Volume 1 — Chapter 6: Forbidden Spell
Though we had defeated Thirteenth, there were still challenges in store.
The witches were gathering in response to Albus’ proclamation, and would be coming for Thirteenth very soon. A large-scale conflict that may tear the kingdom apart from the inside out and the eradication of the witches by their contracts of blood were both close at hand.
Albus and co. were supposed to be out and about to prevent any of this from happening, but—
—Well, I suppose it should have been obvious.
Powerless humans had gained the power of magic and finally stood as those with strength, but then heard that their power would be removed from them. Of course, they wouldn’t accept that, and if there were those who would try to regardless, they would focus all their efforts on stopping them.
And so, as I climbed the precipitous cliff, met with Zero, and quarreled with Thirteenth, Albus had run into a small bit of trouble trying to establish a bounded field for the sealing away of magic.
At that point, Albus’ call to arms against Thirteenth had finally been heard everywhere. As the Coven of Zero and wayward sorcerers rejoiced that it was at last the time to fight, they heard of Albus’ seeming betrayal and went mad with anger.
So, the plan to defeat Thirteenth was put off, and killing Albus, who was poised to steal away magic and the future of the witches, was made the primary objective. Yesterday’s ally was today’s enemy. —I felt that when it came to working toward a common interest, witches were pretty much just like mercenaries.
Of course, Albus wasn’t going to let them take her life sitting down.
However, she was outnumbered. Already here it seemed that the noble soul would have to die a noble death—and then the spectacle I figured Albus would have a hard time believing began to unfold.
“The Book of Capturing, Verse Eight— Kaprata!”
In concert with the sonorous voice, innumerable vines burst out of the ground, wrapping themselves around the witches coming for Albus and lashing them to the ground.
Albus was on the ground with Dog-Face shielding her. She timidly opened her eyes, and took in the figure of the man standing wordlessly in front of her with his arm outstretched.
In other words, she laid eyes upon the man who had entered coolly with the sun at his back—a large man who looked undeniably like he was an evil sorcerer.
“I am here as well.”
Forestalling Albus, who looked as though she was about to run away screaming, Zero and I showed ourselves. Albus opened and closed her mouth in complete confusion.
Well, this was to be expected. If our roles were reversed, I figure I’d be just as confused as she was.
Just a little while earlier—Zero had defeated Thirteenth in the castle, and he had decided to lend her his strength.
I didn’t know how he managed to do it, but Thirteenth seemed to have the mysterious ability to discern every detail of the Coven of Zero’s movements, and—of all things—had asked, “it seems that Solena’s heir is going to be killed, is that all right?” What a stupid question.
Without even sparing the time to shout like hell it is, I hurried into the castle, had the kingdom’s fastest horse hitched to a horse-drawn cart and sped to where I was now. Here—was where the academy’s entrance used to be, in a forest near La Tête. I had made it just in time. To end the fighting without more bloodshed, we needed Albus’ help. In a rare sight, Zero had also been in a hurry, and even Thirteenth, unsettlingly, decided to lend a hand.
But to Albus, who didn’t know anything about what had transpired, her greatest enemy and her only allies had appeared together. Being confronted with such a sight would make anyone yell.
“Why’re you with Thirteenth?! And why’s he helping me?!”
See? She yelled. Thirteenth sighed solemnly. Sighing seemed to be a habit for this guy.
“It is a long story and we don’t have the time, as we seem to be surrounded—it would be unfortunate were reinforcements to arrive, so I will keep it brief. I am the founder of the Coven of Zero—in other words the ‘that person’ you all know.”
Bit too brief, Thirteenth. Albus’ bout ta faint from shock.
“Wait, what…! How the heck—“
“Thirteenth was the mastermind behind everything, and he has joined our side as the mastermind, child.”
“Joined our side…but—Thirteenth?! And Thirteenth being ‘that person’—but he’s the Coven of Zero’s mortal enemy…!”
“His plan was ta destroy the coven he had created himself ta imprint upon the public that he was a force a’ good, and through that, attain so-called ‘true tranquility’ fer the witches. Fer that, he needed both righteous and wicked witches, ‘n’ played roles on both sides.”
“N—no way! How can you expect me to b-believe that out of the blue—“
Even with my interjection Albus was only getting more and more confused. I suppose because this information was all too sudden and shocking.
Hearing Albus’ bewilderedness, Thirteenth waved his staff lightly and held it aloft before Albus’ eyes. The ruby gemstone gleamed, and our figures became visible within its depths.
