The Witch's After Tea Party
As the sun bathed the white snow in its rays, making it look magical as it reflected off its surface, she exhaled a misty breath.
The light, too bright to look at, made her slightly narrow her eyes. She put her hand against the towering tree next to her, feeling the rough sensation of the bark on her palm. This isn’t an illusion, it’s the real thing, she thought.
She clenched her fist tightly, closed her eyes due to the glare, inhaled some icy cold air into her lungs until she could take in no further, and then let it all out.
“Just as I thought, a lot of things feel different from how they used to when you acquire a new body after many centuries,” the girl grumbled in a way that made her seem older than she appeared, her peach pink hair fluttering in the refreshing wind.
She was a charming, dainty-looking girl. She had azure eyes, which shone with intelligence, and it ought to be stated that her lovely features exuded a sense of elegance and grace.
With but a single glance, anyone could tell that the girl gave off a certain, extraordinary aura.
Her young, undeveloped body was wrapped in a white robe with naught an undergarment to speak of. The sight of her treading upon the bare ground with her tiny, bare feet, made her look extremely vulnerable.
Her vulnerability was not only the kind where she was vulnerable to being seen by people, but one where she was even more vulnerable to the climate at the same time. Since the girl was walking around a snow-covered forest, her body was losing heat as each second passed, and thus was shivering all over.
To be honest, the girl’s travel attire was a huge mistake, as she hadn’t really considered this when she chose it.
“And after all that work, haaa. Would it not be comical if you froze to death due to the cold? Huuu.”
And then, suddenly, the bewitching, slothful voice of a woman echoed inside the trembling girl’s mind.
It naturally couldn’t have been the girl’s voice, as it sounded entirely different from hers. It hadn’t gone through her ears, but directly to her mind. The girl heaved an inconspicuous sigh, scrunching up her well-shaped eyebrows.
“That’s not a very pleasant thing to imagine. There is nothing to worry about in that regard, however. If I truly needed to, I could generate enough firepower to burn the whole area to the ground. You should not presume to look down on me.”
“Sooo even though you went through great pains to sneak out in the dead of night, you’ll throw it all away and get found out by making a lot of noiiise?” Is that an ideal scenario for you, Dona-Dona?”
“Cut, it out…Daphne. E…chidna…doesn’t, mean anything bad by it…or, maybe just a little? Mm, see, she must just be, relieved, to be alive again, prob…ably.”
She heard cynical remarks spoken with a sweet voice quickly get followed by faltering words of defense. The two differing voices did not belong to the girl, and they were different from the slothful voice of the woman who’d spoken first.
The three differing voices had taken turns speaking to the girl. However, all of the voices being directed towards the girl were laced with an equal amount of familiarity and complex emotions.
At that, the girl—no, the Witch who had changed her form, Echidna, relaxed her lips.
The form of the Witch with white hair and black eyes who was known for her black and white beauty had been lost. She was now using the girl’s body as a vessel for her soul, having managed to pull off the improbable act of reviving herself.
It was clear she had put a great deal of effort into her revival, and this turn of affairs was greatly troubling for her, but Echidna had maneuvered through it all and accomplished what she’d set out to do.
I’m not really one to get emotional, but I’ll give myself a rare pat on the back for a job well done in this matter. However…
“When you spend over 400 years as a spirit, you sort of forget what it’s like on the outside…”
“You got a little over-excited there. Dona, you’re such a child. Not good with stuff at all.”
“I’d rather you not refer to me as a child, but… I suppose there’s nothing I can say to that now.”
Echidna responded to that childish voice resounding within her mind, but she knew her words wouldn’t have any persuasion. In any case, I would rather not freeze to death right after my revival.
Thinking of something she could do as a last resort, and not having any other choice, Echidna snapped her fingers.
Her fingers that had grown numb produced a delicate, faint sound, and around her arose spots of crimson light. A small fireball the size of her fist flickered and swayed, manifesting an amount of firepower larger than one might think. It drove away the coldness of the snow-filled forest, which in turn banished the danger of freezing to death.
“Though the Gate seems different, the use of magic doesn’t seem to be an issue. In that case…”
“You’d be a laughingstock if you made a mistake with your use of magic this time and burned the whole forest down as a result.”
“It just doesn’t end… How dare you all keep spouting unending sarcasm at me. After working so hard to enact this plan, I’m starting to regret bringing all of you out.”
Echidna sighed at the voice of the fifth person that rang in her head, as it marked the last one.
She unconsciously stretched her hand under her robe toward the object tied around the base of her bare neck—where an imposing blue pyroxene crystal necklace hung.
Echidna contemplated for a while, running a nail along the pyroxene crystal’s hard surface. A person with a trained eye would be able to tell that it wasn’t just your average object, but something that held great power.
It was an extremely high-grade magic crystal of the highest level of purity. It had an extraordinary ability to store magic energy and was currently storing overwhelming power within it, making use of its entire capacity.
Even a thousand high-level magic users wouldn’t be able to use up the stored mana. And while it was extraordinary that such a small fragment could hold so much, using it all up would be quite an extraordinary feat as well. Your average person could never even imagine doing something like that.
