I. Our Promise Back Then
"Come on, Pizza!"
"Hurry up, you two~!”
The kingdom I lived in wasn’t particularly vast, but it has rich soil and everything you needed to live a good life. And my Master Attendant was the king.
The citizens were warm and gentle. The king was diligent and loved his people. There was also a beautiful and kind princess. Everywhere bustled with life under the radiant sun.
Listening to the sound of leaves rustling as they swayed in the breeze, I looked up at the white clouds drifting in the sky and squinted my eyes.
"Pizza! Come on! The owner of the orchard will be here soon!"
Their voices pulled me back to reality. I quickened my pace and ran towards the wall, digging my nails into the crevices to pull myself up.
Cheese placed her feet into Cassata’s interlocked fingers and was easily boosted up over the wall. I reached out a hand to Cassata and helped him up too.
The three of us started laughing uncontrollably as we watched the owner’s mutt leap at us, only to clamp down on thin air. Sure enough, we heard the orchard owner cursing on the other side of the wall. Meeting his gaze, I shrugged my shoulders and stuck out my tongue before fleeing out of sight.
When we were far away from the orchard, I leaned against a wall and saw Cheese bent over with her hands on her knees, catching her breath. I couldn’t hold back from poking her cheek.
"Cheese! You've got to exercise more! Don't just hole up in the palace all day!"
"I don’t have nearly as much free time as you do! I have to stay with Master Attendant! Speaking of which, where’s her apple?”
"I've got it."
"Did you leave the money?"
"Yup! I placed it on the branch of that apple tree. He’ll see it the moment he gets there! A gold coin!"
We went back to the palace and gave the prettiest apple we had found on that day to the princess.
After bidding farewell to Cheese and the princess, Cassata and I wandered around the palace.
We lay on the roof and gazed at the starry night sky. The cool wind was particularly refreshing in this stuffy weather. I bit into an apple I’d picked earlier that afternoon and turned to look at Cassata who was sitting next to me.
"Do you think there’ll be more exciting things to do outside this kingdom? I've heard some traveling merchants mention that some countries have capitals bigger than our whole nation.”
"Heh, maybe. It’s not like I’ve ever been there before." Cassata said to me as he lay down quietly with his eyes closed.
"Perhaps…after the princess gets better, marries and has an heir, we can leave here and check it out with Cheese one day." I leaned closer, hands planted on the ground, hoping Cassata could feel what I was feeling.
Cassata opened his eyes slightly and grinned.
"It’s settled then! The three of us will travel together in future!”
"…Alright. It's settled."
Back then, I never thought that our promise would soon come true in the worst possible way.
II. Destiny's Departure
The princess's health has always been poor. But it seemed to worsen recently. The princess would often cough up blood whenever we laughed together. She hid it well, but she couldn’t hide her blood-stained handkerchief.
Master Attendant, who could usually muster up a smile, grew more and more anxious. It was as if he were undergoing a trial from the devil himself as he watched his daughter follow the steps of his dead wife with each passing day. Unable to take the pain of losing another loved one, the wise emperor became less and less level-headed. He tried everything he could to save his ever-weakening daughter.
As the princess’ old friends, we were worried about her too. Cheese no longer smiled like she used to. Even Cassata always looked like he had something weighing on his mind. As tension lingered in the air, my jokes could no longer crack them up like they did in the past. Instead, it was the ailing princess who comforted us.
One day, out of the blue, a self-proclaimed traveling merchant offered his help to Master Attendant. He claimed that he could save the princess.
We were naïve to believe this was a gift from God. God, who surely didn’t wish to see such a wonderful girl die young and gave her a second chance at life.
That day, I was by Master Attendant’s side when I saw that guy for the first time.
I couldn’t deny that his first impression wasn’t too shabby. He was a polite young man, well-dressed and elegantly postured. You could say he fit in with this palace even more than I did, and I had lived here all my life.
He carried a briefcase with a strange symbol on it, but that didn’t change our impression of him at all. He even got up politely and bowed to me when he noticed I had entered the room. I stood by Master Attendant as he introduced him to me.
