Volume 1 — Chapter 1: The Witch and the Fallen Beast
As I snatched the pot away from her, the witch made a distressed sound.
“G-Give that back! That’s my dinner!”
“No! This is my dinner! Mine!”
“You knocked over my pot of soup earlier, didn’t you?! Giving me your soup in return is the noble thing to do!”
“There’s nothin’ noble in helpin’ out a witch!”
“Fine then! If you are not going to hand over that soup, then I will have no choice—but to use sorcery!”
I had no response to that threat. That’s right, my opponent is a witch after all. I shouldn’t be trying to protect my soup, I should be retreating with my sword raised!
“Listen carefully. If you do not give me that soup right now, I will cause a famine in the north, a plague in the south, a rat infestation in the west, and the death of all wheat crops in the east. The world will be destroyed unless you hand that pot to me this instant!”
What a witch.
But, for some reason, I wasn’t afraid.
I was used to malice, animosity, and bloodlust, and noticed immediately if those feelings were directed toward me. So if I didn’t consciously recognize the danger, I would still unconsciously reach for my blade. Since I wasn’t frightened in the least, I surmised that this witch was all bark and no bite.
I laid aside my worries.
“Do whatever ya want.”
I chose my dinner over the world. As long as nothing happened to me, I couldn’t care less about the world. Just like how if I were to die, nobody would think twice about me. I snatched the ladle out of the flabbergasted witch’s hand, and began to greedily gulp down my soup.
“Waah! Waah! D-Do you even know what you’re saying? Even a demon would take this more seriously! Hey! Don’t drink all of it!”
“Stop buggin’ me. You’re gettin’ really annoying!”
After I shook the witch off my back, she slumped onto the ground. An unnatural silence descended, and I stopped slurping my soup to look at her.
It was strange, how she lay on the ground without moving even a hair.
What if she’s dead? It would be great if she really were dead, but even so, I felt bad for her.
“…Hello?” I timidly called out.
A muffled voice responded. So she was still alive. Not only was she alive, but an ominous and unearthly aura emanated from her body.
Did I mess up?
I couldn’t sense any danger, but I was dealing with a witch. I didn’t know what she’d do if I angered her. I shivered and readied myself—
“I want some too…”
I felt the adrenaline drain out of me.
It was more of a pleading voice than one of anger.
What was this? Why did she sound like she was being mistreated? In combination with her raggedy robes, she looked pitiful. Was I the bad guy here?
“I’m so hungry… I worked all day to make that soup… I… I was looking forward so much to tasting it… I even woke up at sunrise to start preparing…”
The witch whined and pawed at the ground.
I felt guilty when she said that; I truly was sorry for ruining her hard work.
I was being hunted by a witch at the time, but that still didn’t excuse how I had ruined her dinner. She had even saved me nonetheless. If I didn’t give her a bowl of soup in return, then I would be no better than a mere animal.
“That soup you made was so tasty… I want to have some too…”
It was tasty, you say? I couldn’t deny her any further. I was actually quite proud of having made the soup so quickly.
Clicking my tongue, I filled a bowl with soup and held it toward to the witch. I had lost.
Although her face was obscured by a hood, her expression changed to one of joy as she understood, and she quickly snatched the bowl out of my hands, rapidly slurping the soup straight from the bowl.
“If only you had done this from the beginning instead of putting on airs.”
And she was back to this attitude. This was why I disliked those beings called “beautiful women”. Beautiful witches were even worse.
The witch finished the soup in record time, and even picked out the scraps of dried meat at the bottom of the bowl. She held out the bowl to me with an attitude that made it clear she didn’t expect to be refused, not even a little.
How immodest. I furrowed my brow; of course I wasn’t going to give her seconds.
“What the heck are ya here for? What d’ya want from me?”
“I really would like to tell you, but I just don’t have the strength to do so on an empty stomach.”
How could she be so shameless? Yet I knew that even if I glared at her, she wouldn’t be intimidated in the slightest.
I didn’t want to provoke her because I treasured my life. Since the witch didn’t seem to have any intent of attacking and for some reason didn’t carry out her threats, she would have to listen to me. The only issue was that she might take offense to my requests.
“If you answer me, I’ll give you another bowl.”
The witch looked back and forth between the empty bowl and me, then suddenly thrust the bowl toward me, as if to say, I’ll talk, so hand over the soup. She then began talking in a dispassionate tone.
“I’m on a journey to find a man named ‘Thirteenth’.”
Thirteenth isn’t a name; it’s a number.
I wanted to interrupt, but I held myself back. After all, the other party was a witch. I couldn’t use common sense when dealing with her.
“Thirteenth was our companion. We studied sorcery together in the forest of the bowed moon, and he had to leave to take care of a problem. We haven’t received any news from him ever since, so we had no choice but to follow his trail of magic and ended up here.”
“The Forest of the Bowed Moon” was located at the very edge of the continent, and was often called “The Forest Without a King”. No country wanted to annex the region because it had a deep connection to witches, so it became an area of nothing. Supposedly, the church had organized witch hunts in that area a countless number of times, but… in a place where witches freely roamed the land, the hunting squads had proved incompetent.