And would anyone actually believe it was currently being used to store the souls of five people?
I went through great pains to secure this magic crystal and the vessel for my own soul. I spent 400 years as a spirit, and slowly put this plan into action over the course of 10 years—and finally, the moment has…
“Echidna! Earth to Echidna! Did you even hear a word I said?”
“—. I did. You’re yelling right into my ear… No, would ‘ear’ wouldn’t be the right word in this case? Could you not yell in my mind so much? It’s seriously giving me a headache.”
“This isn’t the time to be having a leisurely conversation! Look beside you. Look!”
She pulled her consciousness out of the sea of thoughts by following the voice, then looked dubiously to her side. Thereupon, she saw a bright red light and many trees engulfed in flames, and the fire spreading from one tree to another.
Taking a quick glance, Echidna realized her single fireball had made the trees catch fire and was the spark that had started this forest fire.
“You seem quite composed, haaa.”
“Well, you see, it’s important to remain calm and not panic in these situations. And while it is certainly true that this inferno was unexpected…”
As Echidna finished speaking, she pointed her palm towards the burning trees and closed her eyes. “Extinguish!” she cried, emitting words of power from her lips as she opened her eyes.
“It still hasn’t gone out…”
“Heeey, Daphne has some thoughts on this… That place seems to be different frooom Dona-Dona’s Dream World, so will she even be able to interfere with it just by using words?”
“That would certainly be a problem.”
“A b-big mis…calculation, isn’t it?”
“Dona, did you start the fire? Are you a bad person, Dona? Are you Typhon’s enemy?”
“This isn’t the time for talking! Hurry up! Hurry up and put it out! Look!”
“Of course. I shall do it posthaste…guh.”
As she tried to reign in the Witches having a shouting contest in her head, Echidna attempted to put the raging forest fire out with a spell but was hit with dizziness instead. Her spell had fizzled out mid-cast and failed to activate.
While the Witches were wondering what had happened, Echidna swiftly grasped the situation. “I’m not familiar enough with this body yet to create a flood using magic.”
Which is to say…
“I can’t put the fire out.”
“Then you need to get out of here right now—!!”
Not only had she been at risk of freezing to death, but now she was faced with burning to death on top of that. Echidna hit the ground running, as if that angry voice had whipped her into doing so.
The forest fire is spreading, and soon there will be nowhere to escape to. I need to get out of here.
Though she was unfamiliar with this body and hadn’t lifted a finger in over 400 years, Echidna ran like her life depended on it, gasping for air as she did so.
“The harshness of the outside world, is a little, different, from what I imagined,” Echidna lamented while panting, her body feeling heavy as the cold air took it into its embrace.
Although I feel like my body is about to break, when I consider the fact that I haven’t felt like this in several hundred years—
“No, that still won’t make this any easier… Hic.”
Fortunately, thanks to her desperate escape, Echidna managed to avoid burning to death.
The flames that were burning the forest down were quite powerful, but by guiding them however I pleased with wind I’d created with mana, I managed to secure an escape route. I wouldn’t have gotten out of there without it.
Now that I have escaped the dangerous forest fire, I can go back to traveling in these clothes—or rather, I was hoping things would have been that easy, but…
“Out of season heavy snowfall and a forest fire…and now after all that, I’ve found a girl wearin’ nuthin’ but rags. Are my eyes actin’ weird because of the miasma?” said a man.
“Don’t worry, I’m seeing the same thing…as long as this ain’t a dream or somethin’,” another man added.
“Hm…” While sitting on a tree stump, Echidna placed her hand on her chin as if she was thinking about something. Her appearance was that of a young child, but that pose suited her rather well due to the aura she exuded.
Thus, the man, no, the men, appeared confused due to the strange sensation, and were looking at each other. They were a group of fierce-looking men dressed like bandits that gave off dangerous auras. It looked like there were 18 of them at a glance, and with each of them holding a well-worn weapon, they looked rather comical surrounding a little girl. However, not judging things from appearances alone and following their instincts was their forte. You could assume that was the case due to how they looked and what their occupation was.
“I assume you’re here because of the Great Rabbit, yes? In other words…you gentlemen are Scavengers.”
“What?” a scavenger blurted out.
“Hm? Are you called by a different name in this age? According to his knowledge, you could be called looters, but that doesn’t suit you either… I wonder what I should call you?”
Echidna tilted her head a little, making the men make nervous expressions as if they’d just felt something ominous.
Scavenging—an occupation that also existed 400 years ago—was something that involved going through the homes and belongings of the villages and people that had been ravaged by witchbeasts and turning what was plundered into money. This was especially so if the site had been ravaged by the Great Rabbit since everything apart from the original inhabitants would remain untouched, making it an ideal site for Scavengers.
“Even if there are survivors, you can easily dispose of them and make it seem like witchbeasts did it. What a clever way to hunt. You gentlemen were just born to be hyenas.”
“Hyena? You mean… Hyena-people? What are ya even talking about…no.”
