Stand By Me Pleiades II
“We’ll make our move from Kararagi. Lugunica and Vollachia have always kept an eye on each other, so it might be easier to find a way in from there.”
Anastasia’s proposal came as a pleasant surprise to Emilia.
Of course, it was completely understandable for Anastasia, Julius, and Echidna to worry about the missing Subaru and Rem. She knew that, but those three were from a different camp. They had originally headed for the Pleiades Watchtower for the same reason but from a different standpoint. Having safely returned, they had no obligation to go along with the search for the missing children.
“I agree with Anastasia. Considering the relationship with Vollachia, we have a better chance with Kararagi than with Lugunica. Moreover, it has the headquarters of the Hoshin Trading Company.”
“We can use our connections to the fullest. Those ain’t bad odds.”
“Anastasia, Julius…!” Emilia was rather moved by the two who planned to help with the search for the two they had lost, and her eyes involuntarily began to blur as she felt their enthusiasm—tears filling her amethyst eyes. “I’m so happy we became friends, Anastasia.”
“Well, friends might be takin’ things a bit too far,” Anastasia responded, dampening Emilia’s enthusiasm. “We’re still rivals, just as before, but…”
“How about we become friends once both the Natsuki thing and the royal selection are done with? I don’t really have friends, either. Just like you, Emilia,” Anastasia replied to Emilia’s emotional words with a gentle smile.
That answer, too, brought a warm feeling to Emilia’s chest.
“By the way, she’s not saying it out of embarrassment—it’s true. Ana doesn’t have many friends.”
“No need ta say somethin’ so unnecessary.” Anastasia silenced her fox partner—Echidna—with a pinch, who was currently draped around her neck in the form of a scarf.
Emilia giggled at the scene and rubbed her chest reassuringly. She was happy at the thought of becoming friends with Anastasia, but she was even more happy at having settled on a plan to find Subaru.
“But don’t start jumpin’ for joy just yet,” Anastasia cautioned. “Goin’ through Kararagi may give us a better shot, but it’ll also take more time… And Natsuki ain’t got much time, right?”
“Probably not,” Emilia replied. “We need to meet with Beatrice as soon as possible.”
“The contract as a spirit arts user, and the defectiveness of Subaru’s gate…” Julius spoke, sharing his insight. As one who used spirits himself, he understood the predicament Subaru had been placed in. “If we can’t compensate for both, it will be unfortunate for both Beatrice and Subaru.”
If they were to remain separated for a long period of time, both Subaru and Beatrice’s lives would be in danger. And although Emilia was happy that the two of them had become so close, having to be together to such an extent was a major drawback.
“If you come with us, the certainty may be higher, but it’ll take time. So—”
“Yes. We’ll use a different method than Anastasia’s group… We’ll do our best using the method that Otto thought up.” Clenching her hand into a small fist, Emilia returned the gaze of Anastasia’s pale blue-green eyes.
Anastasia’s group would try entering Vollachia from Kararagi. And if possible, Emilia’s group would aim to enter Vollachia using their own strategy.
Emilia raised her eyebrows as a serious look crossed her face. “We’ll do our best to sneak in!”
“…? What’s wrong?” Emilia asked, confused by their reaction. “You two… No, all three of you have a weird look on your face.” Having been so enthusiastic, Emilia tilted her head at their reactions. I thought they would for sure cheer for us.
Anastasia elegantly touched her cheek. “Talkin’ to you seems to soften both the good and the bad. It’s quite funny.”
“Really?” Emilia asked with uncertainty. “I don’t really understand what you mean, but that’s better than hardening it, right?”
“Maybe. What do you think, Julius?”
“M-Me…?” Julius asked hesitantly. “I think that it’s…a virtue of yours, Lady Emilia.”
“Umm, thanks.” Emilia thanked Julius earnestly for what sounded to her like praise, but Julius only grew flustered by her response, causing Anastasia to laugh mischievously. Emilia didn’t seem to notice, but there was most likely a deeper meaning to it.
“It’s fairly rare to get an opportunity to cheer on the act of smuggling,” Echidna continued, “but this seems like the right time. Both I and Ana will be looking forward to your efforts.”
“…Yep. Right,” Anastasia affirmed. “Although it seems a bit too serious a situation to look forward to. You’re aware of your position, right, Emilia?”
“…Yes. Because everyone keeps nagging me about it.” Accepting what Echidna said, Emilia nodded at Anastasia—who had a serious look in her eyes. Smuggling was, in short, sneaking into another country without permission. It’s illegal, right? That means we’d probably get a good scolding if we’re caught. But as a candidate in Lugunica’s royal selection, I—
“I might end up causing the empire and the kingdom’s relationship to sour… My qualifications for the royal selection might be taken away too.”
“You’re going to do it despite that?” Anastasia asked. Her question carried both intensity and kindness. “Don’t you have goals you want to achieve, Emilia?”
Indeed, my desire is to become queen. There are people I want to save, and dreams I’ve fostered since the royal selection began. By sneaking in, won’t I risk chances at both?
“But those were all things that I wanted to do with Subaru. So I’ll do my best.”
