Volume 1 — Chapter 2: “The Book of Zero”
“That book’s a real pain in the ass. Why’s somethin’ like that…”
Zero shut her mouth, and nearly simultaneously, I shot to my feet.
Bloodlust—just now, from somewhere close by. Before I could look for the threat, I heard a strange sound and turned to face the direction from which it came. Zero seemed to notice it as well, and shifted her gaze to the woods.
That’s it—the woods. Something ridiculously large was ripping through the foliage nearby, heading straight for us.
“…No way. This ain’t a joke!”
Mowing down the trees in its path, the whatever-it-was flew out of the forest with a deafening roar and all the force of a cannonball.
The moment I saw it, the text of a marker from the map of Vanias floated to the front of my mind.
—Warning! Wild Ebru boars live in the woods.
It was an enormous boar. But even that was an understatement. This was—
“Hell, this thing’s way too big! It’s huge even compared to me!”
How could you not yell when something like this was coming to crush you? The Ebru boar possessed a towering body, no exaggeration whatsoever. As it met my easily two-meter high gaze, I couldn’t even laugh. Its ruined left eye and countless scars indicated that it was a veteran fighter who had repelled countless hunters.
Its remaining right eye was bloodshot, and drool dribbled from its mouth as it focused on me. Even now, it was ready to charge. Two razor-sharp tusks sprouted from either end of its mouth. Even a fallen beast like myself, if impaled by one of these, would be torn in two at the waist.
Fallen beasts were naturally disliked by animals. I had never had a problem with that characteristic before today.
Should I run? No, there’s no point. Considering the speed with which it had mowed through the woods, even if I reached the forest, there was no way I’d be able to escape. Carrying Zero, it would be even more impossible. Besides fighting, there were no other options.
I leapt to the side as it charged, planning to flank its head. If I could put out its other eye, I’d instantly have the upper hand—the battle already looked to be in my favor. I pulled out my sword. The sunlight glinted off of the sword blade and robbed the Ebru boar of its vision, forcing it to make a blind charge toward me. I prepared to dodge to the side, but stopped after, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Zero standing flat-footed behind me.
This idiot, why—
“Ya idiot! What’re ya standin’ there for?!”
I twisted my torso, drew Zero toward me, and dropped to the ground. The boar’s cold tusks grazed by my back. I immediately jumped up and readied myself to get Zero to safety, but for some reason, she got up in front of me—directly between myself and the Ebru boar.
“Hm…how timely. I will be able to show you the “appearance” of magic in a real battle. I won’t omit the chant this time.”
“Watch.” Zero said, gracefully raising her arms over her head. The boar, its charge having missed its target, was preparing to charge again. At the same moment as it kicked forward, Zero shouted.
“Meaza, li, kib…writhing vines, capture this boar and bind him! The Book of Hunting, verse eight: «Kabrata»! I declareth myself to be Zero!”
—I couldn’t understand what happened.
Before my eyes, countless vines flew out of the ground and wrapped themselves around the boar’s hooves, sending it toppling to the ground. The creepers continued to wrap themselves around the boar until it could no longer move an inch. It took only a few seconds at most for Zero to complete the spell. There was no doubt that this was some kind of inhuman power.
This was—magic. If Zero could perform feats like this, then it didn’t seem like she had a use for me. The reason for my existence as a mercenary was in grave danger.
“By the way, mercenary…”
While I was staring blankly at the boar, who was on its back and looking comical as it waved its feet, Zero suddenly turned to face me.
“Is it edible? Delicious?”
“Uh huh,” I said impassively. I wasn’t actually sure. It was just that I couldn’t muster up the will to say anything else.
“Oh, so we can eat it?” Zero asked with a glowing expression. I rubbed my eyes, and proceeded to dampen Zero’s high spirits.
“No…I mean, sure, it could be tasty, but…huntin’ is forbidden. Let it go.”
Hopes dashed, Zero slumped her shoulders and plodded toward the boar.
She lightly flicked her finger in front of the enraged boar, who had been frothing at the mouth. Instantly, the boar was dazed and stared blankly back at Zero.
“You’re lucky you aren’t going to be eaten after attacking me, you hunk of meat. Be thankful, and don’t show yourself to me again.”
As Zero chastised the boar, the vines restraining it smoothly slithered back into the ground. Freed, the boar trotted back into the woods, with Zero watching it hungrily. “Well then.” She turned her gaze toward the sky. Simultaneously, I saw something behind the trees by chance.
I spoke sharply, and Zero made a movement as if she were stringing a bow. It was “Staim”. Three shafts of light appeared in Zero’s hand and bore through the air, heading for one tree. All three arrows lanced through the bark, and a shill scream rang out.
Alright. One way or another, I’d gotten used to seeing magic. Or rather, my sense of fear was partially subdued. If I got scared every time I saw magic, my body wouldn’t be able to take it. Seeing the figure that tumbled out from behind the tree, I shivered from head to toe and delivered a low growl. I had seen that gaudy blond hair before…
“Ya bastard…yer the witch that was chasin’ me yesterday, eh?”
