Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
A corpse was lunging at me.
“I know there’s a corpse there! Quit shouting at me!”
I grabbed the corpse’s head and flung it out the window.
Cutting it down would not kill it anyway. There was no other way to get rid of the corpse except by doing this. The only body special to me was Theo’s; the rest of them were just chunks of moving, rotting flesh.
Peering down the corridor from the study, I saw a crowd of corpses streaming in from the grand staircase leading to the first floor. I hurriedly closed the door. There was a tall shelf—as tall as me—next to it, which I moved to block the entrance.
“There’s no time to waste.”
I took off my cloak, wrapped Theo’s body in it, and picked him up. It didn’t matter if he wouldn’t move anymore. I couldn’t leave him behind.
“So, where’s Lia?” I asked. “You didn’t leave her behind somewhere, did you?”
“I am not that cruel,” Zero replied. “She is over there.”
She pointed to the door at the back of the study—the door Theo was trying to enter. I opened it. It was dark inside, and I could hear the sobbing of a frightened woman.
“You can come out now, Lia. Theo’s just a normal corpse now.”
The sobbing didn’t stop, and she showed no signs of coming out. Letting out a sigh, I stepped away from the door. She couldn’t leave otherwise.
Zero instead peeked inside the door and silently reached out. Then a hand came out of the darkness and grabbed Zero’s hand.
They seemed to have gotten quite close while I was away. Considering that Zero saved her when she was abandoned by Sanare and attacked by Theo, it was hardly unreasonable.
“You two might not have realized it because you’ve been holed up in here, but for some reason, hordes of corpses are headed for this mansion. Do you know anything, Witch?”
“This is merely speculation,” Zero shot a glance at Lia, “but from the attendant’s chanting, it must be because of the saint.”
“M-Me?” Lia’s voice tightened in fear.
Zero nodded. “I believe the attendant said ‘Hear the cries of regret of the hateful dead writhing in the eternal flame.’ It is safe to assume that those corpses are powered by grudge, hatred, and regret. Many of the people in Akdios died while wishing to be saved by the saint. That is most likely why they are heading for this mansion. To search for her.”
Lia opened her mouth gingerly. “I-If I died, would it solve everything?”
“Out of the question,” I said flatly before Zero could answer. “We will not kill you to fix things.”
I was certain she was about to say “Then please kill me.” After discovering she was a witch who had killed countless people, and that Sanare had abandoned her, she surely believed her life was practically worthless.
Lia’s teary eyes widened, and she glared at me. “Why not? You yourself think I’m better off dead.”
“No, I don’t! Well, I did, a while ago, but uhh, that was my mistake. I’m sorry.”
“But you tried to kill me! You said it was all my fault for being alive…”
“I said I’m sorry! Theo’s death made me lose my cool.”
“That’s right. Theo died because of me! He was so young… And many others are dead too! I can’t be the only one to stay alive—”
“Calm down, both of you,” Zero said. “Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the saint’s death will not change the current situation. The dead will simply start wandering around looking for their next objective. Akdios will become a hellscape where the dead devour the living. We have to prevent that from happening.”
“By burning them.”
Zero picked up a three-pronged candlestick that hung on the wall. Without chanting, she summoned a small fire on her fingertips and lit each candle, illuminating the room slightly. The smell of soot made me sneeze.
“Since time immemorial, fire is believed to be sacred. It is actually effective too. That is why witches are burned, to make certain that they do not come back to life.”
“Sounds perfect for the walking dead.”
“But we have no way to burn all of them at once. Going around carrying torches is practically impossible, and I can only burn a few bodies at once with Flagis. I do not have enough magical power to burn them all. We need a plan.” Zero cocked her head.
“The corpses are after me, right?” Lia cut in. “I can stay in the mansion, while you two set it on fire.” She forced a smile.
I flicked Lia’s forehead with my curled-up claws. “Are you stupid? We’re trying to think of something here so you don’t die.”
“But they’ll chase me everywhere I go and hurt everyone around. I’ve had enough of it! I’d rather die than let people get hurt because of me!”
“I said we won’t let you die! Man, you’re stubborn. You can still use your life for something! Besides, one guy’s definitely going to go mad if he finds out you’re dead.”
“What?” Lia blinked. She probably had no idea who I was referring to. “Who would that be?”
“Him.” I glanced at the white feather necklace she was wearing.
Light returned to her dispirited eyes. The necklace was a gift from Cal, a symbol of his promise to come pick her up someday.
If I told him Lia was dead—or we left her to die, he would definitely do whatever it took to kill me, even putting his life on the line.
He seemed like the gentle type, but he was extremely attached to Lia. He hadn’t forgotten about her ever since they were kids.
I heaved a sigh.
“Ah!” Zero raised her voice all of a sudden. “We can simply use the saint as bait, and then rescue her right before the mansion goes down in flames.”
“What are you, stupid? We won’t have this problem if we can do that.”
“Perhaps we can. We simply need to rescue her from the skies. I know a man who can fly.”
My eyes opened wide. I knew him as well. “It’s gonna be a gamble. We don’t know if he’ll come.”
“It is a gamble, but our chances of success are decent.”
The door to the study suddenly shook. The corpses, hearing Lia’s voice, were beginning to ram the door.
“It seems we do not have time to discuss our plan here,” Zero said. “Let us get to the roof first.”
“Hmm… The roof, huh?” I said. “We’ll have to go out the window and then climb up. Come, you two!”
Since we were on the top floor, we only needed to climb a short distance to get to the roof. There were plenty of sculptures and protrusions on the roof that I could use to hook ropes. I couldn’t ask for more in this situation.
However, I had to carry a child and two women. I had never carried three people at once before, but I was sure it would work out.
Leaving Lia alone on the roof, Zero and I descended back to the first floor of the mansion. Zero had deployed a barrier that would prevent the corpses from getting close to Lia. Even if the dead climbed to the roof, she should be safe for a while.
But the barrier could not block non-witchcraft related things like flames. If we set the mansion on fire, Cal would probably come to her rescue. It was a huge gamble, but Lia believed in her childhood friend.
“He will come. I’m sure of it. Cal always protected me.”
The hawk Beastfallen wasn’t in on the plan, so there was no guarantee he would come. We told her that she could still back out.
“I planned to die anyway,” she said, smiling. “If Cal didn’t come, it means that God wants me dead.”
After confirming that the corpses were on the second floor, we took some wine and oil from the pantry in the cellar and poured them around the mansion. Wine and oil burned well, after all.
“They haven’t seen each other for ten years,” I said as I soaked the curtains with fine wine. “I have no idea how she can have that much faith in him.”
Zero chuckled as she poured oil on the carpets. “Distance and time cannot easily separate hearts that have once connected. For ten years, I waited for Thirteenth to return, alone.”
“Right. Thirteenth.” My expression became more bitter.
I wondered what Zero thought about the possibility of Thirteenth being involved in this case.
“Well, Thirteenth didn’t return, did he? Do you really think Cal will come?”
“I do not play a game I know I cannot win. Hawk can fly even at night. When he sees the Holy City burning, he will come for sure. And another thing…”
“Thirteenth did not return, but you did.” A soft smile formed on Zero’s lips.
She was probably talking about that time I left her and she got imprisoned by Thirteenth. I climbed a high, sheer cliff and up a tower to pick her up.
“I wager Hawk will come,” she said. “I am done here. This is the last room. Let us set fire to it and leave.”
Zero held out the candlestick to me. No turning back now, I guess. I took the candlestick from Zero, lit the curtains up, and left the room with Theo’s body in my arms.