Stand by me Pleiades
Subaru Natsuki had disappeared from the Pleiades Watchtower.
In short, that was what the letter sent to the mansion said.
Pausing for just a moment, Roswaal L. Mathers rested a finger on his pointed chin and closed his heterochromatic eyes.
“Your handwriting has certainly seen much improvement, Lady Emilia.”
He read the letter and muttered a leisurely remark contrary to the dire circumstances it described.
The writer of the letter was Emilia, whom Roswaal was backing in the royal selection to make her the next ruler of the Kingdom of Lugnica.
When Roswaal met Emilia for the first time in the forest, she was living all alone with a spirit who was her only family, and she knew nothing of the manners and general knowledge of the outside world. It took a great deal of effort to bring her up to scratch; just teaching her how to read and write, along with the bare minimum of education, took a considerable amount of time.
However, Emilia was honest and driven, so she continued to grow in many ways.
Of course, she had a lot of room for improvement—but he was happy to see her growth as her teacher. If it wasn’t for the royal selection coming up in the near future, it would’ve been entertaining to further explore her full potential.
In any case…
“It seems like now is not the time to be taaalking about such leisurely things,” Roswaal muttered, pinching the edge of the letter with a sigh.
Currently, Emilia was traveling with companions to the Augria Sand Dunes east of the Kingdom in order to reach the Pleiades Watchtower where the Sage lived.
Shaula, the Sage who lived in the Watchtower, was rumored to have knowledge of the entire land, but crossing the sand dunes was difficult—to the point where even the Sword Saint had failed to find a passage through the desert.
If Subaru Natsuki wasn’t there, Roswaal would never have approved the journey.
Subaru Natsuki was Roswaal’s trump card.
He wasn’t the person that Roswaal could trust the most. Subaru would reject that line of thought, and it wasn’t true to begin with.
Subaru was someone who Roswaal could trust the most when it came to his ‘objective.’
For Roswaal’s ultimate goal, Emilia becoming ruler was a necessity. And Subaru Natsuki’s existence would turn that ‘necessity’ into an absolute.
Because of that firm belief, Roswaal had allowed Emilia to journey to the Augria Sand Dunes. As long as Subaru was there, Emilia’s safety—and the safety of her companions—was assured. And in fact, the letter had stated that all of her other companions were safe—but the issue mentioned at the beginning still existed.
“Lady Emilia has been separated from Subaru. This should be considered an unforeseen situation.”
Roswaal knew that Subaru Natsuki’s Authority could bring forth the best-case outcome.
With that in mind, the current situation indicated that they might come across a problem. And a roadblock to Roswaal’s goal.
This must be corrected—no matter the price.
His way forward decided, Roswaal squinted for a moment and opened the window of his office. His tall, lithe figure swiftly leapt out of the window, letting his cape flutter about him as he landed in the mansion’s front garden.
The office was on the top floor of the building, but the drop posed no risk to the softly landing figure. However, there were others who weren’t pleased with this type of behavior.
“Master! What are you doing? It is ill-mannered to jump out of a window like that…”
The maid who had spotted Roswaal jumping down and ran over was Frederica.
Her long blonde hair fluttered as her emerald-green eyes flashed with anger.
“What?” she replied in displeasure to her name being called. “I’m not listening to any excuses. If Petra had spotted you, then you’d be getting even more of an earful than from me, so you have to…”
“A carrier bird from Lady Emilia arrived—it’s an emergency. Begin preparations.”
Frederica stopped and inhaled sharply at Roswaal’s words. But she was an ideal maid nevertheless, so she immediately corrected her posture. “Understood. What are you going to do, Master?”
“Currently, I need someone who can move faaast… I will be requiring Clind’s assistance. So I’m heading to Annerose’s place. I’ll return in three hours.”
“…Understood. I will let Petra know.”
For a moment, Frederica looked displeased upon hearing Clind’s name, but her personal feelings weren’t important right now.
Frederica and Clind are both competent individuals, and I want them to work together well if possible—but they have a complicated relationship, and they aren’t compatible.
But as far as Roswaal knew, they had been close when she was little.
“The situation is as seen here. If it’s true, then there is much that must be done. Think carefully and prepare accordingly,” Roswaal ordered before handing Emilia’s letter to Frederica and turning his back to her.
Frederica was capable enough to know what to do once she read the letter. Roswaal just had to lay down the foundations of his plan without cutting corners.
“I’ll be going then… We’ll meet up later,” said Roswaal before lightly kicking off the ground and flying up into the air.
It was flying magic: a combination of wind, earth, and yang magic mixed together into a practical form, yet fairly difficult to replicate—it could reach speeds similar to a migratory bird and was faster than using an earth dragon.
I was asked not to use it outside of emergencies by an old friend and the royal palace, but…
“…This is definitely an emergency now,” Roswaal said in an unexpectedly serious tone as he cut through the blue sky.
And so, left behind in the mansion’s front garden…
“Sister Frederica, was that the master flying off just now?”
Amidst the swaying grass caught up in the downwash, a small girl in a maid’s dress—Petra—came scuttering into the garden.
At Petra’s query, Frederica, who was bowing, took the letter from her master, straightened her posture, and replied, “Yes,” before continuing. “It was an emergency, so he is heading towards Lady Annerose’s mansion. He said that he requires Clind’s help.”
