Volume 1 — Chapter 1: The Witch and the Fallen Beast
Today, I said goodbye to the dark depths.
The summer sun was blinding, so I pulled my hood firmly over my head, shading my eyes. Compared to the coolness of the limestone cave, the heat of the outdoors felt suffocating.
I wasn’t used to the sunlight.
Still, the sight of clouds drifting across the blue, boundless sky and the comfortable humidity of the forest were refreshing.
This is the outside, huh? I thought. It looked just like the sketches in the books, except that nothing could replicate the vividness of these colors, nor all the movement.
Bugs flew. Birds chirped. Animals cantered. I walked along with bare feet and watched. It was comfortable to walk on the moist, fallen leaves. It hurt to walk over the pebbles, twigs, and other debris.
The scents of damp dirt, crushed leaves, and rotting fruit mixed together to form a strangely calming odor which filled the air.
I glanced back at the cave.
The darkness had been cozy and comforting. I felt a little nostalgic leaving, but I’d waited for far too long.
I had finished interminable books, and resolved unresolvable debates. It felt like an eternity passed while I was there. I had thought I could spend an eternity there.
But I was just a bit tired of it all. I could wait no longer.
“I am leaving, Thirteenth.”
Having announced my decision, I felt like I had a burden lifted off my chest.
Raising my finger with the palm of my hand toward the sky, I pointed at the entrance of the cave.
The mouth of the cave made a sound and collapsed, becoming a simple pile of rubble.
An image of Thirteenth frowning came to mind. I cackled.
A little while later, while walking through the forest, I came across a small stream. It was the very same stream I had crossed a bit earlier. How curious. How could I run into the same stream when I haven’t changed direction even once?
I groaned, and jumped across the stream again. When I turned around to check, the stream I had just crossed was nowhere to be found.
“A barrier? What an unpleasantly meticulous fellow. He knew all along that I would break my promise.”
I had promised to wait. I had planned to keep that promise, but it was his fault for making me wait so long. I’d already had enough of waiting around. I’d waited alone for too long.
What to do now? I pondered for a few seconds. Speaking quickly, I slashed my arm through the air.
“The Book of Harvesting, Verse Eight—Kudola!”
Immediately, a thunderous roar reverberated through the air, and part of the forest was blown away.
—A number of days passed…
I  often thought that forests at dusk exuded charm.
The rays of the summer sun had softened, and they would dull even further as fall approached.
The forest had been plunged into darkness as soon the sun began to set below the treetops. By the time the gloomy forest was bathed in the setting sun’s crimson glow, wayfarers would have finished preparing for the night. They would extinguish their campfires, cover themselves with their cloaks, and wait for daylight to return to the pitch-black woods.
Today at dusk, in the forest with my eyes hurting from the setting sun’s glare, I was running for my life.
The charm of a forest at dusk? My life was in jeopardy! Mowing through the bushes and branches in my way, I slid behind a large tree and paused for a moment to catch my breath. Then—
“The Book of Hunting, Verse Four—Redæst!”
The thick tree was blown away, accompanied by the sound of an explosion. I was thrown aside and crashed into the ground.
Was that an explosive—? Is there a stockpile of odorless explosives somewhere?
I was being attacked with weapons whose natures I did not understand, so I had no other choice but to keep running.
Shit, shit, shit!
Hearing the sound of approaching footsteps behind me, I hurriedly got up and sprinted away while an angry, strangely high-pitched voice cried out. My eardrums were busted because of the explosion, so the sounds of my surroundings were muted. My sense of balance was also out of whack. My knees wobbled with every step I took.
But there wasn’t time to rest.
There was no doubt in my mind that I would die if I stopped running.
I would surely be beheaded and skinned, my hide used for decoration. I didn’t know if I was being chased by a bandit or someone looking to skin me, but I knew for sure that it wasn’t someone to sit down and have a nice chat with.
The muddy, mushy forest floor and snaking tree roots made running difficult. Arrows of pure heat flew past, grazing my cheeks as they impaled themselves into tree trunks and dissipated.
I finally realized what my assailant was.
Oh, dammit, shit—!
“Screw you, witch! Y’all c’n go kill yourselves! I wasn’t born to be one of your damn sacrifices!!”
There had been rumors going around that the witches of this country used sorcery that no one had ever seen before.
I had been doubtful then, but if someone had shown me these arrows of light which dissipated upon impact, I would have been completely convinced.
This couldn’t get any worse—my adversary was a witch.
That I was able to figure out the nature of my assailant was good and all, but the fact that it was a witch put my life in much more danger. I ran all the more frantically.
Suddenly, my foot caught on something—a tree root.
To make matters worse, there was no ground in front of me—it was a cliff.
Please at least give me a soft landing. Either that or let me land in a river.
Amen, I prayed to God, who didn’t exist either way. I slipped over the ledge and tumbled toward the ground below.
It was fortunate that the place from which I fell wasn’t very high up… but it was unfortunate that there was a traveler stirring a pot of stew in my landing zone, instead of a river.
—Really, how unlucky was I.
No, the unlucky one was the traveler I was going to flatten. Robed from head to toe, the traveler looked very slender and frail. I was a giant compared to this person.
Sorry, please forgive me. I’ll dig a grave for you if you get crushed. But only if I got the time to.
The next moment, I struck the ground and went head over heels as an intense pain erupted from my abdomen.
