Meili Portroute’s ordeal had reached a new stage. Accompanied by her two companions, Annerose and Clind, they had used a rather unconventional method to visit Lugunica Castle in the Kingdom of Lugunica’s royal capital. Using Clind’s mysterious power, the three of them had traveled by teleportation. The boulder-faced knight charged with guarding the castle dropped his head into his hands, saying, “If such a person truly exists, no amount of security will ever be enough to protect people of importance…”
Meili was apologetic, feeling rather sorry for him. If there had, in fact, been someone with Clind’s abilities during her and Elsa’s time in the assassination business, then they would have completed their assignments with much less hassle. So, in that respect, it was a good thing that Clind was just a child-loving pervert who served Annerose.
“Unfortunately, it’s not the kind of power I can use freely. I hope you’re aware that proper compensation must be paid. Gratitude,” he said as he glanced over his shoulder at Meili.
Meili’s shoulders shook. She felt uncomfortable since it felt as if he had read her thoughts, but she quickly realized this wasn’t the time to be worrying about Clind or the boulder-faced knight. The reason being…
“Are you the girl who can lead the way to the Pleiades Watchtower?”
The question came from the monster standing before her. As a tamer of witchbeasts, it wasn’t that she had the power to fight directly herself, but she had certainly encountered a variety of opponents weak and strong during her time with Elsa—who loved fighting. However, she had never encountered anything like the one standing before her now; he was a true monster.
“There’s no need to be so nervous… But I suppose it doesn’t sound very convincing when it’s coming from me.”
Meili stood frozen as this monster before them addressed her directly. “I don’t mean to frighten you. I only wish to ask you a question, first of all.” Then, looking over her slender shoulder with his blue eyes, he asked, “How did you tame that witchbeast?”
Meili flinched, and a small creature suddenly leapt onto her head. As it extended its pincers towards the sky, the young man raised his eyebrows slightly in surprise.
Everyone else was not so calm as pandemonium quickly spread amongst the group. Meili reflexively covered her face as small pincers snapped above her head, her mind overcome with confusion since she didn’t know what to do.
“Meili! Calm down!” screeched Annerose from right beside her in an attempt to pacify her. It was no use, however, for Meili had fallen into a state of disarray in this terribly unexpected occurrence.
Following her deep rooted defensive instinct she had developed from a young age, she let the witchbeast rage as it attempted to cut down everything in her vicinity—
A sudden voice and sharp slap cut through the chaos in the great hall.
“Dumbass. You’re the one causin’ her to panic, so get your ass back here.”
“Huh?” Meili raised her head to see the monster in front of her stepping back.
The source of this voice and the loud slap was a young girl with gold hair coming forward to meet them. Her crimson eyes peered at Meili, and then at the creature on her head—a small, crimson scorpion. “I understand how you feel—bein’ leered at by a crowd of people as though you’re some weirdo. They’re a bunch of creepos.”
As she spoke, the girl held out a finger towards the crimson scorpion, which aimed a pincer at it. “Whoa now.” She quickly pulled her finger out of harm’s way and gave a cheerful laugh, one protruding tooth standing out from the rest. “Heh, what a lively insect! Your pincers seem pretty sharp, eh?”
“...It could probably slice a thin finger riight off.”
“Heey now, are ya serious? Then that coulda been pretty dangerous.”
The girl’s demeanor, which was more unorthodox than reckless, made Meili respond in her natural way of speech.
“Lady Felt, please be careful,” said the man standing behind the smiling girl. “Though it may be tiny, it’s still a witchbeast.”
“So you’re the pipsqueak professing to be able to control witchbeasts, right? Putting it on your head like that ain’t nothing, I guess. Looks like you could be telling the truth. More or less…”
At the caution of the monster, the girl sharpened her almond-shaped eyes and, with that expression, surveyed the distinguished old men lined up inside the great hall.
“You old geezers haven’t learned anything, have ya? Don’t you remember how you pulled the same sorta shit when you came to see me and pissed me off? Or are you all a bunch of idiots or somethin’?”
“Lady Felt, just because you are a candidate doesn’t mean you can behave like that…” criticized Bordeaux.
“I was like this before I was given an insignia,” she retorted, crossing her arms. “Just ‘cause you’re old doesn’t mean you can pretend to be hard of hearin’. If you want to be treated with respect, then show me some sincerity first.”
The bald old man—Bordeaux—furrowed his thick eyebrows and fell silent.
Watching this exchange from the side, an elderly man they called Miklotov laughed with a “Ho ho ho ho.” He caressed his long beard in good humor as he spoke. “You’ve become better at forming your arguments, Lady Felt. Could this be a sign that you’re becoming more aware of your position as a candidate for the royal selection?”
