Volume 1 — Chapter 2: “The Book of Zero”
“So, what rank’s this ‘un?”
“It’s exceedingly close to being the weakest. So weak that you could probably crush it with your hand.”
It looked like I had been scared for nothing. Still, it was shocking to discover that there were demons weaker than I was.
“O tiny demon—please grant my request.”
The demon stared at the branch Zero held out, took a deep breath—and exhaled fire.
Having ignited the branch, the demon looked at Zero inquiringly.
“Right. Now for my side of the bargain. Thank you for the hard work.”
Nodding her head in satisfaction, Zero reached into the pouch at her waist and pulled out a small nut. She cracked it open and put the kernel in the demon’s mouth. It shook its shoulders and disappeared.
I went from staring at a demon to staring at empty space, letting out a breath of astonishment.
“That’s amazin’…it’s the first time I’d seen a demon ’n sorcery with m’own two eyes.”
“Was how I drew the summoning circle, recited the spell, summoned the demon, and bargained roughly how you thought it would be like?”
Zero blew out the flame on the tip of her tree branch. It had been exactly as I had imagined. Disregarding the demon’s benign appearance, the process had been exactly as described in public knowledge.
“—Now, time for me to address the aforementioned book. The grimoire contains instructions on how to perform sorcery by simply speaking the appropriate spell. It is split into four sections called ‘books’: the book of Hunting, the book of Capturing, the book of Harvesting, and the book of Safeguarding.”
While speaking, she waved her finger once. A small flame flickered on her fingertip.
My eyes went wide open, and I stepped back to distance myself.
“This is the power of the demon you saw just now: to start a small fire. I neither drew a summoning circle nor summoned anything, yet the result is the same. This is magic. In the past, I would have had to recite ‘Karlo, rai… fire, lodge here… the Book of Hunting, verse one: «Leks»… Sanction this! I declareth myself to be Zero,’ but no more.”
“Y…you can even skip the spell?”
“If you have enough experience and proficiency, yes. Now, spells are composed of three distinct elements. In the spell I recited just now, the phrase “karlo, rai” is meant to spur the demon to action. The phrase “fire, lodge here” is a clear declaration of intent meant to guide oneself, and bringing the recitation to a close with the spell’s name and one’s own name is analogous to a battle cry.”
Battle cry…? Reading my thoughts, Zero nodded with vigor.
“Enunciating one’s own name along with the spell’s name is very helpful while practicing magic. As one gains experience, the need for this aid diminishes. After enough practice, one can simply chant the spell silently—almost like a prayer, if you will. It’s pretty convenient, right? You can start a fire without having to keep a piece of flint handy.”
It did seem really useful. My hands were larger than a normal human’s hands by far, so although I could start fires with flint fit for human hands, it was tough and frustrating. Zero blew out the flickering fire on her fingertip as I sighed with envy. I finally began to grasp what Zero had meant when she had said my common knowledge was not wrong, but simply misguided. Still…
“How’re ya borrowin’ the power of a demon that ain’t even been summoned if ya really do need’a summon it first?
“No, that’s not it. It’s just that…no one had ever tried to borrow a demon’s power without summoning it first.”
No one had ever tried…? That meant—
“That’s…stupid, ain’t it?! Then…what was the point o’ summonin’ demons in the first place? Were ya wastin’ time on purpose?”
“Exactly. No one tried to stop the practice, so we just continued to summon demons, trying to minimize the risk they posed to the world. That was sorcery. It was not that we lacked the means to perform sorcery without summoning demons. It was more of a self-inflicted inconvenience.”
—They had blundered right at the beginning.
And sorcery had developed with this mistake at its roots. For god knows how many centuries, this mistake had gone unnoticed. I was speechless. Facing me, Zero continued.
“The founding principle of magic is written in that stolen book; namely, the fact that sorcery does not require the summoning of demons. It also includes documentation on countless demons’ names and powers, along with spells and the sacrifices required by each one. The tasks a demon can perform are set in stone, and there is no room for negotiation. There are even demons for doing things like pouring salt into fire to cause yellow sparks.”
“I call this the Demon Contracts Principle—magic. (1)”
At last, I managed to grasp the meaning of the word “magic”.
