Volume 1 — Chapter 5: Immolation
“It missed—he’s still standing!”
A shrill, feminine cry of astonishment rang out from behind a nearby tree.
Should I run for it, or should I fight back? It took me but a moment to come to my decision. I could fight—I could win. Perhaps it was the result of having seen an unusual battle between a witch and a sorcerer, but my fear of witches seemed to have dulled.
I drew my knife from my belt and threw it in the direction of the sound, whereupon I heard an exclamation of pain accompanied by the sound of a body crumpling to the ground.
Covering the distance between me and the location of the sound in one stride, I held down the fallen witch while yanking out the knife lodged in her shoulder, and pressed it against the nape of her neck. I was reluctant to hurt a woman, almost to the point of nausea, but she was a witch so I couldn’t risk leniency.
“H-how dare you do this…how dare youuu!”
“How dare you try to take the lives of others? That’s a pretty shitty thing to do too.”
I spat on the ground and grimaced. I didn’t need to ask her what she was trying to do, nor why she was trying to kill me in particular. The fact that she was a witch and I was a fallen beast was explanation enough.
But this seemed different than usual. I didn’t care that much about being hunted for my head at this point, but to borrow Zero’s words—I was just a bit displeased.
In the darkness of night, my attacker, who was glaring at me in panic and hatred, looked like a normal human. It was often said not to judge a person by his or her looks, but those looks would adapt to the job the person did. Those who were bandits had faces that screamed “bandit”, and Zero, Albus, as well as Thirteenth all had a certain air unique to witches.
However, this one did not. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, perhaps late twenties—and had an air about her more like that of a hardworking woman who sells old clothes at the market.
Albus had said that as long as one wanted it, one could learn the ways of magic. So it seemed that she had.
Though, her determination seemed very different from that of bandits who wanted my head for the coin it would fetch, and that of those who’d never hurt a fly and wanted my head for the power it would grant.
“Hey miss…lemme ask ya somethin’. Did ya come for me knowin’ that you could get killed? What did ya think would happen if a young girl were to attack a fallen beast?
“It ain’t ‘no’. I’d say ‘no’ to dyin’ too. Miss, if ya aren’t prepared to be killed yourself, then ya shouldn’t try to kill someone else. People like that will only get themselves killed.”
“Please don’t kill me! I didn’t mean to—I didn’t expect it to be like this! I finally had some power…my life was supposed to get better!”
So this was it. This kind of begging for one’s life always got to me.
“Get lost—next time, I’ll kill ya, ya hear?”
I put down my knife and got off her back. When I did so she let out a horrible scream, and ran off into the thicket. If only she would learn from this experience and become a little more mature…but if she were to come back with a group for revenge, I wouldn’t stand a chance.
“That’s a point for Thirteenth, ain’t it…”
I eyed the moon and let the tension out of my shoulders. —Truly, things were running wild.
The problem wasn’t those who’d been witches for a long time. It was the normal people who’d learned magic. It was the powerless who’d become drunk on power.
A band of mercenaries who’d lost their leader would immediately become a band of bandits. Same for the knights of the kingdom; if the nation were to collapse, they’d just join the hooligans. They had to be purged, assembled, and governed; order had to be restored. The state of magic was much the same. There needed to be laws governing those who practiced it, and punishments for those who broke those laws. There also needed to be people to carry out those punishments. The fact that there were guilds for every profession wasn’t just because they allowed people to provide each other with mutual assistance, but also because it allowed people to watch each other. Licenses and letters patent—all these kinds of permits were part of a system created to protect the world from certain crafts that had the potential to bring its downfall.
Magic as a skill was very powerful, and as a result there wasn’t a method of regulating its use. Assuming the Coven of Zero had such a system, it would be as if their system didn’t exist, since one could simply leave if one didn’t want to be punished. Either way, magic had already spread too far.
“I can’t believe she wrote such a bothersome book.”
When I spat again, I saw in my mind’s eye Zero looking at me with dissatisfaction written all over her face.
I wiped my knife clean of blood and returned it to its scabbard, went over to dog-face, who was lying face-down, and nudged his head with the tip of my boot.