Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Screams rose from all over the mansion. The whole place was in chaos. Dreadful moving corpses were coming in droves.
“Corpses… They’re moving!”
“Damn it. Swords can’t stop them!”
I ran to the main gate of the mansion and saw several guards surrounded by corpses. They probably gathered here after hearing that a Beastfallen attacked the saint’s mansion.
There were four… No, five corpses. A corpse missing its lower body was crawling on the ground with both arms. I shivered. Even when torn apart, they still moved. The revolting scene made me nauseous.
The crawling corpse grabbed a guard’s foot and bit it.
He screamed and fell to ground, swinging his sword frantically. Letting out shrieks, the other men collapsed as well, as more corpses lunged at them.
These things eat humans?!
Now was not the time to be sneaky. Drawing my sword, I rushed to the front gate and drove my weapon into the corpses’ bodies with all my strength, swinging it upwards.
I felt their bones crumble through the wet clothes and rotten flesh. I continued my onslaught, never letting up until all corpses were rolling on the ground. I pulled away the one last corpse biting a guard’s leg.
But as expected, that didn’t make the guards feel any better. Just when they were free from the moving dead, an armed Beastfallen had appeared.
“No… Someone, he—!”
Before they could scream for help, I forced one on his feet.
“Take the rest of the guys in the mansion and get to the church!”
“What? Th-The church?”
“It’s made of stone and it has a sturdy door. It won’t get destroyed that easily. I’ll go get the saint. Now stop dawdling around! Move! I’m sure God will help us.” I bolted towards the mansion.
There shouldn’t be anyone fearless enough to try and capture me in this situation. Even trained soldiers could not put up a brave front in the face of human-eating corpses.
I dashed through the front hall and up the grand staircase. Glancing out the window, I saw corpses rushing to the first-floor windows.
“Why are they trying to get into the mansion?!”
Is there some mysterious item here that attracts the dead? I was worried about Zero and Lia. And Theo.
Fortunately, there was almost no one in the mansion. The servants probably evacuated when I chased Sanare around earlier. Some of the mansion guards had left to pursue Cal’s diversionary unit, significantly weakening security.
Because of that, I was able to head straight for Lia’s chambers without passing anyone. However, when I got to the room, the door was wide open, and there was no one inside.
As expected, Theo’s body was gone as well.
“Shit! Where are they?!”
They must be hiding somewhere, but the smell of death was so strong that it was impossible to track them by scent. I tried listening for footsteps, but the inside of the mansion was eerily devoid of any human presence. All I could hear was the groaning of corpses from below.
Are they hiding somewhere?
I looked around the hallway for some clues and saw a small bag at the end of the corridor. As I picked it up, a broken pin caught my eyes.
It was the pin I gave to Zero as a gift. This was no doubt Zero’s bag. It must have fallen when the straps snapped. Judging by the cut, it looked like someone attacked her with a bladed weapon.
“Corpses use weapons too?”
I looked up and regarded the door in front of me. I learned that it led to a study back when they gave me a tour of the mansion. There was slimy blood on the handle, dark but not dry.
I opened the door and stepped inside. There was no illumination save for the moonlight shining through the window. The moment I saw a small figure standing under the light, I froze.
Neat clothes, brown hair damaged by the sun, and a large knife in his hand, which he said was a memento of his father. He was staring at a small door at the back of the study.
The boy turned around to face me.
“God damn it…!”
Its face was pale, its eyes lifeless but rolling. Its tongue hung down from a half-open mouth, and the voice that came out of its throat did not sound human.
It was a corpse. This thing might be walking, but it was not Theo.
I felt sick to my stomach. As I covered my mouth, Theo held his knife high. Imagining what would happen next, I almost fell to my knees.
“No, stop… Please!”
I took a step back. The next instant, the corpse that was once Theo let out a ghastly moan and rushed towards me, knife in hand.
It doesn’t even recognize people, huh? Or does he hate me for abandoning him?
If that was the case, then maybe I should not avoid his attack. Without realizing it, I lowered my sword, its tip touching the floor.