"Mr Vita here is a traveling merchant. He has picked up some mysterious skills from the countries he'd travelled to, and as luck would have it, one of the skills can cure the princess.”
“Our meeting must have been arranged by God due to his love for Her Royal Highness.”
As I stared at this eloquent man whose every move radiated elegance, I felt a spark of anxiety flicker in my chest. All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. Chills ran through my body as I clutched at my chest involuntarily. It was then I realized that "Mr. Vita" had stood up and was smiling warmly at me.
I must be seeing things.
He’s clearly here to help us.
"Your Majesty, this is…?"
"My food soul. His name is Pizza."
"His flag… It is gorgeous…"
Strangely, Mr Vita was staring at me as he spoke.
I thanked him awkwardly.
From then on, Master Attendant arranged for Mr Vita to live in the palace. I would often fetch the Princess’ medicine from him under Master Attendant’s orders.
"How is the princess doing?"
"Better than before. Speaking of which, Mr Vita, are you a doctor?"
"Doctor?" Mr Vita repeated before returning a smile. "I’m just your average merchant."
I haven't gotten used to the man's smile. Feeling uncomfortable, I shifted my attention to something else.
I picked up a book from the bookshelf beside me and started to leaf through it. Even though I didn't understand most of the complicated notes written in there, there were a few interesting things. For instance, a liquid named 'Aqua Vitae' which was discovered in an experiment ended up becoming a popular alcohol.
"Aqua Vitae…the water of life…?"
Before I could read any further, a pair of slender hands snatched the book away from me.
"Here you are, Her Royal Highness’ medicine for today.”
His gentle smile only made me want to get away from him even more. I took the medicine from him and left hastily.
As the days passed, the princess’ health improved.
Master Attendant, overjoyed by the news, began trusting the man more than ever. If that was all to it, maybe what happened next wouldn’t have occurred.
But Master Attendant was at his beck and call.
No matter how ridiculous Mr Vita’s ideology was, Master Attendant would always trust him wholeheartedly.
III. Drowning Young
That stormy night, Master Attendant, who had never disturbed our sleep before, suddenly summoned me to his study.
Master Attendant hasn’t called for me ever since Mr Vita got here. He must have been busy and only had the time to look for me now. Figuring that was the reason, I didn’t think too much of it and went to his study.
It was only when a flash of lightning lit up the room that I discovered Master Attendant, sitting at his desk, looking so thin with his skin clung to his bones.
"Pizza, how does the princess usually treat you?”
"…The princess treats me well. She’s like a sister to me."
"And how do I usually treat you?”
"Master Attendant treats me well too, of course. You're the most important person to me."
"Then you…will do anything for us, right?”
For some reason, Master Attendant’s eyes were dark as he slowly made his way over and patted my head gently.
"Master Attendant…what do you mean?"
A sudden chill went down my spine. Before I could react, two huge black snakes suddenly burst out of the shadows and coiled around me.
"Then, allow me to explain what happens next~"
That man who always had a humble smile on his face emerged from a dark corner.
“I’ll leave it to you then, Mr Vita.”
Master Attendant remained impassive towards the situation and left the study without another word.
"Are you a food soul?"
"Hehe, a food soul? Haven’t I said it before? I’m just your average merchant.”
The twin snakes coiled tighter, seemingly angry.
"What did you do to Master Attendant?!"
"You’ve got quite the spirit, huh? This decision was made by His Majesty. I have done nothing, you know. But now, everything hinges on your decision.”
As he explained, I could just barely wrap my head around the techniques he called “alchemy”.
To him, I was a “seed”. A “seed” that could give “life”.
As a food soul, my dream energy is pure. Dream energy is the origin of this world and from where all life started. Therefore, he wanted to use a food soul’s energy--no, more specifically, dream energy--to cure the princess.
If he was just using my dream energy to cure the princess, I would have agreed without a second thought. However, the "seed" that he mentioned was far more terrifying.
The energy needed for a human’s life was far more than what I could offer alone. The "Seed" would only continue to absorb dream energy from others in order to gain enough power to sustain the princess's life.
Heh~ Sounds like a fallen angel.
