Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“What do you think? Did Solena really spread a plague?”
“You are asking me, a witch?” Zero asked in a somewhat cheerful tone.
I shrugged. “You’re the only one around here, unfortunately.”
“Then I take it you will be asking me a lot of questions in the future.”
“I can shut up if you want me to.”
“That is not what I mean.” Zero shook her head. She stood up and sat down next to me, leaning against my shoulders while hugging her knees. “I feel happy. Talking with you is so much fun. You ask questions and I answer them. By doing this, we learn more about each other. If you find someone else you can ask questions to, I will be terribly sad.”
I munched on the fruit without a word, and Zero did the same.
“Hey, what’s with the silence? Answer me already.”
“Come on. I asked you a question.”
“Oh.” Zero smiled. “Then I must answer. There is very little possibility that Solena spread the plague.”
“Why is that?”
“Because she gains nothing by doing it.”
I glanced down at Zero. She was licking the fruit juice from her fingers.
“Spreading a plague is basic Sorcery. I do not know about novice witches, but someone from the Mooncaller school would know better than to experiment and risk being the target of a witch hunt.”
“You call spreading a plague an experiment?”
“Unless someone asked them to spread it, then yes. Besides, a witch who strives to maintain good relations with their neighbor, receiving food and clothes in exchange for divination, would only suffer losses if the whole village was destroyed.”
Yes, that makes sense. I hear villages with bandits are actually safer. Must be the same with witches too.
“I am not saying witches are paragons of virtue. A witch always acts on what they think is best for them. That is why there is very little chance that a Mooncaller witch would actually spread a plague.”
That would mean that humans, getting the wrong idea, killed a witch who actually saved them. Just because Solena was using Sorcery at the time of the outbreak, people branded her the culprit.
I had similar experiences as well. It was not uncommon for me to be accused of murder and rape, crimes I did not commit, solely because I was a Beastfallen.
It wasn’t hard to imagine the sorrow and anger that Solena felt for being killed by the very villagers she tried to save. Then the witches, driven by their fury, turned the whole village into a sea of flames.
That would mean humans started the war.
“There are all kinds of witches out there, my dear mercenary,” Zero said. “Some are harmful to humans, while others are beneficial.”
Humans harbored a strong prejudice against witches—that they were all evil and that every single one of them should be killed.
I heard a sneeze come from outside the door, and Albus, cold from the rain, entered. Judging from the awkward look on his face, he must’ve been eavesdropping, but I decided not to call him out on that.
“Sorry for insulting Solena…” I said.
Albus’s eyes grew wide in surprise, then he frowned deeply, not out of displeasure—no, he was desperately resisting the urge to smile.
“Well, it’s common for idiots to get the wrong idea,” the boy said. “And since I’m merciful, I will forgive you. Just make sure you think before you speak next time!”
For a moment, I wanted to smack him so bad, but I decided to let it slide this time as an apology.
The downpour had let up the next morning, giving way to clear, blue skies. Just like yesterday, Albus walked ahead of us, but this time he stopped frequently, urging us to hurry.
“Hurry up, or the gates will close!” he yelled as he waved his hand impatiently.
A town protected by walls naturally had gates, which closed at sunset and didn’t open until the next morning. The sun still sat high in the sky, and we were close to the town now. We didn’t really need to rush, but it would be easier to find an inn while it was still early.
“Not gonna hurry up?” I asked.
Zero, walking at a leisurely pace, yawned wearily. “I despise perspiring,” she said.
“Really? Then we’ll just do this.”
“What? Ah, hey!”
I picked Zero up and ran past Albus.
“Hey! No fair!” he cried as he chased us.
And so we arrived at Fomicaum.
“Form a single file! Merchants, prepare your license, mercenaries, your letter of introduction, and the rest, your pass! Come on, move it!”
The walls seemed like they could withstand a whole day and night’s bombardment. Four guards stood by the double gate—its size just big enough for a carriage to pass—intent on not letting anyone without a pass through. One of them was shouting as he organized the line, while another one—the color of his uniform painted him as a high-ranking officer—examined the passes carefully.
“You may pass. Next!”
Relief spread on the face of the merchant, who had been waiting anxiously for the check to be done. He then pulled on his carriage and disappeared inside.
We were standing in the middle of the queue, and I was at my wits’ end. In many countries, a pass was basically required to enter a major city. If a villager wanted to embark on a trip, he would have to ask the village chief for a letter of introduction, which he would then bring to a government office. After giving his name, birthplace, and occupation, he would then be issued a pass.
For merchants, they joined a Merchants Guild, paying a yearly fee to get their license renewed. Mercenaries generally received a letter of introduction after participating in a battle once and coming out of it alive.
This goes without saying, but Zero and Albus didn’t have any passes whatsoever, which meant I would have to claim they were my companions.
How do I even explain having a stunning beauty and a brat with me?
“I’m so excited!” Albus exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to enter Fomicaum.”
“Pipe down. Or I’ll kill you.”
“Zero! Mercenary is glaring at me!”
“You should not pick on the weak, Mercenary. The lad is saying he is blessed to come here with you. You should be happy.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Happy, my ass!” I shouted.
My voice drew suspicious looks from the people in the queue. Being a Beastfallen already made me stand out; actively drawing negative attention to myself made it worse. I heaved a deep sigh.
Meanwhile the line kept moving. Soon I would be questioned by the gatekeepers whether I liked it or not. As I made it to the front of the queue, I presented the letter of introduction I received from the border patrols.
“I heard the kingdom needed help with the witch hunts. I’m on my way to the capital to sign up for it.”
Awkwardly, I uttered the lines that I had rehearsed over and over again on the way here. It wasn’t a lie—at least until two days ago. I had difficulty getting the words out knowing I was accompanied by a witch and a sorcerer.
And as expected, the gatekeeper studied Zero and Albus closely—the former, with her hood pulled low over her eyes, might as well declare she was a witch, and the latter looked too frail and young to be travelling.
“Are these two your companions?” the man asked. “What’s your relationship with them?”
I knew it. I did come up with an explanation beforehand…
“Sex slaves,” Zero uttered without hesitation.
I almost felt all the fur leave my body. Hold up. What did she just say?
“Y-Yes!” Albus chimed in. “We are but Master’s humble servants. Of course, we serve him at night as well.”
Whoa, hold it right there, Albus. You’re a dude! Why the fuck are you blushing?! Your acting all cute is just making things worse! Now I look like a complete degenerate!
“I see…” the gatekeeper murmured. “All right.”
God damn it, man. Be a little more suspicious, will ya?! It’s not true, all right?! Denying it seemed pointless, unfortunately. This is why they call Beastfallen symbols of corruption. The gatekeeper regarded us with eyes full of dread, disgust, and envy.
“Very well. Two slaves and no luggage. There’s a tax for each slave, but you need only pay one passage fee for your party. A nearby small town was attacked by witches the other day. Warriors who’ll assist with the hunts are more than welcome. How long will you be staying?”
“Uh… Three days, I guess…” I somehow managed to force the words out of my mouth. The plan was to stay no more than a night, but it’s basic to have an extra two days just in case.
“If you’re headed to Plasta, bring your letter of introduction and a stamped pass. Before leaving, please return your permit to stay. You may pass.”
And thus our stay in Fomicaum was approved.