“There are witch hunts in this country, right?”
“There’re witch hunts everywhere.”
The witch’s expression darkened, and she began to rant.
“The hunts are far more aggressive here. Three times I was almost burned at the stake just for walking around.”
I nodded. It was the problem currently faced by the Vanias kingdom. The problem that it was trying to solve by gathering fallen beast mercenaries—the problem of witches.
“There’s a witches’ rebellion goin’ on right now, so ‘course the witch hunts here would be more severe than other places’.”
“A witches’ rebellion?”
Asking for an explanation, the witch blinked.
“Isn’t it the wrong era for that?”
Shouldn’t you support them because you’re a witch too? It seemed to me that this witch was different from the others.
Well, it certainly was the wrong era to be revolting. Large-scale witch rebellions were unheard of outside of folk tales.
“I thought so too, so I didn’t believe the news when I heard it…’till that witch chased me through the woods. It was easy to figure out what was goin’ on after that, ’cause witches didn’t usually attack travelers.”
The way other countries hunted down witches made it seem like they were hunting for survivors.
It was said that, five hundred years ago, there had been a great conflict between the witches and the church. The witches had lost and were forced into hiding. Now they were viewed as evil, and the world sought to eradicate them.
But—it had been five hundred years. They were probably fed up.
Of course, it was right for the church and government to hunt witches who were causing calamities left and right, but it wasn’t right for them to hunt witches who were content to live their lives peacefully. As far as the church was concerned, witch hunts were, from their conception, simply a way to demonstrate its might and authority. If evil didn’t exist, neither would the concept of righteousness. If the concept of righteousness didn’t exist, then no one would believe in God. For this reason, the church decided to make witches symbols of evil.
If a state requested aid from them, the Knights of the Church would mobilize… for an exorbitant “donation”.
Since Vanias didn’t seek the Knights’ aid this time, the Church was simply watching from the sidelines. This situation suited the witches of Vanias, who rioted as they pleased while the kingdom desperately tried to suppress them.
“Actually, ever since I got to Vanias, I’ve been hearin’ lots of rumors ’bout witches runnin’ rampant. Apparently it ain’t rare to see witches takin’ over villages and enslavin’ all the villagers either, but I guess it’s possible that witches like those are just takin’ advantage of the revolution. You pretend like you don’t know what’s goin’ on, but you’re actually here to help the witches, aren’t you?”
The witch trembled and turned pale.
“I wouldn’t want to do something that bothersome! If the rebellion succeeds then the country would need a ruler, right? I don’t want that responsibility. The only country I would consider ruling would be one that is dark, cramped, and full of spiders.”
That kind of country doesn’t exist. I imagined her being swarmed by spiders, and immediately regretted it. My dinner didn’t look so appeti—. Huh? The pot was gone.
I realized that I was no longer holding onto the pot, and immediately turned to look at the witch. Somehow, she had managed to steal it away, and was hurriedly drinking the soup.
“You…when—how’d you do that?!”
“I’m a witch, mercenary. With your guard down just now, I could have easily robbed you of all your fur. Luck won’t save you if you don’t pay attention, just like how this soup is now mine.”
“W-Why you greenhorn, don’t lecture me!”
I uttered a low growl, but the pot was already in her hands, and I had no way of getting it back. Left with no other choice, I licked what was left of the soup off of the bowl I was still holding.
“So? What’s your business here?”
“I’m looking for a book some villains stole from me. That’s what Thirteenth left to find.”
“It’s the only book of its kind. If it were used for evil, some small problems would arise.”
The witch stopped speaking and stopped eating. She spoke in a soft voice.
Just one remark.
“The end of the world.”
“…What about the world?”
“I said, the end of the world.”
I stifled a yawn.
“That’s amazin’. I’m so scared. I feel like I’m gonna cry ’cause I’m so scared right now.”
“Even If you don’t believe me, can you still try to be civil? I feel a bit hurt.”
“I’m not stupid enough to believe that a single book could end the whole world.”
“A single book…? Don’t kid yourself. A single page from that book would be more than enough.”
Her voice was as dispassionate as a demon’s, not exaggeratedly fearful; it was as if she were merely stating fact. Thus, her tone exuded a certain degree of realism, so I couldn’t help but suspend my disbelief.
Pragmatically speaking, the world was fine despite the book’s theft. I didn’t know exactly when it had been stolen, but from the way the witch spoke, I could tell that this “Thirteenth” person had been away for a long time.
If this book really could be used to bring about doomsday, then it should have happened by now.
“Well, even if everythin’ you’ve told me so far is true, still, what do I got to do with any of it? I asked you what you wanted from me, but you still haven’t given me a straight answer.”
“What, you really don’t get it yet?”
“Sorry, but I ain’t that smart.”
“Then to sum things up: I have to retrieve a book from some thieves, and it’s currently held in this country somewhere. But I can’t just walk around alone in these parts; I am a witch after all. Besides, fleeing gets rather tiring after a while.”
“So, ” the witch looked at me. At last, I realized what she was getting at.