How I wish this was something I could sweep aside with my usual jokes. But I can never hurt others, even if it was for the princess.
"As long as you agree to do it, your princess will be saved. Isn't it a good deal?"
"No way! Don’t you even think about it!”
"Ah~ Don’t overreact, it’ll be over soon…"
Those red snake-like eyes gradually approached closer as my eyelids grew heavier.
The sun shone as always, the faces around me were smiling as usual. Master Attendant sat on his throne and smiled at me kindly. The princess stood by his side, giving me a warm smile too as she waved at me.
I ran towards them with the flag that Master Attendant had given me. It symbolizes peace.
Suddenly, everything was swallowed up by darkness. A black snake appeared out of nowhere and bit me. I was immobilized as it began coiling around me.
The heads of Master Attendant and the princess hung limply like broken puppets as they collapsed over the throne.
A man who’d been standing in the shadows all this time finally revealed himself, carrying his gentle smile like always. He slowly approached Master Attendant and rested a hand on his shoulder.
I kept reaching out, trying to get closer to them, but the black snake wouldn’t budge. The pain of my flesh tearing wasn’t enough to mask the agony of watching Master Attendant and the princess die right in front of my eyes.
No! Let them go!
Move! Come on, move!
I wanted to scream but it was as if I was choking. No sound could escape. As darkness completely surrounded me, it wasn't until a sense of suffocation filled me that I realized I wasn't dead yet.
Master Attendant once told me that my flag was a symbol of peace for this kingdom. The kingdom would stay peaceful as long as my long life as a food soul carried on.
I couldn't help but remember Cassata and Cheese’s sunlit smiles in the orchard that day, and the promise made under that night sky…
I can't admit defeat. I’ll never admit defeat.
My flag doesn’t exist to hurt others. And the princess would never allow me to rob the lives of others for her own sake.
My consciousness felt like it had sank deep into the ocean, drifting aimlessly. I tried to struggle to the surface, but my leaden body wouldn’t move.
Somehow, the flag in my hand seemed to understand my intentions and began glowing gently. Breaking away from the never-ending darkness, my consciousness gradually started to return.
IV. Destined Ending
As I awakened from the dream, I had no memory of how I had passed out.
My skin felt bitterly cold at places where it was exposed to the air. I did not have any energy left in me to move but could still feel pain wrack throughout my entire body. Perhaps it was due to the ropes that bounded me…
I opened my eyes and found myself lying on a hard stone table. I wanted to run, but soon realized that I was still tied up.
I tried turning my head and could only vaguely make out my surroundings. This wasn’t Master Attendant’s study, nor was it the living quarters Master Attendant had arranged for that man.
But what startled me most was the incomprehensible crisscrosses of white paint that streaked across my body.
The sharp smell of medicine hung in the air and a slew of strange instruments and knives were displayed on a nearby table.
Where was I?
And why had I never known about this place despite having lived here my whole life?
A faint bubbling noise, accompanied with the sound of boots shuffling against the floor, gradually approached me. Not wanting him to notice that I was awake, I quickly shut my eyes.
He lifted my head as if he were performing some observations before tossing me back against the table. As the back of my head slammed against the stone surface, I couldn’t help but let out a grunt at the sudden pain.
"So you’re awake~"
A soft, devilish whisper rang by my ear.
"Looks like you've managed to stay conscious. So it's not going as smoothly as I thought after all…”
My cover blown, I gave up my act and glared at the man as he flashed me a slight smile.
"That look in your eyes…are you angry?"
Suddenly, the room shook. Heaps of ash scattered from the ceiling of the dark lab. The man knitted his eyebrows slightly, but a small, helpless smile appeared on his face.
"It seems that a little mouse has slipped in."
"I don't like to be called by such a cute name, Mr Vita."
Cassata had broken through the wall in a matter of seconds.
Dust clouded the entire room, but Vita managed to dodge Cassata’s attack easily. Cassata used the moment of distraction to sprint towards me.
At that instant, two black shadows sprang out from Vita’s side. I knew they were the same black snakes that had trapped me from before.