“…Subaru is one lucky guy,” Julius muttered, lowering his gaze as he heard what lay in Emilia’s heart.
He sounds a little relieved. He must be worried about Subaru. They’ve both grown so close over the course of our journey, so the feeling is most likely genuine. However, Julius is a little wrong about one thing.
“Subaru isn’t lucky—I’m the lucky one.”
Subaru has always done his best to save me, several times over. So if something happened to him, saving him is my first priority.
Being able to think this way, Emilia was surely quite fortunate.
“Yes, yes. I understand what you’re saying, Emilia. I’m quite full now,” Anastasia said, clapping her hands together as if she had just finished a meal.
“Quite full…” Emilia just stared. I know she didn’t eat anything while we were talking. Why would she say she’s full?
“Ana and the rest of us will aim to enter the country from the direction of Kararagi,” Echidna informed. “From what Margrave Mathers said, it seems we can use that butler’s power.”
“Clind?” Emilia asked. “He’s a steward, not a butler. That’s what he told me.”
“Either way, we can shorten the time it’ll take to reach Kararagi’s border…” Julius said decisively. “Although I’m quite curious what kind of magic he has, personally.”
“Put that curiosity to the side for now,” Anastasia warned. To Julius, who loved magic, this was rather disappointing, but Emilia didn’t really know anything about Clind’s strange powers either. However, since he had never shown it to her before, she assumed that it was a power he couldn’t use without a special reason. It could well be a power that he couldn’t handle—just like Emilia.
Perhaps Clind is also scared of hurting people.
“Emilia,” Anastasia called out, drawing her attention away from her thoughts. “As you already know, we’ll do our absolute best to find Natsuki and Rem. So I’ll leave it to the rest of you to take the tower story to the capital.”
“…Yeah, that’s fine. If Anne—”
“—This is a sign of our trust.” She interrupted Emilia as she spoke, piercing her chest with a single word. Seeing the seriousness in Anastasia’s gaze, Emilia’s eyelashes and lips trembled.
The Divine Dragon, Volcanica, had been placed atop, but with the Sage, Shaula lost, and the sandstorm gone, the Pleiades Watchtower was now in a vulnerable state. Although the witchbeasts of the desert would obstruct their path, there were several methods to reach the tower. She had also heard rumors that other nefarious individuals as well as the Witch Cult might have set their sights on it, too.
“To prevent them, we’ll need the Kingdom’s assistance,” Julius suggested. “The purpose of our journey was to search for a means to rescue victims of the Witch Cult from the start. The library with the Books of the Dead might help…”
“If you read through them all, it might be possible…” Echidna added. “However, it won’t be easy.”
Indeed, the Pleiades Watchtower was full of possibilities. And whether those possibilities were good or bad depended solely on the individual wielding its power. In order to prevent a worst-case scenario from unfolding, it was necessary for the tower to be managed by the kingdom.
“Travelin’ across the Augria Sand Dunes, and securing the Pleiades Watchtower… You’re hoggin’ all sorts of glorious achievements, ain’tcha?” Anastasia said playfully, stirring the stiff atmosphere.
It was more of a prickly affirmation than discouragement—or rather, that’s how Emilia understood it. Determined not to rely too much on their kindness, she nodded her head sincerely. “Yes, leave it to me. I don’t ever want to do something that would disappoint my friends.”
“Betty thought for certain you’d have prepared a way to face the empire, in fact.”
Her words—which were as blunt as usual—resonated sharply with Roswaal.
She folded her short arms arrogantly as if to say she didn’t expect much. But, on the contrary, her obedience was clear from having entrusted him with such an urgent request. The style of her lettering also told of her dwindling expectation that he would resolve her anxiety and impatience.
“I’m sooorry. But there was no way I could have known about the situation with the empire. It seemed like something that could be settled within Lugunica.”
“That seems to be a rather shameful thing for the holder of the Book of Wisdom to say, I suppose. Betty wanted you to show her you were different from herself, whose book has been blank for four hundred years.”
“W-What’s with that ominous face?”
Facing him across the desk, Beatrice spoke openly, which rather startled Roswaal. The wounds her blank Book of Wisdom had caused for four hundred years were deep and painful. They were wounds that anyone would fear, avoid, and pretend didn’t exist.
And these were the wounds Beatrice was so casually speaking of now.
“…Subaru makes me jealous.”
“Betty doesn’t understand what you’re saying! The one who is in trouble right now is Subaru, I suppose! Roswaal, hop over and see if you can’t bring those two back.”
“I’d let a flying dragon bite me on the butt, if that’s all it tooook,” Roswaal replied, laughing sarcastically at the unreasonable request. Still smiling, he called out to Beatrice. “We’re working on it as fast as we can—even using Clind. I won’t let you disappear, no matter what.”
“…An unnecessary concern. The one you need is Subaru, and Betty has no problem with it, I suppose.”
