Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
I’d always known that witches were attacking villages to get back at the people of the kingdom. But seeing the devastation firsthand for the first time, I was shocked by the extent of the destruction.
The dead were littered about, and every home bore marks of pillaging. It was a scene of such ruination that the only possible explanation was that they had been attacked by magic-wielding vagabonds.
“The hell…? Ain’t this town protected by witches from the Coven of Zero ‘cause the entrance is here? What’s the—“
“We aren’t the only coven that uses magic,” Albus said, subdued. My eyes grew into saucers.
It hadn’t occurred to me that the Coven of Zero wasn’t the only coven out there. I had assumed they were the ones to plan out the revolution against the kingdom of Vanias, and the ones ravaging its lands.
But after listening to and observing the human named Albus, I was convinced that the Coven of Zero fought solely to protect witches. Still, from the things I’d heard during my tenure as a mercenary and from the devastation I saw here in La Tête, I knew that there were, without a doubt, magic-using witches who massacred people and sacked towns with relish.
“You sayin’ that there’re other groups like the Coven of Zero?”
“No! Don’t get ‘em confused with us! Those guys are just thieves… they’re here to steal the Book of Zero! They attacked the town to make a move on the academy in all the chaos!”
“Those guys are just thieves, ya say…but the Book of Zero’s with the Coven of Zero right? No matter what they do, that bunch—hey! Oi, wait!”
Before I could finish speaking, Albus dashed off again, probably to make sure the academy was all right. I hesitated, then turned toward Zero, who had silently leapt to her feet.
What do ya wanna do? What should we do? What’s goin’ on?
I was bursting at the seams with questions, but not a single word came out of my mouth. That was because Zero’s expression was icy, and she herself seemed as immobile as a puppet.
“So it is also possible…to use it for this purpose…”
The dilapidated home, the fallen sign, the roasted corpses. Her eyes darted from one object to the next as she mumbled sentence fragments.
Finally, she made as if to follow Albus, and slowly walked away.
Albus ended up running into a very old church.
I made my way through its gates, and entered the run-down chapel. Taking a look around, I saw that the normally neat seats were strewn around in a disorderly fashion, and glass from the windows was scattered across the floor. God’s house was in a truly bad state. Even here, there were bodies. I gleaned from a cursory look that were six.
These remains, however, were different from those I had seen outside. Those were the bodies of people who had run for their lives and been slaughtered. These, though, were unmistakably the remains of combatants.
Around the necks of two of the bodies were chokers inlaid with brilliant vermillion gemstones, Exactly like the one Albus had. That being the case, those two were probably part of the Coven of Zero.
Did that mean the remaining four bodies were the assailants?
“Are these from the Coven of Zero…and those from the attackers?”
“Everyone in the Coven of Zero fought to protect the academy and the town…”
But they’d failed to save the townspeople. At least they’d fought to the last here, defending the academy.
“Did they finish each other off?”
“No, that is incorrect.”
Zero then stepped forward abruptly, and headed right past Albus onward to the witches’ corpses.
“Hey,” I warned her, but Zero paid no heed and peered at the six bodies.
“The four invading witches first slew the two witches affiliated with the Coven of Zero. After the deed was done, another witch appeared and slew the invaders as well.”
“How do you know that?”
“The natures of their deaths are dissimilar. The witches from the Coven of Zero show signs of having put up a fight, yet the four remaining witches appear to have died without time to react. Above all, it is the fact that all six have had their magic completely stripped from them that makes the involvement of a third party undeniable.”
So apparently, a witch, belonging neither to the Coven of Zero nor to the attackers, had made an appearance here. This was just getting more and more perplexing.
As I racked my brains over it, Albus took a deep breath…
And spoke in a voice trembling with fear and fury.
I could swear that Zero and I were both thinking of the same question right then.
How the hell d’ya know that name, and why’re ya using it now? But before I could voice my concern, everything changed.
The eye opened.
I instantly felt goosebumps spring up all over my body. The steadily increasing unease I’d felt while approaching the town was gone, but in its place was an intense, intimidating air, bordering on terror, fixated right on us.
Somewhere, the eye. Somewhere—
I looked up, and instantly regretted it. There was a single, titanic eye clinging to the ceiling of the church.