The snakes leaped at Cassata, their pupils a sickly red. Cassata didn’t dodge. Instead, he continued removing my shackles in a stubborn manner.
Suddenly, I felt a warm liquid dripping onto my face. The snakes had left deep gashes on Cassata's eye and nose. Blood was all over his face.
"Cassata, are…are you okay?"
"I’m fine." Cassata replied easily and smiled as he picked me up.
"You, on the other hand, shouldn’t be handing this flag over to someone like that.” Cassata returned the flag into my hands as he spoke.
Cassata was hurt because I had not been able to move my body.
"Sorry, Cassata. It’s all my fault…"
"It’s fine. Not your fault that I happen to be your guard.”
"Heh, not bad."
Two black shadows shot back to Vita’s side, circling around him like the dark blazes of hell.
“Unfortunately, the injuries caused by my twin snakes do not heal easily.”
His stance remained elegant, and the way he had dodged the attacks just now was far beyond a human's capability.
"You’re…a food soul?" I asked in disbelief.
Or rather, I couldn’t imagine a food soul doing something like this.
"Speaking of which, I haven't officially introduced myself to you, have I? Vita, Akua Vita. Do you understand now?”
He didn’t answer my question directly.
"Ah… Akua Vita [Aqua Vitae]…water…the water of life?!"
I suddenly remembered that name from the book I had read in his room.
"That's right, you've finally guessed it. Or perhaps you’d be more familiar with the name Whiskey.”
A golden snake appeared in his palm and coiled around his hand.
"If you’re a food soul, why are you doing this?!"
Even I was surprised at how angry my voice sounded.
"Have I done something wrong? I’m helping your Master Attendant, am I not?" Whiskey’s tone never changed.
"Turning illusion into reality, pain into happiness, and end into rebirth… I did inform him of the risks. He was the one who made the decision to sacrifice you for his daughter. But, unfortunately, you turned out to be just another failed experiment.”
Looking at his smile, I could hardly suppress the dark impulse in my heart. Affected by my emotions, I lost control over the flag in my hand. Black flames burst out of the flag as a feeling of despair and revenge engulfed me like the encircling flames.
What scared me was that my body, immovable as a rock just a moment ago, started to move on its own. My hand lifted the flag and swung it down towards Whiskey.
Whisky never imagined that the black snakes protecting him would be sliced into two. I was not expecting my flag to turn into a sharp scythe either.
Perhaps caught off guard, Whiskey dodged a little slower than usual. Although I wasn’t able to hurt Whiskey, the scythe did slice his coat.
Exhausted, my body suddenly buckled and collapsed to the floor.
A pendant made up of twin snakes coiled around each other dropped onto the ground in front of me. I knew that was Whiskey’s logo.
"What an interesting 'failure'."
The hint of humor in Whiskey’s voice deepened slightly. "I’ve already gotten what I came here for, but you really are a surprise, Pizza~"
"Till we meet again!"
With that, Whiskey disappeared from the palace.
No one knew where he went.
The only ones left in the dimly lit room were Cassata and I.
I picked up the twin snake pendant and gripped it tightly. Even as the sharp pendant pierced my palm, I did not let go.
It was as if someone had declared an end to peace.
After being rescued by Cassata, we were suddenly hunted down by the royal guards. The princess was dead and Master Attendant had committed suicide…
All the blame was pushed onto us.
Everything was destroyed.
Only I knew that the arrow of destiny had changed its course of direction from the moment that demonic man came into our lives.
Pizza was once a carefree lad.
His Master Attendant was the king of this kingdom. He lived a good life, with a caring sister and reliable brothers. The king’s daughter was a Master Attendant as well and her food soul was a cute little girl by the name of Cheese.
One day, when Pizza visited the church with his Master Attendant, he found a heavily wounded teen in the corner of the cathedral. His name was Cassata.
Without a Master Attendant, he was extremely weak. He had lost his home and just barely escaped from a fallen angel, but was still in imminent danger of fading away.
So Pizza brought Cassata to the king, and the king took him in.
Pizza initially thought that his wonderful life was probably attributed to having saved the world in a past life. However, the illness plaguing the princess marked the beginning of the end.