“The precious orbs the witches of the Coven of Zero wear on their necks were all once part of this stone. Consequently, the activities of those who wear those orbs may all be managed and monitored from this staff. I knew that the beast warrior was returning to Zero’s side, that you set out to seal away magic, everything. Thus we knew to hasten our way here. —Is that enough clarification for you?”
Albus reached for her neck and tore off her choker. It couldn’t feel good knowing that she had worn it for an entire year.
With still disbelieving and uneasy eyes, she looked at Thirteenth.
“Is Thirteenth…really ‘that person’? The one who stole the Book of Zero from Zero, and gave magic to Wenias…?”
“Yes. I plotted to allow anyone and everyone to learn of magic to give rise to the wayward sorcerers, and came to this kingdom with plans for the Coven of Zero to suppress them as sorcerers of justice and win the people’s trust. Unfortunately, Solena’s death changed that. With the Revels of Revenge the Coven of Zero became a figure of villainy and fear, so left with no choice I took the position of righteousness upon myself.”
Solena’s death. Albus seemed to regain her strength at those words and stared at Thirteenth with hate.
“That’s bullshit! You’re the one who started a plague and set Solena up to get her killed! Your plans changed? How, when you meant to kill Solena all along—!”
“Not so, child. The cause of the plague was wayward sorcerers who, unsatisfied with mere magic, were experimenting with its predecessor—sorcery. Thirteenth was not involved.”
Zero calmly cut through Albus’ tirade. Perhaps it was to be expected—but Albus lost her temper.
“So what? It’s still all Thirteenth’s fault for bringing magic to Wenias in the first place! He’s the one who recklessly spread magic around and stirred up rebellion! Don’t think I’ll forgive him just because he wasn’t directly involved. Thirteenth murdered my grandmother!”
“Woah there kid, calm down. This ain’t the time ta—“
“No, she is right.”
Thirteenth raised a hand at my attempt at intervention. However, his gaze never left Albus’. Even as Albus grew uneasy, Thirteenth continued to glare right back. Then—
His words were incredibly brief, yet unbearably heavy. It was a bizarre apology.
Albus shut her mouth in surprise and grimaced as if trying to hold back tears.
“The great Solena…she was a witch who possessed prudence which my imprudent self could not match. Everything changed with her passing. She chose death so as to change everything. Not a day passes that I do not long to know what may have happened had I known of the witch hunt sooner, and managed to save her from her fate. The great Solena—I would have liked to have been graced by her gaze, even but once.”
Rare traces of pain and remorse stained Thirteenth’s usually—miserly countenance.
For the sake of experiment, some wayward sorcerers caused a plague.
Seeking to cleanse the land of it, Solena used her sorcery.
And the villagers, thinking Solena to be the epidemic’s source, killed her.
This was Thirteenth’s single and most drastic miscalculation. He could not have imagined that Solena would sacrifice her own life for the sake of the humans.
“It is only right for you, Solena’s heir, to despise and kill me. Excluding Zero alone, I swear that I shall not object to any death you may dole out to me in this world. —Thus, I beseech you. Allow me the chance to correct my past mistakes. I require your strength.”
No… Albus’ lips moved, but no sound came out. Thirteenth broke the silence of anticipation for an objection, lightly smoothing the hem of his robe and adjusting his sitting posture.
“How go the magic circles?”
Uh, Albus tried to say something. She hesitated for a while before murmuring “not done.”
“Even the circles I’d managed to draw might’ve been erased by now…no one will help me…! Everyone agreed that we needed to take down Thirteenth, but talking about banishing magic made them all mad…”
“Well if I’d spent years learnin’ to use magic, ’n all of a sudden someone just tells me it ain’t gonna be allowed anymore, I wouldn’t just let that slide either.”
“I guess that’s true,” Albus made a disappointed face.
If owning gunpowder was suddenly banned, then I’d be rebelling too. Learning to use it took time in and of itself, and either way I valued having it around.
“But no matter how unjustifiable it may be, if we do not get rid of magic, the witches who come to slay me will be obliterated by the power of their blood contracts.”
“…So as long as they don’t attack you they won’t be obliterated? Then why don’t you just disappear from the kingdom?”
Thirteenth sighed gravely at Albus’ heavy question. His attitude was as though there were a bad student before him, but rather than Zero’s merry explanations, Thirteenth seemed to think it profoundly troublesome.
