—It smelled of rage.
Fragrant, sweet-smelling—it reeked of pure rage. It felt irresistible, and his slender body could not help but squirm with excitement. He had a feeling it would push him to greater heights.
Looking at each other from the top and bottom of the spiral staircase, Batenkaitos sneered at Ram’s defiant words.
Looking at the girl with powerful emotions in her light crimson eyes, Batenkaitos experienced ecstasy as he inhaled all of the rage, hatred, and murderous intent that was being directed towards him. For a lack of a better word to describe it, it was no exaggeration to say that breathing in this one breath was his life’s purpose.
“How nice, so nice, quite nice, very nice, as it’s nice, surely it’s nice. We don’t usually see people who give us such an angry look. It’s a very precious feeling. Understand? Do you understand, how happy we are now!”
Batenkaitos licked his lips as he stepped on the ground to express his feelings of excitement. Encountering someone who could make him experience this emotion is something that would usually be too much for him to hope for.
The memories and names taken away by the Authority of Gluttony were removed from the world, and no one except Roy and Louis were capable of recognizing them. The grief of losing a loved one, the anger of denial, the empty feeling of loss—everything ceased to exist and there was nothing that could be done about it.
“So of course it’s natural, that’s natural. So we never really paid attention to it.”
Due to his affiliation with the Witch Cult, it was only natural for him to meet many people who directed their hatred towards him due to who he was. However, there was no one who remembered what Lye Batenkaitos had done, nor anyone who harbored hatred for him personally, and none who aimed to kill him. This was the natural order of things—however, this natural unwritten rule created by the Authority of Gluttony had been overturned.
—Batenkaitos was no longer the only one who was not influenced by the Authority of Gluttony. The existence of a third party had emerged—
Murmuring the name of the man that Louis had so steadfastly obsessed about, Batenkaitos felt a sweet tingle deep inside his thin chest. It hadn’t been because of Louis, either. She had known him since long before that. She had thought of him much more strongly and deeply than Louis had.
“Sister, you understand, riiight?”
The cause of the sweet tingling in his chest and the girl looking down at him were deeply connected. —No, it wasn’t quite right to call it a deep connection. It was no wonder that he felt like they were of one mind and body, and this could be called their other half. He was sure she would understand these sweet, light, and strong feelings. —This love-hate feeling mixed with the tingling inside his chest that was just waiting to burst forth.
And so, with a sense of conviction and expectation, she spoke with her mouth formed into the shape of a half-moon and—
“I told you. —Die, squealing like a pig.”
In the next moment, Ram flew down the stairs like a missile and unleashed an attack that sent Batenkaitos flying backwards in retreat. He quickly evaded the attack by moving backwards, but the tip of the wand that had been thrust towards him was zooming in on his right eye. If he hadn’t pulled his head back in time, he would have had his brain ripped out from his eye socket and tossed into the air.
“Forgive us, Sister! If we had eaten that attack, we would have only been able to squeal like a pig and die!”
“I am having second thoughts now. If a lesser pig were to mimic a real pig, real pigs would feel insulted.”
He then jumped off the spiral staircase but was delayed by the time it took for him to reach the ground. With her cold murderous intent locked on to the back of the fleeing Batenkaitos, Ram went on the pursuit and began a fierce assault.
As she turned her slender body, Ram thrust her wand, unleashed a powerful kick, and shot an iron elbow at him. Batenkaitos evaded them all by moving his body perfectly, but the powerful gusts of wind that whipped past his ears had the potential to rip off one of his body parts if he got hit by them even once.
“Ha-ha! Scary, scary! I’m so scared, but bring it on!”
Batenkaitos laughed as he ducked and weaved in the face of that unrelenting attack. There wasn’t time to spare, but his mood was uplifted. —No, there was a little room.
Ram was strong. She was merciless and didn’t hesitate to kill, but Batenkaitos was still able to easily avoid her. Why? It’s easy to see why—
“I know you are even more amazing than that, Sister.”
The limitless amount of trust and expectation of Ram, in the Memories he possessed, accurately conveyed the unfortunate difference between the Ram in front of him and the other one. In short—
“—Sister without a horn is nothing but a fake who can be replaced by Rem.”
