Red, pink, yellow and green. These small and vibrant beanbags were made from lots of small cloth pieces sewn together, and when you tossed them they would roll in a dizzying array of colours.
Normally, even simply playing with beanbags would feel more difficult when you were sitting in a bath, with hot water up past your waist.
There were six hahanero beanbags. When Izumi had heard that they would prevent mould she eagerly chose them, but her shoulders were now drooped in realisation of her own thoughtlessness. Although the hahanero was dried, they were still ground spices. Izumi realised that a bathroom would immediately fill with moisture. She had considered preserving them in something airtight, but then that would be meaningless. Prepared for one of them to become ruined, she left it in a bucket, but fortunately, right now it still felt the same as always.
It was about time to try adding another one.
Just as she was about to put another beanbag in, the moment she reached out for the bucket, the window quietly opened.
On her seventh try, the shock had become weak.
Feeling something akin to ‘This again?’, Izumi looked towards the window.
Brown hair that reached past the shoulders, and mysteriously coloured purple-grey eyes; there stood a child with an androgyny that made them seem like both a boy and a girl.
A medallion that hung from the neck to the stomach now shone in reflection of the bathroom light.
The child surveyed the bathroom with terribly cold eyes, looked at Izumi, and then scoffed.
“A witch, huh. You are too far past your prime to tempt me. Try again.”
With the beanbag in her hand, Izumi stood up.
“Who the heck is supposed to be a witch. Even if somebody begged me I wouldn’t tempt a cheeky brat like you.”
“A sore loser huh. What manner of being could invade this tower but a witch.”
“A company employee!”
Seeing the sneering child―――who was apparently a boy―――Izumi threw out her chest and answered. And then came back to her senses.
No matter how detestable child a he might have been, her appearance was unacceptable. Izumi looked down at her own body and paled.
The first time she had been in such shock at having her window connected to some strange world that she didn’t really feel embarrassed. The second time she was wearing clothing, and as for the third time, although she felt a little self-conscious she immediately broke past it. After all, they were all people she would never see again. There wasn’t any real problem in being seen. That was how she had begun to feel. But when it came to a child, that was a different matter. As an adult who ought to be setting a role-model, it was embarrassing to be standing chest high, legs apart in the nude.
“H-, Hang on a little.”
Leaving the beanbag on the windowsill, she headed into the changing room.
After wrapping a bath towel around her body and hurriedly heading back to the bathroom, she found that the boy had taken the beanbag in hand and was staring at it curiously.
“…Do you like it?”
The boy suddenly averted his gaze from the beanbag.
“Of course not.”
Even as he spat out “Who would like this kind of thing?” he still held onto it tightly.
“If you want it, I’ll give it to you. As an apology for surprising you.”
Saying that while sitting on the edge of the bathtub, she was glared at by the boy.
“I wasn’t surprised.”
It was true that when they saw each other, the boy hadn’t shown a surprised expression. Izumi inwardly praised the boy’s firm guts for not being surprised despite a naked woman suddenly appearing.
Although the boy’s navy jacket was a little dirty, it was finely embroidered. From that, you could tell at a glance that it was probably expensive. Even the shirt beneath was decently strong, and gleamed like silk. He was also wearing form-fitting beige pants, and high-laced leather boots. It was an outfit like that of a noble boy from long ago.
Izumi returned her gaze to the boy’s face.
“Well, isn’t it fine? I still have some, so I’ll give you that one.”
“And what do you want in exchange? My lifespan? My seed?”
Izumi winced at the boy’s scornful gaze.
“I told you that I wasn’t a witch, didn’t I. What the heck do you mean ‘seed’? Hurry up and drop that kind of idea already.”
“Look, I’m not even naked any more.” she said, as she pointed at the towel. The boy snorted again.
“Aren’t you only covering your breast and waist.”
“No, well, yeah you’re right but… I’m covering all the places that need covering, so isn’t it fine…”
Mumbling a reply, Izumi realised that she was a disadvantage, so her gaze loitered around behind the boy instead.
