It was the afternoon of a nice summer day, and there was a girl floating above the spire of Farsas castle.
Actually, she was not a girl at all. She was Tinassha the Blue Moon Witch, one of the representatives of the “Age of Witches”, which had been ongoing for more than three hundred years.
There was a rumor that her nickname came from a time when she had not yet lived in the tower, when the moon had only appeared on clear nights. However, no one was sure about that.
Tinassha held down her hair, which had become disarrayed in the wind, and accepted the report from her recently-returned familiar.
That investigation had been going on ever since she had become a witch, but there had never been any worthy news, not even once. It had been so long that she was no longer sure if she wanted a worthy report or not.
She squinted her eyes in the strong sunlight and looked down. She felt like she could see her tower, so small in the far distance.
Her familiar, now took the shape of a grey cat, purred very pleased while its neck was being stroked.
What she had been doing was probably pointless all along. It must have been. The witch smiled, full of self-deprecation. Yet, she still let her familiar go out into the world again.
To search for a man who had been long dead.
※ ※ ※ ※
On the training ground boiling with heat, Art was drilling a group of young soldiers.
It was one week after the festival; everyone was quite laxed, either due to exhaustion or the heat. When he was wondering if he should let everyone take a breather or scold them, Art saw someone walking over from the castle’s direction.
Once he realized who it was, he was surprised.
“Miss Tinassha, does His Highness need me or something?”
“Why do you ask me?”
Her hair was put up, and she was wearing light cotton clothes that were easy to move in, unlike how she usually dressed. Her legs were exposed from below the knees, and her skin was so unusually white that Art was worried she would get sunburned.
“I’m becoming quite resentful about my everyday life… I want to move my body a bit, so please train me too, if you don’t mind.”
She clasped her hands and stretched. Amused, Art laughed.
“Did His Highness bully you again?”
“I wonder from whom did he get that kind of personality.”
She made an annoyed gesture and shook her head.
It had already become well-known amongst certain people that she was a favorite of Oscar and was being teased at every opportunity. Some just smiled and some pitied her for that; but some, like Kum, was worried about Oscar getting lost before the power of an elementalist. It was very rare for one to enter a castle.
The other soldiers were being attracted by her slender figure; Art smiled wryly when he realized that.
“We were just about to have a break, so let’s train with me.”
Art told the soldiers to take a break. Half went back to the station, but half stayed to watch the spectacle. Tinassha borrowed a practice sword from one of them.
Art reassured her that his childhood friend, who didn’t think that highly of her, was off duty today, and picked up his own practice sword, one that had a battered blade.
“Are you new to swords?”
“I practiced it a bit before.”
Art readied his sword and slowly made a strike at Tinassha, partly for warming up. She parried one blow, then two. She was quite skilled, with her intuitive and smooth movements. He gradually increased his speed, and she easily kept up.
― She was above Meldina.
As the unhappy face of his childhood friend came to his mind, a chill involuntarily ran down Art’s spine. Meldina would face her opponent head on. In comparison, considering the difference in body weight and strength, Tinassha wouldn’t take her opponent from the front – maybe it was her personality? She would turn away a little to parry while aiming for the moment her opponent lost their posture with no openings in her movements.
In actual combat, Tinassha probably would quickly stab him in the chest as soon as she saw a chance. Of course, he wouldn’t lose in actual combat, but it was true that she gave him more troubles than the soldiers he had trained with so far. The other generals, who hardly ever showed up at the station, probably would lose to her.
Art felt vaguely afraid of his own imagination.
When such thoughts were chasing each other around in his head, the speed of his sword increased. The soldiers that had gathered around with half-hearted interest were amazed at the young witch’s skills.
― Should I try that…?
Art suddenly increased his strength.
He struck at Tinassha with such strength that should she take it directly, her arms would go numb and she would drop her sword.
But she put her right side forward, tilted her body and sword, slipped over his blade and put it to her left. While doing all that, she took one more step forward and hit Art’s wrist with her left elbow.
She didn’t have much strength, but her speed and precision made him almost drop his sword involuntarily. While he hurriedly fixed his grip on the handle, Tinassha’s sword had pointed towards his throat. Before it hit, Art reflexively struck at the flat of her sword with his empty left hand.
She had put her weight into that thrust; now that it was averted, she didn’t stop her own momentum but stooped down and leapt forward to the right, holding her sword horizontally in front of her.
Then she jumped outward one more step, increasing the distance.
“That was dangerous.”
She laughed mischievously. Art could only shake his head in surprise.
“That was not the skill of someone who practiced swords for a bit… It’s enough for you to stop being a magician and come here, I think.”
He said and dropped his sword.
She said she had practiced it a bit before, but she probably hadn’t just taken some lessons. She must have used swords in actual combat. He could feel accumulated experience behind her movements.
Tinassha smiled cheerfully.
Feeling an unfathomable depth behind that smile, Art smiled wryly.
※ ※ ※ ※
“When the magic empire Turdal was destroyed one night four hundred years ago, some magic methodology died out with it. The majority of the magic we are aware of today has one thing in common: their starting point is the strong self-awareness of the practitioners. By being aware of yourself like a glass bottle filled with liquid, facing the world as an individual while forcing yourself through its configuration and interfering with its phenomenon, that is the first step of magic.”
