The first thing he noticed was the alluring tea aroma wafting in the air. There was a cushiony sensation beneath him that was so comfortable that he couldn’t bear to leave its snugness.
When Roel finally opened his eyes once more, he found himself faced with a table full of delectable desserts, and a white-haired witch was seated opposite to him with a teapot in hand. What was different from before though was Artasia’s surprisingly mild attitude.
She didn’t conjure him into some weird position or tempt him into anything. She simply sat gracefully in front of him and welcomed him with a smile.
“It's a pleasure to have you here on this marvelous night, my hero.”
“Yes, thank you for having me here,” replied Roel.
He took a look at the night sky outside the window as he leisurely took a sip of tea.
This was their third meeting, and Roel appeared calmer than ever. Having gone through multiple crises, he knew that the tighter the situation was, the more composed he would have to be in order to overcome it.
His composed attitude intrigued the white-haired witch sitting opposite him. Artasia couldn’t help but remark curiously.
“What a surprise. I thought that you were going to lash out at me.”
“Hm? What makes you think so?”
“The spell that I bestowed upon you didn’t take effect when you needed it. Does that not anger you?”
Roel paused contemplatively for a moment before responding with a slight nod.
“I guess I am, but it’s directed toward myself.”
“Directed toward yourself? Why?” asked Artasia.
Roel placed the teacup back onto the table.
“You’re a witch, an embodiment of fickleness and enigma. In the first place, taking the spell you have bestowed upon me as a final resort was nothing short of foolishness, not to mention that that spell wasn’t a buff but a summon, which meant that it was possible to reject the summoning too. It’s your prerogative to choose whether to accept a summoning or not.”
Roel raised his head and looked at Artasia impassively.
“Ultimately, not once have you ever said that you were on my side.”
Those words made Artasia purse her lips as she revealed an aggrieved expression.
“My hero, are you viewing me as your enemy now?”
“No, I harbor no enmity toward you. I simply don’t trust you. I realized that I’ve been taking many things for granted thus far,” said Roel with a sigh as he recalled Priestley’s remarks.
He did think that the dangers posed by the Witness State were something that had to be taken seriously, but at the same time, his experience of overcoming two of them had bred complacency in the depths of his mind, subconsciously impairing his judgment.
That was also the arrogance Priestley spoke of.
He would encounter an ancient god in each Witness State, but there was never a guarantee that the ancient god would be on his side.
This was especially so with Witch Queen Artasia. He had known beforehand that witches were fickle-minded, and that there was a real possibility that she might pull something during crucial moments.
“From the moment I had a resonance with Lilian and learned that she possesses the Ascart Bloodline too, I started becoming dependent on her. I lost sight of my vigilance and subconsciously tried to share my burden with her. In the end, she nearly lost her life in order to save me.
“Your failure to appear crushed my hopes, but it allowed me to plant my feet firmly on the ground once more. In a way, I ought to be thanking you instead,” said Roel.
His golden eyes that carried no hint of deception stunned Artasia. A few moments later, the Witch Queen’s body started to tremble before she abruptly burst into frenzied laughter.
“Haha! Hahaha! It looks like we’re really compatible with one another, my hero. The desire to rely on others is a common dilemma faced by those of your clan, but I have to clarify that it wasn’t my intention to leave you in the lurch.
“You must trust me when I say that I’m not a bad witch. My appearance wouldn’t have solved your problems if you had summoned me with your physical conditions back then. If anything, I would have only hastened your deaths.”
Artasia placed her hand on her cheeks and stared at Roel with intoxicated eyes.
“I’m very fond of you, my hero. At the very least, please don’t doubt my feelings for you.”
“Fond of me? Is that why you derive pleasure from seeing me struggle desperately amidst dilemma?”
“Aww, it’s rude of you to ask a lady such a question. Isn’t that as good as trying to make me confess the reason why I’m fond of you? What a sly one you are, my hero,” said Artasia shyly.
But a mere second later, an ecstatic smile emerged on her lips.
“I don’t deny that I’m fond of that too, but it’s still my earnest hope that you’ll be able to overcome them. What can I say? Your clan is doomed to be mired in dilemmas. Be it responsibility and danger, or decisiveness and hesitation, these dilemmas have and will continue to torment you and your clan like a curse. You’re a perfect example of it, my hero.
“When I say that we get along well with one another, I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Our personalities complement one another. This is rare amongst us witches,” said Artasia with a blissful smile.
Roel’s eyebrows shot up.
“It looks like witches are really a vile bunch.”
