Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
I had this vague feeling that my job was done. I wasn’t exactly a skilled mercenary to begin with. Zero hired me simply because I just happened to be in that forest and caught her attention. Now that she had Thirteenth’s support, what would she gain from keeping me in her employ? If I were her, I’d terminate myself.
I raised my hand to the ceiling and studied the scar on my thumb, the part that Zero bit. It was almost completely healed now. She might’ve actually needed a bodyguard back then. But it seemed to me I was no more than just a distraction to keep prying eyes away from her.
Once Albus fulfilled his role as a guide, Zero abruptly cast him aside. What would happen to me? If she deemed me unnecessary, what would she do to me? I lowered my hand and covered my eyes.
“Zero’s Mercenary,” a voice came from out of nowhere.
Letting out a yelp, I rolled off the bed. The voice sounded like it came from up close. I was sensitive to human presence, and could hear footsteps even from afar. As such, hearing someone call me from so close almost scared me to death. I’d even go as far as say that this was a matter of life and death.
I peered from under the bed and found no one who could possibly harm me. I could’ve sworn I heard a voice, but its owner was nowhere to be found. Was I imagining things? It was too clear, though.
A mouse climbed on my bed and stopped. No way. It can’t be. Really…?
“Zero’s Mercenary. I wish to speak with you. Come underground.”
“Wh-What the hell…”
The mouse just talked!
“Just follow this mouse. I’ll be waiting.”
The critter then scurried away, not even giving me a chance to scream. Follow this thing? Hell no! It’s a talking mouse! Shit’s way too creepy!
As I lay there frozen, the creature stayed right by the door, staring at me as though urging me to hurry up and open it. Its silent gaze was unnerving, to say the least.
“Fine! You win. I’ll go.”
Putting on a tough guy act, I flung the door open and followed the mouse out of my room. We passed through the hallway and made it out to the courtyard. From outside, the castle appeared like a massive square block of rock. It looked like an impenetrable fortress, with walls made of stone, gypsum reinforcing the cracks and gaps. Four turrets towered on four corners that served as great vantage points in times of emergency. If I was ordered to capture this place, I’d most likely burst into tears.
Drawing up an infiltration route in my head out of habit, I strode along the walls to the back of the castle and eventually found an old wooden door that seemed to lead inside. The mouse slipped through a gap underneath.
A soft push and the door opened easily. Lamps illuminated a set of stairs that led all the way underground. As I stood there hesitating to proceed, the mouse squeaked as though urging me to get a move on.
“I get it! I’m going, okay?!”
Thirteenth was waiting for me in the underground chamber, as expected. It wasn’t the same room that we were summoned to. No, this one was just a normal chamber—well, not exactly normal—but it had a lived-in feel to it.
It was a seemingly messy, yet organized room, with numerous shelves lining the walls, and a bunch of papers lying about. Thirteenth was sitting heavily on a chair in the middle of the room, looking exactly like an evil sorcerer.
The mouse scuttled across the room and rested on Thirteenth’s shoulder. After receiving a piece of bread, it scampered away once more.
“Is this your first time seeing a familiar?” Thirteenth asked, watching the mouse go with a drowsy look. “I apologize for startling you. I tend to think of the other party as a fellow sorcerer.”
“Uh, it’s fine… No biggie… So you can control animals?”
“Those with inferior mental capacity, yes.” Thirteenth wearily stood up. “You’ve been of great help to Zero. I called you here to express my gratitude. Here.” He picked up something sitting on the table and presented it to me.
A vial. A completely ordinary cylindrical vial sealed with a cork.
“I call it a Magic potion. It’s an application of the craft that Zero created. The required sacrifice and ritual to activate the spell are dissolved into this vegetable oil.”
“Yeah… Translation, please?”
“If you remove the cork and pour out its contents, the spell will activate.”
My jaws dropped. That only meant one thing.
“You’re saying anyone can use Magic if they have that? Even me?”
Eyes wide open, I stood there dumbfounded, staring at the vial without taking it.
“Relax,” Thirteenth added, noting my astonishment. “As of the moment, I’m the only one who can create something like this. While searching for the book, I continued my own research on the side. It took me ten years to complete my studies. As long as I don’t tell anyone, I doubt anyone else can make it in the next hundred years. Besides, this is a completely harmless Magic potion.”
“By harmless… you mean?”
“It nullifies the effect of any Sorcery.”
Feeling a sudden affinity with the contents, I accepted the vial. “Sorcery, and not Magic?” I asked.
“Magic is just Sorcery simplified. They both still use the power of demons. In other words, this potion can cancel the effect of either. For example, if you pour it over a Magic circle, the circle will lose its power.” Thirteenth then looked me straight in the eye. “And if you pour it on your body, you will become human again.”
I finally understood what he meant when he said he wanted to express his gratitude.
“I’m surprised you know about my agreement with the witch.”
“Beast warriors despise and fear witches, yet you serve her. I could tell she offered something other than coin.”
“Are you sure about this? You let me have it, and I won’t have a reason to be her bodyguard anymore.”
“I said I would express my gratitude. Consider this advice my thanks: Leave the castle at once.”
“What? Where’d that come from? You don’t have the right to terminate my employment.”
“I’m telling you to run away. She… Zero is a terrifying witch. Her beauty might’ve fooled you, but you’re putting yourself in danger by being with her.”
“As you can see, I’m perfectly fine. Besides she said she has no interest in my head.”
“Did you ever wonder why that is?”
I blinked a few times. Why doesn’t she want my head?
“When she invented Magic, Zero summoned the most powerful demon there is and learned the names of many other demons in the process. What do you think she offered as sacrifice when she summoned such a powerful being?”
“I’m not sure…”
Thirteenth kept his gaze fixed on me as though telling me to stop feigning ignorance. My hand reached for my neck unconsciously.
“You didn’t actually believe you were special to her, did you? To her… No, to all sorcerers, everyone else is a tool to be used. You’re only alive now because you are useful to her. When you are no longer of use, you will be nothing but a rare and valuable tool for Sorcery.”
Does Zero really need me? Once she deems me unnecessary, what would she do to me? Thirteenth gave me the answers like he was simply stating facts.
Zero sometimes wore a cold expression. Whenever she was displeased, her indifferent voice would send a chill down my spine. Still, I trusted my instinct and agreed to work for her.
“If she really was dangerous,” I said, “a Beastfallen like me couldn’t possibly stay around her. Our ability to sense danger is way better than most people.”
Thirteen shook his head, a silent but firm denial. His reaction made me awfully anxious, as though he was asking “Don’t you see?” He made me feel like I was making an obvious mistake without even realizing it.
“Witches are charismatic beings. It’s easy for them to twist a beast warrior’s instincts and force them to like them. You’ve seen her eyes, haven’t you? When you first met her, you felt something.”
I had, in fact, seen them. When I first encountered Zero, she used her power to drive Albus back. It was the first time she used Magic in front of me. Her features captivated me, and I thought she was extremely beautiful. I looked into her eyes back then, fascinated by their unusual color, not realizing that they belonged to a witch.
I see. That’s why when she asked me to be her bodyguard, I wasn’t scared of her at all. She had me on the palm of her hands from the very beginning.