“Clind? That’s so sudden… Ah, that means…” Frowning, Petra was questioning Roswaal’s actions when her doe-eyes suddenly went wide upon seeing the letter in Frederica’s hand.
Smiling awkwardly at Petra’s quick observation, Frederica opened the letter.
“A letter from Lady Emilia. It arrived by carrier bird a moment ago.”
“I knew it! I had a feeling something was approaching from the sky, so…”
“You felt something approaching from the sky…?”
Petra clapped her hands with joy, but Frederica was more surprised at her statement.
Carrier birds were a method to send letters over a long distance, and the birds required special raising and training methods. In order to make sure that a letter would be received by the correct person—and that the letter could not be intercepted or lost in flight—it was standard practice to conceal their presence and profiles with magic seals.
It was a method first suggested by Roswaal’s grandmother, who was the head of the house two generations ago, and became a standard method of communication in the kingdom after it was established over thirty years ago.
Of course, due to the cost of raising the birds, the survival rate of carving the magic seals, as well as other reasons, it wasn’t widely available to the common person yet. But that wasn’t where the problem lied.
The important part was that it was a form of communication used by those who held important positions in the kingdom—such as Roswaal—so letters sent to him should not be so easy to track.
But Petra was able to instinctively sense the carrier bird’s arrival.
“I know that she has been learning magic under the master this past year, but even so…”
Frederica was aware that Petra was a fast learner, even with her work. But despite that, it appeared that she had underestimated Petra’s potential.
One could say she possessed a talent that heaven only granted to a select few.
“Sister Frederica? What did Lady Emilia say?”
“…Ah, right. The master was quite serious about this.”
“The master, serious…?”
Frederica could find no words to placate Petra’s doubt. Unfortunately, the suspicion towards Roswaal in Petra’s mind was difficult to erase.
Frederica thought that only natural, and Roswaal seemed fine with it.
But regardless, Roswaal had hurried off towards Clind, leaving Frederica in charge of preparations, so there was no doubt of the situation’s seriousness.
Readying herself, Frederica turned her eyes towards the letter…
“So? Are Subaru and Sister Emilia okay?” Petra asked, trying to sneak a look at Frederica’s face as she went silent.
The last letter they had received from Emilia was right before they had entered the Augria Sand Dunes. It had stated that they were going to enter the desert from the town closest to it.
Petra’s curiosity at any letter describing the things that had happened after that was natural.
“…How do I explain this to Petra?”
Frederica was well aware of Petra’s feelings for Subaru. Knowing that the letter was the cause of Roswaal’s urgency was enough to make Frederica find herself at a loss for words.
While Frederica was struggling to explain the contents of the letter to Petra, Roswaal, who had just arrived at his destination, was received with cold eyes and forced to provide his reasons.
“As always, your visits are so sudden, Uncle.”
“I am well aware of my ruuudeness. But it is an emergency. Please forgive me.”
“It’d be more troubling for you to arrive on my balcony if it wasn’t an emergency.”
She sighed as Roswaal landed on the balcony outside the study and leaned against the handrail.
However, to have such a reaction to someone suddenly flying in was proof enough of the owner of the mansion’s upbringing and mental fortitude—a girl only nine years of age.
In response to Roswaal’s unspoken admiration, the girl raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m not nine years old; I’m ten years old now. Don’t get that wrong.”
“Oh? I didn’t saaaay anything.”
“Your eyes gave it away. Could you please be more proper? People accept your appearance and your attitude because they believe that at least your mind is normal.”
“Oh my, quite harsh coming from you.”
Roswaal smiled wryly at the banter of Annerose Miload, the small girl shrugging her thin shoulders. It was pleasing to see such growth from her. He knew of no other girl at her age that could act so noble.
And as if to prove such an impression, Annerose continued. “So what is it? It was urgent enough for you to fly here. Do you need something from me…? Or is it from Clind? Or perhaps from both of us?”
“Veeery perceptive. Am I so easy to read?”
“Yes, you are. You always choose the most expedient method, Uncle. You’re always afraid of roundabout ways or indirect methods failing.”
“That’s quite harsh to saaaay…Indeed, I require the assistance of you and Clind.”
It was miserable to be at the receiving end…but Roswaal figured that not talking back would be the best way to keep the damage to a minimum. In the first place, he couldn’t see an outcome where he was going to win an argument against Annerose.
Due to the circumstances of her birth and her parents, Annerose was Roswaal’s Achilles’ heel. His weakness was that he had a lot more weaknesses than the others believed him to have.
And so, ignoring Roswaal’s self-evaluation, Annerose closed her eyes. “Clind, come here. You’re here already, aren’t you?”
“…Yes, it is as you say. Well-noticed.”
A voice responded to her call, and then the door to the study opened slowly. The man who appeared quietly had a thin face with a monocle and gave a sharp impression.
This man, with his neatly-worn butler uniform was Clind, chief steward of House Miload. And the person Roswaal was seeking out, along with Annerose.
“You were eavesdropping, weren’t you?” she asked. “Then you don’t need me to fill you in on the situation at hand.”
“Forgive my rudeness. I apologize.”
