Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Eventually I left the castle.
I couldn’t tell lies from the truth. When did I start losing it? When did I snap back to my senses? My head was a jumbled mess, and I felt on edge. But one thing was certain: I lost all right to stay the moment I let Zero go.
I quit being her mercenary—of my own will, most likely.
The castle seemed to be built on top of a cliff. There was only one path from the entrance to the town below, a ridiculously long set of stairs that merchants and servants alike used all the time. Slipping into the throng of people, I started making my way downtown.
I looked over my shoulder once.
You fool. You actually left? I was just joking. Take a hint.
I was half-expecting an angry Zero to chase after me. How stupid.
A huge gate loomed at the bottom of the stairs, where I was questioned by the military police since they couldn’t find any record of me entering the castle. However after showing the pass that Thirteenth gave me, they let me through. I don’t mean to be rude, but despite the man’s looks, he had gained considerable trust.
Past the gate was a wide circular plaza. Performers were jumping and leaping here and there, attracting spectators and asking for coins to be tossed into their hats.
Oh, right. Zero mentioned today is the weekly day of the goddess. That’s the capital for you. It’s way livelier here than Fomicaum.
A thick post stood in the middle of the public square, surrounded by piles of straw. I caught a whiff of a burnt smell in the air, and there was a huge scorch mark on the ground, the kind of mark that the straw would leave if they burned it. It was clear that something was roasted here.
“Burning at the stake, huh?”
I looked up at the post that had probably witnessed a number of witches tied to it. I could see everything. Someone lighting up the straw. The heat closing in as the flames raged. Smoke billowing. The witch coughing in pain, screaming and writhing from the intense heat. Their clothes catching flames, their hair burning. A cheer erupting from the spectators.
As long as Zero had Thirteenth’s protection, she wouldn’t suffer the same fate.
Yet I couldn’t help but feel irritated.
I hated witches. I wanted them wiped out. Burning at the stake? Decapitation? Oh, hell yeah. Please suffer agonizing deaths. That’s what I always thought—at least until recently.
If Zero or Albus were tied up to that stake and burned, would I be able to join the crowd in their cheers? Unlikely.
Sure, I hated witches. But there were exceptions now. I learned that not all witches were evil. Yet despite that, I still feared Zero.
I harbored feelings of prejudice against witches—I feared and loathed them. In that sense, I was just like the humans who got scared of me just because I was a Beastfallen.
I scratched my head. “Forget about it!” I spat out. “This is stupid.”
It’s over anyway. I’m no longer Zero’s mercenary. Worse, I betrayed her. Zero herself turned her back on me. Ignoring the suspicious looks I drew from my sudden outburst, I hurried away.
“Hell, this is actually better. It was a ridiculous job in the first place. I should be grateful it ended without much of a hitch. And I even got a present.”
Trying to sound as cheerful as possible, I reached for the bag hanging by my waist. The bottle I received from Thirteenth felt cold even under my animal fingers. I achieved my ultimate goal—to find a way to become human.
There were many Beastfallen in Plasta, which wasn’t surprising considering they were recruiting them. Residents seemed used to their presence; no one screamed or threw rocks at me. Nevertheless, I wore my hood low to cover my face, a face that I would be bidding farewell to soon. I could be human any time. When should I do it? Where? How? I should’ve been excited, but I was strangely calm.
I decided to use the spell after I had moved to a safer country. Turning into a powerless human in a kingdom currently at war with witches was not exactly a smart idea.
Returning to Fomicaum on foot would be a good first step. Traveling via stagecoach was appealing, but being refused a ride would be awful, and attracting disgusted looks from fellow passengers would just make me feel bad.
Horses, by nature, feared Beastfallen. That was the main reason why not a lot of my kind traveled by carriage. Horses would get agitated when a Beastfallen was nearby, preventing them from getting any sort of work done.
Beastfallen are creatures despised by humans and animals alike. They stay away from others of their kind. They feel out of place, like they don’t belong anywhere. Eventually, they forget how to speak.
