S01 Chapter 5: Heavens, the Lonesome Witch

TL/N: Will be out of the country until November 15th, don’t look for me. ;p

p.s. This was one of my favorite side stories in the volume (My other favorite is up next, then the trudge through three I didn’t care much for), and was certainly fitting to have it released after Vol 6 release to provide some closure for the entire Celica arc. So, enjoy.

p.p.s. ver 1.1 of Vol 6 is out with new fixes in case you want an updated version for your collection (Including the long-awaited name fixes to match the official names.)


In the bone chilling wind that could cut the skin like a knife, a single woman stood.

Her golden hair fluttered in the intense wind, while her alluring figure was tucked under a long black robe – the uniform of the Imperial Court Mage Corps. The woman simply stood motionless as her body and robe were buffeted by the freezing wind.

At a glance, the woman should be no more than twenty. Her beauty was mesmerizing, yet permeated a certain darkness. Obscured by the drifting threads of golden hair, her eyes were bloodshot and filled with an unnatural weariness for life.

“…”

Standing opposite to her were three who wore matching uniform, the same as the woman’s. Yet, their peeling skins were pale, their eyes were feverish, and their body emitted a putrid smell. They had long been turned into mere thralls of the Lich and had been plucked from the natural cycle of life.

The three who stood before the woman were all people she knew – companions who she had fought alongside mere months ago. However, seeing the terrible end of her former companions, the woman, Celica Arfonia, did not seemed to display the slightest sorrow.

“Haa… How pitiful.” Celica scoffed as she coldly stared down at them.

The three emotionless thralls raised their hands toward Celica and began chanting with a dreadful whisper as they tapped into the magic they had mastered in their lifetime. Flashes of purple lightning, bolts of flame, and waves of extreme chill all struck where Celica stood.

“…Hmph.”

Facing the overwhelming power that sought to consume her, Celica just nonchalantly narrowed her eyes.

◇ ◇ ◇

A few days ago, in a neglected room where several empty wine bottle and broken shards of glass littered the floor.

“…To liberate a certain village from the terrors of a Lich? Ugh… Is that my mission?” Celica listlessly stirred in her bed as she leaned on the magic communicator.

She was dressed in a black negligee, with the straps loosely dangling off her shoulder. Her ample chest, slim arms, and voluptuous thighs lay uncovered by the thinly veiled fabric, revealing her sensational figure as she lay prone in bed. While her eyes drifted in and out of focus, she flashed a seductive smile with heavy breaths and flushed skin… the very definition of depravity and decadence.

“Yes. Imperial Court Mage Corps Special Operative, Code 21 ‘The World’ Celica Arfonia… The Imperial Government deems this as a highly time-sensitive matter.” From the other ‘end’ of the crystal came the voice of Queen Alicia Septima, “To liberate the village from the Lich, I had already sent out ‘The Strength’, ‘The Temperance’, ‘The Sun’ and… ‘The Tower’. However, we have not heard back from any of them since…”

“…Oh?” Celica gently stirred her body, finally showing an interest in the topic.

“Those four are among the strongest of the Mage Corps and are definitely first-rate mages. It pains me to say this, but from the various intelligence we have been getting, they are all likely…”

“Hahaha… Killed by the Lich? I guess it can’t be helped, considering those small fries.” Celica could not help but let out a genuine laugh, to which Alicia’s tone turned severe.

“Don’t say that, Celica. At the very least, they are your companions.”

“…Companions? Alice, would you ever call the ants by the roadside your friends? Hehehe~”

“Celica, you shouldn’t treat others with such contempt…”

“Haa… It is a fact that they are weak, so how is it wrong to tell it as it is?” Celica let out a contemptuous chuckle, “That reminded me… ‘The possibly-collapsed Tower’, Henrietta, tactlessly challenged me to a ‘duel’ the other day. I got a tad serious and beat her up in full view of everyone… Hahaha… That was a really fun fight! Her humiliated face was absolutely priceless. I wished you were there to see it, Alice!”

“Celica!!”

Faced with the angry Alicia Septima, Celica tried to reply in an appeasing tone.

“…Come on, don’t be angry Alice. Henrietta was the one who challenged me, and it was an honest ‘duel’. If anything, I only accepted the challenge to follow the proper custom.” Celica spoke of her co-worker like disciplining a misbehaved child, “Something about ‘the strongest mage’… You know, isn’t that girl just an idiot? Of all the people she could have challenged, she chose me. Considering both the difference in experience and rank, there was simply no way for her to win.”

“I don’t mean that…! Why? Celica… what happened to you? I knew you were aloof, but it was never this bad…” Alicia Septima’s worry made Celica somewhat defensive.

“…Hmph. Keep to your own business, Alice.”

“Were you drinking again today? How many times have I told you to stop drinking that much?!”

“It’s just a bit of alcohol… This lousy body of mine is completely immune to that kind of weak poison. Hahaha… Even a little harm isn’t bad from time to time… D-darn it all…”

“…”

Celica muttered her own anger and frustration.

“I… have no way to help you… I can’t even be by your side… My position of Queen will make you subconsciously reject me. I… have no way of reaching your inner heart, for which I am regretful.” Alicia Septima said, having sensed something was stirring in Celica.

“…Ah? What are you talking about, Alice?”

“There has to be someone… who would unconditionally stay by your side and interact normally with you…”

With that said, silence descended upon the conversation as Celica quietly contemplated Alicia’s words.

“…Pfft. Hahaha… Hahaha…!!” Before long, Celica broke the silence with a loud laughter, “Alice, what are you talking about? Listen careful, I am ‘strong’. Therefore, I have no need for someone like that. If anything, they are just a burden to me. Why would I ever rely on a ‘weakling’ like that? Right?”

“Celica… I-…”

“…It’s good. I am fully briefed on the mission.” Celica forcibly cut short what Alicia Septima wanted to say, “Lich… an accursed undead magician that rely on stealing the life force of others to achieve eternal life – a disgusting creature. Hahaha… Just thinking about it makes my blood broil. I got it, Alice… Just leave the bug extermination to me. I will completely purge that Lich from this world.”

◇ ◇ ◇

“…‹Get lost›!”

Celica used just two words to activate Black Magic [Plasma•Cannon], [Inferno•Flare], and [Freezing•Hell] in tandem, all high ranked strategic spells. Thick stream of lightning, flood of scorching flame, and wave of crippling chill easily brushed aside the thralls’ spells.

It was Triple Harmonics, one of Celica’s greatest techniques.

A thunderous explosion shook the nearby village as the companions-turned-thralls were erased from the world.

“Haa… Weak… You guys are way too weak.” Celica let out a condescending laughter, “To think the elites of the Mage Corps – ‘The Strength’ Illas, ‘The Temperance’ Turi, and ‘The Sun’ Crea – would be such pushovers… Hahaha… No wonder you all died so easily.”

Her shameless barrage of insults toward her ex-companions continued and seemingly without any remorse.

“Now…”

With her back turned to the scorched hills, Celica continued her way north to the village.

Along the way, all the houses she passed had their door tightly shut.

“Hey, chief! It’s done, open up!”

Celica knocked on the door, and, soon, a middle-aged man reluctantly opened up. The man was the chief of the village.

“I had taken care of the thralls of the Lich. The village should be fine for now.”

“Oooh… R-really? I-incredible! T-to think there was really someone who could defeat them… The village is saved!” The chief joyously cried.

“…Haa. Don’t get ahead of yourself. We are still far from getting rid of the Lich.”

Celica sighed as she shrugged her shoulders.

“Liches are magician who had used forbidden magic to turn themselves into immortals, through which they gain an incredible amount of magic power. They are beings that had casted away their humanity for the sake of immortality, but ultimately, are shackled by their need to absorb living souls. In my opinion, they are quite the superficial existence.” Celica scoffed, “Therefore, to maintain their need, they are forced to stay near populated centers with their thralls… such as this village.”

“Oh…”

“However, there are many ways to kill an undead. After all, the very concept of ‘undead’ indicates the shallowness of their search for immortality, and, after achieving immortality, they are fiercely protective of themselves. As such, Lich rarely hunt for souls by themselves and rely on their thralls to do the dirty work for them~”

“Thralls… is it?”

“Yes. If a Lich takes away enough soul from a human vessel, the person will become a thrall. They are minions who follow the Lich with absolute obedience and will do their bidding in the hunt for souls.”

