Volume 1 — Chapter 6: Forbidden Spell
—What was wrong with that?
The ones who did not want an uneasy coexistence, who rather pushed to win true tranquility for the witches, were ‘that person’ and the Coven of Zero. Why would Thirteenth, someone who fought to purge them—
Be against a return to the way things were?
Zero was clutching the bars of her birdcage with her head down when I heard her strained voice.
“Thirteenth’s goal is neither the reclaiming of the Book of Zero nor the resolution of the chaos in Wenias. Those are merely the means. What he seeks is the end which they will bring…”
“C’mon—I’m always tellin’ ya ta explain the situation in a way that even an idiot can understand, ain’t I?! What does Thirteenth want then? Ain’t gettin’ the stolen book back the whole point Thirteenth left yer cave?!” I yelled, glowering at Thirteenth. Then, it hit me.
On the end of the unnecessarily large staff Thirteenth was holding shone a scarlet jewel.
Wasn’t that—the same as the gemstone on Albus’ neck?
I’m not particularly smart. But I can wrap my head pretty well around conspiracies and secret plots, on account of being a mercenary. What if what Thirteenth wanted wasn’t to end the conflict stemming from the Book of Zero—in other words, the conflict between the witches and the kingdom—but something it would bring about?
That would mean Thirteenth needed the war if he wanted to achieve his goals at all.
And the one who stole the Book of Zero and caused the war in Wenias was ‘that person’.
But pretty much every Wenian knew of Thirteenth’s antagonism toward ‘that person’—and the Coven of Zero.
Who the heck was ‘that person’, who stole the Book of Zero from the cave, spread magic far and wide in Wenias, and was essentially a figure in the shadows—and where were they now?
I felt beads of sweat spring up all over me. I saw that in Thirteenth’s hand was a single book. Was that cover made of ebony?
—What kind of book was it? You said it was a book about sorcery.
I had asked Zero, and Zero had answered thus.
—The cover was ebony polished to a mirror-like sheen, hinged with gold, and embellished in impossible detail.
In Thirteenth’s grip was a book perfectly fitting that description.
As if it had been there since the very beginning, one could say.
“Hey, wait a sec…it couldn’t be…you can’t be serious, Thirteenth.”
What if the Book of Zero hadn’t been stolen at all?
What if Thirteenth had lied about leaving the cave to search for the book, and instead left to spread the word of magic?
‘That person’, who killed the witches of the cave, stole the Book of Zero and made widely known its teachings, and Thirteenth, who left to chase after them and recover the Book of Zero, and was fighting the witches of Wenias.
It couldn’t be—they couldn’t be one and the same, right?
“To stop the witch hunts completely, it is necessary that the masses be made to think that all the bad witches have disappeared.”
Zero’s voice responded. Thirteenth looked down at me, still expressionless.
“To do so, the bad witches must first be drawn out into the limelight. One must hand them power, opportunities, and turn their smoldering coals into a blazing bonfire. And finally, one must publicly extinguish their flame—or the rank and file will remain in fear of witches.”
Over Zero’s voice, Thirteenth’s speech at the stake echoed back in my head. He had proclaimed loudly that he would hunt down the evil witches for justice and for the people.
“That is why,” Zero strung her words together in a trembling voice, “Thirteenth spread magic throughout this kingdom, and caused the witches to rebel by agitating the Coven of Zero, all under the persona of ‘that person’. And he has made his way into the imperial castle, acting as the sorcerer of good with the power to withstand them. Ever since the beginning—”
The book had never been stolen.
—Justice could not exist without evil. Once upon a time, the Church had painted the witches as evil to have the populace trust in its righteousness. Had Thirteenth managed to do what they had once done?
“…It was all planned out?” I asked waveringly. However, it was not a question but a confident statement.
“The Coven of Zero’s revolt…the wayward sorcerers’ riots…you—you planned all of it?! Thirteenth!”
Despite depending on the witches, the people of Wenias could not accept them. That was a clear double standard. Of course, the witches were unhappy to live in such a world.
However, the impression the people had of the witches was far more kind than that of the people of other nations. That the fairytale-like existence of Solena gave a kind of peace of mind was undeniable.
The foundation for cooperation had been laid, yet there were also the embers of war. That was why Thirteenth had chosen Wenias for his plans. By spreading the power of magic and destroying the balance of power, he would create an opportunity for the eruption of the witches’ dissatisfaction. Once he had done that, he could hunt and kill the rebel witches under the banner of righteousness.
—Everything was for the “true tranquility of the witches” that would result.
A deep, tired sigh escaped through Thirteenth’s lips.
“Planned out—I suppose it was so. Still, it was the witches and people of this land who came to conclusions and took action through their own conscious thought. I did not order them to.”