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After the battle had ended Hiiro reverted his sword back by writing『Origin (元) 』 on it. At any rate, the sharpness of 『Piercer』could only be called first-rate. It had easily gone through the opponent as if it was piercing tofu.
(Nothing less from a katana that specializes in piercing.)
Hiiro nodded in satisfaction. Arnold who had been silent finally opens his mouth to talk.
Arnold: "Y-you… What'd you do?"
"Shouldn't you be more worried about the Chibi?"
Hiiro quickly changed the topic since he had no intention of explaining it. Arnold gasped and shouted out Muir's name. She slowly appeared from behind a rock where she had been hiding.
Arnold: "A-are you hurt?"
"Thank god ~."
Arnold sunk down to the ground feeling relieved from the bottom of his heart. After glancing at them quickly Hiiro quietly sheathed his katana. His stomach suddenly growled and while holding it, he walked towards Arnold.
"Hey, Old Man. Keep your promise."
Arnold: "… What promise?"
Hiiro slightly drew his katana from its sheath with a clink.
Arnold: "Ju-just kidding! I'm kidding! Put that away!"
"Hurry and let me eat that addicting meat. I'm starving."
Arnold: "… Hah, sorry Muir. I didn't wanna eat it in a place like this…"
Muir: "I-it's fine. I did get saved by him. Be-besides, isn't it tastier when you eat with everyone?"
"Uuooooh! Why are you such a good kid, Muir?!" Arnold embraced Muir while shouting emotionally. Normally this would be a heart-warming scene but while holding his stomach Hiiro said,
"Hurry up over there. I'm starving."
An irritated vein popped up on Arnold's forehead due to Hiiro's attitude but he realized that it was pointless to say anything. So with a sigh he lead the two away.
Arnold: "Come along. I'll start preparing the food."
"Ah, I'll help!" Muir said as if she wanted to tell them that she was going to do anything for them and she started moving.
"Erm ~ I think it was… Ah, here it is!" Arnold rummaged behind some rocks and pulled out a large bag. He opened the bag and took out yet another bag. Something thick and heavy seemed to be inside of that bag.
"Is that it?"
Arnold: "Ye-yeah! Inside is… This!"
What he pulled out was meat tied up with string. It was as big as a rugby ball.
Arnold: "Mhm, this is 《Aqua Hound Meat》. Moreover, it's the thigh, the most delicious part!"
Arnold thrusted the meat in front of Hiiro as if asking for his opinion. He seemed to be holding the meat while moving his index finger and his eyes where somewhat sparkling.
"Whatever, hurry and let me eat. Hurry it up."
Arnold: "You sure are an arrogant brat. Eat some fruits until it's done. But leave some for me."
"I'll try my best."
Arnold: "No, no. Leave some for me!"
Hiiro ate two of the six red fruits that were the size of a fist that Arnold had taken out from a bag he received from Muir.
Arnold: "Nibble on that until I finish cooking."
Arnold: "Already!? I was prepared for it, but you're gonna eat it all, aren't you?! Ah, whatever. I'm gonna prepare the meat so be patient!"
Using a wooden pole Arnold took a big stone from the bonfire. By the looks of it the bright red stone was incredibly hot.
Muir: "Should I put it down, Uncle?"
Arnold: "Ah, be careful not to burn yourself."
Muir put the meat down on top of the stone. It sizzled deliciously and gradually changed colours brilliantly, releasing meat juice and a fragrant smell.
All three of them couldn't help but gulp down their saliva. Little Muir was also unable to take her eyes off the meat.
"Hey, hey. Isn't it fine already?"
Arnold: "No, not yet. A certain procedure is needed to bring out the meat's best flavour."
The juice temporarily stopped oozing out of the meat and the string holding it together was cut then surprisingly, the meat started to swell up.
"O-oh, what's this!?"
Arnold: "That's meat swelling! It's unique to the 《Aqua Hound Meat》! It swells up when the excess fat is removed. It becomes about three times bigger."
It was amazing that it grew three times bigger. Its original size was already around the size of a rugby ball, three times more than that was quite big.
When the swelling hit its peak it started shaking, it wasn't like meat at all. Hiiro questioned if it was really meat but the smell coming from it told Hiiro that it was definitely meat. Before he knew it he was drooling uncontrollably.
Arnold: "Okay, Muir, get the containers!"
Arnold was pretty excited. Muir nodded happily while taking out three containers from the bag. Arnold passed the knife that he kept on his waist to Muir and she quickly sliced the meat with a single slash. The knife cut through the meat without any resistance as if it was pudding. After equally splitting it into three portions, she put each portion into the containers.
