The summer sky was also blue today.
On the training ground, Tinassha was cooling herself off under a shade, a sword in one hand. Art came and sat down next to her.
“You’ve improved a lot. Or maybe I should say, the feel of it is coming back to you.”
“Really? Thank you.”
After that first match, Tinassha would turn up at the training ground for more practice now and then. Art scheduled his free time so that it matched the times Meldina wasn’t present, but he wasn’t sure if the girls realized or not. It wasn’t nice for his childhood friend, but the soldiers’ morale always went up whenever Tinassha came, so he welcomed her.
“When can I be considered his equal?”
“Do you mean His Highness? I don’t think it’s possible if you train with me.”
Art wiped his sweat with a cloth and continued:
“Because I’ve never won against His Highness.”
Tinassha looked up at Art with her dark eyes. Those eyes shone like black quartz under the sunlight. Art answered while fixing his shoelaces:
“Yeah, really. When I was up against him for the first time, I was really depressed. I thought since he was a prince, he wouldn’t be much of a deal.”
“Is he that strong?”
Looking up at the sky, she sighed. The clouds floated by at high speed, as if the wind up there was very strong.
“Lately he’s been staying in the castle obediently, but before, he used to go out with Razar to different places all the time… He was left alone because it was nothing dangerous, but when I heard about him going to the witch’s tower, I thought ‘Damn’… I was surprised when he just came back as usual.”
“He defeated the beasts guarding the tower easily.”
“Is he really human?”
They both sighed. A wind shook the canopy of the tree they were sitting under; it felt good. Art combed his red bangs out of the way.
“Why don’t you just use magic? Can’t it be used in close combat?”
“I can set up a barrier, or use my other hand to perform magic. But doesn’t he have Akasshia?”
“Ah-… That’s right.”
The King’s Sword, the sword with absolute magic resistance that was Farsas’ national treasure, came to Art’s mind. Oscar had been using that sword, which was considered to be magicians’ natural enemy, since about two years ago.
“It probably won’t work.”
At his flat conclusion, Tinassha held her head in her hands and shook it. He looked at her in pity.
“You’ll have a better chance if you train with His Highness, won’t you?”
“Uhm… I don’t want to show him my skills. I don’t know how it will turn out.”
The general tilted his head and considered.
“Well, it’s impossible then.”
Being at her wits’ end, Tinassha collapsed to the ground in misery, feeling completely beat.
The training had ended, and Tinassha was walking down the corridor when she noticed someone calling her name. She stopped; no one else could hear the voice. She went out and walked to a large tree in the garden.
“Master, it’s great to see you’re doing well. It seems like you’re blessed with a nice contractor.”
“Is that so?”
Sitting on a branch of the tree was Litora, Tinassha’s familiar. Litora quietly jumped down and bowed.
“You look much more happy than before.”
“I’m happy, but… Well, it’s nothing bad.”
The witch shrugged and smiled wryly. Her gaze was like the still surface of water; her expression was different from what she normally showed to Oscar and Art.
“Won’t it be nice if you just get married like this? A year or a hundred years is not that much of a difference.”
“It is different. Also, I don’t want to have a partner.”
At its master’s decisive words, Litora respectfully bowed; the gesture was very human-like.
“I have overstepped; please pardon me. I have finished the investigation you ordered me to do today, and I would like to report.”
She listened to her familiar in silence, but once it finished, she clicked her tongue in distaste.
Oscar was playing chess with Razar in his office during a break from work when Tinassha suddenly came. Turning around to look at her, he was surprised.
She wasn’t wearing her usual magician robes or dresses, but a patterned black magician dress that showed off her curves. She also wore a patterned cloak, and her usually-bare pale hands were now covered by forearm guards that were inset with crystals. He had never seen such style in Farsas; it was strangely intimidating and charming at the same time.
Not only that, but she also carried a slender sword at her waist and seemingly several other weapons on the belts on her hips and legs.
“What is this?”
“I’m leaving for two or three days.”
She said curtly, then began to walk away. Oscar was barely able to catch her wrists.
“Wait, wait. Why are you leaving?”
“It doesn’t matter why, isn’t it? I’ll come back.”
“You don’t look like you are going for some fun. You removed all your seals, didn’t you?”
Oscar pulled her wrists and drew her slender body towards himself. Razar hurriedly closed the door to block her exit.
