The huge explosion at the magic lake that day was acknowledged not only by Inuraid Fort but also by the capital of former Druuza.
Its pure white light burning the sky and tremor shaking the earth had transmitted far. An inhuman scream full of deeply-held hatred had shaken the air and echoed far away.
The citizens of former Druuza were still scared by the bitter memory of what occurred seventy years ago, thus no one approached the magic lake, which now belonged to no country.
“Your Highness, it’s time to return to the castle…”
Meldina hesitantly spoke to Oscar, who had come out to the fort’s rampart. Since the white light explosion two hours ago, he had been standing here. It had started to get dark, and fire had been lit here and there in the fort.
“No, wait a bit more.”
Oscar said and shook his head.
Actually, he had considered going there himself to check out the situation multiple times. But in the end, he hadn’t been able to. He understood that trusting her was also a duty of a contractor. The person he had taken away from the tower wasn’t a helpless little girl, but the embodiment of an overwhelming power that existed in the shadow of history. He should never have misunderstood that.
『If it was Reg, he would let me go, you know?』
Those words of hers strangely weighed on his mind. He wondered, had she actually been in love with his great-grandfather, whom he had never seen? If they could meet again, he would try asking her… He thought, and smiled bitterly at the thought that there was a possibility he could never meet her again.
There were still more than ten months until the contract ended; he thought and raised his head. Just then, he noticed a black silhouette flying towards him from a distance away. The approaching figure moved its huge wings slowly and aimed straight for the fort. When he was sure it was Tinassha’s dragon, he sighed in relief.
The dragon seemed to consider him, his master’s contractor, as the mark; he flew to right above Oscar’s head before slowly descended.
He called out in the direction of the dragon’s back, which was not visible yet.
But there was no reply.
He suddenly became uneasy. He touched the dragon’s torso and jumped to its back. He looked around while adjusting his posture, and was shocked.
Lying face up on the dragon’s back, body covered in blood, was his witch.
Sylvia wiped her hands as she exited the room. She slightly bowed to him.
“There are no wounds. It seems like there was an injury on her abdomen, but the wound has closed on itself. I don’t know what is happening internally though…”
“I see. Thanks for your help.”
Sylvia smiled at Oscar’s gratitude.
“There seemed to be a lot of bleeding at first glance… I thought it was some serious wound that couldn’t be treated here, but this is good. I have cleaned the blood on her body and put her torn clothes together with her equipment.”
He nodded. Tinassha’s dragon, which had now become small again, was seating on his shoulder and holding a large ruby in its mouth.
“Can I come in?”
“Please go ahead. I think she won’t wake up until her magic power is restored.”
Sylvia bowed. He passed by her and went into the room.
On the large bed, Tinassha was lying with her eyes closed; she looked peaceful. Oscar came close; he checked her breathing and touched her cloth-wrapped abdomen to make sure nothing happened, and finally felt relieved.
He extended his arm and touched her cheek.
Undeniably there was warmth there.
Most of the soldiers returned to the castle first, beginning with Meldina. Oscar, however, stayed at the fort that day. The magicians like Sylvia and Doan and the two soldiers that were acting as the guards stayed in the fort in case something happened to Tinassha. As Oscar was hesitant to move the gravely-wounded witch, he had decided on that arrangement. He ordered those who returned first to keep their reports on hold until he came back.
It was the afternoon of the next day when shouts could be heard from the Tinassha’s bedroom. Oscar, who was staying in a room nearby, hurriedly ran into her room when he heard the noise.
Sylvia was standing in front of the door. Her face was red for some reason.
“Ah, Your Highness… No, excuse me.”
“What happened with Tinassha?”
“No, nothing. Just wait a bit, please.”
Sylvia was strangely flustered and kept blocking the door. Feeling suspicious, Oscar pushed her away.
“I’m coming in.”
“Please wait, Your Highness!”
Once inside, Oscar involuntarily stiffened at the incomprehensible scene before his eyes.
Tinassha was half sitting up on the bed. That was nothing surprising in itself, but her black hair was so strangely long that it reached the floor. Noticing Oscar, she pulled the cloth to conceal her naked body. She smiled stiffly at him ― She wasn’t the little girl as he had known, but looked to be almost twenty years old.
