Volume 1 — Chapter 4: Thirteenth
Albus’ eyes swam with tears, on the verge of overflowing. Then Thirteenth dealt the final blow. It seemed like this man knew not the concept of mercy.
“On top of all that…reports have been received from every corner of the kingdom regarding attacks and looting by witches. Of course they come from villages and towns completely unrelated to the witch hunts. Witches are killing people innocent of any and all wrongdoing, just to loot their possessions—don’t tell me you didn’t know.”
The destruction in La Tête naturally floated to the front of my mind. Nothing Albus could say would change the fact that witches had pillaged and slaughtered. I hadn’t heard the specifics back then, but—
“That’s not the Coven of Zero! Those are the exiled, wayward sorcerers—“
“Wayward sorcerers?” I asked. Albus’ shoulders trembled. I hadn’t meant to intimidate him, but I couldn’t deny that my tone had been a bit severe. Albus’d told us that there were other covens, but the words “wayward sorcerer” didn’t mean that they were part of some other, independent coven. That they were wayward indicated that there was a coven they had formerly been a part of.
“I told you already that the Coven of Zero will teach anyone magic, even if they’re homeless…or an orphan…right?”
“I see…so it’s like that.”
I wasn’t sure how those alleged other covens picked up magic, but I could understand if it was because they’d been part of the Coven of Zero but left to do as they liked.
So the dead witches in La Tête’s church, both the attackers and the attacked, were basically all of the Coven of Zero. That being the case—the reason La Tête was raided and destroyed was because of the Coven of Zero. Seeming to understand this, Albus’ expression became strained.
“There were some people who abused the power of magic the moment they learned it. People like that were banished from the academy to prevent them from learning new magic, but we couldn’t stop them from using what they’d already learned, so…”
To be expected. By giving strength the likes of which no normal human could withstand to people like those, who’d been powerless and persecuted, it should have been plain what the results would be.
“So they became bandits ‘n pillaged as much as they liked, yeah?”
Albus nodded reservedly.
It was like giving deadly explosives to a bunch of dumb kids.
Magic, through the medium known as the Book of Zero, was indiscriminate of the place and people to whom it was disseminated to. Even if the Book of Zero were reclaimed, as long as there was a written copy, it wouldn’t be enough. Even if there wasn’t a written copy, as long as the first page still existed, it wouldn’t be enough. It was like mixing ink and water. Water made cloudy by ink wouldn’t be able to become pure water again.
“The witches who attacked La Tête were wayward sorcerers too, I’m sure of it. Those banished dirtbags banded together and attacked the academy. They were probably trying to steal the Book of Zero to make themselves stronger…”
In other words, among the witches of this kingdom, there were three great forces at work.
First was the Coven of Zero, which fought to realize halcyon days for all witches.
Second were the wayward sorcerers who’d learned magic in the Coven of Zero, and were now running amok.
Third was the sorcerer who belonged to the kingdom and indiscriminately hunted and killed members of the other two parties—otherwise known as Thirteenth.
There were probably also forces in this kingdom who didn’t have any interest in learning magic or waging war, but since they weren’t involved in this conflict, it should be fine to just ignore them. Just the classification of witches already made my head hurt, so if the number of groups that used sorcery kept increasing like this, I’d be hopelessly lost.
“Organizations not under the jurisdiction of the government are not organizations at all. They simply obtained a fun little toy, the Book of Zero, and did whatever they liked. They must be purged of that, assembled, and governed. Order must be restored.”
Thirteenth stood up silently.
“There is use for you yet. It would be a waste of talent to simply kill you. Obey me, cooperate with me completely, and I promise to grant you even more knowledge and power.”
Albus was lost for words.
“If you refuse, then it’s off to the stake with you!”
I too was speechless.
I felt like I should get up but couldn’t find a reason to. I looked toward Zero, but far from stopping Thirteenth, she didn’t show any interest in the subject at hand.
Well then, I guess it falls to me.
“Burnin’ at the stake…he’s still a kid ya know?” I said. No one’s so heartless as to show no mercy even to children.
“He might be a child, but he’s still a threat if he is capable of sorcery. And because he is a child, if he wields that power without prudence, he must be destroyed.”
Thirteenth’s riposte was smooth, but I held on.
“Maybe so, but yer still gonna kill him?”
“Then would you pardon him because he is a child?”
“Each and every person who works with sorcery is waylaid from the human path. And any and all who are waylaid from the human path will receive the power that is sorcery. Sorcerers are those who will fulfill your wishes in return for proper compensation. Sorcerers are those who will kill people at the requests of people. Be it man or woman, adult or child, a sorcerer is such a creature, but not a human. That’s all there is to it, Zero’s mercenary. Besides, it is strange for a bestial warrior to be advocating for a sorcerer in the first place.”
Facts, facts, and more facts. I clenched my jaw, saying nothing in response.
True, Albus did try to take my head. He basically tried to kill me. I’d been able to survive so long because I was a fallen beast, and because I encountered Zero. If I’d been just a normal person and hadn’t met Zero, I’d have been killed by Albus a long time ago. No, if I’d been a normal human, I would never have been targeted in the first place, but—
I took a sidelong glance at Albus.
I could perceive the fear and confusion in those normally-twinkling golden eyes. There, anger and hatred mingled, and they were glaring, barely, at Thirteenth. Albus’ rage was somehow propping him up. I didn’t care if he was a sorcerer or whatever else; he was still a kid.
I was at a loss for an answer to the question of whether or not I would pardon him for being a child—but would I kill him for being a child?
I don’t mean to make myself seem like a saint or anything, but even as a mercenary, I would hesitate to kill a kid.
“Contemplation is important. Take a night to think about it. …Zero—”
“What, do you want a rematch? I do apologize, but I don’t feel up to it on a full stomach.”
“Return to the cave.”
“I refuse. I waited. I waited, but you did not return. This is the result. This is how I feel now.”
“About that, Thirteenth.”
Zero spat out the fork she had been holding with her mouth, and it made a noise as it clanged against her plate.
“It is taboo for witches to hunt witches. No matter how justifiable a reason you may have, that disturbs the order of the world. When too much power is given to one person, that power will drive them mad. I suspect that you know what I am talking about, Thirteenth. The six witches at the church—they were all empty shells. It may be to retrieve the book, Thirteenth, but you have crossed the line.”
“Once the book is retrieved, everything will be finished. So, Zero—“
“That is why, Thirteenth, I will be searching for the book with my own hands,” Zero quietly declared, interrupting Thirteenth.
“The book is my possession. My book, my crime. If I must dirty my hands to deal with it, Thirteenth, then I choose to soil my hands.”
“No, Zero!” Albus gave a sorrowful cry. “You said that you were our ally, didn’t you?! We went to the academy together, and you said that you were our ally…so—”
“I have not said a single word about being your ally.”
Albus’s eyes widened in blank amazement.
“But,” he quivered in a small voice.
“I asked you to take us to the academy because you told us that you knew where the book was. That is all.”
Albus looked at me. —As if he were pleading for help.
Unfortunately, as Zero’s mercenary, I’d become Albus’ adversary in this matter. Those were just the facts.