The meat was very thick and heavy. It was big and had a strong presence. [TN: What does that mean…?] Normally Hiiro would not be able to finish something of this size but strangely he felt that he would be able to.
"A-ah! Wa-wait!" Hiiro tried to dig in but Muir stopped him.
"What? Any more than this would be torture."
His stomach had been growling in hunger for a while now. If he ignored it any longer something might really happen.
Muir: "Ah, I, I'm sorry! Bu-but, it'll be perfect if you eat it with this!"
She pulled out an elongated container that contained something that looked like sauce from the bag.
"And that is?"
Muir: "A special sauce made from 《Alty Fruit》!"
"… I don't understand, but it'll taste even better with that?"
Arnold: "Yeah, forget about getting addicted, it'll send you straight to heaven. Because Muir made it!"
Muir: "Ah, this… Yes."
Arnold chuckled. He seemed confident in the sauce that Muir had made. Muir smiled shyly.
"Heh, interesting. Count me in!"
The sauce was the same colour as ketchup but was more smooth than thick. It had a faint sweet and fruity smell.
Arnold: "Okay! Now it's perfect!"
Muir: "Yup, yup!"
Hiiro used the fork he received in place of a knife and it smoothly cut into the meat. It was incredibility tender. He cut the meat into bite-sized portions and put it into his mouth.
———- A tingle passed through his brain!
Yes, the piece of meat in his mouth had melted and disappeared. Still he was by no means unsatisfied. The meat had disappeared but its strong flavour intensely stimulated his taste buds.
He took another mouthful. And yet another.
(I can't stop.)
It was as if his body was moving on its own. His whole body was craving for more. The meat was very tender and juice; each mouthful gave the illusion that his mouth was stuffed but it wasn't stuffed at all. He could still eat more. The taste was emphasised by…
The sauce was sweet with a hint of sourness giving the meat a refreshing flavour and stimulated his appetite even further. He could eat this forever. The other two were greedily devouring the meat as well.
The extremely large piece of meat was gone in no time. All three had an entranced expression on their faces. Hiiro never expected that it would give that much of an affect. It was really great that he'd helped Arnold out before.
Arnold: "… Fuh, how is the meat, Kid?"
Hiiro closed his eyes and immersed himself in the aftertaste. Then he opened his eyes and let out a warm breath.
"Well done, my servants."
Arnold: "That's right, that's right, that's right. After all, this meat, wait, who are you calling servant!"
"It's just a joke. Don't make a fuss. You'll ruin the mood."
Arnold: "You're the one ruining the mood!"
"Awawawah! D-don't fight! Calm down, Uncle!" With a puzzled look on her face, Muir scolded Arnold. Arnold reluctantly held back.
Arnold: "Hmph, whatever. So, Kid, what's your name?"
"Tell me your name first."
Arnold: "You're really arrogant! Good grief. I'm Arnold Ocean. I'm an adventurer and a cook!"
"A cook? I see. So that's how you knew how to cook that meat."
Arnold: "Yeah, I travelled the world to learn different methods of cooking. Don't you think you're lucky?"
"And that Chibi is?"
"Hey, listen to me!" Arnold retorted then continued to sigh.
Arnold: "This girl is Muir Castlair. I picked her up… On my travels. She's my daughter now."
Hiiro was a little concerned but it wasn't enough for him to ask any questions.
"N-nice to meet you!" Muir constantly peeked at Hiiro but without worrying too much she opened her mouth to speak.
"Oh, there are children lying around in this world."
Arnold: "As if! They're not lost property!"
"Is it different?"
Arnold: "It's different! Some things happened in her village."
Arnold didn't want to talk about it. Muir looked down sadly.
(They have their reasons. Well, I'm not really interested though.)
Arnold: "So, what's your name?"
"Why do I have to give you my name?"
Arnold: "Huh? Come again?"
Arnold was troubled with how to react to Hiiro's unforeseen replies.
Arnold: "It's a joke?!"
"I'm Hiiro Okamura. An adventurer… And avid reader."
Hiiro had thought of giving them an alias but they didn't seem like bad people so he gave them his real name. He was feeling really good right now so that might have been the number 1 reason why he gave them his name.
Arnold: "What the! The last part's just your hobby!"
Muir: "… Huhu."
Arnold: "Oh, Muir's laughing face is cute after all ~."
Muir blushed bashfully at being told that. Arnold made a disgustingly charmed expression. Hiiro stared at Arnold with scornful eyes.
