—Following the disappearance of Natsuki Subaru and Rem, the group that had remained at the Pleiades Watchtower decided to mobilize a search for them.
After doing so, in order to take action as soon as possible, Emilia, with the cooperation of Beatrice and Ram, declared that they had to follow the faint trail of the two who had vanished, and reunite with them as soon as possible. However… “—It’s too bad, but doin’ that ain’t as easy as ya think, Ms. Emilia.”
“Eh!? How come, Ms. Anastasia!?”
Anastasia held up her hand, putting Emilia, who couldn’t keep her impatience in check, on hold. Emilia then raised her eyebrows in astonishment due to being interrupted like that.
Although Subaru and Rem had already been gone for a few hours, they were each connected to Beatrice and Ram, so they could assure her that they were alive, but it didn’t give her any peace of mind.
And though each camp had different opinions about that, they had been working together to accomplish the same thing, so she thought Anastasia and company would understand her.
“He might be weeping right about now, so we need to find Subaru and Rem as soon as we can…”
“Oh, c’mon… Don’tcha make such a face. It’ll make me feel bad. I didn’t really say that with any bad intentions or anythin’, alright? I’m just sayin’ that ya can’t just leave all this behind ta go help Natsuki and the others… Our belongin’s ain’t light enough ta be able ta do that, got it?”
“Our belongings…” Having the word, ‘belongings’, said to her, Emilia quietly looked down at her hand.
Emilia understood that the thing she was referring to was not her belongings in the physical sense. However, she’d realized it once more when Anastasia said it to her.
—So this is what it means to have completed the Trials of the Pleiades Watchtower.
“Originally, at the far reaches of the Augria Sand Dunes… where the Witch of Envy was said to have been sealed away in a shrine, there are stories that talk of the Witch Cult attempting to invade it many a time. The existence of the desert, with its mystical sand barrier, as well as Miss Shaula, had served as an impediment against that, at least until now, but…” Julius said.
Ram continued, “But with the freeing of the tower, the desert’s mystical barrier has dissipated, and Shaula is also gone. And now, the desert is merely a slightly threatening place, where witchbeasts are just roaming around.”
What Julius and Ram said made the reality Emilia had come to terms with a surety.
Following what they’d said, the things going on around the Pleiades Watchtower were different from before. So if such a thing came to light, the number of problems they’d have to deal with would continue to pile up like mad.
Having changed from the way it used to be, the number of obstacles preventing people from reaching the Pleiades Watchtower had gone down considerably.
“But if you’re so worried about the Witch Cultists, can’t we just keep all the stuff in this place a secret for a little while? Is that no good?” Emilia wondered.
“That’s not too bad of a suggestion, coming from you, in fact. However, it would be quite unfeasible to do, I suppose. No matter how hard you try to keep a secret, it always somehow manages to get out from somewhere, in fact,” Beatrice replied.
Ram concurred, “Indeed, that is quite so. Back then, there was a time when you were bustling about in an attempt to conceal the Great Spirit’s Magicletting Period, so there is no doubt from me that the same thing would happen again, Lady Emilia.”
“B-But that was just Puck being suuuper careless, and I was bad at hiding it! I think I’ve grown quite a bit compared to back then, though…” Bringing up something from the past and saying it was proof she couldn’t keep a secret was really embarrassing for her.
Ram had brought up something that had happened a year and a half ago when Puck caused a whole lot of chaos because of his Magicletting Period.
For beings who possessed enormous amounts of mana, not letting it out in a periodic manner led to them feeling an awful amount of discomfort. Puck had already been tormented by that condition, so he’d used his power little by little to release his stockpiled mana, resulting in the area around Roswaal’s place getting covered in snow.
They had been able to turn it into a festival back then thanks to one of Subaru’s outlandish ideas, but… “Unlike that lovely story, I guess we’d be hard-pressed ta turn the things that happened here inta good memories.”
“So what you mean is that the big amount of snow Ram talked about came from that spiriiiit? After I’d set my cute little cursed doggy’s sites on him, I was hanging around to see how it would go, and then I got reallyyy surprised when it suddenly started snowinggg out of season.”
