Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Fret not, Mercenary. You will be fine as long as you do not let go of my hand.” Zero’s gentle voice pulled my fading consciousness back. “Breathe slowly. Feel the ground and plant your feet firmly. Your body has already arrived. Bring your consciousness back to your flesh. Focus on my hand.”
I inhaled deeply and realized I’d been holding my breath. As I exhaled, the sensation of plummeting through space faded, and I could feel the ground under my feet.
What was that just now? Was I hallucinating? My entire body was shivering from severe cold. I looked around. A dark room with four flickering candles. An intense aroma wafting in the air. Paved stone under my feet. And Zero in my arms. Albus on my shoulder as well.
“Thank goodness!” Albus exclaimed, clinging to my neck. “Mercenary’s back, Zero!”
I’m back? I surveyed the surroundings once more. What do you mean I’m back? This isn’t even the same place.
“Where are we?” I asked. “We were in the church just moments ago…”
“It was a forced summoning, a technique that calls forth the target to a different location regardless of their will.” Zero said. “It would seem a trap was laid in that church. It is meant for demons, though it has been repurposed to work on humans as well. There are only two people I know of who can use this. One of them is my master.”
My nose caught someone else’s scent mixed in with the intense aroma. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there, hidden in the darkness—one with it, even. If I lost focus for even a split-second, I would easily lose them.
“And the other one is you, Thirteenth.” Zero’s mouth curved into a smile.
Thirteenth, I repeated the name blankly in my mind, then quickly raised my head.
Slowly, a man stepped out from the darkness. From what I’d seen of Zero and Albus, I surmised that all witches and sorcerers possessed good looks, but Thirteenth proved my assumption wrong.
He had a warrior-like physique—tall with broad shoulders—but there was a stoop to his back that made him look unwelcoming. His long forelocks almost covered his eyes. An unattractive, sullen, huge man—that was Thirteenth. It might come off as rude but I, a Beastfallen, was probably better looking than him, if I do say so myself.
Zero’s eyes narrowed, her gaze fixed on the man, as though challenging him. “Care to explain why you summoned me, Thirteenth?”
“You simply appeared as a result of my summoning. I did not specifically call you here.”
“So you are summoning every person that showed up in that place? Just like this? That sounds like a ton of effort. You have not changed a bit, Thirteenth.”
“Well, you see. I heard someone call my name, Zero.”
Vicious eyes peering from underneath his forelocks bored into Albus. The boy yelped, his hold on my neck growing tighter.
“There was an entrance to a dangerous coven’s lair in that church. The witches evacuated it when the town was attacked, but watching the place for a few days is standard practice. Then I heard my name. I wanted to know who it was so I summoned them here.”
“Even those without knowledge of Sorcery? My mercenary could have died.”
Oh. So I was dying, huh? What Albus meant by “I’m back” was back from the brink of death, apparently. I just met Thirteenth and I hated him already.
“I did not account for a non-practitioner to enter a town flooded with corpses, head straight to the lair’s entrance, and call my name. Besides, I prepared a strong incense. I could’ve used sound too if necessary. Even if his soul traveled to the far beyond, calling it back would have been easy. Now, then. It is my turn to ask you a question. Why did you leave the cellar, Zero?” Thirteenth’s voice was admonishing.
“Being alone left me bored, so I thought I would go out for a walk and catch a glimpse of your gloomy face.”
“You have come too far for just a walk. I warned you the outside world is dangerous. You promised to wait.”
“Indeed, it is dangerous. I was chased around more than a dozen times. My travels taught me a lesson. I learned that danger is not unavoidable. That means I wasted a hundred years of my life for nothing. I should have ventured out a long time ago. Don’t you agree, Thirteenth?”
There was an odd tension in the air, and it made my tongue go numb.
What’s going on here? I thought Thirteenth was her ally. Zero talked about him fondly, but now that they were face to face, she seemed extremely furious.
“Why?” Albus mumbled in a low voice. “You said you wrote the book… so why…” His whole body was trembling. “Why do you know the King’s Sorcerer?!”
King’s… Sorcerer? Wait a sec. That doesn’t sound right.
I looked at Albus. “What’s this about the King’s Sorcrerer? Are you saying the ruler of a kingdom at war with witches hired a sorcerer?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying… Thirteenth helps with the witch hunts. He’s a traitor! He kills witches even though he’s a sorcerer himself!”
I was wondering how a country unaffiliated with the Church could wage a war against witches, and now it was clear. The kingdom hired sorcerers.
Witches excelled at hiding, and once hidden, ordinary humans would be hard pressed to find them. Even the Church, who fought witches for centuries, had a hard time at sniffing them out. People who grew impatient would then accuse ordinary humans of being a witch and kill them to obtain a false sense of security. An examination of history would tell you there are more cases of ordinary humans killing each other because of their fear of witches than actual witches killing ordinary humans.
So how do they prevent that from happening? Easy. Just enlist the aid of witches.
Zero claimed she could follow signs of Sorcery. In fact, she managed to track Thirteenth all the way from Moonsbow Forest to Wenias solely by his mana, which meant witches could find other witches with high precision.
The problem is witches normally don’t help with witch hunts—except this one guy right here, apparently. Though technically he’s a sorcerer, not a witch.
“How on earth could a sorcerer even join the kingdom’s side?”
“Thirteenth killed many witches in front of the king.” Albus spat the words out. “The Coven of Zero once ambushed the king outside of town while he was traveling. The war had just started back then, and they wanted to make the king swear to ban witch hunts while casualties were still minimal. Unfortunately, it was right after the Banquet of Retribution. The soldiers attacked, not giving any time for actual discussions. So without much of a choice, the Coven fought back.”
Albus bit his lips. “Then Thirteenth showed up and slaughtered every member of the Coven present. He then earned the trust of the king and joined the kingdom’s side.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. It kinda made sense, but also sounded ridiculous. Then again, Wenias frequently relied on witches when problems arose, so something as crazy as “asking witches for help with witch hunts” wasn’t exactly impossible.
Basically, someone other than the Church who could provide aid appeared gallantly like a knight in shining armor in their time of desperation.
Thirteenth, who had been watching my exchange with Albus silently, suddenly tapped his staff hard on the floor in annoyance. Albus jerked and looked at the sorcerer.
“How dare you take Zero’s name in vain,” the sorcerer said. “It is infuriating.”
A shiver crawled down my spine. I felt the same sensation from when we were being watched back in the church.
The cold eyes that I sometimes saw from Zero was terrifying, but the terror that Thirteenth’s gaze instilled in me was different. Zero bore no malice, and she didn’t direct her power anywhere in particular, so I didn’t fear her. What I felt from her was closer to awe.
But Thirteenth’s eyes glinted with animosity. I could feel his venomous gaze drilling on me, like he would come at me at any moment.
The enormous sense of dread from the gaze of someone you knew you wouldn’t stand a chance against was almost unbearable. A big guy like me being terrified like a child was nothing short of pathetic, but I couldn’t even put up a tough guy facade in this situation.
Albus seemed to feel the same. His whole body was shaking. If I let him down now, his knees would surely give in and he would sink down on the ground.
So I didn’t.