Tinassha officially announced that she was a witch after returning to the castle. The reactions varied.
Many questioned her being Oscar’s guardian due to a fairy tale that was quite different from the truth, but most of those who knew her personally accepted the news favorably, though to different extent. There must have been conflicts between them, and not small ones. But since nothing was shown on the surface, Tinassha simply smiled her puzzling smile.
Meanwhile, Oscar once again introduced Tinassha to those who knew of the curse, starting with his father the King.
It was done not with an audience, but in one of the reception rooms used by the Royal Family. There were five people: King Kevin, Minister of Internal Affairs Nesan, Veteran General Ettad, Chief Magician Kum, and Razar, who Oscar had been raised with. With different expressions, they listened to Oscar’s explanation about how he had gotten involved with a with.
“So, she plans to become my bride.”
“I don’t! I’ve been listening quietly, but your explanation is horrible!”
Due to the height difference, she floated up and shook Oscar. The King stood and pacified her.
“I am sorry for him saying such absurd things. And I apologize. It’s no wonder I thought I have met you somewhere. Long ago, I took a glance at my grandfather’s diary; there was a portrait of you inside.”
“If you find it again, please dispose of it…”
Tinassha landed with a blush. Still standing, the King turned to face her.
“Let’s talk about the main business. Will you be able to do something about the curse?”
She smiled a troubled smile at that.
“I have attempted to analyze it, but the Silent Witch is superior to me in this regard. It will probably take months for the analysis alone, and even if it is completed, I might not find a perfect solution. But well, I’ll think of something in the end. Please don’t worry.”
“If it doesn’t work, then you have to take responsibility.”
“Don’t say things like that!”
She shook Oscar again. Ettad whispered to Razar, who was sitting beside him, while watching her:
“They seem to be on good terms…”
On the training ground, under the shade of a tree, Meldina was hugging her knees.
She hadn’t felt fine ever since the magic lake campaign. She understood the cause, but didn’t know how to deal with it.
She was resting her head on her arms, and from her limited field of vision, she could see Art approaching. He stood before her and looked down at her as if in exasperation.
“Get a hold of yourself.”
“Leave me alone.”
“It can’t be helped.”
Art put his sword away and casually sat down next to her.
“You know, it’s nice to be competitive, but don’t feel down because you can’t win against a witch. The time she lives in this world is already longer than you by multiple times.”
Meldina also understood that very well. Still, she couldn’t think it through, undoubtedly because of the Crown Prince she was serving.
But even if the witch hadn’t appeared, she couldn’t imagine him choosing her at all. She puffed out her cheeks like a child.
“Just one more day. Then I’ll be fine.”
Art half rose to his feet to leave, but remembered something and turned around:
“Which reminds me, have you heard that rumor?”
As Meldina lifted her head, Art grinned broadly.
“There’s a ghost?”
“Yeah, the rumor says so.”
In a lounge inside the castle, Oscar and Tinassha were drinking tea with Sylvia and Carve while listening to Razar talking. They all pricked up their ears at the strange story that had suddenly come up. Having caught their attention, Razar nodded.
“After the night has come, there’s a woman drenched in water walking down the corridor. Wherever she passes, the floor becomes all wet.”
“It seems to be very troublesome to clean up.”
Tinassha said nonchalantly. Next to her, Sylvia had turned pale; seemed like she couldn’t handle this kind of story. Opposite them, Carve, who had been staring into his cup, raised his head:
“I’ve also heard about it from another magician. He said he met a sopping wet woman in the hallway. She just looked at him in silence. He was scared and closed his eyes. Nothing happened, and when he opened his eyes again, there was no one there but a wet floor.”
Sylvia covered her ears and lied down on the table. Tinassha smiled wryly and tapped her shoulder:
“Ghosts don’t exist. The soul is indeed a form of power, but it disperses into nature after death. Keeping one’s form and consciousness after death is impossible, even for a witch.”
“Really, really. So if there’s something like that, it must not be human.”
Sylvia collapsed down on the table again. The witch stuck her tongue out with an ‘oops!’ expression. Oscar, who had been quiet until then, picked up her words.
“So did something get inside the castle?”
“Probably. If it can get inside, it’s probably some kind of demon. I can’t be sure since I haven’t seen it…”
“What an uproar this ghost has caused. Let’s look into it later.”
Oscar checked his watch and stood up.
“Well, I have work. Tinassha, what about you?”
