Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“I apologize, but could you please inside? I can’t move my legs very well, so I can’t get to you.”
We followed the voice deeper inside. There, among the piles of papers and books, was an old man sitting deep in a chair.
Just as I had imagined from the voice, he was a thin old man. Unlike Zero and Thirteenth, whose age could not be discerned from their appearance alone, I could tell at a glance that this man was extremely old.
“It’s been a long time, Master.” The princess stepped forward and greeted the old man in a surprisingly gentle voice. I glanced at her face, and even her expression was soft.
What are you, some granddaughter who saw her beloved granfather? It sure doesn’t fit your image.
“Shut up, Whitey. You’re being very rude.”
“I didn’t even say anything!”
“They say the eyes speak louder than the mouth. I know exactly what you’re thinking.”
“It is easy to read Mercenary’s mind,” Zero agreed.
“How am I supposed to shut my expression up?! You want me to wear a mask or something?”
The old man let out an amused laugh. “Well, well. You are an unexpectedly pleasant guest. I had heard that the witch who inherited the Murky Darkness title is a ruthless beauty that even demons would prostrate to. I suppose one had to see them in person to understand.”
“You know me?” Zero asked.
“Of course I do,” the old man answered. “There are no witches or sorcerers who do not know of you. I have known of your existence since the day you were born. I had heard that you left the cellar, but I never imagined that we would meet like this. What do you think of the outside world? Delightful, is it not? There are many things in this world that you cannot know simply by thinking about it.” He gave Zero a wrinkled smile.
Zero was staring at the old man. Then suddenly her expression brightened as if she just realized something.
“Are you perhaps Argentum? From the Stargazer school?!”
“Oh. You know me? It is an honor. Unlike the Murky Darkness witch, I’m not very famous.”
“There is no need to be modest. Argentum, the short-lived observer who craves for knowledge because he ages. Many witches have read the books you have written, including me.”
“Is he a celebrity in the witch community?” I cut in.
“Yes,” Zero affirmed without hesitation. “Do you remember what I told you before? That there are several schools of witches. I am of the Murky Darkness, and the lass from Wenias is a Mooncaller witch.”
“Yeah, I kinda recall you saying something like that.”
“Stargazer is yet another school. Unlike the Murky Darkness, which seeks inner knowledge, Stargazers seek knowledge from the external world. And Argentum is a renowned sorcerer who belongs to that school.”
“Sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Inner knowledge this, knowledge from the external world that. It sounded like she was talking in some ancient language to me.
Zero thought about it for a moment, then said, “Stargazer witches study things and document their findings, while the Murky Darkness witch search for truth from those findings.”
That made things easier to understand.
“So, what does becoming old have anything to do with coveting knowledge?” the princess asked anxiously. “What does short-lived mean?”
Zero and I turned to look at her, and she gave an awkward shrug.
“Master doesn’t talk about himself,” she said. “He said there’s no need to know.”
“I will answer your questions today,” the old man said. “That is why I called you here too, Amnil.”
The princess’s face lit up.
“I am going to die here today.”
Amnil’s face went from bright to grim. “No. What are you saying, Master?! I—”
“Ssh.” Argentum raised his forefinger slowly and pressed it to his lips.
The princess pursed her lips tight.
“Amnil. The witch of the Murky Darkness is young and beautiful, while I am old.”
“This is because of the difference in our magical power. I have very little and can only devote a small amount to preserve my flesh. That is why I age faster than most gifted witches and sorcerers.”
Holding up his wrinkled, callous hands to the light streaming in through the window, Argentum narrowed his eyes.
“I do not have much time. I do not know how much longer this body can last. So I frantically gathered knowledge and wrote them down to leave behind proof of my existence. That is Argentum the sorcerer.”
“Proof of one’s existence,” Zero repeated. “Do you mean propagating Magic to this island?”
“Calm down, Murky Darkness Witch. I called you here so I could talk to you. You don’t have to rush me. I will tell you everything. But first, I need to make some preparations.”
Argentum lifted his finger, and the pot on the table floated up, pouring warm tea into the cup, which then drifted towards the old man.
“Record,” Argentum commanded as he flicked his finger. Several pens floated up and began to spell out words on a blank piece of parchment.
“What kind of Magic is this?” I said. “Looks really useful.”
“It is not Magic,” Zero said. “He is using Sorcery to command invisible demons. You cannot see them, but there are countless demons in this house. I suppose it would be easier for you to understand if I called them fairies.”