“You did it because you knew that it was Uncle, right? I won’t scold you for that… Uncle.” Kindly forgiving the servant who was bowing to her, Annerose called to Roswaal, beckoning with her hand at the balcony where he stood. “How long do you intend to stand outside? Hurry and state your business. Despite appearances, I do not have time to idly stand around and chat with you.”
“I thought it prudent to wait for the owner’s permission.” Smiling, Roswaal entered the study under Annerose’s sharp glare. And so, without the need for long-winded explanations, he entered into the heart of the matter.
And that was…
“A letter from Emilia arrived. Apparently, due to things concerning Subaru, it is necessary to travel towaaaards the Empire. I wish for your help in dealing with my family’s issue.”
“…Emily…and Subaru Natsuki,” Annerose muttered thoughtfully, frowning.
For the upcoming royal selection, Annerose’s House Miload was a crucial supporter for Emilia. Due to their close relationship with House Mathers, she had been informed of Emilia’s journey.
And of course, she had probably guessed that the current problem was related to the Pleiades Watchtower.
She called Emilia by a pet name and had complicated feelings about Emilia’s knight Subaru, but Annerose had the ability to know what to prioritize and make the correct decisions.
“…While you are out, you want us to manage House Mathers, correct?”
“Yes, that is what I wish. I don’t have other people I can rely oooon.”
“You can stop with the pleasantries… Are you going to leave someone behind?”
“I was thinking…either Ram or Frederica. It’s actuaaaally quite complicated. The issue appears to not only be with Subaru but also with Rem.”
Shaking his head, Roswaal thought back to the contents of the letter.
It had only been touched on briefly, but the letter also mentioned that Subaru wasn’t the only one who had been separated. Rem had been as well.
The reason why Ram accompanied them on their journey was to find a way to get her sister, Rem, out of her coma. Though to Roswaal, that was only a minor issue compared to Subaru’s disappearance.
Having fallen victim to Gluttony, Rem had disappeared from everyone’s memory, Roswaal’s included. However, Rem’s place in Roswaal’s current plans was unknown. At worst, she could disappear and there wouldn’t be a problem, but that line of thinking was unnatural.
As long as she was a part of the mansion with Ram, she must’ve had some sort of role.
…As to what that was, Roswaal had a guess.
And if Ram found out, she would never forgive him.
“I understand, Uncle. For now, I will take care of your house. Please ensure that Frederica prepares for Clind to…” Annerose tried to continue the conversation while Roswaal was trapped in thought. And so as her words drifted off, she looked up at Clind with her almond-shaped eyes.
Taking in the gaze of his mistress, he bowed respectfully and spoke up. “If I may speak? Question. What would you have me do, my Lord?”
“…There’s another problem regarding Subaru,” replied Roswaal. “We cannot allow Beatrice to be separated from him for a long period of time. Our time is limited.”
“Mr. Subaru and Ms. Beatrice’s spirit contract. Time limitations and restrictions.”
Roswaal nodded bitterly at the quick understanding of both the mistress and the butler.
Subaru and Beatrice were Contractor and Spirit, but the two were codependent and covering for each other’s shortcomings.
Subaru had lost his gate, and with it, the ability to release mana built up in the body. Beatrice’s shortcoming was that she could only support herself with mana from her contractor. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, allowing the excess mana (with nowhere else to go) to support the existence of the spirit.
The two of them would argue against it being a relationship built on self-interest, but as long as the result was the same, there was no need for debate… The problem was that such an ideal agreement could be easily destroyed.
If Subaru and Beatrice were to become separated, they could both easily fall together.
“If this goes on for too long, Subaru will die from mana buildup,” Roswaal explained. “And without any other means to replenish her mana, Beatrice will disappear as well.”
“And that would be terrible for you, my Lord, and for me. Complete loss.”
“Right. I can’t afford to lose a card as valuable as Subaru.”
“I apologize, I was referring to Ms. Beatrice. Apologies.”
Roswaal put on a sour face at Clind’s hollow apology.
Putting a stop to the two of them, Annerose spoke up. “Anyway, I understand your situation, Uncle. And so, what do you want to do?”
“As I mentioned before, I believe I’ll be heading to the Empire. The situation is quite delicate, so I will need to travel to many places. And for that, I would like to use Clind’s power.”
“…That’s only possible within the kingdom,” replied Annerose.
Nodding at Annerose, who had lowered her tone of voice, Roswaal turned towards Clind for confirmation. “Of course, I am aware. Can I ask you this favor, Clind?”
In response, Clind rested his hand on his chest. “If Your Lordship wishes, and if Lady Annerose agrees. No problem. However…”
“You require compensation, correct? Yes, I’m well aware of that, too,” Roswaal replied, showing minor displeasure at Clind’s pretentious response.
It couldn’t be helped, but paying compensation came with an immense pain that made you feel as if a part of your body was being cut off. And if asked, Clind would mostly likely respond that if it didn’t, then there’d be no point.
“Three…no, four magics is what I’ll provide in compensation. And so I wish to use your Authority.”
“Four, oh my, quite a bold decision. How daring.”
“To be frugal and fail is the biggest mistake one can make.” Closing one eye, Roswaal stared at Clind with his yellow eye.
There was little time. Not only for this issue in front of him, but for all the choices that would determine the outcome of his desire. Roswaal had no room for failure from now onwards.