Magic was a new technique that got rid of the most labor-intensive part of sorcery, the summoning of demons, and made sorcery quick and easy to perform.
It could be thought of as the difference between summoning the king into your own room to hear your request, and simply writing your request in a letter to the king. No matter how you thought of it, the latter was obviously the simpler way, but witches used the former method and studied it tenaciously.
—But, what if one book were to correct this error?
It took thousands of soldiers to take down one witch, yet just one witch to slaughter thousands of soldiers. But, the Church—the world would be able to overpower the witches, because sorcery was both labor and time intensive. In the middle of their ceremonies, witches were defenseless and easy to kill. Few witches possessed the ability to command powerful sorcery, so the death of even one of them could be called a victory.
But if knowledge of magic, a simpler and faster version of sorcery, spread across the globe…
“Seems like that sure ain’t somethin’ ta laugh at.”
There had been great technological revolutions in the past. The discovery of iron revolutionized warfare. The invention of the wheel and subsequently the horse-drawn cart revolutionized commerce. How was the discovery of magic going to change the world…?
First, witches would probably become stronger. If there were more witches like Zero and the witch from the woods yesterday, then there would be a high likelihood that a second war would erupt between the Church and the witches. Actually, there wouldn’t just be a likelihood of war—there would be war.
That was exactly what was going on in Vanias right now. Witches, having hidden themselves away for five hundred years, had started a revolt. Zero’s missing book had to have something to do with this state of affairs.
“So, that witch from last night used the magic from yer book?”
Zero dropped her shoulders in agreement as I summarized the situation.
“Was she the one who stole it?”
“No, she was still a novice. I tried to ask her about the book’s whereabouts, but gave up because she was in too much of a fury to converse with. Either way, it seemed that someone had taught her what she knew.”
“Someone had taught her… ah…”
Once read, one book’s knowledge would become the knowledge of millions.
The same thing must have happened to Zero’s book. The remaining question was whether or not only witches had knowledge about magic. From what I had heard so far, it was sufficient to simply recite a spell and provide the appropriate sacrifice to use magic…
“What you’re suggestin’ is that…anyone can use magic?”
“No…that’s not it. There is no gray area between those who can and those who cannot. You will be able to practice magic if you have the talent for it, but if you do not, then you will not be able to practice magic no matter how hard you try. Knowledge can only take you so far.”
“This talent o’ yours…how d’ya see if someone has it or not?”
“It’s simple. They simply need to try reciting a beginner-level spell. If the spell shows signs of activation, then they have the talent, and if not, then they do not. If they have the talent, then it takes at most five years to learn the craft.”
I see—there’s no way for this to be worse. Magic was terrifyingly powerful, and those with talent would need a mere five years to learn to use it. There were almost certainly people who would abuse this power for evil.
I realized why Zero was so anxious.
The world really might fall into ruin.
Far from the whole book, a single page would do. It was just as Zero had said.
I thought back to the tree trunk-piercing arrows of light from last night. Normally, to create that kind lethality with a bow, you would need a huge bow, iron-shafted arrows, and a monster of a strongman to draw and release the weapon. On the battlefield, a man like that would be plenty threatening. A group of people who could use magic like “Staim” would undoubtedly be able to force an enemy army to retreat with their tails between their legs.
If the group had proper leadership and behaved with army-like discipline, everything could still be fine. But what if the group of magic users devolved into a looting mob? What if some shady bastard discovered that he had a talent for magic? Who would be able to stop them?
If knowledge about magic were to spread, all sorts of power balances would be broken, and that would mark the beginning of chaos and conflict.
- “Demon Contracts Principle” in Japanese is “akuma no keiyaku housoku” (悪魔の契約法則), and “magic” in Japanese is “mahou” (魔法). The relationship between the two is that the “ma” (魔) in “mahou” is taken from the “ma” (魔) in “akuma” (demon), and that the “hou” (法) in “mahou” is from the “hou” (法) in “housoku” (law). Thus “mahou” (魔法) is an amalgam of the two and can be roughly interpreted as “Demons’ Law”. The term “magic” will continue to be used in the translation.