Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“I learned Magic from the Coven of Zero,” the boy who called himself Albus began, stuffing his mouth with roasted meat.
Apparently, Albus was just an alias. When I asked why he was even using one, he and Zero both explained to me at the same time how sorcerers took great care not to reveal their real names, leaving me no choice but to concur.
“Coven of Zero? Sounds like a guild or something,” I said.
“I guess it’s similar to a guild, in the sense that we all practice the same profession. Joining the coven is a must if you want to learn Magic. There are rules and penalties in place as well.” Albus pulled down his collar to reveal a choker embedded with a red gem.
Looks like it could fetch for a good amount, the greedy part of me thought.
“This is the emblem of the Coven of Zero, given once you’re officially accepted,” he continued. “It’s a symbol of our loyalty to that person. Every member swears their allegiance through a witch’s blood seal.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“The founder of the Coven of Zero, who spread Magic throughout Wenias ten years ago. No one knows his name and what he looks like, so everyone just refers to him as “that person” or some other pronouns.”
So that means this dude stole the Grimoire of Zero from Moonsbow Forest ten years ago, brought it to Wenias, and founded the coven. I’m not sure what his goal is, but judging from the witch’s revolt going on right now, I doubt it’s anything good.
“He’s noble, proud, and never discriminates. Witches or normal people, it didn’t matter; he taught Magic to those who had the aptitude. In fact, there are many former vagrants and orphans in the coven. Then Magic gradually spread throughout the kingdom. So anyway, this book that contains knowledge about Magic is called the Grimoire of Zero, and it’s become the coven’s sacred book. For ten years now, in fact. I always thought it was Him who wrote it.”
Albus shifted his gaze toward Zero, who simply gave a shrug.
“The cover is made of ebony, and its hinge is gold, correct? That is, no doubt, my book,” Zero said fluently.
It didn’t look like she was going to tell the boy that the book was stolen. A wise decision. Revealing that their sacred book was stolen goods would definitely be met by severe backlash. As it stood, Albus couldn’t seem to make up his mind on whether to believe Zero’s words, or call her an impostor. He was, however, aware that her abilities were on a whole different level.
“You do not believe me?” Zero asked.
Albus hung his head low, then shook it slowly. “I don’t know. But you can use Magic… and if what you say is true…” He looked Zero straight in the eye. “You’re on our side… right?” Albus gave an awkward laugh.
A faint smile formed on Zero’s lips; it was neither affirmation nor negation. Albus nodded, taking her silence as the former.
“So why is this coven waging a war against the kingdom?” I asked.
“Because we couldn’t take it anymore.” Albus’s face clouded, and the air around him seemed to freeze. His cheerfulness when talking about the coven and its founder was now completely gone. “There are many witches in Wenias since a long time ago and they interacted with villagers. The people gave them bread or snacks in exchange for the medicines and the divinations that the witches provided.”
Witches and ordinary people, it would seem, had an ideal relationship in Wenias where they coexisted peacefully. I had heard of witches’ medicines curing incurable diseases and how they found lost articles using divinations. Known as white witches, villagers even protected them from witch hunts.
“The witches in this kingdom,” he continued, “only knew Sorcery that would allow them to coexist with other humans. But when all is said and done, witches to them are evil incarnate, and if something bad happens, they blame it on witches and hunt them down. They want to kill witches even when they haven’t done anything wrong. That’s why the Coven of Zero took action!”
Albus’s golden eyes were filled with rage and frustration, eyes of someone betrayed by the very people they trusted.
“Oh, come on,” I said. “Haven’t done anything wrong? Are you sure about that? I heard the witch hunts got worse ’cause a witch spread a plague. When she was burned at the stake, witches burned down a whole village in a fit of rage.”
The incident, known as the Banquet of Retribution, triggered the witch hunts in this kingdom. If you ask me, the witches brought it upon themselves. They exacted revenge on humans after one of theirs was killed for spreading a plague, after all. It was only natural that a large-scale hunt would ensue.
