I. Land of Ice and Snow
"Uwaah! It's so cold here, much colder than the border!"
Stepping onto the frozen soil of Nevras, Napoleon’s breath condensed in the cold air as he glanced up at the sky. He rubbed his hands with the little girl beside him.
"Good thing we bought you a cotton coat. You wouldn’t have made it this far if you were wearing what you wore before.”
Napoleon and I bumped into this little girl on the road. Or rather, we found her.
She had passed out along the side of the road. Dressed in rags, she appeared to be only around ten. It was a heart-wrenching sight.
Napoleon discovered her first, and we brought her back to our house.
The plan was to ask her where she lived and send her home after she woke up. What we didn’t expect was for the question to take us all the way to Nevras, a place we rarely travel to.
She didn’t tell us much about herself. Without much information on hand, we had no choice but to ask others along the way. There was no way we’d let a little girl walk home from Gloriville to Nevras all by herself. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if something happened to her, and I believe Napoleon feels the same way.
However, we hadn’t told her we were Food Souls yet.
"Is it this way?"
The girl wrapped her thick cloak tighter and stood on her toes, trying her best to peer at the village that sat at the end of the path.
"According to the information you gave and what we’ve investigated, this should be the right direction. But the sun is going down. Let's pitch a tent somewhere and rest.”
The girl, clearly unsatisfied, gave a disgruntled reply. Napoleon, on the other hand, was excited to finally get some rest.
"Brownie, are there any sweets left?"
"I’m afraid they’re finished. Please bear with it for another day.”
“Ah, I’m gonna go into withdrawal..."
In Nevras, autumn might as well have been winter, and the freezing night winds were not merciful with their vicious claws. The girl was still young and not fast on foot. All we could do was camp out for the night and continue gathering information from the next village tomorrow.
Instead of just watching, the girl attempted to help me set up the tent. Although, this only begun recently.
Initially, I couldn't believe she was only ten. She always had an unfitting, gloomy look on her face, void of a child’s energy.
She wasn’t close to us and wouldn’t ask for help when she ran into trouble with something either. She probably didn’t completely trust us yet.
I thought she was simply raised that way as a child from an upper-class family, and that she couldn’t lose face even when receiving help from others.
Luckily, Napoleon is good at gaining people’s trust. His self-confident and gentle nature attracts people’s attention.
During the day, Napoleon would try to amuse her and even share his favourite sweets with her in exchange for a smiling travel companion. On the other hand, I would comfort her when she woke up from her nightmares at night.
I was on night watch again one night. After being jolted awake from her nightmare, I comforted her and dried her tears as usual. I never asked about her dreams and always waited until she had calmed down before leaving her. Surprisingly, this time she grabbed the edge of my clothes and whispered:
I froze for a moment before smiling down at her. Did this mean she finally trusts us?
II. The Strange Food Soul
The next day, Napoleon allowed me to leave for town first. Although it was supposedly so I could buy him the sweets he was whining about, so he could eat them as soon as we met up later; In truth, I wanted to gather some information first. That way, when they arrived in town, we might be able to shorten the holdup time and send her to her destination as soon as possible. No matter how we may try to explain it, the impression given off by two grown men with a little girl is never a good one.
The atmosphere in the towns of Nevras is completely different from that of Gloriville. The people who live here surrounded by frost are much more hostile than the people of Gloriville, who essentially grow up in a greenhouse.
In town, I noticed someone who had been robbed. Brandishing a knife, he chased the despicable thief and hollered curses. It wasn’t hard to imagine what would happen once he caught up.
I was still in the midst of processing the scene before me when the thief ran past. It was only when the man waving a knife followed that I realized someone could die at this rate. However, a guy went after them first.
Or, rather, he flew.
A pair of mechanical wings engulfed in blue flames swooped down in front of the thief. As the wind knocked the thief to the ground, the guy took the stolen object from the thief's arms and gave it back to the owner, who had just caught up.
It didn’t look like the owner planned to let the thief go, wanting to teach him a lesson while he was still laying on the ground in shock. But the guy stood as still as a rock in front of the thief, facing the owner--who not only didn’t thank him but even began threatening him. He remained calm and didn’t even curse back.
There was no doubt he was a Food Soul like me, yet at the same time, the feeling he gave off was a “mechanical” one.
Suddenly, he asked a question.
"Do you know where the Catacombs are?"
"Huh? Why are you asking something like that for? Get outta the way before I hit you!”
That man must have been able to tell he was a Food Soul, which would explain why he didn’t actually make a move. It was just a bluff. I’m sure that as soon as he leaves, the man won’t hesitate to teach the thief a lesson.
"Do you know where the Catacombs are?" He repeated.
A passer-by answered his question. "Head out of town and keep walking north, it’s by the Polar Snowfield...but why are you going there?"
He thanked the person without answering his question. Instead, he turned to the thief who was still on the ground and helped him up.
"Don't kill him. Send him to the sheriff."
Once he finished speaking, he released the thief and flew away.
The owner watched him fly away and spat in his direction.
