The sound of gunfire rocked the Holy City, followed by a brief silence. Lia collapsed helplessly on the couch when she received a report that the soldiers killed the Beastfallen who plotted to assassinate the saint.
“It can’t be… Why? I told you not to kill him! He couldn’t have wanted me dead!” She covered her face with both hands and started crying. “Mercenary,” she muttered in a trembling voice.
Sanare gently embraced her master, comforting her. “There was nothing we could have done,” the attendant said.
Theo watched them in silence from a corner of the room.
Mercenary was dead. How could that happen? A Beastfallen that big and strong couldn’t have died so easily.
The boy wanted to cry out that it wasn’t true, but his body wouldn’t move, as if his bones were frozen. He just stared at the wailing saint, biting the inside of his cheeks. He had to. Otherwise, he might just yell at her, blaming her for the Beastfallen’s death.
The saint’s guards killed Mercenary, so it was no different than her doing the deed herself.
Mercenary came under fire on the bridge and fell into the lake with the priest. The guards were still looking for the bodies. Some of them came to give regular updates.
They were full of joy, having killed a terrifying monster.
Who’s the real monster around here? Theo thought.
A Beastfallen who treated a poor child as a proper human being, despite not knowing his background?
Was it those who deemed Beastfallen as murderers without even verifying their claims?
Or perhaps the saint who played the victim card after her own men killed an innocent soul?
Why? Theo clenched his fists. Why does this always happen to me? Everyone he cared for eventually died, leaving him behind.
He said they would go on a trip one day, yet he abandoned the boy all alone.
“How could you do this to me, Gramps?” Theo’s nails dug deep into the bandage wrapped around his hand.
A scream pierced the night, echoing as it fell into the deep darkness together with the shattered suspension bridge.
“Mercenary!” she shouted. The sound of wooden panels slamming onto the surface of the lake drowned out her voice. Then all of a sudden, there was silence.
“No…” she muttered as she fell to her knees on the edge of the cliff, peering down on the waters below. She hoped he would appear with his usual irritated look and say, “Things went south ’cause of you.” But there was only darkness there.
The bridge dangled from the cliff, stretching long into the darkness below. She couldn’t stop the dark thoughts filling her head.
Was he dead? The bridge snapped and slammed onto the surface of the lake after taking a direct hit from the cannon.
Would she ever see his face again? Hear his voice?
“No. Mercenary… Mercenary! Can you not hear? Answer me! It should take more than this to kill a beast warrior!”
Whenever she called out to him, he always answered with a grumpy face. But now, no matter how many times she called, no answer came.
Knees weak, she slumped down on the ground.
He was her first friend. She enjoyed his company, and she hoped that they would always be together. But a third party openly stole him from her, completely shattering her hopes, and she couldn’t do anything about it.
When she looked up, she saw several lights on the small island in the lake. She could hear people shouting.
“Are they dead?”
“Get a boat!”
In that moment, powerful emotions surged through her.
It is that place’s fault. The people of that city killed Mercenary. They took my first and only friend from me.
The torrent of emotions she had never felt before threatened to swallow her whole. She despised them. Loathed them. What they did was unforgivable.
All the people in that city killed Mercenary.
“Hey, Witch!” a voice called for her from the depths of darkness. “You there, right? Can you give me a hand?”
Quickly, she scampered to the edge of the cliff and saw a huge white beast coming up the dangling bridge.
The flame of hatred inside her fizzled out in an instant. The corner of her eyes burned.
“Mercenary! Mercenary! Oh, thank goodness. You are safe!”
“Yes, quite. Sorry, but can you pull this one up first?”
She did as he said and pulled on whatever he was carrying. She felt a warm and slimy sensation.
It was the bloody body of the priest.
Maybe lady luck was on my side, or perhaps it was the devil—but either way, I was still alive, all limbs intact.
Suspected of plotting to assassinate the saint, I was driven out of the Holy City, bombarded by artillery together with the priest who came to attack me, and fell off the bridge. Now I was carrying the dying priest. But despite all that, all I got was a wound on my right arm, so one could say I was extremely lucky.
“Mercenary, what is this?”
I heard Zero’s voice from atop the cliff. She was clearly baffled after seeing the bloody priest.
“He’s dying, as you can see,” I said as I climbed up. “Fortunately, he’s passed out. Use this chance to save his life with your Magic. You just need to close up his fatal wounds. We’ll have a hard time explaining things later if all his wounds were healed.”
Zero poked her head from above, a stern expression on her face. “You wish to save this priest? The man who abused and then attempted to kill you? Can I use my precious magical power for him?”
“I have a big heart, you see. Anyway, both of us were almost killed. We might be able to learn some interesting stuff from the guy. And having him owe us will have benefits.”
“If you say so, then I do not mind healing him. What a goody-two-shoes.” After saying what was an extremely disgraceful statement, she pulled her head back.
Immediately afterwards, a warm light shone from the cliff. Zero must be using a spell from the Chapter of Protection. Judging from the light, it was probably the basic Magic, Cordia.
“Can’t believe that naturally just came to me. Witches have poisoned my mind.”
A Beastfallen corrupted by a witch? Perfect fit for a fairy tale villain. I just hope I don’t die by the hands of a heroic knight with his sword lodged in my chest.
I threw myself to level ground and lay down, facing upward. “I thought I was a goner. Damn it. I can’t feel my arm.”
“I actually thought you were dead,” Zero said. “I almost blew up a whole city out of hatred.”
“Too close. You almost blew me up along with the whole goddamn place!”
Getting sent straight to hell after surviving because of my partner’s misunderstanding would not be funny at all.
“Besides,” I continued, “dying is basically a mercenary’s job. If you were to blow up a city every single time a mercenary died, you’d run out of targets eventually.”
“No need to worry. There is only one of you to begin with, which means you can only die once, and I need only unleash my hatred one time. Destroying one city will be enough.”
“I feel like you missed my point, but whatever. I thought you were a ruthless witch who didn’t care much even when your friends were killed by Thirteenth.”
Zero blinked in surprise. “You are correct. I am a ruthless witch.” She frowned. “But I do not want you to die.”
There she goes again, spouting embarrassing stuff like it’s nothing.
As I lay there unable to form a response, Zero eyed me suspiciously.
“Are you truly alive?” she asked.
For some reason, Zero reached out both hands and grabbed my face firmly. She then patted my face and my whole body.
“Wh-What are you doing?”
“A cannon destroyed the bridge. You must have slammed into the water, yet you are not wet. Perhaps you are actually dead, and you are simply an illusion. In that case, I must destroy that city.”
“I’m not an illusion! I’m alive, okay?! And stop touching me! You’re pissing me off.”
It was so irritating that I jerked my body up and brushed her hands away.
“Listen carefully,” I said. “I climbed up a broken bridge with one arm that was barely functioning while carrying the priest. Let me rest!”
“Here. Drink some water.”
Zero immediately offered me an opened flask, stopping me from yelling at her any more. I took the flask and downed the contents in one gulp.
“But how did you survive?” she asked. “You were hanging from the bridge over at the side of the Holy City, were you not? How did you make it over to this side?”
“The priest’s scythe,” I answered. “Tough strings run from his rings to his weapon. The moment we fell, I threw the scythe to this half of the bridge. Then I grabbed the rope by following the string.”