From nearby came a shriek of despair.
It seemed that the traveler had somehow managed to avoid my sudden plunge from the cliff, but had sacrificed her soup to do so. I’m really sorry.
Groaning, I was getting up when the trembling traveler grabbed my neck and began shaking me back and forth.
“You bastard!! How dare you waste the soup I stewed myself?! Do you even know how much time it took for me to make that soup?! It’s utterly incomparable to that required to roast a wild animal! H-How-How dare yo—!”
“W-W-Wait, wait, calm down! I really am sorry, but this ain’t the time to be angry!”
“This…isn’t the time? What could be a bigger problem than my soup—“
“Watch out, idiot!”
Yelling, I immediately shielded the traveler with my body, flattening us both against the ground. It was just in time, as bolts of heat once again flew past overhead.
“…I see, so there does appear to be a bigger problem.”
“Glad ya caught on so quick. Lets go!”
I slung the wayfarer over my shoulder and ran. I wondered why I was bringing this person along.
“Hey, why are you taking me with you?”
It seemed like the burden on my shoulder was thinking the same thing. We’d get along, wouldn’t we, traveler? I thought for a moment.
I answered honestly. But, in hindsight, leaving this burden behind as a distraction would probably have been the smarter choice.
Is it too late to change my mind?
“You… you are being pursued, are you not?”
Without hearing my treacherous thoughts, the weight on my shoulder had finally figured out what was going on. Anyone else would have caught on immediately.
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but there’s someone tryin’ to kill me!”
“…What did you do?”
“I didn’t do nothin’! They just want me for a sacrifice—a male fallen beast!” I couldn’t stand the traveler’s disapproving tone, so I quite literally roared.
Fallen beasts were half man, half beast, so-called monsters. Nobody knew why, but monsters with the bodies of animals, just like me, were sometimes born to perfectly normal parents.
Witches desired the heads of the fallen to use them as tools for practicing sorcery. As a result, I was prized by those who wanted to try and sell my head to the witches. Namely, every single crook and shady person there was.
The first attack came when I turned thirteen—in other words, it was my fault that bandits ransacked my village. I was but a weak child then, so I wasn’t able to protect my village from the armed bandits.
I was able to live on, at the cost of three human lives.
So I, like many other fallen, left home and became a mercenary. To escape the ruffians, I had to become one of them. Since then, I’ve fought in the battlefield on the side of desperate country after desperate country.
Mercenaries were warmongers. They were hired by one side of a conflict, and fought to the death with mercenaries hired by the other. Whether it was a war between empires, a skirmish between fiefdoms, or a border dispute between minor clans—it was depressing, but even to the point of being participants in a bloody brawl; mercenaries didn’t lack job opportunities.
Among the mercenaries, the fallen were the best fighters, so they were welcomed in every conflict. Thanks to this, one way or another, they didn’t fit into the rigidly structured mercenary groups, and were able to remain independent.
Rather, it should be said that fallen beasts weren’t allowed to live any other way.
It didn’t matter what country, what city, what village; fallen beasts weren’t welcome. Even the church treated us as vile creatures, so to a normal human, there was no way that we were seen as anything but frightening.
Furthermore, because of the witches’ craving for the heads of fallen, highwaymen had been taking the initiative, luring fallen beasts into ambushes. Still, this was the first time I had been attacked directly by a witch. Looks like I’ve been pretty lucky so far.
I had only thought of witches as nothing but malicious puppeteers before, but from today onward, I’ll regard them as real threats.
But for now, I needed to focus on escaping.
Screech— a squeal rent through the air; I immediately ducked behind a tree. The bolt of light impaled its trunk, making it crack and topple over.
“Shit—how the hell’s she do that?! Since when could witches use sorcery as semiautomatic crossbows?!”
I had heard that witches were able to do the impossible with sorcery, but this was beyond my imagination. Cursing, I started running again.
I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about witches and sorcery, but everyone knew that witches needed to complete major rituals as part of practicing sorcery. After completing a ritual that took months to complete, a witch would be able to gain powers which could be used to easily destroy a country. There were plenty of heroic tales about the Knights of the Church defeating such witches before they could complete the required ceremonies.
Practicing sorcery required large amounts of time, so witches sequestered themselves in their lairs, relying on their numerous minions for protection while they focused on completing the necessary rituals. —At least, that’s how I had thought it worked.
Nothing I knew of could explain how this witch possessed the ability to run while rapidly shooting bolts of light and, without gunpowder, blow up a large tree.
I was extremely confused. At any rate, I wasn’t going to live long enough to find out how unless I kept running.
Unexpectedly, the weight on my shoulder said something.
Ignoring it, I continued to run until it began banging on my head.
“Hey, is there really a need to keep running?”
“Of course, dammit! I’ll die if I don’t!”
“That’s not true. —Alright, let me down.”
There and then, devoid of sympathy, I threw the burden off to the side. It told me to put it down, so I no longer felt any obligation to take it with me. Farewell, wayfarer. I’ll keep on living.
I had run only a few steps when I went headlong into the ground once again, this time because of an earthquake.
“Shit…that really hurt!”
Moaning, I somehow managed to look up. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Shrieking and staggering, the pursuing witch fell to the ground as, swallowing up trees, the earth around her rose up. In an instant, there was a large earthen cube before me.
 Just in case, here’s a note indicating that the narrator of the first section is no longer narrating this section.