With a Love Sorceress I'll Make My Romance Last!
Petrified, Toren stood perfectly rigid. The half-beast looked like a cat startled by lightning: hair puffed out and standing on-end.
Toren’s sights were locked on Mia. I could see the blush rise through Toren’s face, reaching to the tops of his ears and steaming out like a tea kettle.
Mia stepped towards Toren and grinned. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Toren-nii? I almost didn’t recognize you! Look how tall you are!”
In response, Toren let out a small, panicked squeak.
The half-beast suddenly wrapped his arm around my neck and dragged me around the edge of a building. He ducked behind a barrel, hiding us from Mia’s view.
“Rokkun!” Toren hissed in an angry whisper. “H-h-how could you bring her here? I-I can’t talk to her! Have you seen what I’m wearing?!” The half-beast looked down at his seahorse costume, mortified.
“You were wearing that in front of the whole village. Why is it a problem now?” I quipped back, trying to free myself from Toren’s grasp.
“Because that’s Mia! Mia!” Toren let out a frustrated groan. “I haven’t talked to her since we were kids! I-I wanted to have a fancy suit for our reunion, maybe show up with some servants, or ride in on a stallion — I wanted to look cool! But I look like an idiot! And she’s...she’s all grown up now!” The half-beast stole a glance over his shoulder, towards where Mia waited in the road.
From the way Toren looked at her, I felt a pit in my stomach.
“She’s…” The half-beast nearly lost his breath. “...absolutely beautiful.”
I withheld the urge to curse.
Grumbling, I let out a long breath. “Look, Toren, can we save this fight for later? You know the rumors around Mia’s family, right?”
“I’m trying to stop them.” I prodded Toren’s forehead. “And I need your help to do so, you stupid cat boy.”
“Stupid?!” Toren shouted, raising his fists again.
But before Toren could get any angrier, he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. Standing in the middle of the roadway, Mia reached towards us in concern. She didn’t know what was happening, or why we had suddenly run away from her. All she could see was that Toren looked like he was about to punch me.
In an instant, the anger fled from Toren. The half-beast sighed. Instead of a fist, he held out an open hand.
“Truce,” he offered.
I smacked his hand in the low high-five that was traditional of the region. But instead of peaceably accepting the clap, Toren suddenly grabbed my hand and held it in a threatening fashion.
“But only until this whole rumor business is cleared up, alright?” Toren clarified. “After that, we’ve got a score to settle.” He then shoved me away.
Yet, the shove didn’t have much force behind it. Toren’s expression looked sad more than anything.
Without another word, we both left the alleyway, returning to the dusty path where Mia awaited.
“Is something wrong?” Mia wondered, worried.
I glanced at Toren, hoping he might explain things. However, the half-beast had gone back to his rigid stiffness. Toren just shook his head in an adamant ‘no.’
“We’re fine. I think,” I said uncertainly. Would I have to translate for Toren this whole time? “Toren is willing to help us.”
Mia’s expression brightened like the rising sun. “Really?!” she grabbed Toren’s hands and shook them eagerly. “Oh thank you, thank you Toren-nii! You don’t know what this means to me! We’ll finally be able to bring fruit to market this year!”
Toren wavered, trying to keep his composure. He let out a startled noise that sounded a bit like a bird squawking after flying into a glass window.
Mia gently stepped back. “Are you, uh, quite sure he’s alright?” She eyed the half-beast nervously, waving her hand in front of Toren’s frozen face.
I could not believe this was the same half-beast that drop-kicked a man in the middle of a tavern!
“Toren’s just a bit startled seeing you again after all these years,” I assured. “He’ll be alright once we start working. I promise.”
I could only hope that what I was saying was true. I needed Toren’s strength to harvest all the trees in time. But so long as he could manage that, I supposed he didn’t have to talk. He just needed to do his part.
Just like I needed to do mine.
I took in an uneasy breath and glanced towards Claire’s blackbird on my shoulder.
Getting Toren to help us was the easy part. Now we had to actually catch the culprit.
During the daylight hours, Mia and her father tended to the orchard as usual — but with Toren helping alongside. Though the cat boy barely spoke, he followed orders with amazing diligence. If they asked him to fetch water, he’d sprint through town faster than the eye could see and return with a bucket in hand. He assisted unquestioningly, saying that it was the least he could do to repay Mia for the kindness she showed him in childhood.
At least I didn’t have to worry about Toren making any romantic gestures. The poor boy turned into a statue any time Mia came close. Toren could barely talk to her, let alone confess.
Thus, I could safely leave Mia and her father with Toren, while I stayed up with Claire to watch the orchards at night. I read books about Farelle to pass the time. I always imagined a stakeout operation would be more…exciting. But mostly, I found myself bored. The village was quiet at night, and though the glowing trees were beautiful, they could only entertain me for so long. Mia would stay awake to tell me how things were going with the orchard. I listened as best I could, but had to admit that the finer details of plant care weren’t exactly my passion.
“If I decide to stay here in Farelle,” I whispered to myself one night, “will I have to become a farmer?”
Part of me kept thinking that if my relationship with Mia worked out, I’d bring Mia back to Earth with me (somehow, disregarding the doppelganger problem.) But after seeing Mia’s life here, could I really do that?
Could I ask her to leave behind her father, and abandon her family business, just to run away with me?
Yet if I stayed here...was this really the kind of life I wanted to live?
Maybe it was too early to think about such things. After all, Mia’s situation could change, or maybe I could find a different profession in Farelle that I liked better. Or maybe I could find a way to introduce Mia to the concept of Earth after all? Cell phones and electricity were pretty hard to give up.
Claire noticed my mumbling and walked closer, putting a hand on my shoulder.
“It'll be dawn soon, let’s go wake Mia and change shifts,” the Love Sorceress murmured. “Five days and nothing’s happened so far. Let’s take that as a good sign! Why don’t I summon you some breakfast from your home world? What would you like? WacDonalds?”
I laughed weakly. It felt weird having Madam Claire try to cheer me up, but somehow...lately, it made me happier than I expected.
So I went back to my cottage to accept whatever strange fast-food Claire summoned from Earth. In the middle of a bite of (rather greasy) breakfast toast, I noticed that Claire left out a scroll about the Painted Moon Festival amid my books. I pushed the scroll open, leaving a few stains on the parchment. But oddly, the scroll didn’t have much writing on it.
All it had was a painting of the night sky: its watercolors showing the moon shining in brilliant colors, like a piece of stained glass. Below, silhouettes of humans held baskets over their heads, offering them to the colorful lights above.
‘To honor the mages of the sky and their endless brushwork: The Painted Moon Festival.’
I stared at the tagline in confusion, wondering what that meant. I thought this world was terrified of magic. So why would they honor mages?
“Roki!” a startled shout pulled me from my thoughts. Mia stood at my cottage door, out of breath. She rested her hands against her knees until she recovered from her sprint. Tucking back a stand of messy hair, she raised her head.
“The fruit!” Mia pointed towards the orchard in the distance. “It’s…!”
I immediately stood from my seat. The trees were fine before dawn. We’d been watching them every hour of the day.
Without further explanation, I started running. I hopped over the wooden fence surrounding the farmlands, stumbling as I landed.
With my magical sight, I rushed for the trees that were no longer green. The tree trunks themselves were fine, but the fruit branches glowed an ominous red in my vision.
I reached for one of the star-shaped fruits.
It fell to the ground with the slightest touch and splattered — its insides withered and rotten.