He would not have the luxury of waiting for the next chance.
“First things first: I need you to go meet with Lady Emilia’s group. Be sure not to let them find out about your Authority or the compensation.”
“Understood. Lady Annerose, shall I? Confirmation.”
“…If that’s what Uncle has decided, then I have no objections. This is for Emily’s sake as well.”
Annerose closed her eyes and nodded in confirmation at the decision that would normally be too much for one her age. Accepting that, Clind bent over deeply at the waist… At the next moment, he disappeared from the room.
He quite literally disappeared. He wasn’t hiding, nor did he become invisible.
Most likely, he had arrived at the town closest to the Augria Sand Dunes, Mirula.
“If he wanted to, he could probably reach the Pleiades Watchtower,” Roswaal posited.
“He said so himself that he couldn’t,” responded Annerose. “Something about the tower being hard to reach…but I’m not sure why that is.”
“I can’t imagine him lying to you, so it must be true.”
Talking about Clind, who had just disappeared, Roswaal let out a long sigh. Noticing his behavior, Annerose pursed her lips and called out to him considerately. “Uncle, are you sure about this?”
“…I thought you weren’t going to object to my decisions.”
“I’m not objecting. I’m just confirming. To you, magic is a very important thing. A very, very important thing.”
“…True. And that’s why.”
With Annerose’s large eyes gazing at him, Roswaal gave a small wry smile. Clutching his chest, he bore the pain of being sliced up… He had a goal to fulfill. A person he wanted to see. For that, he would sacrifice anything.
Even if it was the blessing he had received from that very person.
“Uncle, please don’t get too lost in your thoughts.”
“It’s the opposite, Annerose… I have no reason not to be lost in my thoughts.”
Roswaal shook his head at the younger girl’s sympathy.
He knew she meant well by warning him, but he could never heed it. That was the path that Roswaal L. Mathers—no, that Roswaal Mathers had chosen.
In an instant, the world changed completely, and they found themselves standing in front of the mansion.
They had traveled hundreds of kilometers in a heartbeat. In terms of time, it would’ve been more than a week’s worth of travel. But how was one supposed to react to crossing such a distance in the blink of an eye?
For starters, Otto Suwen pinched his cheeks to confirm that he wasn’t dreaming.
Upon feeling the pain, he sighed with the confirmation that this was indeed reality.
“Well, this much doesn’t really surprise me anymore…” Otto muttered.
“You’re much bolder now, Otto-bro,” replied Garfiel. “Or were ya always that way?”
“Ha-ha-ha. I don’t remember what I was like a year ago, so let’s say it’s both.”
Hearing Garfiel’s guffaw in response—even though he had experienced the same thing—made Otto start to think that worrying was pointless. Though even if he were to let go of his immediate worries, it wouldn’t necessarily release him from them. And that was due to Otto’s current position.
“Anyway, now that we’ve established that the strange occurrence was a strange occurrence, could we now hear the details?”
“I’m terribly sorry, but it’s forbidden to speak of,” answered the chief steward. “All I can say is that it’s not easy to do and that it’s not dangerous. Rest assured.”
Otto nodded reluctantly at Clind’s words. “I see…”
He knew that Clind was an ally, but he still was a mysterious character. He was apparently an old friend of Roswaal, as well as the person who taught Frederica her skills as a servant. He had also taught Subaru how to use a whip and was a key figure in Petra’s education.
In other words, he was a key support character for the entire Emilia Camp.
“I didn’t expect ta jump from Priestella to the mansion in one go,” commented Garfiel. “Is this the Door Crossing that Beatrice used before?”
“No, it is fundamentally different from the Yin Magic that Ms. Beatrice uses,” explained Clind. “Very different. Please refrain from asking about the details. Forgive me.”
“You don’t sound like you’re trying to hide it though…” muttered Otto.
Otto gave up trying to get an answer, seeing as he was clearly not budging as always.
What’s important isn’t the teleportation…there’s no other way of naming that phenomenon…but the reason why Clind brought us back to Roswaal Manor using such drastic means, thought Otto. “Mr. Natsuki and Ms. Rem were flung to the Vollachian Empire, huh?”
Garfiel answered with silence as his gaze hardened. The light-hearted atmosphere from moments ago vanished, and in its place stood a tiger ready to pounce. “I knew I shoulda stuck by ‘em.”
“It was a group decision. People were needed for the restoration of Priestella. And your power was needed to find the Witch’s Remains.”
“But still…” Snapping his fangs, Garfiel still regretted not traveling with Subaru’s group. But after much discussion, it had been agreed upon by everyone that this would be best.
If he were to push the argument, one could say it was because Otto couldn’t be left behind healing in the water city by himself. Meaning the fault lied with Otto receiving his wound.
He wasn’t trying to evade taking the blame. It was just that there was no end to the excuses that could be created.
“You could say it would’ve been better if Mr. Natsuki hadn’t been flung away.”
“Ain’t that puttin’ too much fault on the captain?”
“I think so too. That’s why thinking about who to blame is meaningless. Well, Ram would probably blame Subaru mercilessly either way.”
Despite only knowing Ram for a year, Otto knew that while she might say such things out loud, she would never seriously think that.