“This girl has the nerve to say such a thing like nothing even happened, I suppose… Subaru might have told you he’s forgiven you, but you’re making a great mistake if you think Betty will be as sentimental as him and forgive you after everything you’ve done, in fact.”
“Oh! I’m so sorryyy,” said Meili in apology to Beatrice as she stuck her tongue out and closed one of her eyes.
When she heard that, Beatrice’s face puffed up with anger, but Emilia thought Meili was actually a good girl, being able to apologize for something she felt bad for, and reflecting on her own actions. She believed she really regretted it.
“Well, well, it seems like we get sidetracked too easily. Weren’t we supposed to talk about the problems surrounding finding a way to search for Natsuki and the others as soon as possible, and bringing those issues to light?” Echidna asked.
Emilia replied, “Oh, that’s right… I’m so sorry. Err, so about those issues…”
“—What we’re going to do with the Pleiades Watchtower, how we’re going to deal with the Divine Dragon, Volcanica, and as for the rest… Making preparations to get through the desert to the neighboring town.” Ram went through each of the issues in order, making it easy to understand, bringing a finger up for each.
Nodding her head, Emilia thought about solving the issues one-by-one. For now, it’ll be what we’re going to do with the Pleiades Watchtower.
“As I’ve said before, we won’t be able to handle everything ourselves, so I think we should listen to a lot of different peoples’ viewpoints. We might be able to figure this stuff out by talking with people with lots of knowledge, like the people from the Council of Elders in the royal capital, or Roswaal.”
“Frankly, Betty is quite reluctant to give Roswaal access to this place, I suppose… The Books of the Dead have a sort of dreadfulness that would revive his evil motives, in fact.”
“But if that does happen—”
“—Kindly allow Ram to bring him back to his senses by force.” Ram interrupted Emilia and Beatrice’s conversation, insistent on that point.
Ram had been standing up, holding an elbow with her hand, and though lingering fatigue could be seen in her eyes and countenance, her gaze remained sharp, and her voice stayed lucid, displaying her unwavering conviction.
Therefore, Emilia, standing next to the daunted Beatrice, nodded her head in agreement with a “Yeah,” then continued, “Mm, I understand. I’ll leave the matter of Roswaal to you, Ram. Roswaal hasn’t really seemed to be able to go hard on Petra and Frederica these days, and I can always count on my maids because they are reaaally good at handling him. Right, Beatrice?”
Beatrice replied, “…Well… I have no doubt that Ram and Petra are Roswaal’s weaknesses, I suppose. Fine then, I get it. However, you must hold on tightly to his reins, I suppose.”
“Master Roswaal’s reins… Simply hearing that has made me ever more excited about what is to come. Kindly leave it to me.” Puffing out her chest, Ram gave a dignified nod of her head, making Emilia and Beatrice feel quite relieved.
In response to that, Anastasia gave a visibly impressed nod. “Wooow,” she said. “I ain’t sure what went on after I gave my self over ta Echidna for a while, but the relationship between Ms. Emilia and everyone looks pretty dang good. Was it fun like this when you were travelin’ together with them, Julius?”
He replied, “Though it is regrettable, I am hesitant to say whether the journey was comfortable and enjoyable considering the situation we were placed in and the duty I had been charged with. Of course, the relationship between Lady Emilia, Miss Beatrice, Miss Ram, and everyone else is certainly an appealing one, which goes without saying.”
“Well, ain’t you an earnest guy? Ah well, since I’m a pretty easygoin’ gal, maybe it ain’t so bad for my knight ta be all serious about things.” Chuckling softly, Anastasia shrugged, meeting Julius’s eyes.
Ultimately, his Name had still been snatched away, and he was still in a state where his previous self had been forgotten. Even so, she couldn’t really say if Anastasia and Julius’s new relationship was better or worse when compared to their old one.
They had accepted that this was going to be the beginning of their new relationship.
Maybe, much like how everyone had managed to remember Emilia’s Name, Julius’s Name might also come back after a while.
I wonder what I used to think of Julius. I’ve never really worried about a future like that, though. After all, I’m pretty sure the old me and the old Julius were able to become good friends, I think.