“I’ll go shopping for some clothes. Mine don’t fit anymore. Sylvia, you promised to show me around.”
Sylvia seemed to have gotten over her fear and replied loudly with high spirit. Looking at the two magicians together, one black hair and one blonde, Carve whispered to Razar:
“Those two really stand out when they’re with each other.”
It wasn’t clear if Oscar heard that or not, but he turned around and glanced at them. He spoke to Sylvia, who still looked unwell:
“Choose something in black or white.”
“Because I like so.”
“I don’t care!”
A small light sphere appeared in the witch’s right hand, and she threw it at Oscar, who was exiting the room. But just before it could hit his back, it collided with her own protection and scattered.
Oscar laughed out loud, but he didn’t turn around and disappeared to the other side of the door.
※ ※ ※ ※
“Farsas’ clothes are quite light.”
Tinassha said to the magician behind her while choosing clothes in the castle town.
“Eh, ah, yes, since it’s warm here…”
Tinassha smiled wryly at Sylvia’s response and turned around.
“Are you that scared of that ghost story?”
“I’m really no good at all…”
She hung her head apologetically. The witch smiled brightly and waved her hand.
“Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it. Everyone has their own weakness.”
“Lady Tinassha, do you also have weakness?”
“Please stop with the ‘Lady’…”
Tinassha gathered the clothes she had picked on her arms and added a neatly-designed short white dress from a shelf. She didn’t usually run around, but something easy to move in was always convenient.
“I used to have a lot in the past… As for now, I’m still bad at ‘being put to sleep’.”
“What is that? Is it like putting a child to sleep?”
Sylvia tilted her head and asked. But the witch didn’t say anything more about that; instead, she seemed to remember something else and cluck her tongue.
“Ah, I’m bad at dealing with Oscar too. I can’t understand him at all.”
“You seem to get along well.”
Tinassha looked dissatisfied and didn’t say anything. Sylvia giggled as if she had forgotten about the scary rumor.
“There’s a ghost, have you heard?”
The story was also widely spread in the guard station, where soldiers gathered when off duty. A young soldier called Suzt stopped polishing his sword and raised his head.
“Ghost? First time I’ve heard of it.”
“It happens just recently, after you came back from your home visit.”
“Isn’t it since the witch revealed her true self?”
“Well, about that time.”
His fellow soldiers told Suzt all about it. He got back to polishing his sword and responded with half-hearted replies.
“Have you seen the witch? Just amazing. She was quite a beauty before too, but now…”
“Haven’t since coming back.”
“I think you should. She’s a so-called ‘devastating beauty’.”
Suzt’s friends laughed cheerfully; he looked at them coldly:
“You guys are horrible. What did you say when she’s just come here? That she was a good, gentle kid, didn’t you?”
“Well, that’s true, but…”
Just like the mood, the irresponsible gossip died down in a blink of an eye.
※ ※ ※ ※
In the dead of the night that day, Oscar, having had finished with work, was walking down the dark hallway with Razar. Their shadows elongated under the illumination of the evenly-spaced candlesticks attached to the wall.
“Why do you have to work until this hour? What if we met the ghost…?”
“Tinassha said that such things don’t exist. It must be a demon.”
“That’s super bad…”
Oscar suddenly looked at his hips. He normally didn’t carry Akasshia when he was in the castle, as he used it for self-defense only. Maybe he should have brought it – Oscar wondered as he put his hand on the hilt of the sword he was carrying.
“Anyway, Your Highness, you…”
Razar started to say, but then suddenly fell down. Oscar stopped and turned around at the sound of his butt hitting the floor.
“Don’t fall over nothing like that.”
“There’s nothing… But I slipped…”
Finding it strange, Razar brought his hands into the light of the candles; they had been touching the floor. For some reasons, his hands were wet. He reflexively opened his mouth to scream. But before he could make a sound, cold woman’s arms reached out from behind his back and wrapped him up in a hug.
“Tinassha! Get up!”
The witch was sleeping in her own chamber when the door suddenly opened and a man seized her pale hand.
She had been assigned the guest chamber she had used seventy years ago thanks to the King’s arrangement. As per Regius’ order, the chamber had been kept clean with its furnishing unchanged for the last seventy years. When Tinassha had been led to the chamber, she had smiled a puzzling smile.
Being dragged out of her peaceful bed, she rubbed her sleepy eyes.
“Uh- What is it?”