In any case, thought Otto, everyone involved in the camp would most likely lament their lack of power. Either because they have a strong sense of responsibility or they’re underestimating themselves.
“The only ones with a reasonable evaluation of themselves would be me and Petra,” Otto reflected aloud.
“Huh?” asked Garfiel.
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
In terms of underestimating themselves, Garfiel was no exception. Though his experience in Priestella seemed to have forced him out of it more or less.
In any case…
“Clind, have Lady Emilia and the others already arrived?” asked Otto.
“Yes, they have already returned,” replied Clind. “All arrived. They are waiting for you two to return. Long-awaited arrival.”
“‘Long-awaited arrival’ feels like stretching the truth, but understood.”
The place they were flung to wasn’t safe. What was important now was to combine everyone’s knowledge and personal connections and figure out how they were going to get Subaru and Rem back.
However, thought Otto, it would have been better had they been flung to the North or the West.
“Why did they have to be sent to the country with the most enemies…?”
“That sounds like the captain, though. Sounds like ‘The Father King’s Trial of Magurisa.’” Garfiel seemed to feel the same frustration as Otto.
From Otto’s long experience as a traveling merchant, the Vollachia Empire was considered the most difficult to deal with out of the four great countries—though the Holy Kingdom of Gusteko was a close second.
“Even so, we might be able to talk things through in the frontiers of the Holy Kingdom, unlike the totally strict Empire.”
“Otto-bro, yer quite knowledgeable about this, huh?”
“If the borders weren’t closed, then I’d be selling oil in the Holy Kingdom right about now.”
With the borders closed due to the recently announced royal selection, Otto’s plans to travel to the Holy Kingdom ended. If not for that, he wouldn’t be working with almost no rest in the Emilia Camp. Life is such a strange thing, he thought.
And he didn’t want to lose Subaru, who had started him on this strange fate.
“Anyway, Lady Emilia and Beatrice are probably fretting themselves. Shall we join them?”
“Heh. No need to worry, Otto-bro. My amazin’ self ain’t gonna be much help coming up with a plan, but I’ll be very useful for breakin’ into the Empire!”
“…I’ll try my best so it doesn’t come to that.” Otto felt bad for the pumped-up Garfiel, but he had no intention of creating an international incident.
In any case, they wouldn’t want the royal selection to be impeded, and if it came to that, even Subaru would be crushed under the responsibility. And if Subaru fell, then the possibility of Otto being crushed as well was high.
If only I could flee before that happens… he thought.
“But I stopped trying to run away from my problems a long time ago.”
The time when he would give in to his fears was when he viewed the boy snickering next to him as a ferocious opponent and not the friend and brother he was today. Ever since then, Otto had never thought about running away from his fears.
“Julius, do ya think ya could learn that magic the monocled butler—Clind, I think it was—used?”
“I’m terribly sorry, but using Yin Magic is reliant on Nes’s growth…”
“Ah, don’t take it seriously. Even I know it ain’t easy to learn.” Anastasia Hoshin lightly brushed off the concern of her proper, serious knight standing beside her and reflected on her action.
I made him needlessly concerned once again, she thought.
Ever since they had reaffirmed their master-knight relationship at the Pleiades Watchtower, their interactions remained awkward. It couldn’t be helped though, as his memories had yet to return.
“It’s because you didn’t like that, that you hid yourself within me,” Echidna interrupted. “Easy to understand.”
“Ya don’t have to say that each time, you naughty girl,” Anastasia responded to the invasion of her inner thoughts, sticking out her tongue at her scarf.
It wasn’t a figure of speech; it was actually directed at her scarf. Her white fur scarf was in fact an artificial spirit, Anastasia’s long time companion, Echidna.
Anastasia was prone to pout at Echidna’s jabs, but due to her absence, Anastasia had to hear how much hardship they had gone through. She didn’t have much room to respond.
On top of that, all the hardship had amounted to nothing in the end because of her, which was also a reason that she couldn’t talk back.
“You didn’t come out so that the Sin Archbishop of Gluttony’s Authority wouldn’t affect you,” Echidna commented.
“And it didn’t accomplish anything, because I couldn’t handle it. I really have no patience.” Anastasia rested her hand on her cheek and sighed at her own failings.
“That’s not true at all,” Julius called out. The handsome knight took issue with Anastasia’s self-admonition. “At that time, your voice was the one thing I needed to push forward. If you weren’t there, my sword would never have reached Reid Astrea.”
“Do ya really think that?” replied Anastasia. “You ain’t just exaggerating things for my sake, are ya?”
“I speak only the truth. I swear on my sword and my loyalty.”
“Well, if yer goin’ that far…”
Julius’s yellow eyes pierced deep into Anastasia’s blue-green ones. Seeing the unwavering resolve in them, and hearing the strength in his words, all of Anastasia’s doubts drifted away.
What abundant confidence he has in me, though, she thought. “We really must’ve been good together. Was there some kinda spark that started it?”
“The reason I serve you?”
“Yeah. I’m a foreign merchant, and you’re a true-born knight of the kingdom. Even if ya know my motives, I don’t understand yours.”
She did have some knowledge about Julius’s circumstances. He was the heir to House Juukulius of the Kingdom of Lugunica and a knight of the royal guard. That was clear from his behavior and sword skills. But she didn’t understand why someone of such noble birth would reach out to her.
