I. Tamakyo’s Anecdotes
"Looks like their fates end here, eh?"
I sat quietly on a small folding stool in the alley, watching passers-by hurry along on their way. They looked fearful, and few noticed my unassuming little stall. No one else could hear me.
"Oh? What do we have here now?"
The only person who stopped by was a rebel soldier patrolling the city. Ever since the Jade City was captured by the rebels, they've been relentlessly seeking the Divine Lord's successor. The only way the common folk would ever obey them was when they had wiped away every trace of the Divine Lord’s family line.
"I’m just offering people a place to rest and have a chat. I have complimentary tea here as well, if you'd like a cup?"
"You're a Food Soul?" He sat down in a brusque manner and began to massage his legs. He downed the large cup of tea I offered to him in a single gulp.
The soldier let out a relaxed sigh, "Ahhh, perfect."
"I'm a local. I got tired of reading all the time, so I came here to set up a stall and enjoy the crowd. Just a small place for people to rest, can’t be considered a real business.”
"Mmhm... well, here's some news for you. There's an escaped criminal. A divine clerk who committed regicide. If you see him, let me know. There'll be a handsome reward for you."
"Of course, of course."
The soldier left, satisfied. I glanced around to make sure no one was watching, then returned to the alley with my folding stool and knocked gently on the wooden door.
"It's safe now."
Jade City. The ancient royal city that had stood tall for a thousand centuries had been embroiled in war for a few weeks.
When White Tiger, the Divine Lord of Light Kingdom, had reached the end of his life, rebels had seized the opportunity to attack before his successor could come forward. They attacked from the west and quickly occupied the city.
This young divine clerk had planned to escape the city through the sewers but was besieged by Fallen Angels. Luckily, I heard the commotion and rescued him. I may have rescued his life, but staying any longer in this city was still dangerous.
"You’re still intending to go?"
"The rebels have prevented news of Jade City's fall from spreading. So if someone doesn't inform Lord Southplume before he arrives to take the throne, then he'll be walking right into their trap. He'll surely die."
"If things have already reached this point, why don't you just give up?"
"How could a Food Soul like you understand?!" He bellowed, turning angry at my question.
"I'm sorry, but I know that if you force something to happen, it wouldn't end well; Things must follow according to nature." I've spent years reading a great number of human-authored books; This kind of argument is calling "reasoning" and it can sway many humans greatly, but this divine clerk wasn't convinced. "Isn’t it the same no matter who governs the peace and security of Light Kingdom?"
"Light Kingdom can only be safe if Lord Southplume takes his place as the Divine Lord." He gazed in the direction of the Fortress, his eyes full of determination.
"Aren’t you afraid of dying?"
"This is the fulfilment of my faith!"
"Faith!" He looked at me with eyes ablaze, as though it took all his strength to say that single word. It seemed to represent everything he had.
However, to Food Souls such as myself, there is nothing more important than our contract. Our duty lies within obeying our contract, protecting our Master Attendant and eradicating any Fallen Angels.
But that was the past. My Master Attendant had died alone three years ago and left me this small house. Since then, all I've spent my time reading books and wandering around the city. There had been nothing else for me to do, until I rescued this clerk.
"Time waits for no man. I have to go." He stood up and waved goodbye to me, then stumbled to the door.
"... Wait, I'll escort you."
"Huh? But, why?"
"I didn’t even realise your foot was still injured. It’ll cause some inconvenience to your trip, and if you run into any Fallen Angel, it'll be your death sentence."
"You... you've already helped me so much. I couldn't..."
"If you’re helping someone, help them till the end."
Faith. Even though I didn’t exactly understand what it was, if it could make this man risk his life willingly, then it must be incredibly important.
The Jade City gates were heavily guarded by rebel forces, so there was no way to get out through the main entrance. And since no one had taken the time to clean the sewers during the several weeks of intense fighting above, they were now infested with Fallen Angels. Although it was dangerous, it was the only way out of the city without being noticed.
