Volume 1 — Chapter 5: Immolation
Yeah. It’s just like you said, Zero. It was fun for what it was.
And the silence that had been missing from my life returned, surprisingly heavier than before.
—Hey merc, lemme ride on your shoulder too. It’s not fair that Zero always gets to and I don’t!
—Why do I gotta put someone who wants ta take my head closer to my head?
—Just for today, I wont! I swear I won’t! Hey, let me feel your fur. It was muddy yesterday but now it’s all fluffy, no? Come on, Zero! Switch with me!
—I am this mercenary’s employer and a striking lady. That is to say, this is my chair, and I will not be surrendering it to you.
—Who you callin’ a chair? Don’t think I won’t throw ya off, ya stupid witch.
I smiled at the memory.
The whiny kid and the arrogant woman; no matter how I’d yelled at or threatened the two of ‘em, neither of them thought any worse of me for it. There had to have been someone like that in my life before them, right? But as I tried to think of one, I realized it was a futile task. The answer was obvious. There hadn’t been a single person like that.
What this meant was that the only two people in my life to have treated me as an equal were a witch and a sorcerer, both of whose professions I’d hated. Sure, it was the witches who made us fallen beasts, but I thought it was very ironic.
Heaving a sigh, I looked skyward.
I thought back to when Zero’d squinted and said the sky sure is blue. She’d said that she’d never before taken a single step outside of the cave she’d been born and raised in.
And there she’d stayed—after Thirteenth’d left—all alone.
—Thirteenth and I. All of the witches who had lived in our cave were killed, besides the two of us.
I shuddered at the thought.
She’d lived in the cave, where her comrades had died, for ten years. Just how lonely was it for her to simply await Thirteenth’s return, without having the chance to converse with another living being?
In the cave Zero’d lived in,
was there a blue sky to gaze at?
The sky I was seeing right now was as blue as always, but somehow, it seemed different than before.
It took a carriage half a day to get to Foamicaum—so for me, it was about a day and a half on foot.
Night arrived before I could reach the city gates, so I got a fire going and made preparations to camp out for the night.
I laid my head on my pack and shut my eyes.
All of a sudden, I heard Zero’s voice. There was no mistake that it was a hallucination, but she’d called for me so frequently that there was an echo left in my ears.
When she’d called, I’d answered. As if to say how fun she found just that to be, she’d called for me, talked to me, and asked for my opinions innumerable times.
—Let’s go together—
I’ll never forget Zero’s face the moment I refused her request.
I got up.
The words trapped in my stomach were still swirling around, all jumbled up.
I wasn’t sure why, but I’d been unable to apologize. I’d been unable to swear that I didn’t doubt her. I’d been unable to swear that I’d uphold our contract till the very end, that I wouldn’t be going anywhere—I’d been unable to say any of those things.
It was too late anyway. How could I go back to her now? Having realized this very fact, I didn’t even like I could take a crestfallen breath.
However, my melancholy didn’t last long.
I caught the scent of beasts. The scent of a fallen beast—the scent of my own kind.
“…I don’t got anythin’, if you’re thinkin’ about robbin’ me.”
Raising my voice so that whoever it was could hear me, I unsheathed my sword. There were plenty of bandits who’d just leave at this point. It wouldn’t even be my financial situation that’d be the impetus. It was extremely difficult to kill a fallen beast, unless one were to succeed at launching a surprise attack, and even if one had accomplices, there was still an ample chance that they’d be the ones taking a beating instead. Still, as for why anyone’d risk such danger and attack a fallen beast, one possible reason could be to behead them and sell the head to a witch, while another—
“All you gotta do is let me kill ya, and I’ll be on my way.”
Could be to exact vengeance.
When I saw a furless doglike face emerge from behind a tree, I couldn’t help but grimace.
I remembered. It was the mutt Zero’d stripped the fur from at the inn.
“Hey, you’ve got it all wrong. It ain’t my fault that your fur’s all gone, yeah?”
“It sure as hell is! Don’t think you’re fuckin’ foolin’ me!”
It wasn’t me, it was Zero, Zero! While I repeated that in my mind, I continued playing dumb.
“Let’s say it was.”
I hoisted my sword onto my shoulder, and looked down at dog-face. I was far larger than he was.
“What’re ya gonna do ‘bout it, dog face? You wanna fight me?”
“You see, I ain’t gonna fight.”
Fallen beasts have a great sense of their surroundings. That was why normal ambushes would never succeed against us.
However, with a fallen beast right in front of me blazing with killing intent, it was to be expected that my rear guard would be lax. —And so it was.
In the next moment, an arrow of light lanced through my torso from back to front, and I opened my eyes wide in shock.
It was magic—Staim. So there must be a witch nearby. It was impossible to tell whether it was one of the Coven of Zero or a wayward sorcerer, but seeing the leer on dog-face’s mug, I understood the situation.
“You bastard…you sold me out, ya fuckin’ mutt!”
Dog-face’d probably been attacked by a witch lookin’ for fallen beast heads and told them he’d help them catch an even rarer fallen beast in exchange for his life. Canine fallen beasts have incredible noses. I could imagine that he’d tracked me, having taken a whiff of my scent once before, and led the witch here.
I began yelling in rage, but was silenced by what happened next. Dog-face, whom I’d been yelling at, found himself with an arrow of light through his abdomen as well. In a flash, his grinning face was painted over by an expression of agony. He fell on his hands and knees, and coughed up dark red blood.
A howl of pain followed soon after.
You meant to sell me out but ended up getting yourself captured as well. Still gonna grin, son of a bitch?