“If I hide myself away, who will protect Wenias from the witches? Masses of helpless humans will be slaughtered. Do you mean to say that you—without even any means to deter attack—can take this kingdom, and in an absurd bout of omnipotence, throw out all the hatred that has amassed and lead the witches?”
“No, but…” Albus muttered unhappily. She had admitted that Thirteenth’s prowess was beyond hers in the past. Albus wasn’t foolish enough to answer yes now.
“In that case, the erasure of magic is unavoidable. Draw a diagram of the magic circle in detail on some paper. I shall then etch it on this land.”
“You? But how—“
“It is an application of summoning. Propagating a drawing is nothing compared to summoning people.”
“Hey, Ms. Witch. I dunno how ta say this…but he’s weirdly reliable, ain’t he?”
I’d be charmed if I were a girl. I unthinkingly murmured it out loud, and Zero nodded.
“If one can place faith in him, Thirteenth can be a dependable man. He is fundamentally untrustworthy, however.”
Looking at the figure Albus had drawn on her paper, Thirteenth fell briefly into thought, then looked up.
“Wenias is a kingdom surrounded by mountain ranges. I will place five small-scale magic circles in an arrangement bounding the interior of the ranges, and link them together to form a composite magic circle. I will be the one to draw this magic circle, but the one to control it will be you, witch of the Lunar Chant. You will bear a proportionate burden. Prepare yourself to lose the ability to harness both magic and sorcery, just as all the other witches will.”
“I-I know that much at least!”
“The cornerstone of this will be Zero’s Rejection. —Zero. We require the head of a fallen beast.”
As one might expect, I froze. At the same time, Dog-Face’s expression also hardened.
“In order to have the demons of the Book of Zero sanction Rejection upon this land, we must summon the high-ranking demon that controls them. However, we have both drained too much magical strength in our small bout earlier. Without a sacrifice of fine quality, we will be unable to restrain the demon.”
“W-woah woah woah wait wait wait! Don’t say that so lightly!”
“Yeah, Thirteenth! Like hell I’ll let my big bro’s head be sacrificed!”
Alright, look here, Dog-Face, ya can’t just push all the danger on me like that. Should I just cut your dumb dog head off right here ’n now? But Thirteenth too simply looked at me as if to ask, “and why’s that?”
—Just me. Damn it, these guys were all after my head.
“If we do not, either masses of witches will die, or masses of the people. If we do not seal off magic within two, three days, the witches who have gathered from all over the kingdom to defeat me will begin their invasion, and the amount of chaos caused through magic will increase explosively. Unfortunately, expended magical power is not something that can recover in two to three days at most.”
“So you’re telling us to die?!” I shouted angrily. Zero rapped my shoulder with a fist.
“Don’t shout, Mercenary. I would never kill you. However, Mercenary. You may keep your head attached—but I will borrow that body of yours.”
“M—my body. What the heck do ya mean?!”
“As we only need to extract an affirmation, simply summoning the demon into Mercenary’s body for dialogue will suffice. Thus, my burden will be light as well. Of course, it is a given that we must use the body of a fallen beast for this as well, but…”
Puttin’ a demon in my body—it ain’t that simple of a matter, Ms. Witch.
Sure, Albus had summoned a demon into her body to divine Zero’s location, but was that seriously gonna happen to me? It wasn’t a laughing matter.
“Don’t be unreasonable, Zero! While it is the body of a bestial warrior, and the demon would happily possess it—if we are unable to control the demon, it could go on a rampage and lay the entire kingdom to ruin!”
“I will not allow that to happen. I am a witch of the Murky Black, who had demons begging to me in my youth, a peerless prodigy who has formed contracts with demons with nary a sacrifice to be seen. Even in my drained state, I can at least manage a demon summoned into a vessel.”
“I would argue this with you, but we have little time left. I will state it plainly, Thirteenth. I absolutely will not kill Mercenary.”
“We have an agreement,” Zero said, showing me the wound on her thumb. —Well, there really didn’t seem to be time left, what with the witches Thirteenth had immobilized with magic and the smoke signals going up all over in the forest. Something was drawing near. The enemy seemed determined to stop the magic-sealing ritual at all costs. If we were to retreat here, it seemed certain that riots would break out all over the kingdom.
The less harm done, the easier it would be to deal with things afterward. If we were to perform the ritual, then now was the only time to do it.
“That’s how it is, Mercenary. I understand your fear. This may be an unreasonable request, but—“
Zero looked up into my eyes.
“I implore you, will you not place your trust in me?”