She grabbed a pillow from behind while glaring at him.
“Don’t, come in, until, I, get dressed!”
Dodging the pillow that had been thrown at him, Oscar silently went out and closed the door behind him. Naak yawned on his shoulder without a care in the world.
“What was that…?”
“That’s why I asked you to wait.”
Pressing a hand to her face, Sylvia muttered.
Tinassha came out of the room after borrowing Sylvia’s clothes, dragging her long hair behind gloomily. Oscar was waiting outside; he looked over her whole body unblinkingly.
“Why did you…”
“The damage to my internal organs were so severe that my body had to accelerate its growth to repair itself. I need to cut my hair.”
Tinassha said while casually pulling out her dagger and took it to her hair. Sylvia stopped her in a panic.
“I’ll do it. Sit down, please.”
As Tinassha obediently sat down, Sylvia began to carefully comb out her hair. Oscar sat down across from her.
“Is your internal damage alright now?”
“It is. I’m just lacking some blood now.”
Doan gave her some watered-down fruit juice; she thanked him and drank it. Oscar got some wine.
“I thought you died or something. Will your appearance revert to before?”
“It won’t. As I told you in the tower, my appearance comes from my suspended growth, not from magical transformation… Once I grow, it will change. I can revert back if it’s just for show, but are you a pedo?”
“Not at all.”
Oscar was stunned. Naak jumped from his shoulder to Tinassha’s knees, and she stroked its back.
“You kept it for me, Oscar.”
“Please take this.”
Naak let the ruby it was holding fall into Tinassha’s palms. She threw it at Oscar; he caught the red gem in the air and stared at it.
“It’s The Beast’s core. It’s just a normal gem now.”
“The Beast’s core… Did you defeat it?”
Oscar was unusually astonished; Tinassha looked at him with interest.
“I don’t want to do the same thing again in the next few decades. The magicians’ corpses were buried underground though. Sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter, but… That was rash.”
“Didn’t you get seriously injured?”
Tinassha stuck her tongue out at his justified retort. She looked over her shoulder; using a pair of scissors, Sylvia had cut her hair to the same length as before.
※ ※ ※ ※
In a room in the fort, Tinassha was checking her equipment and stuffing them into a bag. Only the sword wasn’t to be put in there, so she set it aside.
Oscar watched her from his seat on the sofa. Once he was sure she had finished, he gestured for her to come over.
“What is it?”
She was suspicious. He casually took hold of her elegant body and let her sit across in his laps. As ever, her slender body was so light that one wouldn’t think she was human. It was different from when she had been unconscious; was it due to some magic interference?
“What is it…?”
“Well… Your current appearance somehow makes me want to touch you.”
Tinassha made a disgusted face, but Oscar didn’t seem to mind at all and just carded his fingers through her newly-cut black hair.
“I’ve forbidden the ones who returned first to speak, but with this appearance, the fact that you are a witch can’t be hidden anymore. Do you want to keep the pretense?”
“No, it’s alright now. It’s difficult to stop people from talking.”
“Is that so?”
“It’s just the right time too. I’m also tired of calling an idiot of a prince like you ‘Highness’.”
“…Are you now?”
She crossed her legs and stopped Naak from wandering in her laps. The sunlight shining through the window warmed the pale skin below her knees.
“The fog was brought about by The Beast, so I believe it’ll clear up soon. From now on, the area should be checked once every three months. Ah, there might be cave-ins, so please tell them to be careful.”
“Will the magic lake disappear?”
“There are still residues of powerful magic scattered around that area… Even if some was lost, the lake will return to its previous state after absorbing magic power and life forces from its surroundings. Actually, The Beast should have been killed seventy years ago. But there were a lot of people in the area then, so I couldn’t use large scale magic.”
Oscar stroked Tinassha’s bare legs, and Naak played with his hand.
“Speaking of seventy years ago, what kind of person was my great-grandfather then?”
She made a truly bitter face.
“Why do you want to know such things?”
“Well, I’m curious. By what that skeleton said.”
She held her head in her hands and seemed to be greatly troubled, as if she was remembering something unpleasant.
“Ah thaaat. There were also people having such misunderstanding back then. I have to tell you, it really wasn’t like that at all.”
“It’s even passed down in Farsas as a legend.”
