Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Not gonna eat?” I asked.
He frowned at me, clearly nervous. “No way. What if the food’s poisoned?”
“How would you know?!”
“Because I’m part animal.”
Albus stared at me blankly. He then glared at the table and began wolfing down the food.
“Wow, this is really awful!” he said, scowling at Thirteenth.
Zero nodded with satisfaction. For a moment, I almost wished I had the same courage and recklessness that Albus possessed, but if I did, I would have kicked the bucket a long time ago.
Wild animals don’t run away because they’re cowards. They run because their superior sense of danger warns them of possible threats.
It could have just been my imagination, but I thought I saw Thirteenth’s face twist a little after hearing complaints from both Zero and Albus. The man raised his hand slowly to summon a server. Apparently, I wasn’t just imagining things.
Shortly after, baked goods with fancy glittering sweet toppings were served to us on small plates.
Sugar is a luxury item, and confectioneries—which is basically just melted sugar—is something you don’t see often. Fancy-looking confectionery used solely as toppings is even rarer—found on food that only the nobility can afford. I had no way of knowing if Thirteenth meant it to be served after the meal, or if it was just his way of striking back after Zero and Albus’s criticism of the food.
It looked like Zero had not seen baked sweets before. “I would wager this does not have any flavor either,” she said as she brought a spoonful to her mouth. Then she froze completely.
I could say, without exaggeration, that Zero was beaming like a blooming flower. She was usually expressionless and gave the impression of a coldhearted woman. But this only granted her smile a deadly effect.
I glanced at Albus to find him grudgingly stuffing himself with the dessert while simultaneously enjoying it. Overall, I’d say it was Thirteenth’s overwhelming victory.
“Now then,” Zero breathed a sigh of satisfaction and pushed the plate to the side. She was in high spirits now. “Explain yourself, Thirteenth. You are supposed to be searching for the book, yet here you are, serving as the king’s sorcerer. Is there any reason you are playing such silly games?”
“I simply chose the most effective method of finding the book,” Thirteenth answered. “The one who stole it had already spread Magic throughout Wenias and is using this wicked syndicate called the Coven of Zero to sow fear and chaos among the masses. Many witches stand in the way of the book’s recovery, while I am only one. So I made a proposal to the king: I would assist with the witch hunts if he helped me find the book. This happened a year ago. Until now, I have not found it.”
“That’s a load of rubbish!” Albus stood up, slamming his fists on the table. His chair almost toppled over. “If anyone’s wicked, it’s you! The Coven of Zero is not a wicked syndicate. They protect witches who become targets of witch hunts. They storm into towns, but only to save witches about to get burned at the stake! What do you mean the book was stolen, anyway?! That person wrote—”
Albus swallowed the rest of his words. Their founder did not write the Grimoire of Zero. That much he already knew. How, then, did he come by it? There were two possibilities: either he received it from Zero directly, or he stole it.
The boy glanced at Zero, his eyes pleading for help, but she didn’t utter a single word.
“We’re not trying to sow fear and chaos throughout the kingdom…” he muttered.
“The current situation suggests otherwise.”
Albus had lost a bit of energy, while Thirteenth’s voice was still as harsh and confident.
“You lot claim to fight for true peace, yet you kill ordinary humans,” the sorcerer said. “If witches win this war, all that will be left is an overwhelming fear for them. True peace, then, can never be achieved.”
“We don’t kill for no reason!”
“The fact remains that people are dying. Do you even consider the lives of those you kill when you rescue witches?”
“It’s not our fault! We’re at war! Humans don’t stop hunting us down, so we have no choice but to fight back!”
“Can you really say for certain that you killed only those who were guilty of killing witches? That you didn’t slay the innocent? You believe that you and you alone are just. Such self-centeredness is what sparks wars!”
Thirteenth was saying almost the exact same words I said to Albus before. Wars begin from a series of retaliation. We might just get along, Thirteenth. But trying to make a kid understand that was too cruel.
Albus was on the verge of tears. Thirteenth, who didn’t seem to have a shred of mercy, proceeded to deal more devastating blows.
“There have been reports of witches raiding and pillaging all over the place, even towns and villages that are not involved in any witch hunts. Do you know just how many lives have been lost in these raids? Don’t you dare tell me you know nothing about it.”
The gruesome scene of carnage back in Latette popped into my mind. Albus knew there were witches slaughtering the innocent and looting settlements. I just couldn’t find a chance to ask him last time.
“They’re not part of the Coven!” Albus snapped. “They’re rogue sorcerers banished—”
“Rogues?” I asked.
Albus gave a start. I didn’t mean to startle him, but my voice did sound a little hard. He mentioned there were other groups out there besides the Coven of Zero. However, the term “rogue” does not refer to a completely independent organization. It means someone used to be part of a group, but subsequently left.
“I told you before,” Albus said. “The Coven of Zero teaches Magic to anyone who has the aptitude, be it vagrants or orphans…”
“I see… I get it now.”
I was wondering how the other groups learned Magic, and now I had my answer. They originally belonged to the Coven of Zero, but turned rogue and were now wreaking havoc across the land.
That means the witches we found in Latette all belonged to the Coven of Zero, and they were the cause of the town’s destruction. Albus’s pained look indicated he knew this.
“Some planned to abuse Magic as soon as they learned it,” Albus said. “We banished them from the Coven so they couldn’t learn any other spells. Unfortunately, Magic once learned can never be unlearned.”
Of course. Someone who had been oppressed all their life suddenly obtained overwhelming power, such that no ordinary person could possibly stop them. It was plain to see what would happen next.
“They turned to banditry and raiding settlements,” I said.
Albus nodded gravely. These rogue sorcerers were like clueless children playing around with deadly explosives.
Through the Grimoire of Zero, knowledge of Magic would be passed on to other people, spreading throughout the lands. Even if the book was reclaimed, there could be copies. If there was none, someone could have written down the first page. Once you spill ink into water, it will never regain its purity.
“I’m sure it’s the rogue sorcerers that attacked Latette,” Albus said. “They grouped up to attack the campus, probably to steal the Grimoire of Zero and gain more power.”
To sum it up, the sorcerers in this kingdom were divided into three factions at the moment.
First was the Coven of Zero who fought so witches could live in peace. Second was the rogue sorcerers, people who learned Magic from the Coven and were now using their power to wreak havoc. Third was the state sorcerer who hunts down both without distinction—Thirteenth.
Furthermore, there were forces that have been in this kingdom for a long time that had no intention of fighting nor learning Magic, but since they were not involved in this war anyway, it’s safe to count them out.
Witches alone gave me a headache already. With the number of sorcerers growing, I wouldn’t be able to find a safe place for me.
“An unregulated group is no organization,” Thirteenth said. “Just a bunch of ruffians who acquired a toy—the Grimoire of Zero—and are running amok. They must be purged, rounded up, and controlled, so order can be restored.” He quietly stood up. “You can be a valuable asset. It would be a waste to just have you killed. If you follow and serve me fully, I will promise to bestow upon you more knowledge and power.”
Albus was at a loss for words. “No wa—”
“If you refuse, you will be burned at the stake.”