Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
It was a miracle.
Not liking a Beastfallen driving the carriage, the horse ran wild, causing the vehicle to roll over, fall off a cliff and onto a river. We were swept downstream and drenched in heavy rain, but aside from Pooch’s burns all over his body, we were quite alright.
Laying down the unconscious kid inside a cave, I took some herbs, applied it to Pooch’s back and wrapped it in bandages. The sun was still high in the sky.
“Fur’s a natural armor, huh?” Pooch said. Grimacing in pain, he watched me enviously. He was a mess, Albus had some scratches, while I got away unscathed.
“So, how’s the young lady doing?” I asked.
Skinning a rabbit I caught in the woods, I regarded Albus—cold from being swept down the river—curled up in Pooch’s arms. While the bonfire warmed the cave, it wasn’t enough for Albus. I gave her my dried cloak to help. Pooch had been holding her all this time, but I doubted a furless Beastfallen could provide any warmth.
I could’ve asked Pooch to switch with me, but he might get mad if I laid so much as a finger on Albus, so I gave up on the idea. I didn’t really care about a kid being naked, but still she was a girl. I think. Even naked it was hard to tell.
According to Albus, Solena’s granddaughter was a wise and beautiful woman with huge breasts. It was probably what she imagined herself to be.
“She’s fine,” Pooch replied. “Just asleep. She’s exhausted.”
“Good. Why did she go through the trouble of pretending to be a boy to hide the fact that she was Solena’s granddaughter?”
“Because Thirteenth was after her. The Coven probably advised her to. Since He doesn’t show himself, the young lady was the Coven’s cornerstone. If she was killed, the organization would weaken. She probably decided to reveal her true identity only to those she could really trust. Besides, people are more likely to suspect a lone traveling girl as a witch.”
“Ah, yes.” I said as I pulled out the rabbit’s innards.
“Oh.” Pooch seemed to have a problem with me tossing them out. “You’re not gonna eat that?”
“I don’t eat raw meat.”
Pooch’s face turned serious. “Do you get the urge to eat humans?”
I didn’t answer. The soul of the beast residing within us Beastfallen slowly pulled on our human nature. It was said that eventually a Beastfallen would turn completely into a beast that fed on humans, reducing them to mere monsters.
“Did you… devour one?” he asked.
I gave a strained laugh as I stuck twigs into the rabbit meat and roasted it over the fire. “I manage to hold myself back. Barely. I couldn’t become a vegetarian, unfortunately. I get this feeling that raw meat tastes good, but at the same time it makes me sick too. ‘Cause of that, I can’t really handle battlefields. I don’t want to kill if I can help it.”
“A beast warrior that hates killing?”
“Unlike you, I didn’t wish to have this body. I just don’t know any other way to live. When you’re a Beastfallen, you end up with a pile of corpses wherever you go anyway.”
What I want didn’t matter. To quote Zero, “It is a hard fact.”
I sprinkled salt on the meat. Sparks flew as some fell to the fire. Recalling Zero’s face as she waited eagerly on our meal, I turned my gaze to Albus.
“Save Zero…” I muttered.
Albus stirred slightly and opened her eyes.
“Young lady!” Pooch cried, peering into Albus’s face.
You idiot. You should know better than to peer into the face of someone who just woke up. We have animal faces, you know.
Albus screamed—as expected—and punched Pooch’s mug. She jumped to my back as though running away from a monster.
“You hurt my feelings, young lady.” Pooch said. “You screamed after seeing my face when I’ve served you for years. Not only that, you jumped towards bro, who you practically just met.”
“Can you blame me? I couldn’t recognize you right away with your fur gone.” Albus said as she munched on the rabbit meat. She was sitting on my lap. After waking up, she complained about the cold and how it was unfair that I had fur, so in the end we settled with this.
Pooch looked at me bitterly. It’s not like I wanted this.
“Besides, I was with Mercenary until recently,” she continued. “I saw him at the square too.”
