Volume 1 — Chapter 3: The Coven of Zero
“I was taught how to use magic by the ‘Coven of Zero’.”
The boy named Albus spoke while stuffing his face with roast bird.
Actually, “named” wasn’t really the right term to use here, as he seemed to be using an alias. I didn’t really get why he was operating under a false name, but I would probably just get lectured by Zero and Albus both about how one’s real name was extremely important in sorcery and to conceal it as such if I asked.
“The ‘Coven of Zero’… sounds kinda like a guild or a mercenaries’ association.”
“It might have the same meaning as a guild in that it’s a union for a profession. Learning magic is compulsory for every member belonging to the coven. There are those who agree to do so willingly, and there are those who get punished.”
Albus pulled down his collar to reveal a choker inset with a gleaming red gemstone.
Being a greedy mercenary, I couldn’t help but think: that sure looks valuable.
“This is proof of membership in the ‘Coven of Zero’. Everyone receives one at the entrance ceremony. It’s meant to be a symbol of loyalty to ‘that person’. Every member of the coven takes a witches’ blood oath swearing faithfulness to them.”
“Who’s ‘that person’?”
“The person who, ten years ago in Wenias, founded the ‘Coven of Zero’. We don’t know what they look like or what their name is, so everyone just refers to them as ‘that person’. “
In other words, the same person who stole ‘The Book of Zero’ from the ‘Forest of the Bowed Moon’ ten years ago came to Wenias and founded the ‘Coven of Zero’. Although I didn’t know for sure what their objective had been, considering that the witches of Wenias were revolting at the moment, it wasn’t particularly difficult to see what their goal may have been.
“‘That person’ possessed integrity in addition to a lordly air, and did not discriminate between people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a witch or just a normal human. As long as you have the required talent, they will teach you how to perform magic. Because of this, magic spread like wildfire through this country. There are actually a lot of homeless and orphans in the coven too.”
“So,” Albus transitioned, “going back to the “Book of Zero’; that’s the sacred text of the ‘Coven of Zero’. It has been for ten years. That’s why I would know so much about the book ‘that person’ wrote…”
Albus turned his gaze to Zero, who shrugged lightly.
“It has binding of ebony and hinges of gold, yes? Then there is no question that it was I who wrote that book.”
Zero’s response was smooth… For whatever reason, it seemed like she wasn’t going to tell Albus that it had been stolen. That was probably a smart choice. If she had gone and said that the book which they were treating as a sacred text had been stolen property, anyone would have resisted that claim. Right now, Albus looked caught between trusting Zero and condemning her. He seemed to be realizing that her competency in magic was leagues above his.
“—Do you find it hard to believe?”
Looking down, Albus slowly shook his head.
“I don’t know…but you used magic…what if you really are…”
Albus immediately turned his eyes toward Zero.
“You’re one of us…aren’t you?”
Zero gave a small smile to the bashful Albus. She gave neither an affirmation nor a denial. Albus, taking her silence as agreement, nodded in contentment.
“So? Why is this ‘Coven of Zero’ inciting rebellion against the kingdom?”
“…It’s because we couldn’t take it anymore.”
All of a sudden, it was as if a shadow was cast over Albus’ expression. It was like night and day compared to his liveliness when talking about the coven and ‘that person’ just moments before. A horribly chilly feeling emanated from him.
“Since the olden days, there have been many witches living in Wenias. They made medicines, performed divinations, and had working relationships with the villagers. In exchange for their medicines and divinations, they received bread and sweet pastries from the villagers.”
He was talking about the so-called ideal state of coexistence between witches and humans. I’d heard about the miracle medicines of the witches and the divinations for finding lost items. Witches like these were called ‘white witches’, and I’d even heard tales of villagers protecting them from witch hunts.
“From the start, the witches of this country didn’t know any sorcery besides those for performing benign tasks like these. But in the end, humans couldn’t see witches as anything but very embodiments of evil, blamed every misfortune on them, and hunted them down. We couldn’t stand a society like that anymore. They took every opportunity there was to kill us, even though we had done nothing wrong! That’s the reason why the ‘Coven of Zero’ was established!”
Albus explained all this bitterly. Those gold-colored eyes of his were dyed clearly with anger and resentment. They seemed to be saying that he had trusted humans, but that they had betrayed him in return.
“Ya witches ain’t as innocent as ya say you are. The reason why witch hunts began was ‘cause witches spread plague all over the place. Ya heard about it, right? When they burned one of those witches at the stake, a crazed group of ‘em would burn a whole village down to the ground for revenge.”
I’d heard that an event, called the ‘Revels of Revenge’, was the reason why this country had started hunting down witches. If that was the case, then these witch hunts were simply the witches reaping what they had sown. The witches spread plague and took revenge when one of their own was killed for it, so it wasn’t any surprise that large-scale witch hunts began to take place.
Of course, Albus flared up at me for the implication in my words.
“—Plague? Where’s the proof that witches infected people with plague?”
“I don’t care. I only heard it as a rumor. But there must’ve been proof somewhere for them to have started burnin’ witches.”
“Since you don’t know anything—don’t speak irresponsibly, fool! There isn’t any proof. The only ‘proof’ they have is that there was a witch living near the village from which the plague spread! But they, with their scant evidence, captured that lone witch and burnt them to death! For bastards like those, only burning down their village would do!”
“Burning down their village…eh?”