“What an extremely stubborn thing to say. Have you been spending too much time with Anastasia, I wooonder? Ah, speaking of which…” Stopping in the middle of his sentence, Roswaal closed one eye and directed the yellow one at Beatrice. “That artificial spirit that Anastasia has with her…”
“…It’s just a name,” she replied. There was no pause or hesitation in her reply. Gazing at one another, Roswaal and Beatrice’s complex feelings swam in their eyes.
The artificial spirit Anastasia had with her was a fox in the form of a scarf, and she had named it Echidna. It was an existence that Roswaal found hard to ignore. And the same should go for Beatrice. So, considering her response, she must believe—
“Betty doesn’t think she knows anything about it, I suppose, nor does she think she’s pretending not to.”
“Couldn’t that just be what she wants you to think?”
“After revealing it’s an artificial spirit? What reason would there be, I suppose?” Beatrice snapped, her gaze mingled with irritation.
Seeing this, Roswaal thought deeply about her answer. What reason would there be to lie about it? In fact, there could be a great number of reasons. But ultimately, those who lie do not need a reason to. Considering it from that perspective, Beatrice’s thoughts are far too kind and gentle. She has a naive honesty uncharacteristic of a spirit who’s been around for so long.
—That was enough.
“I understand. It’s a friend of yours that you’ve gone to great pains to make. Please don’t call me insensitiiiive.”
“S-She’s not a friend! Betty wishes you wouldn’t say weird things, I suppose!”
“Yes, yes. Come on, you also need to get ready. You wanted to leave as soon as possible, right?”
Being talked down to, Beatrice made an unamused face and pouted. “Hmph…” Perhaps because she couldn’t find the words to retaliate, her shoulders slumped. “Are you even ready yourself? Your preparations—”
“Frederica will have it ready for me. That’s what it means to be the head of the maaaaansion.”
“How irritating, in fact…!” As her face reddened, Beatrice stamped her feet, articulating her emotions through her departing steps as she left the office. Her stout-hearted back that desperately hid her anguish disappeared behind the closing door.
“…Are you finished?” asked a voice from Roswaal’s lap once Beatrice had left the room. Roswaal glanced down, his gaze clashing with a pair of light pink eyes right beneath him.
Feeling the weight and warmth of that gaze on his knees, Roswaal shrugged. “My feelings are quite complicaaated. If Subaru had returned, then Beatrice would probably have never come to see me alone. However, with Subaru absent, Beatrice is not at all like herself. That is the value of a contractual relationship with an ideal spirit.”
“It’s because you love Beatrice, Roswaal.”
“…Hmm.” Having had their exchange summarized openly, Roswaal’s lips curved. Watching him with a soft gaze, and lying down, using his lap as a pillow was Ram. She had been in this position the whole time he had been talking with Beatrice and had heard it all. Of course, she had a reason for being in this position, and it was a situation Beatrice knew of as well.
“It seems I’ve overdone myself,” Roswaal said. “Even without the situation with Subaru, it seems like it was the right choice to call me back with Clind.”
“The anxiety and stress had piled up,” Ram noted. “The difficulties in commanding Barusu and Emilia were as you’d expect… Ram would have relied on Otto, but she couldn’t.”
“He needed time to recuperate. It’s not his fault. Besides…”
“He proposed an alternate plan. So Ram’ll turn a blind eye to it.”
Roswaal chuckled at Ram’s unsympathetic attitude. It could be said that this was—in her own way—the greatest praise you could receive from her. It was proof of her recognition of Otto. Or perhaps Roswaal simply misunderstood. After all, he had failed to fully understand her in the past, when he thought he had her completely figured out.
Holding onto the silence, Roswaal placed a finger on Ram’s forehead where her horn had been and poured a delicately adjusted amount of mana in. It was a task he had entrusted to Emilia and Beatrice on the journey, but it proved difficult for Emilia, with her carefree nature, and Beatrice, whose reserves were unreliable. If Subaru had vanished, and Beatrice could no longer manifest, the situation would have been utterly hopeless.
“I’m glad you came back safe.”
Roswaal was shocked at himself for letting the words slip out so casually. Then after the surprise, a strong feeling of self-hatred bubbled up inside him. Anger at letting his feelings show was natural, but what dominated Roswaal was the revulsion he felt towards his own shamelessness. What right do I have to spew out words of happiness at Ram’s safety?
“…Yes. Like this, Ram has returned.”
Roswaal’s statement elicited a smile from her, one that tore at his chest. It showed her deep compassion. He could only imagine the swirl of grief in her heart at the loss of Subaru and Rem, and yet, he himself was the reason she was smiling like this.
“I’ve realized the reason I sent your younger sister Rem into the mansion,” Roswaal said, responding to the effects of her smile. He tried to confront the fact that he did not have the qualifications to face that smile.
I get the reason, now. The reason I allowed Rem into the mansion, despite Ram being enough. The reason I couldn’t figure out after Rem’s existence was wiped out due to the Authority of Gluttony. The reason I knew was there, considering I’m not the type of person who would ever do something without a cold, calculated reason. That reason was—
“…To be a replacement for Ram’s horn, right?” Ram answered for him.
“What a shame. Try again.”
