Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
What was going on here? Weren’t Thirteenth and Zero comrades? She’d talked about him so endearingly, but now that they were face to face, she seemed murderous.
“What’s going on?”
Albus’s voice grew soft.
“Zero…why…you’re the one that wrote the Book of Zero…so why…why…” Albus was shaking. “Why do you know Thirteenth, the king’s sorcerer?!”
Confused, I looked to Albus for an answer.
“Hey, whaddya mean by ‘king’s sorcerer’? Are ya sayin’ that the king of a country fightin’ against witches is actually employin’ one himself?”
“Exactly…Thirteenth helps hunt down witches. That guy’s a traitor! He kills witches, even though he himself is a sorcerer!”
I’d wondered how the hell a country that wasn’t allied with the Church could hold out in a conflict with witches—apparently they had sorcerers of their own as allies.
One thing that witches were highly skilled in was concealing themselves. When hidden, they were impossible to differentiate from normal human beings; even the Church, which warred endlessly against witches, found distinguishing them to be extraordinarily difficult. And so, people disturbed by this began to kill other perfectly normal humans under the pretext that they were witches, in order to reassure themselves. Between the number of human deaths caused by witches and those caused by humans acting out of fear and paranoia, it would seem that the latter was historically higher.
How could one solve this aforementioned problem? Simply by enlisting the aid of witches.
Zero had said that “magic leaves a trail,” and considering that she tracked Thirteenth from the Forest of the Bowed Moon all the way to Vanias, this claim possessed a fair degree of accuracy.
Of course, the problem was that there normally weren’t any witches willing to help out with witch hunts—though it seemed that there was one right here—though he was not technically a witch, but a sorcerer.
“But what the heck does a sorcerer have ta do ta get accepted by a country that’s at war with witches?”
“Thirteenth did it by killing a massive group of witches in front of the king himself,” Albus spat.
“Once, the Coven of Zero attacked the king. It was while he was out traveling, outside of town. The war’d just started then, and we were running low on sacrifices, so we tried to get the king to ban witch hunts. Unfortunately, this was right after the Revels of Revenge. We weren’t able to see eye to eye and got attacked by soldiers. We fought back, ‘cause we didn’t have any other choice…”
Pinch, Albus bit his lip.
“And then Thirteenth showed up and massacred all of the Coven of Zero members there. Just like that, Thirteenth earned the king’s trust and joined the kingdom as a sorcerer who protects its lands.”
It was a dubious story that both enlightened and sounded absolutely ridiculous. But since the people of Vanias had depended on witches for help in their times of need, it wasn’t impossible that they were relying on sorcerers to hunt down witches, no matter how strange this strategy was. The answer to their prayers for a suitable replacement for the Church’s aid had gallantly made its appearance onstage in their most perilous hour.
Thirteenth, who had been watching the exchange between Albus and I, seemed to lose his patience and slammed the butt of his staff into the floor. Albus flinched and looked at Thirteenth.
“Do not—speak Zero’s name lightly. It is very displeasing.”
Fwoop, all the fur on my body stood on end.
I got the same feeling I did back when I was being watched at the Church. The cool gaze Zero spasmodically exhibited was frightening, but the terror Thirteenth’s gaze provoked in me was on a completely different level from the fear I’d felt from Zero’s.
Zero harbored no malice whatsoever. She hadn’t ever seemed intent on doing anything, so I wasn’t scared of her. Thirteenth’s eyes, however, were clearly filled with malevolence. He burned with murderous intent, and he seemed as if he was about to rush me.
His look told me that I wouldn’t be able to match his power. The fear I that felt from being stared down by an opponent like this—
I knew it was pretty pitiful for a big guy like me to be scared silly, but I was far past the point of being able to put up a confident facade. Albus seemed to be just as scared as I was; he was shaking all over. If I took this guy off my shoulder and set him down, his legs’d just give way and he’d collapse onto the floor.
So I didn’t do it.
“The Coven of Zero…? You employ Zero’s name without the proper respect and defile it! This is an unforgivable crime. The fact that you people are suffixing your name with that of a witch of the murky black, who devours knowledge in a cave—it sickens me!”
Quickly, Thirteenth slashed at the air with a finger. In that moment I saw a cobalt light cut through the air and made to shield Zero and Albus with my body, back facing Thirteenth. I had no idea what kind of magic it was, only that it was meant to harm Albus.
However, no howl of agony came from between my gritted teeth.
Nothing happened. I hadn’t protected them from danger in a heroic fashion—in fact, my actions were quite unseemly.
Embarrassed, I opened my eyes. That was when I gradually realized that Zero was poking out from behind my shoulder, and was facing Thirteenth.
“I did say that this is my mercenary, Thirteenth. If you deal him even a single wound, I shall mince you into an offering for a demon.”
Zero’s hands were giving off coal-black smoke. She irritatedly shook it off and clapped her hands together, making a loud sound, to remove the soot that clung to her palms. I had felt like I’d saved them, but it seemed that I was actually the one who had been saved.