Volume 1 — Chapter 7: Magic Authorization
When I awoke, I found myself on a bed. Sluggishly, I rose from the bed feeling weighed down by fatigue, and Zero came into view snuggled into a chair, a book in her hands.
“You’re awake? What a relief. How do you feel, Mercenary?”
“Hm…I feel like I was possessed by a demon.”
“The demon returned your body as happily as could be, but you slept for an additional three days. I suppose you two were simply too compatible. The people have already received word from the kingdom of the downfall of the ‘evil witches’, and have begun a patriotic celebration. You should have heard the cries of the wayward sorcerers as they realized they had lost their magic.”
Oh, I could imagine how very miserable they were.
“I figure the desperate ones fought back.”
“Sure, but as ordinary humans, they are nothing to fear. The dog also proved unexpectedly helpful. Our problem now lies beyond the bounded field; namely, those who are astute enough to realize that outside of Wenias, magic is still perfectly accessible. Another stormy cloud looms on the horizon in the form of those who have discovered their ability to perform sorcery, and who have commenced their research.”
Then it seemed that the eradication of magic would be only temporary, and confined to the bounds of Wenias. Every single witch in the world would just put their own knowledge to work coming up with new magics.
What a pain in the ass. The world was a big place, and having only Thirteenth and Albus in Wenias meant almost all the rest was all but laid bare before magic. There would be more incidents like Wenias, and possibly further tales of tragedy.
“That child has begun to pick out those with magical promise, teaching them sorcery and magic in preparation for future operations whose purpose will be to root out such headaches. Wenias shall sponsor this venture as a kingdom, making it the very first nation of sorcerers, just as Thirteenth had intended.”
“A nation of sorcerers…it’s got a frightenin’ ring to it. Where’s Thirteenth, anyway?”
“Waiting in the dungeons for his turn at the stake.”
I looked at Zero with disbelief. It simply sounded too serious to be a joke.
“That’s how it is. But of course, it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s the final performance of Thirteenth, the man who played the fool’s role as the sorcerer of righteousness, and ignited war between the witches and the kingdom. That child will go down in history as the one who exposed and defeated Thirteenth, the mastermind behind all of this.”
“Mhm…so she’s making a mutual enemy out of him for the play of coexistence?”
I gazed up at the ceiling, sighing as I did. Everything had been arranged by Thirteenth, and everyone had been deceived by the evil of one man. That belief would make it much easier for the humans, who had burned the innocent Solena to death, and the witches, who had begun the uprising, to make the first steps toward unity.
“So we’ll have the evil sorcerer Thirteenth, and the granddaughter of the great Solena who thwarted his schemes? That’s a real fairytale that’ll go down in history.”
“Though the child’s use of Thirteenth’s help in settling the uprising does complicate matters.”
Zero laughed, putting down her book, and offered me a cup of water. I took it gratefully and gulped down the liquid as Zero plopped herself onto my bed.
“—Morning, Mercenary. I’m glad you’re all right.”
“Oh, right. There is still one issue remaining…but I have finally reclaimed my book.”
“Well congrats. Now I—“
“Can’t be human again.”
Did I hear something just now? No, it was probably only a figment of my imagination. Please let that have been only my imagination.
“I will need some time to recover. My battle with Thirteenth and the grand magic-sealing bounded field were able to drain even my bottomless reservoir of magical power.”
Dammit, it wasn’t just my imagination. I took my head in my hands.
“Were you a fallen beast of your own accord like Dog-Face, I could easily return your human form…but as you have been one since birth, your human soul and the animal soul within you are strongly fused. Separating the two would already require its own share of power, not to mention the fact that your possession by the demon only seemed to strengthen the bond.”
“Seemed ta strengthen…bullshit! Who d’ya think got me possessed in the first place?!”
“I may have, but I feel upset for you, too. I tried various things to turn you human once more while you slept, until your fur fell out…that was a nightmare. I hurriedly turned you normal again.”