“Ah, are you angry? Are you furious? If you’re angry, it’s okay to be angry, Sister. When I think about it, I’ve never had a proper quarrel with my sister before.”
Batenkaitos had flaunted her memories as his own. In response, Ram’s cheeks hardened at his words, but she didn’t let up on her assault. He suddenly felt as if he had taken it too far with her and admired himself inwardly.
It was unclear just how much suffering they felt, but it was famously known that hornless Oni’s couldn’t keep their bodies under control. Ram had been suffering from the side effects of being hornless for a long time.
Batenkaitos wasn’t sure just how many times he wanted to take over her pain, but, at the same time, he knew he mustn’t bear the brunt of her suffering. If the pain that came with the loss of a horn depended on the strength of the Oni, then Ram must be dealing with such a large amount of pain that no other Oni in the world could match her.
Therefore, Batenkaitos could only commend her for daring to live her own life despite living each day in such agony. And, with a distorted face, he wanted to thank her for her hard-working attitude.
Batenkaitos wasn’t sure who he should congratulate for being able to witness this moment of richness when the best, greatest, and finest delicacy was about to mature and to be consumed.
—Batenkaitos could only be extremely grateful for the miracle of having encountered this gourmet meal.
“Really! Sister is so fantastic!!”
A dance of death mixed with love and hate began to unfold on the spiral staircase. Batenkaitos felt blessed by Ram’s existence and savored it to the fullest. And he leaned, diverted, bent, and avoided just as the Memories instructed him—
“Ta-dah! Counterattack time—”
Batenkaitos moved around to the outside of Ram’s vision, who had her wand out, and tried to aim for her white neck. Although he thought he had surely entered her blind spot, she quickly turned around and intercepted his attack. In an instant, he felt frightened, stopped his attack, and then leapt sideways to escape. However, the moment his right cheek felt the wind, it began to bleed.
Then Batenkaitos stroked his roughly torn cheek and took a ragged breath. It was an unbearable wound for him. At least, according to the Memories he had—which knew about the old Ram when she was a prodigy—there was no way for him to be hurt by her.
“I told you to squeal miserably, but your voice is also very unpleasant to hear. I can’t get along with you anymore, so just die.”
“Sister, this is...”
“If you were evaluating Ram on the basis of those Memories, then you are still underestimating me.”
She looked at Batenkaitos, whose cheeks were soiled with blood, and then stroked her pink hair. Then she sent a cold gaze his way—
“Did you think you had uncovered the extent of Ram’s potential? So funny. —The possibilities of Ram are endless. Because—”
“Ram is Rem’s sister.”
Her baseless rhetoric had an extraordinary ring of persuasion because that’s what the Memories inside of Batenkaitos thought of her. Recognizing that fact, he erased his smile and distorted his cheeks. It’s not fun. It’s boring. I don’t understand, he thinks.
“Anger and hatred are spices that increase the flavor of the dish, you know. But if the spices are too strong or too assertive, the dish will be ruined. I wonder if that analogy sounded strange to you, Sister, since you can’t cook?”
“Not really. I have nothing to hide. Ram’s specialty is steamed potatoes.”
The Memories that vividly reminded him of that came back to life, and his stomach rumbled. Deliberately ignoring his hunger, Batenkaitos gave up on his playfulness.
Ram had not yet shown the true value of her power. That meant she hadn’t even revealed everything to her younger sister, who was her other half.
In other words—
“Sister can’t even believe her own younger sister, so you’re the ultimate in individualism, isn’t it?”
“...Such a shallow view on things. I don’t know how many human lives you’ve savored, but I’m not concerned with them either. They are all trivial except for Rem.”
Ram’s pale crimson eyes narrowed as she dismissed Batenkaitos’ views on food. And then, while she stroked her thin chest, she—
“Try harder and do your best, Barusu.”
She had called out to the boy who was not there with a cold look of ruthless determination on her face.
“This common destiny thing is pretty horrifying, isn’t it?”
Subaru pulled his dustproof cloth over his mouth and took a deep breath in order to avoid breathing in all the dust in the air. He would really like to get some goggles, but that would be pretty difficult to do at the moment. His only option was to stare directly into the sandstorm and get used to the sand flying into his eyes.