Zero’s expression was very serious. But my life was on the line here.
After a brief period of inner conflict—
I refused deftly. Predictably, Zero was taken aback, and her eyes opened wide.
“Do…do you even know what you’re saying? Speak after you’ve given thought to the circumstances! Even demons hold the world in higher regard!”
Confronted by words I had heard before, I snorted and gazed down at Zero.
“I don’t give a damn ‘bout the world. I’m the thing most precious to myself. I ain’t the kinda kind soul who goes ‘sure, go ahead’ when asked. —You know this, dontcha, master?”
Zero was momentarily dumbstruck. She stared at my face motionlessly, then burst into shrill laughter.
“Yes. Yes of course—but even so. I am your employer, and you are my mercenary. Let me rephrase what I said—this is an order! Trust in me, mercenary. I will never take your life.”
I crossed my arms and looked up at the sky. I was a mercenary. Mercenaries followed the orders of their employers. No matter how ridiculous the order, so long as I recognized them as my employer.
“…Well, I guess if it’s an order.”
I forced a smile. Pardon me for my stiff grin. I was born a coward.
Heh, Zero chuckled quietly, then assumed a solemn expression.
“Then—starting now, I will perform the magic-sealing ritual. Thirteenth! Lay out two magic-sealing bounded fields. One, a small field to protect us. The other to seal away the magic of this land. Child, obey Thirteenth’s direction!”
“Mercenary! Dog! It appears the guests who have been trailing us have arrived. Please receive them. We will set out a small bounded field to negate all magic—but we cannot do the same for physical attacks, and sorcery is an exact art, such that one misstep when performing the ritual will result in failure. We will be completely defenseless.”
Then I realized—we were encircled. I sensed twenty good-for-nothing humans surrounding us. We really didn’t even have the option of running away at this point. There was nothing to do but brace for the worst.
Almost all at the same time, Thirteenth clicked his tongue resignedly, Dog-Face and I readied our swords, and the chanting of magic rose from all around. Ahhh, I really do hate sorcerers.
I heaved a sigh, then roared with my body and soul, charging forward with sword in hand.
Thanks to the bounded field, no magic could reach Zero and the others, so our targets were the attacking bears and wolves and such controlled by the witches. They were more fearsome opponents than humans were, but it felt much better to kill them than humans.
“Let us get underway, Lunar Chant! Zero!” Thirteenth spoke sharply, and drew circles on the ground with his staff. Just as Albus had drawn in his note, they were five circles joined by one large circle. Thirteenth recited something, muttering, and a complex pattern emerged to fill every nook and cranny of the figure.
“Huh…wait, how’re you doing that?! How’re you drawing a magic circle by chanting a spell?!” Albus shouted in amazement, but I didn’t even have the knowledge to be amazed by it. Even if I did, I had the impression that everything Thirteenth did was unusual, so I probably wouldn’t be surprised anyway.
In the blink of an eye, the smaller magic circle was complete. With all his strength, Thirteenth impaled its center with his staff. When he did so, the magic circle expanded greatly as if stretched, and became a ray of light as it raced far past.
“The magic circle has been enlarged to target size, transcription complete—now, Lunar Chant!”
On Thirteenth’s command, Albus hurriedly got on her knees and lifted her arms wide.
“Don’t let them! Get reinforcements now!”
“Reinforcements!” The cry went up everywhere among the witches. Dog-Face ran over, looking around nervously.
“This doesn’t feel good, big bro. —The small fries’re retreating.”
It really was so. The presences surrounding us drew back like the tide. At the same time, I heard a sound. A faint vibration shook my eardrums before suddenly changing into an earthshaking tremor.
—It was familiar, somehow.
“No way…an Ebru boar?! So all those small fry were just buyin’ time to call that!”
“And it sounds like three of ‘em too! What do we do, big bro? Free-for-alls ’n clever tactics’re a fighter’s work, right?!”
Sure, but we were up against three witch-controlled Ebru boars. On top of that, they were each coming from a different direction, charging toward the three currently performing sorcery. If we didn’t leave the smaller prey, we wouldn’t make it to deal with the boars, but if we did, we would be leaving the sorcerers defenseless.
—In that case.
“I’ll kill two of those boars. You stay here, keep guardin’ ‘em ’n, take down the last one!”
Without waiting for so much as a yes, I ran off in the direction of the noise. I climbed up the nearest tree and waited on a branch for the noise to pass by. Gauging out an appropriate time, I leapt into the vicinity of the Ebru boar’s snout. As it tried its hardest to shake me off, I wrapped a rope around its struggling muzzle, straining every muscle in my body as I pulled.
