Dear Not Cunning Witch - Chapter 10.1
Hester was uneasy as she surveyed the ruins. The burnt, skeletal remains of the train did not suit Penzas’ summer scenery at all. Penzas would only return to its original beauty after the hideous eyesore was finally removed, and her mass transit would only begin running smoothly again after the ravaged tracks were repaired, but both would likely prove difficult for the time being.
“It appears that the Walpurgis Council sees the Tragedy as a serious concern,”
said Hugo Alpheus as he stared apathetically at the blackened train. Slowly, Hester nodded back.
“There are many people who still remember Mad Niolo. And there’s also the fact that this was the first time in history that a prisoner of Gwaltiello Velli has ever managed to escape.”
“The Ingram police is responsible for investigating the Tragedy for now, but the Council will dispatch its own investigators if they deem it necessary. I heard that they’ve already released the hunters to hunt down Niolo Pagliacci’s accomplice.”
“Are you referring to the Ingram Revolutionary Army? I thought that the Council didn’t care about non-wizards…….”
The Walpurgis Council was the governing body of the world of magic. The Council was even more conservative than the rest of the world of magic was, and it wouldn’t readily move to capture ordinary humans even if the Ingram Revolutionary Army had been Niolo Pagliacci’s accomplices.
“I’m sure the Ingram government will take care of them. The Council is after someone else.”
Hester frowned upon Hugo’s reply.
“There was another wizard cooperating with Niolo Pagliacci?”
“That’s what they say.”
“Diana said that Niolo Pagliacci was the only wizard she met on the train,”
Hester quipped back quietly. The fact that her younger sister had been on the verge of tears as they parted a few days ago still weighed heavily on her heart.
“It may have been possible for Niolo Pagliacci to terrorize the train all by himself, but it’s next to impossible that he escaped Gwaltiello Velli without any help. A wizard who couldn’t use magic could not have possibly scaled the prison walls, and it would have also been difficult for him to conspire with the prison guards, who are religious fanatics of the Church of Santigma.”
Hugo leisurely wiped at his monocle before he looked to the train with one eye. He continued,
“We received a tip-off that the Revolutionary Army, which collaborated with Niolo, had contacted another wizard earlier this year. And Niolo Pagliacci escaped from Gwaltiello Velli only this June. It’s difficult to believe that a wizard who had been imprisoned for over a decade managed to rendezvous with an armed rebel group of another kingdom in under a month. It’s sensible to assume that there was a third party who introduced the Ingram Revolutionary Army to Mad Niolo.”
Hester nodded back in stony silence. Certainly, the chances that Niolo Pagliacci, a wizard from Messina, had met an armed rebel group near Ingram’s northern border and decided to collaborate with them on his own were incredibly slim. It was much more reasonable to assume that there was a middleman who had broken Niolo Pagliacci out of Gwaltiello Velli and had introduced him to the Ingram Revolutionary Army. And, judging by the fact that this middleman had specifically chosen Niolo Pagliacci, who was imprisoned at the time, out of all the countless other witches and wizards out there, the middleman was undoubtedly someone belonging to the world of magic.
Suddenly, Hester turned around to face Hugo and said,
“But how did you hear about all this, Sir?”
Wizards were generally indifferent to others. The fact that Hugo Alpheus was rumored to be eccentric made him no exception to the rule. Hester found it difficult to understand why he knew so thoroughly about the situation and why he was going out of his way to inform her.
Hugo answered her question as if it was but a trivial matter.
“Superintendent Terrance told me.”
“Superintendent Veronica Terrance?”
“Yes. She is the person responsible for the investigation.”
Hugo pointed at a middle-aged woman who was pressing demands upon the forensic scientists inside the scorched train. Hester’s eyes immediately narrowed sharply. It was none other than Superintendent Veronica Terrance who had summoned her from Wokingham and had commented about her duties as a witch to tie her down to Penzas.
But the biggest problem was…
“She never told me any of that.”
Hugo had known about all of this, but Hester had been left completely in the dark until now. And it wasn’t as if Hester’s meeting with Superintendent Terrance had been short, either. Hester had been made to repeat what had happened that day to the superintendent once again just yesterday evening.
“It appears to me that the superintendent is wary of you. Of your sister, to be precise,”
Hugo said with a shrug. Hester’s expression grew a cut more frigid. Her eyes were unkind as they followed closely behind the superintendent as she ordered her subordinates around. And Hester’s words were naturally thorny as she replied,
“My one and only sister was taken hostage by a murderer, and I did everything in my power to rescue her and the other passengers, and still she deems it necessary to be suspicious of me —this is preposterous. And coming from someone who believes that all witches are reasonable and rational, to boot.”