Ram’s gaze conveyed an unspoken message: “If you want Ram to hate you, that is.” Roswaal’s breath hitched. What do I have to do to lose this girl’s affection, I wonder? He couldn’t bear the uncertainty, so Roswaal focused on his fingertip and continued to send the life-saving mana to the oni girl.
“Anne, I’ll leave Meili and the tower to you. I’ll do my best too!” Waving her hand energetically, Emilia and her companions were transported to their destination.
It was over in the blink of an eye, leaving those who actually experienced it in the same state. Of course, Annerose—who was observing from the sidelines—could only watch them disappear like a puff of smoke.
“That really is a straange power. Very handy, though,” a young girl said as she patted the ground with her shoe, swinging her three-strand braid from side to side. Until that very moment, a dragon carriage towed by two dragons had been present, but that had disappeared with the rest of them. It was understandable why the young girl thought it was such a strange power.
“At any rate, even I could never quite understand Clind.” As the head of the Miload family, it was none other than Clind who had taught Annerose to act in the superior way she did. The steward had maintained his firm posture and sharp intelligence for as long as Annerose could remember. But despite that—
“You should be careful of Clind,” Annerose warned. “He is talented, but he can also be dangerous.”
“I’ve been told that by both Petra and Fang’s older sister, but I still don’t understand whyy. Does it have something to do with him liiking little children?”
“Frankly speaking, yes.”
“Reeeally? That’s all? Doesn’t seem like something to be concerned about,” Meili replied quite calmly, waving a hand. Annerose widened her eyes at that reaction and carefully observed her once more. Meili, moving with an unsteady gait, appeared vulnerable despite being about two or three years older than her. She possessed an unusual combination of both adorable traits and a pessimistic demeanor, which gave off an air of danger.
If what she’d heard before was true, it was understandable.
“Umm, Meili was the child who burned down the old mansion… No, it wasn’t just her, but her older sister as well… But she’s not a bad kid! She has the power to tame witchbeasts, which put Subaru in danger… But she’s not a bad kid!”
Although Emilia had tried her very best to defend her, she was a dangerous person without a shadow of a doubt. However, taking into account the fact she had been entrusted to Annerose, and that she had a job she had to accomplish in Emilia’s stead…
“I will protect you,” declared Annerose Miload with unfaltering confidence. However, to Annerose’s powerful words, Meili turned around with a puzzled expression.
“Huh. Is my assurance not enough for you?” Annerose said, furrowing her brows at the wholly unexpected response.
“It’s not thaat, it’s not that it’s not enough or anythiing. It’s just that, you’re younger than me, riiight? Unless you’re like Beatrice.”
“Beatrice… She’s the spirit with Natsuki Subaru, isn’t she?” Annerose asked. “No, I’m not like her—I’m a human who just turned ten the other day.”
“See? Incidentally, I’m thirteen, so that would make me your older sister.”
Meili’s gaze fixated on something far away as she re-uttered the word “older sister.” It was difficult to guess what was in her heart as she muttered it, but it would be unwise to make a judgment on dependability based on age alone. After all, Emilia isn’t dependable at all despite being a half-elf of over one hundred years of age.
“In fact, Emily is quite unreliable without me. Don’t you think so?”
“Um… I think mentioning Emilia is a little unfair,” Meili mumbled, cheeks stiffening at having her weak spot exposed, much to Annerose’s delight. Just as expected, Emilia acted as Annerose’s strength even when she wasn’t around. If they returned home safely, she’d have to devote herself to thanking her abundantly.
In any case—
“Uncle also entrusted you to me. Do you think that he would choose to do something that would cause even a little bit of concern?”
“…I don’t know the margrave very well, but he is very persuasive,” Meili said with consideration, placing a finger to her lips. As she did, the collar of her robe quivered, and a small shadow leaped onto her head from the inside of her hood.
It was a small scorpion with a red body that reflected the light. As the scorpion raised its stinger, it shifted its pincers on either arm in a display that appeared like a vow to protect Meili on its own.
“You seemed to have a good enough knight by your side,” Annerose commented.
“Right? I’m not worried… So, we’ll take good care of you for the time being, my lady.”
“Call me Annerose. Ideally, Lady Annerose.”
There were quite a number of people who looked down on Annerose because of her age, so she was fairly experienced in responding to it.
Now that I think about it, this is similar to when I first met Emilia. I saw her as nothing more than an elf with poor manners. I never imagined that she would become such an important person in my life.
“I’m looking forward to seeing if we develop a bond, too,” Annerose mused, putting her hand over her mouth, faintly smiling.
“…I was told something similaar by Petra. Is this the way this mansion teaches persuaasion?” Meili asked suspiciously.
“…No, I think you’ve misunderstood. Correction.”
“Aiiieee?!” Meili let out a high-pitched shriek as Clind appeared out of nowhere and touched her back. Her startled reaction caused the scorpion to fly from her head, which Clind nimbly caught before it hit the ground.
“Careful,” he cautioned. “Rescue.”
However, rather than being grateful for the rescue, the scorpion displayed anger at him for causing its fall in the first place.
“It has your finger—serves you right,” Annerose retorted.
“What an inconsiderate comment,” Clind replied. “However, I will gladly accept it. Delightful.”