“Stop strugglin’! Just be good ‘n change direction…!”
Letting out a shrill cry, the Ebru boar reared its head and changed the direction it was charging in. —There was another Ebru boar where it was headed. I wondered what would happen to an Ebru boar, moving with enough force to smash down large trees, if another charging boar just like it crashed sidelong into it—.
Just before the collision, I jumped from the Ebru boar’s snout and rolled on the ground. A sound like two boulders colliding rang out, and then stillness descended. I got up from the ground. The two Ebru boars that had collided were foaming at their mouths, unconscious, but didn’t seem to have suffered any life-threatening injuries. They probably wouldn’t wake up for a while, but they were unbelievably sturdy. It was probably thanks to that thick layer of fat under their skin.
“…I ain’t got time to deal the final blow.”
They seemed delicious, but now wasn’t the time. I hurried back to the magic circle—and crashed into Dog-Face, who had taken the Ebru boar’s charge head-on and was sent flying.
“Ow…that hurt, ya dumb dog! Ya can’t even deal with one of ‘em on your own?!”
“Don’t be so unreasonable! They might be amateurs, but it’s an army of twenty of ‘em! I can’t hold ‘em all back and take on an Ebru boar all at the same time! I ain’t a fighter!”
So this is how good the former knight is. I’m sorry for expecting anything.
To make matters worse, the final boar was a tough, veteran warrior. And on top of that, when I saw that its left eye was blind, I realized it was probably the boar Albus’d sent after Zero and I.
Ain’t this a reunion.
Without even pausing for my greeting, the boar eyed Dog-Face and me, and came straight for us.
“Aim for the feet! I’ve got the right! You get the left! —Run, Dog-Face!”
“How many times do I gotta tell ya I’m a wolf?! Fuckin’ cut it out already!”
Enveloping our angry roars, Albus’ voice resounded through the air.
“Earth, water, fire, wind, sky. O blessed rulers of this present age. O those changing, rooted, and flowing.”
Calm and warm, that voice was unfittingly gentle and solemn for the situation.
How could she speak like this when her voice was normally so shrill?
Wondering, I ducked low to the ground while running and severed the boar’s leg from its body. A fallen beast’s strength combined with the force of an Ebru boar’s charge could snap even tough bone in two. Giving a piercing cry, the boar rolled on its back. I pressed my sword to roughly where its heart would be—and stabbed down with all my might.
The tip of the sword sliced through thick fat and compact muscle, reaching its powerful beating heart, and tore through.
The Ebru boar stretched its tail out straight and screeched until its last, then passed away.
“For as long as my life lingers. For as long as his strength persists. You shall bear this power within you—!”
Albus prostrated herself on the ground. In the space of a second, as if from nothing, something indistinct came into existence around her.
I could barely make out the shapes of humans, but—
“They’re the spirits that oversee Wenias. Well, they’re all demons when it comes to sorcery though. We did it, big bro. We won.”
Dog-Face answered my question as he cleaned the blood off his sword.
Albus broke into a grin as if relieved that the ritual was a success, and looked toward Thirteenth with pride. Protecting Zero and Albus with his magic-sealing bounded field, Thirteenth didn’t even blink at her gaze.
—Instead, he nodded once. That was probably the biggest compliment Thirteenth could give.
Zero raised both arms then, and shouted sonorously. Her voice was deafening and strong compared to Albus’, crushingly rich and heavy.
“O my nameless sovereign of demons. Descend upon the body of this sacrificial beast and hear me!”
Zero’s voice resounded in my head. All the blood in my body grew warm as if boiling, and a headache struck, pain so intense I could barely open my eyes. I collapsed under the agony.
“I hereby declare! From here on to perpetuity, for all those who walk upon this land, I reject all magic to which my power extends!”
For a moment, there was silence.
“—Sanction this! I declareth myself Zero!”
My breathing stopped for an instant. I writhed under the pain and agony, and clutched at the ground.
A ferocious beast, teeth bared, flew past me and raced savagely toward Zero.
I somehow managed to turn my head, but as the beast entered my sight, it halted and burst open.
Immediately the pain receded, and my senses dulled. A syrupy sensation stole over me, and I could no longer see.
And then I lost consciousness. Somewhere. Far away.
”I sanction this. How long it has been, my dearest—“
I thought I heard such a voice.