Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
It took them all day to bring out the gunpowder. After laying it out in the hall, we realized we had quite a lot.
“We can blow up a whole mountain with this,” I said.
“An explosion too powerful might trigger an eruption, so we have to be careful,” Zero added. “Although volcanoes with dragons are not supposed to erupt.”
“Really now? Why not?”
“Hmm. Dragons are more within the Church’s territory. There is little information about them available to the public. In addition, the Church forbids trespassing into a dragon’s domain, so there is very little documentation about them.”
Apparently even a witch of the Murky Darkness couldn’t step into the Church’s domain that easily.
“Perhaps the priest here knows something.”
“I’m a priest, yes, but I am a member of Dea Ignis. I’m afraid I don’t have any in-depth knowledge.”
“Whatever you know is fine.”
The priest gave a troubled frown. “Let’s see… I heard some talk about dragons before I came here. They live in places humans find uninhabitable, such as volcanoes, snowy mountains, and the bottom of the sea.”
“So I heard.”
“Those places never see any calamities while the dragon is there. No volcanic eruptions, no avalanches, and the sea is always calm. They’re protecting their own beds, so to speak.”
“Beds, huh? I suppose it is only natural to make one’s sleeping chambers comfortable,” Zero said.
“Makes sense if they’re gonna sleep there for a hundred years,” I agreed.
The dragon would not be able to sleep well if there were frequent eruptions and avalanches.
“In that case, a little miscalculation in the amount of gunpowder will be fine,” Zero said. “The dragon will do something about it.” She chuckled.
“No, no, no! We have to be careful! If the dragon doesn’t do anything, we’ll get caught in an eruption!”
I spotted Gouda entering the hall. I raised my hand at him, and he walked towards us with a frown on his face.
“So, how’d it go?” I asked.
“No idea. I just told him the same thing I told the Magic Corps.”
“That you’re disbanding the group?”
“Stay here and wait for the smoke signal?”
“That you have no use for him since you forbade Magic?”
There was a pause. “Yes.”
“You’re an idiot,” I said.
“Stupid,” the priest added.
“A fool,” Zero chimed in.
“What was I supposed to say then?! I don’t want him to die. We grew up together. He’s like a brother to me. There’s no need to take him to the Forbidden Land when he can’t use Magic.”
“Why didn’t you just tell him that?”
“He’s not the type to listen. He looks up to his late father. He wants to die a heroic death.”
“A heroic death… Oh, you mean like die protecting you?”
“Exactly,” Gouda said, pressing a hand to his forehead. “His father died protecting me from the dragon. I was about to get killed, when he used Magic to distract the creature. It killed him instead of me. To Guy, I’m someone his father risked his life to protect.”
“Sounds honorable, if you ask me,” the priest said. “Inheriting his father’s will to protect the king. That could make for a touching play.”
“Honor doesn’t mean anything when you’re dead.”
“Really. That’s coming from you?” I said.
“What do you mean?” Gouda raised one eyebrow, apparently not realizing that he was the one honorably hurrying to death himself. “Anyway, the fewer people that accompany us, the better. But these people don’t want to follow orders at all.” Gouda grumbled for a while, then let out a deep sigh. “We’ll take it from here. You three should rest.” He then left to give instructions to his subordinates.
“I really don’t get that guy,” I mumbled. “The boy wants to die for him, so just let him.”
The priest heaved a sigh. “I suppose Beastfallen don’t understand what it means to have someone more important than yourself. How pitiful.”
“Unlike some people, I stay true to myself. If I had to choose between the world and myself, I would choose the latter.”
“How can one be so shameless? You have no worth to anyone in this world.”
“I am here,” Zero countered.
The priest gave a jerk, and turned to face Zero.
“Mercenary is precious to me, at least. It is a bit irrational to deem him worthless to the world simply because he is worthless to you.”
“Hmm, yes. Logical as always.” Smiling, the priest patted me on the shoulder and walked away. “You should thank God for bringing this lady to you.”
“Mind your own business! Where are you even going?”
“I spent the night in a dungeon. I’m going to wash myself and sleep in a soft bed. Apparently we can choose whatever room we want.”
Easygoing as always. He left without letting us say a word.
“Witch,” I said the moment the priest was completely out of sight.
“What is the matter? You look serious.”
“Well, this is a serious matter.”
“Oh? Then I will listen seriously.” She seemed to be enjoying the conversation.
“Why are you working with the priest? Don’t you hate him?”
Her expression turned a little solemn, her gaze fixed on me. “Are you talking about Argentum?”
“You liked that geezer, didn’t you?”
“I thought he was a respectable sorcerer. But I am a ruthless witch. I do not hold a grudge over the murder of a single sorcerer.”
I tilted my head, “Is that how it works?”
“Yes.” Zero nodded. “Allow me to ask you a question. In a war, do you keep track of the enemies that kill an ally of yours?”
“Of course not. I’d be adding a hundred people to the list every day. I won’t be able to keep up.”
“Exactly. The Church’s witch hunts are seen as common practice. Five hundred years have passed and we are still at war.”
A war broke out between the Church and witches five hundred years ago. The Church emerged victorious, resulting in witches being driven to remote lands. Since then, there had been an endless hunt for the survivors, commonly known as witch hunts. Perhaps only outsiders thought that the war between them was over.
“I created Magic in the hopes that it would end the war and give witches and ordinary humans a chance to live in peace. Things never work out the way you want them to.” Zero turned her eyes to the ceiling. “Besides, that priest is merely a tool.”