“Who knows? Although, I gotta say, I’m not sure if I’ve developed that kind of annoying awareness yet, but…” After answering Miklotov’s question, Felt pointed to the tall, red-haired figure behind her with her thumb, causing the monster to widen his eyes. “But I have become self-aware enough to know I’m this guy’s mistress and that I gotta reel him in whenever he accidentally scares people.”
“Well, then we’re grateful that you’re with him,” Miklotov replied.
“Don’t mention it.”
Brazenly responding to her senior, Felt spun around to face the visitors. Meili slightly stiffened at the strong-willed crimson eyes pressing upon her.
Felt laughed good-humoredly. “I’m Felt. One of the royal selection candidates, and that Sword Saint’s mistress. Nice to meetcha.”
Giving Meili an abrupt slap on the shoulder, Felt nonchalantly declared herself the tamer of a monster.
The monster known as Reinhard van Astrea was able to accomplish his job with ease after Felt calmed Meili down.
“She certainly is the owner of a divine protection…the Divine Protection of Witchbeast Manipulation. It’s an incredibly rare ability that allows her to manipulate witchbeasts at will.”
With a single glance at Meili, Reinhard identified her power. Since getting others to believe in Meili’s abilities was their objective, his assurance was welcome, but…
“Just so you know, we were prepared to test the validity of our claim regarding her powers. Please do not think you did us any favors,” said the girl standing next to Meili.
“You’re pretty anal about bein’ in someone’s debt, huh. You’re pretty mature for someone so small. Don’t worry, Reinhard only glanced at her, so I don’t think you owe us anything either.”
Taking no notice of Meili—the person concerned—Annerose and Felt argued on equal terms.
In any case, with proof of Meili’s witchbeast-taming divine protection, discussions with the Council of Wise Men could probably move forward. That is to say—
“The way to the Pleiades Watchtower is therefore possible with Emilia’s vassal—this Meili Portroute,” Annerose boldly proclaimed to the Council of Wise Men gathered there.
The wise old men began their discussion at her words, but Felt and Reinhard, having arrived late, were a step behind in the conversation. Folding her arms, Felt tilted her head. “The Pleiades Watchtower…”
“It’s the tower that Lady Emilia, Subaru, as well as Lady Anastasia went to,” Reinhard explained. “In the far east, at the edge of the Augria Sand Dunes, sits a tower where the Sage, Shaula, resides.”
“...Naked Lady didn’t really feel much like a Saaage,” Meili mumbled reflexively at the mention of the Sage, before immediately slapping a palm over her mouth—but it was too late. She’d drawn the attention of Felt and Reinhard, who both stared at her.
The two stood beside Meili, the small crimson scorpion still perched atop her head.
“I see... I got the jist of it. Because of your divine protection, the witchbeasts coverin’ the path to the tower don’t see you as a disturbance and allow you to pass unchallenged.”
“Judging from the conversation just now, it seems as though you’ve already been to the Pleiades Watchtower and come back,” commented Reinhard. “Did Lady Emilia and the others get back safely?”
“H-Hold on, hoold on! I’m…not alloowed to talk without permission!”
Meili, being pressed, refused to speak. As she shook her head with a hand still over her mouth, her three-strand braid shook from left to right. The small crimson scorpion raised its stinger in support of her and snapped its pincers as though it was trying to intimidate the two.
Clind cleared his throat as help to the flustered Meili and cut into the space between her, Felt, and Reinhard. “We’re very grateful for your cooperation, Lady Felt and Sir Reinhard. However, Meili is also in an extremely difficult position, and no matter how young Lady Felt seems, and how dazzling her soul is, we cannot hand her over. Gratitude.”
Turning towards Clind’s mysteriously sparkling eyes, Felt’s cheeks stiffened. “What the—you sure are sayin’ some creepy things there…”
Gently inserting an arm in front of Felt to protect his mistress, Reinhard compared Meili and Clind. “When you say ‘difficult position’, is that what you are here to talk about?”
Giving a deep bow, Clind affirmed Reinhard’s question. “Indeed. Discerning.”
At that conversation, Felt made a face that showed her lack of understanding. But before they could explain, the conversation had moved on—not between Meili and the others, but rather, Annerose and the Council of Wise Men.
“I understand that Miss Meili’s rare ability would help us clear a path to the Pleiades Watchtower in the eastern part of the kingdom. Considering this, what could we offer you in return?”
“Uncle… Margrave Mathers spoke with Emilia after she got back, and I’ve been told that he will need help to make use of the tower. Please arrange workers and guards for that purpose.”