“What the hell’d ya do to me while I was out?!”
“It wasn’t on purpose. I had Thirteenth try as well, but he was also quite exhausted…”
“Right, got it. Let’s talk practicalities then. How long’s it gonna take for your magic ta recover? A month? A year?”
Mm, Zero jerked her head in affirmation, looking blankly off in another direction.
“I don’t know.”
“Why don’t ya just tell me instead of hidin’ shit?! What about our agreement, huh?!”
“I haven’t denied my end of the agreement, but only indicated that you must wait a while.”
“No debtor, no matter how honest, would listen ta stupid shit like that!”
“Well, don’t say that. You only need to continue being my guard. Your current physique is well suited to being an escort, and I find your beast appearance quite adorable. Your fur makes for a warm and pleasant blanket, and most importantly, you won’t have anyone else besides yours truly to seek answers from in that form. This way, I won’t be lonely.”
How could she say all that with a straight face…
I glimpsed Zero through the gaps between my digits.
Her charm was as unrivaled as always. She seemed to have been living in this room, waiting for my awakening. Around the chair she had occupied were blankets and the like, all scattered around. —Forgive me, but this ain’t exactly something I’m supposed ta celebrate.
“…Guard ya? You’re gonna go someplace else?”
“Yes, I want to go somewhere. I’ve spent far too long in my cave. Tales are told of trees that are composed of jewels, of rivers that flow through the air, of fish that swim in the sand, and of birds that subsist on lightning. I would like to see those things, but it is dangerous for a witch to travel alone in this age.”
I smiled at the faintly nostalgic words. Dammit, I smiled—stupid.
Well…since I was a money-grubbing mercenary anyway, I thought it would be far better to be a witch’s guard than a man-slaughtering machine on the battlefield. More importantly, there would be a contract between the two of us until I was human again, even when the scars on our thumbs were healed. My answer then came to me. I scratched at the back of my neck.
“So? Just what’ll I get for escortin’ ya?”
“Mercenaryyy! Zerooo! Get this! Thirteenth’s being so annoying about the ‘play’. He just keeps going on and on about things like our lines at the stake and the stage.”
I was ravenous after three days of sleep, and so a giant boar—an Ebru boar, whole roasted to boot—was prepared for my meal.
The gigantic and imposing roast boar sat magnificently at the center of the table, and before it sat Dog-Face, Zero, Albus and I. Thirteenth was supposedly in the dungeons, but Thirteenth was Thirteenth no matter where he happened to be.
Listening to Zero laugh at Albus’ complaints about Thirteenth, I tore into the meat. There was already its status as a high-class ingredient, but the boar itself was also unbelievably tender, the sweetness of its fat filling my mouth as I sank my teeth into its flesh. The bits around the bone were just as superb, and the meat’s flavor alone was appetizing enough.
“Don’t be so cross. There is no one more proficient than Thirteenth at manipulating the hearts of others. He’s trying to hand Wenias over to you as it is, in an optimal state. Think of it as a lesson on grasping people’s hearts, on top of shouldering the burdens of the nation as a witch of the Lunar Chant.”
“Whaaa? But if I learn from Thirteenth, I’ll end up all creepy and devious.”
“Little lady here’s actually always hated learning. Even Solena’d no idea what to do with her,” Dog-Face muttered earnestly with a tinge of nostalgia, when he suddenly yelped and fell off his chair. Albus must have yanked his tail. Your fur’s all grown back thanks to Zero’s magic, but you’re just as pathetic as always, ain’t ya, Dog-Face.
Zero broke into shrill laughter again as she saw that, and bit into some fatty boar meat just as I did.
One week later, when I could move normally again, Thirteenth had been immolated, and Albus had been acknowledged as the leader of the state sorcerers’ league—Solena’s Flame—by the populace, Zero and I decided to take our leave.