“…There are various reasons, but…”
“The main reason is that… I saw a ray of hope in your potential.”
At Julius’s completely honest trust and expectations, Anastasia could only stand there dumbfounded. She believed that he would have a larger and more personal goal in mind.
And so, as Anastasia stood there frozen for a moment…
“Aha-ha-ha!” Echidna suddenly burst into laughter around her neck.
“Woah.” Anastasia squeaked in surprise and looked down at her, finding her black eyes looking back.
“Ah, sorry,” said Echidna. “It’s just that I didn’t expect you to answer with something so relatable.”
“Relatable?” parroted Julius.
“It’s nothing special. Just something I thought, as someone who has very big expectations for Ana’s future. Oops, maybe I should say ‘as an animal’,” Echidna jested lightly, as Julius frowned at her remark.
But yes, Anastasia felt like it was similar to how she and Echidna had met. It reminded her of when she had been told something similar by Ricardo when she was a little girl.
“If it’s like that, wouldn’t people think that I persuade others the same way each time?” Anastasia questioned.
“What’s wrong with that?” Echidna replied. “Even if you have other means of negotiation at your disposal, if you have a great tool, there’s no reason not to use it.”
“I see, wise words,” Julius responded seriously, while Anastasia could only smile wryly.
“Is that how it is?” she said.
Echidna was always like that, but she had to question whether or not to let it slide upon seeing Julius’s ability to see wisdom in everything.
Perhaps if we still had the relationship we had in the past, I wouldn’t be worryin’ about this.
“I can’t say. I believed I interacted with you without any trouble. But in order for me to think that way, you’ve worked to the best of your ability, Lady Anastasia.”
“…Cheeky boy. Did ya read my thoughts?”
“It might’ve slipped your mind, but I’ve always been the closest to you.”
Lifting her hand to her mouth, Anastasia giggled lightly at the knight’s behavior. “Such a playboy.”
A lingering concern remained. However, this knight who looked as if he could do anything, and elegantly, firmly kept in mind their master-knight relationship.
Meaning they could do well together… Handling adversity was one of her strengths, after all.
“Also, I was able ta remember Ms. Emilia, so that should mean maybe I’ll be able ta remember ya too, Julius.”
“That would ultimately be the best option,” Echidna chimed in. “Her and Julius were both hit by Gluttony’s Authority. Though we don’t know the means of recovery…”
“There’s no need to rush. That’s what I think now. And I’m proud of that.” Julius smiled honestly, placing his hand on his chest.
Seeing that, Anastasia closed her eyes in acceptance. “I see, I see,” she said, nodding.
And with that, they got an idea of how to reestablish their relationship as master and knight, and the stagnant negotiations were over.
“Like we said in the tower, we’re helping find Natsuki and Ms. Rem,” Anastasia said. “I ain’t sure if Ms. Emilia remembers, but this third Gluttony concerns me.”
“Yes,” replied Julius. “If they were sent to the Empire with Subaru and Ms. Rem, then the situation is dire.”
“However, that country is unlikely to listen to us,” Echidna added. “Which begs the question of how we’re going to find them.”
Once they decided on a direction, Anastasia, Julius, and Echidna quickly brainstormed a plan.
With all the issues having been brought up, Anastasia smiled, placing her hand against her white cheek. “Even if it came with conditions, Ms. Emilia and Natsuki are the reason we’re still here. If we don’t repay this debt and just walk away with the product, then my name as a merchant will suffer.”
“Then what shall we do?” asked Julius with closed eyes.
Anastasia shrugged as she gave her answer. “We’ll do what only a merchant can do.”
Luckily, Anastasia’s way with words had just been proven by the other two people there. Although…
“Shouldn’t it be the person and the animal instead of two people?” asked the scarf around her neck, sticking its tongue out playfully as it danced ticklishly around her neck.
“Everyone’s working so hard to get that man and Rem baack…”
Meili sat with her elbows on her knees and her face in her palms, uninterested.
Within the hurried atmosphere engulfing Roswaal Manor, Meili couldn’t find any nostalgia in it. Even though she had spent a year within those walls.
“In my case, I spent most of that time as a prisoner. Seeing it all become so lively like this is actually refreshing.”
The reason Meili met Emilia’s group in the first place was because of her assassination contract.
She had attacked their old mansion that had burned down and become their prisoner after being defeated. Normally she’d be tortured or killed, but somehow fate had led her here.
They had no sense of danger, letting her out in the mansion like this without even restraining her.
“Don’t they think I might betray them and go on a rampaage?”
She didn’t have any weapons, but Meili never needed them in the first place.
With one call from her, she could summon the witchbeasts from the nearby forest if she felt like it. It was feasible that she could try to exact revenge for Elsa’s death at any moment.
But the moment she thought that, she found herself smiling.
“But Elsa’s the last person who’d want revenge for her deaath.”
She didn’t care the slightest about the afterlife while she was alive, so it was hard to imagine that changing after her death.
In actual fact, Meili had plenty of opportunities to learn about Elsa while she was alive. But she didn’t take them, and now she thought that was for the best.
Back then she thought that if she never learned, then she would never go anywhere. “…But I was taught that that wasn’t the caase.”