“I’d prefer it if you didn’t treat the scorpion and my criticism as equal!”
Clind had returned as quickly as he’d left—in the blink of an eye. Fed up with the steward—from the finger of which the scorpion dangled—Annerose focused on Meili. Despite having previously insisted that Clind was nothing to be concerned about, the shock had left her wide-eyed, holding her head in her arms.
“As you can see, he has certain mannerisms,” Annerose began. “That’s why…”
“That’s why…?!” Meili interrupted.
“That’s why I thought we should become more acquainted,” she continued, narrowing her eyes and relaxing her lips into a smile. Meili gulped, holding back her words. Though she might never get the chance to say them again, it was certainly the right decision to leave them unsaid at this moment—because accepting that the repugnant face belonged to a relative of Roswaal’s was simply too humiliating.
“Actually I’m a wanted person in my hometown…” Otto confessed apologetically. “Well, it’s not entirely accurate to label me as ‘wanted’, but I can’t exactly walk around in public.”
Frederica couldn’t help feeling a sense of satisfaction, having suspected as much.
As the one in charge of domestic affairs within the Emilia Camp, Otto was considered indispensable by everyone in the mansion. That wisdom and drive were not something that could be replaced, and alongside Subaru and Petra, it could be said he was one of the big three within the camp.
It would be questionable to say I’m happy about that—I’m a little bothered by the fact those two have been placed on the same level as Petra. While Otto was certainly a valuable asset, Frederica was somewhat skeptical about where he’d refined his exceptional courage and acquired his merchant tales from. He was dependable, but being too dependable posed its own challenges. If he had a trustworthy lineage like Roswaal, a polished career like Emilia, or had been a shining gem like Petra, then it would be a different story. However, neither Otto nor Subaru fits those categories, leaving Frederica uncertain how to react to their amiable friendship.
However, for the time being, she could at least quell the doubts she had about Otto.
“I’m relieved,” Frederica replied. “Just as I thought, Mr. Otto. You truly possessed the ability to be a fugitive.”
“Just as you thought?!” Otto exclaimed. “And you’re relieved?! Why?!”
Frederica smoothed down her chest in relief, and Otto stared at her in wonder.
Dropping her long-harbored suspicions, Frederica had subconsciously let her real feelings show and placed her hand to her mouth. “Oops,” she said, covering her sharp fangs. “It’s nothing; don’t worry about it. It’s just my personal opinion.”
“If you say that, I’m definitely going to worry about it!” Otto cried out. “Miss Frederica, did you naturally come to the conclusion that I was a wanted man?!”
“I thought it must be something like that, otherwise… it wouldn’t have made sense,” Frederica said candidly, mouth still covered, averting her eyes.
Otto, on the other hand, appeared utterly flabbergasted, as if the world had just turned upside down. His eyes wandered to the others in the camp traveling with them, mouth opening and closing as he searched for the right words. “The rest of you aren’t going to say the same, are you?” he finally managed to utter.
“Don’t worry, Otto-bro,” Garfiel reassured. “My sis is just exaggeratin’.”
“I’m not sure whether or not Frederica is exaggerating,” Emilia said thoughtfully, “but I’ve heard this before, so I’m not surprised. Don’t worry, everyone in my hometown fears me, too.”
“I think Otto’s circumstances are a little different from yours, Lady Emilia,” Petra chimed in. “Please don’t make that face. Otto just had to go and say something so unnecessary…”
“Now it’s my fault?!” Otto exclaimed.
One by one, Garfiel, Emilia, and Petra replied to Otto. However, after his outburst, he recalled that this conversation had begun with talk of his reputation in his hometown. Immediately covering his face with his palm, he sighed disheartedly. “This time was a rare example where I truly messed up…”
“Good to see you’ve accepted it yourself,” came another voice. “But what now? It must be difficult to return to your hometown, but how long do you intend to hide from the public?”
Otto stared at the sky. The one who had hit him with such sharp words was Ram, who stood there with her arms crossed. But despite the lack of kindness behind her words, she had a point. Using Clind’s power, they had jumped from Roswaal Manor to their destination—the commercial city of Picoutatte. To avoid drawing too much attention by appearing downtown, they instead planned to jump to a forest just outside of town and merge with the traffic of people on the road. However, it was there that Otto made his confession: the reason he was reluctant to return to his hometown was that he was a wanted person.
“But in Picoutatte, we might find a way to enter the Empire,” Ram continued. “The one who proposed that was none other than you, Otto. It’d be ridiculous not to include you in it.”
“Of course it would…” Otto acknowledged. “But it might cause problems for all of you, and I’m more or less just a normal human, so it would take a lot of courage for me to set foot in a place that has it out for me.”
“Just a normal human…”
Leaning against a tree, Otto found his words unexpectedly echoed—proof that everyone, including Frederica, shared the same doubts. Otto wasn’t a demi-human, nor were they doubting his belonging to the human race, but—
“To call yourself a normal human is complete hogwash, in fact,” Beatrice retorted in exasperation.
