—The spirit of the Divine Dragon, Volcanica, had “died” after being neglected for so many years. To put it simply, after being left alone for so long, he became senile.
“But, I can’t afford for you to be behaving like an old man! Hey, Volcanica!”
“—Thou, who hath reached the top of the tower. Step forth onto the first floor, almighty petitioner.”
“Jeez! It’s no use!”
Emilia desperately called out to him by hitting his forefoot, but the only response she got was the feeling of his hard scales and the barrier around his spirit that made him senile and seemed like it would never end.
Like Reid, the Trial where the dead were revived as they originally were was also a difficult task, but when Emilia thought about it now, it seemed much more cute. Oh, and saying that the violent person named Reid was cute was just a joke—
“Reid was at least able to talk and tell me what I needed to do...”
But that wasn’t the case with Volcanica.
For Emilia, who needed to break through the Trial, it was the absolute worst thing for the Trial Overseer to be completely senile. She wanted to bring good news back to Subaru as soon as possible.
“Uhh… What should I do, what should I do… There’s no way I could defeat Volcanica by negotiating with him like I did to defeat Reid…”
Even so, it was expected to be a difficult Trial, but the differences between the Trials of the third and second floors made Emilia put her ideas on hold for now.
The Trial of the third floor, Taygeta, required challengers to use their knowledge to answer the questions that were asked. They were lucky enough to beat that Trial due to Subaru’s knowledge from beyond the Great Waterfall, and it would have been seemingly impossible without it.
The Trial of the second floor, Electra, as was already known, was overseen by Reid Astrea. Even so, Emilia managed to win because she had gotten the better of Reid, but some say she succeeded because it was her first challenge.
In any case, there was no doubt that both Trials of the first and second floors had been hard-fought victories. So it was hard enough to just take on a challenge normally—
“I can’t believe I can’t even get the question out of you...”
“—I, am Volcanica. In accordance with the ancient covenant, the will of thee who hath reached the top shall be questioned.”
“Jeez! I got it already! I want to hear rest of it!”
Emilia was hoping that she could get him to talk to her properly after a few tries, but she soon discovered that she had been wasting her time trying. She then looked around while resisting the urge to stomp on the ground in frustration.
The Trial of the third floor was set in a white room, with black slates that had questions on them—something that Subaru and Julius had happily called a monolith. Perhaps there were hidden things here. While Volcanica was in an unreliable state, it would be best for her to figure things out by herself.
“I have to do everything I can do now...!”
While keeping her eye on Volcanica, Emilia began to investigate her surroundings.
First of all, the top floor of the Pleiades Watchtower was located in a position that was too high to be seen from below. There were six pillars placed around the floor and a huge pillar in the center of the space—which Volcanica was leaning against. The size of the space also seemed to have a 330 feet (100 meter) radius.
It felt like a much larger space than the other two floors, but Volcanica also seemed to make it seem less big than it actually was due to his sheer size.
“Down below… Is it possible to see what’s down there?”
Email grasped one of the pillars on the perimeter of the first floor and then looked down. Subaru and Ram were fighting hard in the tower and outside, but thick clouds obstructed her view and she could not see what was under them. It almost seemed like she could just hop into the clouds and join up with her companions—
“I’m sure I would be scolded if I tried climbing up here from the outside... Er, in the first place, I don’t think it would be possible to get to the top of the clouds so quickly even if I tried reaaally hard.”
Emilia didn’t think her motor nerves were bad, but she knew how high the clouds and sky were. When she was little, she tried reaching out and touching the clouds, but it wasn’t possible, and when she grew up, she tried it again but still couldn’t do it. It might be possible for Reinhard to jump up into the clouds, but it wasn’t possible for her.
Therefore, she concluded that a magical force must have brought her to the top of the tower.
“If so, then it wouldn’t be unusual for the Trial to be here!”
Encouraged by her thoughts, Emilia looked around at the six pillars, and then hit and tried to climb them. However, she was unable to experience any sort of strange phenomenon or see any writing on them.
And, if there was one possibility—
“—The large pillar in the middle, where Volcanica is sitting.”
If the surrounding pillars have nothing on them and don’t react in any way, then the most likely culprit is the central pillar. Unlike the other six, the central pillar extended even higher. It was possible that there was another floor above this one that could be called floor zero. If that was so, then there seemed to be a way to change this place where nothing ever changed.
“—Thou, who hath reached the top of the tower. Step forth onto the first floor, almighty petitioner.”