"… Are you a pervert into little girls?"
Arnold: "Oi, hold it! I can't let that pass! What'd you say!?"
Muir: "Uuuh… I'm not a… Little girl."
The two of them got angry.
"That's right, that's right! She may not look like it but she's already 12! She can even give birth!"
Arnold proudly boasted with a thumps-up. The little girl next to him glared at him intensely.
Muir: "D-don't say embarrassing things like that!"
Seeing her talk angrily with her cheeks puffed out Hiiro realized something.
"… I've noticed something for a while now, but she's different from what I thought."
He had imagined her to be a quiet child that never got angry and far from being lively. She had been talking cheerfully since the battle had ended with a happy expression on her face.
Arnold: "Mhm? You're talking about Muir? Of course she's acting differently. It's not just my cute Muir, anyone would be hesitant if a villainous food thief with a bad attitude appears."
"Okay, looks like you want to taste my katana?"
"Pfft! If you want to do it, then let's do it! To protect Muir, I'm willing to even eat poop!"
"… That's the end of the line for you, as a human."
Muir was stumped over her mixed feelings. It was obvious that people would be troubled if someone talked like that.
Arnold: "Puh! She's just that important!"
Arnold let out a hearty laugh then Muir spoke.
"Mh-mhm… Thank you for saving me earlier!"
"Mhm? Don't worry about it. I received something in return."
Muir listened to Hiiro and let out a sigh of relief at finally being able to thank him. Hiiro could still see a faint tinge of fear in her eyes.
"The sauce you made was also quite delicious."
Muir: "… Eh? Re-really?"
"If something's tasty, then I'll say so. Good job."
Muir: "Fuh… Aaaaah… Mhm… Thank… You."
He understood why she was fumbling over her words but he didn't want to reply any further so he ignored her. Arnold who saw Muir blushing over Hiiro's compliment, looked somewhat displeased. Arnold was glad that Muir was praised so he kept his mouth shut.
Arnold: "By the way, I've got a question for you, Hiiro."
"I'm not going to tell you a thing about my ability."
Hiiro had already taken measures expecting that question.
Arnold: "B-but, I've never seen magic that could stretch a sword before."
"It's not a sword. It's a katana."
Arnold: "A katana? Now that you mention it, so that's a katana? It looks pretty well made."
"No clue, but it's pretty easy to handle."
Arnold: "Mhm ~. So about…"
"I'm not telling you about my magic."
Arnold: "Why?! Its fine, isn't it?! I even shared my meat with you!"
"That was compensation for my help. That matter's been closed."
Hiiro didn't want to say anything about his magic.
"Anyway, I'm surprised you care so much about other people."
Arnold: "Mm? Well, after all, we somehow ended up eating together. Besides, you don't seem like a bad guy."
"What makes you think that? I'm human after all. I might attack that 『Beastman』, Chibi."
Muir instantly turned pale and grasped her hat with both hands and Arnold seized his sword. His face was filled with hostility but Hiiro calmly looked at them.
Arnold: "Wh-what're you talking about?"
"Your reaction tells me more than enough."
Arnold's reaction had proved Hiiro right.
Arnold: "Kuh… How'd you know?"
Hiiro pointed his finger at a certain place. It was—– Muir's bottom.
Arnold: "Ba-bastard! You were looking at Muir with such indecent eyes?!"
There seems to be a huge misunderstanding so Hiiro reluctantly spelt it out for Arnold.
"Look carefully, it's been moving around the whole time… Her tail, that is."
"Eh?" Muir exclaimed surprised. She quickly looked behind her and gasped in surprise. Her fluffy silver tail was peeping out from under her skirt.
"H-hey, Muir…" Arnold had frozen up.
Her tail which was hidden inside of her clothes had unintentionally popped out due to the delicious meal.
"One of the 『Beastman』's characteristics is the tail, right? And as for that hat on your head, you're wearing it to hide your animal ears, the other characteristic of a beastman, right?"
Arnold: "… You're right, this girl is one of the 『Beastman』. But Muir isn't… We aren't doing anything bad! So don't tell anyone about this!"
Arnold looked at him earnestly. Hiiro just stared at Arnold. Arnold thought that Hiiro was repulsed by beastman. Even while his face was pale, Arnold got ready to draw his sword at any time… But it was pointless.
"Tell other people? Why would I? I don't care if the Chibi is a human or a beastman. I'm not interested."
Arnold: "… Huh?"
The two were flabbergasted.
"Even if she's from a different race, it doesn't change the fact that she's a living being, right?"
