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Volume 1 — Chapter 7: Magic Authorization
What the heck was that? What did she want to accomplish? What was the meaning of that? I clasped my mouth as I made my way toward Zero. I felt awkward for some reason, so I followed half a step behind her.
“You kissed the girl, didn’t you?”
Zero did not mince her words. I fell to my knees, feigning calm as agonizing turmoil raged within. So that was a kiss. How could I let my first get stolen away by that kid?!
I lied cooly. I didn’t do the kissing anyway, so the correct description would be that I was kissed.
“No, you did.”
“You didn’t see it, did ya?! How could ya know?!”
“I’m a witch, Mercenary.”
That didn’t explain anything at all, but it was strangely persuasive. I scratched the back of my neck and mumbled a response.
“Well…you two didn’t make a big deal out of your thing! You wanted to be with Thirteenth, didn’t ya? Ain’t that why you came all the way to Wenias for him?”
I went off on a completely unrelated topic.
“Perhaps,” Zero murmured, glancing at me.
“Well, things have changed. Thirteenth and I have been a pair for a long time, but that was because I had no one else but him. Now, I have you.”
“Y…you ain’t interested in your old friend?”
Wanting to pave over my embarrassment, I adopted an accusatory tone. Zero laughed.
“Witches and sorcerers are basically so. Our long lives have made us rather coldhearted. If that were not the case, I would not have so simply forgiven Thirteenth’s murder of our master and comrades.”
“…Did ya forgive him?”
“Hm…I wonder. I may not have even been angry at first. Thirteenth touched on this, but almost all of the witches in the cave had, under the Muddy Black school of thought, become disabled. They were little more than breathing corpses, waiting for the sweet release of death. Their practice was one I shunned, and Thirteenth defeated. I think that he murdered them very tidily. It may have been his way of showing respect for the dead.”
Zero gazed at the distant sky, as if she longed for the past. Just like her words, neither her voice nor expression betrayed any hint of sorrow.
I couldn’t even begin to understand the thinking that death was liberation from life, but—
“Do you think it was cruel?”
“Who d’ya think you’re talkin’ to? I’m a mercenary, ya know? I’ve done plenty of things outta hate that got me soaked in blood from head to toe, way back when. I ain’t so great that I can complain about someone else’s morals.”
“…If that’s the case, why save Thirteenth? It shouldn’t have bothered you at all if I had slain him.”
My body just moved on its own was clearly not an explanation of any sort. I simply felt it wasn’t right to kill him. Zero killing Thirteenth, especially, I felt I had to stop, no matter the cost.
Suddenly, I felt understanding bloom within me, along with indescribable inner conflictedness.
I wondered if I was just making excuses for what I did or what, but my reasoning was probably thus.
“—Weren’t ya in love with Thirteenth?”
My final peer, and only brethren. Even thinking back on it now, the way Zero spoke about Thirteenth held special affection. Would she hurry to deny it, or would she calmly nod and acknowledge it? I chanced a sidelong look at her, and saw her looking at me with a frown and a complex expression.
“…You seem to be misunderstanding, Mercenary.”
“Thirteenth is my elder brother.”
It was rather common as a saying to claim one’s eyes were popping out of their sockets. But right then, in my shock, I felt that my eyes actually were in danger of falling from their sockets.
Thirteenth was Zero’s—what now?
“The hell ya are! How can ya get siblings this unalike?! Besides, ya didn’t even say a word—“
“I did say so. I clearly stated that we are brethren, if I recall.”
She had indeed. She had said that they were brethren, and I knew the word “brethren” originally meant people born from the same womb. However, “brethren” was usually used to describe one’s comrades. Thus it was absurd to expect me to understand that they were siblings.
“And despite his looks, Thirteenth’s a handsome man whom even demons envy, though he traded his charms away when summoning a high-ranking demon.”
“Are charms somethin’ you can trade?”
“He traded them away, and became like so. But now I see… so you decided on the spur of the moment that you had to prevent me from killing the one I loved?”
I felt strangely itchy at that. As I scowled, Zero’s shoulders shook in joy.
