Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
For some reason, there were many carriages heading from Fomicaum to Plasta today. Since it was a straight road to the capital, heavy traffic wasn’t that strange. It was natural, even. However, it was a little quieter when I was walking down the same road yesterday. Today we almost bumped into carriages a few times already. In the end, we abandoned the idea of taking a carriage, and instead we trudged along a forest a little away from the highway.
“Bro,” Pooch called.
Who the hell are you calling “bro”? I’m not your brother, you dog-faced wolf.
Frowning deeply, I turned to Pooch. He looked fine despite the hole in his stomach.
“Can I get my fur back?” he asked. “The young lady will laugh at me. And my clothes rubbing against my bare skin feels icky. And it’s really cold.”
“I can’t help you with that. Go ask a witch or something.”
“You mean the one in the royal castle? How am I supposed to ask her?!”
“No idea. You can try feeding her.”
“I’m being serious here!” Pooch sniffed loudly like an actual dog. I was actually serious about the feeding thing, but I suppose it wasn’t possible.
I spotted another carriage running past at an unusual speed. From the passengers’ seat, I heard the words “witch execution”. I looked over at Pooch.
“Apparently, there will be an execution at noon today—”
I felt all the fur on my body stand on end.
Join me, or be burned at the stake. Thirteenth gave Albus the option. He promised the kid more knowledge if he served the man. If he refused, he would be burned at the stake.
My mind could only think of the worst-case scenario. I started running as fast as I could towards the capital.
Plasta’s public square was teeming with spectators. A sudden notice was sent out this morning, stating that a witch execution would be held at noon today.
We sprinted through the streets without a care about Pooch’s wound. It was nearing noon, and the sun was almost at its zenith. One of the advantages of being a Beastfallen was we could run as fast as a carriage if we dashed at full speed. Although competing against a horse would be difficult, we could go toe-to-toe with a carriage carrying heavy luggage.
We dove into the crowded square, pushing our way through the throng of people. A huge pillar stood in the middle, where someone was just getting tied—Albus. My hunch was right.
“Wh-What the hell was that idiot thinking?! Why didn’t he side with Thirteenth?!”
Even from a distance, I could see Albus’s body trembling. It looked like he would sink to the ground at any moment. But he never looked down. His golden eyes, glaring at the crowd, met mine for a split second.
His lips twisted. He noticed me. You idiot. Why are you acting tough? You’re about to get executed. The worst option too—burned at the stake. Don’t you get it? You’ll suffer a grueling death.
“So… you know… that person?” Panting hard, Pooch squinted. He finally managed to catch up to me.
“Yeah. That kid attacked me. He led us to the ‘campus’ where we were captured by Thirteenth. He was given the choice to either serve Thirteenth, or be burned at the stake, and the idiot chose the latter!”
“Oh, that’s brave of him,” Pooch said as he peered at the platform in the distance. “Yo, bro.”
“Is that kid… blonde?”
“What about it?”
“Do they have golden eyes?”
True. Albus does have golden eyes. But how does he know about that? Even a wolf Beastfallen couldn’t possibly see the color of his eyes from this distance.
Young lady? What does he mean by that? Albus is a dude. I was about to voice my question, when the crowd suddenly went quiet. I turned my gaze at the platform. Thirteenth was standing there, with his staff and incredibly long robe that almost touched the ground. His bent posture and gloomy expression clearly painted him as an evil sorcerer. Yet there he was, standing on the execution platform, on the side of justice.
“Today, we burn a witch,” Thirteenth began. His low voice echoed throughout the square. Beside him, Albus was being tied firmly onto the stake.
Today, we burn a witch? Heh, you make it sound like it’s nothing.
“You must not pity them simply because they look like a child. Think about the countless lives this witch has taken, and will take in the future.”
He emphasized the word “witch”. I could see why. He wanted to stress to the crowd that witches were not human. By doing so, people would eventually stop seeing witches as human beings. They would think they were spawns of evil that deserved to die. Only then could they cheer on while watching them cry in agony on the stake.
In any country, any era, at times of war, the enemy was always regarded as worms and trash. There’s an important reason for that. People needed justification for killing others, to glorify murder.
“Ladies and gentlemen. I, myself, am a sorcerer. However, I neither harm others with Sorcery, nor do I condone any act that harms people. I have not once pushed my own agenda using Sorcery!”
The air seemed to quiver. Thirteenth’s resonant voice drifted intensely across the square. The spectators’ eyes were fixed on him.
“I, too, practice Sorcery. But to those who study the same craft and stray away from the right path, I will not hesitate to use my power to purge them. I ask you to please abhor these wicked witches. I need you to know that Sorcery itself is not evil. But there are those who would use it to commit evil deeds.”
