Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
A week later, when I could finally move around properly, Zero and I decided to leave. Thirteenth was burned at the stake, and Albus was fully recognized by the people of Wenias as the head of the Flame of Solena, a state-sanctioned coven of sorcerers.
The sun had just risen, and we were in the outskirts of Plasta.
We needed to sneak Thirteenth out, so we went out into the forest, where there was no sign of people. The air in the early-morning, damp forest was refreshing.
“No! Don’t go!” Albus cried, clinging to my waist. “You can stay here!”
Pooch managed to calm her down, and pulled her away. It looked like we could leave without much delay.
“Come and visit us soon, okay? I’d love to come with you, but I’m a Mooncaller witch…” She was still crying.
I patted her on the head and said, “Soon.”
She seemed to have completely forgotten that she attacked me for my head as soon as she found me. Not that I was still mad about it. I had mixed feelings.
The knowledge that Solena tried to cure the plague spread far and wide across Wenias, and the fear and prejudice against witches vanished in a blink of an eye.
There was a groundwork for coexistence to begin with. The people readily accepted Albus as a righteous sorcerer. Perhaps it was their way of atoning for killing Solena under false charges. There might be some minor problems left, but for now, the witches’ uprising in Wenias was as good as settled.
From now on, only witches with Albus’ permission could practice Magic through a so-called Magic licensing system. The plan was for the new state sorcerers to hunt down the witches who had fled outside the kingdom.
Under the pretext of investigation, we were issued a special permit by Wenias, allowing us to enter and exit any country with a certain degree of freedom. Wenias was a kingdom that flourished as a stopover point for international transportation. As such, it had some power when it came to entering other nations.
Thirteenth would be returning to Moonsbow Forest, bringing witches who revered him as a teacher as his apprentices. The fact that Thirteenth’s burning at the stake was merely for show was known only to three people, and they were quietly waiting for Thirteenth somewhere far.
Zero said he would still be watching Wenias for any witch uprising, and support Albus as much as possible from afar.
From now on, witches would be called Mages, the reason being, using a gender neutral term would help prevent misunderstandings. However, getting rid of terms like “witch” and “sorcerer” would not be easy. In any case, if they could use Magic, they would be called a Mage, regardless of gender.
“Zero. You really have no intention of returning to the cellar with me?” Thirteenth asked.
I was carrying a ridiculously heavy bag packed with Zero’s food.
“None,” she answered. I am going with Mercenary.”
Thirteenth was about to speak, when Zero quietly hushed him, putting her finger on his chest. “I am leaving this place, Thirteenth.”
Zero then turned her back and started walking. I followed her when something pulled me.
“What?” I turned around and found Albus’s face close. I felt something touch my lips.
“You bastard!” Pooch screamed. “How dare you lay a hand on the young lady! I don’t care if you’re a bro, I won’t let you get away with it!”
“Huh? What? No, wait! I-I don’t even know what the hell—”
Laughing, Albus turned around and sprinted away, leaving behind a confused me and a furious Pooch. With Zero already far ahead, I couldn’t chase after the girl.
“Ah, damn it! I don’t know what the fuck happened, but it’s not my fault!” I yelled as I chased after Zero.
What the hell happened? Why? For what? Covering my mouth, I caught up to Zero. I felt a little awkward, so I walked half a step behind her.
“You and the lass kissed,” Zero said.
I nearly collapsed to my knees. I tried to look calm, but inside I was screaming. So that was a kiss. That fucking kid stole my first?!
“No, we didn’t.” I lied. Technically, she kissed me.
“No, you did.”
“How can you know that?! You weren’t even watching!”
“I am a witch, Mercenary.”
It didn’t make sense, but it was strangely convincing, nonetheless.
I scratched the back of my neck and mumbled for a while. “Wh-What about you?” I turned to a completely different subject. “That was too quick. I thought you wanted to be with Thirteenth. Isn’t that why you followed him all the way to Wenias?”
“Really?” she muttered, shooting a glance at me. “Well, circumstances have changed. Me and Thirteenth had been a pair for a long time. But that is only because I had no one else but him. Now, I have you.”
“Y-You don’t care about an o-old friend?” I asked in a criticizing tone, trying to hide my embarrassment.
Zero chuckled. “That is what witches and sorcerers are like, basically. Perhaps living too long numb their emotions. Otherwise, I would not have been able to forgive Thirteenth that easily after killing my mentor and comrades.”
“So you forgave him?”
“I am not certain. I may have not been angry to begin with. As Thirteenth said, most of the witches in the cellar were dysfunctional. They were nothing but breathing corpses, waiting and dreaming of death’s sweet repose. I disliked that, and Thirteenth broke us free. I believe he gave them a peaceful death. It was most likely his way of showing respect.”
Zero turned her gaze to the distant sky, looking nostalgic. There was nothing tragic in her voice or expression.
I don’t think I’ll ever understand the feeling of wanting to be freed from life.
“Do you think I am coldhearted?”
“Of course not. I’m a mercenary, you know. I’ve been covered in blood from head to toe a long time ago. I’m not a saint. I have no right to criticize others’ morals.”