"Are you Food Souls crazy too? You’ve got such a long life to live and yet you go looking for death.”
Hearing the owner’s words, I felt confused too. Even in Gloriville, I’ve heard of the dangers of the Catacombs. Why was he so insistent on going there?
But before I could give it another thought, the owner was already marching over to the thief. I hurried over and caught the thief before he could escape again.
"Please stop. Do not punish him with your own hands. I shall take him to the sheriff where he will receive proper punishment."
Although that Food Soul was strange enough to warrant concern, the girl’s safety takes priority at the moment. I should probably handle the matter on hand first.
I might even be able to get some information about that girl’s family from the sheriff too.
I didn’t learn anything about the girl’s family in the end. Not even the sheriff, who came from another country to stand in, knew much. You could say it was a dead end. All we could do was to keep searching.
"Why aren’t they here yet..."
With the sweets I had bought in town, I waited near the town entrance for Napoleon to arrive. However, when the time we had agreed to meet upon came, they were still nowhere in sight.
In the beginning, I wondered if Napoleon got a little carried away with playing with the girl on the way here, thus slowing their pace. But the longer I waited, the more something felt off. Napoleon always keeps his promises. Something must have happened.
I rushed out of town to look for Napoleon and the girl and was hardly surprised to hear the sound of fighting in the suburbs--a Fallen Angel.
Near a grove, Napoleon was fighting a humanoid Fallen Angel alone. Without a second thought, I took the gun barrel slung over my back and joined the fray to help him defeat it.
It wasn’t until the grove became silent once more that I asked Napoleon, "Where’s the girl?"
At the mention of the girl, Napoleon’s victorious glee immediately switched to annoyance.
"As soon as she saw me fighting the Fallen Angel, she turned and ran! As if she didn't think I'd win!"
I sighed and had no choice but to reassure Napoleon that it was normal for little girls to get scared and run away after seeing a Fallen Angel and that it wasn’t because she didn’t trust him.
I still remembered her thanking me the night before and falling asleep soon after. If it wasn't because she trusted us enough to feel safe, then what else could it have been?
"A Fallen Angel appeared here. We can’t rule out the possibility of others lurking nearby, so we must find her quickly. She'll be in danger if she runs into one."
"Understood~ What about my sweets? I want to refill my sugar level first!"
"Here, eat it on the way."
Following the direction she had bolted off, it didn’t take us long to find her. She wasn’t careful while running along the rugged landscape of the woods and had fallen down a hill, twisting her ankle. It was so swollen that she couldn't walk.
I knelt in front of her and tried to pick her up, but didn’t expect to be swatted away.
"Don’t get any closer, you Food Souls!"
I stared in astonishment at the girl, who appeared completely different from before. The look of terror and pure hatred on her face was one we’d never seen even when we had first found her.
Humans have always relied on Food Souls to protect them and their homes. Even if they misunderstood each other occasionally, they’d never go so far as to hatefully drive away their rescuers.
What had happened… to make her hate Food Souls so much?
"Stop fooling around!"
Napoleon, who’s usually easy-going, raised his voice angrily at the young girl.
"It’s us Food Souls who agreed to find your family, and it’s also us Food Souls who saved you from those Fallen Angels, you know!”
The girl, who never cried in front of us before except for when we first met, froze in the face of Napoleon’s yelling before wailing and hitting both of us. We were caught by surprise.
I took out my handkerchief and was about to dry her tears when she threw herself into my arms, choking out a request like the first time we met.
IV. The Catacombs
”She fell asleep..."
After crying and spilling the beans on her situation, the girl, who had been terrorized enough for a day, finally grew exhausted and fell asleep in my arms.
Looking at the girl's sleeping face stricken with tears, I silently processed everything we just learned.
She was born into a well-off family but lost everything in a horrible incident. The culprit? A food Soul--a mechanically-winged, flame-tipped, machine-like Food Soul.
The girl thought she was doomed to die like her parents, but the Food Soul hesitated just as he was about to kill her. She took her chance, broke free of his clutch and escaped, running all the way out of the city. He didn’t catch up to her.
Suddenly homeless, seeds of hatred were sown in her heart. Yet, she was too weak to get revenge.
All she could do was search for someone to rely on before hunting down the murderer.
And that Food Soul she spoke of...
"This kid sure went through a lot. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have yelled at her like that. I’ll leave more sweets for her tomorrow.”
Napoleon clutched at his hat, his tone as relaxed as ever. He didn’t look like he was planning to accept the girl’s request.
"The Food Soul she mentioned...I saw him."
I picked up the girl and headed back towards the town with Napoleon. After hesitating for a bit, I decided to tell him everything I saw.
"...But he doesn't seem like a vile person."
Afraid that I would wake up the girl, I lowered my voice.
"And...it looks like he went to the Catacombs alone."
"To the Catacombs alone?! That’s basically suicide! Why would someone perfectly fine go looking for death? Or does he want to atone for his past?”
"I don't know… But even though I’ve only seen him once, he didn’t strike me as a killer. Perhaps there’s more than meets the eye."