As Emilia was bringing her thoughts to a close, Echidna spoke. “The matter concerning Margrave Mathers is your side’s problem. Thus, I shall leave its resolution in your hands, but apart from that… I’d like to raise a topic of discussion, that being the matter pertaining to Meili.”
“Meee?” said Meili, absentmindedly, surprised that she had been called out by name, perhaps thinking it was none of her concern. Atop her head sat the former Shaula, now the mini crimson scorpion, whose tail had shot up like a pen at the same time she became surprised, which looked smile-provoking.
Eeeeh!? What did this lil’ ankle-biter do!? Emilia could hear Shaula’s voice ringing in her head, making her heart ache with a constant dull pain.
In any case…
“I can understand Echidna’s point as well. With the freeing of the Pleiades Watchtower, the only impediment keeping people from traveling through the Augria Sand Dunes are the witchbeasts that reside there. In that case…” Ram said.
Beatrice continued, “As a possessor of the Divine Protection of Magic Manipulation, Meili is our lifeline for getting through the sand dunes, in fact.”
Ram and Beatrice both had the same understanding, and when Emilia reached that very same understanding, she let out a “Yeaaah…”
Yes, that’s right. With the sandy wind having died down, it’s possible to travel through the sand dunes now. With Meili, who can make friends with the witchbeasts, none of us will encounter any danger along the way.
“Her value shooting through the roof was inevitable. For bringing knowledgeable people here to the watchtower, I think her presence will be of absolute necessity. To the kingdom, as well as to the Witch Cult,” Echidna declared.
She could see that Meili had zipped her lips shut after hearing what Echidna had quietly pointed out.
Meili has always somehow had a calm and rational air about her, but now that Echidna pointed that out, she didn’t seem to be able to laugh about it anymore.
If I’m not mistaken, if the Witch Cult wants to get to the sealed shrine of the Witch of Envy, they won’t be able to do so without first dealing with the problem of the witchbeasts. And Meili has become the key to solving that problem.
“…Key.” Thinking to herself, that word gave Emilia an awfully unpleasant feeling.
I really don’t like the thought of someone becoming a Key to solve a problem. This is related to the thing that happened when I was just a child where I lost my mom and the forest, but—
“—If Meili cooperates with the kingdom by serving the role of keeping witchbeasts away from the Augria Sand Dunes, would you be willing to forgive her for what she’s done?”
“…Oh?” Anastasia brought a hand to her mouth and looked at Emilia, who’d had such a thought, with one eye closed.
Her pale blue-green eye twinkled with intense curiosity, causing Emilia’s chest to tighten. However, she firmly held her head up high, not looking away. “I’ve yet to be able to bring this up with you, Ms. Anastasia, but Meili was a reaaally bad girl in the past. She was just doing what her mother told her to do…but they were still things that Meili did.”
“So ya thought ya had ta make her take responsibility by lettin’ her do somethin’. And now it’s her turn ta fulfill a role that’s just right for her. I see, so that’s it.”
“I wonder… Is it even okay for me to say something like that?” Emilia nervously asked Anastasia if her idea was okay or not.
Emilia was hoping a wise and knowledgeable person like Anastasia would give her a reasonable response to what she thought. However, before Anastasia could reply, Meili called out to Emilia with a “Big Sis,” then continued, “Umm, what do you meannn? Forgive me, you say…”
“It means exactly as you heard. Keeping you down in the basement of Roswaal’s mansion was only supposed to be a temporary measure. And now you have something to do to get out from down there and live a proper life, don’t you?”
“And you say you’ll forgive me with thattt?” Meili’s large eyes rounded after hearing what Emilia said, then she shook her head. Unwilling to accept it, she said, “Wait,” with a quivering voice. “Y-You say that buttt, forgiving me should be an impossible thing. Because I… took on lottts of jobs with Elsa…”
“Subaru forgave you though, didn’t he? Beatrice and I can’t just laugh off everything you’ve done and forgive you so easily, but… I think after a good scolding, we’ll be willing to.”
“Don’t put words in Betty’s mouth, I suppose…” Beatrice retorted.