“What? W-Wait! What about me?”
“Huh? Were you even there?”
Pooch let his shoulders drop. I felt bad for him, so I decided to help him a little.
“He jumped into the fire, cut the rope, and protected you from the blast,” I said.
Letting out a low grunt, Albus lifted her eyes towards Pooch’s bandages.
“If he didn’t charge in first, I don’t know if I would’ve helped you,” I added.
To be honest, I mostly just followed Pooch’s lead. Albus looked a little sorry for a moment, but then quickly snorted and turned her face away.
“I didn’t ask for help…” she said. “Nor did I mind dying.”
“Please don’t say that! How could I ever face Solena if you died?”
“Grandma’s dead. You’re free to live however you want.”
“Come on…” Pooch’s ears drooped. He looked completely different from the guy back at the inn.
“That’s a bit too far, if you ask me,” I cut in. “You can’t just say that after he risked his life to save you.”
“I wasn’t scared of dying!”
“I heard people burned at the stake grit their teeth so hard in pain and fear that they dig into their gums and break,” I said.
Albus gave a yelp.
“Did you think you were gonna die a quick death? First, your windpipe and lungs will burn, making it difficult to breathe. Next is your eyes. Basically, the weakest parts of your body get burned first. The flames will scorch your skin, causing inflammation. Then once your skin is gone, your flesh gets roasted. You’re lucky if you lose consciousness. Otherwise, you’ll suffer until you finally die. You will scream, struggle, break your own bones—”
“Stop! That’s enough!” Pooch bellowed.
Looking at his expression, I realized my insensitivity. Albus’s last remaining family met her end that way.
“Sorry… I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s fine. Really.” Albus bit her lip. Her face was pale, her eyes quivering and wet, but she managed to hold back the tears. She’s tough, I’ll give her that. She was probably braver than me. Still, opposing Thirteenth was going too far.
“What happened underground?” I asked. “If you sided with Thirteenth, you wouldn’t have been almost executed.”
There was no doubt that Albus learned something while in her cell that prompted her to oppose the sorcerer.
Albus shook her head weakly. “It was my only choice. The Coven’s founder killed Zero’s friends to steal the grimoire, didn’t he? I can’t possibly return to the organization he created. And Thirteenth is pure scum!”
“Why would you think that? Isn’t he trying to control the chaos created by Zero’s book? Something about preventing her name from getting sullied any further…”
“Perhaps… But that’s all he has in mind. He doesn’t care if all witches in Wenias die, if it means he can achieve his goal.”
Zero did say that Thirteenth was extremely practical and egotistic. He would show no mercy for the achievement of his objective.
“Thirteenth asked me to lure the Coven members into a trap that he will set. He said the time has come to end this war. He knew I was Solena’s granddaughter and His proxy. So he laid a trap in the campus and waited for me to show up.”
End soon? I recalled Thirteenth’s same words to Zero. The sorcerer saw how the year-long conflict would end—with the total annihilation of all the witches in this kingdom.
“Thirteenth wanted to use me to kill the members of the Coven, the rogue witches—every witch who learned Magic. He said Magic-wielding witches who are out of control will only sully the name of Zero. But that’s just wrong! Sure, there are witches doing whatever they pleased, but there are many who’re fighting to attain peace. There are witches who use Magic the right way. Just because he can’t differentiate between them, he’s gonna kill them all?!”
“Hmm, I guess.” I gave a vague answer.
“Yeah! He’s wrong!” Albus added. “If he asked me to tell the Coven members of the founder’s true nature and convince them to stop the fighting, I would’ve cooperated. We could work together and hunt down the rogues. But Thirteenth didn’t want that. So I made my choice!”
Albus chose to be burned at the stake and urged the witches to fight. Otherwise, Thirteenth would just kill them all. If while being burned at the stake, Solena’s granddaughter begged for witches to kill Thirteenth for peace, anyone would be moved. Even skilled witches watching from the sidelines might join the fight to slay Thirteenth.