Big words, Thirteenth. Weren’t you the one who told me that sorcerers only see others as mere tools?
What’s terrifying was that Thirteenth wasn’t lying. It was true that witches and sorcerers saw others as tools, and he meant it when he said that he would use his power to purge those who strayed from the right path.
Zero mentioned that Thirteenth was an expert in using facts. His power stemmed from the fact that he didn’t lie. This gave him the confidence and imposing air that he then used to deceive others.
You sound like a swindler. He fooled me too. Thirteenth simply wanted to separate me from Zero. Was he jealous? In that case, I’m honored.
Gritting my teeth, I glared at Thirteenth with eyes full of both anger and commendation.
“Ladies and gentlemen. I swear to use all my power to bring peace to this kingdom. I will exterminate all wicked witches and provide protection for Wenias.”
Thirteenth raised his arm. All eyes darted towards Albus.
“To achieve that goal, I will burn witches!”
The crowd roared. “Burn the witch! Burn the witch!” they chanted.
Their cries seemed to shake the ground itself. Thirteenth raised both his arms firmly overhead, and the torch on the platform lit up, burning red. Magic. He was stirring up the crowd with his act. The spectators went wild, entranced by the power of the righteous sorcerer. The existence of a powerful being to protect them brought incredible joy to the masses.
Grinding my teeth, I watched as oil was poured all over the straw around Albus. Hey, Thirteenth. Are you serious about burning that kid? Zero, are you just gonna let this happen? You don’t care about the kid anymore because he’s not useful in finding the book? Is that it? Am I just going to stand here and watch him die?
“My comrades, lend me your ears!” A high-pitched voice ripped through the square. “To all those witches who rose to fight so we could be free!”
The voice belonged to Albus, tied to the stake in the middle of the square. I couldn’t help but be amazed. He could be burned the next second, yet he didn’t curse, scream, or beg for his life.
“Today, this body of mine will be burned and turned to ashes! Just like Solena a year ago. Listen, my brethren! As it was with Solena, these flames will become a beacon!”
“I am a descendant of the great Solena, the Mooncaller witch who stood above all throughout these lands!”
Albus’s voice—high in comparison to Thirteenth’s low grumble—overwhelmed the crowd. Solena’s descendant? So Pooch was right. I didn’t know you were a girl. So the grandmother you were talking about was the late Solena. She was already gone, just like Zero’s teacher.
“O’ noble witches who long for peace and stability, gather around! To attain true peace, you must slay Thirteenth! For Solena!”
Flames ignited the oil-drenched straws. It didn’t take long for the fire to blaze high. Slowly, the flames inched closer to Albus’ small figure.
“Mercenary!” Albus looked straight at me from beyond the blazing inferno. Her lips moved.
Are you stupid? You’re surrounded by flames. I was surprised she thought I could read her lips from all the way here. No, wait. Forget that. I should be thinking about my next move. What to do? I can just bail.
So what if a witch was getting burned at the stake? I hated them anyway. She had the choice to live, but chose to die. What an idiot. Save Zero? How? An extraordinary witch like that didn’t need my help. Thirteenth was with her, too.
Why ask witches to slay Thirteenth? She should know by now that the Coven of Zero was a shitty organization. I guess that’s why you said “for Solena” and not “for Him”. In that case, she should’ve worked with Thirteenth instead.
So why did you choose to get burned at the stake? What did you learn while you were locked inside your cell?
Pooch broke into a run. His carefree attitude was nowhere to be found, his expression twisted from fear and despair.
Ah, damn it. You give me no choice, man. Before I knew it, I started running too, pushing away people in my path. Two Beastfallen were sprinting at full speed towards the execution platform. I was sure it looked terrifying from a human’s perspective.
People stepped aside, creating a path for us. Never in my short life had I drawn so much attention. I hate you, Albus. Thirteenth, Pooch. You too, Zero.
I pulled out an explosive from my bag. I then bit the fuse short, took a torch, and brandished it.
“Protect the kid, Pooch! Those who want to live, get down!”
I threw the explosive towards the platform. Everyone—including Thirteenth, surprisingly—crouched down, covering their ears from the deafening boom. Cutting through the shock wave, I grabbed Pooch’s nape. Even out cold, he was carrying Albus in his arms.
Not bad. I was wrong about you, wolf.
The explosion caused the straw and stake to scatter across the square along with the flames. It was chaos. The whole place was like a poked beehive. The guards’ roars and the spectators’ screams provided just the right cover for us to escape.
“The witch is escaping!”
“Archers! Nock your arrows!”
“Stop! You will hit Zero!”
Knocking down a bunch of guards, I stole a carriage, calmed down the rampaging horse, and drove off towards the city walls.