I. A Good Person
In the town I was born in, there was a longstanding tradition of holding a festival on the coldest day of winter. The young men and women would prepare gingerbread to give to each other as gifts, a not-so-secret invitation to their intended partner to join them for a dance at the end of the festival.
“How I wish I could attend the dance with the man of my dreams! That’s right, Gingerbread, have you heard about the legend about waiting at Mechelen Plaza? It’s sooo romantic!”
The girl whom I acknowledged as my Master did a small pirouette as she said this. I merely frowned, keeping silent behind her and attempting to channel my dissatisfaction at her constant delays into my gaze.
“You’ve already told me last year. Once you’re done with the shopping, we should hurry home. Master Attendant will be coming home this evening and there are still many things we need to prepare.”
“I want to buy a gift for father though – Hey! Gingerbread! Look over there! Quick, stop them!”
I looked in the direction she was frantically pointing at. A group of hoodlums had surrounded a flower girl. They had snatched the flower basket out of her hands and seemed intent on dragging her into the alleyway.
“I’m carrying too many things. If you want to be a good person, do it yourself.”
“Don’t give me lip now! You’re my Food Soul, quickly go and help her!”
“I’m not even your Food Soul to begin with though…. Oh, very well, stop glaring at me, I’ll do what you ask this time.”
A handful of human beings were no match for me. Within moments, I had them beaten and on the run. The flower girl had collapsed in a heap on the group and was shaking fearfully. I turned to leave, expressing my displeasure toward my busybody master.
“You’re too good of a person, I swear. You keep looking for trouble like this even though you know you won’t get anything in retu--.”
I had not finished my sentence when the flower girl, who had regained her senses, suddenly leapt towards me. I dodged, but she continued to approach me, undeterred.
“Thank you for saving me. Would you mind telling me your name”
“Her name is Gingerbread. She’s my father’s Food Soul.”
“Oh, so she’s Mr. Place’s Food Soul! That explains why she’s got so much power despite being so small and cute. We’re all in Mr. Place’s debt. For someone as noble as him to summon a Food Soul like Gingerbread, well, they do say that good things come to good people!”
“Haha, I’ll be relying on you to give any other hoodlums a lesson, Gingerbread!”
The townsfolk surrounded me, praising me and my Master Attendant, who was still out of town on business. I was at a loss on what to do.
When the crowds finally dispersed, my master looked at me and smiled brightly.
“Doesn’t it make you happy that everybody’s accepted you? And so many people still need your help! One day, when I’m no longer around, you must continue to help the powerless and the weak on my behalf, Gingerbread!”
“…Don’t want to.”
All I need to do is keep you safe.
My Master was not my Master Attendant.
“Since she was summoned using a gingerbread you made as a catalyst, then let’s have her stay by your side.”
Just like that, my Master Attendant had given me to his daughter, my Master. When my Master Attendant’s merchant caravan left for other kingdoms, I would look after her and keep her company. The happiest 10 years in my memory were spent by her side.
However, Master Attendant was cheated, and his business collapsed under the weight of towering debt.
The once wealthy merchant family was now destitute. Master Attendant’s days were now spent at home with wine to numb the sense of failure and loss, leaving his own daughter to face his debtors.
“Scram. I’ll gut you if you dare show up again…”
I stood alone at the door, slamming my sword into the ground as I issued a final warning to the debtor’s thugs.
“Don’t get conceited. You’re nothing but a servant of trash, you have nothing to be proud of!”
The thugs I’d beaten to a pulp could only curse and swear at me as they crawled to their feet and fled.
I watched them leave with a disinterested gaze, watching the path for any fools who might have tried a surprise attack. The sound of breaking glass made me turn to face the house. The sound of a male voice cursing and screaming, and a female voice begging for mercy spilled from the half open door.
“Hehe… I bet you think I’m trash too, don’t you? … What kind of expression is that? Are you regretting you weren’t married off sooner? Even now you dare to think about leaving me!?”
“No, I wasn’t thinking anything like that! Father, I wasn’t!”
“Don’t give me any of that crap! And don’t you dare stare at me like that! I bet you think you can fool me by putting on a sad and miserable act?! You’re disrespecting me! Don’t you dare think about leaving me! I raised you, fed you, gave you the very best things in your life! I’ve given you all my love, yet you’re still not satisfied? A dog would have shown more gratitude than trash like you!”
The kind and gentle father no longer existed. The alcoholic drunk that remained vented his anger on his daughter. I once tried to stop him with words. My Master Attendant had used that incident as a reason to cruelly and violently beat her.
Nobody could refuse him.
“You always asked me to help those in need, and always asked me to strive to be a good person. Why won’t you let me help you leave? Master Attendant has—”
“This is my choice, Gingerbread.”
She interrupted me, attempting to console me with a soft smile. However, the bruises on her lips and around her mouth caused her to agonizingly draw breath instead, and it was some time before she could continue.
“Don’t blame father. This isn’t his fault…”
“Are you having a pleasant conversation with Gingerbread, daughter of mine?”