In order to get to that pillar, it was impossible to avoid Volcanica, who kept repeating the same words over and over again.
Although she had decided on challenging the Trial, dealing with Volcanica was in a whole different ballpark. Even so, Emilia approached the central pillar where Volcanica laid.
“Volcanica, what do I need to do for the Trial?”
“—I, am Volcanica. In accordance with the ancient covenant, the will of thee who hath reached the top shall be questioned.”
The answer from Volcanica had remained the same.
Emilia felt more relieved than disappointed or disheartened. If Volcanica’s reaction remained the same, then he should remain indifferent to her, like when she touched his forefoot. Believing that to be the case, she started walking to the other side of him to examine the central pillar—
Just as Emilia was about the touch the pillar, she heard the sound of the wind. She then instinctively created an ice wall above her head before she even knew what was happening. After a single moment, something smashed through the ice wall and into her slender body, flipping her into the air.
The impact of that attack went straight through her back and into her chest, and Emilia coughed as she rolled violently on the floor. She stopped the momentum by placing her hand on the floor and managed to come to a stop. She then slowly raised her face and realized what had happened.
—The Divine Dragon, leaning against the pillar, slowly lowered his tail to the floor.
“Was I hit by his tail?”
In other words, it was a very simple attack.
Dragons often used their tails to express their emotions. The relationship between Subaru and Patrasche was one example. When Subaru would go too far with one of his pranks, Ram or Patrasche would compete to see would could hit him more. However, the blow that came from Volcanica’s tail could not be compared to the expression of affection between a person and an animal.
Emilia was okay since her defensive measure had been deployed immediately, but if she had not reacted in time, the blow would have broken her neck or blown her head off.
For Volcanica, it was akin to unconsciously stepping on an insect. Or as if they were little insects at the feet of giant creatures.
Understanding that fact, cold sweat started forming along Emilia’s neck and back. But it also brought up one possibility—
“Just as I thought, there must be something on that pillar.”
“You’re here to oversee the Trial. You haven’t forgotten about that, even though you’ve forgotten about the Trial itself. That’s why you keep saying the same things over and over again.”
Volcanica looked as if he had no idea what he was supposed to do.
Still, the fact that the Divine Dragon was here was a testament to how strong his will to keep the promise he made before his “death” was.
The Sage, the Sword Saint, and the Divine Dragon were meant to test their wisdom, power, and ambition, respectively.
If that’s the case—
“—Don’t feel halfhearted. I’m also seriously serious.”
Emilia also firmly declared that she would use force on the condition that the other party interfered. In a matter of seconds the atmosphere around Emilia screamed and the world slowly began to freeze. An ice warrior was born one after the other, as if following Emilia as their queen. —This was a new possibility for her born from further developing her Ice Brand Arts. She hadn’t been able to try this in the narrow watchtower, but with the size of this space and the opponent she was facing, she couldn’t show mercy.
Emilia hadn’t told Subaru about it, so he hadn’t been able to give it a name for her. Therefore, she named it—
“Ice Brand Arts: Ice Shoulders....!”
The seven ice soldiers, that had been created in the shape of a humanoid, held their respective weapons and were brave companions who would fight to the death with Emilia.
“I’m going, Mr. Sleepyhead! If you’re going to wake up, I hope you wake up sooner!”
That consciousness was still buried in the same stupor as before.
—At the same moment, Emilia was not the only one who was taking on a mighty enemy that was far stronger than them.
The clash between two swordsman on the second floor, Electra, which was one floor lower than where Emilia was fighting the senile Divine Dragon, started to heat up in intensity.
However, the one-sided nature of the battle had remained unchanged.
“Heyheyheyhey, what’s the matter, what’s wrong? Ya think losin’ one chopstick will be enough for ya ta win? Ya still can’t reach me, you, this ain’t a game, you, you!”
A man with long red hair threw a powerful kick while swearing at and taunting his opponent.
The knight with a graceful profile got thrown back after receiving the blow with the handle of the knight sword in his hand. He wasn’t able to diminish the shock the blow and could only move at fast as he could. But the next strike came before he could move.
This exact sequence of events had been repeated over and over again on the battlefield of the second floor.
This had happened many times—the knight was blown away by the swordsman’s attack, and when he was constantly on the defensive, the swordsman would spit out “Good grief...”
“Your sword will change when your mood changes. You, I was hopin’ for that explosion, ya know? But, when the hell do ya plan on explodin’, you, or...”