“T-then… the villagers who had disappeared up till now… t-they are all?” The chief asked as blood drained from his face.

“Yes, they are almost certain to have died. Perhaps sucked dry, perhaps serving the Lich as a thrall… Regardless, they are all beyond help now.” Celica gave an apathetic reply.

“N-no way… How could I tell that to their families…”

“Who knows? Maybe tell them to suck it up? Ah, they could always ask the Imperial Government for some welfare. You sure you don’t want to give it a go?”

Celica flung her hair back without a care in the world.

“Either way, Lich are certain to perish without souls. If we eliminate its thralls, the Lich will eventually be forced to hunt by itself. As long as we kill it then, everything will be wrapped up perfectly.”

Celica revealed a bone-chilling smile, to which the chief could only gulp.

“At the current moment, there are still thralls to kill. Although they are just trash, the process will take some time. Honestly, this is why I hate Lich eradication missions.”

“C-could the Lich run away during that time?”

“Nope. I won’t bore you with the technical stuff, but basically, Lich could not wander far from the site where they descended into an undead. Pretty worthless existence, right? From the previous reports, the earliest records of the Lich started at this village, so likely, this village is its origin.”

With that said, Celica uncaringly turned and began to walk away.

“…Therefore, I will need to stay around for a few days. Is that alright?”

“Ah, mmn… Certainly.” The chief nervously replied, “Y-you are the savior of this village. Your magic has given our humble village hope. I am certain the entire village will welcome you in open arms.”

“…”

Suddenly, Celica paused her footsteps.

“P-please… save us, Celica-sama.”

“…Mmn. Just leave it to me.” With a quiet reply, Celica walked away from the chief’s house.

“Hmph… What savior… what welcome… bastard!”

Celica slowly made her way to the small, reclusive hut at the edge of the village.

“To think he had the gall to spew out such a blatant lie.” Celica cursed as she kicked the jug lining the side of the road.

Cellica knew perfectly well. She was not welcomed at the village and was treated as a monster of the same, or perhaps even greater, magnitude as the Lich.

When Celica arrived at the village the day before, all the villagers who saw her avoided contact with her, almost trying to hide themselves away. Even now, no villager dared to come and greet her, and everyone had their doors bolted shut.

Not to mention, Celica had to kill three companions of hers, and that fact had made the villagers even more fearful and hateful of her.

How annoying…

“When they are just a bunch of defenseless ‘weaklings’…!”

Certainly, the villagers were not completely at fault. Despite the long history of magic, it remained a wonder for the usual layperson and was frequently equated with demonic powers. Therefore, to the layperson, a person who could freely use magic at will was seen as an object of fear.

Moreover, there was another reason for their fear…

“To think bad rumors about me had spread to such a remote village…”

The other day, she had heard a distant villager mutter that name – ‘Ashen Witch’.

The nickname was meant to signify how she would turn everything into ash wherever she went, an avatar of destruction and death. As such, in the eyes of the unenlightened villagers, Celica was a being no different from the Lich.

“…Hmph. The gratitude of mere ants means little to me. My job is simply extermination. Not to mention, I got to say that wiping out those trashes with magic was quite satisfying~ I should seriously savor the feeling a bit more the next time around~”

However, contrary to her spoken words, Celica’s heart was quite despondent.

“…Tsk.”

With a click of her tongue, Celica took to the road once more with unspoken dissatisfaction.

“Ah, Big Sis!” A sharp voice stopped Celica in her tracks, “Are you the ‘Sorcerer of Justice’ that have come to rescue us?”

Celica turned her head to the sound with a face full of irritation, only to find a small child of around ten-years-old behind her.

“…Who are you?”

“Me? I am Glenn, Glenn Radars!” The youth responded with sparkling eyes.

“…”

At that moment, Celica remembered. When she first arrived in the village, in contrast to the sharp glares of the villagers, only this youth looked upon her with awe and anticipation.

“You… do not fear me?”

Celica gazed at the youth, Glenn, with half-closed eyes. Her blood-shot eyes emitted an unbearable pressure, toward which anyone would avoid eye contact.

“Huh? Why would I? Didn’t Big Sis come to protect us? So Big Sis is definitely a gentle person~ I am certain of it.”

However, no matter how Celica tried to shoo the annoyance away, Glenn continued to look at Celica with an innocent smile.

“Even earlier, I had seen it from atop the tree! Big Sis was able to easily defeat those kidnappers! Mmn… As I expected, Big Sis is the ‘Sorcerer of Justice’ that came to rescue us, right?”

Faced with the dense brat that did not take her cues, Celica was boiling with rage.

In her anger, she activated her pre-chanted magic.

Immediately, the chantless magic created a massive pillar of fire that reached into the heavens. It consumed the youth and, with a loud explosion, tore through the ground. As the flames dissipated, and the air returned to its usual calm, the ground surrounding the youth was scorched, but left the youth unharmed.

“Get lost, I will aim for real next time. I especially hate annoying brats like you.” Celica declared as she gave Glenn an icy stare.

“Uwaa! Awesome! Big Sis is really cool!”

Contrary to Celica’s expectations, Glenn began to clap in excitement.

“That was ‘sorcery’ right?! I have seen it in the book! I’ve heard ‘sorcery’ could do everything! It can protect everyone from harm and bring happiness to all! I wish I could do something that powerful and cool!”

“…You brat.”

On the other hand, Celica’s rage has reached a critical point.

“Hey, Big Sis! Could you made ‘sorcery’ do anything else? Please show me! Come on, just a peek, pretty please?” Glenn begged Celica like a kid begging for candy.

His gaze was filled with innocence and curiosity, and his words were brimming with conviction. To Glenn, Celica was the ‘savior’ of the village, and the ‘Sorcerer of Justice’ spoken in legends.

How… annoying.

“…!”

Celica was unsure why, but she was unable to bear the innocent gaze of the youth.

“…Ah?”

Glenn let out a sharp cry as his small body fell hard onto the ground.

“…Get lost, or I will really kill you.”

Celica had kicked Glenn away with a powerful kick.

“Hmph… you deserved it.”

Celica glanced at the fallen Glenn from the corner of her eye. Feeling satisfied, Celica tried to turn to walk away. However, the satisfaction proved fleeting.

“Ugh… O-ouch… W-why?” The pained voice of Glenn came from behind.

“…?!”

At that moment, Celica was filled with regret and worry. Her heart ached from an unknown pain.

“…B-big Sis. A-are you not t-the Sorcerer of Justice? H-here to protect us?”

“…!”

Faced with the youth’s question, Celica could only run away.

“D-darn it! T-that brat! No… don’t look at me with those eyes! It almost made me remember that person… D-darn it!” Celica muttered as she ran through the village, with not a soul to hear her words.

◇ ◇ ◇

…I had a dream.

Since that day, I had lost count of how many times I have had this dream.

It was a story from over two hundred years ago, or about two hundred years since I had ‘awoken’ in this world. It was something that had happened when I was halfway through my four hundred year journey.

On a scorched and accursed battlefield, I stood next to her in the apocalyptic world.

“…I-it’s done, Celica.”

She said lying down on the ground, while her body was awash with blood.

Next to her, her trusty sword was stabbed into the earth, resembling a grave marker. She had received fatal wounds beyond the limits of any healing, but still looked at me with a smile.

“F-finally, we had d-defeated the E-Evil God… Hahaha… A-as expected, C-Celica is r-really strong. I a-am certain, C-Celica is the S-Sorcerer of Justice…”

Cough.

The regrets after a desperate battle, the joy of victory… none of it mattered.

“P-please don’t die… Ellie.”

I only gripped her, Eliethe’s, hand and wept. My usual cold visage had long been cast away.

“D-don’t die… and leave me alone… in this world…”

“C-Celica… T-this is as far as I will go.”

Eliethe’s tears were not from the fear of death, but grief for leaving me alone in the world after her death. She was, even on her death bed, an ‘indisputably good person’.

“D-don’t say that…! I want you to keep on bothering me! Although I was always cold to you, but honestly…!”

I clenched Eliethe’s hand, hoping that my grip would keep her tethered to the world.

For a magician who had mastered the logics of the world, my futile actions were the very epitome of foolishness. Even so, I continued to grip her hand in mine.

“I don’t want to be alone again! No matter how annoying, no matter how detestable, I still hope for someone to stay by my side… I have already had enough of the loneliness, so…”

I no longer cared about my appearance, or even the pride of a seventh-ranked mage. I was disappointed with myself, for only realizing how much I had liked her the moment she was about to die. So I wept, and I kept weeping away.

