Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Our founder fights to attain true peace for witches,” Albus said. “They’re trying to put an end to all the witch hunts in this kingdom once and for all! That’s why Solena’s granddaughter joined the Coven of Zero.”
“Can witches have children?” I asked.
“Well, duh.” Albus shot me a scornful look. Wow, he really hates me.
“Witches are humans too, you know,” he continued. “Of course they can have children. So anyway, that person doesn’t show himself, so Solena’s granddaughter leads the coven in His stead. Apparently she doesn’t even meet the founder or receive orders from Him, but it’s important to have a leader that you can actually see.”
A puppet leader, then. The fact that she was the direct descendant of the late Solena would serve as a great cause for the Coven of Zero to unite.
“She’s really beautiful! She’s smart and brave. She’s just like Solena!” Albus’s expression changed from sullen to euphoric. His eyes glistened as he proceeded to ramble on about the charms of the one he served. He seemed completely intoxicated, wearing a look of adoration and infatuation mixed together, which made my skin crawl.
I bet he’s not even fighting out of loyalty for their founder. He just wants to get in some girl’s pants.
“She learned Magic quickly too,” Albus added. “She’s slim and tall, and she has massive knockers!”
Damn, I would’ve loved to meet her. Not for any particular reason, though.
“Solena’s death made us realize that for witches and ordinary humans to truly coexist, we must fight each other once. We have to tell them that we’re humans too, and we don’t want to get killed. Otherwise, witches will just keep getting hunted for no reason.”
Up until a year ago—when the Banquet of Retribution occured—witch hunts were extremely rare in Wenias, and people coexisted with witches, although passively. Keyword: passive. The world had a tacit understanding not to get too involved with witches. If a problem occurred, people would immediately put the blame on them.
In short, the world didn’t treat witches like human beings. If something terrible happened, they held witches accountable. Many believed—subcounsciously—that killing witches would solve their problems. This kind of coexistence was obviously not something witches would be happy about.
Then ten years ago, the witches of Wenias learned Magic from the grimoire of Zero. If Magic could be learned in five years, ten years would be enough for it to spread throughout the whole kingdom.
Witches now had a legitimate cause and the power to wage a war. Fighting under these circumstances meant returning to a peaceful coexistence was no longer be possible.
“That’s why I decided to join the fight. The war’s already started anyway. If I just sit around and do nothing, more and more of us will die. But I’m still weak, so…”
“So you wanted the head of a Beastfallen,” Zero muttered.
Albus gave an awkward laugh.
Why are you laughing? It’s not funny! We’re talking about my life here!
“Yeah. I’m sure you know that Beastfallen heads are one of the best sacrifices you can offer to demons. If I had one, I could use highly advanced spells easily. You cast three Steims earlier without an incantation. And you even nullified my spell. I didn’t expect that one. That was incredible.”
Albus sighed as he gazed at Zero with envious eyes, a dreamy expression on his face. He seemed to be the type who admired power.
“I have good affinity with Magic. I learned quickly too. But my mana is just too weak. I tried using high-level spells from the grimoire, but I just couldn’t cast them despite following the instructions word for word.”
I turned my attention to Zero. “Are you sure you didn’t make mistakes when writing it?” I meant it as a snide remark, but she didn’t seem offended.
“Everything is as it should be,” Zero said. “There is a trick to that book. A safety device, if you will. An inexperienced witch with little mana will not be able to wield powerful spells.”
“What’s this mana you’re talking about?” I asked.
“It is similar to physical strength. The more you have, the stronger you are. More mana can make up for lack of experience. It is also possible for Magic spells to go out of control when someone casts a spell that is beyond their capabilities by using a high-quality sacrifice.”
“You mean my head?”
“Yes, your head. My “negation” is one fail-safe as well that prevents such things from happening. I command a high-ranking demon to negate the spell of a low-ranking demon.”
I nodded at her explanation.
“To sum it up,” Albus sidled up to me, his eyes bright, “I’m still weak, but with a Beastfallen’s head, I can cast a powerful spell if I really need it. I can protect everyone from witch hunters. So please, give me your head!”