The first thing that entered her vision was the huge number of paper rolls around the room. Some stuffed in a basket, some leant against the wall, some laying on the floor. The boy’s room was filled with them.
The next thing she noticed was the light that illuminated those papers. When she bent forward and looked up to find the source of it, she found that about three meters up the wall were countless 10cm rectangular holes. Turning her gaze even further up, she saw a dome-shaped ceiling.
When she looked back down again, Izumi sighed in wonder. The entire room, ceiling included, had been built from stone. The stone became larger and larger the further down they were, and by the time it reached the floor, the stones were easily larger than a person could hold.
There was a large, thick desk in the middle of the room, as well as chests and benches lined up by the wall. Beneath their feet was a rug of complicated and detailed designs, and although it was showy, it brought about a solid sense of dignity to the room.
There was a large black hole at the edge of the carpet. Looking closely, Izumi realised that they were stairs that led to the lower floors.
Izumi’s heart danced with excitement at this room that gave the feeling of being in an ancient castle.
“What are you thinking, smirking like that, you damned witch.”
Izumi looked at the boy who had sunk her exhilarated heart to ground with just his one line.
Catching sight of the beanbag in his hand, Izumi snickered.
Stretching her hand into the bucket, she picked up two beanbags.
“I got these beanbags the other day. Do you know how to play with them?”
“I don’t.” brusquely replied the boy. In her mind, Izumi pumped her fist in victory.
“Big sis will show you how.”
Like this, showed Izumi, as she tossed the beanbag above her head. While the beanbag was in the air, she moved the other beanbag from her left hand to her right, before throwing that in the air as well. After Izumi repeated this a number of times, she called out to the boy.
“I wonder if you can do it too,” she said in a babying voice. “It looks easy, but it’s difficult until you know the trick to it, you know.”
The boy turned sullen, and looked at the beanbag resting on his palm.
“Aren’t you just tossing it. I can do that much.”
Just as he said, the boy tossed the beanbag into the air. Despite that, or perhaps just as expected, the beanbag went too high, and while the boy was focused on catching it, he did nothing with the beanbag in his left hand.
“Hohohohoho,” resounded Izumi’s laughter. “You really are just tossing it huh. There’s no point in having two of them in that case.”
The boy wordlessly tossed the beanbag into the air again. This time to a good height. But when he tried to move the beanbag from his left hand to his right, it fell.
“Seee? It’s difficult, isn’t it. Shall I tell you the trick to it?”
Izumi crossed her arms, and leant on the windowsill.
The boy once again tossed the beanbag. He managed both the right height, and the move from his left hand to his right. He managed to catch the falling beanbag in his left hand too. But he stopped there.
“Oh? you did it. But there’s no point if you stop there.” said Izumi sarcastically.
“I’ll show you this time.”
The boy had completely taken it seriously.
He tossed a beanbag, and changed another from his left hand to his right. Catching the first in his left hand, he tossed up the one in his right. After clumsily repeating it a number of times, in no time, his movements began to become smooth.
Seeing the boy declare so triumphantly, Izumi bore with the urge to burst into laughter.
“Still a long way to go. Next is doing it with one hand.”
Izumi tossed and caught two beanbags with her right hand.
The boy tried imitating her, and tossed the beanbag.
Although it took more time than last time, the boy had mastered it one-handed, and was now tossing them easily.
Izumi began adding beanbags from the bucket.
“Next is three.”
Izumi tossed them carefully so that they wouldn’t fall in the bath. The beanbags flew into the air, one by one. Just how many years had it been since she had enjoyed herself by doing this seriously? She recalled how as a child she became frustrated with it, and single-mindedly practising.
Seeing the sore loser of a boy struggle with three beanbags, Izumi was finally unable to bear it, and burst into laughter.
A beanbag flew from the hand of the surprised boy, and fell into the table.
