Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Zero’s expression was cold as ice. I could even see hatred in her eyes as she glared down at me. Apparently, she had completely given up on me. It wasn’t like I wasn’t prepared for it, but still it hurt. Still I came this far. At the very least, I needed to get Zero to Albus somehow.
“Okay. Whatever, I get it. Sorry for all the trouble, but there’s something I need to tell—”
I felt a drop of water on my hand. Thinking it was rain, I lifted my gaze. I quickly realized I was wrong.
Zero was standing right in front of me. She still wore the same cold look, her bluish purple eyes glinting with hatred. But something fluid streamed from those eyes, running down her cheeks and onto her chin, and then dropping on my hand again.
It took a while for me to realize that it was tears.
“Do you have any idea how I felt when I let you go?” she said.
“How do you think I felt? I was frustrated that Thirteenth took you away from me! I could have easily bound you to my side. But you hated witches, you feared me… So, I—!”
“I set you free!” Zero sank down, clinging to my shoulders. “Why did you return?! You hated me! What do you want? What can I offer you? I will give you anything!” Her face was a mess. “So please…” she whispered. “Do not leave me ever again!”
I just sat there while Zero clung to me, not sure what to do with my outstretched arms.
Only the light of the moon illuminated the otherwise dark room. There was a large stack of books and countless extinguished candles. The only other furnishings were the comfortable chair and a bed that looked like it was made by piling up cushions.
The cellar Zero referred to must have been like this too.
So this is how you show your love, Thirteenth. I can feel just how strongly you care for her. It’s like being in your mother’s belly. It was dark, cramped, safe, nauseatingly peaceful and dull.
Fuck you, Thirteenth. Witches and sorcerers might be abnormal, but you take it to a whole different level. You’re completely insane.
“Hey. How long are you going to keep crying? Sorry, but I don’t have the time for this. Please be your usual self.”
Zero lifted her head up in surprise. Tears and snot ruined her beautiful features that would make even the moon envious. While I could relax more with this face, she looked awful, so I wiped it all away with my sleeve. When I lifted her up on my shoulder, her expression finally returned to normal.
“I-I am hurt, yet you put yourself first! How cruel can a man be?! You must comfort me, and—”
“You can’t call yourself a mercenary if you can’t eat in front of your dead comrades. Anyway, forget about that. You said something about a trap.”
What did she mean by that?
A second later, the floor collapsed. Light and sound suddenly became distant. It felt like I was floating. The tower was collapsing. No, wait. I’d experienced this before.
“Damn you, Thirteenth!”
A trap, huh? I get it now.
When I looked up, I found myself in the same place I was summoned to before—the castle’s basement. Thirteenth was standing a little further away, at the same spot as before.
Behind him was a custom-made birdcage with Zero locked inside it.
“Stop. Do not move. On your hands and knees.”
I was about to dash towards Zero, but the next moment I was down flat on the floor, just like Thirteenth ordered.
“What… What’s going on?”
“I told you. I can control mentally inferior animals. Humans are animals too, and this room is my sanctuary, built to amplify my mind.”
“Are you all right, Mercenary?!”
“Aside from the fact that I look pathetic right now, I’m completely fine, thank you very much.”
I clawed at the cobblestones with my barely moving fingertips. My body wouldn’t listen to me. I wasn’t paralyzed, but I couldn’t get up.
“It is futile. Anger dulls the mind.”
That so? Still I couldn’t stop the rage from filling me.
Thirteenth took a step towards me.
“Thirteenth, you bastard!” Zero shouted. “You will not get away with this! He is mine! My mercenary. He returned to me! Now give him back!”
“You cannot do anything, Zero. That birdcage is surrounded by an anti-Magic barrier. Even you will not be able to escape that easily. Now, quiet down. You will worsen your injuries.”
“Don’t you order me around!”
“Then allow me to rephrase. Please, I beg of you. Until I kill this man and free your soul, close your eyes and cover your ears. I will seal your memories of him afterwards.”
“You would not dare! You will regret this, Thirteenth! Thirteenth!”
Zero punched the iron bars, shook it, and flailed about. But in a doorless birdcage, there was nothing she could do without her Magic.
I really didn’t want to do this, but I guess it’s time for a compromise. Clicking my tongue, I somehow managed to turn my head to Thirteenth.
“Thirteenth,” I said. “Now might not be the right time to bring this up, but you don’t have to kill all witches to get rid of Magic. All you have to do is have that witch over there negate all Magic in this land to stop both the Coven of Zero’s uprising and the rogue sorcerers’ frenzy. You can retrieve the Grimoire of Zero, and there won’t be witches running amok using Zero’s name anymore!”
Albus could then take advantage of the ensuing chaos to lead the new witches in the name of Solena, ending the witch trouble in Wenias. The knowledge of Magic would still remain, but with Albus’ guidance, it should be possible to teach witches how to use Magic in the way that Zero intended.
I glowered at Thirteenth, whose face was as blank as ever. “We need her for that! That’s why I came here. So I would appreciate it if you let us go quietly.”
“Unfortunately, I will have to refuse. Zero is not leaving this place, and she will not negate Magic either.”
For a moment, I was taken aback. Was there something wrong with my explanation? Thirteenth’s goal was to retrieve the Grimoire of Zero and exterminate witches who abused the Magic that Zero created. We shared the same interests. He had no reason to refuse. Surely he didn’t turn the idea down just because he didn’t like me.
“You want to get the grimoire back as soon as possible, right?” I asked. “This way—”
“It will resolve nothing,” Thirteenth said with an indifferent voice. “The chaos will indeed temporarily be contained and the kingdom will return to normal. All the witches will lay low once more, returning to a passive coexistence with other humans. But society will never forget this uprising.”
Nothing will be resolved. Things will return to the way it was before, except this time, everyone will carry a new scar.
What’s so wrong about that?
The Coven of Zero and its founder rejected this passive coexistence and fought to attain true peace for witches, while Thirteenth opposed them. So why would he not want things to return to normal?
“Do you finally realize it, Mercenary?” Zero said. Her voice was filled with pain as she grabbed the bars, her eyes downcast. “Thirteenth’s goal is not the recovery of the grimoire, nor the resolution of this conflict. These two things are simply a part of the process that will lead him to what he wants.”
“How many times do I have to tell you to explain things more simply?!” I barked. “So what exactly does he want? Didn’t he leave the cellar to retrieve the grimoire?!”
I scowled at Thirteenth. Then I noticed something. A sparkling red gem sat at the tip of his enormous staff, a gem that looked similar to the one on Albus’s collar.
I wasn’t exactly bright, but as a mercenary, I was knowledgeable about conspiracies and schemes. What if Thirteenth’s goal was not to end the chaos that the Grimoire of Zero started—that is, the war between the witches and the kingdom—but something else beyond that?
In order for him to achieve that goal, it would mean that the war had to happen.
It was the Coven’s founder who stole the grimoire and sparked the war in Wenias.
Everyone in Wenias knew that Thirteenth and the founder—and by extension, the Coven of Zero—were at odds with each other.
Who on earth was this person who stole the grimoire and spread Magic throughout Wenias, never showing himself to anyone? Where was he right now?
Cold sweat broke out of my body at the sight of the single book in Thirteenth’s hands. Its cover was made of ebony.
“So, what kind of book is it?”
“The cover is made of ebony, so shiny that you can see your own reflection, and the hinge is made of gold. It has extremely fine ornaments.”
The book that Thirteenth was holding matched the description. It was as if he already had it from the beginning.
“N-No way… You’re kidding…”