Fort Lotus – Part 04

Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama

“It was Magic to save people,” Zero breathed out a small sigh. “Magic to save many with little cost.” Softly she brushed the wooden grave marker buried in the damp soil. “I am sorry,” she muttered.

“You idiot!” I barked.

Watch what you’re saying! Cal’s right here! I tried stopping her, but it was too late. The hawk Beastfallen already heard it.

“Magic?” Cal looked puzzled.

Zero nodded softly. It looked like she was planning to tell him everything. “Hawk warrior,” she said. “Have you heard rumors of Magic?”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot about it lately. If I’m not mistaken, it’s related to the witches’ uprising in Wenias.”

“Yes. Magic is a witch’s craft that propagated in the kingdom of Wenias. And the miracles that the saint uses to heal people is a Magic spell called Sacrixigs. The wounds and illnesses of those healed are distributed to those who have the mark.”

Cal’s jaws dropped. He stared at Zero in stunned disbelief. “W-Wait a sec! You completely lost me there!”

At this point, it would be best to just tell him everything, giving no room for any sort of misunderstanding. Cal couldn’t seem to grasp what Zero just said, so I gave a more detailed explanation.

“We’re from Wenias,” I said. “The kingdom’s Chief Mage hired us to investigate the effects of Magic outside Wenias. If there are problems, we’re to fix them too.”

“Investigate Magic? Then is that lady…”

He probably wanted to ask if she was a witch, but he ended up not finishing his question. I wasn’t going to tell him either.

The kingdom of Wenias had officially recognized witches, but we were in Cleon. If people found out Zero was a witch, she’d be burned at the stake.

“We witnessed the saint using Magic,” Zero continued. “Then we traveled to the Holy City of Akdios where we identified the spell to be Sacrixigs. Shortly after that, they attempted to kill us, and we ended up here.”

“I see.” Cal sighed, as if he understood everything now. “You do look like you’re not an ordinary lady. I guess it makes sense. So this Saint of Akdios is actually a witch?”

“A Mage, to be precise. She can use Magic, but she has no knowledge of Sorcery.”

“Hmm…” Cal’s face remained expressionless, but there was emotion in his voice. Disappointment. “I thought perhaps she was just a puppet. So you’re sure she’s the one using Magic, huh?”

“A puppet?” I asked. “What made you think that?”

“It’s complicated. Although not as complicated as your situation.”

I was about to ask him more about it, but Zero cut me off.

“Mercenary. Hawk. Can you leave me alone for a while? I would like to offer my prayers to the departed. If you do not mind, of course.”

Cal nodded, somewhat overwhelmed. “Go ahead.”

“Do witches even pray to the dead?” I said jokingly.

“Yes, just like a priest,” she answered, her gaze fixed on the grave marker. “Funny, isn’t it? I hope the souls of the dead will laugh at the sight of me.”

I considered saying something that could cheer her up, but all I could think of were banal and superficial phrases like “It’s not your fault” or “There’s no point worrying about it.”

As I fumbled for words, Cal tapped me on the shoulder and motioned me to follow him into the fort. I had nothing else to do, so I did.

“Don’t stay out too long, or you’ll catch a cold,” I said.

Zero responded by raising her hand a little, then she knelt down in front of the grave and began praying silently.

“It’s really strange to see a witch praying for the dead.” Cal breathed a heavy sigh as soon as we were inside. “I thought witches were more wicked and terrifying.”

“I know one witch and one sorcerer besides her,” I said. “One is a brat and the other is wicked and terrifying. Apparently there are all sorts of witches out there.”

Cal looked dubious. “Don’t witches use Beastfallens’ heads for Sorcery, though? I’m surprised you can work as a witch’s bodyguard, Black Beast of—”

“No! Stop! If you ever call me by that name again, I’m going to cut your head off, drain your blood, pluck all your feathers, pour some salt on you, and roast you crispy for a witch’s dinner!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. You just made me understand how chickens feel. What are you gonna do about it? I love chicken meat, you know.”

Heh. Cannibalism? I kept my mouth shut, as that would be a terrible joke. He might look like a beast—though he was technically half-bird—he was still human inside.

“What do I call you then?” he asked. “The lady calls you Mercenary.”

“Just call me Mercenary.”

“That’s not a name. It’s a profession.”

“And Zero is a number. I don’t really care about names, as long as I can identify someone.”

“That’s an odd philosophy to have.” Cal cocked his head.

I dismissed the current subject with a wave of my arm. Seeing the opportunity, Cal brought up a previous topic.

“So what are you guys really up to? You mentioned investigating cases of Magic and solving problems. Are you planning to kill the saint? You already revealed that the lady is a witch. There’s no need to hide anything else, is there?”

“I guess.”

The one thing we really needed to keep secret was the fact that Zero was a witch. Now that he knew, there was no longer any point in hiding anything.

“It’s not really the saint that we want. It’s whoever’s behind her.”

“What do you mean?”

“We think someone taught the saint Magic. Dealing with the saint directly won’t really solve anything. If we let that someone go free, the same thing will happen all over again. So we want to find the mastermind. And for that, we need to talk to the saint.”

Cal stopped and turned back to me halfway down the hallway. “Why do you think someone taught her Magic? The Coven of Zero, was it? She could’ve been a member.”

“That’s highly unlikely. Even if she was a member of the coven, I’m certain it’s a different person who came up with the whole plan and set the stage for her. We have plenty of reasons to think so, but I guess the biggest one is the saint herself. I don’t think that woman has the brains and guts to create such a detailed plan and put it into action.”

“You think so?”

“Yup. You’ll understand if you see her.”

“I see… Yeah… You’re right.” It was as if he was muttering to himself. He looked clearly relieved.

Considering his reaction when he found out Lia was a witch, it was apparent that he liked the saint. For some reason, the feather accessory that Lia wore around her neck came to mind.

Lia told me about the time she was in the orphanage. Back then, whenever the matron scolded her, a Beastfallen child always defended her. That’s why she harbored no prejudice against our kind.

I might as well ask him directly.

“My turn to ask you a question,” I said. “What were you planning to do to the saint after abducting her? Why didn’t you just kill her right away?”

Killing the person sucking the life out of the people in the fort would be the reasonable thing to do. But Lia was almost abducted, not almost killed.

Cal spread his wings a little and closed them—the same motion as last time.

“I know the saint,” he said. “Her name is Faelia. Everyone in the orphanage made fun of her, calling her a crybaby, a scaredy cat, and useless.”

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