“P-please… don’t leave me… I… like… you.”

“I know… Ahaha… You are obstinate and prideful… certainly not s-someone to speak y-your mind.” Eliethe rubbed my face as if trying to calm a crying baby, “B-but do not worry, t-the Celica I know is a k-kind and loving person, and, one day, t-there will be someone who will stay b-by your side.”

“No! Before I had met with you, I was always alone!”

It was a time two-hundred years before I had met Eliethe, or four-hundred years from the present.

When I first woke up on a scorched earth… I could not remember who I am or what I had done. Only my name.

The first years of my ‘awakening’ was… wonderful. I had met friends and even had a lover. I was able to embrace love and enjoy the happiness of a woman.

However, one day, while having my own body examined by magic, I was discovered to be un-aging. Everyone was terrified at my abnormal existence and ran away from me.

Even the one who had declared his eternal love and vowed to stay with me till the end of days cursed me as monster and abandoned me. Ironically, that was just after I had happily ordered my wedding gown. It was the first time I had cried so hard.

Even so, there were still some, albeit quite few, people who were willing to stay by my side. Unlike me, they were all humans – ones unable to resist the flow of time, slowly age, and finally…

After dozens of years had passed since my awakening, I stood before their graves with a bundle of flowers in hand, looking not a day older than when I first arrived in this world. Everything was just as the accursed examination foretold.

Soon, I started to exhibit exceptional magic power. The people around me feared, envied, and avoided me. From that moment on, I grew more and more alone.

“O-other than you… no one w-wanted to stay by my side…!”

I… had always been alone.

Even from now on…

“D-darn it! If I had known how painful this would be… t-then from the very beginning, I shouldn’t come in contact with anyone…! I can live perfectly well alone… so why, m-must I be with someone like y-you?!”

“…Celica, I-I’m sorry… R-really really… s-sorry.”

Eliethe continued to shed tears for the lonesome me… for this selfish woman.

Everything would then turn dark, and I would be left to contemplate my own loneliness.

The dream would end, and the warmth in my hand would slowly vanish. No matter how I tried to keep her, the warmth would always slip away.

In her final moments, I regretted that the only words to come out from my mouth were my own selfish desires.

“That person probably has seen through my selfish being.”

I would awaken to such regrets, and would continue to lie in the bed without a wink until first light.

Such was how it usually happened.

Yet, today was different.

…?

The warmth in my hand… did not disappear. Even as my surrounding turned dark, and I could no longer see her face, the warmth remained.

…Ellie?

As if she was next to me. As if she had forgiven my selfish behavior.

…Ah.

My surfacing consciousness once again floated away. As if I was in a children’s cradle, I found myself in a restful sleep for the first time in hundreds of years.

◇ ◇ ◇

The chirping of birds signaled the beginning of a new day as the morning sun tickled Celica’s half-open eyes.

“…Uuu.”

Celica stirred from her slumber with a head full of disheveled hair.

She was in a small wooden house chosen for her temporary stay in the village. It was a building of shoddy construction and the bare minimum of furniture. At the center of the room, Celica had slept in the wooden chair, with her head on the table.

Without moving a muscle, Celica just gazed blankly at the morning sun.

What… did I do last night?

As the grogginess slowly left her, the memories of the night returned.

Ah… right. I had come to remember that fellow again…

From time to time, the chains that bind Celica’s heart would come loose, and, with it, the surge of suppressed emotions would all come bursting out at once.

As such, Celica had simply wept on top of the table, all the way until sleep.

Even in her dreams, Eliethe had appeared, and Celica ended up crying once more.

It was a matter of great personal embarrassment to Celica. As one nicknamed the ‘Ashen Witch’ and holder of the strongest ‘The World’ title in the Imperial Court Mage Corps, Celica was ashamed for her behavior.

Celica had kept a search field up in her vicinity, which was magically connected to Celica herself. If anyone trespassed into the field – no matter how familiar, Celica would immediately be alerted to the presence and be ready to counter.

Aaah… After all, my current appearance is quite undignified.

Celica continued to ponder as she lay motionless.

However, that was a wonderful sleep, and I feel extremely refreshed. I do feel a slight ache in my body, but that was probably from my poor posture. It should have been many years since I had such a restful sleep.

I am sure it was thanks to the warmth that still remained in my hand. Yes, it was thanks to this warmth that I was able-… wait.

Something is odd. Why is the warmth from my dream still in my hands?

“…?!”

Celica suddenly had her half-asleep eyes shot wide open and swung her head up.

Only now did she notice, on the opposite side of the table, the youth from yesterday, Glenn, was asleep at the table with his outstretched hand in Celica’s.

“Wh-…?!”

Celica reflexively pulled her head away from Glenn’s and stood up in shock, while the mysterious blanket on her back slid onto the ground.

With her hand back by her side, Celica felt the warmth in her palm drain away.

As she suppressed her longing for the warmth, Celica turned to the sleeping Glenn.

“Hey, you! Why are you here?!” Celica shouted almost hysterically.

“…Mmn. Huh?”

Having a hand suddenly pulled away and then shouted at, Glenn could not help but wake up. Glenn rubbed his eyes as he looked straight at the nearby Celica.

“Ah~ Big Sis, good morning~”

“Skip the greetings. Answer me now! Why are you here?!” Celica angrily shouted at the half-asleep Glenn.

“Big Sis forgot to lock the door last night. When I peeked inside, I found Big Sis sleeping on the table after having cried… and then…”

Celica was fuming. She did not think this brat would be able to see the ‘weakness’ she had always hid away. For the ‘strong’ Celica, it was beyond what could be described by ‘embarrassment’.

“Don’t barge into someone else’s house, and don’t worry about me! Are your purposely trying to get yourself killed?!” Celica declared with her hand pointed at Glenn.

It was the hand located closest to the heart, the hand meant to use magic. As long as Celica was willing, Glenn would have lost his life. Celica only needed to report that he was caught in a battle with the Lich, and she would be able to avoid any punishment. In short, his life was in Celica’s hands.

“No can do~ Because, as long as Big Sis stays at the village, I am the one assigned to take care of Big Sis.”

“Haa?! Who made you come?! Don’t be nosy!”

“Not to mention, Big Sis was injured. So I was worried.”

“…?!”

Celica’s left wrist was still wrapped in bandages, with medicinal herbs within. The previous night, Celica’s sudden emotional outburst led to her cutting her wrist with a knife. The pains of the repeated cuts allowed her some emotional respite from all the turmoil, and the act had long turned to an addiction.

To a magician, such injuries were of little consequence, as a simple healing spell would be enough to reverse the damage.

However, from the carefully made knot and the well-dressed wounds, Glenn’s worry and care for Celica was clear as day. Even to calm a crying person, it was still quite excessive to hold hands for the entire night. At the least, Celica would never consider such actions.

“…W-why? Why would you go to such lengths for me? Even after all I had done to you?”

“Umm… I can’t just sit idly by and do nothing. Not sure why, but I cannot see Big Sis as an outsider.” Glenn shyly mumbled, “Big Sis, have you had many painful memories of the past? I think I understand a bit of the sadness, loneliness, and bitterness… therefore…”

“Wh-…?!” Glenn’s words were quick to anger Celica once more, “D-don’t be silly, what could you possibly know about me?!”

Celica walked up to Glenn and gripped him by the collar of his clothes.

“Do you know how many years I had lived?! Four hundred years! Four hundred! Could you imagine the insanity that came from such loneliness?!” Celica shouted loudly at the youth, not realizing her anger came from the trueness of Glenn’s words.

“B-Big Sis?!”

“Haa… Isn’t it better for me to just die? Yes, I thought that too! How many times have I tried to commit suicide! But, every time, that voice would cut in at the very last moment! ‘You mustn’t die’, ‘you still have unfinished missions’, ‘it is an important mission’… How the heck should I possibly know what mission it is if I cannot remember it?! Without my memories from before four hundred years, of who I was and what I had done… yet because of this inexplicable nudging, I couldn’t even choose death!!”

Following Celica’s outburst, silence returned to the room.

With a quick contemplation of what she had just said, Celica could only give a dry laugh.

“Hahaha… What the heck was I saying to a brat… how pointless.”

Celica slowly released her grip on Glenn’s clothes and fell back on her chair. With her left hand pressed against her temple, Celica looked up at the ceiling.