It was morning; there were about twenty magicians in the Introduction to Magic lecture.
Tinassha was sitting in the last row and listening to the lecture with great interest when the door behind opened and Carve entered. He noticed her and raised his hand in greetings, then sat down on the seat next to her.
Tinassha answered in a small voice while twirling her pen between her fingers. She had no recollection of things like learning magic from someone from the time before she had become a witch, so even just listening to the theory like this was quite fresh to her.
She turned around and continued to listen carefully, but suddenly, loud footsteps came from above.
The lecture hall was in an atrium and could be seen from the hallway upstairs. Someone was making a commotion while walking along that hallway.
Normally, there was no one walking around and causing a ruckus like that in the castle. When she was wondering whether there was some emergency, a loud and garish middle-aged man came into view. He was constantly whispering something to the civil officials behind him.
At such noise, the lecturer also briefly stopped the lesson, and everyone looked up. But the man didn’t notice at all, and walked away without so much as a glance to the lecture hall downstairs.
“What was that?”
Carve was about to answer Tinassha’s murmur when the lecture was resumed, and both turned their focus back to it.
And so, it was three days later when she got the answer.
That evening, Tinassha came to visit Oscar in his private chamber through the window. He had just returned when he heard knocks on the window, and went to unlock it in amazement.
“You ever come through the door?”
“It’s troublesome if someone sees, so I don’t like to.”
“You came to that only now?!”
Tinassha entered with an annoyed expression.
“You’re really late today.”
“There’s more work, and I keep doing one after another… Ah, here’s the thing you asked for.”
Oscar went back to his table, picked up a stack of documents and handed it to Tinassha. They were what she had wanted to see: details about the investigation of Temis’ murder, from the publicized information to the top secret, unpublished ones, all noted down in a large stack of documents.
Tinassha said and took the documents, then began flipping through the pages.
“That suspicious man couldn’t be found at all. Even if the castle was infiltrated.”
“I should think he was the one who gave Feura the poison. Does the castle have any barrier?”
She asked without taking her eyes off the documents.
Oscar poured some water from the pitcher next to the couch into a porcelain cup and took a drink. But he immediately moved the cup away and looked at it with suspicion.
“What is this? It’s strangely sweet.”
Tinassha put the documents back to the table, then went to his side to check the water with him.
“Is it sugared?”
“It’s not like that…”
One unpleasant beat later, Tinassha looked up at her contractor with a stiff expression.
“Did you drink it?”
“…Just a sip. But I don’t feel anything in particular…”
He said, but then suddenly stopped and stared at Tinassha. His gaze was on her entire body; it made her falter, and she took a step back.
“Wh-What, what is it?”
Oscar pressed a hand to his mouth and thought, then pointed at the table.
“You take that and go back.”
He turned away. It was obviously unusual, and she approached him from behind.
“Why? You’re a bit strange. Turn around and talk to me.”
She gently came to stand before him, grabbed his shoulders and shook lightly.
“What did you drink? Throw it up.”
“It’s alright, just go back.”
“Does your neck get stuck or something?”
He was still facing away from her. She grabbed his face with both hands and turned him around to look at her.
There was a moment of silence.
Tinassha saw her own face in his blue eyes. It felt like an illusion.
She unconsciously squinted her eyes to check it, and Oscar lightly embraced her body and kissed her lips.
Words disappeared for a moment. Then the witch pulled away with a calm face and slowly blinked.
“What? A joke?”
When Oscar removed his hand, her body slid to the floor. He gently patted her head and grimaced.
“Something was put in it. Probably an aphrodisiac.”
Dumbfounded, Tinassha was speechless. She raised her voice once she had come to her senses:
“It’s not me!”
“If it was, it would be an interestingly surprising development. What a pity.”
“It’s not interesting at all!”
Looking at Oscar, who was sitting on the bed, she quickly considered a countermeasure.
If it was just an aphrodisiac, she could just go back like he had said. But if it was, by any chance, a magic potion with a different effect, not dealing with it now could lead to fatal consequences later.
First of all, she had to analyze its composition. When she was thinking of that, her arm was suddenly seized, and she was pulled down onto the bed.
“Now, calm down-”
“That’s why I told you to go back.”
Oscar wasn’t teasing her as usual; he grimaced as if bearing some pain.
It was the first time she had seen such an expression on him, and she could feel herself breaking into a cold sweat. He was pressing her down, and she squirmed to escape from under him; but due to the difference in their physique, she couldn’t do anything.
Tinassha was seriously considering violent options like knocking him out with one quick blow when Oscar brought his face near hers and kissed her earlobe with a serious expression.
“I just realized this, but…”
She looked back at him coldly and menacingly.
“There won’t be any trouble for me if I don’t endure it.”
“There is! There is for me! I’ll blow you to the ceiling!”
He didn’t reply, just brought his face closer.
She heaved a small sigh and closed her eyes, then touched her forehead to Oscar’s.
She poured magic into that point of contact. Inside her closed eyes, the magic that had infiltrated him emerged as a diagram.
Three circles; a simple but powerful composition.
The moment she focused her consciousness, they shattered and disappeared without leaving any traces.