“Beako! Meili! Keep going!”
“Oh, you’re such a slave driver!”
Crossing their field of vision blurred by the sandstorm was an evil presence with a jet-black shell. If they allowed it to get close to them, they would be chopped in half by its pincers. If they tried to outrun it, they’d get zapped by its deadly stinger and die. There were many other ways that it could kill them. In their current situation, due to all of the ways they could be defeated, they were only capable of keeping it at a stalemate.
“But that’s how it always is...!”
The battles of Subaru Natsuki had always been like walking on a tightrope.
The reason Subaru was having such a hard time even though he knew the future due to his Return by Death ability was that the strength of the current enemy and his current fighting strength were unbalanced.
Subaru was almost always short of cards in his hand. He believed in everyone’s power and hoped they could fight flexibly, and in response he himself would struggle to meet their expectations.
“This isn’t so much my battle as it is mine and my merry comrade’s!”
“What are you saying in this situation!? Oh! Keep at it, Hungry Horse King!”
In response to Subaru’s meaningless cries, Meili, who was riding next to him, ordered the witchbeast known as the Hungry Horse King. Two centaur-like witchbeasts, both carrying Subaru, Beatrice, and Meili, ran through the sea of sand with all their might making noises that could only be described as baby cries. And, right on their tails was a gigantic scorpion that was attacking them with its multitude of legs, scraping out clumps of sand and kicking up a cloud of dust.
Just like what Subaru had experienced before, if they moved far enough away from it, then the rays of light from the stinger would try to vaporize them, and if they got close enough to it, its large pincers would try to chop them up. It was simply a matter of maintaining a balance between being too far away and being too close, and coping with its attacks as they did so.
Compared to the number of defeat scenarios they had counted, the victory scenario would only become available at the end of their battle. It depended on Emilia conquering the first floor of the tower and rewriting the rules of the tower. In fact, it was not even certain whether it was possible or not.
“If you can't do that, then it's strange that it was built into the rules of the tower in the first place, I suppose.”
“Exactly, Beako. The fact that the rule says, “It is not forbidden to break the rules of the Trial,” means that this rule is supposed to be broken.”
And if that is really possible, then it would be a reward for the challengers of the tower. If Subaru thought about it, the right was only given to those who cleared it using proper means. He was really glad that Emilia beat Reid’s Trial. If she hadn’t won, a way to save Shaula would not have come into his grasp.
“I will NEVER forgive him for sexually harassing Emilia-tan...!”
Thinking about that really got Subaru’s blood boiling, but the person who was sent to take care of Reid for that was Julius.
With the hope that he would beat that violent man into a pulp, Subaru kept his eyes on the tall watchtower and surrendered himself to their current struggle with Beatrice and Meili.
“Big Brother! It’s a bit difficult to move around in here! Don’t you think it it’ll be easier for the witchbeasts to move around outside of the tower!?”
“Ugh...! I know what you mean! I know, but I can’t! I can’t leave the tower. If we go any further, I won’t know what’s going on!”
Subaru, who dismissed Meili’s suggestion, grabbed his chest and clenched his molars.
The effect of Cor Leonis continued, and the whereabouts of his friends in the tower were still within Subaru’s sphere of control as dim lights. However, there were still many things about this Authority that were unknown, and it was not yet clear what will cause it to stop working.
Distance probably had the most effect on the Authority. In fact, Subaru couldn’t sense the whereabouts of his friends who were outside of the Augria Sand Dunes. The real question is how far can he get from the watchtower without it turning off? Not being able to confirm the whereabouts and safety of his friends was one of his biggest fears.
But the biggest issue was more than just confirming their safety, it was not being able to shoulder their burdens himself. Emilia and Julius, for example, were strong and were about enter into hard-fought battles. But, more than that, it was Ram, who was facing a dangerous enemy, who had grabbed Subaru’s heart the most.
Subaru was confident that everyone had been sent to the place that suited them best. From the beginning, Ram’s battle was expected to be especially difficult. That was because her opponent was Lye Batenkaitos, the one who turned Rem into a Sleeping Beauty and was responsible for Ram’s current condition.