“Really, do you have to say such words? I already told you that I’m not a bad witch,” replied Artasia with a pout.
“You should already know the reason why I’m here, right?” asked Roel solemnly.
Artasia paused for a moment before her lips crept upward.
“Well, I guess that it’s indeed impossible for you to stand before your enemy without reaching Origin Level 3. Since that’s the case…”
Artasia bit down hard on her lips and spread the oozing blood around with her tongue. She lightly pressed her lips against the teacup, leaving a blood-colored lip print. After that, she handed the cup to Roel.
“You just have to match the lip print and drink it down. There’s no saying what a witch’s blood will do to you if you were to take in too much.”
Looking at the smiling Artasia, Roel calmly drank the remaining half cup of tea he had left. He couldn’t help but notice that the witch’s face was slowly reddening.
“How is it?”
“The taste of my blood and kiss.”
Roel chose to quietly place his cup down and not answer the sensual question. Artasia pouted unhappily upon realizing that he was ignoring her.
“This is my first time bleeding for someone else and having what your people call an indirect kiss. Don’t you think that you should at least say something about it?”
“I just think that a lady’s blood and kiss are not something that ought to be commented on.”
The unexpected answer made Artasia widen her eyes for a moment before she lowered her head and twirled her hair shyly.
“Ah, the ritual isn’t complete yet. You’ll need a trigger in order to activate it.”
“That’s right. You’ll need to get some blood from the child who came with you—just a few droplets will do—and drink it when you’re going to activate the spell. Just a reminder though, it’ll be very painful.”
It sounded like a kind reminder from Artasia, but Roel couldn’t help but be suspicious about her intent. Sensing his doubtful eyes on her, Artasia sighed softly and began explaining it further.
“You should be more than aware that I am a witch. My spells aren’t intended for support. My blood is nothing more than a medium to raise your Origin Level to be on par with that child via your bloodline resonance, so no other blood will work here. It’s inevitable that you’ll face pain in the midst of the ritual.”
Roel took some time to ponder over Artasia’s explanation, but he couldn’t find any plausible alternatives here. In the end, he could only nod his head and go along with her.
The wound on Artasia’s lips healed within a split instant, but she continued glaring at Roel with a grudging look.
“You really don’t have any sympathy at all, my hero. I’m starting to feel like a loose woman constantly at your beck and call, only to receive nothing in return.”
“I’ll compensate you.”
Faced with the perplexed witch, Roel looked directly into Artasia’s madder red eyes and spoke words as solemn as a vow.
“Artasia, I’ll bring you out of here.”
Staring at Roel’s golden eyes that flickered along with the candlelight, Artasia suddenly found herself at a loss for words. She tried opening her mouth to say something, but no words came to her. In the end, she could only turn her head away to avoid Roel’s searing gaze.
“… It hasn’t ended yet. Is it really alright for you to make such a promise now? What if I turn my back on you once more?”
“Then I’ll have no choice but to accompany you in this world after death.”
Artasia’s pupils dilated upon hearing that answer. She turned her head back to stare at the man before her, but it didn’t take long before she averted her gaze once more with furiously blushing cheeks.
“… Coaxing me with such words. You’re the vile one here, my hero. What if you really move my heart?”
“I haven’t finished my words yet. Putting aside everything else, I won’t hand my senior over to you, not even over my dead body.”
“… Hmph. I should have known. She sure is dear to you, your senior,” grumbled Artasia in displeasure.
She pondered for a moment before adding on.
“Still, I should offer you one last reminder. That spell won’t work with anyone other than her. What you’re thinking and doing are at odds with one another.”
“… Yes, this does seem like a dilemma, but it’s my problem to solve. Isn’t this another thing for you to look forward to?”
Roel smiled confidently in response to Artasia’s reminder. The white-haired witch was surprised for an instant before bursting into hearty laughter.
“I see! It looks like you already have an idea in mind. Hehehe. You’re really evoking my anticipation here.”
Artasia clapped her hands together as her lips curled in excitement.
“Since that’s the case, allow me to make a promise too. As long as you use that child as a tribute, I’ll surely appear and bring you to victory.”
“Oh? Is that a Witch’s Promise?”
“Yes, it’s a Witch’s Promise. It’s a terrifying contract where even I would have to pay a heavy price if I went against it,” said Artasia.
Roel’s vision slowly blurred as the dream started to come to an end. The last thing he saw was Artasia’s glowing madder red eyes.
“Show me how you plan to overcome this paradox, my hero.”
With expectant words echoing in his ears, Roel’s consciousness faded.