“Then why did you defend Thirteenth? My killing Thirteenth would not have posed any sort of problem for you.”
I didn’t have an actual reason in mind. My body just moved on the spur of the moment. I just thought I couldn’t let him get killed there, especially not at the hands of Zero.
Then all of a sudden I found my answer. At the same time, an indescribable, complicated feeling welled up within me. Coming up with a reason for your actions after the fact didn’t sound right. Regardless, I was sure of it.
“You were in love with Thirteenth, weren’t you? You even said that all you wanted was for him to come back.”
Her last colleague and brethren. Thinking back, there was something special in her voice whenever she talked about him. I glanced at Zero, wondering if she would deny it or not, and found her frowning at me.
“What?” I said.
“You seem to have misunderstood something, Mercenary.”
“Thirteenth is my older brother.”
I was so surprised that I thought my eyes would quite literally pop out of their sockets.
Thirteenth is her brother?
“Yeah, right! You don’t even look alike! Besides, you never mentioned—”
“I am certain I told you that he is a brethren of mine.”
She did. Brethren could mean brother, but people generally used it to mean a comrade. How could she have possibly expected me to get that she meant actual brother?
“Thirteenth was actually quite the handsome man envied by demons. He offered his beauty when he summoned a high-ranking demon.”
“Can you actually offer beauty?”
“Yes. He did so, and became like that. Hmm, I see. So you thought you had to stop me from killing the one I loved.”
I grimaced. I couldn’t help but cringe when she said it out loud.
“You risked your life for me. For my mind, something that is intangible.”
“My body just moved, okay? I didn’t really think that much about it.”
“Did you fall for me?”
I think. No, definitely not.
“You are one stubborn fellow. What if I told you I have fallen in love with you? What would you do?”
“Tough luck, then. I hate witches.” I stuck my tongue out.
Zero blinked repeatedly, then gave a chuckle. “As cold as always, I see. My beauty does not even sway you. When you came crashing through the tower’s ceiling, I made a decision.”
“What kind of decision?”
“I am thinking of turning you into my servant.”
I stopped in my tracks and looked at Zero. “What?”
“I am saying that I will bind you to me through your name and make you mine, and mine alone, forever. Now give me your name!”
Zero looked at me with a perfect smile that would make all the royalties and nobles of the world bow down to her. I gently averted my gaze from that smile.
And ran as fast I could. Yeah, fuck witches. They’re too terrifying.
“Come back here, Mercenary! Being a servant has its benefits! And I take good care of my servants! Get back here! Do not make me run! You are making me sweat!”
“Like I care! How about you use your powers to fly?!”
“I cannot possibly cast such a— Ugh.”
Zero gave a yelp as she tripped and rolled across the ground.
I rushed back to her. “You idiot! I bet you haven’t had decent exercise in centuries. You can’t just run while talking. You might bite your tongue, and—”
Before I could finish, Zero’s arms extended and coiled around my neck. “I got you now, Mercenary,” she said, snickering. It was all an act, apparently.
Damn it. She got me. Why did I even come back for her? I’m so stupid.
“Mercenary, your name.”
“Shall I tell you my name?”
“I don’t give a shit about your name.”
“Do you not want to be mine?”
“I’m already your mercenary anyway.”
Letting out a sigh, I lifted Zero up.
“Hmm…” she mused, sounding both convinced and not at the same time. Resting her head on my shoulder, she looked at the sky. It was a clear blue as always.
“What is it, Witch?”
“I am glad you are a beast warrior. You despise witches, so beauty does not captivate you. I find it infuriating, yet extremely pleasant at the same time. You are my first and only friend.”
Friend, huh? Same goes for me. Not a bad feeling, actually.
I cleared my throat and looked up at the sky. “Well, I wish you were human.”
“Then I would have been an ordinary girl, and you would have scared me off. In fact, I would be long dead.”
I suppose. What if I wasn’t a Beastfallen? What if Zero wasn’t a witch?
Had we met as ordinary humans, we would’ve gone our separate ways immediately. That is why I called her Witch, and she called me Mercenary.
“I guess being a Beastfallen for a while won’t be so bad.”
“I am glad you agree.” Zero smiled.
The sky above was a clear blue, the road ahead long. For someone who had been wandering the world in search of fields of battle, I couldn’t imagine what lay at the end of this road.
Zero probably felt the same. She was eagerly studying the map, her eyes even more childlike than Albus, making me forget about Thirteenth’s parting words to me.
If Zero came to detest this world, everything will perish. Keep that in mind.
I shook my head to get rid of his lingering voice.
It was too late now, anyway.
Ten years had passed since Thirteenth brought Magic to Wenias. It was safe to assume that the knowledge had spread beyond the kingdom. Zero had to be there. Thirteenth understood, which was why he let her go.
Zero would protect the world from Magic, and I would protect her from the world. That should work for now. I tried to ignore the cruel fact that she was much more powerful than me.
Me and Zero.
I don’t know how long this relationship will last.
So yeah, perhaps this distance between us was just the right amount.