hearth.」
With these angry words, Ai Fa walked back to the tree shade.
Looking closely, Shela Wu and Lala Wu were standing at the 『Kiba burger』 stall and looking at us worriedly. I nodded at them to express 「we are fine」, then looked at Vena Wu beside us:
「Vena Wu, what was that stench just now?」
「… Stench? Was there a stench…?」
「Huh? Didn’t you smell a stench?」
Vena Wu shook her head.
「The myam was too strong, I couldn’t smell anything…」
My sense of smell was more sensitive than others, so maybe I was the only one who noticed that faint stench of blood. Even so, I still didn’t trust that woman.
I wanted to ask more about the Tsun clan and Yamiel Tsun, but a Jaguar customer suddenly appeared.
「Hey, are you okay? The atmosphere just now was really tense, you know?」
「Ah, sorry about that. It’s nothing.」
「Is that so? That didn’t look like a small matter… Hey, don’t cause any trouble here, the guards will chase you out. You all are the only thing I look forward to every day. What will I do if I can’t eat your cooking?」
「I’m honored to hear you say that… Are you buying one?」
At this moment, two middle-aged Jaguar men also came over.
They were probably waiting for Yamiel Tsun to leave. There were other Jaguar and Semu customers heading to the 『Kiba burger』 stall too.
They probably didn’t dare to come near because of the dangerous air emitted by the denizens of Forest's Edge.
This was a critical time for us.
The Tsun clan had finally started to interfere with our business directly.
Even if the revolting things Yamiel Tsun said were all a bluff, there would be a huge uproar if Mida Tsun really came to the stall to dine without paying. If it escalated, I might be barred from the Post Station Town.
Just imagining myself tending to the Tsun clan’s hearth made me gooseb.u.mps. But I couldn’t keep turning them down. Our business was just getting on track, and it might get destroyed if I don’t think of a good countermeasure.
I can’t depend on Kamyua Yost in such a situation… I can only discuss this with Donda Wu and Kaslan Lutim.
And I had to get Ai Fa to agree with this.
Maybe this was the biggest obstacle. I sighed softly.
In the middle of my sigh I felt a strong emotion stirring in my abdomen.
My intense mood swing surprised myself.
They are unforgivable… Someone seemed to be muttering in my head.
There was no way another person was hiding in my body, so that must be my own voice.
Who are they? I asked myself.
I can’t forgive those who get in my way. The other me answered.
Was I really that easily agitated?
This wasn’t the first time the Tsun clan did something nefarious, so why was I so worked up?
This… is just like something those guys would do!
Are the guys that are referred…?
Could they be the people who disrupted Dad’s business with malicious means?
Because Dad wouldn’t go along with them, they knocked him down with a van and even committed arson to the shop. Did I unconsciously overlap those violent ruffians with the Tsun clan?
Calm down. Those despicable people did attempt to destroy other people’s livelihood for the sake of their own profits… But this situation is different!
I took a deep breath and tried to suppress the agitation rising in my chest.
I can’t let the Tsun clan do whatever they want… But if I’m blinded by rage, I will lose fights that I’m capable of winning. I need to calm down.
At that moment, I realized Vena Wu was staring dumbfounded at me.
「What’s the matter?」
After I asked her, Vena Wu just shook her head.
「Asuta… So you are capable of showing such a vicious look… Your eyes earlier were just like Papa Donda and Ai Fa...」
「Ehh? That won’t do! Doing business requires a pleasant expression!」
I slapped my own cheeks hard.
I could feel the sting on my face.
「… Let’s focus on work. Please switch places with Shela Wu and teach Lala Wu how to make 『Kiba burger』.」
Vena Wu turned and left reluctantly.
I should concentrate on running the business and worry about those things later.
Before I realized, it was almost noon and we still had merchandise to sell.
I pushed the seeds of frustration into my heart and focused on work.