"Going through here is the only way, but with you here I don't think we'll run into any problems."
"Just don't let your guard down."
Perhaps my words were a reminder to him. For a while, we didn't say a word to each other as we traversed the sewers. The only sound was the gurgle of the putrid waste water flowing by.
"Can you do me a favour?” He suddenly stopped and turned towards me, though I could barely make out his silhouette in the darkness. "Even though I'm a divine clerk, I'm still an ordinary human being who can die, but you..."
"If I'm captured, please notify Lord Southplume on my behalf. Please!" He bowed deeply in front of me.
"... You're a human being. You shouldn't be bowing to a Food Soul like me."
"This isn't just about me, you have to understand. Lord Southplume must become the next Divine Lord. This is about the future of Light Kingdom."
Humans are really strange. They’re always thinking about the consequences on a larger scale, even when it's just a matter between two people. Still, I guess that’s the reason why they have the capability to dominate the world of Tierra…
We continued walking in silence, and even though we encountered several Fallen Angels along the way, I took care of them easily. Eventually, we saw light at the end of the sewer tunnel.
However, the light was broken up into pieces by many shadows.
A large force assembled outside the Fortress and at its head was a lavish, oxen-pulled cart. Sitting in it was a handsome man dressed in fine clothing. 'This must be Lord Southplume, the man who is suppose to replace the Divine Lord,' I thought to myself.
I walked up to him.
"What are you doing?" A guard noticed my approach and came up to stand in my way. "You are not permitted to block Lord Southplume's path!"
"I'm Plum Juice, a Food Soul, and I have an important matter to discuss with Lord Southplume."
"Wait here." The guard was very reasonable and proceeded to report the matter to the man in the cart. Soon it rumbled its way and stopped in front of me. Lord Southplume stuck his head out and smiled.
"Plum Juice, is it? Wonderful to meet you! What's this about then?"
"... One of the divine clerks requested for me to pass a message to you. Rebels have occupied Jade City, and I'm afraid if you go there now, it will end badly. You should gather your forces at the fortress and then wipe the rebels out in order to take back Jade City."
"Mm, I know. But why did he send you, an outsider?"
"... He died."
"I see, I thought as much." He responded, unperturbed, as though things just didn't seem so bad. On the other hand, his reaction lit an unexpected fire in my heart.
"Is... Is that all you have to say about his death?!"
"Hmm? Oh, you misunderstand me. It's not that I'm unmoved by his sacrifice, but if you spent time with him then I'm sure you understand that my mission is more important to him than a few tears over his death. Isn't that right? The only way his soul will be able to rest is if I take over as Divine Lord."
Lord Southplume's words were just like those of the clerk. It sounded as though they had rehearsed their words, but there was still something about their tacit understanding that I just couldn't wrap my head around.
"Lord Southplume, he often spoke of faith, but what is that?"
"You don't understand?" He thought for a moment. His smile disappeared when I didn’t reply. "This isn't something I or anyone else can teach you. Faith is a belief that belongs to you. You must experience and understand it yourself. And if you succeed in doing that, then you can change and give your all for it."
"Like how he died for this?"
"Maybe it's pointless in your eyes, but please believe me. You'll understand one day. Just start with the people around you."
V. Plum Juice
Lord Southplume finally became the next Divine Lord, and the rebels returned to the garrison to protect Light Kingdom's borders. A sense of vitality returned to the land and its people under his reign, but no one knew how he did it.
Plum Juice returned to Jade City and met many like-minded Food Souls. Thanks to his intelligence, he flourished while living in the city, but the idea of "faith" was never far from his mind.
Just what exactly is faith?
Should Food Souls have faith?
For the time being, he didn't have answers to these questions.
"Maybe someday I'll find a partner who will help me understand faith."
With this idea firmly in mind, Plum Juice stared at Jade City's Kunlun Palace for a while, then turned and disappeared into the crowd.