He glared at Izumi.
“What’s so amusing?”
“No, it’s just that at first I thought you weren’t like a child at all, but when you’re playing like that, you really are a child, huh.”
For a moment, the boy’s glare intensified. But then he immediately looked towards the fallen beanbag, and suddenly laughed.
“Witches sure have a lot of spare time, huh. You came all the way here to play with me? What’s fun about playing with children?”
His words were harsh, but his tone had softened quite a bit.
“It seems like the third will take a while for me.”
The boy picked up the beanbag from atop the table. In that moment, a paper that had been spread over the table fell to the ground.
Drifting left and right as it fell, it flew close to the window, and Izumi hurriedly caught it. It would be terrible for it to fall in the bath.
Seeing the paper as she was about to hand it to the boy, Izumi’s eyes widened.
“It’s a map, and…?”
The boy tilted his head.
Izumi paid no heed to the boy’s puzzled gaze, and looked hard at the paper in her hands.
On the paper was something like a fat and rounded cross. The cross itself was broken into various parts, with words written on it.
“What an interesting shape. Hey, whereabouts is this place on the map?”
The boy peered in on the map.
“If I said that we were in Ii’Jibro, would you understand?”
“Nope, not at all.”
The boy looked at Izumi, dumbfounded.
“Are witches unable to read maps?” he asked, as he pointed to a red portion, a little distance below the middle of the cross.
“Ii’Jibro is this red portion.”
“I see.” nodded Izumi.
If each colour represented a nation, then it made this quite an extensive map.
In that case, there might be some of the countries that she knew. Izumi dug out from her memory the names of the countries spoken by the people she had met.
“Is Yohk’Zai on the map?”
“Here,” pointed the boy, to a spot to Ii’Jibro’s upper-right. It was close by.
“Huhu.” laughed Izumi, as she recalled Teo Keh’s large belly. She wondered if he managed to meet the stranded man in blue.
“What about Triht?”
Following with another question, the boy plucked out the map from Izumi’s hand.
“Hey!” she complained. “I still wanted to look. What are you doing?”
As though finding it troublesome, the boy spoke as he rolled up the map.
“Stand up, and stretch out your arms.”
“I’ll teach you how to remember the map. Just stand up and spread your arms.”
It wasn’t like she particularly wanted to learn geography.
But since he was willing to teach her, and she couldn’t think of any reason to refuse, Izumi stood up in the bath and spread both arms.
“Listen up. Your right breast is Yohk’Zai. Your neck is Triht, and your head is the country ruled by the dragons, and the country rumoured to be a paradise, Jebas. Under your right breast near your liver is Ii’Jibro. Crowded near your left breast are a lot of small countries. Near the biceps of your right arm is Insen, from your elbow to your wrist is Uchu, and your hand is Kouzen. Your left bicep is Sunayu, and from your left elbow to your wrist is Dohji. And then…”
With the boy continuing on and on, Izumi asked him to stop.
“It’s impossible, I can’t remember all that. I’m fine just knowing where Yohk’Zai and Triht are.”
They were all the names of completely unfamiliar countries after all. Izumi’s hippocampus was already screaming in defeat.
The boy laughed.
“You’re quite different from the witches in the legends. Are you really a witch?”
Apparently the laughing boy didn’t hear Izumi say “No, like I said, I’m not a witch.”.
After laughing for a while, the boy walked to the wall and tossed the map into one of the baskets.
The light coming in from above had changed to the light of the evening.
The stone room was wrapped in a dim red light, and gave warmth to the cold and inorganic stones.
If she was a witch, then the boy walking through the rays of light was like a fairy, thought Izumi.
“What an elegant room. Did you say this was a tower?”
The boy nodded at Izumi’s murmur.
“Indeed. People call it the Tower of the Silent Sinner.”
“…That’s quite the name.”
Since the name seemed to have quite a background, Izumi’s face stiffened.