“Her suspicions are not irrational. Dozens of soldiers lost their lives during the terror attack, and only Diana Sol, who was stuck with Niolo Pagliacci the longest, miraculously made it out alive.”
“Diana is very obviously a witch. You cannot compare her to ordinary people.”
“Your sister’s teacher, Barbara Jiles, has already testified that she isn’t strong enough to stand her ground against Niolo Pagliacci. Besides, didn’t she also confess that she couldn’t remember how Niolo Pagliacci died at all? To be honest, I don’t think the authorities had any choice but to doubt her,”
Hugo refuted sarcastically. Hester kept silent for a little while before she slowly said,
“What is your intent in telling me this?”
Her sharp grey eyes studied Hugo’s profile in minute detail. But Hugo ignored her pointed staring and, in an unchanged leisure tone, replied,
“I was under suspicion too when the investigations began. I hadn’t known back then, but it makes sense to me now that I’ve taken the time to think about it. I can understand why people were suspicious, though that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant. And unlike you, who volunteered to participate in this operation, I was dragged into this solely because I’m a wizard who happened to reside in Penzas —a truly preposterous reason.
It was uncharacteristic of him to grumble. He continued,
“More importantly, I’ve been stuck here for over a week now because the investigation hasn’t been making progress. To be quite frank, I’d like nothing more than to reduce the skeletal remains of the train to ashes and finally go home. It took me three whole years to tame Bamber —what if he forgets what I look like while I’m gone?”
Despite what he had said earlier, Hugo Alpheus was apparently rather cross as well and seemed to want to give Superintendent Veronica Terrance a piece of his mind. Hester deeply empathized with the shocking contents of his words. They exchanged looks for a moment before their gazes were naturally drawn to the train. The witch and wizard’s normally tranquil eyes suddenly began glistening with a peculiar fever.
Then, someone began calling for them from afar.
“Lady Sol! Sir Hugo! Superintendent Terrance is asking for you.”
The person waving back at them from just in front of the train was a superintendent-in-training who was under Superintendent Veronica Terrance’s command. Hester and Hugo sighed simultaneously as if they had planned it as they slowly began walking over. They were both fretting because they had been kept away from their homes for so long, and black shadows fell upon their retreating figures.
“It looks like they’ve found something serious. Don’t you think that Superintendent Terrance looks quite scary at the moment?”
the superintendent-in-training said without prompting. Hester and Hugo kept their silence as if it was only natural as they walked up to Superintendent Veronica Terrance, who was having a grave conversation with one of her subordinates in a corner of the shadowed passenger car.
“Is something the matter?”
“Ah, you’re both here.”
Superintendent Terrance brushed back her disheveled hair as she nodded back at them. She was a member of the Ingram Central Police Magic Crimes Investigation Department, which was responsible for handling crimes of magical nature all throughout Ingram, and she was also a palace witch under a contract of employment with the royal family. Magical crimes were generally more dangerous than normal ones, and the Tragedy had been especially dangerous —which made her duty to investigate the crime scene a job of utmost importance.
“Please take a look over here.”
she said as she abruptly pointed to a spot on the floor. But the spot she was pointing to was scorched black, like the rest of the train, and neither Hester nor Hugo could find anything special about it with only their naked eyes.
“What have you found? —I don’t feel any questionable magic at play,”
Hugo asked. The look on Superintendent Terrance’s face was still as she handed him a small glass bottle. There was a tiny bit of blackened burnt powder inside.
“Please smell it.”
Hugo blinked, but he obediently brought the bottle to his nose as he was told. He immediately scowled.
“Is this sulfur?”
The blood quickly drained from Hester’s face. She took a whiff of the bottle too as Superintendent Terrance whispered in a quivering voice,
“Sulfur does not appear naturally here in Penzas. Which means that this sulfur could not have been produced in this region through any natural means —though it is still possible that one of the passengers had been carrying some on them…….”
“Demons are said to smell like sulfur. And it is well-known that Niolo Pagliacci had summoned one previously. We cannot completely rule out the possibility that a demon was summoned here,”
Hugo said bitterly. Superintendent Terrance quickly nodded back at him.
“Niolo Pagliacci’s corpse was also found in this car. It’s very likely that he summoned a demon here. Moreover, his corpse…….”
Superintendent Terrance, who had been rapidly stringing together her words until then, suddenly snapped her mouth shut. Then, her eyes began swimming everywhere as she expressed just how obviously bewildered she was. She continued,
“I-I’ll continue our investigations for now. I’ll see you both again later.”