It was impossible to compete with Lye Batenkaitos without a perfect Ram. And on top of that, Subaru wanted her to beat him up to her heart’s content. However, in order to do that, it was necessary for him to shoulder the suffering that had constantly tormented her every day. That’s why—
“I can’t just carelessly leave the tower! I know there are lots of handicaps, but please just follow me!”
“—! This will absolutely, positively, come back to bite us later!”
Meili, with her lips pursed and face turning bright red due to Subaru’s plea, shouted that from the back of the Hungry Horse King. Then the girl glared into the sky and clapped her hands at the circling entity flying in the cloudless sky.
“Winged Mole! It’s time!”
After her high-pitched command, a small shadow that had been flying in the sky descended into the sea of sand. When Subaru saw it aim at the gigantic scorpion on the sand, he instantly exclaimed, “Beako!”
“I want you to go with them!”
“—Oh, I understand! Vita!”
Beatrice raised her little palm into the sky, having guessed Subaru’s true aim.
The effect had been activated, but it hadn’t been aimed at the giant scorpion, but at the winged moles flying towards it. A ring of light formed in the path of the falling winged moles, and the moment the winged moles dove through the ring, the witchbeasts accelerated rapidly.
The impact of the attack pierced the outer shell of the scorpion, and a loud noise rang out. Up to this point, the gigantic scorpion had taken the attacks of the winged moles as if they were nothing, but this time, the attack stopped it in its tracks after suffering powerful direct hits to a few of its legs, which could not be ignored.
“That… Beatrice, what did you do?”
“Did it make the witchbeasts you control heavier before impact, I wonder? The speed and hardness are the same, but the result changes just by making it heavier, I suppose.”
Beatrice answered Meili’s surprised question with that.
The reason behind the sudden power of the winged mole is: its power is the product of its weight and speed.
The life-threatening attack of the winged mole, a witchbeast that flew freely through the sky and dived deep underground with its strong horns, managed to stall the gigantic scorpion with its unbelievable destructive power. Although the gigantic scorpion was impressive in its ability to reflexively respond to attacks, it wasn’t able to respond to this attack very well. And, to get around its great reflexiveness, Subaru’s head was spinning at full speed trying to find a solution.
“Bad for the witchbeasts, but it’s a trade-off between sacrificing lives and staying alive longer. There are many types and quantities of witchbeasts you can use, and if you have Beako’s assistance, the possibilities are limitless...! In this way—”
Sure enough, Subaru had clenched his fists and grabbed Beatrice’s hair at the same time. Stuck in his grip, Beatrice gave a cry of protest, “It hurts, in fact!”—That was the moment—
Subaru looked up at the watchtower and said that, hoping to buy time with it. When Beatrice heard his empty response, she turned around and said, “Subaru?” but got no answer.
Subaru’s consciousness had been taken elsewhere, not because of what was happening outside the tower, but because of what was going on with his friends inside the tower, where he could feel dim lights in various places. One connection seemed to have disappeared from those who were supposed to be fighting a fierce battle—Emilia’s, who was supposed to be at the summit.
At that moment, Subaru’s heart began to beat out of his chest. Feeling Emilia’s connection disappear like that made him very confused. How could Emilia have disappeared so suddenly?
“Ah—Calm down, you dumbass.”
When he had been falling into despair, Subaru scolded himself and stopped it from continuing. It was too early to feel despair about the current reality. He believed that he should have more faith in his Cor Leonis ability. Even if it came from the worst man in the world, that power was his ally, even if it was still in an early stage of development.
Judging from the reaction of Cor Leonis up until this point, Subaru deduced that the intensity of the light and the intensity of the warmth of the light were indicators of the current state of his comrades. The intensity of the light and warmth changes when it was excited violently, and the opposite was also true. Therefore, does the disappearance of Emilia’s connection indicate her death?
“If that’s the case, the connection will disappear in a second.”
If Emilia had met a powerful enemy who had annihilated her existence in a single moment, it wouldn’t have vanished without any resistance, even if she had fallen into the hands of that enemy. Subaru didn’t think that had happened nor wanted to think that had happened. He believed that something else had happened instead.