Albus flared up. “A plague? Do they have proof that a witch spread it?”
“Hell if I know. I only heard rumors. Pretty sure they executed her because they had proof, though.”
“Don’t talk if you don’t know anything, then! They had no evidence. It just so happened that a witch was living near the village where the disease spread. But they ganged up on a lone witch and burned her at the stake! That whole village deserved to get burned down!”
“Oh, they deserved it, eh?” I sneered. “So you did burn a whole village down, yeah? Revenge or not, witches slaughtered all the villagers. Witches didn’t do anything wrong? Yeah, right. The witches in this kingdom did, in fact, trigger the large-scale witch hunt.”
“Are you saying we should’ve just kept our mouths shut and done nothing after our comrade was murdered?!”
“Not at all. But come on, burning a whole village for one witch? Yeah, sounds awfully fair.”
Albus was clearly shaken, his golden eyes quivering. “Well—”
“Let me ask you, kid. Did all the villagers help with the witch hunt? What about the babies? The innocent? Those who just happened to be in the village at the wrong time? Those who just lived there? Or are you saying the witches actually chose the victims properly? Most likely not.”
“You may be right, but…”
“If you insist your indiscriminate killing of the villagers is justified, then so is hunting witches indiscriminately. Vengeance gave birth to vengeance. In short, this is a fair war between witches and everyone else. It doesn’t matter which side started it. What was simply a skirmish escalated to an all-out war because of the Banquet of Retribution. You witches started the war. That’s an undeniable fact.”
Albus glowered at me, his lips twitching.
Did I go too far? Sure he’s a sorcerer, but he’s only a kid.
“But… Solena tried to save the village!” Choking back tears, the boy forced the words out from his lips.
“Solena? Who?” I asked.
Albus grimaced. He seemed more hurt than offended. “Solena… was the name of the witch that was killed,” he said. “She was the reason why the witches struck back.”
“She was the best witch in the kingdom. She was the most long-lived, and the kindest witch around. Solena was greatness personified. There was no illness she couldn’t cure. Every famous witch in Wenias learned from her. She helped a lot of people!”
So she was basically their leader.
“A Mooncaller witch,” Zero added.
“A what?” I said.
“Witches are divided into various schools depending on how they apply Sorcery. Just like how people who work with iron can either be an artisan or a blacksmith.”
“I see what you mean.” Just like how mercenaries had different weapon and battlefield preferences. It wasn’t strange at all for witches to have distinct classifications.
“Mooncaller witches interact with humans and strive to grant their wishes. This made them creative, excelling at inventing new ways to apply Sorcery. They created many wonderful techniques, from incense that wards off nightmares to stones sealed with the power to bring rain. Wenias is where the school was founded. There are many famous witches in this land and Solena stood at the top of them all. I would have loved to meet her.”
Albus nodded. “Solena was a virtuous witch. A year ago, she used Sorcery to try to save the plague-ridden village. But they accused her of spreading it and killed her! It’s just too cruel and unfair!”
“Anyone can claim anything,” I said. “Who knows? Maybe Solena did spread the plague.”
Fury blazed in Albus’s eyes. “How dare you insult—”
“Calm down, lad,” Zero intervened. “Mercenary is not to blame for his statements. The world fears witches. Killing people out of rage will only serve to foster such fear and affirm the notion that witches are evil.”
“But—” Albus pursed his lips. He probably realized that nothing he could say would convince me.
Sorry, but I absolutely despise witches. You can’t expect me to see witches in a new light that easily.
I finally saw the whole picture. The murder of Solena, the greatest witch in Wenias, caused the pent-up anger of the witches, who had been enduring witch hunts for years, to explode. The resulting Banquet of Retribution fueled the people’s fear of witches even more, and a kingdom-wide witch hunt commenced. The Coven of Zero then rose up in response, which led to an all-out war.