“Indeed. I’m old, as you can see. I can’t move quickly or go very far. Therefore, I borrow the ears and eyes of demons. Take a peek.” Argentum held out a cup to us.
I peered into it and spotted something reflected in the surface of the light green tea.
“Is this the castle?” I asked.
Argentum nodded. “I sit here in my chair and observe other places. I use Sorcery for that reason alone. A Stargazer’s proof of existence lies with what they have observed.”
“What are you going to do with your observations?”
“Nothing.” Argentum smiled. “Genuine curiosity is what drives us, beast warrior. A curiosity so intense that it can take a person off the right path. Have you ever thought about what would happen to you if a loved one died in front of your eyes? The curiosity causes one to carry out the act and observe the aftermath. That is what it means to be a Stargazer.”
“Did you actually try it?”
“I probably have a record of it somewhere.”
“I see what you mean by straying off the right path.”
One could only be so curious. Stargazer witches probably pushed the limits even further to the realm of madness.
“Magic was so full of unknown possibilities that it made me decide to make a long journey. My heart trembled with the joy of new knowledge, and I even cursed my old age. Ten years ago, when I found out about the formation of the Coven of Zero, I gave up everything to go to the kingdom of Wenias and consume everything that is to know about Magic.”
“But you did not stay in Wenias,” Zero said.
Argenthum lifted his sleepy, downcast eyelids slightly and looked at Zero.
“You obtained the copy of the Grimoire of Zero, taught Magic in Black Dragon Island, and caused a war.”
“That, I did. As a member of Cestum.” Argentum dropped the name readily as if he knew that was what we wanted to know.
So this old man’s a member of Cestum, I thought. A friend of that bitch who killed Theo.
My hand subconsciously reached for my sword. The princess moved between me and Argentum.
“Move!” I roared.
“Wait, Mercenary,” Zero said, pushing my hand back. “Calm down.”
“I know! I won’t kill him. Not yet.”
We needed information from him. I knew that.
“Step aside, Amnil,” the old man said.
“I can’t talk with you in the way. I am having fun. Please.”
The princess had no choice but to obey. Watching me warily, she moved quietly to the wall.
“Why?” Zero asked. There was a tinge of sadness in her tone. “Surely you have realized that what you are doing is not observation, but intervention. Why would a sorcerer of your caliber do something so foolish? Who urged you?”
“I don’t think it’s foolish, and I am, no doubt, doing this of my own volition. This was a necessary intervention for observation. For me, for Magic, and for the world.”
“The world? Very grand,” I said.
“It might sound like I’m exaggerating, but it’s true. Cestum is trying to spread Magic throughout the world to make the world you dreamed of a reality, witch of the Murky Darkness.”
“The world I dreamed of? What do you know about me? Do not talk as if you know anything, Stargazer. I am a little vexed.” Zero lowered her voice.
Argentum, however, remained calm. “I have read the Grimoire of Zero, every inch of it. One can not call themselves a witch or a sorcerer if they didn’t know what kind of face you had when you wrote that book, or what kind of thoughts ran through your mind when you created Magic.”
Zero’s shoulders trembled slightly. She pulled her hood down to hide her bitter expression.
“Your dream was also the dream of many witches,” the old man continued. “But its realization would lead to the end of the Church’s rule. The Church defeated witches in the past. But with Magic, witches can stand victorious.”
“I did not create Magic to be used for conflict!”
“But it had the possibility to be used as such. Just like how a knife for cutting fish can stab a person, or an axe for chopping wood can cleave a man’s head. No one can prohibit others from using Magic in other ways. Not even you, the witch who invented it.” The chair creaked as Argentum leaned back on it. “Nothing ever works out the way you want it to, witch of the Murky Darkness. It does not matter how gifted you are. The more meticulous your plans are, the more likely they are to fall apart at the slightest wobble. You created Magic, but from the moment it was transferred from your mind onto paper, it was no longer in your control. That is how technology works. I will observe and record, so I can predict, if only a little, how this world will change. Then future generations will be able to respond as accurately as possible.”
“This whole island,” Argentum continued, motioning one arm to indicate the entire island, “is an experimental place for the observation of Magic. A small space where two forces exist. There is no other place more suitable for propagating Magic. You can say that Magic simply expedited the events that would have transpired fifty years from now. That includes your arrival, witch of the Murky Darkness.”