It was also plausible that when Emilia ran up the tower and got to the first floor, something happened that pulled her out of Cor Leonis’ influence. Therefore causing Emilia’s connection to disappear from Subaru’s perception in an instant. That is what Subaru wanted to believe.
“Big Brother! This is no time to be staring into space!”
The two little girls called out to Subaru, who bit his cheeks and clenched his molars in order to get back to reality using pain as a gateway. When he heard them speak, he let out an “I know” for all to hear—
“I don’t know where she is or what she is facing, but I have faith that she will return.”
—At the same time Subaru uttered a prayer on the sands far below.
Subaru thought he had no idea what Emilia was facing right now, but even with his imagination, there was no way he would have been able to guess what was going on with her situation at this moment.
Following Subaru’s instructions, Emilia headed up to the first floor of the tower to rewrite the rules of the Pleiades Watchtower. There she encountered a mighty being covered in shimmering blue scales. In the kingdom of Lugunica—no, there was none in this world that did not know its name.
If the Witch of Envy was a symbol of fear, it should be called a symbol of hope and trust. That was the type of work that entity had done for the world.
The name of that mighty and great being—
“The Divine Dragon, Volcanica.”
As Emilia ruminated on the name she had spoken, she felt as if her whole body suddenly became cold.
Although it was difficult to say, Emilia had a constitution that was not associated with nervousness. Of course, when she stood in front of people or had important conversations, she may have felt a little tense, but whenever she geared up for action, she would quickly leave those effects in the dust. She was often praised by Subaru and Ram for being a kind of big shot. However, Emilia, who was thought to be a powerful person, could only cower in the presence of the Divine Dragon.
It felt as if even breathing required permission from the other party in order to be done. The presence of a real dragon was so powerful that it seemed to have taken control of the entire world.
While holding her breath, Emilia took another look at the whole body of Volcanica.
The blue, deep-colored scales shimmered like jewels, and each one seemed to be sharper than a masterfully forged treasured sword.
The thick forefeet and hindfeet were equipped with black rock-like claws, and the look of the dragon made it seem as if it was long-lived. Its head had two thick, large horns, which were white like freshly squeezed milk.
The body of the Divine Dragon was perhaps 50 to 52 feet long (15 to 16 meters.) Emilia didn’t know the exact size since she couldn’t just go measure it on the spot. However, due to its size, it was natural that it would not be able to fit into the tower.
The first floor must have been made especially for Volcanica due to his need for an open floor.
“The third one was the Sage, the second one was Reid, and the first one was Volcanica.”
“Perhaps all three ancient heroes are involved in the Trial of the tower?”
Looking back on the Trial so far, Emilia found a common trait.
The Three Heroes—The three heroes who made an effort to seal the Witch of Envy and made history in the Kingdom of Lugunica—Shaula, Reid, and Volcanica.
However, Shaula attributed everything to Flugel, Reid was a very violent and badmouthed man, and Volcanica was a dragon, not a man. Still, if everyone involved was here—
“It’s really nice to still be good friends even after hundreds of years.”
If promises, unity, and that kind of thing connected the three heroes, that seemed like a really nice thing to Emilia.
Originally, Volcanica was an entity that had a Covenant with the Kingdom of Lugunica, and in fact, even when the black dragon rampaged in Lugunica decades ago, it offered its aid.
Emilia liked a person who placed an importance on keeping their promises. She thought that it was very good to keep promises. Subaru was very important to her and she trusted him, but she thought it would be no good if he didn’t keep his promises.
Then she suddenly began to wonder what she would do if even Beatrice started imitating such behavior. In the end, she didn’t want to scold Subaru or Beatrice for breaking their promises.
“Oh, no. Now isn’t the time to think about that… Hey, Volcanica! I came to complete the Trial. The Trial of the first floor! I’ll give it a try!”
“I don’t know what kind of hard Trial I’ll have to go through...but I’m asking you to please hurry! If I don’t do my best, then Subaru and the others will be in trouble. Whatever it is, bring it on!”
After striking her cheeks with both of her hands, Emilia regained her composure.
Emilia’s sudden thoughts about Subaru and Beatrice caused her to feel anxious. If they were to break their promises and she had no choice but to reprimand them, that was something that would happen tomorrow and in the future. It was here that she had to hold steadfastly in order to greet the future.