“Hmm. As representatives of the Kingdom, we certainly have no reason to reject that request if there’s a chance for us to use the Sage’s tower. However, that is not all, I assume.” Miklotov ceased stroking his beard and narrowed his eyes.
Meili was caught off guard by his unexpectedly sharp gaze. She had always seen Miklotov as a kind and gentle man, but now she knew there was more to him than just that. After all, he represented the kingdom’s decision-making body.
Holding Miklotov’s gaze, Annerose did not sway. “...Yes, we have another request.”
Meili admired the courage and composure of this girl younger than her. These qualities ingrained in the young noblewoman since birth, and the strong sense of self-consciousness she displayed were truly impressive.
Annerose gestured her hand at Meili, who stood dead still in silent admiration. “The girl who holds the ability that you require in order to reach the Pleiades Watchtower.”
“Yes, what about her?” asked Miklotov.
“She has taken part in numerous crimes within the Kingdom of Lugunica as well as other nations. We want her absolved of those crimes and a guarantee of her personal safety.”
“What?!” Bordeaux’s eyes widened and he rose to his feet at Annerose’s demand. In a thick voice full of disbelief, he thrust a quivering finger at Meili. “And what exactly are these crimes she’s taken part in?”
“Subversive activities, assassinations, and an attack on Margrave Mather’s mansion and attempted manslaughter of its residents,” explained Annerose.
“It may be impertinent, but it should be mentioned she committed other crimes such as putting the village in the Margrave’s domain in danger and threatening the lives of the villagers,” Clind added. “Addition.”
“She’s unquestionably a serious criminal!” Bordeaux banged his fist on the desk at this outrage, the sound reverberating through the great hall.
Feeling the dry atmosphere and the severe gazes focused on her, Meili came to grips with their reactions, considering them to be only natural. No matter how young she may be, this was a justifiable response to what she’d done. It was the response of the Emilia Camp—Emilia, Subaru, and Petra—that had been strange. However…
“Why did ya feel the need to bring that shit up?” Felt suddenly asked.
“Lady Felt, that has nothing to do with us…”
“If we don’t ask,” she began, cutting off Reinhard, “they’re gonna start talking about punishments and whatnot. I’m more interested in this because there’s no point in discussing all of that. So, why’d you go and bring it all up?”
In an instant, Bordeaux’s fury simmered down as though it had been drenched with cold water, and the other wise men—including Miklotov—looked to Meili for an answer.
Meili dropped her gaze, trying to carefully choose her next words. As though attempting to encourage her, the small crimson scorpion dropped to her shoulders and reassuringly clicked its pincers.
Receiving courage from this, she opened her mouth. “I did a lot of bad things, but…even so, there are people who toold me it was okay to live regardless of my past.”
“Don’t you think they’re biiig dummies? I think so too. But I don’t want to be the cause of their trouble, sooo…”
“You wanted to come clean with your past crimes and clear your name before they came to light.”
Miklotov narrowed his eyes at Meili, who pressed a finger to her lips as she struggled to explain. She was fully aware that she was making things easy for her as she nodded. “Yes. Selfish, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps, but the nature of your divine protection may be substantial enough to warrant this. Hmm…”
“Lord Miklotov? What are you thinking about?” asked Annerose.
“...Suppose we want you to stay and serve the Kingdom in exchange for absolving you of your crimes and giving you your freedom, what would you think?” Miklotov asked Meili as if to test her resolve.
Meili tensed up at this query, but slowly shook her head side to side. “No, I don’t want thaat… It might be selfish, but I’ve already decided where I want to live my life.”
At her reply, Felt roared with laughter. “Kuhahaha! Get rejected, old man!”
“My lady…” chided Reinhard.
Waving her hand dismissively at the knight’s words, she continued. “Quit it with the jokes, old man. You shouldn’t ask for something ya don’t really want. Sayin’ no can be tiring too, you know?”
“Dear me, you’ve really become sharp with your words, Lady Felt… Incidentally, it must be some kind of fate that we met here today. There is something I’d like to ask you.”
“I figured as much when ya didn’t drive me away. It’s Reinhard, right?”
At Felt’s perceptive reply, a smile formed on Miklotov’s wrinkly face. Beside them, Bordeaux sighed with a grim face, and Annerose and Clind both relaxed.
Unfortunately, the one who was central to the whole discussion—Meili—had no idea what was going on. “Um, so what’s going to happen to meee?” she asked.
“Do we need to spell it out for ya? Just show us how useful you are. Don’t worry, it won’t be dangerous. After all—”
“—I’ll be with you,” Reinhard declared as he stepped forward, holding out his hand with a broad smile. Looking down at that hand, Meili thought to herself, The road to freedom won’t be easy.