Razar rushed over to them. When he noticed Tinassha standing behind Oscar, he raised his voice in surprise.
“Miss Tinassha, so you are here! Everyone is looking for you!”
She looked awkward. Oscar tapped at her head.
“So it’s because you went out to fool around. You’ll be scolded for sure.”
“That’s not the case here! Someone was murdered!”
This time, both of them were surprised at Razar’s words.
“Can we see the body?”
When Oscar arrived at the back alley in question with Tinassha and Razar in tow, the crowd of soldiers and magicians broke apart and the Chief Magician, Kum, stepped out. He bowed and led Oscar into the alley, which was seldom visited by anyone.
Kum lifted the black cloth on the ground. The thing under was just a lump of meat burned to black; it didn’t retain any humanoid features anymore.
Starting with Razar, those who saw the body took a step back with hands pressed to their mouths. On the other hand, Oscar stayed calm while Tinassha squinted her eyes, observing the thing that was once a human.
“Do we know who this was?”
“Magician Temis. His accessories are intact.”
Tinassha exclaimed, and all eyes were focused on her. Oscar looked at her with an inscrutable expression.
“Do you know that person?”
“He was in charge of the area next to mine today. We exchanged greetings.”
“Yes, that is why we were looking for you, Lady Tinassha. During the thirty minutes from Temis’ lights went out until his body was found, your light spheres were still lit, yet you disappeared from the moat area… Where on earth have you been?”
The festival was almost over, and Kum’s words reverberated clearly in the street.
It was confirmed that Temis’ light had gone out at a bit over eight thirty in the evening.
It was one hour after the drowning incident, and immediately after his lover had come for him only to notice that he hadn’t been there.
Since his duty hadn’t been over, other magicians searched for him together with his lover, but he hadn’t been found in the area. About nine, his body had been discovered in a back alley a short way from the moat. It was clear that his death had been unnatural.
“I seem to be quite suspicious.”
“You’re the prime suspect, isn’t it?”
Oscar and Tinassha agreed, but neither seemed to be nervous. They whispered to each other while following the soldiers and magicians to an audience.
“Well, if it comes to that, I can just reveal my true identity, right?”
“That’ll be worse than you being the culprit…”
When they were talking, the long hallway had come to an end, and they arrived at a large, non-decorated ancient door. Oscar stepped forward, and the two guards flanking the door opened it.
The generals and magicians entered the room with their heads bowed; they neatly broke up to stand to the left and right sides before the throne. Tinassha stood in the middle, and Oscar was right next to the throne.
The King that entered the room was a relatively young king who was just a little above fifty years old. His hair and eye color were the same as Oscar’s, but his aura was gentle, and there were traces of Tinassha’s former contractor in his kind eyes.
“Are you the magician my son brought back?”
The King looked at Tinassha intently. She accepted his gaze without cowering.
“Have we met somewhere before?”
The question startled both Oscar and Tinassha, but nothing showed on their faces.
After leaving Farsas seventy years ago, Tinassha had never shown up in this country again. But maybe the King had been told something about the witch who had stood on the battlefront as the former King’s contractor.
But now was not the time to pay attention to such things. Tinassha smiled brightly.
“No, this is the first time I’ve got to meet you. I am Tinassha.”
She drew one leg back and bent her knees deeply for a greeting. Her movements were elegant and, naturally, everyone was fascinated.
The King inclined his head as if still being caught in something. He looked around at those who were standing in waiting, then turned his gaze back to Tinassha and opened his mouth.
“A magician was murdered. Are you involved?”
“No. I know nothing about it.”
She replied immediately and firmly. Sighs filled the room, and a commotion began.
The King took a long breath and looked up at Oscar, who was standing next to him.
“I leave it to you. Pick someone suitable for the investigation and put this to an end.”
The King stood and left through a back door. Everyone bowed deeply and started to move in search of the next thing to do.
The senior civil servants left for the festival’s clean-ups, and the staff that worked on the cases gathered in another room, starting with General Art. They sat in a circle and rapidly confirmed with each other about the state of the body and the chronological order of events.
