Volume 1 — Chapter 3: The Coven of Zero
“Even if you do not believe me, you did tell me to take a better attitude earlier, yes? I am a devastatingly gorgeous woman. Surely even you would like to touch these lips of mine.”
“Your good looks wasted away with that line. That, and I just don’t like witches. That stuff doesn’t work on me.”
“You are a cold man… I am left with no other choice. If mercenary finds the thought displeasing, then youngling…”
Zero looked over Albus for quite some time. He flushed crimson and hid behind me, yelling: “no, no, you can’t, I don’t wanna!”
“Don’t tease the kid. More importantly, don’t ya have a change of clothes?”
“Does it appear that I do?”
Zero spread her arms wide for inspection. I’d figured before her retort, but besides a small pouch that hung at her waist, she had no other items on her.
“How’d ya even get here like that…”
“I washed my clothes and bathed in each river I came across, caught birds when I went hungry, and picked every fruit and berry I could find. When I encountered other people, I avoided them, and when it rained, I would find a cave to hide in. I salvaged a pot from a deserted village so that I could cook. Such is how I journeyed here alone.”
“Amazing, I know,” Zero said, her pride evident in her smile. I was at my wit’s end.
“Anyway… with ya lookin’ like that, we aren’t even gonna be able ta find a place ta stay. Even an inn that would accommodate someone like me wouldn’t rent us anything other than their stables.”
“I am content to sleep outside. It is most comfortable to sleep cocooned in your fur.”
“Even if it’s comfortable, it’s gonna be inconvenient. It’ll draw too much attention to us. You’ll be arrested just for standin’ out.”
I wasn’t exaggerating. There were plenty of innocent people convicted and executed for simply “standing out”.
It appeared that we had to get some decent clothes for Zero. It was the most urgent problem at hand.
“Hey witch, you got any cash on ya?”
I expected her to respond in the same manner as before, perhaps with a “does it appear that I do?” But instead, Zero nodded, said “I see,” and gestured for me to hold out my hands.
As I did as I was told, Zero rummaged around in her pouch and pulled something out.
She placed it in my hands, whereupon it scattered into a small heap. It was—a bunch of gemstones.
“I departed the cave with a number of them. Bijoux hold intrinsic value in any era and any country, I believe. I thought that they might prove to be useful. Could these serve as a substitute?”
I couldn’t close my wide-open jaw. My fur bristled as I stood there, a mound of gems in my hands, unable to so much as twitch.
Albus peered into my hands as well, and adopted a wide-eyed look identical to mine.
“Ya idiot! Don’t show off somethin’ like this in the streets!”
Rapidly regaining my senses, I poured all of the jewels back into Zero’s pouch. “Wah,” Zero yelped as if she hadn’t been paying attention, and looked at me as if she were seeing something strange.
“I presented them to you in response to your question, so why are you possessed of this anger?”
“I’m just tellin’ ya to consider how much yer showin’ me and where yer doin’ it. It would’ve been more than enough ta show me just one as proof. Just the smallest gem would’ve been perfect.”
“Such as this one?” Zero spoke, extracting a minuscule gemstone. Even it possessed a startling pellucidity that would drive a pauper mad. I had thought about paying in Zero’s stead if she hadn’t the funds, but with merely the stone in her hand, our financial fortunes had taken a complete turnaround. Instead, there was now an insurmountable wall before me. As a mercenary, I was thankful that my employer was filthy rich, but as a man, I felt defeated.
Still, I hid those feelings, and in a deliberately even tone, I replied: “that’s fine.” I felt like a fool as I stood there, nodding.
“Let’s go exchange that for some coin and buy you some clothes. There should be a money changer somewhere ‘round here…”
Zero deposited the grain of a jewel into my hand and chuckled, a broad smile on her face.
“As I thought, you are a good man.”
“That’s outta the blue,” I retorted, bending my head forward. Clink clink, Zero patted her pouch.
“No matter what pretext you may have presented, you were most likely capable of snatching this away from me. I am quite ignorant about this world, after all.”
“Are you an idiot? There’s no way I’d have the guts ta do that to a witch who faces demons.”
“Therefore, had I not been a witch, you would have purloined it from me?”
“‘Course. I’m a greedy mercenary, after all.”
“Wrong. No way. No, no. Not with how you were shaking and panicking when she handed them to you.”
Albus laughed foolishly as he interrupted us. I should give him a good whack.
“Ow—! What? It’s the truth! Grow a pair, you coward!”
“Should I give ya another one? Huh? Ya wanna taste another one?”
“No~” Albus replied like a girl and ducked behind Zero.
Heh heh, Zero’s shoulders shook. Then—
“Ah—what a cerulean sky.”
Out of the blue, she said something strange. Interested, I turned my gaze skyward, where there was indeed not a cloud to be seen.