“It’s not!” Otto shouted, expressing his dismay at the disparity between his own self-assessment and the one people around him gave.
Unfortunately, Frederica—and everyone else in the party—didn’t find it appropriate to regard Otto as a normal human.
In any case—
“Otto, if you really don’t think you can do it, then please say so, okay?” Emilia reassured him. “It’s only natural to want to get Subaru and Rem back, but if it’s going to cause you pain, then I’m sure Subaru will end up sobbing as if it’s his own tragedy.”
“I would like to see Mr. Natsuki sobbing…” Otto retorted.
“Otto, be serious,” Petra said, her adorable eyes growing serious at his complaints.
No one in the Emilia Camp could match her when it came to her commanding presence. The only ones who could resist it were the dauntless Ram and the easygoing Emilia. Everyone else would be crushed by it, even Frederica.
“It’s not because I’m succumbing to pressure,” Otto said, regaining his composure. “But it’s okay, Lady Emilia. In order to move the conversation forward smoothly, I think I should be there. Besides…”
“Besides?” Emilia tilted her head.
“…I think the time has come for me to face my past and my hometown,” Otto said with determination, eyes focused on something distant. In the direction of his sight lay the commercial city, Picoutatte. Otto’s situation might never be called peaceful, but…
“Luckily,” Otto continued, clenching his fists, “I’m accompanied by our entire military force, with the weakest link absent. There won’t be a better opportunity to visit my hometown than this!”
“Otto, be serious,” Petra scolded him sharply.
“Huh?!” Otto reacted.
As a wanted man in his hometown, he regarded their military force as a form of security upon his return. It was exactly this attitude that earned him the title: Militant Internal Affairs Officer.
“For someone so smart, it’s always baffled me how Otto can never see himself properly…” Frederica thought aloud, voicing what appeared to be the honest opinion shared between her and the others.
Passing through the necessary inspection for entering and leaving the city, Garfiel clicked his fangs as he felt the change in atmosphere wash over him. “The atmosphere of such a big city sure is different,” he thought aloud.
Plonking himself down on the roof of the dragon carriage, Garfiel tilted his head as he checked out his surroundings. Having lived in the Sanctuary’s village deep in the forest, the world was everything he had seen in the short year since he set foot outside of it. The population and size of the city of Costuul, which sat near the mansion, had amazed him, but the more recent shock was Priestella—the watergate city.
Despite it also being counted among the Five Great Cities of Lugunica, each had its own distinct features and were completely different from each other. In that regard, Picoutatte was full of new and exciting things.
“Everywhere in the city has a different smell,” Garfiel mumbled to himself. “Normally, cities have just one smell ‘bout ‘em…”
“Ah, I know why!” Emilia responded to his mumbles, looking around restlessly from the inside of the car. “Picoutatte is separated into five different parts—East, West, South, North, and Central. And each part sells completely different things.”
“Really? Ya sure know a lot, Lady Emilia!”
“He-he, right?” Emilia’s studies on the political situation, the state of the kingdom, the organization, and various other things seemed to be going rather well. The knowledge she’d shown in Priestella, she was also demonstrating here in Picoutatte.
Understanding Emilia’s explanation, Garfiel sniffed. “Gotcha.”
Just as she had said, the difference in smells wafting from each part of the city resulted from the variety of goods handled in each district. Countless shops lined the city streets, which exuded all the energy of a bustling market. It was a large, tumultuous city that lived up to its name as a commercial city.
“Now that’s a food I ain’t ever smelled before,” Garfiel continued his mumblings. “Ain’t never seen that fabric before, either. Hey! That knife looks perfect for munchin’! Stop the carriage a sec…”
“Garf,” scolded Ram from inside the carriage, as Garfiel’s eyes sparkled, gaze fixed on one particular stall. “Don’t forget, we have a goal here.”
“Gah…” At Ram’s scathing words, Garfiel felt a deep sense of disappointment, having no choice but to watch as they moved further from the shop.
Garfiel’s fangs never stopped growing as a half-human, half-beast, so he needed to regularly crunch on hard things to shave them down. That knife woulda been perfect for filin’.
“The handle was so cool,” Garfiel said, still fixated on the knife. “Bet you woulda liked it, too.”
“Garf, we’re working right now,” Frederica reprimanded. “Get ahold of yourself,” she added, her hands on the reins as the driver, putting an end to his lingering attachment to the knife.
“Tch. Ya don’t need to tell me,” he scoffed. “I’m doin’ it.” Being somewhat aware of the fact he was supposed to be at work, he stuck out his tongue and withdrew. Then, placing a hand on his crossed legs and narrowing his green eyes, he said, “Otto-bro, people really do seem to have it out for ya.”
Sporadically, he took sniffs of the people gazing at their carriage and scratched his neck. Although Otto couldn’t really be seen from outside the carriage, the city guards had seen his face when they inspected the carriage as they entered the city. They must’ve been the ones who ratted him out. They’ll resort to anything to get what they want, huh.
“Ya must’ve done something really horrible to make ‘em go to such lengths, huh, Otto-bro? To sell ya out the second ya return… What the hell didja do?”
