Chapter 157 Ashes (Part 1)
When Ashes saw the people appear, she immediately knew that they were witches. She could feel the magic on their bodies, showing that Theo had not lied. But that wasn’t all, she could also roughly determine their strength, especially from the witch leading them. Her magic felt like a sharp knife – just by focusing on her, she could already feel a faint stabbing pain.
“My name is Ashes. I’m so glad to meet you sisters of the Witch Cooperation Association.” Ashes put her sword aside and approached the four witches to embrace one after another… No, she thought, there are five of them. Ashes raised her head, looking at the black spot circling above them in the sky, “Doesn’t she want to come down?”
“She acts as our lookout,” the witch in the lead answered laughingly, “I am Nightingale,” then she pointed at the other three witches, “They’re Scroll, Leaves, and Echo.” Then she pointed upwards, ” and the little girl in the sky is Lightning.”
When Ashes looked at Scroll, she was startled. The feeling of magic she got from her body was feeble, it seems like her body was constantly hidden behind clouds. Getting such feeling gave her a big surprise, “An extraordinary?”
Hearing her question, Nightingale became curious. “Are you able to see the magic?”
“No, not seeing but feeling,” Ashes explained, “Since their body got changed by magic, extraordinary can detect the form and flow of magic. I think this sister must feel it the same way as I do.”
Scroll nodded and said with a smile, “Indeed, it allowed me to find a lot of companions in the vast sea of people.”
“Do you know how rare such extraordinaries are?” Nightingale said.
Hearing that the other’s concern was about the frequency of extraordinaries, rather than “What are extraordinaries”… Ashes thought to herself, how could it be that the Witch Cooperation Association had already heard about an extraordinary? This term is strictly banned by the Church. After all, their abilities are directly affecting their own body and with this aren’t suppressed by the God’s Stone of Retaliation. Any person who got into contact with an extraordinary was the number one enemy for the Church.
“There will be one extraordinary witch for everyone thousand other witches,” Ashes was still thinking about the previous issue, but her face was still unreadable like always, “So far, with the addition of Scroll, I have seen only three people.” After pausing for a moment, Ashes asked, “By the way, I remember that the name of the leader of the Witch Cooperation Association was Cara. How is she?”
“She is dead,” Nightingale shook her head, “She died during the search for the Holy Mountain.”
“… That’s a real pity,” Ashes expressed her condolences in a small voice, but what she really was concerned about at the moment was that the other side hadn’t shown much sadness when Nightingale had answered her question. “Who is your new leader right now?”
“Let ‘s go back to town first,” Nightingale just smiled, “You will see him soon.”
They walked into the town like any ordinary civilian, giving Ashes the feeling that there was something wrong. How could it be that the witches of the Witch Cooperation Association are able to just walk along the streets while holding torches? And what was even more unexpected was that the town wasn’t dead after nightfall. Behind the paper windows of many residences, she could see the outline of weak fires, like candles burning. Listening carefully, she could even hear many children reading aloud.
Candles, although this kind of item can’t be called expensive, shouldn’t be easily affordable with civilians’ limited savings. They wouldn’t be able to buy many of them, so they couldn’t easily be used. Seeing that the town actually had this many residents lighting up candles at night was such an incredible scene to look at. Also, judging by the constant word-for-word reading, are they all trying to teach their children how to read?
However, since the others didn’t mention this strange behavior with a single word, Ashes was too lazy to ask herself. Anyway, here isn’t the place where we will live in the future, the only thing I have to do is to take you away from here as soon as possible.
After many turns along the way, the group was getting closer to the castle area, allowing Ashes to see the walls and the patrolling guards even in the dark night. “Where are we going?” She couldn’t stop herself from asking.
But to her shock the answer she got from Nightingale was, “To Border Town’s Castle, it is right in front of us.”
“Wait,” she slowed down. “That is the place where the Lord lives.”
“Well, it is also the home of us witches.”
“Were you able to reach an agreement with the Lord?” Ashes frowned. Even if the local forces were vigorous and coordinated, it was still difficult to face the Church with their God’s Stone of Retaliation. So, the only possibility for cooperation between a local lord and the witches was when the witches had their own way out, assuring them that they would survive. Unfortunately, when having to deal with such a vulnerable group of witches, most lords were reluctant to sit down and talk fairly about the conditions of the contract. It was more often that they endlessly squeezed them dry and demanded more, so the road to reaching an agreement with local Lords was usually blocked.
“I suppose you could call it that,” Nightingale said in a voice without any trace of depression. Rather, it was full of warmth, “Every one of us has signed a contract with His Royal Highness.”
Ashes wasn’t able to feel happiness for them. Those contracts written with paper and pen were not binding at all. As soon as the Lord became tired of paying them or wanted to terminate their relationship of equality, he only had to knead the contract into a ball and throw it into the fireplace. There would be no one who would fight for the injustice the witches would have to face. Their status was like a small boat alone in a storm, always afraid of getting overturned.
Fortunately, now I’m here, she thought. With me, they can leave from here and go to the other side of the sea. There, us witches have built our own homes and live far away from the Church and any other secular threats.
Sure enough, when they stepped through the castle’s gates, the guards just nodded and said hello when they saw the appearance of the witches.
Compared to the king’s palace, the Lord’s castle in Border Town was undoubtedly much smaller and darker. There were so few solitary torches burning on the walls of the corridor that their swaying lights weren’t able to cover the entire stone floor. Walking along the dark corridors, Ashes got a depressing feeling. However, this feeling only lasted until they reached the entrance to the living room. There, the room was suddenly brightly lit up by fires.
Entering the hall, Ashes could see some more witches. It seemed they had all been waiting for her, and the moment she stepped into the room they began to applaud and welcome her. Nightingale, who wanted to give a brief introduction, took two steps forward, but suddenly one of the witches who had previously waited in the room rushed over.
“Wendy!” somebody cried.
Everything that happened was registered by Ashes, but she still decided not to take any counter-measures. After all, she only had the feeling of joy and surprise from the approaching witch, there was no trace of hostility at all. So after a few seconds, she was embraced by a warm body.
“You survived,” said an unknown voice, excitedly. “Thank you for saving me.”
Ashes became confused, “you are…”
“My name is Wendy,” the voice said, releasing her hands. She took a deep look into Ashes’ eyes. “The little girl in the choir, do you remember me?”
On the second floor in one of the bedrooms, only two people were left, Ashes and Wendy.
Ashes had never expected to meet a partner from the monastery here.
So, calling her partner was a very far stretch. With the exception of that night, Ashes had never had any interaction with Wendy. In fact, she hadn’t even paid any attention to the other girls enclosed with her in that underground room. She had not even realized that there were others who had to go through the same horrible acts of people forcing themselves on them. Even more, she had never thought that one of them would also become a witch.
“I was able to flee from the monastery and settle down in the Seawind region,” Wendy began to talk, after a long time of silence she continued, “Then someday I got the news that the monastery was set on fire later that day, and that all the children were missing. Did you do that?”
“The fire?” Ashes shook her head, “It was the Church’s doing. They did it to cover up the whole scandal. I killed some of the managers and the Army of Judges who tried to stop me until… members of the Church’s God Punishment Army arrived. That scar over my eye was left by one of them. If hadn’t chosen to escape by myself and had instead waited until the follow-up – if I had to face more members of the God’s Punishment Army, I am afraid I would have died that day.”
“God’s Punishment Army?” Wendy stared with big round eyes at Ashes, “Who are they?”