And so, just as the sun was beginning its ascent, we were waiting at the outskirts of Prasta.
As we needed to allow Thirteenth to escape secretly, we hid ourselves from view and made for the forest. The moist early morning air of the forest was cool, and there was not a hint of human presence nearby. There was a small incident when Albus had clung to my waist, pleading with us not to leave and to stay forever, but Dog-Face managed to calm her down and get her off, and besides that, our departure was as smooth as silk.
“Come play again soon! I’d go with you guys, but I’m a witch of the Lunar Chant…”
I patted Albus’ head as she was still sniffling and promised her we’d be back in no time. The fact that we’d met when she attacked me, trying to take my head for herself, seemed to be absent from her memory. It’s not like I got a grudge or anything against her though—well, it’s complicated.
The truth of Solena’s attempt to cleanse the plague had been promulgated across Wenias, and in the blink of an eye, witches were no longer the targets of fear and prejudice.
There was already groundwork laid for coexistence, and there must have been a sentiment to atone for Solena’s wrongful death. The populace accepted Albus’ position as the sorcerer of justice surprisingly easily, and although there certainly remained various unresolved issues, the crisis of the witches’ revolt in Wenias could be considered over. From now on, only those witches who receive Albus’ Authorization may use magic within the borders of Wenias, and the plan seemed to be to use the newly established and officially recognized state sorcerers, along with the so-called Magic Authorization system, to purge the witches dispersed outside the nation.
Under the pretense of scouting for that purpose, we were issued special passes which would allow us to just about freely travel into and out of other nations. Wenias prospered as a layover spot for traffic between nations, after all, so it did hold influence over even admission to foreign nations.
Thirteenth was going to return to his cave in the Forest of the Bowed Moon. A few witches who had looked up to Thirteenth as their mentor in Wenias would be accompanying him as his pupils. Only three had been told that Thirteenth’s immolation was only a masquerade, and those three were waiting quietly for Thirteenth somewhere else.
Zero had mentioned that though Thirteenth was returning to the Forest of the Bowed Moon, he had left behind “eyes” all over Wenias to watch for any resistance from witches. That way, he could do his best to counsel Albus even from far off.
The title of “witch” was also from now on to be replaced by that of “magician”. The reason appeared to be that if gender was not taken out of the equation, some bothersome misunderstandings would arise as a result.
That didn’t mean that the use of the titles “witch” and “sorcerer” would fade so simply however, but disregarding one’s gender, if one used magic, then one was a magician.
“Zero, do you really not want to return to the cave with me?”
I was struggling under the weight of an enormous pack full of foodstuffs Zero had crammed in, when Thirteenth raised his question in as an emotionless voice as always.
“No, I don’t, Thirteenth. I will be traveling with Mercenary.”
“Zero, I —“
Thirteenth opened his mouth to say something, but Zero silently hushed him.
“I’ll be taking my leave, Thirteenth.”
She poked Thirteenth in the chest, then turned her back and walked off. I tried to follow, but something held me back.
“What?” I inquired, and when I turned around, there was Albus’ face intimately close to mine. Something met my lips. Dog-Face yelled.
“You bastard! My big bro you might be, but I ain’t gonna let you take little lady!”
“Huh? Wha? Wait, the hell—“
Albus had already run away laughing, leaving me flustered and Dog-Face raging. I couldn’t even chase after her, as Zero was quite far ahead at this point, and I was going to be left behind if I didn’t get going.
“Ah, shit! I’ve got no idea what’s goin’ on, but it ain’t my fault!” Shouting, I ran after Zero.
 Thirteenth uses Wagahai here instead of his usual Watashi. Zero has always used Wagahai, a rather archaic and almost arrogant pronoun to refer to herself, and she ridiculed Thirteenth for no longer using it since he left their cave. Thus is the significance of this word, as it is almost as if Thirteenth reverts to his pre-Wenias self, reminding Zero of days past.