An ominous voice sounded from behind me. I did not need to turn around, the fear and terror in her eyes told me everything I needed to know.
How much had he heard!?
He should be asleep!
A horrible wave of unease washed over me, and a strange feeling awoke in my heart. My hands would not stop trembling, as if straining to smash the shackles of the Contract and draw my sword against the man who had summoned me, so I could finally take my Master away from him.
But there was no defying him.
“Get lost, Gingerbread.”
The door was locked behind me. But violence doesn’t stay locked up, and I clearly heard every cruel and vile thing act.
“I’m so sorry…”
Never in my life had I ever cursed the power of the Contract as I did then.
“Excuse me, I’ve come to deliver a letter to Mr. Steak? Leader of the Knights of the Holy Sword?”
I knocked on the door of a room in the inn and passed the letter to a Food Soul with horns growing from his head.
As she had instructed, I did not leave immediately after delivering the letter. As I waited for the Food Soul to give me his reply to her letter, I could not help wondering what my Master had meant by “It will all end soon”.
The Food Soul finished reading the letter and seemed to size me up with a puzzled expression. I could sense no hostility in his expression, but I was nevertheless unnerved by his gaze.
“What do you think you’re looking at? If you’re not going to reply, I’m going to leave.”
“Wait, you’re Gingerbread right? Your Master Attendant has asked you to stay here- You bastard, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He had not finished speaking when a second Food Soul suddenly appeared, snatching away the letter in his hands. The new Food Soul glared at me once, then shoved me out of the room and closed the door. From within, I could hear the sounds of a heated argument.
Those bastards… It pissed me off they had just ignored me like that.
I had no real interest in the contents of their argument, though it was easy to discern the general gist and tone of the dispute from certain words – “Purpose” “No other choice” “Trust” and “Dumbass” - which lodged themselves in my mind of their own volition.
Still, I couldn’t just leave town. As long as Master Attendant was here, there was no way I could do as I please. And she was here too.
Why did she have to write a letter posing as Master Attendant?
Ah, I’m getting more pissed now.
Nobody seemed to want to listen to my opinion, and they all thought they could decide what to do with me. What exactly did they take me for…?
Time seemed to stop and accelerate at the same time. I began to run, my surroundings melting into a blur. All I could hear was the furious beating of my heart and the wind in my ears.
The contract was gone, and the feeling of unease had grown into full on terror. Home… Something’s gone terribly wrong at home!
I rushed into the house, silent as a tomb.
Where were they?
The sound of shattering glass came from Master Attendant’s room. I rushed up the stairs, charging into the room I had in recent years come to dread entering. I saw my master hugging a bottle of wine to her chest, the tears streaming down her face as she sat next to the corpse of my Master Attendant.
“I’m sorry, Gingerbread.”
Her voice began to break.
“Father and I… we have no right to bind you anymore. Please, leave this place…”
She coughed twice, then raised the wine bottle to her lips and drained it, before flashing me one last smile.
“I hope you can leave this place and live freely from here onward.”
I couldn’t protect her and could not stop her from dying. By the time I had realized that the wine she had imbibed had been poisoned, I was too late to do anything.
I held her soft body in my hands, my eyes red with tears as I tried to encourage her to throw up the wine she had drunk. However, she merely laughed weakly at my request, and did not give me a reply.
I left her in the room, sprinting to the nearest pharmacy to buy some ipecac. However, she had stopped breathing long before I returned to the house.
…and so I was abandoned.
Two days after I buried my Master Attendant and his daughter, the town seemed like a completely different place. Rumors spread fast in a town like this, and I went from a praiseworthy Food Soul to a cursed bringer of disaster.
The thugs, who scowled at me as I passed, and the townspeople who had always greeted me with wide smiles now regarded me as an object of terror. All the good I had done was forgotten in an instant.
I was not needed anymore.
“A Bringer of Disaster? Seems more like a little injured kitten to me.”
Sometime after Dusk, the Food Soul who had started arguing with Steak barged into the house uninvited. His condescending voice pissed me off. I hugged my shoulders and huddled closer to the fireplace, glaring at him.
“You’re trespassing. You have one minute. If you don’t leave, I will personally throw you out.”
“Good grief, you and he are just as uncouth as each other. Even when you have nowhere left to go, you still refuse to ask for help. I suppose introductions are in order. I am Red Wine, of the Order of Canaan. The reason I’ve come today is that I’ve received a request to recruit you into our Order.”
“I don’t need your sympathy or your aid… Also, weren’t you a part of the Knights of the Something or Other?”
“Hmph, the “Knights” are nothing more than the fanciful creation of a long-horned idiot. Now, I’m not the type of person to do things without good reason. Of course, you don’t need my sympathy, still, you’re not the type to refuse my kindness.”
“…Has anybody ever told you that if you get too cocky, they’ll punch you in the face?”
“Cute. Anyway, your Master Attendant requested that we bring her most valuable gem with us when we leave this town. I’m here to asses whether you’re of any value to our Order.”
