Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Settlements—be it a small town or a whole country—typically start as a single point that gradually expands. In the case of a castle town, retainers would build their houses near the castle, then around them the servants’ houses. Stores would line the residential areas, and store owners would build their houses and factories in the vicinity as well.
In the same way, small towns are usually built around much bigger towns. Knights are always stationed in major cities to maintain public order and protect it from various dangers, including, but not limited to, bandits. Towns fortified by walls like Fomicaum are unlikely to be attacked, but most towns and villages are practically defenseless. These places seek a sense of security from knowing there are people nearby who could protect them.
The place we were headed to was one such defenseless town. According to Albus, the campus was located nearby.
“It’s a small town called Latette,” the boy said.
A sandstone-paved road stretched all the way to the royal capital of Plasta, with several forks along the way, each leading to a small town or village according to the map. Like Albus said, the road we were on led straight to Latette.
“It’s small, but lively, and the walnut bread from the bakery there is really good! The walnuts are crispy, the bread sweet. Freshly baked ones are so soft and fluffy.”
“I see. That sounds very fascinating,” Zero muttered in a terribly serious voice.
If half of her brain contained matters of Sorcery and Magic, the remaining half must be filled with thoughts of food. In fact, the latter seemed to have the higher ratio.
“Fomicaum was fun, but I like Latette more,” Albus continued. “I’m thinking of living there as a fortune-teller or something, once witch hunts are banned.”
“Listen, kid,” I said. “In case you’ve forgotten, our destination is the campus. I understand you like the town, but we’re not staying there unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Albus turned to me with a huff. “Of course I haven’t forgotten! The campus is in Latette.”
“I thought the campus was a witch lair. So Latette is a town of witches?”
“No,” Albus sighed, seemingly irritated. “The entrance to the campus is hidden in Latette, behind a pillar in the church. It’s made with Sorcery and only witches can see it.”
“You mean the entrance to the lair is in a church located in the middle of town?”
“Yup. They say building an entrance to a lair inside a town is common even back in the day. At the end of a blind alley, behind a statue or a gravestone. I heard some build one under beds at inns.”
“Under the bed…”
Let’s not dwell on it too much. I wouldn’t be able to lead a normal life if I got scared of every dead end street, statue, or bed.
“Once we arrive, we’ll have to kill time until night comes. Someone might see us during the day. There’s an inn there, so we can get a room. They keep a dog by the way, and he really likes me. He leaps straight at me whenever I visit. The missus sometimes gives me candy too.”
“They give candies to a sorcerer?”
“No one knows I’m a sorcerer.” Albus shrugged.
So you’re scamming people. I kept the thoughts to myself, though.
“People will treat you normally if they don’t know you’re a sorcerer,” he continued. “My mom was a witch too. She gave up Sorcery and married an ordinary man. Apparently they lived in a human town.”
Giving up sorcery to live as an ordinary human, huh? I thought that only happened in fairy tales. Truly commendable. There probably wasn’t much prejudice against witches back then because of Solena’s good nature.
“So where are your parents now?” I asked. “These are bad times for your mother, given she’s a former witch.”
“They’ve been dead for a long time now. Hunted down.” Albus’s voice was as calm as ever, and that sent a shiver down my spine. “I was too young back then. The townspeople started a witch hunt when they found out my mom was a witch. They got along well before that. In Wenias, people turned to witches whenever they had problems. But people would never help witches, not even allowing them near any town. My mom took me to my grandmother’s lair so I could escape, and she died afterwards. I was raised by my grandma. I don’t remember much about my parents. For the record, this happened before the rebellion. That’s the reality of this so-called ‘passive coexistence’.”
“So… you must hate humans.”
How could he possibly not despise them? Albus wore a pensive look, then shook his head, contrary to my expectations.
“Not at all,” he said. “My dad loved my mom, and he didn’t care if she was a witch. Hating all of them would mean hating my father too. Humans are not to blame, but the notion that witches are evil is—this society that holds witches responsible for every single misfortune that befalls them. Sure I’m fighting against humans right now, but it’s not like I want to wipe out humanity.”
He spoke like a mature adult. I blinked a few times, and Zero chuckled.
“In order to practice sorcery, one must first learn to be rational.” Zero said. “He may be a beginner, but he is a fine sorcerer.”
We walked along the winding road while making idle conversation. Albus was the same as always, waving his arms and legs as he walked, rambling on about random things with a loud and resounding voice.
According to the map, Latette was located not too far from Fomicaum. A slow carriage would get there in two hours, and twice as long on foot. We should be seeing people right about now, but we haven’t come across a single soul yet.
“It’s too quiet… Almost like there’s no one around.”
It didn’t feel like we were getting close to a populated town. Normally you’d sense relief as you got closer and closer, but this was the exact opposite. I was filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. I felt uneasy, the hair on the back of my neck stirring. The restlessness grew stronger with each step towards Latette. My knees turned heavy as lead, my instincts screaming, begging me to stop. Then I felt a tug on my clothes.
“Do you sense it too?” Zero asked out of nowhere.
Scratching my cheek, I surveyed the surroundings. Her question meant I wasn’t imagining things.
“Eyes,” I mumbled. An eerie atmosphere enveloped the vicinity. It didn’t feel like we were being watched, but there were certainly eyes out there, wandering. There were hostiles deep in the dark forest, but we couldn’t see each other.
“Laddie,” Zero called. “Is it always this quiet around here? You said we were headed to a small, but lively town, yet it feels gloomy.”
Albus stopped in his tracks. He turned around, a puzzled look on his face.
“Well…” he mumbled. Then silence. It was apparent now that he talked loudly before to hide his discomfort.
“The town is right over this hill… but there’s usually a lot more people around…” He paused for a moment. “I’ll go check things out!”
Albus took off. Something was seriously amiss. Despite being close to Latette, there was a severe lack of human presence. Above all, the smell of something burning filled the air.
“What now, witch?” I asked. “It could be a trap.”
“For who? Me? Or perhaps you?”
I hesitated a bit, then looked at Zero. “For you, I think.”
“You are suggesting that the boy realized I planned to retrieve the book, informed his allies, and set a trap so they could defeat me?”
“Doesn’t look like it, but circumstances suggest that’s the case. The kid did lead us here and now this.”
“Yes, very logical. But your instinct knows something that both logic and common sense do not. What does it tell you?”
“To get the hell out of here right now.”
“And leave the boy behind?”
I frowned. The question caught me off-guard. I realized I had absolutely no intention of leaving Albus behind. If he really did lure us into a trap, abandoning him would be the right choice. Yet here I was, ready to take him with us.
Zero gently closed her eyes. “Then let us leave this place together with the lad.”
“What about the book?”
“If there is even a slight hint of danger, finding Thirteenth first would be wiser.”
“Very logical indeed. Hey, kid—”
“No!” Albus’s shrill cry rang out, cutting me off.
Startled, I froze on the spot. A second later, Zero and I broke into a run. As we crested the hill, our field of view widened.