They’d not heard the particulars of the story, but just from the speed of their movements, it seemed clear he’d made an enemy of a very powerful person—to such an extent that they had not let their guard down even after several years. It musta been something huge to make someone so powerful hate him. What he do, disclose some big crime, or unearth some cover-up scandal or somethin’?
“If so, then we’re bound ta have nothin’ but enemies here,” Garfiel speculated, subconsciously opening and closing his fist, and licking his lips. Quite some time had passed since the decision of the watergate city, and it seemed appropriate that his body had begun to ache. Considering Subaru’s situation, this wasn’t the time for pulling unnecessary weeds. However, if they proved to be an obstacle, harvesting them mercilessly was Garfiel’s role. However, Garfiel felt somewhat resentful.
“If I ain’t allowed ta punch ‘em, I got no choice but to rely on that bastard Roswaal…” It had been decided outside the forest that it would become complicated if they were any person of social standing. In a world where such rules existed, Roswaal would be the strong presence that dealt with them, and that made Garfiel angry. He had been unhappy about Roswaal accompanying them on this journey from the start.
“I mean, yeah, the bastard’s status could be handy,” Garfiel admitted, “but whether he’s actually dangerous is as factual as the existence of the Shy Man Allegro.”
The safety of Subaru and Rem, who had been flung to the Sacred Vollachian Empire, remained uncertain, so the camp had to unite as a group in order to save them both. Given the circumstances, they didn’t want to embark on a journey with anyone feeling uneasy. Even Garfiel felt sorry that he had not accompanied Emilia, Subaru, and the others when they had headed to the Pleiades Watchtower. Of course, he couldn’t deny the fact that he had gained a lot of insights by remaining in the watergate city.
“…It’s pretty tough havin’ ta go step-by-step, Cap’n.”
If Subaru could see Garfiel right now, perhaps he’d tell him not to panic. However, Subaru’s reassuring words would be ineffective without his actual presence. Even Garfiel knew that only through persistent effort could he break through this wall of anxiety.
“Garf,” Frederica called out from the driver’s seat. Hearing the severity of her voice, Garfiel immediately followed her line of sight. He focused his attention along the road of the carriage, in the direction of the blue and black heads of the earth dragons. At that moment, he immediately understood Frederica’s reaction.
“What the hell?” Garfiel’s eyebrows furrowed, unsure of whether he should be on guard or not. In the direction of their gaze, the attention of the two half-beast siblings was captivated by a sturdy man, waving his arms in the middle of the road. The man was clearly determined to attract their attention and stop the carriage from moving forward.
The man flashed a charming smile at the perplexed siblings and said, “Don’t worry! Come to the Suwen Trading Company! Friends of my son!”
And with that, Otto was so taken aback by the unexpected greeting from inside the carriage that he bumped his head.
“Welcome,” greeted the well-built man, Mazeran, openly welcoming his guests. “You’ve come a long way. I’m Mazeran Suwen, head of the Suwen Trading Company.”
Observing his charming smile, Ram narrowed her light pink eyes and commented, “The apple certainly doesn’t fall so far from the tree.”
“You definitely didn’t mean that in a good way, did you?” Otto noted wryly at Ram’s pithy remark.
To which she only sniffed, “Hah.”
With a few well-chosen words, Ram could have easily crushed Otto’s spirit, but she was too merciful to cruelly torment a child in front of his own father. Even more so since it hadn’t only been his father, but his mother, too.
“Besides, Otto always comes home so abruptly,” remarked Framir Suwen, Otto’s mother. “It’s always been a constant worry for me, having a child who, once they make up their mind, becomes oblivious to everything else around them.”
Emilia, Frederica, and Petra enthusiastically engaged in conversation about Otto as they gathered around the elegant woman.
“Ah, but that might not have changed even now,” commented Emilia. “Otto is always causing a stir by doing crazy things with Subaru.”
“I’ll refrain from being too honest about Otto,” Frederica said flatly.
“My answer is the same as Sister Frederica’s,” Petra chimed in.
“What’s yer deal, Ram?” Garfiel asked. “Ya’ve been glarin’ daggers at Otto-bro’s folks for a while.”
“Nothing,” Ram said dismissively. “It just seems as though Otto takes after his parents. Ram was just erasing the impression she had that he was found abandoned under a bridge.”
“Is it really necessary to harbor such suspicions?!” Otto protested. “Even though I’m the middle child of three brothers?!”
“Just keeping it in mind,” Ram replied without elaboration.
“What for?!” Whether because he disliked Ram’s answer or was just excited by being home after so long, Otto was two or three times louder than usual.
Amongst the group’s lively chatter, Roswaal raised his hand. “Can I speak?” he asked, and turned his attention to Mazeran, who had been calmly observing the group he had invited into his house. “It appears you came out to greet us before our carriage had even passed by your hooouse. But as your wife said, Otto has returned home quite unexpectedly, without sending any letters.”
Roswaal cut straight to the heart of the suspicions that both Ram and Garfiel had been holding. Just as Roswaal pointed out, Mazeran had stopped their carriage before they could even inform him of their business with the Suwen Trading Company, or Otto’s home. In other words, Mazeran somehow knew of his son’s return, and of their intentions. Due to Clind’s assistance in getting them there, there shouldn’t have been any period of time for him to find out.
