Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
It was my turn to be speechless. I almost rose to my feet, but I couldn’t really find any point in doing so. Instead I glanced at Zero for no particular reason. However not only did she have no intention of stopping Thirteenth, she didn’t show the least bit of interest in the conversation.
So without much of a choice, I decided to speak. “Burn at the stake? He’s just a kid.” Showing mercy to children is what civilized humans do.
“Child or not, those who wield Sorcery are a threat,” Thirteenth said. “In fact, being young means they might use their power without much thought. They must be eliminated before that happens.”
He spoke fluently, but I refused to back down.
“But killing him is too much.”
“Are you suggesting we let him off just because he’s young?”
“Sorcerers are beings that have strayed from the path of humanity, so they can gain new power that is Sorcery. They pay a price to satisfy their desires. They kill people for their wishes. Whether they’re a man or a woman, a child or an adult, makes no difference. Sorcerers are not human. Do you understand, Zero’s mercenary? I must say, it’s strange for a beast warrior in this kingdom to plead for mercy for a sorcerer.”
Bombarded with facts, I stiffened, unable to say anything back.
Albus was indeed after my head. He almost killed me. I only survived because I was a Beastfallen, and also because I met Zero. If I were an ordinary human and I hadn’t met the witch, Albus would’ve killed me a long time ago. Well I guess I wouldn’t be targeted if I were an ordinary human.
I cast a sidelong glance at Albus. His golden eyes, usually bright, were now filled with fear and confusion. He glared at Thirteenth, rage and hatred seeping into his gaze. It looked like anger barely managed to keep him on his feet. Sorcerer or not, to me he was only a child.
Yet when asked if he should be excused solely based on his apparent age, I couldn’t give an answer. But was death really the only option? I don’t mean to act like a saint, but even mercenaries hesitated to kill children.
“I will allow you time to think. You have one night to consider my offer.” Thirteenth turned his attention to the witch. “Zero.”
“What? You want to resume our battle? Unfortunately, I am full. I have lost interest.”
“Return to the cellar.”
“No. I waited and waited, but you never returned. And now we are here.”
“Have you forgotten, Thirteenth?” Zero spat out the fork in her mouth onto the plate. “It is taboo to hunt fellow witches, no matter how justified you think it is, for it disrupts the order of the world. Too much power will drive a person mad. I believe you know what I am talking about. The six witches we found at the Church were all but empty husks. I know you simply want to retrieve the book, but you crossed a line you should not have.”
“It will all be over once it is recovered. So—”
“I will search for the book myself, Thirteenth,” Zero declared softly, cutting him off. “It is my property. My book. My sin. If hands must be dirtied for its disposal, then I choose to dirty mine.”
“But Zero!” Albus’s voice was pained and bitter. “You said you were on our side! I even guided you to the campus… Why—”
“I never said I was on your side.”
Albus’s eyes widened. “B-But…” His voice quavered ever so slightly.
“You said you knew where the book was hidden, so I asked you to lead the way. That is all.”
Albus shifted his gaze to me, pleading for help. Unfortunately for him, I was Zero’s mercenary, which made us foes in this case, technically. What’s more, Zero was simply telling the truth. When Albus asked her if she was on their side, she didn’t say anything. She neither affirmed, nor denied it; she only gave a faint smile. And I simply followed the wish of my employer, not leaking any information that she didn’t want to provide.
Realizing I wasn’t going to say anything, Albus bit his lip and hung his head low.
Sorry, kid. I’m not gonna say you simply made the wrong assumption. We planned to deceive you—we did, in fact. Still it just doesn’t feel right, god damn it.
“Is it true… that the book… was stolen?”
Zero didn’t nod. She simply narrowed her eyes. “It is true. No matter how splendid of a witch the founder of the Coven of Zero is, it doesn’t change the fact that they stole my book. No, rob might be more appropriate.”
“Rob…?” Albus turned as pale as a sheet.
“Everyone in the cellar was killed, except for me and Thirteenth. They then took the Grimoire of Zero to spread Magic throughout the lands.”
Albus grimaced and lowered his head down to the table. In my years as a mercenary, I had witnessed the moment when someone broke down completely countless times. This was one of those moments. Albus’s mind had just been crushed.
“Tell me, witch. Why did you even write that book?” I asked. “Did you want to destroy the world or something?”
I’d been wondering for a while now why she authored such a dangerous book. If she told me she wanted to destroy the world, the me from before would’ve readily accepted the answer. But I couldn’t imagine Zero doing something so troublesome now.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if you could start a fire without a flint?” Zero repeated the words she said before, except this time there was a hint of bitterness in her voice. “Having an endless supply of arrows would be helpful when hunting. You can catch prey easily even without a net. You can pick fruits without climbing trees, and you can heal wounds without using stitches. I thought it would make everyone happy.”
Zero smiled, her expression like that of a child engrossed in their fantasies. When she saw what happened to Latette, she said, “I did not know it could be used like this.” She never expected such a tragedy to happen. She thought the craft she invented would only be used in the best possible way.
Technological innovation is always born out of genuine interest and a modest ambition. Once created, it leaves the developer’s hands and spreads far and wide inevitably. Dangerous drugs could be made out of regular medicine and the creator would be powerless to stop it.
“The lad said he wished for witches and ordinary humans to live in harmony. I too wished for the same. Buried in books inside the cellar, I found having the same conversations over and over with witches who shared the same knowledge and values as me tedious. I wanted to venture outside, but the world branded witches as evil. I thought that by creating something useful that can benefit everyone, not only witches, the world would come to accept us.”
If everyone could start a fire without flints, no one would buy them anymore. With unlimited supply of arrows, craftsmen would lose their jobs. Some people would suffer, for sure. But something would definitely change for the better. If Magic was used in the proper manner, if it was used to protect and save people, not hurt them, it would make the world a better place.
“I wrote the book with that thought in mind. But only now do I realize I should not have done that.”
“Zero,” Thirteenth said.
Casting a glance at the man, she shook her head softly. “I should have heeded your warning, Thirteenth. When you said the book could spell the world’s destruction, I should have burned it right then and there.” Zero heaved a deep sigh. “I was a fool.”
I lay blankly on the bed in a vacant servant’s quarters. I prepared myself for a barrage of insults, telling me Beastfallen should sleep in the stables, yet here I was, quite comfortable. Such hospitality was the last thing I expected.
Albus, on the other hand, was temporarily taken to an underground cell, where he was given a night to think about whether to be burned at the stake, or become Thirteenth’s subordinate. Now that he knew the founder of the Coven was an absolute lowlife, the latter seemed the logical choice.
The issue now was my future course of action. I agreed to be Zero’s bodyguard on the condition that she turned me back to a normal human. My future—unpredictable now more than ever—rested in her hands, so to speak.