Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Do you truly wish to be forgiven? Do you sincerely want to make amends? If you have the desire to continue to help people, I can assist you.”
“Assist me? You mean you’re going to use me, just like Sanare did!”
“Do not flatter yourself, Saint,” Zero said curtly. “You have absolutely no value to me.” She pulled out a book from her bag and pressed it to Lia’s chest.
It was the copy of the Chapter of Protection that Zero took from the basement. Lia traced her fingers over the book, trying to figure out what it is.
“What is this? A rectangular wooden board and a bunch of papers…?”
“This is a book of Magic that your attendant had in her possession. It contains Magic to heal people’s injuries and illnesses.”
Lia looked up, uneasy. “Magic? Like Sacrixigs?”
“That is not all.” Zero frowned. “Magic does not always require a human life as sacrifice. It is a craft that can save a lot of people if you follow the instructions in the book.”
“Hey, are you—”
Zero cut me off. “Yes, I am.” She smiled, and turned to the saint. “I am giving this book to you. You have the ability to handle the tremendous power contained within it. You have mastered using Sacrixigs without the incantation, and brought about a grand miracle in the end. You are much more capable than me with regards to the Chapter of Protection.”
Zero once said that one’s aptitude on Magic was determined by the strength of one’s feelings for something. Lia, who wished to save people even at the cost of her own life, was more capable than the author herself. There was no guarantee that the inventor of a craft would be the best at it, and that applied here as well.
Lia stroked the book with a puzzled look. “But I can’t see.”
You needed eyes to read, of course.
“You do not have to read it,” Zero said. “You can have someone you trust read it to you. If you recite the incantation, make the prescribed gestures, and present the sacrifice, you can use Magic. You have committed a mistake once, so I am certain you will use the Magic contained in the book properly. If you will swear to it, then I will grant you permission to use Magic once more.”
“Someone I trust…” Lia muttered, hugging the book with trembling hands. “How do I find someone trustworthy? I believed in Sanare. I thought she was working hard for me and for others. Her hands were always gentle and kind.”
Her shoulders shook. She was an orphan. Sanare was like a mother or sister to her, taking care of her and teaching her things. After being betrayed, she might never be able to trust anyone again.
“What about me?” Cal asked softly.
“Huh?” Lia turned her face to him.
“You don’t have to find someone new to trust. Just trust me,” he said with a bright tone. “I risked my life for you, diving into a burning mansion. You’re not gonna say you can’t trust me, are you?”
Lia looked flustered. “Of course I trust you, but you can’t read.”
“That was years ago! I can read and write a little, and I’m sure the Church will love the idea of a knowledgeable Beastfallen serving a saint.”
Cal laid his hand on Lia’s. It didn’t exactly look heartwarming, though, considering his terrifying talons. “It would be best if Zero stayed here,” he said. “But her giving it to you means she can’t.”
Zero nodded gravely. “Yes. I have my own sins to atone for. I apologize, but I cannot spend my time helping others redeem themselves.”
“Uhm… what is your sin exactly?”
Zero sighed and looked at Lia. “Everything. All wrongs related to Magic can be traced back to me.”
“I see.” Cal nodded. He didn’t press the issue further. “So how long can you stay here? You’re not going to leave now, are you?”
Zero turned to me. It was my job to decide on our itinerary. We needed to buy food and service our gear. Checking the weather and the roads’ conditions were also necessary. But I had actually done all those over the past few days.
Now that the priest had finished his work, there was no reason for us to stay in Akdios any longer.
“If the weather’s not bad, we’re leaving tomorrow morning,” I said. “But before we leave Cleon, I want to drop by somewhere.”
“Where?” Zero and Cal asked at the same time.
I felt a little awkward. It might sound too sentimental for a mercenary, but I had to go there.
“I want to go see Theo at Fort Lotus.”
Fort Lotus’s back yard was as bleak and quiet as ever, as if time had stood still.
The sick people who gathered there still spent time at the fort, with Talba leading them. Our presence was not welcome. When Cal decided to become the saint’s bodyguard, Talba went into a fit of rage.
Don’t think I’ll forgive her just because she healed those who survived! Many died because of her. Theo, his parents, my best friend! And you want to be her servant?!