I unsheathed my sword. It was a good opening to strike, as my opponent was off-balance. Nevertheless, Zero abruptly reined me in.
“That is a child.”
I reserved my judgement and scowled down at the groveling blond. It was true that it was small, and one could say it looked like an innocent child. This was the person I’d run away from that frantically yesterday?
My thoughts quickly filled with pity. I gently sheathed my sword, and Zero motioned for me to stay where I was as she approached the small witch with great strides.
“You’re a feisty one, eh? Were you the one that set that boar after us?”
“Why—why did you have to interfere?! You’re a witch!”
The groveling witch didn’t answer the question, but gave a sharp yell and glared at Zero.
“Do you know how valuable the heads of fallen beasts are to witches? I needed that head, so why did you interfere?!”
“Because this is my mercenary. I’d be troubled if he were to die.”
“I set my eyes on him first…! You snatched him away from me!”
I was startled.
Did he just say “I” (1)? That witch just now. I thought that all magic users had to be female because they were called “witches” , but apparently this young boy was a witch as well. Now that I think about it, wasn’t Thirteenth a guy too? Does that mean there’s no relationship between gender and magical ability?
“It doesn’t matter who set whose eyes on him first. What matters is who possesses him at this time. I wouldn’t give a tyke like you a single hair from his tail. And even if I gave you a hair, I wouldn’t give you his head.”
“To a pseudo-witch like you who can’t handle a single ‘staim’, it would be an item far exceeding your aptitude. You should give up. With your strength, never mind me, you probably couldn’t even kill my mercenary.”
These people talked about people’s heads as if they were mere trade goods. I was annoyed, but it did not feel right for me to butt in, so I stayed silent. I valued my life over my pride.
The young boy gripped the dirt.
“That’s why I need his head!”
The boy got up, yelling.
“No matter what it takes, I must get stronger!!”
He pulled out something from the bag at his waist, crushed it with his hands, and scattered it around him. Moments later, his clothes and hair began dancing as if caught by the wind, and the air vibrated with a strange, high-pitched noise.
“Bug, do, gu, raat—gather, world-destroying conflagration (2); burst and burn!”
It was a spell. He was trying to use magic. If I didn’t kill him first, he would kill me. I gripped the handle of my sword.
“Ho. He’s going to use «Flagis»? —Interesting.”
Zero’s muttering brought my movement to a halt. The slight squinting and that smirk—it was how she had acted yesterday. I froze at the sight of her. The boy, meanwhile, spread his arms as if he were dancing, embracing the air. Fire in the shape of a snake coiled around his body, gathering between his hands.
“The Book of Hunting, verse six: «Flagis»! Sanction this; my name is Albus!”
The boy cried out. Zero drew in a small breath.
“ «Rejection». Sanction this—I declareth myself to be Zero.”
Everything went silent, but that in itself spoke volumes. The flames, which had seemed like they were going to explode, dissipated in that moment, and the youth stared at his faltering hands with a look of confusion.
“How…why?! Why, why, why…?! The spell was taking effect!”
The boy shouted as if he were on the brink of bursting into tears. His shoulders quaked as Zero approached.
“Don’t underestimate me, brat. That is mine. My magic. My sagacity, my power. To attempt to wield it against me is absurd.
“What-that’s…what are you…”
“The technique of using the power of words and sacrifices to harness the power of demons without summoning them—last night, you made a big fuss about how you learned it from “the Book of Zero”, did you not? I am that Zero. I wrote that book.”
As if pressured by Zero’s silence, the boy backed up a step. He sat down listlessly, dumbstruck.
—Wait a second.
Zero wrote that book? The book that’s gonna destroy the world?
“Ah! Uh, oh, me? What?”
Just as taken aback as the boy, I literally jumped at being addressed so abruptly.
“I would like to hear an explanation from this youngster. What do you think?”
“‘What do I think…why’re ya—“
“askin’ me?” I was about to say, but was bewildered. I hated witches, and this kid had tried to take my life. We were going to hear from him, so Zero wanted to take my wishes into consideration.
If she had ignored me and continued on her own, I could have grumbled unhappily, but since she was paying heed to my opinion, I couldn’t just bluntly refuse her. I roughly scratched the back of my head, and grunted out a short “do as ya like.”
“…Just don’t give ‘im any roast bird.”
“Sure. I feel the same way.”
Kuku, Zero laughed. The boy’s stomach gave a great rumble in concert.
I exchanged glances with Zero and gazed at the boy’s crimson face.
“…We’re not givin’ ya any?”
A few minutes later, Zero and the boy were stuffing their faces with the browned bird. Needless to say, I was forced to look on with an empty stomach.
END CHAPTER TWO
- The blond magic user used the (generally) male first person pronoun “boku”.
- In Buddhism, the cataclysmic inferno signaling the end of the world.