Opening her dark eyes, Tinassha looked down at her contractor, who was holding himself in a fetal position. His complexion was a bit pale – perhaps because of the moonlight shining through the window?
“Razar… Is he dead?”
“Why is it in interrogative form?”
She found out the reason right away.
When she rushed to the scene after hearing the story, several people had already gathered. Razar was laid down in a corner; there were no external injuries, but he wouldn’t wake up no matter what, and his body was as cold as ice.
“His soul was drawn out.”
Tinassha looked at Razar and muttered.
“Can he be saved?”
Tinassha bit her lips at Oscar’s words. She gathered magic into her palms and touched Razar’s body.
“I can maintain his body, but… His soul only has three days. If we don’t take it back soon, it will scatter.”
Tinassha called out to the gathered soldiers and asked them to carry Razar to another room.
“I will try searching for it just in case, but I’m almost certain that it isn’t in the castle anymore… I think it’s been taken away. Did you see the ghost?”
“We did. It was a woman with pale skin and green hair. My sword went straight through her. It felt like cutting into water.”
“A water spirit…?”
Turning around, she could see a puddle of water in the hallway. Tinassha frowned.
“Please ask everyone inside the castle if they have been to the waterside recently. Water spirits normally don’t leave their habitat. There must be a reason for her to come here.”
The witch rushed to follow after Razar, who was being moved. Meanwhile, Oscar turned around to gather people.
Despite the late hours, those who remained in the guard station were hurriedly woken up and spoken to one by one. Suzt was one of them, of course. However, after silently listening to him, Art took him to a room inside the castle. He normally didn’t come inside the castle at all, but the first thing that caught his attention when he entered the room was the bed placed by the main window. Someone was sleeping in it, and there was a woman standing next to it with her back towards him. Suzt had the feeling that he had seen that long black hair before.
“Did he come?”
A man spoke from his right side. Suzt knew that voice well; he turned to its direction and bowed respectfully.
“Let’s hear your story.”
Oscar urged him to speak while remaining sitting in his chair.
“Y-yes. A few days ago, I went back home for a visit on my days off, and went to a lake near there. When I was taking a walk, I came across a dried-up water fountain in the lake’s vicinity. The place where water came out was packed with stones, so I…”
“Took them out.”
“Was there anything strange happening then?”
“No, nothing. Just a bit of water coming out.”
Oscar folded his arms and looked towards the window.
“Tinassha, what do you think?”
“I think we got the person.”
The woman turned around. Suzt went speechless when he saw her.
Hair like black silk, porcelain-white skin, eyes the color of darkness – she was a mysterious attraction in the dim room. Her beauty was not of human; she was the night, lit by a bright blue moon, trapped inside a human form – she made Suzt think of such a metaphor. Now he understood why his friends made such a ruckus.
“That fountain was probably where the water spirit originally resided, and was connected to the bottom of the lake. It seems like someone sealed it.”
“Is all this linked to the seal being broken?”
“Suzt probably got splashed when he broke the seal… And she came here with that water. I don’t understand why she takes Razar though.”
Suzt was startled for a moment when his name was spoken, but he immediately remembered that this woman and the girl he had once practiced with was one person. Then he became worried at the mention of Razar name.
“Err… Did I do something wrong…?”
Art and Oscar exchanged a look. Tinassha immediately turned her back to him and did something towards the bed’s direction.
“Anyway, we need to go immediately. Please take us to the lake.”
Suzt and Art left the room to get the horses ready. Oscar stood up and walked towards the window. He peered into Razar’s face, and muttered to his unconscious attendant:
“Wait a bit.”
At his quiet voice, Tinassha looked up at her contractor; she seemed a bit worried.
“Are you going?”
“Who else will?”
The witch looked at the sword he was carrying, Akasshia, and took a shallow breath.
“My protection barrier cannot defend against the mind magic that some demons and spirits use, so please be careful. Don’t get caught in the false truth… And…”
Tinassha was a bit hesitant, but spoke anyway:
“If your life is in danger, I will come to your side. In that case, I won’t be able to maintain Razar’s life. Do you understand?”
On the surface, Oscar didn’t look to be shaken at all, even a bit. He looked at her and patted her head.
“I understand. So don’t make that face.”
She looked terribly helpless and on the verge of tears. Maybe it was because of the shadows cast by the moon?
The witch didn’t say anything. She smiled, but her eyes remained untouched by it.
“Win by a large margin, please.”
Oscar took a glance at Raizar’s pale face and left.