Cal told us in a somewhat forlorn voice that he was kicked out of Fort Lotus shortly after burying Theo.
We were almost turned away at the gate as well, but in the end they allowed us to visit Theo’s grave.
Grudge is a terrible thing. You know there’s no point in hating someone, but the feeling won’t go away.
“Hey, there. How you doing?” I crouched in front of the gravestone.
At the base of Theo’s brand-new gravestone was a ring of white flowers someone had woven. Setting the knife I picked up from the saint’s mansion on the marker, I offered a ring of flowers as well. It was not that good, but I made it myself.
According to the Church, offering something circular on a gravestone was like making a prayer that someday you’d meet again.
Although I doubted Theo would want to run into me again.
“We’ve finished all our business in this country. The governor of Ideaverna made some arrangements, and from there we’re leaving on a ship, but I wanted to drop by and say my goodbyes, I guess. Leaving without saying anything just sounds wrong, you know.”
Shoulders sagging, I shook my head. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. Hell, I had no idea what I even wanted to say. I just really wanted to come here and talk to Theo, even though I knew he wouldn’t answer. I found it funny, but I couldn’t really tell why.
Is this what it means to mourn the dead?
“I’m so pathetic. If I wasn’t Beastfallen, I’d probably be crying like an idiot right now. I just… feel so sad now, knowing you’re gone. It hurts so much.”
You’re so pathetic, Gramps. You’re a grownup and a Beastfallen.
I thought I heard him answer right close to my ear.
My voice cracked. “You’re right,” I said. “Tell me, Theo. How could you manage to smile even after your parents died and you were left all alone? How did you become so strong?”
I had lived without getting close to anyone because I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear the pain of loss. I had lived my life expecting nothing from others because I didn’t want to be hurt ever again.
It turned out that I was still carrying the wound in my heart that I got when I first learned of loneliness. All this time, I was just pretending that I had forgotten about it.
When I went quiet, Zero cleared her throat. I turned around to see her standing too close to me.
“What?” I said. “Is something wrong?”
“No. I… do not understand the feeling of mourning the dead,” she said. “But back when the bridge collapsed, I thought you were dead. I was in so much pain. I wanted to hear your voice one more time, and I wanted you to say something. So… if you do not mind…”
She wasn’t making herself clear, and I motioned her to continue.
“Can I tell you?” she asked.
“Tell me what?”
“Theo’s thoughts. When a person dies, they leave behind something called a soul. That is what has been nagging at my ears for a while now. It is so loud that I feel like I would be cursed if I did not tell you about it.”
“Is that supposed to be some kind of cheap consolation?” My voice was sharp.
“No,” Zero said flatly. “”If you do not wish to hear it, then forget I said anything. One should not listen to the voice of the dead in the first place.”
“Voice of the dead? Can witches hear that kinda stuff too?”
“When the desire to communicate something is strong and it has not been long since they passed away, there are times when we hear them, even if we do not mean to. Otherwise, Necromancy would not have been invented.”
What if Theo really wanted to tell me something? Do I want to hear it?
I hesitated for a moment. Realizing I was afraid of hearing a resentful message, I clicked my tongue.
“Tell me,” I said.
“Well, then.” Zero cleared her throat. “‘Are you going to leave me behind again?’ is what he is saying.”
“He wishes you to have that. He does not want you to leave it on his grave.” Zero pointed to the gravestone. “He said, ‘Let us go on a trip together.'”
Suddenly, I heard a voice.
I thought I heard Theo laughing.
It felt like an excited Theo was pulling on my fingers, saying, “It’s my first time on a ship!” I stood up and gripped his knife tight.
A sudden gust pushed us from behind. Zero staggered, and I quickly caught her. We exchanged glances.
The pain that had been lingering deep in my chest suddenly vanished.
“Time to go to Ideaverna,” I said.
“Yes.” Zero nodded firmly. “And then to my home.”
Our destination: the empty kingless region on the southeastern edge of the continent—Moonsbow Forest, where the cellar, Thirteenth’s dwelling place, was located.
The shortest route to our destination was by sea, from the port city of Ideaverna.
Leaves rustled like a child’s laughter as a strong gust pushed us onward. I picked Zero up, and together we left Fort Lotus.