Tinassha was at the center of that circle, silently listened to the inspection on herself going on without flinching or being defiant.
“Isn’t it suspicious to not be at one’s assigned area in the first place?”
“Where on earth was she, and what did she do?’
“It’s not even confirmed that she can use magic, is it? Maybe she used lamps for the lights.”
“Ah, those were magical lights. I saw them myself.”
Art raised his hand and said.
“The light suddenly increased in intensity, and when I came close to look, they were light spheres.”
Those were the first positive words about her, hearing which the others were at a loss for words for a moment. Meldina continued, breaking the awkward silence.
“When that child nearly drowned, Temis was still there.”
“Ah, I did remember seeing him.”
Art explained about seeing the magician raising his arm. The black magical design on his arm had been impressive, he added.
But a magician, a man, stood and interrupted the softened atmosphere.
“If those were truly magical lights, then why wasn’t she nearby? Isn’t that the question here? It’s very strange.”
It was Chief Magician Kum who reined in the hot-tempered man. He was a man approaching old age; rubbing his shaved swarthy head, he gestured at Tinassha with his palm open.
“She comes from the tower; the methodology of her magic is probably different from ours. Increasing the light’s intensity half-way is not something simple to begin with. Those light spheres were originally created to be sustainable for a long period of time; adjusting the light in response to an unexpected incident is not something anyone here can do. I’m not surprised if she could maintain the spheres from a distance.”
Tinassha, who had remained silent so far, was a bit impressed at Kum’s flexible thinking.
Just as expected of the magician that had been in Farsas for decades and said to be unshakable. The reputation of his powerful magic and good judgement had sometimes reached the tower through her familiar.
At the same time, she began to consider how much she should reveal about her true self.
Just as Kum turned his gaze on her to prompt her to say something, the door opened and Oscar, having finished some other work, entered.
“How are things going?”
“We’re about to ask her for details…”
“Where were you, and what were you doing?!”
Speaking over Kum, the magician that had been held back earlier pressed Tinassha. But just as she opened her mouth to answer, Oscar casually said:
“She was with me. Razar saw it.”
That truth caused a great stir among all those presented.
Kum eyes widened, and Meldina’s face stiffened for an instant. Art shrugged when he noticed that.
But the one guilty of causing the commotion paid no mind to his retainers’ surprise and just looked around them.
“Don’t waste your time on a wrong answer. She is not the culprit; I guarantee that. …Tinassha!”
She smiled and stood up. She turned both her palms up and looked at the people around.
“Just as Master Kum said, the magic I command has a slightly different methodology. I am relatively good at soul magic like light spheres… I can do things like this.”
A light sphere appeared between her palms.
It floated to the ceiling, glided towards the window and, slipping through the crevice, it flew into the night sky. Even when it was at a distance hard to see and had become a small dot, it still didn’t lose its light. Those who saw that sighed, some longer and some shorter.
“It was imprudent of me to leave my post. I understand that confusion is unavoidable in such a situation. I am truly sorry.”
She bowed deeply. Everyone, except for a few, looked at her awkwardly.
Taking stock of the air in the room, Oscar called Art’s name; he was the only one who had a carefree expression.
“Art, you will lead the investigation. Meldina, support him.”
At that order, the two exchanged a glance, then silently and respectfully saluted.
※ ※ ※ ※
It was deep into the night, and a new day would come soon. Art and Meldina, who had been ordered to investigate the case, were walking down a hallway towards the castle’s gate to return to the crime scene and take another look.
“Isn’t she the culprit? If she can leave her post without having to be concerned about the light spheres, isn’t it even more suspicious?”
“You think His Highness is protecting her, Meldina?”
She didn’t answer her childhood friend’s question clearly, but it was apparent from her bitter expression what she was thinking. Art lightly shrugged at that.
“Well, of course it’s possible, but I don’t think that’s the case. Razar also said that she was really with His Highness. I feel a bit uneasy at that.”
“It’s just a hunch, but actually, she’s… She’s quite a scary person, don’t you think?”