“…Get it now? I am just a crazy old lady. You would do better to not associate yourself with someone like me…”

“Big Sis…”

With that said, Celica was certain that the youth would forever disappear from her sight. After all, if she were in Glenn’s shoes, Celica would certainly not take care of a crazy lady even if the village asked her to. Yet, to her surprise…

“I think… I get it.”

Glenn remained.

“Although I do not know Big Sis’s mission… nor do I understand Big Sis’s pain and loneliness, I think I can empathize.” Glenn said as he looked straight at Celica, “After all, living alone is painful for anyone.”

“…Enough, brat, stop saying that you understand.”

“But, I understand.” Glenn replied, “Because, I am also alone.”

“…”

“From when I was very young, both my mother and father had died from a disease that had ravaged the village. Fearing for their own lives, the villagers all shunned me. Now, I live alone.”

“…”

“Even for me, I would cry from time to time because of my loneliness. So I am certain Big Sis’s loneliness and pain exceeded my own by dozens, if not hundreds, times more.”

Silence once more enveloped the room, and the air had become stifled by sadness.

“…I will return, Big Sis.”

“…Seriously, don’t bother.”

Glenn did not care for Celica’s rejection and made his way to the exit.

“Big Sis, I hope you will feel better… To see that day, I will do everything in my power.” Glenn muttered through the half-closed door as he took his leave.

“…” Celica simply remained silent with her head turned away.

Clack. The door was reluctantly shut.

Even with the presence of the youth gone from the room, Celica remained silent.

◇ ◇ ◇

Since the encounter with Glenn, Celica fought silently every day.

The thralls of the Lich, monsters that were once villagers, assaulted the village day after day and night after night. They would not relent until they have consumed all the living.

Certainly, with the abnormal strength of an undead, the thralls were all no different from monsters. If any villagers were to encounter them, the villagers would surely be torn asunder.

However, for the greatest mage of the Imperial Court Mage Corps – Celica Arfonia, the thralls were nothing but pushovers. The sight of the one-sided slaughter would make anyone pity the thralls.

Not to mention, all the thralls that had attacked were former villagers. In other words, the three ex-mages that Celica had erased on the first day were the strongest of the bunch.

Although… something about these attacks feel off…

Celica was slightly baffled by the thralls’ repeated attacks. However, Celica did not give it much further thought and simply erased them were they stood. Day after day, her cold-hearted efficiency at taking lives frightened the villagers and fed to her annoyance.

Yet, as the world was dyed red by the dusk.

“Hmph…”

After cutting them down with her usual spells, Celica slowly made her way back as the ashes of the thralls scattered to the wind. As usual, not a single villager offered Celica a word of thanks.

Following the deserted trail, Celica soon arrived at her small wooden dwelling on the edge of the village and entered without a knock.

“Celica, welcome back!”

Near the table, Glenn received Celica with a bright smile.

“…You idiot, didn’t I told you to hide in the cellars when the thralls attack? Although I had a ward cast upon this house, you should always assume the worst…” In contrast to the happy Glenn, Celica gave a somber reply.

“Don’t be a worrywart! As long as the Sorcerer of Justice is here, no evil shall harm me!”

“…Haa.”

It will be safe as long as Celica is here.

Celica could not help but let out a sigh at Glenn’s staunch belief.

“How many times do I have to tell you? I am not a sorcerer, but a magician. Not to mention, magic is not omnipotent.”

“Uuu… I don’t really understand the difference between the two…”

“In the simplest terms, inexplicable phenomenon like being able to fly through the sky with just an umbrella in hand (1) or being able to pull a cookie from nothingness is considered to be ‘sorcery’. On the other hand, if the procedure relied on scripts or chants that follows the ‘logics of the world’, such as to create a cookie from its components or to use wind and gravity manipulation to fly through the wind, it is considered ‘magic’. The former is just a figment of imagination, while the latter is grounded in clear logic.”

“Ahaha, let’s leave the confusing explanations till later. Dinner is ready, Celica! Today is mushroom stew… I am honestly quite proud of how it turned out~”

Glenn lit the nearby stove and heated up the stew before scooping out two bowls. Sitting opposite to one another, Glenn and Celica began to have their dinner.

“Umm, Celica… how does it taste?”

“So-so.” Celica curtly replied, but her actions spoke otherwise.

As Celica took spoonful after spoonful, Glenn simply looked on and smiled.

“…Hmph.”

Celica hastily turned her head aside in an attempt to avoid Glenn’s gaze.

Slurp. Slurp. The rhythmic sound of eating filled the small wooden room.

Neither Celica nor Glenn said a word as both continued to enjoy their dinner in silence.

When was the last time I had a warm and hearty meal like this… ten, no… twenty years ago?

Celica thought to herself as she greedily consumed the meal.

I will return, Big Sis. That was Glenn’s innocent promise that day, and, since then, he has come to visit Celica every day. At first, Celica was at a loss for what to do. Certainly, it was quite the shock for Celica when Glenn turned up the following day.

No matter how Celica threatened or insulted him – even with the physical intimidation, Glenn came to visit without a grudge. In the days since, Glenn had been looking after Celica. Faced with his obstinacy, Celica finally gave up and let Glenn do as he pleased.

…It’s quite strange. Since this little brat barged in on my life, I am no longer plagued by my vices.

Her broken and frozen heart was slowly being thawed. Although still troubled by her immortality and forgotten mission, Celica no longer sought release through self-destructive behavior.

Perhaps, a life like this isn’t that bad?

The question arose in Celica’s heart, to which the answer soon presented itself.

Yes, a life like this is undoubtedly comfortable, I won’t lie. This warmth… It was like that time with Ellie…

Unwittingly, the corners of Celica’s eyes began to redden.

“…Celica, what’s wrong?” Glenn worriedly asked, having noticed the minute change in Celica.

“Idi-… Seriously, don’t look…” Celica said as she frantically covered her eyes.

“N-not to mention, your face is covered with dinner,” To change the topic, Celica quickly took up a napkin and reached out toward Glenn, “Here, don’t move…”

“…Mmn.”

With arm outstretched across the table, Celica wiped the corner of Glenn’s mouth.

“There. Seriously, even though you feel quite reliable, you are still a brat at heart.”

“…Ah!” Glenn remarked at the sudden appearance, “Celica, did you just smile?”

“…?!”

” Celica is already very beautiful, but your beauty is amplified tenfold when you smile~”

“…Horny brat. It’s a decade too early for you to say such things to a girl.”

Although Celica gave a stare at Glenn, it lacked the usual malice with her face bright red.

“Ah, that’s right… Celica, how is your mission coming along?” Unlike the flustered Celica, Glenn asked in an innocent tone.

“Hmm… I think it’s almost time.” Celica tried to calm herself down, “Between the amount of thralls I had defeated and the amount of missing villagers, the Lich should be running low on thralls under its command and will soon be coming to hunt by itself. As long as I vanquish the Lich then, everything should be resolved.”

“Is that so… Does that mean it’s almost time to part with Celica?”

It was a thought Celica tried not to think, but what Glenn said was certainly true. Once the Lich was defeated, Celica would have to part with Glenn – to end these wonderful days and return back to a life of loneliness.

“Celica… will be alone again.”

A somber atmosphere descended on the small wooden hut.

The youth’s silent mutter reflected Celica’s own desires. From which, thoughts of regret and longing for more sprouted in Celica’s heart. Unwittingly, a certain request slipped from Celica’s mouth.

“When everything is over… Would you… like to stay with me?”

“…Hmm?” Glenn inquisitively tilted his head at the question.

“…No, nevermind.” As if breaking out of a trance, Celica immediately corrected herself.

What the heck was I saying?

Celica let out a long sigh as she held her head in the palm of her hand.

To become so clingy when shown the slightest warmth, am I really such a cheap girl?

Not to mention, what is this fellow to me? A Friend? …No, I clearly do not wish to create such a barrier in our relationship. Then, a lover? Have I come to love him and wish for him to be my companion? …No, even with how weird I am, there is no way it is love with this brat…

“…Really? Could I stay with Celica?” Glenn excitedly asked as Celica continued her inner conflict.

“Ah… No, sorry. It was a slip of tongue.” Celica said in a whisper as she avoided eye contact with Glenn.

However, Glenn did not seem to catch Celica’s reply.