She was told to find her own path, that there were other people she could follow.
But the person who said that had gone far away to where she couldn’t follow.
“Oh?” At her name being called out, Meili leaned her head back off the edge of the chair she was on. In her upside down vision, she spotted a familiar, adorable face.
It was the girl who had visited her along with Subaru and Emilia while she was a prisoner.
“Petra, how have you beeen?”
“I’ve been doing good. It’s good to see that you’re doing good as well. I was so worried.”
“After Subaru, Emilia, and Beatrice, riiight?”
“Don’t say that. I don’t have rankings when I’m worried about people.” Pouting with reddened cheeks, Petra put her hands on her hips in protest. Giggling at her response, Meili straightened herself on her chair to face Petra properly.
Even from this angle Petra looked the same as when she saw Meili off. Of course, it had only been twenty days, so not much could change.
Normally though, it would’ve taken the same amount of time to get back, but…
“You came with Clind right? What kind of magic was it?”
“…Who knows? I am not being secretive, I really don’t know what it waas. He just came, talked with the others for a bit, then both dragon carriages were sent here.”
“It must be Yin Magic… I don’t want to, but I’ll ask the master about it later.”
Hearing Meili’s strange experience brought out Petra’s burning passion for knowledge.
I’ve heard that Petra has been improving rapidly in various fields with each passing day, and that her interest and talent is being directed at magic. So much so, that people have high hopes that she will eventually unravel the mystery of that butler called Clind’s magic.
But in any case…
“Petra, you don’t seem that torn up about Subaru.”
“What are you saying? I’m very worried. And angry too!”
Meili gave her honest opinion, but Petra responded by giving an angry smile. Meili lost the ability to form words upon seeing that.
Indeed, Meili was mistaken. Petra was very angry.
But the girl in front of her wasn’t just releasing suppressed emotions. She was capable of using terrifying methods that Meili couldn’t even imagine to relieve her rage.
One year ago, while Meili was still being treated as a prisoner, Petra spoke some words that still made Meili shiver to her bones even to this day.
Meili had just attacked the mansion and put even Petra’s life in danger. Yet, when Petra had walked up to where she was imprisoned she declared this:
“I’m gonna get you to like me no matter what. Then you won’t think of anything scary like killing, right? Relax, I won’t bite.”
And after that, Petra did in fact become friendlier with her.
Even though she was aware that Petra could perform such calculated acts of self-interest, Meili felt an honest goodwill towards her instead of disgust. Thus…
“…? Why are you apologizing, Meili? You did your job correctly. You saved them when they were surrounded by witchbeasts.”
“That’s true, but I couldn’t saave Subaru.”
Those words were not born from fear of Petra but were Meili’s honest regrets.
Petra calmed her rage as she empathized with Meili’s remorse. “Thank you for apologizing. And sorry for making you apologize. I’m the worst, since I couldn’t even go with everyone.”
“That’s why next time I’ll definitely go. I swear it,” Petra declared strongly, making fists with her small hands.
Feeling that strength in her words and her eyes, Meili went wide-eyed, then laughed as all the tension left her body. “Subaru’s a lucky maan,” she smirked. “He has so many people who care so much for him. From you, to Emilia, to Beatrice…”
“Yeah. Oh, but I care about you too, you know?”
It was just a side statement, but Meili didn’t mind it. She had been taken in by Petra’s innocent charm, and it seemed like she was completely under her spell. It probably wasn’t just her, either…
“I can’t go with theem to search for Subaru.”
“…I know, I heard. You’re going with Clind and Ms. Annerose to the capital, right?”
“Yes. There we have to talk about how to cross that deseert.” Meili nodded in response, thinking of the Augria Sand Dunes that had changed completely.
Originally, the Augria Sand Dunes was said to be impossible to cross, and the Pleiades Watchtower behind them was impossible to reach. But now, with the reason for the sand dunes hostility, the Sage Shaula and her duty, gone, it was possible to enter.
The Trials that Emilia undertook also cleared out the sand storm that surrounded the tower. With that, there was very little left to defend the Books of the Dead that the tower held.
And so, thought Petra, the only thing stopping the abuse of the Pleiades Watchtower is… “The Divine Dragon that Emilia befriended and Meili…”
“When you say it like that, it sounds too much like Emilia.”
Even the massive, intimidating Divine Dragon grew meek in the face of Emilia. Regardless of what Meili thought, Petra’s statement wasn’t wrong.
And right now, the only things protecting the Pleiades Watchtower were the Divine Dragon living there and the witchbeasts that lived in the Augria Sand Dunes. And both of those things the Emilia Camp could handle.
“…I feel like I’m being forced into this group as atonemeent,” Meili whined.
“…? Why are you bringing that up now?”
“Petra, that face is scaring me, please stop that.”
She looked as if everything had gone according to plan—or at least that she had stated the obvious. However, it was still the role assigned to Meili.
In order to fulfill her promise with Subaru and Emilia, Meili had to cooperate with them as well.
“Meili, will you be okay?” Petra asked. “Clind is a really kind person, but he’s got his own demons, so be careful.”
“Thanks for increasing my anxieety. But relaax. I won’t be alone. Riiight?” Closing an eye, Meili shook the hood of the robe she was wearing.