“Hell no! How about I kill you instead?!” I smacked him hard with my fist.
Albus yelped, holding his head with teary eyes.
“Aren’t you a little too young to be protecting others? You look more or less fifteen. Have your family protect you instead. Your parents are probably worried about you.”
“That’s none of your business! There are times when a kid has to stand up and fight too.”
“That so? How awfully noble of you,” I said sarcastically before shifting my gaze to Zero. “So what’s the plan, witch?”
You’re getting that book back, right? Unfortunately, things were a bit complicated now.
“Where is the book now, lad?” Zero asked.
“It’s… in the campus.”
“Campus?” I asked.
“Our lair,” Albus answered bluntly. It was a code, just like Zero’s “cellar”.
“Can you show us the way to your lair?” Zero asked. “I need the book for something.”
“Of course!” Albus flashed a smile. “The Coven of Zero doesn’t refuse anyone who means no harm.”
After consuming the rest of the roasted bird, we trudged along a narrow path in the forest and onto a stone-paved road. Our destination: the witches lair that housed the Grimoire of Zero, the campus.
According to Albus, it would take two days to get there on foot if we cut straight through the forest, but we decided to stop by Fomicaum first, a town located on the way to the lair. The boy wanted to bypass it entirely, but I had some business there I needed to take care of.
All travellers enroute to the capital Plasta, a city protected by solid walls, always stopped by Fomicaum. The border patrols informed me that upon arriving at the capital, the authorities would check whether you passed through Fomicaum or not. In other words, if you didn’t receive an entry pass from Fomicaum, they would assume you were a shady fellow who, for some reason, avoided entering a major city.
We wouldn’t want that, of course. While we were currently headed to the campus, our final destination was Plasta, where we would search for Thirteenth. Escorting a witch was already a huge problem on its own, so I wanted to at least get rid of any potential issues—by entering the city legally.
Zero and I walked alongside each other at a sluggish pace, while Albus was already quite some distance ahead. He looked like an innocent child, occasionally stopping to pick some weeds, or catch a frog, which he stuffed into his bag.
“He probably plans to use them as sacrifices,” Zero said.
Okay, never mind. My impression of him changed completely in a second. He might look like a child, but he was a conniving sorcerer, one that was showing us to a witches’ lair.
Talk about depressing. Zero most likely plans to retrieve the book from the coven, but will things really go that well? Assuming it does, what will happen to my head?
My thoughts might’ve shown on my face as Zero spoke.
“Relax,” she said. “Witches do not steal another’s property. I just have to say you are my servant, and they will not lay a hand on you.”
“I sure hope so. I don’t want a bunch of witches on my ass.”
“I will protect you if that happens. You do not have to worry about anything.”
“Do you think I am lying?”
“Let’s say you’re not. Do you expect me to trust you?”
Zero went silent for a moment as she pondered over my question, then smiled cheerfully.
“I do not. Years of solitude and countless betrayals can make a truly powerful warrior. Entrusting your back to others can lead to overreliance and carelessness, which in turn, can lead to death. So I will not ask you to trust me. I will protect you on my own accord, for I need you.”
“Well, uhh… that’s reassuring.” I let my honest thoughts slip out of my mouth.
Scratching my nape, I turned my gaze back in front. “I will protect you.” “I need you.” The words messed with my head. No one had said them to me before.
Up ahead Albus stood impatiently, waiting for us to catch up. Zero, however, showed no signs of hastening her steps.
“Will you be all right?” I asked.
Cocking her head, Zero looked at me quizzically, as if asking about the meaning behind my question.
“You may be a powerful witch, but they’re a group of magic-wielders who learned from the book. What if you lose?”
“Oh, you are worried about me?”
“Wanna know why?”
“Because you love me.”
Zero chuckled. “If you are worried about what would happen to our contract if I die, then there is no need for concern. There is not even the slightest chance that I would lose. I do, however, plan to retreat in case I am at a disadvantage. With Thirteenth by my side, a mob of witch-wannabes do not stand a chance.”