Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Thirteenth, huh?” I murmured. She seemed to really trust the guy. She did say they studied together. No, it was more than just trust. They clearly had a strong bond between them.
I don’t know what kind of relationship they have, but… No. I shook my head. Who cares about their relationship? Not me, that’s for sure. I gotta think of something more important. Like, uh…
“Why call everyone a “witch” when there are men who can use Sorcery as well?”
Yikes. That was a really stupid question. Zero, however, didn’t seem to find my question strange.
“It is the opposite, actually,” she answered. “‘Witch’ was a discriminatory term used to refer to female sorcerers, or sorceresses. That is to say, there were more male than female sorcerers in the past.”
“Oh. That’s news to me.”
“Sorcery, my dear mercenary, is a field of study, and fields of studies are always created by men. But just because men created it does not necessarily mean they excel at it.”
“That applied to Sorcery as well. Needless to say, the men were not pleased. Sorcerers despised skilled sorceresses and started calling them witches as a derogatory term. Driven away, the witches dispersed throughout the lands and that was how Sorcery spread to all corners of the world. In short, most people learned Sorcery from female sorcerers. And so ‘witch’ became the general designation for those who practiced Sorcery. Nowadays, there are more female sorcerers, but male sorcerers do exist. And sometimes they possess terrifying power.”
“You referring to Thirteenth?”
“Yes,” Zero nodded. Her voice sounded strangely drowsy and sweet.
I see. A man and a woman. I heaved a sigh.
“What is wrong? Are you perhaps jealous?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. Your little cheesy love story just made me nauseous.”
I stuck my tongue out, grimacing.
Zero giggled. “If it sounded cheesy to you, then you must be jealous. I was simply talking about an ally of mine.”
“In my line of work, your friend may not necessarily mean they’re my friend too.”
“It makes sense, then, to be curious what kind of person they are. Thirteenth is a competent sorcerer. He is crafty and insidious, the very image of your typical evil sorcerer.”
“I could say the same about you.”
“I do not even begin to compare. You will understand once you meet him. Truth be told, I find him a little repulsive too.”
“Can you really trust that guy?”
“I cannot say. He is competent, but genuinely materialistic and selfish. Almost at the same level as demons, even.”
There was a strange sense of affection in her voice whenever she talked about Thirteenth.
“Purely for reference purposes, what did you mean by studying together? Did you live together in that cellar of yours?”
“We did. Studying Sorcery, my dear mercenary, is fundamentally an extremely tiresome task. By sharing the knowledge you gain with someone, you learn faster. Many witches live in groups, in fact, including us. Thirteenth and I constantly opposed each other—we argued, studied, and even fought.”
I knew it. A cheesy love story.
“So what exactly do you do when studying Sorcery?” I tried to change the subject away from Thirteenth.
“In order to learn how to summon demons, we read books, study, do research, and perform experiments. We do this over and over again.”
“You sound like a scholar.”
“Indeed. Sorcery is a field of discipline, and witches are scholars who study it. And as with every field of discipline out there, learning it takes time. Applying the Sorcery you learned is a daunting task in and of itself. There are rituals that take a whole year to finish. That is why witches never prosper, and Sorcery does not propagate. That is also the reason why witches lost in the war against the Church five hundred years ago.”
“But you have Magic now. You can probably win against the Church, right?”
“Hmm?” Zero mused. “Yes, I suppose. I never really thought about such troublesome matters.”
Just then I heard the sound of wagon wheels rumbling on the cobblestones behind me, so I urged Zero to the side of the road. The vehicle, fully loaded with goods, slowed down abruptly to the pace of a crawl the moment it passed by us. As we caught up to it, the driver, a middle-aged merchant, flashed me a friendly smile. It was the first time ever in my life that someone did that to me.
“Ah, I knew it. A Beastfallen,” the merchant said. “I reckon you’re here to assist with the witch hunts? Your help is much appreciated. Everyone’s on edge these days. Wherever they go, they fear a witch might attack them out of nowhere.”