Meldina laughed at his out-of-place words, but then noticed that he looked serious. She looked at him closely.
“What is it? You’re serious?”
“I am. She… I realized it just now when I was close to her, but at moments my skin became tingling then. Or perhaps I should say that I was instinctively on guard. She’s actually that kind of person; she just hides it.”
“Well, isn’t that too suspicious?”
“No, it doesn’t feel that way… Well, forget it.”
Art smiled wryly and shook his head.
He couldn’t possibly convey to Meldina that sometimes, he felt like he could actually see the unfathomable depth of the night in Tinassha’s dark eyes.
If that magician truly wanted to kill someone, she probably wouldn’t be concerned about things like locations or other people. She would probably leave no traces, or maybe do it even more publicly. She was the type of person that was capable of such things.
Could it be that, Oscar was also aware of that fact and so, had set her aside?
He thought back to the figure of the Master he served and lightly shook his head.
Before getting to the scene, the two of them met up with the magician who had examined the body.
There were golden streaks in the small-stature magician’s brown hair, and he introduced himself as Carve. It appeared that he had been examining the body together with Kum a while ago. He walked alongside Art and Meldina, and explained to them about the results of the examination.
“The cause of death seems to be poison. Some burned vomit was left in the alley, and we were able to extract poison from them. It’s a type of old magic potion called Limas. Tasteless and odorless, once ingested, it will cause vomiting and systematic hyperemia; the blood will pour out from the nose. Death will come in a few minutes.”
“Is it something easy to obtain?”
“It can be brewed if one has the knowledge. It can be bought if one looks for it, but not in Farsas.”
Carve answered while checking the documents he was carrying. Art asked to dig in deeper.
“Well, is it something that any of our magicians can make?”
“About half of us can. But as someone specialized in magic potions, if I want to kill someone, I won’t use Limas. It’s probably the same for the others.”
“It’s too troublesome, both the process and the ingredients, since it’s an old potion. Magic potions can be made if one has the techniques, but those techniques themselves are heavily influenced by soul magic… This potion is ancient. There are poisons that are simpler to make nowadays.”
“The poison itself doesn’t have anything in particular to point to the culprit, but why did they use such a troublesome thing?”
Art asked Carve while easing his scowling eyebrows with his fingers:
“So, what about the dismembering and burning?”
Carve turned to another page of his documents, looking as if he was touching something unpleasant.
“The body was dismembered shortly after death. That was the reason why there wasn’t much bleeding. The head, both arms and both legs were cut off, and the torso was divided into two. It seemed to be done with an axe or something being swung downward. Some cuts were made in one stroke, others in several. Then it was the burned. Oil was poured over and ignited.”
“That’s quite a lot.”
All three looked disgusted.
It was already midnight when they got to the back alley, but lively sounds of drinking still came from all around the town.
But this place, aside from being in a blind spot of passerby, was originally a dead-end. There were no windows in the buildings on its left and right; it was a different world from the hustle and bustle of the town.
“Who was the first person to discover the body?”
“It was one of our magicians. He found it while searching for Temis. When Temis’ lover saw, she became half-crazed. She’s resting in the castle for now.”
“So that’s how it was…”
Meldina hugged herself as if she was also feeling the chill.
“What do you think, Art?”
He was looking at something a little distance away. He came back to the other two.
“I want to check out the moat too. But it’s already dark, so maybe tomorrow. I’ll check the moat, ask some questions, then report to His Highness.”
“What did you find?”
Art sleepily waved his hand at Meldina, who was staring at him wide-eyed.
“No, nothing at all.”
The two were disappointed, but Art just looked up at the stars in the sky.
“But somehow, this whole thing is suspicious. For example, why do you think the body has to be dismembered and burned?”
“For some kind of ritual?”
Meldina and Carve answered at almost the same time, but Art shook his head at both.
“I’m considering of ‘substitute’ and ‘disposal’. …Well, let’s go back for today. I want to drink to my heart’s content, then sleep.”
Art rubbed his neck and walked away without hesitation. Flustered, Meldina chased after him.