Now that she had heard the name, she couldn’t help but see this elegant castle room as a prison to cage in a criminal. But for a prison, its furnishings were much too luxurious. After tilting her head in wonder for a while, Izumi muttered “Ahh.” and nodded. If she took this to be a prison to cage in those of high status, then everything fit. For example, like the boy in front of her…
“Could it be that you’re imprisoned in here?”
She wanted him to deny it. There was no way she could overlook something as cruel as imprisoning a child in a tower. But Izumi had no power to help him. Even if she sheltered him on her side, his prison would just be changed to this small bathroom instead.
Izumi’s hopes were easily betrayed.
The boy nodded as though it were no big deal.
“Did you commit some sort of wrongdoing? And so they locked you up here for a day?” asked Izumi, hoping for the best.
“It’s almost been a year since I was put in here.”
Izumi didn’t know what to say any more.
A small laugh reached Izumi’s ears as she hung her head.
She raised her face to find that the boy was looking at her with a self-mocking smile, unsuited for a child his age.
“I was unable to stop my father from marrying a woman who hid her ugliness and desire under her beauty, and following his death, my step-mother easily took the power from me. I suppose you could say that was my wrongdoing.”
She knew why he was so calm now.
He had surely experienced a harsh life that she couldn’t even imagine. No, even now, he was in the middle of that kind of life. Even though he was still a child young enough to take juggling seriously, he was hurriedly trying to grow up.
“Don’t you have any way to leave here? If there’s anything I can help with…”
Izumi cut her words short. Even if he did escape, wouldn’t it just be endangering his life?
The boy looked up at the sky, through the tiny, tiny holes.
“Long ago, back in Ii’Jibro’s most prosperous era, the king in those days, the Wise King, was said to have created this tower. One day, the strong and intelligent king was out in town when he heard a beautiful singing voice. The owner of the voice was a beautiful girl, and the king had his heart taken by her at first sight. But the girl had both husband and child. The girl refused the king, and the king flew into a rage. He killed the husband, took the children, and created a tower to imprison the girl. So that the girl was unable to escape, he locked the tower, and always kept the key by him. Since the day she was imprisoned in the tower, in her deep sadness, the girl never let out a single sound. But the king didn’t try to understand the girl’s grief. Each day he came to the tower to visit the beloved girl, and he neglected his duties as a king. Ii’Jibro was on the road to decline… There are theories that in the end the king killed the girl and ended his own life, as well as theories about the children coming to save their mother. The key that the foolish king kept with him is this one.”
The boy held up the medallion hanging from his neck. The sounds of the thin chain rang out.
“Eh? That’s the key? Why do you have it?”
“In the days of the Wise King, they had techniques far beyond our current ones. Locking the door doesn’t require the key. The only key is this one, and you can only unlock it from outside. She probably wanted me to taste despair. Before that woman closed the door, she smiled and threw this in at me. Even if my step-mother dies, I won’t ever be able to step outside again.”
“That can’t be…”
Izumi looked up at the hole above her.
“What about that hole!?”
The boy shook his head.
“The key is larger. It’s impossible.”
“What about your food? You’ve been stuck here for a whole year, so there should be a window or door for the food, right?”
“Why do you think all the books here are curled up?”
Izumi caught her breath.
“…Because the only holes are small enough that only curled paper can go through?”
It felt to Izumi like the boy nodded in slow motion.
How cruel. What a cruel thing to do with a child like this.
“My life here isn’t bad enough to grieve about. I have a water well downstairs, and there is sewage disposal as well. I have meals brought to me three times a day, and as you can see I have books to kill time.”
If only it hadn’t been impossible to leave the bathroom, then the boy could have lived freely, even if in a different world…
Izumi stood there wordlessly. And then the boy suddenly took the key from his neck.
“Witch. Come a little closer.”
Izumi did as she was told.
The boy passed Izumi’s neck through the chains with the key.
“I had fun. This is my thanks.”
Before Izumi could tell him to wait, the boy shut the window.