The man in the front shook his head and glared at Echidna with a machete in his hand. His fear for the mysterious child and a strong desire to harm her could be seen in his eyes. It was clear he was well aware of what he should and should not get involved with.
“I don’t know what yer story is, but our livelihood depends on it. For some reason, the rabbit’s trail disappeared without a trace. On top of that, there was a wildfire and…you appeared.”
“I see, do continue,” Echidna prodded.
“You’re an ominous girl, but ya don’t look bad. And you have those ears after all,” the man said, smiling wickedly as he flicked his ear.
His gesture brought Echidna’s current physical characteristic to light—which she had because the girl who had become her vessel was a half-elf.
It’s not as if they think of me as a half-devil. What’s important is the value of the product, not the purity of the blood. Whether I’m a pureblood or a half-blood, it’s all the same to them.
“Elves are treated like that in this age too?” Echidna wondered.
“Based on the way ya say things, are you an old hag who’s been hidin’ in the woods for a long time or somethin’?” Elves are scary since ya can’t guess their age by their looks. But yeah, that’s right. Even now, elves get sold fer a good price.”
“—Woa?” the man grunted. He’d felt like his skin was boiling for a second. The other men, having felt the same thing, were startled. They all started buzzing about it, wondering what could have happened. The only one who knew what had happened touched the pyroxene crystal on her chest and tried to calm the Witch of Wrath’s rage.
“Hey, I don’t know if yer a brat or an old hag, but whatever you do, don’t get any silly ide…”
“Alright,” Echidna said, cutting him off. “At this rate, we won’t be able to reach a mutual understanding. You gentlemen want to capture me and make some money. On the other hand, I want to continue my carefree journey. So, I’d like to propose a compromise. What do you say?”
“A compromise? Do ya think you’re in a position to negotiate?”
“I want you to give it some thought. That way, there will be a chance that both of us make it out of this safely,” Echidna appealed with a smile, her head tilted.
The child’s smile made the man gasp hard and take a step back, as if it had overwhelmed him. And then, the man, looking as if he couldn’t believe he’d reacted like that, immediately said, “I’ll give it a listen.”
“I’m glad. My proposal is simple. 30 seconds is all I need. I’ll go with you without fighting back if you are able to stand in front of me for 30 seconds without anything happening to you. Since it seems interesting too.”
“Ha. What’s up with that? Do you think something like that will be enough to scare us…?”
“—Well then, the 30 second countdown begins now.”
The moment she perceived that they had accepted her terms, Echidna stroked her long-white hair, narrowed her dark eyes, and glared at the men.
All of the men looked like they had no idea what had just happened. In their eyes, it must have looked like the child in front of them who looked to be around 10 years old had suddenly turned into a beautiful girl with white hair. However, before the men could get an answer to their question, they started succumbing to the abnormality that assaulted them one after another.
The man holding the machete fell to his knees. His eyes darted around all over the place, not focusing on any one thing, and then began foaming at the mouth. A similar phenomenon occurred not only to him, but to all the men surrounding her as well. The eighteen men in Echidna’s line of sight were unable to resist her Witch’s Miasma and thus in great agony.
The men scratched and tore at their necks, rolled their eyes back into their heads, blew foam out of their mouths, convulsed, choked on their tongues, split their own heads open with their weapons, buried their heads in the snow, and died in agony in various other ways.
“—Exactly thirty seconds.”
Having finished counting the 30 seconds she’d promised them, Echidna looked around. There was nothing but men lying motionless in their own blood and vomit. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been any among them who could endure the thirty seconds of hell and qualify to be the Sage that could reign over the six Witches.
“It was unfortunate for all of you, but a promise is a promise. I’ll just continue with my carefree journey then. I don’t think anyone will mind if I borrow some clothes and shoes,” Echidna said, then took some clothes that could fit her from the fallen men and put them on.
By that time, her appearance had already returned to that of the child from before.
“It doesn’t last long, it seems. I suppose I’ll have to wait until I get more used to it. But still…”
Echidna looked back at the fallen men, then closed her eyes and thought of the boy with black hair, of the boy who remained unaffected while being surrounded by the Witches covered in miasma—though he probably didn’t even realize how abnormal it was to be able to do that.
“I can’t wait to get to a city now that I have a little traveling money. I’d like to think that the taste of tea has changed over the course of a few hundred years… Now then.”
Echidna flipped the hem of her long clothes and once again set off on her journey without a destination. While leaving, she began feeling gratitude for the men who had provided her with clothes, shoes, and travel money.
“I was about to go out and make a terrible first impression with people by wearing nothing but a piece of cloth over my naked body. It was quite a terrible mistake—I will always remember you gentlemen as being my saviors.”
She hadn’t uttered words of deceit or anything; she’d been sincere. Echidna would never forget her debt to them, till her soul perishes, the men who worked as Scavengers, who met the Witch here and died.
“Aah. I know, I know. You guys are noisy. Spare me already.”
The Witch slowly started moving forward on her journey as she responded to the voices in her head.
—The sky was high above, the wind was lukewarm, and the light seemed to be blessing the one who had returned after hundreds of years.