"Is that your intuition? Holy crap, you’re actually judging people based on your intuition!” Napoleon stared at me in astonishment, as if I’d just told a joke.
"It’s not my intuition… He saved someone’s life." I retorted in a low voice.
"He isn’t the type of person to disregard life."
"You don’t know if he was planning to kill the thief or not... Besides, isn’t he going to the Catacombs or something? If he dies there, this kid gets her revenge anyway.”
"Let’s go find him. If there really is more than meets the eye, we might be able to find out the truth behind the murder of her family. If he dies there, then we’ll never know. Aren’t you curious?”
"It’s not like clearing up the truth is a bad idea. I am a little curious, to be honest… But aren’t you a bit too worked up over this?”
In the face of Napoleon’s inquiry, I looked down at the sleeping girl. The image of that Food Soul saying “don’t kill him” surfaced in my mind.
Even if he is really a murderer, there must be a reason. I want to know the truth.
No matter what the truth is, I have to give it to this ten-year-old girl.
Even if it’s all because of the trust she places in us.
She chose to trust us this time. It’s only fair we prove to her that not all Food Souls are bad people.
"I hope she can make peace with her hatred towards Food Souls."
In the end, Napoleon agreed to my request. We settled the girl down in town for the time being and asked someone to take care of her until we came back.
As we were leaving, the girl clutched my arm and told us to come back safely. Napoleon and I promised we would.
We would come back with the truth.
Brownie used to be an ordinary butler, dedicated and serious.
His Master Attendant was a well-known bookseller but lost the books he’d collected his entire life to someone else over a bet. And he himself, because of a bet, became Napoleon Cake’s Aide-de-Camp--or rather, his personal support staff.
Although Brownie wasn’t used to Napoleon Cake’s exaggerated way of doing things at first, he grew to be less reserved as he interacted more with Napoleon Cake.
Of course, this was mainly because Napoleon Cake never did things by the book, leaving Brownie no choice but to change his old ways of doing things according to the rules.
One day, they met a girl whose parents were killed by a Food Soul.
The girl only knew one side of the story with regards to her family’s accident, but was it the truth? Just like the bet that Brownie's Master Attendant lost, the other party only needed him to see a part of the deal and not the way he was cheated.
Who knew that Brownie would encounter B-52, the Food Soul who killed the girl's parents.
When Brownie first saw B-52, he could tell that he was someone who cherished life. Otherwise, why would he protect a reviled thief from getting killed?
But it was this same Food Soul who so cruelly slaughtered a little girl’s entire family.
Brownie couldn’t figure it out. How could the same person’s actions vary so differently?
It wasn’t hard to convince Napoleon Cake to uncover the truth with him, and they easily found B-52 in the Catacombs. Following a trail of spilled blood, they saw a Food Soul being surrounded by Fallen Angels.
A feeble B-52 was collapsed on the ground.
"Phew, just in time. Good thing he’s not gone yet... Brownie, hurry and pick him up! We’ll treat him when we get back, but for now--retreat!"
Brownie and Napoleon Cake brought a weak B-52 back to the inn they were staying at. Brownie stayed by B-52’s side looking after him until he woke up, just like he did with the little girl.
Brownie sat by the bed and looked at B-52 calmly.
"We saved you."
"There’s no need to thank us… Would you mind telling me why you went to the Catacombs?"
"...I wanted to prove that I’m not a "machine”."
Perhaps because of the pain and death he’d just experienced, B-52 finally understood what “living” was. He told Brownie, the first person he saw after his “rebirth”, that he didn’t want to die. He wanted to live.
B-52 lay on the bed and gazed calmly at Brownie. Brownie, on the other hand, looked surprised and uncertain, not knowing how to continue the conversation.
However, he had to get the truth from B-52. Napoleon Cake and the girl were waiting for his answer in the room next door. There was no other way. Brownie bluntly asked B-52 about that girl’s family.
To his surprise, B-52 told him everything. From Spaghetti’s cursed stone and how he killed for riches, to how he used B-52 as a killing machine and made him do his dirty work… B-52 told Brownie every little thing.
"...Why are you telling me this?"
"Why shouldn’t I?"
Brownie shook his head and didn’t say anything.
It made sense for someone who was betrayed to get revenge on the person who betrayed him.
"What are you going to do from now on?"
"I don't know..."
B-52 went silent for so long that Brownie thought he really didn’t know. But then, he spoke. As simple as they were, his words moved Brownie again.
"I want to...feel more of...these feelings of being alive."
A wish that may seem incredulously simple to others, was B-52’s life goal.
And the girl who escaped from him, albeit at the young age of ten years old, understood that desire to live more than Brownie did.
Although she still couldn't forgive him, she knew that even if she did kill him, it wouldn’t be a true revenge for her parents. The real culprit was still somewhere in Nevras, patting himself on the back for being such a good manipulator.
The girl, with tears in her eyes, looked up at a thoughtful Napoleon Cake.
"Could you please...do me another favour?"