In the morning, Art inspected the moat with Carve’s help, then went to meet the lover of the murdered magician. She was completely frantic and kept shouting that she wanted to find the one who had killed her lover, so they couldn’t get anything worthy from her. Hearing her continuous shrieking gave Art a headache.
“After all, what kind of person was the victim?”
Meldina asked as the three of them had lunch together. Carve titled his head at the question, a cup still in his hand.
“If I must say… Someone who knew how to swim with the tide. He did everything smoothly, and was popular with women.”
“Was he easy when it came to women?”
“He was, but he was amiable and good at taking care of others, so no one bore a grudge against him.”
Carve said and took a break to pop a boiled potato into his mouth. Art smiled wryly hearing his words.
“Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”
“We’ll never know the truth.”
Art and Meldina ordered the same meal set.
The cafeteria was near the castle and crowded, since it was lunchtime. Probably no one thought that amongst the lighthearted conversations going on there, there were people discussing a gruesome murder case.
The young general sipped on his cup and collected his thoughts. Meldina raised another question as if to give her childhood friend more food for thought
“Other than his personality, how was he? His interests and such?
“Talking about people from the castle, I can’t think of anyone who will benefit from his death. Each of us researches a different topic… There is no sense of competition.”
“What was he researching?”
She asked again, eyes downcast. She was trying to carefully pick up some noodles.
“Magic lakes and elemental magic. Regarding magic lakes, the one in old Druuza in particular.”
“Magic lakes? What are they?”
“They’re not actual lakes, but places where a considerable amount of magic concentrated and accumulated underground. There are a few of them in the world. Among them, Temis was researching Druuza’s magic lake, the stage of the war seventy years ago. He went there once every month.”
At those familiar words, Art and Meldina exchanged a surprised look.
“The war seventy years ago, where The Beast and a witch fought each other?”
“Yes, that one.”
A heavy silence fell on the table in an instant.
To Farsas, the war seventy years ago against the invasion of Druuza, its neighboring country, was an unforgettable history.
Druuza had made full use of its magicians, giving Farsas’ army a hard time. Before their fierce attacks, a considerable amount of Farsas’ land had been invaded.
The worst was “The Beast”, a gigantic magical weapon that had suddenly appeared on the war front. With its overwhelming destructive power, it had kicked Farsas’ army around on the battlefield. In front of such a mighty enemy that they couldn’t do anything about, the generals and magicians had been despaired.
King Regius had taken down The Beast, Druuza’s worst magical weapon, with the help of a witch.
As a result, Farsas had won despite the human losses, and had spent thirty years to recover.
On the other hand, the defeated Druuza had declined sharply, partly due to the unstable politics at the time, and was now divided into four countries.
“Isn’t The Beast not dead yet? It’s dangerous to go there, isn’t it?”
“That was why he went. If The Beast’s seal is broken, the magic lake is supposed to be affected.”
“Hm… Somehow this is getting bigger. I can’t guess the culprit at all.”
“Didn’t you say you know before?”
“I mean the method. The culprit is still blank.”
Art casually picked up the garnish on Meldina dish and popped it into his mouth. She sighed exasperatedly, then pulled herself together and turned to Carve.
“What about the elemental magic research? Was he an elementalist?”
“No, he wasn’t. Elementalists are extremely rare. Besides, they’re very exclusive. There are some who use elemental magic among us, but they are no true elementalists.”
“Eh, is that so? That’s unexpected.”
“What’s different about a true elementalist?”
At Art’s question, the magician pushed his empty plate away and spread his hands.
“The power is completely different. An elementalist excels at manipulating nature; a platoon of them can wage war against a country.”
“Woa, that’s amazing.”
“To make up for that, they rarely appear in history. Asides from innate qualities, elementalists must be chaste. If not, they’ll lose their power. That’s why they gather in a small group and hardly associate with outsiders. It seemed like Temis also tried to analyze that covert elemental magic; the design of his tattoo was from elemental magic.”
“Ah, that one. He was rather enthusiastic, wasn’t he?”
Art recalled the black tattoo.
He looked regretfully at his and Meldina’s empty plates, then raised both arms and stretched.
“How about going to His Highness’ place and report? Let’s borrow his wisdom.”
Following those words, they left the cafeteria.
After receiving the brief about their investigation, Oscar smiled teasingly at Art.
“What? Did you figure it out?”
“I think I may have known their method.”
“And the objective of the culprit is?”
“Nothing at all.”
Oscar laughed at that flat answer.
“Well, let’s hear about their method then. Ah, let’s gather all those involved. I want to see everyone’s reaction.”
After Art had left, Oscar called out to the empty space behind him.
“Right, you come too, Tinassha.”
There was no answer, but he could feel her sighing next to him. Oscar laughed in amusement.
Everyone gathered in a large room usually used for magic practice.
Those who were friends with the victims and those who were involved, even indirectly, were all in the room. There were magicians, soldiers, and civil servants.
Oscar sat in the innermost part of the room, Art and Kum at both his sides, Meldina next to them. The others sat in a large circle.
Tinassha stood outside the circle at Oscar’s back, leaning on the wall. Opposite her on the other side of the room was Temis’ lover Feura, who sat in front of the door.
The victim didn’t have any family. For this reason, all those present were from the castle except for Feura.
“Well, seems like everyone is here. Let’s hear General Art’s investigation and inference.”
Oscar said simply and gave the stage to Art, who was waiting on his left side. Art took one step into the circle and looked around all those present, one by one. Carve was also among them.
