Sylvia had instinctively closed her eyes. When she cautiously opened it, there was nothing outside the barrier but a normal stretch of land. All that remained was the unpleasant smell of burned things; the numerous corpses were nowhere to be seen.
“The trees were also burned. What a destruction of nature.”
She said nonchalantly. The others were stunned at the power of magic they had witnessed up close.
Meldina got down from the dragon and looked at Tinassha with fear. She felt like she finally understood why Art had said she was a scary person.
Amongst all that, Oscar was the only one who remained calm. He looked at the surroundings and whistled.
“The fog has cleared up. What a convenience.”
As the flame had licked the area down to nothing, the fog had disappeared and the blasted ground had become visible.
Oscar turned around and, realizing something, placed a hand on Tinassha’s head.
“Tinassha, there’s still one corpse left.”
A little distance away, on the bare land stood an elderly figure in magician robe. It was thin enough to be mistaken for a skeleton, and was staring fixedly at the group with sunken eyes.
Tinassha frowned when she noticed him.
“Seems like it was defended.”
Once he was sure that Tinassha had the figure in her sight, the magician spoke with an unexpectedly clear voice:
“It’s been a long time. I didn’t think I could meet you again while I’m still alive.”
Everyone, starting with Oscar, looked at Tinassha in question. But she ignored them all and just looked at the magician with emotionless eyes.
“That outfit, that beauty… I thought I had gone back to seventy years ago. Did you return to that form in order to face your beloved, Blue Moon Witch?”
At those final words addressed at Tinassha, everyone but Oscar silently screamed.
Sylvia trembled in fright, and the soldiers pointlessly raised their hands. Meldina was standing at Oscar’s back; she asked with a trembling voice:
“Witch… I-is that true?”
Oscar answered. He looked unhappy for some reason.
On the other hand, Tinassha didn’t seem to care about them at all. She smiled a bewitching smile at the skeleton-like magician.
“You’ve become quite old. You were still a child back then, but now you’ve become bald and dried up.”
The old man laughed loudly at her frank thoughts. He stroked his own skin-and-bone head.
“It’s been so long that I should have been dead, so it can’t be helped. Not everyone can be like you.”
She laughed, gently but scornfully.
“Your way of talking and your appearance are just like those of your master… So repulsive.”
“The master whom you beheaded? I’m glad.”
The old man spread his hands in a dramatic gesture. Tinassha seemed to take it as a challenge; she casually drew her sword and stepped out of the barrier.
“It’s been long-awaited, so let’s behead you as well. As a sacrifice to your master, go down on all four and give your gratitude.”
Her smile was so cruel that it gave the chill, but also so beautiful.
Before Tinassha could take one more step forward, the old man’s figure disappeared like a mirage. His voice, now hoarse, echoed in the place:
“I don’t have the power to stand against you, so please allow me to excuse myself. You should come back soon. Or you wouldn’t mind if one or two in your group die?”
After leaving behind a laughter like the purring of a cat. The voice gradually died out and silence fell.
The witch seemed to be thinking about something for quite a while. She then sheathed her sword and turned around.
She said and stuck her tongue out with a childlike expression. Oscar patted her head and looked into her eyes.
“Do you know him?”
“He was one of the Druuza magicians that controlled The Beast in the war seventy years ago.”
Oscar stroked his chin and pondered. Tinassha left him, and Sylvia nervously spoke to her:
“E-err… Miss Tinassha, are you really the Blue Moon Witch?”
“I’m sorry for being silent about it. I didn’t want to scare you.”
The witch smiled a slightly sad smile; no trace of her earlier cruelty could be found now. Seeing that, Sylvia felt a twinge in her heart. At the same time, she felt a bit ashamed of herself for being scared of Tinassha even though she knew nothing about her.
She wanted to say something, but Tinassha stopped her with a shake of the head.
“Don’t. Witches are scary. Just forget it.”
Sylvia had complicated feelings about her cheerful words, but she somehow returned it with a smile.
“Let’s go back. We should prepare a crew and equipment.”
Everyone was relieved at Oscar’s decision. There was nothing more eerie than staying here. The vision had become better, and the group walked to where the horses had been tied.
“The horses weren’t burned, were they?”
The dragon’s master answered with an uneasy smile while it yawned on her shoulder.