Just as the king fell into despair over his daughter’s illness, a man’s arrival seemed to bring them hope. He claimed to be a traveling merchant who has brought 'alchemy' skills that could save the king's daughter.
The king never questioned it.
His treatment was indeed somewhat effective in the initial stages. But the princess's condition started to deteriorate again not long after.
So the man suggested using Pizza as a medium for the alchemy to work its magic. He would then be able to absorb enough dream energy by taking the lives of others to save the princess.
Pizza never imagined that the loving king would agree to the ridiculous idea of genocide.
Pizza would not do it, even if it was a request from the Master Attendant who loved him like his own child. But they never planned on seeking his opinion.
Whiskey took Pizza away by force and carried out the experiment he had envisioned.
His plan involved wiping clean Pizza's consciousness, leaving nothing but a formation of pure dream energy behind. By turning Pizza into an existence that was similar to that of a fallen angel, it will constantly absorb dream energy until a 'life' was created.
However, the experiment failed.
A food soul’s consciousness cannot be easily destroyed.
Just as Whiskey was about to abandon the experiment, something happened which left him anticipating what was to come. Pizza’s flag turned into a scythe that managed to slice through the twin snakes defending him.
Even though it piqued his interest, Whiskey knew there was no need for him to stay any longer. As he had predicted, the princess’ condition is deteriorating and she would eventually succumb to her illness. The king, whose mind was clouded by the love for his daughter, faced impending despair and anguish which will ultimately seal his fate too.
"Till we meet again then!"
With those parting words, Whiskey ordered his twin snakes to open up a new path, destroying the surroundings in the process.
As dust filled the air, Whiskey approached Pizza once again and whispered in his ear. His low voice was tinged with a hint of humour.
"This is just the beginning. I believe we are far from done yet.”
Before Whiskey’s lingering breath had a chance to dissipate, Cassata was already pulling Pizza along and they escaped that dangerous place together.
Back then, Pizza didn’t understand what Whiskey meant.
After Whiskey disappeared, Pizza and Cassata discovered that they were being hunted down by the royal guards. The kingdom had already undergone earth-shattering changes without them realizing.
Sneaking their way back, they finally returned to the palace.
Upon opening the secret passageway that lead to the princess’ room, they found Cheese hugging her knees and crying in the dark. Although they felt relived to be reunited with Cheese, the news that Cheese delivered caused them to fall silent again.
When the princess passed away, the king slit his throat just before his aristocratic brother’s rebellion reached the palace. Despite being the main culprit behind everything, he pinned all the blame on Pizza and Cassata.
With no time to patch up their wounds--Cheese didn't even have the time to question them on their haggard appearances--the three made their escape from the palace.
Fearful of food souls, the aristocrat's rebellion announced to the entire kingdom that Pizza and his friends had murdered the princess and the king. But on the day the aristocrat’s rebellion succeeded, the king's brother's torn up corpse was found at his old residence.
Pizza and Cassata, who escaped unnoticed, were scorned by the public once again.
They were criminals.
It was the reason why every soldier in the kingdom was after them.
A power struggle between the aristocrats quickly ignited in this empty-throned kingdom.
The entire nation fell into chaos.
Pizza sat on a cliff, facing the wind. He stared in the direction of a palace that was no longer in sight while clutching the twin snake pendant in his hand.
He could never forget.
The man named Whiskey. It was as if he knew everything would end up like this.
"What happened? Why did you guys just grab me and run?"
Cheese finally had the chance to ask.
Pizza looked troubled.
"Pizza and I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's all a misunderstanding.”
Cassata placed his hand on Pizza’s shoulder as if he was trying to cover up Pizza's panic state.
"Yeah, it’s just a misunderstanding."
Looking at Cheese, Pizza could not bring himself to tell her the truth. He never want to see Cheese’s clear, bright eyes cloud over.
He silently vowed to stop Whiskey so as to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. It would be for the best to keep the memory to himself
This way, Cheese will be able to laugh and get angry at him like she always did.
This way, Cassata will never get hurt because of him again.
Yes, it would be for the best.