Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
“You’re on our side, aren’t you?” Albus asked. Zero said nothing in response, but merely held a poker face. I quickly followed suit. I wasn’t going to spill the beans on information my employer didn’t want to make public.
Seeing that I hadn’t said anything either, Albus bit his lip and hung his head.
Sorry ‘bout that, Albus. I’m not tryin’ ta say that ya fooled yerself into thinkin’ that she is. I just can’t give you a straight answer. Fuck, I feel disgusted.
“…You weren’t lying…when you said the book…really was stolen from you…?”
Zero didn’t even nod, only narrowed her eyes in acknowledgement.
“What I said is the truth. However remarkable the witch you call ‘that person’ was, they, the founder of the Coven of Zero, thieved that tome from me. Robbed—may be the more accurate term.”
“Robbed…?” Albus turned pale.
“The thief murdered every single witch in that cave, leaving only two of us alive—Thirteenth and I. They robbed us of the Book of Zero and stole the techniques of magic to spread it far and wide.”
Albus’ face fell, and his head slumped to the table. Through my years as a mercenary, I’d seen this moment—the moment when a person’s spirit is broken—many, many times before. His soul was crushed.
“—Hey, Miss Witch. Why’d ya write that book? Were ya tryin’ ta destroy the world?”
This was something I’d been wondering for a while now. That is, why did such a fearsome book exist at all?
My past self might have thought it was obvious that it was because witches were trying to bring about apocalypse. But having met Zero, I couldn’t imagine her being interested in something so bothersome.
“…Because it would be handy to be able to start fires without flint…?” Zero repeated, with a slightly biting tone, the point she had earlier brought up so cheerfully.
“Because it would be handy to be able to hunt with an unending supply of arrows. Because it would be easier to catch dinner without needing to braid rope. Because without having to climb trees to gather fruit, because without having to get stitches for wounds—“
“Everyone would be happy, I thought.” Zero laughed softly.
Hers was the face of a child lost in reverie.
“So it is also possible to use it for this purpose,” Zero had said, after seeing the destruction witches had wreaked upon La Tête. It had been beyond imagining for her.
Zero had thought of little else but the blinding future that could be created by using these powerful techniques in a most benevolent manner.
New innovations are always born out of pure passion and humble ambitions, yet once they are born, they escape the control of the inventors and are spread like pollen across the land. Even among beneficial creations such as herbal medicines, each has variants which are lethal if overdosed and which the minds behind the medicine itself never intended to create.
“This youth expressed his desire for humans and witches to coexist. I am of the same opinion. The repetitive talks I had with the witches in the cave, who shared the same values and knowledge as I did, and only buried themselves in books as I did, were quite boring. I wanted to leave for the outside world, but the world said that we witches were evil. If only I could devise a helpful technique—one that could be used by all, not just witches—then the world would surely welcome and accept us.”
But if people could light fires ablaze without need of flint, then the stones would stop selling. If everyone had an endless supply of arrows to use, then the craftsmen who made bows and arrows would be out of jobs. There’d be a bunch of people who wouldn’t be so happy, I thought vaguely.
But furthermore, there was indeed some truth to her words. If only magic were used righteously. If only magic were used not to deal wounds, but to protect and to save.
“—That line of thought was why I wrote that tome, but I should not have done so.”
Thirteenth’s voice rang out. Zero glanced his way and silently shook her head.
“I should have heeded your advice, Thirteenth. I should have burnt the grimoire to cinders the moment you warned me of its apocalyptic potential. It was I whose will was too weak. I—“
Zero breathed a deep breath.
“I was foolish.”
I lay idly in an empty room set aside for the serving staff. I had resigned myself to being relegated to a bed of straw in the stables, being a lowly fallen beast, so this was a luxury I had not expected.
In contrast, Albus had been temporarily relocated to a dungeon cell. He was to stay there for a night, and decide whether his fate would be the stake or subordination to Thirteenth. Normally you’d pick the latter, I suppose. He now knew that the person who founded the Coven of Zero was a chronic scumbag.
The question for me was what I would do after this. I was to be Zero’s guard, and she was to return me to a human form. Of course my future actions would depend on Zero’s, but those were entirely unpredictable.
Still—for some reason, it felt like my work was done here.
I was never that extraordinary as a mercenary in the first place. Zero’d hired me because I’d been in the right place at the right time, and because I had a conspicuous figure. Now that she had Thirteenth to watch her back, what good could it do her to keep a mercenary like me by her side? I would dismiss myself if I were her.
Holding my hand up toward the ceiling, I examined a minute cut on my thumb.
It was nearly healed, but the scar Zero had left after biting my finger was still there.
Back then, Zero really did need someone to serve as her guard. But I doubted that I had been anything more than just a distraction for her even then.
Zero had tossed aside Albus with lightning speed after he had served out his role as guide.
What did that mean for me?
When I am no longer necessary, what will Zero do with me?
I slowly withdrew my hand and shut my eyes in silence. When suddenly—
“Whoaaaaah!” I yelped, falling off the bed. Surprisingly, I had heard a voice come from close by.
I was usually acutely aware of human presence, and could hear footsteps from a mile away. Because of that, I nearly died from shock when the voice suddenly sounded right beside me. It was a matter of life and death.
But unless a face was going to poke its way out from under my bed, I couldn’t see even a shadow of a threatening presence. I could swear on my life that I’d heard something, but the owner of the voice was nowhere to be found.
Was it just my imagination? I’d heard it pretty clearly though…
Then, a mouse scuttled up onto the bed.
No way. No, could it be?
“Zero’s mercenary, I would like to have a word with you. Come to the basement.”
The mouse is talk—
“You may follow this mouse. Come. I will be waiting.”
Having delivered its brief message, the mouse began scampering away, leaving me no time to even shriek.