The Divine Dragon stared at Emilia with his golden eyes in silence. His eyes were so deep that she felt as if she were about to be sucked in, and that was no exaggeration.
He had fought the Witch of Envy and made a covenant with the Kingdom of Lugunica 400 years ago—but the great dragon was probably older than 400. In the years that may have well approached 1000, those twin eyes had gazed at the world. There was no telling what Emilia looked like to the Divine Dragon. She didn’t know—
“I’m used to being scorned by others. There have been people who hated me because I was a half-elf, and there have been people who were mean to me like Echidna... But there are also people who have expectations of me, like Subaru, Ram, and Beatrice.”
As she spoke, Emilia touched the crystal stone on her chest with her finger. Even now, her precious family member, who was the first to accept her, and who often looked at her though rose-tinted glasses, was still in a deep slumber. In this tower, including her family, there were friends who recognized her.
“That’s why, I don’t care how you look at me!”
Emilia deplored that in the face of the Divine Dragon and had once again become overwhelmed by its presence. The existence of Emilia, whose soul that had been crushed by the difference in presence, whose limbs seemed to tremble and become smaller, who had been swallowed by that eternal existence, could no longer be defeated.
—Never, I will never lose.
Emilia stood there with her fists clenched and her violet-blue eyes shining brightly.
Volcanica blinked slowly as he gazed at Emilia. Then he swung his magnificent dragon jaws open, and—
“—Thou, who hath reached the top of the tower. Step forth onto the first floor, almighty petitioner.”
“—I, am Volcanica. In accordance with the ancient covenant, the will of thee who hath reached the top shall be questioned.”
Emilia, who had been holding her breath and was prepared for the difficult questions that Volcanica would ask, tilted her head as she heard the words that had been spit out of the dragon’s mouth. She already knew what they said.
“Well, that’s the same story you told me earlier, right? I’m the one who came all the way to the first floor, and you are Volcanica...is that correct?”
“...Ah! Is it because I didn’t introduce myself? I’m sorry. I’m Emilia, just Emilia. Hey, and it just so happens that there are a lot of people who don’t remember me right now, so if you ask me to prove it, I’ll be in trouble, but it’s Emilia!”
“...Is this still hopeless?”
Emilia had thought that skipping her introduction had made him displeased, but even when she greeted him again, Volcanica’s reaction was still lacking. If this was Subaru, he would have felt pessimistic and thought that by skipping the first greeting, he would have been disqualified from the Trial, but Emilia did not think so. Even if something were wrong, she believed that as long as she apologized, the other party wouldn’t be so ruthless.
Therefore, Emilia did not believe that her rudeness was what caused Volcanica to remain silent. She speculated that he was not angry, or perhaps it was worse than being angry. Because—
Emilia walked forward timidly as she stared at his golden eyes.
She took one or two steps closer to the sky and closed the distance between her and the Divine Dragon, Volcanica. Emilia boldly approached the majestic dragon that even breathed majestically. Then, she reached out her hand and gently touched the scales on the dragon’s forelegs.
The scales felt as cold as ice or cold steel. She wondered how long it had taken to lose so much heat simply by lying down. It did not mean biological “death.” Physical vitality wasn’t the only thing that long-term inactivity robbed.
“—I, am Volcanica. In accordance with the ancient covenant, the will of thee who hath reached the top shall be questioned.”
Volcanica repeated this once more, and looked down at Emilia, who was still touching his paw. The words of welcome had been repeated frequently on a certain interval, and Emilia’s lack of greetings was not to blame.
Volcanica’s eyes, which stared deeply at Emilia, seemed to reflect her, and yet didn’t.
The reason was obvious.
“Maybe you are too old and forgot about the Trial…?”
It was the “death” of the spirit, not the physical “death,” that plagued the long-lived dragon. And it presented itself as a separate Trial for Emilia, and may have even been more challenging than the main Trial of the first floor.
The Trial of the First Floor, Maia, of the Great Library of Pleiades.
Time Limit: Survival Time of Friends.
Number of Challenges: Unknown.
Number of Challengers: One.
The Content of the Trial is Unknown.