Liar. If I were really important she wouldn’t have abandoned me and committed suicide with Master Attendant.
Red Wine smiled.
“ ‘I hope you can give her the chance to find something she truly believes in.’ was what she had written”
What exactly do I believe in.
Apart from my initial orders, my desire to protect her had always been genuine. I was willing to do as she asked, and always strove to become the “good person” she always thought I could become. And yet… I had felt so much relief when she had finally killed the torturous bastard of a Master Attendant.
If she had not committed suicide, I would have abandoned the rules and laws of society just to stay by her side, even though she had committed the irredeemable sin of patricide. Would that have made me a good person?
I remembered her last words, and senselessly asked Red Wine a question.
“Are you a good person?”
“That’s nothing more than a term that society gives to people who conform to their expectations. Whether or not I am a good person is something you have to decide for yourself.”
“Then you had better not disappoint me.”
And so, I reached out and grabbed the hand he had extended towards me.
One winter, the girl's father took the gem called the magic crystal back to a town that even Fallen Angels wouldn’t pay visit to.
With a gingerbread he made himself, he summoned the first and only Food Soul in town, and made her accompany his daughter to protect her. Gingerbread’s Master Attendant was more of a skilled businessman rather than a proper cooking attendant.
And, of course, he was a gentle father. Because his wife had died due to childbirth, he and his daughter depended on each other. He never thought of getting married again, and rarely said no to his daughter.
Apart from being a bit too dependent on her father, the girl was well educated in all aspects.
Gingerbread grew up with the girl since the day she was summoned.
She took care of her when Master Attendant went out to do business. She watched her grow from a girl as tall as her to a beautiful young woman, and gradually understood her mind.
Although the most unbreakable relationship for Gingerbread in the world was the one she had with her Master Attendant, as they were connected by a contract, in Gingerbread's heart, the depth of her bond with the girl had already long exceeded the one she had with him, who rarely came back home.
Gingerbread’s Master Attendant was a well-known kindhearted man in the town.
The girl was also like that.
Whenever she went out on the street, she always commanded Gingerbread to help the weak.
Although Gingerbread protested every time, she never actually refused any of her orders. Gingerbread thought that life could just keep on going like that, but reality would never have allowed that.
Those happy times only lasted for ten years. In the eleventh year, the Food Soul learned that humans can change in more ways than just appearance.
The first change were threats. Master Attendant’s business failed. Once he lost his gentleness, he became a drunkard who used domestic violence to prove his self-worth to himself.
He would always come up with an excise to “punish” the girl. Even just hearing her voice became a reason for him to act.
At that time, he would order Gingerbread to leave, or dragged the girl into his room, so that he could "educate" her.
Then, it was the girl’s turn.
"Gingerbread, don't try to help me anymore. You intervening will only make my father angrier."
"Do you really want me to just stay out of it? Even if he is my Master Attendant --"
“He’s your Master Attendant! He’s your real Master! Gingerbread, that’s enough… not everyone needs your help.”
After the girl had interrupted Gingerbread, they went silent for a while. Gingerbread felt a fire burning in her chest, which made her heart ache.
“I chose my father. Since I decided to stay with him, I won’t reject him. Even if… even if everything’s over, I won’t leave him alone.”
A month later, the girl executed her premeditated crime. She killed her father and then poisoned herself in front of Gingerbread. The news of the death of the Presley family spread rapidly in the town. People who had been beaten up by Gingerbread and hated her took this opportunity to spread rumors, intending to drive her away from the town. When she walked down the streets, she couldn’t even help children who fell down to get up from the ground.
“Stay away from my child!”
“What do you mean?”
"There's never been family members killing each other in this town! It was you who brought misfortune! I don't want to curse my children too! "
“Are you even listening to yourself?”
"Of course I am! I’ll get you thrown out of our town! "
“Yeah! Get out of here!”
"We won't believe you like Mr. and Miss Presley did! "
The townspeople’s malicious voices came from all directions. Angry, sad, gloating, proud... everyone's expressions were revolving around her. Gingerbread couldn't stand the dizziness any more. She drew her sword and pointed it towards the villagers.
“I've had enough of your gossip. If anyone dares to say a single other word about me, then don't blame me for considering them my enemy and killing them.”
Humans can change. A gentle father can become a cruel drunkard, a kind daughter can kill his beloved father, and thankful townspeople can expel those who have once helped them. Gingerbread understood that in this world, good people will become bad people, and good people will be treated as bad people. But why? To Gingerbread, that still didn't make any sense. Red Wine scoffed at Gingerbread’s questions, simply replying with “how boring”.
“Is good and bad really that important?”
Gingerbread pondered over Red Wine’s words, finally shaking her own head as a reply.
"If it’s not important, then, why do you even care about it?"
Gingerbread suddenly realized that. She now understood that there was no right or wrong when it came to protect something important. As long as she thinks that person is worth it, whether it is to cross a sea of thorns and blood, or to do something that's considered taboo, she is willing to fight for them to the end.