Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“The Coven of Zero? The nerve! Uttering that name, demeaning and defiling it, is a grave sin that cannot be forgiven. How dare you miserable worms use the name of a Murky Darkness witch who spent their life in the cellar consuming knowledge. It makes me sick!”
Thirteenth’s finger hissed sharply through the air, producing a blue streak of light. Quickly I moved to cover Zero and Albus with my back turned to the sorcerer. I had no idea what kind of Magic he was about to cast, but it was apparent that he meant Albus harm.
I clenched my teeth, preparing myself for the inevitable pain, but to my surprise a scream did not escape my lips. Nothing happened. I wasn’t trying to act cool, but now I just looked pathetic. Feeling embarrassed, I opened my eyes. It was then that I noticed Zero leaning out of my shoulder, confronting Thirteenth.
“What are you do—”
“I thought I told you this is my mercenary,” Zero said. “Put so much as a scratch on him and I will rip you to shreds then offer you to demons.”
Black smoke rose from Zero’s palm. She shook her hand to put it out, seemingly annoyed, and brushed her hands together as though cleaning off any soot. I meant to protect them, but apparently she protected me.
Tension left my body, but then came back a moment later.
“Do you really think you can do that?” Thirteenth goaded Zero. “It has been ten years since we last fought each other. Our powers are not the same as they were back then.”
Zero’s face turned hard, her mouth twisting into a mocking smile. “Shall we test it, then? I am a little irritated right now.”
I immediately took Albus and distanced myself from Zero. Red flames roared all around her, as if it just waited for us to get away from her.
You’ve gotta be kidding me. Even if I had nine lives, I’d burn through them all if I got caught up in a battle between a witch and a sorcerer.
“H-Hey, kid! Can’t you do something?! We’re in some serious shit!”
“Of course, not! Flagis is the highest-level spell I can use! That’s a witch who can wield flames and a sorcerer who can call lightning without any ritual. I’ll get reduced to ashes if I so much as touch them! I might be able to do something if I have time to perform a ritual for Sorcery…”
“We don’t have time for any fucking Sorcery right now! Man, you’re useless!”
“So are you!”
“What?! Fine, goddamn it! I’ll do something!”
I got nothing to lose. Might as well give it a try.
“Hey, Witch!” I bellowed. There was only one thing that I could use to draw Zero’s attention right now. I knew it was completely stupid, but I didn’t have any other options. “It’s almost time for lunch! You can fight after we eat!”
Zero stopped moving, and the flames around her dissipated. She turned to look at me. “Lunch?”
“I see,” she mumbled, then turned back to face Thirteenth. “They say one cannot fight on an empty stomach. A battle not fought at full strength will not be satisfying. We can fight each other any time, but there is no guarantee we can always partake of food. Thirteenth!”
“We have high quality lamb.” The sorcerer nodded grimly, as if fully aware of what Zero was about to say. “I will ask the cooks to roast it.”
Before I knew it, Albus and I were no longer on guard. We exchanged glances and clasped each other’s hands tight.
“I want potato soup,” Zero said.
“I will have them prepare it,” Thirteenth replied.
The mana in the air—so dense that it was visible—had dispersed. Zero and Thirteenth, who had been shooting glares, nodded to each other as they abruptly entered into a cease-fire agreement.
To my surprise, we were summoned to the capital Plasta—in a dungeon that was refurbished into a normal chamber, located underneath the royal castle. I found it hard to believe, but I had no reason to doubt Thirteenth’s claim. Zero herself insisted the man was in Plasta, and Albus said he was the king’s sorcerer, so he was probably telling the truth.
In short, we moved from Latette to Plasta in just an instant, which I must admit, was quite convenient when traveling—except for the part where it could kill you.
As we made it to the top of the stairs that led from the underground chamber, Thirteenth’s subordinates appeared in droves, shuffling towards him. After receiving orders on what food to prepare, they quietly dispersed once more.
Albus looked like he could start screaming any moment, but he seemed to understand that kicking up a fuss now would only make things worse. Controlling his emotions, he managed to arrive at the table without causing trouble. I expected nothing less from sorcerers who called themselves utilitarians.
All four of us, Thirteenth included, sat at a long table, Zero and Thirteenth sitting on both ends facing each other. Albus took his seat in front of me.
No one said a word, the mood preventing us from having any sort of casual conversation. What could we possibly talk about in this situation? There was only the sound of Zero sipping her soup, which made the silence even more palpable.
“This soup tastes awful.” The one who broke the silence was none other than Zero. Her words made things even more awkward. I stiffened and glanced both at her and Thirteenth. “The soup Mercenary prepared was exquisite. I thought cooks made food for a living. Why does Mercenary’s soup taste better, then?”
Hey, knock it off! Please! I appreciate the compliment, but you’re only gonna make things way worse for me. Look! He’s glaring at me! Thirteenth is staring daggers at me! Or maybe that’s just his normal face? Either way, it’s terrifying.
“I ask them to make the same food we have in the cellar,” Thirteenth finally spoke. “It will do as long as it’s edible.” His voice sounded indifferent rather than sour, which made it all the more unsettling.
“Lies! I know you are addicted to honey.”
“Sugar is important. However, there is no need to add pointless flavor or aroma to a potato soup.”
“Just admit you like sweet food. Humans are born with a sense of taste. Not satisfying it is neglecting the pursuit of pleasure, and a blasphemy against demons. Don’t you agree, Mercenary?”
“Well, uhh… I don’t really mind as long as it’s edible…”
Even if the food had flavor, I doubt I’d be able to tell. Not in this situation. I couldn’t care less if Thirteenth had a sweet tooth, craving for honey every single night.
Zero pursed her lips and scowled at me, not expecting me to not take her side. She seemed to be saying that a mercenary should support his employer, but I ignored her completely, not intending to get involved in their argument. Zero pulled her eyes away from me and started roughly biting away at the lamb meat.
“You have been outside for ten years yet you are still as stubborn as ever, Thirteenth. Why are you even acting like you belong with these people? You can act high and mighty all you want, but that will not fix your deep-seated stubbornness.”
“Times change, and we must learn to adapt, or people will look at us oddly. Drawing attention is unfavorable. You might see me as haughty, but I will do whatever I think is necessary.”
The atmosphere was too tense. I couldn’t stop myself from asking the question that had been clawing at my mind.
“So, uhh… you two are… friends, right?”
“Brethrens.” Both replied at exactly the same time.
I see. Okay. Brethrens. So it’s like they belonged in the same squad or something.
“So… You’re not enemies?”
“I had no intention of confronting him,” Zero said, “but this man summoned me and tried to hurt my mercenary. He picked a fight and I will gladly accept any challenge.”
“Your being summoned was a coincidence,” Thirteenth replied, “and I did not mean any harm to your mercenary. I was aiming at the sorcerer who sullied the name of Zero, but the beast warrior protected him, which is not my problem.”
“As always, you are an expert in dodging responsibility.”
“I will take that as a compliment.”
Another silence descended. In an attempt to somehow escape reality, I directed my gaze at Albus. He might have been after my head, but right now he was the only one here who didn’t instill fear in me. I noticed the boy had not touched any of his food. It was clear from the rumbling of his stomach, though, that he was starving.