“Is that what you’re asking?” Mazeran asked, snapping his finger at Roswaal’s question. “I see. I’m sorry for surprising you. It’s so completely common in this city that I didn’t think to bring it up.”
“Yes,” Mazeran affirmed with a nod. “This is a commercial city—a place where every single thing is considered tradable. That’s not limited to cargo or labor; it includes information as well.”
“…I see. So that’s how it wooorks,” Roswaal said, drawing in his chin in satisfaction with the response.
Seeing this, Ram’s realization came a little late, and her gaze shifted outside—toward the path their carriage had traversed, and where the city inspection had taken place. It was clear that the inspector had examined not only the cargo but the people, as well. If that information had leaked, Mazeran could have easily caught wind of it.
“Is it not a trust problem that the soldiers at the city’s gates are so loose-liiiipped?”
“To consider them loose-lipped would be absurd,” Mazeran stated in their defense. “They only tell the facts to the people who should be told. There is a certain trust in that. You could call it a contract.”
His statement intertwined the words ‘business opportunity’ and ‘opportunity to win’ as if they meant the same thing. In Picoutatte, greedy merchants were cut-throat and prevalent, so sustaining a business for generations demanded favorable results. To meet those demands, Mazeran had chosen to do what he must.
Receiving information of his son’s return so promptly indicated that he had been informed through the gate inspection. However, the possibility of Otto riding in the Mathers family carriage couldn’t have been anticipated without first knowing where and what he was doing in the first place. In other words, every aspect of this encounter was the result of prior coordination and meticulous preparations.
“Ram is even more convinced that these are the parents of this child,” Ram remarked.
“…It will improve our chances, I suppose,” Beatrice whispered in response to Ram’s mutterings. She sat by herself on the sofa, choosing to spend her time in a state of energy conservation until her reunion with Subaru. She had decided this was the best way to deal with the exhaustion of being unable to draw mana from anywhere else.
Regardless, it was painfully obvious to Ram—who also had someone she wanted to reunite with—that Beatrice’s mutterings came from her feelings of impatience.
“Just as Beatrice said, their keen attention to our movements is a bit disconcerting,” Ram pointed out. “However, it has raised our hopes for the sake of our goal.”
“Goal…” Mazeran gently caressed the mustache under his nose, contemplating Ram’s determination.
Ram nodded, sensing the great influence he’s had on his son from his gentle tone of voice and soft expressions, and urged: “Otto, please speak.”
“Right now?!” Otto responded, surprised at the sudden encouragement to speak. As Ram pressed him on, he continued reluctantly. “Okay, I guess… Father, I have something to discuss. I’m sure you understand that things are tense right now, but it’s about the Vollachia Empire.”
“Oh, Vollachia?” Mazeran asked, raising his eyebrows. Everything about the gesture seemed exaggerated, as though it were a technique to manipulate the thoughts of the one speaking. However, perhaps this was reading too much into things, considering that he was talking to his own son.
“Sooner or later, we have to enter the Empire,” Otto confided. “All of us, if possible. However, we can’t cross the border using legitimate methods. So…”
“You want a way to cross it illegally. And for that reason, you’re asking for my help?” Mazeran summarized.
“Yes, uh, exactly.” Taking off his hat, Otto disclosed their situation to his father with an honest face. “A way and information—that’s what we need.”
Understanding their goal from his explanation, Mazeran narrowed his eyes in thought. Then as he opened his mouth to speak—
“In other words, you need the help of the Suwen Trading Company, yes? If that’s the case, then it’s not something to discuss, Otto.”
Before Mazeran could reply, Framir had breached the subject.
The woman who had been speaking with Emilia and the others seemed to also have been listening in on her husband and son’s conversation. Smiling kindly at Otto, he turned to her as she spoke. “I’m certain I taught you how to speak properly, didn’t I?” she said. “The situation remains the same, whether you’re dealing with family or not. Do you remember that, too?”
“Uh… Yes, I remember,” Otto affirmed.
“Good. Then, if it’s not a discussion…” Maintaining a composed posture, Framir kept smiling as she extended her hand to Otto.
Bewilderment swept over Emilia and Frederica. Even Garfiel watched the scene unfold with a look of confusion on his face. The other half—Roswaal, Ram, and Petra—all sensed something was amiss, and Otto’s face seemed to convey a particular realization.
Affirming their suspicions, he heaved a big sigh. “I didn’t come here to discuss, but to negotiate… Let’s talk. A fruitful negotiation between the head of our group—Emilia—and the Suwen Trading Company.” Otto made a show of holding his hat to his chest, to which the married couple burst into smiles.
“That’s my boy.”
The strangeness of this family exchange was beyond description. However, despite Ram’s impression of it, Emilia made a different observation regarding the scene she’d just witnessed. “Otto, you truly are the spitting image of your mother and father,” she said warmly, in response to the wholesome interaction.
Ram simply let out a sigh.