Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
He wants me to follow it? How does he expect me to do that?! It’s a talking mouse, for fuck’s sake. It’s way too creepy.
But as I stood there, I noticed the mouse staring at me from its place at the door, waiting. Its unnerving gaze was not to be understated. Despite being a mouse, it seemed to be commanding me to hurry up and open the door.
“Ah… ta hell with it! What’ve I got ta lose?!” I roared with undue ferocity and shoved open the door, staying one step behind the mouse.
We left the servants’ quarters and headed down a hallway until we emerged into a courtyard.
As I raised my eyes to gaze at the castle, I thought that it resembled a gigantic rectangular mass of stone.
I had no doubts that it was a near-impregnable fortress. Its ramparts were works of masonry, and the chinks in its armor were reinforced with alabaster. From the corners of the stronghold rose four soaring spires of considerable height, which would make for fine vantage points during dire times.
Were I to be tasked with bringing down this citadel, I would surely shed a tear.
Partly out of habit, I ran through possible invasion routes in my head as we ran alongside the ramparts and made our way behind the fort, whereupon I saw a well-worn wooden door set into the castle wall. It seemed that through the door was the citadel’s interior. The mouse squeezed through the gap under the door, which swung open easily at my touch, and as I advanced through the portal, I saw a descending staircase lit by torchlight. Seeing my hesitation at the prospect of going underground, the mouse squeaked in impatience.
“I get it! I’m comin’ down right now!”
As expected, Thirteenth was waiting there in the basement. I was at the point where I could expect these things?
This wasn’t the vast underground chamber we had been summoned to, but rather a normal—although I’m a bit reluctant in calling it that—room with a lived-in feel.
There were many bookshelves and lots of paper, and in the middle of this disorderly yet orderly room sat Thirteenth stiffly in his chair, looking very much like an evil sorcerer.
The mouse scurried into the chamber, crawled up onto Thirteenth’s shoulder, gobbled up some crumbs of bread, and scampered off elsewhere.
“Was that your first time seeing a familiar?”
Thirteenth looked with somewhat sleepy eyes at the mouse.
“Sorry for frightening you. It was my mistake to treat you as I would a sorcerer.”
“Oh, yeah…it’s fine…you can control animals?”
“So long as they are mentally inferior,” Thirteenth responded succinctly. He stood up as if it took him much effort.
“You have been of great help to Zero. I called you here because I thought I would reward you for your work. —Here, take this.”
Thirteenth reached for an object casually placed on his desk, and held it toward me.
—It was a small bottle. There was nothing strange about it, just a cylindrical bottle stoppered with a cork.
“I call this magic medicament. It is an application of Zero’s magic. It’s a solution composed of the offerings and methods required for magic, dissolved and sealed in plant oils.”
“Explain like I’m a moron.”
“If you uncork the bottle and water the ground with its contents, the magic sealed within it will take effect.”
My jaw dropped. That meant—in other words, something like—
“Could anyone use magic if they had that? Even me?”
“That’s right. Anyone can.”
My eyes opened wide in surprise. I didn’t accept the bottle from Thirteenth, but merely stared at it in his hand.
Seeing my astonishment, Thirteenth went on.
“It’s nothing to get so worked up over. As of right now, I am the only one able to make this. I continued my research on the side while searching for the book, and spent ten years to produce this innovation. If I were to keep this a secret, it may even be that no one in the next hundred years will be able to make this. Besides, this one is a harmless magic medicament.”
“Ha…harmless ya say?”
“It erases the effects of sorcery.”
I suddenly felt a sort of affinity with the contents of the bottle, and took it from Thirteenth’s hand.
“Why sorcery and not magic?”
“Magic is a simplified form of sorcery. At its heart is still a reliance on the power of demons. In other words, this bottle’s contents can annul both magic and sorcery. For example, if you happened to be trapped in a magic circle, the magic medicament would cause it to lose its power—“
Thirteenth looked me dead in the eyes.
“And were you possessed of that body, you could become human again.”
Slowly, I understood the meaning of Thirteenth’s “gift”.
“You sure understand the contract between the witch and I well, don’tcha?“
“I can just about imagine what else besides coin could cause a bestial warrior like yourself, who’s afraid of and holds contempt for witches, to work for one.”
“Are ya really alright with givin’ this to me? If ya do, I’d have no reason ta stay her mercenary.”
“I did say that I would reward you. In essence, I mean this—leave the castle this instant.”
“…What? Whaddya mean? You don’t got the right to dismiss me.”
“I’m telling you to run. Zero is a terrifying witch. You may be fooled by her pretty face, but she is not someone you can safely accompany.”
“As you can see, I’m completely fine. That, and she told me she ain’t interested in my head.”
“Have you ever thought about why?”
—Why Zero didn’t want my head?
“When Zero invented magic, she summoned forth what could be termed the highest-ranking demon there is, and learned the names of a great deal of demons. In summoning such a powerful demon, what do you think Zero used as an offering?”
“You’re askin’ me…”
Thirteenth gave me a look, like he was telling me to stop feigning ignorance.
I rubbed my neck absently.
“I don’t believe that you think of yourself as a special existence to Zero, yes? To Zero…no, to all sorcerers, every person or thing besides themselves are nothing but objects to be used and expended. The only reason you are still alive and breathing today is because you have a use that requires you to remain this way. Once that use expires, you will become a mere apparatus for use in sorcery.”
Did she really need me?
If she had no need for me, what was Zero—what was the witch going to do to me?
Thirteenth had tacitly foisted the answers to these questions upon me, presenting them as obvious fact.
Sometimes, Zero would develop a frigid expression. Chills ran down my spine each time I heard that Zero mutter “I am displeased” in that emotionless tone.
No, but still—I’d trusted in my abilities and decided to accompany Zero.
“If that woman really was dangerous, a fallen beast like me’d never stay by her side. We’re way better at sensin’ danger than people are.”