"Instead of caring about every little thing, it's more productive to do other things, like reading books. Aren't things like books or food more important than caring about one's race?"
Thinking that Hiiro had said something stupid, Arnold burst out in laughter.
Arnold: "… Ha… Haha… Hahahahaha! You're an interesting guy, Hiiro!"
"Don't laugh while looking at me. I'll stab you."
Hiiro liked laughing at others but he got angry when people laughed at him. Arnold ignored Hiiro and slapped his legs while laughing.
"No, no, I see, I see. So there are guys like you too." Arnold said as he thought of something and turned his bottom towards Hiiro.
"… What're you trying to do?"
Hiiro's face cramped up at having an ass in front of his face. He seriously considered stabbing Arnold once.
Arnold: "Well, just look."
Arnold pulled his shirt up and a tail appeared. Hiiro widened his eyes a bit.
"… You're one too."
Arnold: "Yeah, I, we are 『Beastman』!"
Listening to their story, it seems that they were on their way to cross the border to return to the 『Beastman』continent. But this was the 『Human』continent and given the current state of affairs, if their true identities were to be found out, it would without a doubt, bring forth a disaster.
People were more understanding towards them than the 『Demon-kin』and wouldn't immediately kill them but they would undeniably attract attention. There were also extremists, Arnold had met many people who loathed beastman. That was why they hid their identities and dressed up like humans.
Hiiro glanced at Arnold's head in search of a certain beastman characteristic. Noticing his gaze Arnold let out a short laugh and asked, "Wondering why I don't have animal ears?"
Yes, Arnold didn't wear any headgear, yet there were no animal ears. On the contrary his ears looked completely human so Hiiro had thought he was from the 『Human Race』.
Arnold: "You want to know?"
Arnold: "I see, I see, if you're that interested I'll tell you."
"But I wasn't asking?"
Arnold: "Don't be like that. Besides… You too… No, it's a story that involves the『Human Race』, after all."
After saying that Arnold started talking before Hiiro could reply.
Arnold: "You see… My ears were stolen from me."
Arnold: "Oh, because I was a former slave."
The slavery system. It was a system mainly established for humans to oppress beastman. It was mainly young children who got kidnapped and a crest called 《Magic Lock Crest》was engraved onto their bodies. The mark prevented them from running away or rebelling. If they attempted to do so, the crest would react to the magic power in their bodies and cause them intense pain.
Back when the beastman had neither a country, strength, status nor political power, many of them were turned into slaves by humans and treated like cattle. Nowadays the slave system was abolished but there was still a black market for it in the form of slave markets.
Arnold was a victim of that and the person who had brought him, had his animal ears ripped out. At the time a bug happened to land on his ears and his ears, the pride of a beastman, was robbed away just like that.
"I see now."
Arnold: "I somehow got rid of the 《Magic Lock Crest》and escaped. By the way, these ears are prosthetic. See, they look real, right?"
The ears certainly looked real. Arnold had said that an acquaintance of his had made it. It was definitely a good decision to hide the fact that they were beastman.
"Is that crest something you can easily remove?"
Arnold: "No, it's something only the master can erase. But, it automatically disappears when the master dies."
"Then, Old Man…"
Arnold: "Ah, I couldn't do anything about it but there was someone who knew how I, no we slaves were treated. So he saved us."
With the death of his master Arnold finally became free. Hearing this story, Muir became despondent and sorrowful.
Arnold: "Well, after I got my freedom I became a travelling cook! How's that? Sparkling, aren't I?"
"I don't know about sparkling, but I see, you've had a very hard life. Normally, it wouldn't be strange for you to fear humans."
It was strange that he was talking to Hiiro. Arnold suddenly smiled as if it was full of derision.
Arnold: "Let bygones be bygones. Let's not forget that it was a human who saved me."
"If it was me, I'd definitely get revenge through various methods…" A dark aura flowed out from behind Hiiro.
"Yo-you're pretty scary… Huhun, anyway, I'm happy right now, so it's fine." Arnold said while petting Muir's head. She narrowed her eyes looking pleased.
Arnold: "Which reminds me, why are you in a place like this, Hiiro? Are you on some kind of a quest?"
"I have no obligation to–."
"Enough with that. You can at least tell me that much, right?"
There was no harm in telling them his reason but he also didn't have a reason to talk to them about it. It was merely Arnold's curiosity. But it wasn't just Arnold, Muir also wanted to hear the answer and stared attentively at Hiiro. It was silent for a while then Hiiro sighed, losing to their persistence.
"… Hah, my purpose is…"
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