As I walked down the road alone, I realized that these past few days—ever since I met Zero and Albus—I talked all the time. I asked a question, Zero answered, and Albus interrupted, which earned him a smack from me. We would repeat the routine all day and night.
I agree, Zero. It was fun while it lasted. The overwhelming silence that had once left returned now, heavier than before.
Hey, Mercenary. Carry me too. You only carry Zero. It’s not fair.
Like hell I’d let someone after my head get anywhere near it.
I’ll make an exception just this once! Come on, let me touch your fur! You were filthy yesterday, but now you’re so fluffy! Please switch with me, Zero!
I am Mercenary’s employer, and I am a gorgeous woman. This is my seat, and my seat only. No one else can have it.
I’m not anyone’s seat, you goddamn witch. Want me to drop you?
The memory brought a smile on my face. A whiny brat and an arrogant woman, who remained calm despite my roars and threats. Had I met anyone like that before? I searched through my memories, and quickly realized there was no point in doing so. I already had the answer: No.
In my short life, the only ones who treated me like an equal were the kind of people I despised—a witch and a sorcerer. Talk about irony. Not to mention the fact that witches themselves created Beastfallen.
Breathing a sigh, I turned to the skies. The face Zero made when she admired the sky came to my mind. She said she’d never been outside the cellar where she was born and raised. After Thirteenth left, she was all alone.
“Everyone in the cellar was killed, except for me and Thirteenth.” I shuddered as I recalled her words. She spent a whole decade in the place where her friends died, with no one to talk to. I could only imagine the loneliness she felt, waiting for her brethren to return.
Were there blue skies in the cellar too? I was staring at the same blue sky, yet it somehow looked different from that time.
Fomicaum was a half day’s trip away by carriage. My legs would probably get me there in a day and a half.
Night fell before I could make it to the gate, so I started a fire and set up camp for the night. Using my luggage as a pillow, I closed my eyes.
I thought I heard Zero’s voice. It was nothing but a hallucination, of course. She called me frequently, and now I couldn’t get her voice out of my head.
Our frequent exchange brought her so much pleasure, that she regularly called my attention, talked to me, and asked my thoughts on various matters.
Let us go together.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the face she made the moment I rejected her.
I lifted my body up. The words I could not utter swirled inside my gut like a whirlpool.
Why couldn’t I just say I was sorry? Why didn’t I swear to her that I wouldn’t doubt her ever again? I should’ve told her I would see our contract through to the very end, that I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was too late now, however. I couldn’t possibly go back. That knowledge alone weighed heavy on me, making it difficult to breathe. As luck would have it, my wallowing didn’t last long.
My nose caught the scent of an animal. A Beastfallen—one of my kind.
“You can try and rob me, but you won’t get much.”
Raising my voice as a warning that I noticed them, I grabbed my sword and got up my feet. This tactic drove most muggers away. Not because I didn’t have anything valuable with me, but because once an ambush against a Beastfallen failed, killing them would get significantly more difficult. If the assailant was a fellow Beastfallen, there was always the possibility of them getting killed instead.
There were only two reasons they would not back down despite the risks: first, to sell my head to a witch, or second…
“I just want to see you dead.”
A personal grudge.
A figure appeared from behind a tree. As soon as I saw the furless face of a dog, I frowned deeply. I recognized him. He was the one from back at the inn—the Beastfallen that Zero stripped naked.
“Before you say anything,” I said, “whatever happened to you wasn’t my doing.”
“Bullshit! Who else could have done it but you?!”
It wasn’t me. It was Zero. I firmly denied the allegation.
“Let’s say I did it.” I shouldered my sword and looked down on the guy. I was bigger than him. “What are you gonna do about it? Wanna go at it?”
“No, not me.”
Beastfallen are extremely perceptive of their surroundings; an ambush wouldn’t usually work against them. But in the presence of a hostile Beastfallen, they would be less wary of their back—and that was exactly what happened to me.
The next instant, an arrow of light pierced my back.
My eyes widened. “What?!”
Magic—Steim. There was a witch nearby. I had no idea if it was a member of the Coven or a rogue witch. The stupid mutt wore a smug look, and I finally realized what was going on.