“Eh?” exclaimed Petra, her eyes going wide as a shadowy figure jumped out. Using its multiple legs, the crimson scorpion crawled up Meili’s shoulder until resting on her head. “Is that…?”
“My bodyguaard. Her name is…well I haven’t decided on a name yeet. For noow she’s Ms. Crimson Scorpion.”
“Crimson Scorpion…” Repeating the name under her breath, Petra stared at the scorpion. At her gaze, it raised its small body to make it look bigger and snapped its pincers.
It wasn’t obvious whether it was an act of intimidation to protect Meili or not, but…
“Take care of Meili, Ms. Crimson Scorpion,” she said.
Pinching that little pincer with her fingers, Petra did something like a handshake.
The scorpion appeared to acknowledge her gesture by waving its tail as if it was satisfied.
“Let’s both do our joobs,” said Meili. “That’s what’s best for us.”
“Yes, that’s right,” replied Petra. “And once Subaru comes back, let’s talk about it together.”
“Yeah, that’s riight. I have lots of things I want to talk with him about tooo.”
Meili smiled gently as she answered Petra’s declaration. But as Petra heard that, she tilted her head to the side. “Huh, it’s like, I’m curious about your reaction.”
“…What about iit?”
“I don’t know… Did you happen to see Subaru’s cool side?”
Hearing Petra say that in such a timid manner, Meili’s eyes went wide. She wanted to say ‘not at all,’ but she hesitated before she could say it.
Part of it was because she wanted to get back at Petra, but there was also hesitation around what happened at the Pleiades Watchtower.
In any case…
“You’re such a worrywaart, Petra.”
The scorpion on top of Meili’s head snapped its pincers again—though whether in confirmation or denial, it was unclear. And it only increased the worry that Petra felt.
…And so, the many allies gathered to rescue Subaru Natsuki formed their resolve.
Everyone knew Subaru’s judgment and bravery, along with his ability to succeed at the last moment. But at the same time they also knew of his recklessness, so their resolve was important.
And amongst them, the one who worried the most about Subaru was…
“…Lady Emilia, please calm down.”
“…It’s really obvious that I’m not calm isn’t it?”
Placing her hand on her chest, Emilia smiled and looked to her side. In her amethyst eyes, Ram, who had traveled with her on her journey, straightened herself.
Seeing Ram compose herself, Emilia realized that she had to collect herself as well.
Ram’s probably worried a lot about Subaru too. On top of that, it wasn’t only him that disappeared from the Pleiades Watchtower, but Rem too.
“You must be all anxious too, with Subaru and Rem missing.”
“Disregarding Barusu, Ram is worried about Rem. Disregarding Barusu.”
“You don’t have to repeat yourself, I suppose. Betty’s worried enough for Subaru, but she will worry for him in your place, too… We have to believe that those two are okay, in fact.” Beatrice responded naturally to Ram’s tough front.
Linking hands with Emilia, Beatrice’s expression was dark with worry. That was because she was worried about Subaru’s condition, but there was another reason.
With Subaru being missing, Beatrice was running low on mana.
“Ms. Beatrice, how’s your body?” Ram asked.
“Betty’s getting by conserving energy, I suppose. You’re supposed to be tired though.”
“Ram is going to jump into Master Roswaal’s arms later tonight.”
“…Betty can’t understand your tasteless behavior, I suppose.”
“Ram could say the same to you…no, to the both of you.”
“Eh? Me too? Why?” Emilia spoke up at suddenly being involved in Ram and Beatrice’s back and forth. However, the two of them didn’t give a response.
And with that, the relaxed atmosphere that had formed between them disappeared the next moment—the moment the three of them, who had returned to the mansion, reached the door to Roswaal’s room.
“…We managed to gather everyone extremely fast thanks to Clind, but we still have to hurry.”
They had sent the letter to Roswaal via carrier bird and were preparing to return from Mirula when Clind appeared, which had surprised them, but they were more surprised by the teleportation afterward.
But thanks to that, they were able to return sooner. However, since they couldn’t use the same method to travel to the country where Subaru was, they had to find another method.
“…Roswaal, we’re coming in.” Calling out, Emilia grasped Beatrice’s hand and entered the room with Ram following behind. Emilia’s group was the last to arrive, with everyone else already gathered ahead of them.
There was Frederica, who had protected the mansion in their absence, and Clind, who was the main reason everyone could gather so quickly. Otto and Garfiel, who they had separated from at the Water Gate City Priestella, and who had managed to return to the mansion safely.
There was Anastasia and Julius, and Echidna, who had returned with them from the Pleiades Watchtower and promised to help them search for the missing Subaru and Rem.
And there was also Meili, with a crimson scorpion resting on her head, and Petra next to her, who was looking on with a serious look.
And at the back was Roswaal sitting proudly at an ebony desk.
“…Thank you for gathering, everyone.” Feeling all eyes on her, Emilia felt her hand being tightly grasped by Beatrice’s; she squeezed in return, and faced everyone directly.
She knew that everyone was of the same mind, so she urged her anxious heart to be good and not cause her to lie or overthink things.
“No matter what, we’ll find Subaru and Rem, who were flung away.”
…And so she called out to everyone, hoping to be reunited with her lost knight.
To Be Continued