She left as if she was fleeing from something. Hester furrowed her brow as she cast a sidelong glance at the superintendent’s retreating figure. She had vividly felt the superintendent grow even warier of her after Hugo had said his piece.
“And now even demons have begun turning up in this mess,”
Hugo complained in disgust. The Walpurgis Council, which had entrusted the investigations to the state authorities, would no longer be able to turn a blind eye to this matter now that there was evidence that a demon had been summoned. This also meant that Hugo Alpheus and Hester Sol would continue being pestered even more about this because they were both important witnesses. Hugo continued,
“Then again, how did your sister manage to survive, Lady Hester?”
Hester did not answer his question. To be more precise, she could not answer his question. Diana did not remember anything that had happened while she was alone with Niolo Pagliacci. She could not answer whether Mad Niolo had truly summoned a demon, how she had sustained the wound on her abdomen, or what had happened on the train until Hester had come to rescue her.
But Hester was keeping a secret that she hadn’t told anyone.
On that day, when she had run inside the burning train in her fervent need to save her sister. She had seen a headless corpse inside the same car where Diana had been bleeding out.
And she knew that Niolo Pagliacci’s corpse had been missing his head.
* * *
Late at night under the crescent moon.
Their bonfire stood out starkly inside the darkness that had seeped quietly into every other corner of the forest. Wild animals were naturally drawn to the suspicious light shining in seclusion, but even the most savage beast among them could not dare approach it. This was because a certain wizard no longer felt the need to conceal his chaotic magic and was casting his spells freely.
Diana was glaring at the storybook hunter as she lied down in the bonfire’s light. He looked no different as he sat in front of the fire than he had earlier. Though his visage, which had looked kindly before, now made her break out in goosebumps.
“I won’t kill Jallomo. And I won’t hurt the two of you either as long as you don’t get in my way,”
the man had said after Cedric had collapsed. He had continued,
“After all, what can the two of you possibly do without Cedric Jiles?”
The man’s words were unfortunately true. Which was why they hadn’t been able to refute them. Rupert was just barely managing to make ends meet by working as a librarian because he found it difficult to cast even beginner-level spells, and Diana was an extremely average witch who simply happened to have developed peculiarly keen senses. They could not even give Cedric basic treatment after he had passed out. All they could do was to tie up his wound tightly with clean cloth —the spells to stop bleeding and generate new flesh involved creation magic, which was significantly too difficult for either of them.
Diana anxiously turned her eyes back to Cedric, who was lying next to her. His complexion was growing paler and his breathing more irregular, but there was nothing she could do for him. All she could do was warm up his ice-cold hand.
“Please don’t die here…….”
Diana had never experienced the death of someone close to her before. She had suffered the terror that accompanied her own impending death last spring, when she had been dragged into the Tragedy that Mad Niolo had put into play, but she had yet to experience the misfortune arising from the death of a close friend.
Loss resulting from death. She didn’t even know what it really was, but she was terrified of it nonetheless.
“You needn’t be so worried, since he won’t be dying so easily,”
a cheery voice suddenly replied to her from up close. Diana sat up before she could stop herself. Her gaze swept over Jallomo, who was curling into himself as he slept, and Rupert before she fixed her eyes on the figure sitting before the fire. The storybook hunter, who was the only person who hadn’t fallen asleep, still wore an expression she couldn’t quite make out as he observed the flames. He continued,
“Skilled wizards like Cedric Jiles don’t die very easily to begin with. Besides, there’s so much magic in the area that he’ll last for at least a few more days even without any treatment.”
He sounded so dry he could have simply been reading a newspaper. But Diana still vividly recalled how he had kicked Cedric as he was lying on the ground not too long ago, and it made a chill run down her spine.
“Why are you letting Cedric live?”
The storybook hunter drew one of his knees closer into him as he tilted his head to the side.
“Are my reasons important?”
“You hate Cedric.”
“You don’t think I shot Cedric Jiles simply because I dislike him, do you?”
The storybook hunter smirked from the absurdity of the idea. He continued,
“The only reason why I targeted Cedric Jiles is because he’s dangerous. On the other hand, I have no reason to attack you, Ginger, because neither you nor the librarian can pose a threat to me.”
“Then are you trying to suggest that you don’t feel anything toward Cedric? You?”
Diana’s suspicious grey eyes were staring directly back at the storybook hunter. The storybook hunter stared back and locked eyes with her for a while before he snickered.
