Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
The newly-opened fissure ran from one end of the ceiling to the other.
The bulging eyeball’s gaze darted from me to Albus before coming to rest on Zero.
“That is quite the obvious surveillance mechanism. Mercenary!”
“This is a forced summoning! We will be launched away from here, so hold on to the youngster and take my arm!”
What’s going on? What’s she saying? Of course I couldn’t understand. But I hefted Albus onto a shoulder and seized Zero’s wrist, pulling her into my arms.
In a flash, the floor disappeared. Actually, no. This was—
The floor, the walls, and the room itself had all vanished. We’d been ejected into a gaping void. I couldn’t help but scream.
—I was falling.
At this rate, I’m gonna die—
“Calm down, mercenary. You will be alright as long as you do not let go of my hand.”
Zero’s sleepy voice brought me back to my senses.
“Slow your breathing. Plant your feet, and feel the ground beneath you. Your body has already arrived. Bring your consciousness back into your physique. Focus on my hand.”
As I took a deep breath, I realized that I hadn’t been breathing. I felt the sensation of being in freefall fade away, and that I was indeed standing on something solid.
What was that just now? A hallucination? I felt extremely cold, and was trembling all over. Looking around, I saw that we were in a dark chamber, lit by four flickering candles. The pungent aroma of incense permeated the air. The floor beneath my feet was paved with flagstones. And in my arms was Zero. On that note, I remembered that Albus was still on my shoulder.
“Thank goodness! Mercenary’s back, Zero!” Albus was clinging to my head.
I took a look at my surroundings. I didn’t see any reason to say I was “back”—
“Hey…where the hell ’s this? Hold on a sec. We were in the church just a second ago…”
“That was a forced summoning—it is the power to ignore your target’s wishes and forcibly transport them to another location. It seems that such a trap was laid at the chapel. It is a feat of sorcery repurposing the method of summoning a demon for use on humans, and I know of only two people who were capable of it. One of them was my mentor.”
At that moment, I suddenly detected an unknown person’s scent mixed in with the overpowering incense.
They were a shadow in the darkness. Though I was alert to their existence, a slip of my concentration could cause me to lose track of them. They were that well-melded with the murky dark.
I couldn’t see them, but I knew that they were there.
“And the other was Thirteenth—you.”
Zero pulled her lips back into a smile.
Thirteenth, I mulled over the name in my head, befuddled, and nearly cricked my neck with the speed with which I looked up.
A figure of a man emerged from the gloom. Based off what I’d seen of Albus and Zero, I’d assumed that witches and sorcerers all had great looks. After seeing Thirteenth, that didn’t seem to be the case at all.
He was tall enough to be a warrior, and endowed with solidly built shoulders. But thanks to a hunched back, he looked for the large part to be undeniably gloomy. His bangs were also unusually long, which served to curtain his eyes.
He was a large, sullen-looking man. Without a doubt, this was Thirteenth. I knew it was a bit weird coming from me, a fallen beast, but even with my inhuman face, I was still handsomer than he.
Looking directly at the man, Zero narrowed her eyes in challenge.
“Will you deign to explain yourself, Thirteenth? Why did you summon me?”
“I summoned, and you came as a result. That was the result, not my original intention.”
“Then are you summoning every human that was there? That is quite troublesome. You have changed little, Thirteenth.”
“It is because I heard my name being invoked, Zero.”
From a break in the man’s bangs came an adhesive-like gaze, which adhered itself to Albus. Gulp, Albus let out a small whimper and clung tighter to my head.
“In the chapel was the entrance to a dangerous coven’s hideaway. After an attack by other witches, they seemed to evacuate, but I played by the book and stationed a surveillance eye there for a few days. That was when my name was called. Thus to see what it was about, I decided to summon whatever it was here.”
“What if the one being summoned had no knowledge of sorcery? Had my mercenary been imprudent, he would have died.”
Ah, so I had been close to death. It was clear to me now that Albus meant that I had escaped the clutches of death when he said that I was “back”. I disliked this Thirteenth fellow already.
“That one with no knowledge of sorcery would enter a town with that many corpses strewn around, go toward the entrance to a witches’ coven, and call out my name was beyond my expectations. Besides, I had lit incense in advance. If it was needed, I had sound available as well. Even if the soul had gone to the other side, there would no trouble in calling it back. Now it is my turn to ask the questions. Why did you leave the cavern, Zero?” Thirteenth inquired in an accusatory tone.
Humph, Zero snorted.
“I had become just a bit bored on my own. I thought to take a stroll and to see your dreary face while I was at it.”
“This is slightly far for a stroll…I told you it is dangerous outside. You promised to wait.”
“Yes, my journey has been fraught with peril. No fewer than ten times have I been called a witch and chased around. Still, I learned. That is, danger is not unavoidable. That being the case, I may have wasted away centuries. Perhaps it would have been better if I had departed earlier for the outside. Do you not agree, Thirteenth?”
The base of my tongue went numb and ached from the strange tension in the air.