“Thank you, I am glad. I had always wanted to stay with Celica.” Glenn let out a bright smile, “Because I was  always alone, I had always wanted to have a ‘family’. I… would love it if I could be family with Celica.”

“Ah…”

Glenn’s glittering eyes made Celica speechless.

Family, is it?

Celica’s conundrum has been wonderfully answered. It was the answer she sought in the hundreds upon hundreds of years – a simple answer that filled the void in her heart.

“I see… Certainly, being family with you is quite the enticing offer.” Celica laughed heartedly, as if all her worries were finally blown away.

“Hey, Celica. When we become family, will you teach me magic?”

“Hmph, enthusiasm alone won’t cut it.”

“Not to worry! I will definitely work hard, so I could one day become a sorcerer like Celica!”

“This again? Didn’t I tell you that I am not a sorcerer, but a magician-… Fine, I will teach you magic.” Celica shrugged her shoulder in reply as she gave up attempting to correct him.

In her heart, Celica knew that one day, she would come to regret the decision she made this day. The youth lived on a different time from Celica and would eventually disappear from her life. However, for the fear of the pain on that distant day, should Celica abandon the happiness before her? In the long years, Celica had always chose loneliness out of such fear, but was she truly satisfied with her choice? Was she truly happy?

Perhaps it is not wrong to treasure the present…

Even if they had to separate one day, the wonderful memories of their days together would remain. Although her curse shall continue to plague her, Celica would be able to keep on living with the warmth she would gain through the days spent together with Glenn.

…To be with someone in the present, and live the life to the fullest.

On that day, the four-hundred-year old lonesome witch has finally discarded her fear of the future and embraced the present. Yet, little did she know that the day she has dreaded would happen so soon in the future.

◇ ◇ ◇

“What do you mean?!” Surrounded by the entire village, Celica shouted loudly as she held the chief by the collar, “Glenn… was kidnapped by the thralls?! How could that possibly have happened?!”

On that day, Celica went about her usual routine, cleaning up the thralls that marched on the village. As usual, when everything was done, Celica made her way back to her small reclusive hut where Glenn was supposed to be waiting with dinner.

However, the hut was deserted, and Glenn was nowhere to be found in the village. With a sense of foreboding, Celica searched frantically, before chancing upon the information that Glenn was taken by the thralls.

“That isn’t possible! I had a powerful magic ward set up around the house! No unwelcome guests should have been able to approach!”

“…E-even if that is the case. I am certain that I saw the thralls take the child away…” The chief responded with sweat pouring out from his face.

“N-no way… Does that mean he left the house on his own will? But why…?”

With sheer disbelief, Celica could only clench her fist and grit her teeth as a wave of anxiety washed over her.

“…Umm. Celica-sama?”

From nearby, a somewhat apprehensive villager approached with a piece of paper in hand.

“The thrall that had taken Glenn-kun… left this note behind.”

“What?! Give it here!”

Celica forcibly ripped the note from the villager’s hand.

To the ‘Ashen Witch’, Celica Arfonia.

It’s time to end this once and for all. Come to the location written below, where I will wait for you with your cute little lover.

p.s. Your cute little lover was not harmed, since he is an important ‘bargaining chip’. However, if you do not show, I am certain you know what will happen to him.

On the back of the note was a rough sketch of the location.

“Hahaha…”

Celica let out a deep and menacing laugh after reading the note. Her eyes revealed a murderous glare.

“I see… After all that effort to achieve a flawed form of immortality, aren’t you a bit too eager for your death? What a stupid Lich we have here…”

“C-Celica-sama?”

Without paying heed to the terrified villagers, Celica simply walked away with a flick of her robe.

“If that’s how you want to play, I will personally erase you from this world, foolish undead…”

Like a demon king, Celica went her way shrouded in murderous aura.

◇ ◇ ◇

On the north side of the village, there was a hidden villa tucked away in the middle of the woods.

It was a villa protected by numerous wards, and, without the note to guide her, Celica would certainly not have noticed the secluded villa.

“…”

Standing atop a cliff, Celica gazed down at the villa below.

At a glance, it was quite clear the villa was the lair of the Lich, and, within, Glenn was held captive. Having been summoned by the Lich itself, Celica knew the lair was filled with traps. Magic traps, wards, and summons – there were countless possibilities. All of which allowed a weak defender to overcome powerful enemies, to say nothing about the defender being a powerful Lich.

If it were the usual Celica, she would certainly not enter through the front, but rather, use grade-A strategic magic to bombard the villa from afar. However, Celica was hamstrung with Glenn captive within the villa…

“…”

Celica was the highest ranked mage on the continent and was confident to overcome any traps. Not to mention, Celica had many cards up her sleeve for when the situation turn dire.

However, even with the vast difference in power, Celica could not act overconfident in a battle between mages. Within history, there were countless examples of a weaker mage triumphing over the strong. As such, it was always prudent to minimize the risks involved.

“Tsk… So it’s like fighting with chains…”

With a step, Celica leapt from the cliff as she chanted her spell.

Certainly, working with a handicap from time to time isn’t that bad.

As she activated her gravity spell, Celica landed gently on the ground below before making a dash at the gate.

With a loud explosion, Celica blew apart the front door of the villa. Summoned beasts, golems, puppets, and thralls awaited her in the great hall, with the various wards and traps activating to her presence.

Among which, there were wards that limited Celica’s magic, wards that froze Celica’s feet to the ground, wards that explode on contact, and wards that activate a death curse on approach. At the same time, Celica had to deal with the summoned beasts’ sharp claws and the swarms of thralls. Moreover, there were even archaic mechanical traps, such as pitfalls, snares, piano wires, poisonous gases, and wall spikes. For Celica, it was a journey through an encyclopedia of traps.

Yet, faced with traps that even the proud elites of the Imperial Army would not be able to overcome, Celica calmly proceeded. She blew apart Magic beasts, cleansed the thralls, dismantle the traps, or simply use her overwhelming power to blow everything apart.

…Hmph, for some reason, my body feels extremely light, as if nothing is beyond reach.

If it were the usual Celica, she would certainly be troubled by the sheer number of traps. However, the current Celica was like a changed person and performed feats with incredible accuracy. No matter the difficulty, Celica would simply breeze by.

In the most clichéd term, I guess this is a case of “Becoming stronger because I have someone I wish to protect”…

Celica could not help but reveal a sarcastic smile at her revelation.

Glenn, don’t worry… I will certainly bring you to safety.

With an unshakable conviction, Celica dashed through the villa’s halls. Celica’s will burned brighter than any trap that sought to snuff her out.

As such, Celica failed to notice a strangeness that the usual coolheaded Celica was certain to notice. She did not question why the mansion was filled with such an extensive repertoire of traps that could crush even the proud elites of the imperial army with ease. It was a setup seemingly made in full anticipation for her arrival, taking advantage of her unique characteristics and weaknesses. With her head filled with the desire to bring Glenn to safety, Celica simply brushed aside all traps that stood in her way.

“…Haa. To think you would be unscathed after all that…”

At the depth of the mansion, a robed youth awaited her.

“Are you the Lich?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

With his answer, Celica reached into her robe and readied her stance for combat.

Behind the robed youth and restrained by multiple spells, Glenn floated in midair.

“C-Celica?”

“Doesn’t seem to be turned into a thrall… Are you alright?” Celica had expected as much.

“Isn’t that obvious? If I had killed the youth and turned him into a thrall, you would wipe us out without hesitation.” With that said, the robed youth pulled out a large scythe and rested the blade above Glenn’s neck, “I do not wish to lose my only bargaining chip.”

“That’s quite the fancy toy you got there.”

“Hahaha… as you probably realized, this is the sorcerous weapon ‘Death’s scythe’, where even the slightest cut will rob him of his life. No matter how brilliant a mage you are, you would not be able to stop me before I take his life.”

Sorcery was not bound by the laws of the world. As such, even with Celica’s fastest spells, she could not be certain to eliminate the Lich before harm was done to Glenn. With the Lich holding Glenn hostage, Celica could only look on helplessly.

“So, I guess, if you want to save the youth, kill yourself?”

“I expected as much.”

Celica let out a long sigh.

“Certainly something a third-rate immortal could think up.”

“I think that’s enough. Even standing here, I could feel your overwhelming killing intent. If anything, i am quite terrified of you.”

The robed youth let out an apprehensive smile.

“N-no, don’t listen to him!” Glenn shouted with eyes filled with tears, “Don’t worry about me and beat the crap out of-… ah?”