“You’re sharper than I thought. Very well —it’s true that I’m not very fond of Cedric Jiles. Though to be precise, it’s his father whom I dislike.”
The storybook hunter leaned toward her and continued whispering,
“But it is also because of his father that I didn’t kill Cedric Jiles outright.”
Diana continued staring quietly at the storybook hunter. The contours of his face looked slightly different than they had yesterday now that the crimson flames were casting shadows over him. His blond hair, as golden as honey under the sun, his bluish-green eyes, as clear as the spring sky, and his elegant features now looked no different to her than Niolo Pagliacci did in her nightmares.
“Why are you staring at me like that?”
“I think I’ve figured out who you are.”
Then, the storybook hunter lost his composure for the first time since she had known him.
There were rules that must be obeyed in the world of magic, just like how human society had to obey the king’s laws. Those who broke the rules were branded as criminals, and they were sentenced before three impartial judges. There were only three possible verdicts. Criminals were either deemed not guilty, forced to pay material compensation, or sentenced to Gwaltiello Velli, the worst prison on earth.
But there were also some criminals who fled before they could be judged. The Walpurgis Council, the highest authority in the world of magic, put fugitive criminals on the international wanted list and organized skilled witches and wizards to pursue them. And Cedric’s father was one of the strongest such ‘hunters.’
“You can’t kill Cedric because you’re afraid of his father. The Wizard of the Flash would do everything in his power to apprehend you if Cedric died.”
Diana recalled the letters and packages that had periodically arrived at the Jiles manor. The flyers that neither her teacher, Chesterty, nor Cedric paid much attention to. But Diana flipped through the mail by habit and had always seen the brutal portraits drawn on them. Diana continued,
“You haven’t aged very much, Hessen Gwintir.”
He was a legitimate son of <Cruel Gwintir>, and a thief who had stolen the Twelve Treasures of House Ortega, another magical household with a long history to its name.
Apparently, he was after Grieg Fromm’s hidden treasure this time.
“Truly, this is rather unexpected. Who on earth did you take after to be so quick on the uptake……?”
Hessen Gwintir, the storybook hunter, began chuckling quietly. He didn’t appear uneasy at all even though he had been found out, and his each and every gesture oozed of his fiendish composure. He continued,
“I suppose you must have taken after Griselda, no?”
Diana’s visage stiffened as his words took her by surprise. Hessen’s eyes curled like crescent moons as they glistened in the firelight.
“N-no. I don’t want to go.”
Jallomo was terrified as he hid behind Diana’s back. Hessen Gwintir let out a soft sigh, having grown rather frustrated because Jallomo was refusing to even look him in the eyes.
“Why are you so frightened? I promised you that I wouldn’t harm you.”
“Why should I trust you?! Y-you were the one who hurt Sir Cedric.”
“That is because Cedric Jiles would have attacked me by now if I hadn’t. My hands were tied.”
“You’re wrong! Sir Cedric isn’t someone who would do that. What would you know about him?!”
“In that case, Jallomo, what exactly do you know about them?”
Jallomo was rendered silent by Hessen’s sharp question. Hessen beamed and continued asking,
“I’ve grown curious now. Why is it that you trust Ginger or Cedric Jiles over there when you so adamantly reject me?”
“……You’re an evil wizard,”
Jallomo barely managed to reply in a quivering voice. He continued,
“You hurt Sir Cedric with magic yesterday, didn’t you? Sir Rupert told me. And you’re a fraud who’s tricked the innocent villagers. Why did you want to come to the Black Forest when you’re not even a real hero? I’m sure you’re up to something bad.”
Rupert, who was standing away from them, flinched visibly when Hessen, who had been listening attentively to Jallomo’s reply, suddenly turned toward him. Hessen stared at him for a while before contempt began coloring his gaze.
“I won’t deny it. But Jallomo, it looks as though there is something you aren’t aware of yet.”
His lips twisted into a smile as he pointed at Diana. He continued,
“These people are wizards too, just like me.”
Jallomo contemplated over Hessen’s reply in a daze before he began stepping back while quivering like a fish taken out of water. He looked to Rupert in utter disbelief, but Rupert quietly turned away to avoid his stinging gaze. Then, Jallomo’s desperate gaze turned to Diana.
Diana turned around to face him. Her mien was as clear as it always was, but Jallomo could not help but feel something unfamiliar about it and simply waited for her to say something in his anxiety.
“Do you want to go with him, Jallomo?”