Beatrice cut into Emilia’s response to Meili’s words, but she was only being dishonest with how she felt, her face showing that she wasn’t against it, which Emilia had picked up on.
Then Emilia, who was brimming full of confidence, made a compromise. “In that case, it’ll be no good if you can’t do the same thing with people other than us. If you do bad things, you need to apologize by saying, I’m sorry. Even Roswaal is able to do it.”
“───. B-But that’s only because you and Big Brother are so hopelessly good-natured! I’m… It’s not like everyone would forgive…”
“Even if they don’t, you need to say you’re sorry. …I know it’ll be hard to make up for all the things you’ve done, but you have to, even if it’s not all of it.”
Meili, after hearing what Emilia had said, remained silent, as if she had lost her voice. Emilia noticed bewilderment, fear, and anxiety peeking into Meili’s eyes, and she understood those feelings all too well, to the point that it pained her.
It was only natural to be afraid of making up for something she couldn’t atone for and saying sorry without forgiveness.
Emilia, who herself was at fault for causing the Great Elior Forest to be frozen in ice, needed to free the elves who had lived in there with her, and apologize to them.
They have been sleeping for over a century because of my mistake. Even though they are kind people, they wouldn’t forgive me like when I was a child, since I’m an adult now. Even so—
“You have to properly say, I’m sorry. This isn’t something you can gloss over, shut your eyes to, or ignore.”
“…That’s such a scaryyy thing.”
“Yeah, it is. So we can apologize together, then. Me, Subaru, and everyone else can do it together with you.”
“—Oh.” After hearing that, Meili’s eyes widened with the most surprise yet.
Emilia’s lips relaxed at Meili’s expression, which made her look like she hadn’t thought about it. I guess she thought she’d have to do a scary thing like apologizing all by herself.
Nevertheless, Emilia wouldn’t let her do that. Meili would, of course, have to say what she needed to say herself. However, she wouldn’t have to do that on her own.
Like on the spiral staircase in the tower when Subaru promised Meili he’d go through thick and thin together with her. I think it means something like that.
Upon touching Meili’s shoulders as she hung her head, the young girl gently buried her head into Emilia’s chest. Then, Emilia gave a satisfied smile as she looked at the mini crimson scorpion dancing on Meili’s head. “So it’s settled, then. What do you think about it, Ms. Anastasia?”
“Well, I guess there’s value in extenuation, considerin’ that it’s an Emilia-like proposition, yeah? I unfortunately ain’t got no clue what sorta jobs can be done in the desert, but…”
“I can put in a good word for it, as to its feasibility. As long as you attach value to and are willing to place your faith in the testimony of this nameless knight, that is, Lady Anastasia.”
“Well, ain’t you eloquent. That is my area of expertise, though, but it can’t be helped, can it?” As Julius looked in Emilia’s direction, Anastasia stuck her tongue out at him.
It was settled that Emilia and Anastasia and co. would work together, and while that was going on, Emilia stroked Meili’s back, whose face was still buried in her chest.
“Then we have an agreement. For now, let’s have Meili do her best to remain vigilant against the desert, and we should have the people from the royal capital investigate the tower as soon as possible. And as for the Witch Cult…”
“I believe it will be necessary to deploy the royal knights at some point. But it isn’t particularly a problem for us though, now is it?”
Emilia became full of expectation when she looked at Ram, whose words exuded a great deal of conviction. What sort of amazing idea is going to come out of her mouth? She wondered.
However, Ram simply shrugged her shoulders. “Ram is not sure what to feel if you place high expectations on her. Thinking of a solution is your job, Lady Emilia.”
“My job? Err, then how about doing our best to drive away the Witch Cult or…?”
“It’s not that. It’s about making use of Volcanica, in fact. Having completed the Trials and freed the tower, it’s possible that he might listen to your words, I suppose,” said Beatrice, grasping what Ram was trying to say.
Upon hearing that, Emilia looked far up above her. In the room above where they were talking, on the first floor, she imagined that the Divine Dragon was calmly lying in wait.
“—I wonder if Volcanica will listen to what I have to say.”
There was perhaps none, no matter how wise they may be, who could have answered the unsure Emilia’s question.