Seeing the scythe touching the hairs on the back of his neck, Glenn let out an involuntary gasp.

“Now, hurry up and kill yourself!” With a devious smile, the robed youth barked as he tossed a dagger to Celica’s feet.

At a glance, the dagger was clearly enchanted, with runes lining the blade.

Celica gazed at the dagger with icy eyes.

“…Fine, it can’t be helped.” Celica replied with a shrug.

“C-Celica, no! I won’t accept it if you were to die!” Glenn pleaded with Celica with tear-filled eyes, but Celica only revealed a confident smile in return.

“Don’t worry, Glenn…” Celica said as she bend down to pick up the dagger at her foot, “Because, I will protect you.”

At that moment, Celica activated the ‘device’ kept in her breast pocket.

“Haa?”

The robed youth was flabbergasted. In the blink of an eye, the scythe in his hand has snapped in two and the trapped Glenn was now next to Celica.

“W-what just happened?”

“Let’s just say I asked time to stop for a bit, since you were so darn cute~”

Celica chuckled as she toyed with an old watch in her left hand.

“This is my unique magic tool, named after the goddess of time, the pocket watch ‘La Tilica’. It frees me from stream of time and allows me to pull off amazing feats. Impressive, isn’t it?”

It was Celica’s trump card. Each use consumed a rare and expensive ‘Temporal Crystal’. As such, Celica could not abuse the tool. However, given its incredible power, it was certain to tilt the balance of any fight in Celica’s favor.

“T-temporal magic? How could it possibly be? Any magic that stops time is fundamentally flawed. With the second law, however long you stop the world’s time, your own body will be stopped for the same amount to compensate for the difference. So, how could you possibly be moving now?”

“Which is why this is my personalized magic. If I had to give it a name, let’s just call it ‘My World’.”

With that said, Celica raised her hand toward the robed youth.

“Now, it’s punishment time. The crime of raising a hand at my Glenn isn’t light, you know~”

“Eek…”

As the robed youth anxiously raised his hands in protest, Celica made her move.

“‹Just die›!”

With overwhelming speed, Celica unleashed ‘Prominence Pillar’. A column of fire rose up around the robed youth, consuming him in the flame.

“Ahhh!!”

With a final yelp, the robed youth was erased from the world.

“In the end, it was a mere third-rate Lich through and through.”

After spatting out some final insult, Celica turned to Glenn.

“Are you alright? Was it scary?”

“Celica… I…”

With tear-filled Glenn dove into Celica.

“Glenn…”

Celica knelt on the ground and received the hug.

“Everything is over… from now and forevermore, I will keep you safe-…”

Stab.

“Hmm…?”

A streak of blood rolled down the corner of Celica’s mouth, with a sudden jolt of pain felt in her left chest. At the time, Celica could not figure out what had happened.

“…”

Glenn silently backed away.

“Ugh… Ahh…”

Celica collapsed onto the ground with only her arms to prop her up.

In Glenn’s right hand was the enchanted dagger, and Glenn himself was doused in Celica’s blood. The curse imbued on the dagger was now coursing through Celica’s blood, paralyzing her entire body.

“Ugh… W-why Glenn…? Why did you stab me?” Having realized what Glenn had done, Celica pulled herself apart and, with tear-filled eyes, pleaded for an answer.

“Hahaha… To think the invincible ‘The World’ Celica Arfonia would be so gullible!”

At that moment, a girl appeared from the shadows behind the column. She wore an identical uniform to Celica – the uniform of an Imperial Court Mage.

“H-Henrietta…? Are you not ‘The Tower’ Henrietta…?”

With wide open eyes, Celica appeared to have finally understood everything.

“That’s right… I thought I was forgetting something… You were not among the mage thralls I defeated… Everyone had been turned to thralls, only you I wasn’t able to find.”

It was always a slight discrepancy. However, given how insignificant an existence Henrietta was to her, Celica did not hold the interest for long.

“S-so, everything that had happened was because of you? Are you the real Lich, and that robed youth earlier was one of your thralls?”

“That’s right, Celica Arfonia… I have been reborn as a Lich, through which I had cast away the shell of mortality and received incredible magic power… all in order to defeat you!!” The Lich, Henrietta, loudly declared as she stared down on Celica, “Using puppets to stage the appearance of a Lich, cutting down my ex-companions, carefully perfecting the scenario… Although everything took quite a bit of effort, I was finally able to have my vengeance!!”

“…Vengeance?”

“Yes, before you had joined the Imperial Court Mage Corps, I was the strongest among the mages and admired by all. However, you stole my position with ease and dominated with an overwhelming experience that none could compare, as if mocking my life-long efforts… Not only that…”

Henrietta marched over to the paralyzed Celica and forcibly pulled her chin up, “You… are an ‘Immortal’! Not one of those fundamentally flawed undead and vampire… but a living and breathing ‘Immortal’!”

“…?!”

“I will slowly waste away through the passage of time. Even with the best of magic, I will still be confined by my age and die. However, you… not only do you have overwhelming power, but also enjoys eternal beauty and youth… You have long reached a point where I could only dream…!!”

Henrietta angrily gritted her teeth as her shoulders trembled from the rage.

“Unforgivable… Absolutely unforgivable! I should have been the chosen one! How could I have lost to someone as lowly as you? Why must I forever stay in your shadow! I won’t allow it!”

“H-Henrietta… You…”

“Enough, Celica. As long as I could defeat you… Surpass you… Everything I did would have been worth it. Even if I had to turn into this unholy Lich – a mere third-rate immortal, as long as I defeat you, I can prove to the world that I am stronger!”

“H-how… pointless…” Celica retorted while bearing with the pain of a pierced chest.

“Ah, that reminded me. Celica, there was something I wanted to show you.” With a gleeful smile, Henrietta announced as she snapped her finger.

From behind the columns, countless humans entered through the doors.

“…?!”

Celica was stunned by the scene. She had met each and every one of them.

“H-how…? W-why?”

At the head of the group was the chief of the village, and beside him stood the man who handed Celica the note. Each and every one of them were villagers of the village. The air of the living had long vanished. With pale skin and soulless eyes, their bodies emitted a putrid odor.

“Ahaha… Did their arrival shock you? From the very beginning, I had the entire village as my thralls.”

“Wh-…?”

“Ashen Witch, Have you forgotten my nickname? I am the ‘Puppeteer’… an expert at making puppets that could deceive people of their authenticity. In other words, I could create thralls to deceive you with ease!”

“H-how…”

A terrible premonition washed over Celica. She anxiously turned around, hoping her premonition would be proven false.

“…Ah.”

When her eyes met Glenn, Celica saw a youth with pale skin and empty eyes. The living and smiling Glenn was no longer there.

“Aaah!!” Tears poured out of Celica’s eyes as she loudly cried out, “Glenn! Ah… Glenn…!! How could you-… Uwaa!!”

“Hahaha! Serves you right, Celica! To realize the one that you had opened your heart to was a mere corpse! Hey, how does that feel? Hahaha!!”

Henrietta’s triumphant laughter accompanied Celica’s tears.

“Even with the whole village firmly under my control, you probably would have easily crushed them. Therefore, in order to defeat you, I had to find a weakness… It was then that I realized, beneath all the stubbornness, you are still just a woman.” Henrietta proudly declared, “After I had observed you for so long – you, the immortal Celica Arfonia and the invincible ‘Ashen Witch’ – I have finally learned about your weakness…”

“Uwaa…”

“The strongest? Nay. You are weak beyond compare. Having an unshakable fear of others harming you, yet yearns for a companion to cure you of your eternal loneliness… You heart is more brittle than anyone else in this world…” Henrietta pulled the helpless Celica up and whispered in her ear, “However, you continued to lash out at your surroundings and ignored your weakness, or rather, stubbornly believing in your own supposed ‘strength’. ‘Because I am stronger than anyone else, I did not need others’, is that how you tried to convince yourself? Hehehe, what pointless pride.”

At Henrietta’s sharp words, Celica tightly clenched her fists.

“You are certainly stronger than anyone in this world, and, as long as you kept pushing everyone away, no one would dare to approach you. Yet, in reality, you are just a paper tiger, or rather, a castle of sand sitting on a beach… your strength is just a fragile illusion.”

“N=no…”

“Therefore, when faced with an existence that could accept you and unconditionally stay by your side, you would open your heart with the slightest kindness. I had hoped to find an opening from that…”

“S-stop…!”

“Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I think you would come to rely on him! Hahaha!! I bet you were really looking forward to the future with Glenn!”

“S-shut up!!”

Celica swung her fists at Henrietta, but Henrietta easily stepped back to avoid the powerless swing.

“Think about it! No matter how much you abused him, he would remain calm and understanding, even caring for you and staying with you. Do you honestly believe someone like him could possibly exist? What an idiot! To think you couldn’t even figure out something as simple as this with four hundred years of life! Hahaha!!”

“Shut up! S-shut up, shut up, shut up!! How dare you-… I will kill you!!”

Celica flung away the tears in her eyes and raised her left hand toward Henrietta. In her anger, she tried to activate her powerful spells.

“Ugh…?!”

A crushing jolt of pain coursed through Celica’s entire body as blood vessels burst open through every pore. With blood gushing out of her every orifice, Celica once again collapsed on the ground.

“Really? Did you really just try something as stupid as that? Face it, you are already done for!”

“Y-you… what did you do?”

“It’s just a simple curse. Whenever you try to use a spell, the curse will inflict unfathomable pain on your body as it is forced to self-destruct… Hehehe…”

Henrietta revealed a devious smile.

“With this, the ‘Ashen Witch’ no longer exists… Without your destructive spells or your command over time… you are now just a regular ‘woman’, right?”

With that said, Henrietta gently snapped her finger as the former villagers crowded around Celica.

“…Ah”

The villagers forcibly flipped Celica on her back and pinned her limbs to the ground.

Celica, who was no different from a regular woman without her magic, was completely restrained by the thralls and no longer able to move.

“Ugh…”

“It’s simply wonderful to see how pitiful you look right now. Do not worry, I won’t let you die so easily. I need to make you suffer all the humiliation and pain the world have to offer before you die, to return the humiliation I had suffered hundredfold!!” Henrietta revealed an ecstatic expression, “To start things off, let me rob you of your dignity as a woman!!”

“…?!”

“To have you completely and utterly assaulted, abused, and demolished! That proud and dignified Celica Arfonia surrounded by the undead, legs pried open and forced upon by rotten corpses… Then, after being stained from head to toe with fluid pouring out from every orifice, I would have you beg and cry at my feet. Ah, what an unbearable bliss!” Henrietta declared as she quivered in anticipation, “Afterwards, I will have you collared, then have you mate daily and train you to be obedient like the female swine you are. Once you are completely broken, I will finish everything by taking my time to slowly kill you. Afraid?”

Silence. As if accepting her fate, Celica remained still and quiet.

“Ah, but I am not heartless. I bet with your attitude, you probably haven’t had much experience the opposite sex. So for my magnanimity, I will have the youth you loved to be the first to mount you. Be grateful, you filthy pervert!”

Without a hint of emotion, Glenn lumbered over to the restrained Celica. At the same time, the surrounding male thralls reached out their hands, intent on violating Celica. Without magic, Celica could only meekly await her terrible end.

Nearby, Henrietta revealed an elated grin as she gazed on the scene, brimming with the confidence that she had finally triumphed over Celica.

Yet, just as she was about to savor her hard-won victory, a tornado of fire circled around Celica and erased the thralls surrounding her.

“…Ah?”

“Henrietta, are you finally done with your drivel?”

As the flames dissipated with the ashes of the thralls, Celica slowly stood back up from the ground.

At that moment, the surrounding thralls leapt toward Celica like a flood of rotten flesh. However, with a simple flick of her arm, Celica threw out a wall of flame that burned down all the remaining thralls in the room.

“N-no way… How?! The curse should have rendered you unbearable pain and destroyed your body whenever you attempted to use magic!! How the heck could you even cast that spell?!”

“For something as trivial as this, I only need to endure…”

The curse assaulted Celica relentlessly as her body was forced to self-destructed. With blood gushing out of her every pore, Celica was enduring incredible pain – pain enough to drive anyone mad.

However, Celica’s indomitable will kept her mind clear and focused as she unleash spell after spell at her assailants. Like a demon lord reborn, Celica’s eyes glowed with palpable rage while she stared at the stunned Henrietta.

“Hmph… How dare you toy with me! Although, you are certainly the first to force me into such an unseemly state… Ugh… and that alone is worthy of praise.”

“Eek…!!”

At Celica’s piercing words, Henrietta involuntarily shirked back as her heart was gripped by fear.

“‹Return thyself to the cycle of providence•…›”

Shrouded by a demonic aura, Celica began her chant.

“‹The five elements to the five elements•…›”

“That spell-…! N-no, I won’t let you succeed!!”

Henrietta’s face turned deadly pale at the incantations and instantly launched a spell to interfere with Celica’s chant. However, with a light snap of her finger, Celica activated a defensive spell that counteracted the interference. Despite blood gushing from Celica’s body with every action, her concentration remained unbroken as she continued her chant.

“Ah… H-how could this be… No way…”

Before Celica’s sheer overwhelming power, Henrietta realized that she had no chance of victory. It was no longer a contest between magicians, since to Henrietta, Celica’s might was no longer within the definition of a ‘magician’.

Why did I ever oppose her? Why did I even want to surpass her? To make Celica my enemy was probably the most foolish decision I had ever made… Since, even if an ‘ant’ become a ‘cockroach’, there was no way for it to overcome a ‘dragon’.

In Henrietta’s heart, such thoughts and regrets began to sprout.

“‹…Sever the links woven between images and truth›!””

With Celica’s chant completed, a massive surge of magic power gathered at the palm of her left hand.

“H-how-… How dare you…! Disappear back to your graves… you trash…!!”

As she raised her palm toward Henrietta, Celica noticed the shambling Glenn nearby and, for a moment, was overcome with a tinge of hesitation.

“…Modified Black Magic [Extinction•Ray]!”

However, in the end, her hesitation went with the spell that poured over the pair. In a blinding flash of light, Henrietta and Glenn were helplessly erased from the world.

With Henrietta’s defeat, everything was finally over. Due to the overwhelming backlash from using the spell [Extinction•Ray], Celica’s body was on the verge of total collapse as she lay helpless in a large puddle of her own blood.

“…I guess I was somewhat pushing it this time.”

Celica couldn’t believe she had made it through in one piece, with her limbs still attached and well. It was an ending that could only be described as a miracle.

Tsk… Darn it… I will need to dispel this annoying curse, then proceed to heal myself.

…Still, it may not be too bad for me to just lie here like this.

Celica gently closed her eyes as tear streamed down her face.

For four hundred years… Since I first awoken on that scorched field, I had always been lying and deceiving myself… I was blind, but now I see…

Celica no longer wished to hide her true self.

Henrietta words had shattered the false veneer she wore.

Celica now understood that she was just a ‘weak’ human. When she had to endure the curse and loneliness of ‘eternity’, Celica sought to be ‘strong’ so she could cast all others away. Yet, despite her overwhelming power, Celica Arfonia was just a ‘weak’ human at her core.

Even recently, Alicia had accused her of treating others with contempt. It wasn’t because of any one of action in specific, but rather her overall unapproachable demeanor. Through her own device, Celica immersed herself in an eternity of loneliness. Her heart had long hardened to human relations.

During their exchange, Celica could only remain speechless to Henrietta’s sharp words as they tore her false veneer asunder. Even the youth, whose departure Celica had steeled herself for, perished under her spell.

The repeated emotional coups had drained Celica of all her remaining will to live.

Hahaha… I had enough! The omnipresent sense of mission and the inexplicable immortality… none of it matters anymore. Perhaps it is better to just let everything end like this.

If the countless wounds were not promptly healed, Celica was certain to bleed out. Having never had the courage to take her own, Celica saw this as a perfect opportunity. Despite the ceaseless nagging of her inner voice, Celica simply did not care anymore.

Ellie… hopefully we will finally be able to meet again.

As Celica thought that, a sarcastic smile appeared on her face.

Who am I kidding… the place for my soul is undoubtedly hell.

In a hidden villa surrounded by countless traps and wards, no one would know of Celica’s fate nor would her corpse ever be found. Even in the end, Celica remained a lonely soul, and she could only laugh helplessly at the irony of her own death. As her consciousness slowly drifted away, a small voice pierced through the silence.

“P-please… help me…!”

“…?”

With her ears unwittingly touching the floor, Celica noticed the voice that came from below.

“Someone… anyone…”

At first, Celica thought it was just a hallucination, but soon dispelled the thought. There was clearly someone below begging for help.

