Volume 1 — Chapter 6: Forbidden Spell
“What…what were ya thinking?! The heck’s a client doing protectin’ their mercenary?! Hey Thirteenth, do somethin’ with magic from that Book of Safeguardin’!”
“The four volumes of the Book of Zero each require vastly different aptitudes, even though they are as one book. I cannot use the Book of Safeguarding—why did you save me?!”
“Shut up, I just happened to! Ain’t you the root of all evil besides?!”
As we shouted back and forth, I heard the faint sound of laughter.
It was Zero. —It seemed that she was still alive.
“So it seems that having two large men together is far too many. Stop shouting. How unseemly. This is but a scratch. Magic circles are safeguards against one’s own spells…though as it went through Mercenary’s body, my skin was slightly eaten away…”
Oof, Zero voiced unhurriedly, and slowly got up.
“The power did go to my head slightly, however. I could not restrain it at all. Perhaps, had Mercenary not intervened, I would have killed you. This a good lesson for my pride. I shall admonish myself.”
Thirteenth’s eyes went wide.
“You…attempted to go easy on me? With that much power?”
“Are you amazed by our difference in ability? —But unfortunately, it is not a matter of ability. It is a matter of which one of us invented this technique.”
“What do you mean?”
“Thirteenth, that book contains—“ Zero said smugly. With an expression that seemed to say: did you honestly not realize? Are you a fool? I always knew I was the true prodigy; she laughed. Zero then spoke with a terrible eloquence.
“Errata. Many of them.”
Thirteenth’s jaw dropped. It was an extreme surprise to see that from someone as poor in expression as Thirteenth.
“What? Errata?! So you made mistakes in documenting the spells?!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I am a genius. Geniuses don’t make mistakes, but perpetrate them.”
“Then these errata…”
“Let us repeat it once more then. From the second section. On three?”
Thirteenth dutifully did as Zero said. On the count of three, they repeated the incantation.
“Servant of strife bound by covenant of blood and flesh, descend upon the fool’s debauch—“
“Manservant of strife bound by covenant of blood and flesh, descend upon the fool’s debauchery—“
They stopped in the middle of their chants. Thirteenth grasped his head as if he were a great intellect who had failed at the simplest problem in the world. —So the spells were different.
And when I thought about it, Albus would end her spells with “my name is Albus”, but Zero always followed hers up with “I declareth myself Zero”.
“So what’s that mean? You sayin’ there’re misspelled spells in the Book of Zero, and when ya use those, the power of the magic goes down?”
“Precipitously. A gluttonous, lazy, selfish, cocky, common-sense-lacking, impulsive witch I may be, but I am also a most extraordinary witch. I would never forget safeguards to protect myself.”
She looked at me with an intense, mocking gaze, and I turned away as quickly as I could.
It’s all true, ain’t it? Don’t go holdin’ it against me now.
“Besides, just about all books on sorcery are written in code that no one but the authors themselves can understand. When it is written ‘the guts of a mouse’ but is meant as ‘medicinal plants’, for instance. There are similar errata in the Book of Zero, of course. And as for higher magics, witches who ignore the errata will find that their magic fails to take effect at all.”
“Huh,” I mused. Back when Albus had complained that there was magic that wouldn’t work at all when following the book’s instructions, Zero had acted as if it were all but natural.
“So that’s what ya mean by there’re safeguards in the book?! It’s just writin’ the wrong things, ain’t it?!”
“Rather simple, right? In other words, no one could ever win against me using magic from the Book of Zero. That is more or less how I decided the outcome of this duel. And by using magic that took effect quickly, I made sure that Thirteenth could not defend himself with magic.”
Still holding his head in his hands, Thirteenth sat down where he was. He breathed a deep and heavy sigh.
“It’s no wonder…you were so strangely confident…”
As Zero laughed her cackling laugh, I looked out at the unobstructed view that the collapsed wall of the underground chamber now offered. Zero had blown apart the cliffside wall with her magic, and on the other side of the gaping opening, I could see the forest, with the sun emerging above it.
It had been the dead of night when I made my climb up, but dawn had broken before I even knew it.
“Well then, Thirteenth, your wily plans to spread the art of magic and cause a rebellion, rule over Wenias as the sorcerer to quash it, and secure an ideal witches’ nation have now been laid bare…but even now, the witches of Wenias must be gathering to overthrow you. I should expect a large-scale offensive to begin across the nation in two to three days’ time.”
That was right. With the attempted immolation of Albus, the call to arms against Thirteenth had risen to a feverish pitch among witches. This wasn’t the end just yet.
“Just as Mercenary had said earlier, I plan to combine my strength with that of Solena’s juvenile granddaughter to seal away magic, and take care of my mistake—the Book of Zero. The efforts of a certain foolish and shortsighted halfwit have made the situation far more wide-reaching and more troublesome than I had anticipated, but—“
Zero stopped there and the edge of her lip curled upward.
“Thirteenth—what will you do?”
Thirteenth looked up slowly and gazed at Zero, who appeared as if she were challenging him.
He showed no signs of wanting to retrieve his staff, which lay in a corner of the room, and it seemed that he had lost all will to fight.
“What indeed…” Thirteenth stood, answering vaguely.
“I tried to take this kingdom for my own so as to deliver it into your hands, as I thought that was what you wanted. If that is not so, then I no longer have any interest in or attachment to this kingdom.”
So that was what he had to say for stirring up revolt in Wenias. I may even go as far as to say his selfishness—or rather, his Zero-ishness—was rather refreshing.
Thirteenth lightly raised his hand, and his staff rose from the floor and drifted into its waiting embrace.
Blood was still dripping from Thirteenth’s hand due to the flesh wound he had suffered during his duel with Zero, but he coolly offered a hand to Zero and helped her up from where she sat.
“Zero—everything shall be as you wish it.”