Lily and I stood up at the same time, and she looked at me anxiously. She heard the voice too, apparently.
Normal people like Credo and Liza couldn’t grasp the situation, but Zero seemed to have gotten the general idea by looking at me and Lily.
The witch slowly stood up. “Someone snitched it seems. We might have drawn too much attention.”
“S-Snitch?!” Liza and Credo rose to their feet at the same time.
“We should’ve expected this,” I said. “You were kinda adamant on finding an inn, and the people probably want the witch fiasco to end.”
Anyone who saw a silver-haired woman with a Beastfallen would immediately assume they were a witch and report them. If she was the actual wanted witch, the problem would be solved. If not, the person who gave the tip would still be highly appreciated by the Church.
Rain was pouring outside. I did not want to camp out, but the rain would help us escape the public eye.
I was about to carry Zero, but then I stopped.
“You saw the silver-haired woman and the huge Beastfallen go in here, yes?”
The gentle voice mixed in with the sound of rainfall was familiar. I strained my ears.
“Yes,” the snitch replied.
“Thank you for your help,” the man said.
“Wh-What are you waiting for? If you don’t get out of here now, you’ll get caught!” Liza grabbed my arm and tried to pull me toward the back door.
“I thought you were going to sell us out if things went sideways,” I said.
“There’s no point if we’re not the ones doing the snitching! If a priest finds us like this, we’ll be deemed as criminals who harbored a witch and a Beastfallen!”
“How can you be so calm?! Move! If you don’t leave, I’m going to stab myself and say you did it!”
Laughing, I brushed Liza’s hand away. “Sounds like a good idea, but you don’t have to go that far. We’re acquaintances.”
“Wh-What do you mean? How can a Beastfallen and a priest be acquainted?”
I pushed Liza toward Credo and lumbered toward the door. The woman looked confused, but Zero seemed to understand the situation.
When I opened the door, I was met by a slender green-haired man, who didn’t seem particularly surprised. He was wearing a cloak over his familiar priest uniform to protect himself from the rain.
“It’s nice of you to welcome me,” he said, as if expecting me to be the one opening the door.
“I’ll rip your eye patch off, homicidal priest.”
“I’ll rip your fur off, symbol of depravity.”
Zero peeked from the side. “That sounds more like a greeting between you two now.” She began giving a rough explanation of the situation. “We were having trouble finding a place to stay because of false accusations, when these people offered us a room. They sympathized with us since they have a Beastfallen child.”
“A Beastfallen? I see. If the neighbors don’t like you in the first place, it’s no surprise that they would sell you out. Good thing I was there, or the Knight Templars would have been called to arrest you.”
Letting out a small sigh, the priest turned to the informant, who couldn’t hide his confusion at our friendly conversation.
Smiling at the poor guy, the priest placed some coins in his hand. “Thanks to you, I was able to find the people I was looking for. The silver-haired woman and the Beastfallen are my companions. They seemed to be having trouble because the lady matches the wanted witch’s description.”
“Really? I guess… the witch hunt will still continue, then.”
The look of despair on his face made my heart ache despite it not being my problem. When witch hunts start and targets aren’t found, the Church will usually start killing the innocent. It’s a known fact.
That’s why nearby residents would make up any person as a witch and hand them to the Church. It could be an elderly with no relatives or a prostitute, but if a traveler fit the bill, all the better.
The informant thought that by sacrificing an innocent traveler, they would finally be free from their worries, but then he found out it was a priest’s acquaintance. If I were him, I’d be disappointed too, even if I received some coins.
As the informant stood there staring at the money in his hand, the priest tapped him on the shoulder, as if to cheer him up. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “A skilled adjudicator is doing their best to find the witch. You might not see it, but peace will return soon. Just like how this rain will cease without any warning.”
The informant gave a tight smile, thanked the priest, and hastened back the way he came from.
The priest watched him go until he was out of sight before turning to us. “I’ll keep it brief,” he said in a grim tone. “The Coven of Zero has showed up in this country.”
Zero’s body tensed up. We heard that a witch had appeared, but we had no idea it was the Coven itself. This changed things drastically.
Can we even talk about this in front of Liza and Credo?
Ignoring my concern, the priest continued. “Apparently their leader’s name is Zero—Achoo!” The sound of his sneeze mixed in with the loud downpour. He was standing outside, so even though he was wearing a cloak, he was still exposed to the rain.
Sniffing, the priest pointed at the ramshackle house. “Um… May I come in first?”
The family welcomed the additional guest without a hint of displeasure. In fact, Liza and Credo were more than happy to have a priest around to ease their worries.
Lily had no intention of showing her face to the priest; she hid somewhere and never came out. It was probably the right choice, considering the priest’s hatred towards Beastfallen.
After an unremarkable greeting and dinner, the three of us were led to the attic. The roof was leaking in several places, but we managed to find a spot and were finally able to talk.
“I swear to all demons and even the Church’s God, I am not the Zero causing all the trouble in this place,” Zero began.
“I know that,” the priest replied tiredly, taking a sip of the hot ginger tea that Liza prepared. He stayed wet as he stubbornly refused to let Zero dry him off with Magic. “You were on Black Dragon Island when the incident occurred, so it is unlikely that you could cause a disturbance in Lutra. I’ve reported that to the Bishop, so as long as you’re with me, there’s no need to worry about you being targeted.”
What did he just say?
My eyes widened. “You reported her to the Church?!” I grabbed my sword and half-rose to my feet.
“Of course. If I were to take a witch around without reporting her, I would be charged with treason. It is not uncommon to grant a reprieve to a witch in order to hunt more witches.”
“But you didn’t have to—”
“Relax, Mercenary,” Zero said, her voice tender. “The priest did not tell them everything. If he had reported that he had captured the Murky Darkness witch who invented Magic, it would have caused an uproar that shook the entire Church.”
The priest breathed a small sigh and looked away. “All I’ll say is I made the necessary report.”
“That is fine. From the moment you found out I was a witch, I was prepared to be reported to the Church. If anything, it is more convenient to be a helpless witch under the watch of a priest.”
After all she just said, I couldn’t make a fuss about it anymore. I sat back down, frustrated, and Zero tapped my knee as if to say, “Don’t worry.”
“But,” Zero continued, stroking her delicate chin and tilting her head, “that means there is another Zero. She is beautiful with long, silver hair, and she is the head of the Coven of Zero. This is a big problem.”
“Yeah, it’s too much of a coincidence,” I added.
There was only one possibility.