“First of all, let’s summarize Temis’ actions on that day. All magicians in charge of the moat came to their assigned areas at six o’clock and created the light spheres. Of course, he did the same. Immediately after… He met Miss Tinassha, the one in question, and exchanged greetings.”
As he was saying, Art looked back at Tinassha for her confirmation. She smiled wryly and nodded in response.
“There were no eyewitness accounts of him for a while after that. There was such a crowd, but no one knew if he was there or not. At about seven thirty, there was an uproar at Miss Tinassha’s area, which was next to him, because a child nearly drowned. He was seen then, and the main eyewitness was me. I saw a magician raising his hand to greet me from a short distance away.”
He raised his right hand and nodded to reenact that moment.
“Then, after eight thirty, his girlfriend… Miss Feura came for a visit and noticed that Temis wasn’t there. She asked other magicians about it, and when everyone noticed his absence, his light spheres went out. After that, at about nine o’clock, Temis’ remains were found during the search.”
Art walked to the center of the circle, turned around and looked at everyone in the surroundings. Each was listening to him with the expressions he had expected.
“For that reason, up until now, we’ve thought that the murder took place between eight thirty and nine. That’s why the doubt is on Miss Tinassha, who was absent at the same time. ―――― But, killing him, then wait a while before dismembering the body to avoid bleeding, then burn the remains in thirty minutes… Isn’t that a bit too much?”
Art exchanged a look with Carve. In response, Carve left for the adjoining room.
“Today, I took a dive under the area of the moat that Temis was in charge of. I didn’t expect to have to dive into the moat for two consecutive days like that.”
As he joked, Carve came back carrying something. Art pointed to it.
“And I found that.”
The thing Carve was carrying in his hands was a large sphere made from blue glass. The inside of the sphere was sooty, and there was melted wax at the bottom.
“They were quite big so I could only bring one back, but there were six of them at the bottom of the moat, evenly spaced.”
Half of those present immediately understood what that meant. With a dumbfounded expression, they looked at Art, then at the sphere Carve was carrying.
“There were seals so that water couldn’t enter the spheres. But it seems like with magic, the candles can be lit from outside.”
Kum confirmed his words with a meek “Yes…”.
“Of course it would take some time for these spheres to go out when the air and wax inside were spent. There was no information about Temis’ lights going off then on again, so his light spheres were probably these from the beginning. He told Miss Tinassha that ‘I’ll be here for quite some time’. He was expected to be there all the time, but he had planned to leave awhile after. The one that didn’t need to maintain the spheres was not Miss Tinassha, but Temis.”
The soundless breath of the participants shook the air in the room.
Oscar sat with his legs crossed, listening nonchalantly and observing everyone’s reactions.
Tinassha simply listened with her eyes closed.
“Thus, the lights being on didn’t prove that Temis was still alive. Therefore, the murder might have taken place after I saw him at seventy thirty – that is my inference.”
Art closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and spoke.
“The culprit probably had planned a meeting with Temis in advance. The two of them had prepared the glass spheres and put them under the moat beforehand. Temis lit the fire to make a show that they were light spheres, then left the scene to meet up with the culprit. The culprit then poisoned him in that alley. ――――When he was killed, there was still a lot of room for the candles to continue burning. However, something unexpected happened… A disturbance because a child nearly drowned.”
He looked at Meldina. She looked back at him blankly.
“Let’s consider that Temis was already dead by then. Take a turn a little away from the crime scene and you can see the moat beyond the buildings. The culprit chose that location for that very reason… They were probably quite flustered when they noticed an uproar. If someone went into the moat, they would realize that those were not light spheres. Even if that didn’t happen, someone would probably notice Temis wasn’t present because of the commotion. The culprit hurriedly put on Temis’ robe and returned to the moat. When they confirmed that the area the child fell in wasn’t Temis’, they pretended to be him and greeted me. A crisis was splendidly turned into an opportunity.”
Kum raised his hand and interrupted. All attention turned towards him.
“You said they raised their hand? It worked with you, but another magician would definitely notice the tattoo. Would they take such a risk?”
“That’s why they raised Temis’ arm. It was cut off, wasn’t it? They couldn’t hide anything else under the robe but an arm, so they only brought it.”
Almost everyone was speechless at Art’s words.
All were shocked by the boldness and rationality of the crime.
Meldina’s green eyes widened; no words escaped from her slightly parted lips but a breath.
“The culprit then returned to the crime scene and cut off the other parts so that the dismembered arm wouldn’t be noticed. Then they burned the remains with oil, either to make it impossible to narrow down the time of death based on the dryness of the blood, or to prevent the poison from being identified.”
Art looked down at the floor with cold eyes and continued.
“If we think about it like this, then the identity of the culprit is quite different. It is someone close to Temis, whose whereabouts was unknown when Temis’ lights were on but very clear once his lights were off. That is my hypothesis. That’s all about my investigation.”
Art turned around, saluted in the direction of Oscar, then returned to his seat.
After that, what remained was a hush of suspicion, where people looked around at one another. Oscar spoke, cutting off that atmosphere.
“Thank you for your hard word. Well then, ladies and gentlemen, what do you think?”
An uneasy tension filled the room. Everyone wanted to raise their voices about their own innocence and suspicion of another, but they couldn’t.
Among all that, Oscar was watching a certain person closely as if he had already had the answer. That person had been strangely calm since Art’s speech and kept staring at the same spot on the floor.
When Oscar was considering how to launch the attack, the thin voice of his guardian came from behind him.
“You are an elementalist. No, were, right? Temis got his tattoo from you, didn’t he?”
Tinassha said, and Temis’ lover, Feura, raised her head.