The story of the King and the Witch from seventy years ago was widely told to children as a fairy tale. Oscar had also heard it, of course.
The story did portray Tinassha as a witch. That witch was sitting in Oscar’s laps and picking up the dragon that was slipping down while shaking her head.
“I’ve known that there are such stories, but I don’t want to hear them, since the contents will probably make me angry.”
“As the cost for helping the king, the witch wanted him to marry her after he got his kingdom…”
“After the war ended, the king conceded and arranged a wedding ceremony, but the witch disappeared without ever showing up.”
“There’s some truth here and there, but it’s totally wrong!”
The window panes started shaking as if anger had let her magic leak out. It seemed like the topic had mentally exhausted Tinassha, and she took in a deep breath. Oscar stroked her nape with his fingers.
“Well, that’s what I thought.”
Her whole body shook then, and she struggled wildly.
“That tickles! Please stop pestering me.”
“Ah, my bad. It’s bad to touch so much.”
Getting away from both of his touching hands, she soundlessly floated to the air. Naak fell from her laps and landed on Oscar’s shoulder.
In the air, Tinassha crossed her legs again.
“Reg huh… In short, he was… an idiot of a king.”
Regius Cruz Ral Farsas, the 18th King of Farsas had been enthroned at the age of fifteen after the sudden death of his King Father. A straightforward person who hadn’t known how to doubt others or how to give up, he had been said to be a good king who had been fair and honorable.
“The first time we met was before Druuza’s invasion… I asked for his wish since he had climbed the tower, but he suddenly proposed to me…”
“There’s another one like that though.”
Oscar pretended not to hear and stroked Naak’s throat. Tinassha lazily span around in the air and glared down at her contractor.
“Well, since you do have special circumstances, I can understand, but he! Had nothing like that at all! Yet he preached about making a witch a queen and giving her the country and such, as a king…”
“So he said he would give you the country to pressure you?”
“I don’t need that!”
He remembered saying something similar himself in the tower. Maybe Tinassha thought witches shouldn’t consort with humans?
“So, what happened next?”
“I refused, but he kept insisting for two whole days.”
“I was mad, so he came up with another idea in the end. That was for me to stay within his eyeshot until he died. Why did he even climb the tower in the first place?”
“…What an idiot.”
He felt like he was listening to a story that shouldn’t be known. But he urged her to continue while enduring a mild headache.
“Did you grant that wish?”
“With a condition that I would not do anything for Reg’s sake, and would not aid him. If he asked for my assistance, I would never appear in front of him again under a new contract clause.”
“And then The Beast appeared.”
“It was a very unpleasant request. Well, I believe the decision was made relatively quickly though.”
“The senior officials probably didn’t want it to be recorded in history.”
That was why they twisted the fact and circulated it as a fairy tale. But the thing was probably just a mere nuisance to the witch in question.
“It would be great if things had just ended with that!”
“Was there something else?”
Tinassha got down and stood by the window. The light was at her back, making her face difficult to read. But it was easy to predict what kind of expression she was making.
“The relationship between the witch and her contractor ended with the contract, but the relationship between two people was not bound by it.”
“H-he willfully arranged for a wedding ceremony… before anyone knew… He sent a wedding dress to my chamber…”
It was not just a headache now; he was feeling dizzy.
“…I didn’t come, of course. I haven’t met him since.”
“It feels like I’ve just had a glimpse of a dark side of history that I shouldn’t have known.”
Even if he was called an idiot of a King, it couldn’t be helped. Oscar felt like he understood why she hadn’t wanted to talk about the contract with his great-grandfather when they had first met.
“Well… I don’t dislike him. Even if he was an idiot. I think of him as family.”
Tinassha casted her eyes down. A lot of emotions seemed to be coming and going in her dark eyes.
If she hadn’t been a witch, she would probably have accepted the King’s proposal – Oscar wondered about that impossible hypothesis. If so, what kind of life would she have been living right now?
“The one who became Queen later… I was close with your great-grandmother. She was intelligent and quick-witted; she probably managed Reg quite well, didn’t she? You resemble her a little.”
Her reminiscent talk ended there. She walked to Oscar’s side and touched his cheek with her pale hand. She looked at him intently with her large eyes.
It was as if she was looking at the past inside him.