“Back in the day,” he continued, “we got along well with them witches. My grandfather told me that when I was born, I had a really bad fever, and he went to Solena for medicine. She was like a character straight out of a fairy tale.”
“But people burned her at the stake for spreading a plague, didn’t they?” I asked.
The man frowned. Before I knew it, Albus had come closer, keeping some distance, but just enough to hear our conversation.
Then it hit me. Albus claimed that Solena used Sorcery to protect the village from the plague. If that’s true…
“Is there a chance that Solena used Sorcery to get rid of the plague?” I asked.
The merchant’s eyes grew wide. Then he frowned deeply, and shook his head. “There is. Was. But not anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“Once a fight breaks out, both sides will insist they weren’t in the wrong. Before the Banquet of Retribution happened, many condemned those who burned Solena at the stake. They believed she wouldn’t spread a plague. But after the witches burned a whole village down, everyone switched sides, supporting the witch hunts, including me.”
Wearing an exhausted look, the merchant rummaged through his cargo and tossed a fruit to me. It was too ripe to be sold, a little brown in places, and it exuded a stifling, sweet aroma.
“But everyone’s had enough. People are exhausted. They want it to end, but they don’t want to lose either. So we’re counting on you.”
With that, the man sped up his wagon once more, disappearing into the distance in no time at all. Albus kept his gaze fixed on the vehicle even long after it vanished from sight.
It started to rain, so we decided to spend the night under a roof. I spotted a building at the end of a path that forked off the highway, and when we approached it, intending to borrow their barn for the night, we found the house deserted.
Using the stove to start a fire, I began making a simple meal of wheat simmered in brine. Normally, it would take time to start a fire, but Zero’s Magic made it incredibly easy. Magic sure is convenient.
“Can I use that too?” I asked. “Rex, was it?”
“Probably not,” Zero replied. “You recited the incantation earlier, but nothing happened. You do not have the aptitude for the Chapter of Hunting.”
Her words made me a little depressed. I was somewhat interested in the witches’ dreadful Magic, willing to set aside my hatred for them just this once if it meant I could start a fire without a flint.
“So what determines one’s aptitude for Magic?”
“Their karma, most likely. The strength of their emotions and where they are directed at, those kinds of things. As I mentioned, the book is divided into four chapters. People can be skilled with one, and bad with another. For example, Thirteenth has absolutely no control over the spells in the Chapter of Protection, but he is a master when it comes to the Chapter of Capture, to the point of being creepy.”
“Why is that?”
“It is probably in his nature to be obsessive. Once he seizes something, he will never let it go.”
“Is that dude okay? Are you sure we can count on him?” I couldn’t help but feel worried.
“Who knows?” Zero chuckled. “Do you want to give the other Chapters a try? You might not have the aptitude for Hunting, but Capture can come in handy as well. Catching a prey alive is the best. You can catch a lot of fish too.”
“I’ll pass. It’ll hurt even more if I find out I can’t use any spell from all four Chapters.”
“Even if you lack the aptitude, you may be able to use basic Magic if you keep at it for about ten years. I can train you if you want. Then I will have a reason to stay with you always.”
I almost flipped the pot over. What’s this woman saying all of a sudden? Feeling a little uneasy, I peered down on her face, but she didn’t seem to be joking.
“It almost sounds like you want to be with me forever.”
“Why do you sound surprised? That is exactly what I am saying. Being with you is fun.”
Good thing my whole body was covered in fur, or I would’ve turned red all over. Much to my dismay, I blushed at the words of an oddball.
“What is the matter?”
“Nothing! Anyway, I’m not using Magic!”
I shoved Zero to a corner of the room and concentrated on making dinner.
“Tell me something, Witch.”
After finishing dinner, I cut the fruit I received from the merchant, took half of it, and tossed the other half to Zero. She nibbled on it happily. Albus said he wanted some fresh air and stepped out into the pouring rain. I could tell he didn’t want to be anywhere close to me. Clearly offended by my disparaging remarks on Solena, he kept glaring at me all the time, watching me cautiously.