Diana asked quietly. Jallomo did his best to keep his tears from bursting out from him as he shook his head no. He desperately did not want to accompany the false hero. What if he found himself face-to-face with the terrifying wizard of the swamp while he was accompanying Hessen? Diana continued,
“That person will drag you along against your wishes no matter what. And I’m sorry, but I’m not strong enough to stop him. I’m too weak a witch to rescue you from him.”
Diana closed her mouth for a moment before she then whispered,
“But I can go with you, if that’s what you want.”
Jallomo, who had been staring at his feet in resignation, snapped his head back up. The unchanging expression on Diana’s face changed ever so slightly for a moment as she wondered if she had been hearing things, but the way that Hessen’s face crumbled into a scowl told her that she hadn’t been mistaken.
Diana turned back around to Hessen. The scowl on his face, which suggested that he was angry that things weren’t going as he had planned, felt somewhat refreshing to her.
“You heard him, right? We’re coming too.”
“I must refuse.”
“Jallomo won’t follow you obediently unless we go with him.”
“Do you think I’m uncapable of bending an ordinary child to my will?”
Hessen laughed coldly. He continued,
“Besides, what can you possibly do without Cedric Jiles? One of you is utterly lacking in talent, and the other is a librarian who is only barely capable of managing some books. There is nothing you can do if I insist on only taking Jallomo with me.”
“I’m well-aware that we’re powerless to resist you. That’s why I’m trying to persuade you instead.”
Nervously, Diana replied,
“We will go to the swamp regardless of whether you take us there or not. You aren’t the only one who knows that we can find the swamp by following the fog. You’ll have to kill us here and now if you want to keep us away from you that badly, am I wrong?”
Hessen’s visage turned frigid as he turned to Rupert. But just as Rupert was about to speak up, Diana quickly interjected,
“Don’t even think about doing anything to hurt Mr. Rupert. I don’t know how things are in Banzè, but Ingram protects palace wizards very seriously. The king will make you the most wanted criminal in Ingram, in accordance to the Ballompiè Treaty, if you hurt him. You’ll have a billion gold on your head, and countless hunters will start chasing after you. Do you really think that Cedric’s father, whom you’re so scared of, would be any different?”
“……I see. You’ve successfully persuaded me out of murdering the librarian.”
Slowly, Hessen turned back to Diana. Diana bit down at her quivering lips.
“You know who my sister is.”
“My sister can’t live without me. That’s why she still lives with me ever though I’m lacking —I’m still her one and only family. That’s just how much she loves me. She won’t stay quiet about this if you hurt even a single hair on my head.”
Hessen didn’t reply for quite some time. He simply looked deep in thought as he allowed the silence to prevail around him.
“……There’s just one thing I’m curious about,”
Hessen finally said. He continued,
“Why are you so adamant about accompanying me? From your perspective, it shouldn’t matter to you either way, no? You’ll be able to make it out of this storybook safe and sound as long as I properly conclude the story. I cannot understand why you would purposefully come with me despite the danger.”
“In that case, why are you so adamant about leaving me behind?”
Diana asked back. Finally, Hessen raised his hands in surrender as he laughed silently.
“Fine. Very well. You win. To be honest, I don’t really have a problem with you coming along. It’ll be a bit of a hinderance, but nothing more,”
Hessen said before pointing at Cedric, who was still unconscious. He continued,
“But what will you do about Cedric Jiles?”
Diana replied with magic instead of words. Cedric did not stir, just as he hadn’t back while he was still on the ground, even as she lifted him up into the air with a small gesture of her hand. She studied him carefully for a moment before letting out a sigh of relief. She was firmly determined to do everything that she possibly could to bring everyone with her.
Hessen shook his head as he turned around to leave.
“Do as you wish. As you wish.”
Rupert glared at his retreating figure from afar and quickly ran after him. Diana was exhausted as she forced her feet to move, but she didn’t get very far before Jallomo tugged at the hem of her clothes.
Jallomo seemed confused as he looked up at her. The young boy probably had no clue what was going on or what he was supposed to do. But Diana opted not to explain things to him one by one.
The storybook hunter, who had appeared out of nowhere and shot Cedric, had known who she was even though she had never disclosed her identity to him. He knew who she was, and he knew who her mother was. Diana was just as confused as Jallomo was.
She took Jallomo by the hand. Jallomo was to her left, Cedric was to her right, and in front of her was a thief who was crawling into the darkness on his own two feet. Her responsibilities had suddenly increased, but she could be certain of nothing. There was only one thing she could trust in this perilous situation.
Her intuition was telling her that she absolutely must not allow Jallomo to accompany Hessen Gwintir alone.
Diana decided to bet everything on her vague intuition.