“I see you put your life on the line for me. For the invisible and inedible thing known as my heart.”
“My body just moved on its own, it’s not like I thought that deeply ‘bout it.”
“So, Mercenary. Have you fallen for me?”
“ ‘Course I haven’t!”
Probably. No, most certainly not.
“You are so stubborn. Then what if I told you I have fallen for you? What would you do then?”
“Sorry, but I hate witches.”
I stuck out my tongue as I answered, as Zero simply blinked in puzzlement. Then she laughed.
“Still as cold as always, I see. You won’t bend even slightly, though my beauty is without rival. Thus, mercenary, I decided on something the moment you fell from the ceiling then.”
“Making you my manservant.”
I stopped walking and looked at Zero.
“By that I mean I will bind you to me by your name, and make you mine for all eternity. So, come now, give me your name at once!” Zero exclaimed, and on her face emerged a flawless smile which nobles the world over would prostrate themselves before. I turned away slowly from her beaming face, and—
—ran away with all my might. This ain’t good. I knew witches’re scary.
“Mercenary, don’t run now! Things are more convenient as a manservant! I’m one who treats them well, too! Mercenary, get back here! Don’t make me run, I’ll get sweat everywhere!”
“Ya think I care?! You’re a witch ’n all, just fly!”
“Such large-scale sorcery is easier said—ah!”
Zero fell clumsily flat onto the ground. Urgh, I let out a strange guttural noise and hurried back.
“Ya idiot! Ya can’t go runnin’ and talkin’ like that when you haven’t exercised in forever! What if ya bit your tongue—“
—what’d ya do then, I tried to finish, but Zero’s arm suddenly coiled around my neck before I could.
“I’ve got you now, Mercenary.”
Mwahahaha, she laughed in a diabolical manner. It seemed it had all just been an act.
Dammit, I’ve been had. What’d I come rushing back for anyway? I’m so stupid.
“Mercenary, your name.”
“How about I tell you mine?”
“I don’t really care about names.”
“Are you really that opposed to being mine?”
“I’m already your mercenary anyway, aren’t I?”
Sighing, I gathered Zero up. Hm, Zero made a noise as if she had come to an understanding, and rested her head on my shoulder as she observed the sky. The skies were clear and blue as always.
“I think I like that you are a beast warrior. You hate witches, and so are not seduced by my beauty. I am quite bitter about that, yet feel surprisingly satisfied. You have been my first and only friend.”
Friend, huh? I see. She, too, had been my first and only. Well, I didn’t feel disappointed.
I cleared my throat lightly, and looked up toward the soaring blue expanse.
“Well, I’d like you better if you were human, at least.”
“Then I would just be a normal girl and fearful of you. I would be dead already, in fact.”
Yes, I guess so.
If I weren’t a fallen beast.
If Zero weren’t a witch.
If our paths were to cross then, we would simply have continued on our merry ways. Such was the very reason why I called Zero witch, and she called me mercenary.
“Well…I suppose I can stay a fallen beast a little bit longer…”
“Hear hear,” Zero smiled.
The sky was sapphire and pristine as could be, and the path forward stretched onward with no end in sight. I, who was used to wandering between nations looking for battlefields, couldn’t even imagine what lay ahead.
Zero must have felt the same as well. As she rested in my arms, enthusiastically perusing the map and appearing more childish than Albus, I forced myself to put Thirteenth’s parting words out of mind.
—If Zero were to come to hate this world,
—everything would be destroyed. Take care.
I shook my head, dislodging the echo from my ears.
At any rate, it was far too late.
With Wenias as the origin, magic had likely already spread across the land. It had been a decade since Thirteenth brought magic to Wenias, so of course magic would have been taken elsewhere as well. In that case, Zero was needed no matter what was to be done. Thirteenth must have known this, and thus chose to part with her.
Zero would protect the world from magic, and I the world from Zero. For now, such an arrangement would be enough, overlooking the unusual fact that Zero was the stronger of the two of us.
Zero and I.
I didn’t know for how much longer we would remain together, but—
—for that very reason, well, this just might be the perfect degree of separation for the two of us.