“At least tell me where you are going. I am your contractor; it’s troublesome for me if you just leave on your own.”
Hearing that, she glared at him. It was so unlike her that Razar was shaken.
Oscar didn’t flinch even once in front of her piercing dark eyes. Still looking at him, she reluctantly opened her mouth:
“Druuza’s magic lake.”
Oscar asked again; his expression changed once he understood.
“Is that why he was killed?”
“Eh, eh, what are you saying?”
Razar looked between the two of them, unable to keep up with anyone. Oscar explained to his confused attendant while still holding the witch’s wrists:
“The murdered victim went to examine Druuza’s magic lake every month. Someone didn’t want that to continue, and goaded his lover to kill him. They sent Pasvar to the castle to gain some time from the internal conflicts.”
Tinassha confirmed his guess.
“It seems like powerful magic waves are occurring in Druuza’s magic lake. Someone is probably doing something there, and I’m going to investigate it.”
Her eyes demanded Oscar to release her hands, but he shook his head.
“Wait one hour. I’m also going.”
For a moment, the witch’s eyes widened in surprise; she even forgot to pout. But her expression immediately changed to one of irritation.
“Don’t do unnecessary things. Or should I say, a prince shouldn’t just roam around like that.”
“What are you doing, going there by yourself? According to the arbitration, that place didn’t belong to any country, but it was under Farsas’ control in reality. If something happens, your personal investigation will surely become my national politics affair.”
Tinassha softened a bit at his sound argument. She looked up at her contractor:
“It’ll be even more questionable if I take only you with me.”
“I’ll gather a skilled crew. Fifteen will be plenty enough for a research team.”
“I have no duty to protect anyone but you.”
“I am aware.”
Oscar stated plainly.
For a moment, he could see something wavered in her dark eyes. It looked like the residue of some sentiment, but it instantly disappeared. She sighed as if having given up.
“One hour. I won’t wait longer.”
Oscar finally let go of her hands and left the room to get things ready.
Exactly one hour later, Oscar and Tinassha were at the front of a group heading for the fort at the country’s north border in haste. There were fifteen people in total, including the two of them.
The team included nine soldiers and four magicians. Meldina was also present. Art had volunteered, but everyone had stopped him. Oscar was leaving the castle, and it would be troublesome if he also left. Kum also stayed in the castle for the same reason.
During the wait before embarking, one magician in the team came to greet Tinassha, who was standing in a corner. She still looked sullen.
“I am Sylvia. It’s the first time we talk. Nice to meet you.”
She was in her twenties, a lovely girl with blond hair. At her warm aura, Tinassha instinctively smiled broadly:
“Nice to meet you too.”
“That pet of yours, is it, by any chance, a dragon?”
Sylvia nervously pointed at the hawk-size red dragon perching on Tinassha’s shoulder. It didn’t care at all and just yawned.
“Ah, it’s not very used to humans, so please be careful.”
Tinassha smiled apologetically. But Sylvia didn’t seem to pay any heed to that and just stared at the dragon in wonder.
At Oscar’s call, Tinassha excused herself from Sylvia and rushed to his side. He looked at the dragon and whispered:
“What is that?”
“If I went alone, I’d ride this child. That’s why I summoned it here.”
“It doesn’t look big enough for a person to ride on.”
He stopped his chatting with her there, and spoke to those gathered:
“We are going to investigate Druuza’s magic lake. We don’t know what will happen, so be careful. And, don’t go against this person’s orders.”
He said and patted Tinassha’s head lightly over the dragon; it looked up curiously. Tinassha said to him in a low voice:
“Is it alright to say so?”
“Because I can’t tell them the details.”
Tinassha looked at the nervous Sylvia, then turned her gaze to the unhappy Meldina and the worried Art, Kum, and Razar. Finally, she looked up at Oscar; he smiled a small smile.
She took a deep breath and slowly closed her eyes. The scene of departing the castle from long ago came back to her.
―No one from that time was still alive…
When she opened her eyes, she smiled. It was only for a moment, but her smile was so beautiful that everyone was captivated.
Love and affection for humans’ transience shone in her eyes. Seeing that, Oscar, who was standing beside her, became lost for words. But she didn’t notice at all.
The transporting magic diagram activated at the same time she spoke those words.