“Who could it be… to disturb my final moments?”

Celica picked herself up from the ground and slowly wobbled over toward the source of the sound.

“…Haa.”

Soon, she found a hidden chamber tucked away behind a false bookshelf. In it, Celica found a stair that led down below.

“What is this place…?”

Having already made it so far, Celica decided to continue on, and wobbled her way down the stairs.

“Please… someone save me…!”

From the stairs, Celica could make out the voice of a child.

“A trap…? Not that it matters. At most, I will finally meet my end.”

At the bottom of the stairs, Celica was met with a large door.

“Tsk… To have the door sealed by magic. Isn’t this going a bit too far even for a trap?”

“Please help me…”

From the other side of the door was a desperate cry for help. Even if it was a trap, Celica felt bad ignoring the plea.

“I guess it can’t be helped…”

As Celica prepared her spell, the curse activated once again, bringing considerable pain to her body.

“Ugh… how painful. If this is a trap, won’t that mean I bled for nothing?”

As she spat out profanities, Celica soon completed her spell and opened the sealed door.

Inside, she found a room filled with an impressive selection of experimental apparatus. Cauldrons, herb satchels, alchemist tables, flasks, and a large magic calculator – a researcher could want for nothing more. At the center of the room, the silhouette of a bound person could be seen on a raised dais.

“…Who goes there?”

“…?!”

The youth tied on the dais was not that much different from Glenn in age. For his resemblance to Glenn, Celica could not help but feel a tightness in her chest. However, she knew very well that the one before her was not Glenn.

“Help! Big Sis, please help me! I… don’t want to hurt anymore! Please let me go from here, I beg of you! I just want to go home…” After noticing Celica, the youth began to shout with a hoarse voice.

“…Do not worry, I won’t hurt you. Just to mention, I probably have already finished off the person who was torturing you.”

At a glance, the youth did not seem to be a thrall, but a living breathing person. After Henrietta was killed, thralls tied to the Lich could not continue to live. In other words, the youth tied before Celica was a real human.

Perhaps it was a kid taken from the village… But why wasn’t he turned into a thrall? Ah, maybe this kid had some sort of special property, so Henrietta wanted to use him for an experiment… Seriously, how much of a problematic trash could she be…

Celica thought of such a hypothesis when she saw the many experimental tools lying around.

After Celica cut the youth loose, the youth leapt and hugged Celica tightly at waist.

“T-thank you, Big Sis… It was terrible… I almost thought I wouldn’t have been able to make it… Thank you… Uuu…”

The crying youth overlapped with her memories of Glenn.

“…What is your name? Who were your parents…?”

“Ah…? That… Ugh… my head hurts…”

Celica’s question made the youth hold his head in agony.

“I-I can’t remember anything… W-who am I?”

“…My sympathies.”

It was likely a side effect from the terrible magic experiments. From the tools themselves, Celica was able to predict the youth to have experiments directly involving the brain. If anything, it was a miracle for him to even be alive.

Yet, despite his memory loss, the youth was likely the only survivor of the entire village.

◇ ◇ ◇

“…So? Have you remembered anything?”

Celica brought the nameless youth back to the deserted village.

“Sorry, Big Sis… I do not remember anything… Where are we?” The youth anxiously replied after looking around the village.

With his response, Celica could only let out a sigh and drop her shoulders.

“…There is no one here. Am I really a resident here? B-Big Sis, will I really need to live alone in this village?” The youth nervously pulled at the corner of Celica’s robe with shaking hands.

The youth had lost his memories, and no one is left alive in the village to take care of him.

Celica looked at the worried youth shaking uncontrollably out of fear – a sight that brought back memories of a certain someone.

“Umm… Big Sis, what will I do?”

This child could only rely on me… Therefore, I must not die… Is that it?

Celica has come to a decision and turned to the youth.

“Then, will you come with me?”

“…Ah?”

“Living alone will be quite lonely, right?”

It was a question that could be meant for both Celica and the youth.

“Staying in this deserted village will be very difficult, not to mention it may be fate that had brought us together. So, want to come live with me?”

“…Mmn.”

The youth gently nodded his head.

Certainly, for the youth, there was no better alternative.

“Although, it would be problematic if you don’t have a name… then…” Celica thought for a moment before announcing, “Glenn… From this day forth, your name will be Glenn Radars.”

“Glenn…?”

“Mmn, isn’t it a great name?”

Hahaha, what a farce… In the end, I still could not give up on Glenn… How shallow and weak a woman am I,,,?

“…Big Sis? Why are you crying…?”

“…N-nothing.”

Celica wiped away her tears and forcibly revealed a smile toward ‘Glenn’.

“Do not need to worry so much about me, Glenn. I… will definitely protect you…”

“…Mmn.”

Like that, the two walked hand-in-hand out of the deserted village.

◇ ◇ ◇

After eradicating the Lich, Celica left the Imperial Court Mage Corps.

Having gained a person she wished to protect, the ‘Ashen Witch’ no longer needed to live a life of destruction. Certainly, it was nothing more than one-sided self-satisfaction for Celica, but at the same time, it was a form of salvation.

Since then, after the passing of many years.

In Celica’s Kitchen.

“Seriously, why do I have to cook for you? How troublesome… and I still have a class to prepare for. Hasn’t it always been ‘you cook and I eat’… mumble mumble mumble?”

“Stop complaining. Do a bit of housework or I will boot you to the street, you bum!”

Glenn continued to stir the pot as he grumbled, to which Celica let out a long sigh.

“Speaking of which, Glenn… Why did you decide to make mushroom stew?” Celica asked as she peered at the content of the pot.

“Ah? It just happened that mushrooms were cheap in the markets today, and stew is quite easy to make… Is there something wrong?”

“…Nothing.”

The mushroom stew was what made Celica reminisce about the time in the village… but in the end, it had nothing to do with this ‘Glenn’.

Since our return, we had tried countless methods to cure his amnesia. Yet, all of it ended in failure. Although… I can’t say whether it was a good thing or bad thing.

Celica thought to herself as she looked at Glenn’s back.

“Ah, Celica, could you at least set up the dishes? Since I am already doing so much today, you should probably come and help out with something.”

“…Isn’t that what I do every day? And when have you ever help set up the dishes for me?”

“Ahaha… I didn’t catch that~”

“Haa… this fellow.”

Celica picked up the dishes from the cupboard and took a look at Glenn from the side.

The youth I had picked up on a whim has already grown so much. Certainly, since that day, there wasn’t many dull moments, and time flew by before we noticed.

Yet, I remained the same as always – the inexplicable immortality and the nagging sense of mission. Without the slightest clue about my ‘mission’, I will remain the same as I always has been, living a life with no end in sight.

Everything around Celica was constantly changing. Even the ‘Glenn’ before her would eventually disappear with the passing of time. In her heart, Celica knew that one day, she would come to regret the decision she made that fateful day. However, until then…

“Hey, Glenn.”

“Ah? The stew isn’t ready yet. Just wait patiently, you glutton!”

“No, I am not talking about the stew. I just want to say that I am really happy to have met you. The wonderful times we had experienced were certainly real.”

“…Huh?”

“No matter what happens in the future, that alone will not change. Just by recalling memories of these wonderful days, I will definitely have the courage to continue to the very end. Thank you.”

“…!”

At that moment, Glenn revealed a complicated expression and was unsure how to properly respond.

“Ah… Hahaha!! W-what is wrong, Celica? Did you eat something weird? Or have you finally gone senile? Ahaha!!” The confused Glenn so gave way to laughter.

“…Mmn. Perhaps… After all, I am already quite the granny.” Celica shrugged her shoulder in response.

“Hey, you are definitely not old. If you are no longer around, who will cook for me? For the record, today was a special occasion! I won’t be cooking for you every day… Not to mention, I plan to leech off you for quite some time into the future… so bear with me.”

“Ahaha, seriously? Just go kill yourself!”

“Hmph… How could I die so easily? I am as resilient as a cockroach!”

The two continued their lighthearted banter as they finished preparing dinner.

That day, the mushroom stew was especially delicious.

“Hey, Celica, how does it taste? I am honestly quite proud of how it turned out!”

“…Mmn. It’s delicious.”

Sitting on the far side of the table, Celica revealed a calm and blissful smile.


(1) Mary Poppins *facepalm*

7 thoughts on “S01 Chapter 5: Heavens, the Lonesome Witch

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