Volume 1 — Chapter 6: Forbidden Spell
At last, I neared the tower’s peak. I reached out toward the ledge of a window far larger than those I had passed, and carefully hoisted myself up. There was an iron plate hammered into the stone frame that obfuscated the tower’s innards.
In the darkness, only candles—wasn’t it?
Resting on the windowsill, I looked around the outside of the tower. —There was a bird’s nest perched there. It looks like I’ve hit the jackpot. I tried working some feeling back into my numb hands by clenching and unclenching them, then clambered onto the gently sloping roof of the spire. The roof’s shingles were well-worn from wind and rain. Stripping them away, I tapped lightly on the base of the roof. It seemed fragile, perfect for what I had in mind.
If there was any benefit to being born a fallen beast, it would be our exceptional physical prowess. Were I to run at full speed, no man could match me, and one punch with all my might could turn a tree into splinters. As for brittle stone—well, I supposed that was within my limits.
Clenching my hand into a steel-like fist, I smashed it into the roof’s base with all the strength I could muster. I must have overestimated the sturdiness of the roof, as that single punch made it unable to support my weight any longer.
“Shit, it’s fall—”
Before I could finish, I fell into the tower, accompanied by a shower of shingles and dirt.
I somehow managed to contain a scream, though I still was nowhere near a presentable state. Gradually clawing my way out of a heap of rubble, I gazed up at the gaping hole in the ceiling.
“Hey witch! I’m here—“
As I tried to get up, I saw in front of me a beautiful face that filled me with trepidation.
—to save ya. The words died in my throat.
Zero was looking down at me with a strange expression akin to holding back laughter yet being on the verge of tears. Just a moment later, however, a stiff look washed out her features.
In the blink of an eye, Zero gripped my face with a force incommensurate with her appearance that I had come to expect. As she forced my head upward, I felt like I understood the plight of maidens who were roughed up by ruffians.
“Why are you here?”
“I am asking you why you came here—you fool!”
She rammed herself headlong into me. Falling hadn’t been enough to make me cry out, but this was. As it was so unexpected, I hadn’t even the time to brace myself for the impact.
“What the heck was that for?! Can’t ya tell I’m here ta rescue ya?!”
“What rescue—it’s clear now! Who asked you to? Just who hired you to do this? Why do you not understand that you were hoodwinked?! Return from whence you came this instant! This is a trap set by Thirteenth!”
“Return from whence I came…it ain’t that simple. You saw how I fell through the roof, didntcha?! I ain’t here ‘cause someone asked me to be, nor ‘cause someone hired me to! What’re ya on about this bein’ a trap anyway?! So what if I’m caught in it?! Ain’t Albus the target here?!”
“I need not explain that to you, just know that your help is unwanted. If you arrived here by scaling the walls, then take your leave that way! After all, you are no longer my mercenary.”
As if spitting out the words, she shoved me away. I went from a sitting position to half-standing and glared at her.
“Yeah, that’s right! And it’s all thanks ta how your comrade Thirteenth tricked me! That’s why I came back though—to apologize. I climbed an endless cliff with nothing but two knives to get here! My precious claws got all messed up!”
I showed Zero my mutilated fingertips dripping with crimson blood, wincing quietly. But Zero refused to acknowledge them and remained as stoic as ever.
“It may indeed have been the fault of Thirteenth as you were under the influence of sorcery at the time. However—the cause lay within. You were afraid of me. All Thirteenth did was fan your doubts and fears!”
“That’s exactly what happened! I was scared and doubtful. But how else could I’ve felt?! It’s pointless ta tell me not to be scared of witches, and tellin’ a mercenary not ta distrust others is like tellin’ ‘em ta die! Even then, I still went and climbed a wall just ta get back to ya! Won’t ya think on it ’n perhaps toss me just a little bone, O master of mine?!”
I’d been reduced to begging her to take me back in. Still, I possessed the willpower to prostrate myself at her feet and plead forgiveness. No, rather I had, but—
—Could she even be convinced?
Zero’s face was stony, and I could feel the hatred in her gaze as she stared down at me. It seemed that Zero had abandoned me utterly and completely. It wasn’t like I was unprepared for this possibility, as I could bear it. —But I had come all this way. At the very least, I had an obligation to take her to see Albus.
“Alright…I get it…I’m sorry. There’s somethin’ important I gotta tell ya though—”
Plink, a drop of warm water splashed onto my hand. Thinking it was rain, I raised my meekly downturned eyes toward the sky. And then, I realized that I was mistaken.
Zero stood before me. Her expression was still impossibly frigid, and I could still sense in her amethyst eyes the hate she felt for me. However, liquid was flowing from them drop after drop. They traced lines down her cheeks and jaw, falling pitter-patter on my hand.
For a short while, it didn’t register with me that those drops of liquid were tears.
“In what state…do you think I let you go?”
“In what state…do you think I let you leave? Just how frustrating do you think it was to have Thirteenth steal you away from me?! It was trivial to keep you by my side, but as you disliked witches and feared even me…I—!”
“Let you slip away…!”
Her icy exterior shattered, her expression crumpled, and she fell against me, clinging to my shoulders.
“Why did you return?! …Even as you hold me in contempt…and in fear! What do you seek? What do you desire? What could I possibly give you? Why are you doing this for me…?!”
“Please,” Zero murmured.
“Don’t ever leave me again…!”