“A tool? You mean the Church’s?”
“Yes. He acts not on his own will. He is a machine who goes where the Church tells him to go, does what it tells him to do, and waits for new orders when his job is done.” Zero’s eyes were apathetic, almost bordering on pity.
“He does not know what witches are. He only believes in the information provided by the Church and mindlessly hunts witches. He is not stupid, however. When he makes a ruling, like the one involving the saint, he shows a glimpse of individuality, but it does not extend to those who are already confirmed to be a witch or a sorcerer.”
“A glimpse of individuality… You mean his hypocritical courtesy and offensive good looks?”
“I fail to see how his features matter in this case.”
“Good-looking people have nasty personalities!”
“That is simply your prejudice speaking. You have noticed it too, have you not? He possesses the ideal benevolence of a clergyman. As proof, he knows I am a witch.”
What did this woman just say?
Zero raised one eyebrow. “You did not notice? I am knowledgeable about Magic. He must think I know a little too much, even. I also negated the princess’s ability to cast Magic. The priest is not obtuse as to not see my connection with it.”
“But if he’s aware of it, why hasn’t he attacked you?!”
“Because he came to know me before he realized I was a witch. It seems that I differ from his image of a witch.”
To the Church, witches are absolute evil that brought chaos to the world. They kill people, kidnap children, cause storms, and destroy crops.
In front of the priest, however, Zero had done nothing but help people.
“You’re saying that because you’re not exactly a bad person, he’s turning a blind eye?”
“I am not certain he is completely aware of that. I think what the priest wants is to hunt evildoers, not witches. But since I am not evil, the priest will have to fight against the conflict emerging within him. Is that not pitiful?” Zero flashed me a smile. “That is why I do not dislike the man that much. Well? Are you jealous?” She sounded playful.
Shrugging, I turned my back to her. “A little,” I replied.
Zero’s eyes grew wide in surprise. I left the hall, pretending to not notice her reaction.
As planned, we left Altaria Castle before sunrise and set foot into the Forbidden Land. The rain that had been pouring down had completely stopped, giving way to clear skies.
However, the road was still muddy and slippery. We plodded along the steep mountain path surrounded by forest, brushing off tree branches and vines as we went.
“My father paved this road to slay the dragon,” Gouda said. “I didn’t expect it to become this eroded in just a year.”
“Well, it’s better than no road at all,” I said. “Hey, priest. It’s a good thing you have the right tools. Scythes are perfect for weed control.”
“This is my soul. It’s not like those cheap farming tools!”
“Farming tools are farming tools.”
“That they are. It is a tool to cut off one’s head along with their filthy soul. I don’t mind beheading you right here and now!” The priest glared at me, his handsome face tight.
“Stop it, both of you,” Zero said. “I am riding on Mercenary’s shoulder. If the priest cuts his head off now, I will get covered in blood.”
“You’re more worried about bloodstains than me?! Then get off me!”
“No. This is my special seat. You cannot move me.” Zero clutched at my neck, determined not to go down.
“Hey, loosen your grip a little! I can’t breathe!”
“I can remove bloodstains better than the average laundrywoman. I will wash your clothes nice and clean.”
“I think you got the issue all mixed up. It sounds like you’re assuming I’m gonna lose my head!”
“Keep it down!” Gouda snapped. “Stop acting like kids and walk properly!”
I jumped. The priest and I then put some distance between us and resumed walking.
“Like children fighting,” Zero muttered.
We trudged through the Forbidden Land in silence for a while. The further we went, the steeper the path became, making even walking a strenuous effort. We had difficulty just getting to the foot of the mountain.
Countless large boulders began rolling down from the slope. Some tripped and fell. Since we were pulling a cart full of gunpowder, we had to proceed with more caution. At the rate we were going, it would take us all night just to reach the mountainside.
I looked up at the sky, and my eyes widened. Something was soaring at a tremendous speed.
“The dragon…” I muttered.
Astonished, Gouda looked up at the sky. He immediately understood the situation and shouted instructions in a voice so loud that it reached the entire troop stretching long into the road.
“Get off the road and head into the woods! Hide under the trees and stay low!”
The dragon descended from the summit to just right above our heads in the blink of an eye. A suffocating hot wind swept through the area. Some of the trees that the dragon touched burned in an instant.
The dragon zipped past our heads, then soared back up once more before flying away somewhere, leaving behind a single roar.
No, it’s not just somewhere.
“Hey, Captain! The dragon’s heading for Nordis!”
“What?!” Gouda, who had been lying on the ground, stood up and clicked his tongue as he watched the dragon fly away. “Only the princess and a few members of the Magic Corps are there right now. If the dragon attacks now, we won’t be able to buy enough time to evacuate the citizens!”
“That is not all,” Zero said, her voice unusually tense. “The dragon noticed us. I have heard that dragons are very territorial and will never allow any threat to invade their sleeping chambers. And yet, the dragon ignored us. Do you know what this means?”
“Wait… the dragon no longer cares about its territory? It’s abandoning the island… but not after killing everyone as revenge?!”
“Whaaat?!” I exclaimed. “I thought the princess’s Magic weakened it. Sounds like it’s completely fine!”
“I do not know,” Zero said bitterly. “If it was not deeply wounded from the princess’s attack, it would have annihilated us back then. But it retreated. If it wished to retaliate, why did it not make any move yesterday?”
“There’s no time for discussions,” Gouda said. “We need to get back to the city right away. Everyone, abandon your luggage! We’re hurrying back to Nordis!”