“Do not let it fool you, Mercenary!” Zero shouted. “That is not Theo!”
Zero’s voice snapped me back to my senses, and I quickly raised my weapon. I felt a heavy impact on the tip of my sword. My eyes grew wide open.
Theo had charged straight into my sword. It appeared as if he did not have any intention of evading it, like he didn’t even see the sword. The wide and not-so-sharp sword tip plunged deep into Theo’s belly, but that didn’t stop him from coming at me.
“No… Stop it…”
Feet firmly on the floor, Theo walked forward. The tip of the sword went through his stomach. Unable to bear the sensation of piercing a child’s stomach, I let go of the sword.
Theo stumbled under the weight of the sword and fell on his back. The knife in his hand rolled to the side.
I immediately helped him up, pulled out the sword from his belly, and threw it away. A moment later, Theo opened his mouth so wide that it looked like he was going to dislodge his jaw, and bit at my neck.
There was no pain. A child’s jaw could not break through my skin covered in thick fur. Still, the strength he put into his bite made it also seem like he was actually alive.
His body was cold and stiff. It was only a corpse.
“It is over, Mercenary,” Zero said.
Theo’s body shook, then stopped moving. It felt as if Zero had killed Theo.
I could only sit there stunned with Theo’s motionless body in my arms.
“I am sorry.”
Zero’s words suddenly brought me back to reality. When I looked up, all I could see was the witch’s mouth under her hood. She was biting her lip. Was it red because of blood?
“Magic kills people. Magic can even control the dead. I invented Magic to help people, but lives are being toyed with because of it. I am to blame for everything. It is my fault for writing the Grimoire of Zero. I am sorry.” Her words were bitter and heavy.
But they did not have an effect on me. I told her countless times that it wasn’t her fault. That she was overthinking things. That she didn’t need to feel responsible. Zero always replied that it was beside the point.
If I really meant that, then why did I hate her so much right now?
I was merely spitting out sound arguments from an outsider’s standpoint. Now I could understand how Zero felt.
I let the words flow out of my mouth. “You’re right. It is your fault. So?”
“Did you think you’d be forgiven if you admit you were to blame? Did you think your apology would make me feel better? Would it bring Theo back?”
Zero searched for words to say.
“No matter what you say, the dead won’t come back to life. You blame yourself and apologize to make yourself feel better. Am I wrong?”
“You are absolutely right.” Zero hung her head low, her hood covering most of her face. I could not tell what expression she was wearing. Her attitude pissed me off.
I stood up, grabbed her collar, and pulled her close. “Then don’t apologize ever again unless you really mean it!” I looked her straight in the eye, glaring at my own self reflected in her mystic, bluish-purple eyes. “I’ll never say that it’s not your fault ever again. Yeah. It’s all your fault! You’re the root cause of all this mess! But so what? You said it yourself. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. What’s important is finding out who we need to beat up to solve this problem.”
This wouldn’t have happened if she had not invented Magic. But that being said, Magic wouldn’t have spread if Thirteenth had not taken the Grimoire of Zero to the outside world. Theo would still be living with his parents if Sanare had not brought the copy to Cleon, and he wouldn’t have stabbed Lia if I had not abandoned him.
I could look everywhere, and I would find someone to blame. But what good would that do? Zero was already here to take responsibility for what she had done.
It wasn’t her that I needed to take down.
“There’s only one person I can’t forgive. That bitch who used Theo like a tool, killed him, then toyed around with his corpse using twisted Magic! I swear I’ll chase her to the edge of the world and rip her to shreds!”
I was not an outsider anymore. This shit was personal now. I held a grudge against Magic. I was no longer just Zero’s bodyguard.
“You can’t stop me from going after that bitch. If there’s someone giving her orders, then I’ll fucking kill them as well. You better be prepared. If I need you, I’ll tie you up with a rope and take you with me!”
I pushed Zero away. She staggered and fell on her backside. She stared at me with a confused look, then suddenly her eyes grew wide.