The horses were waiting at the place they had been originally tied. The fog was still hanging heavily there. Checking the direction while riding, the group headed for Inuraid Fort.
Oscar rode next to Tinassha and started a conversation:
“Do you think that their aim is to revive The Beast?”
“Very likely. It’ll be troublesome.”
Doan interjected from behind:
“Isn’t it also possible that they’re making a new one?”
“That’s impossible. Seems like there’s some misunderstanding… The Beast wasn’t constructed by them. Such a thing couldn’t be built by ordinary humans. Maybe something fell into the magic lake and became the core, then the magic waves gradually absorbed it… Hundreds of years passed by, and it became The Beast.”
“So they just controlled it?”
“Their control was imperfect. What do you think will happen if people come and poke into a bush where a snake is hidden in?”
The fog finally cleared up while they were talking. After a while the fort came into view.
But then, Tinassha suddenly halted her horse.
“What is it, Tinassha?”
The witch jumped down from the horse and gave the rein to a soldier.
“Everyone, please return first. I’ll go back there.”
“What are you saying?”
Oscar also dismounted and came to her.
“They must have suspected that we’ll just leave temporarily to make proper preparation before coming back. It must also be their aim. They will probably hurry to break the seals. I won’t give them the time to; I’ll strike at them now. That skeleton might have escaped then, but I’ll chase him down properly.”
Tinassha raised her right arm; there seemed to be flames locked inside the crystal on her forearm guard.
Oscar was speechless at the sight. He scowled at her.
“You planned to do that from the beginning, that’s why these equipment… You had no intention to just investigate then go back.”
She calmly replied with no emotions in her dark eyes. Oscar seized her arm.
“I’m also going.”
Seeming to be truly shocked, she grimaced. She lightly floated up to a bit higher than Oscar and looked down at him. His hand was still grabbing her arm, so his arm was also raised.
“You can do anything, and you can appreciate your own can-do attitude. But if you are to be King, you need to remember to use those around you a little bit more.”
She caressed his cheek from the air just like a mother.
Oscar partly closed his eyes at the caress, but kept his gaze and his grip on her.
“I understand that, and I am careful. But I can’t this time. I don’t want to use you like a limb.”
“Isn’t that your intention when you took me away from the tower?”
“It is not.”
“If it was Reg, he would let me go, you know?”
“How do you know?”
“You really won’t give up…”
Just for a moment, Tinassha made the expression she usually had when living in the castle. Her gorgeous long hair fluttered even without any magical wind. She blinked slowly, her eyes as dark as obsidian. Was it some scenery from the past or the depth of time in her eyes? A gentle smile appeared on the witch’s lips.
“As long as you are my contractor, and I am your guardian, I will always return to your side, no matter where I go or what I do. And I will not die before you. Absolutely.”
Oscar gazed deeply into her eyes; it felt like gazing into a bottomless abyss. How many months and years were there, he wondered.
He couldn’t see through it.
He couldn’t reach her at the moment.
He simply knew he couldn’t.
He swallowed a deep sigh and suddenly let go of her hand.
“I understand. Go.”
Tinassha smiled gently as if he had been a student that had given a correct answer. She raised her left hand; the dragon on her shoulder cried, jumped up into the sky and became as big as three huts combined.
“I’d like you to have more faith in me. I might look like this, but I am undefeated.”
She soared up. Oscar looked up at her and laughed.
“Well, I’ll let you experience the taste of being defeated for the first time then.”
“…About that, I’m still searching for a countermeasure, so please wait a bit more…”
The dragon stretched its head and lifted its master to its back. The scene was just like a painting, and all those who saw it sighed in admiration. The fear they had for a witch mingled complicatedly with the good feeling they had for Tinassha herself. Meldina looked up at Tinassha’s dazzling figure and felt herself become fraught with emotions.
The dragon descended a bit and stopped in front of the group; it stared at them with its large, fiery left eye. Oscar called out to Tinassha, who was checking her equipment.
“Tinassha, when you come back…”
“When I come back?”
“Shall we get married?”
“No, we shall not!! Actually, don’t talk as if we’re about to die!”
They raised their voices and laughed at this usual exchange.
Then the witch lightly patted the dragon’s head, and it soared up in a cloud of dust. And just like that, the two disappeared into the fog in the direction of the magic lake.