Saying that, the red-haired swordsman—Reid—bent his lips while twisting his neck. In an arrogant and taunting manner, the uncommon swordsman glared at the knight.
“Are ya just gonna lose because of your fixation on manners, you? Are ya happy with that, you?”
“You can say whatever you like about me.”
At Reid’s suggestion, the knight loosed his lips and spoke freely. The knight stood solemnly under Reid’s sharp gaze, and checked the feel of his knight sword while still feeling numb from his kick.
Julius Juukulius decided to give up his Nameless Knight persona and resist his fate.
“You have said those words to me many times. A boring fight, well-mannered sword skills, lack of play… I also remember these words.”
“Ha, right. Even if it ain’t as good as mine, no matter who sees it, they will get the same feelin’. Your sword is desperate.”
Reid’s proclamation would not have come from a noble point of view. He probably was just saying what he thought. It captured the essence that even if one eye was covered, he could see everything through those blue eyes. And he may have been able to see Julius’s true character through his flimsy ideals.
There was a woman watching the battle between Julius and Reid. And to Julius, she was the most precious woman in the world, although her identity wasn’t exactly the same as it was before. Although it had been an irresistible force, two months had passed since the event that happened in the Watergate City occurred—and they continued to have an empty master-servant relationship as a result.
“Now that I think about it, you and I should have spoken to each other more openly.”
“If we had been able to do that, I would have been a good friend to you. Because we adore and cherish the same woman.”
With his words full of zeal, Julius once again challenged the Sword Saint.
Reid held a short, thin chopstick in his right hand and greeted Julius’s assault from the front.
Cut, pierce, slash, swing, swing down, it was a continuous attack.
Sometimes Julius set up feints and tried to confuse his opponent with his footwork, but Reid easily prevented it with an attitude of not even seeing it as a being serious.
“This again? I already told ya many times that this won’t work...”
“Even if you say it’s boring, this is my sword!”
The unimpressed scoring was interrupted by a yell, and Reid unleashed a kick to intercept Julius’s sword attack. The kick caused him to lose his balance, and Reid’s chopstick instantly struck diagonally into him, who had shown an opening in his defenses.
Reid laughed at his movements and tried to cut the cloaked Julius in two. However, by the time the cloak had been blown away by the power of the strike, Julius had already jumped backwards horizontally and escaped his attack.
“Oh, that’s it!”
Reid had praised Julius for wearing white to blind his opponent and throwing away his righteous ways.
However, Julius immediately cut him off and ran over to the cloak that had been blown off. Then he picked up the cloak that had been torn by the chopstick and put it back on.
He fastened the fasteners firmly and put on the white cloak over his white unform, which was the embodiment of a knight. Even if he were to stop being Nameless, he couldn’t stop being a knight.
Seeing Julius’s attitude like that, Reid clicked his tongue.
“You, I was expectin’ you ta change when that dazzlin’ gal and the other dazzlin’ gal came, ya know? They came to win regardless of their appearance. That’s what I’m sayin’. You don’t know who ya are, do ya?”
“You pretend to be a righteous knight, but that’s not the real you. You’re just like me, a Stick Swinger. Ya just can’t see it cuz you’re too stuck in your ways, you.”
Pointing his chopstick at Julius, Reid spat that out with a sour face.
Julius was blind to Reid’s remarks, and after a pause, he murmured, “Alright.”
“I feel like I finally understand.”
“Yeah? What did ya find out?”
“I figured out why you’re being so relentless with me.”
Reid was frustrated but didn’t stop talking to Julius. His methods were certainly violent, and he didn’t seem like the kind of person who would do something like that at all, but Julius felt as if he were a master who was teaching and guiding him.
Then, the reason as to why Reid had been constantly giving Julius a hard time had finally been realized—
“—Did you see yourself in me?”
The reason he had laughed so much at Julius for his boring fighting and well-mannered swordplay was because he thought he had been a lion sleeping in his shell. Although, he may have been just overestimating himself by calling himself a lion—
“I dunno the details, pale-faced weakling. I just do what I wanna do. That feelin’ of mine is crazy. It’s more interestin’ to peel your mask off bit by bit, you.”
“That’s why I’m tryin’ ta peel it off. Understand, you? That’s why ya can’t reach me, and ya can’t even look good for the dazzlin’ gal behind ya.”
Julius laughed wryly when Reid pointed at Echidna with his chin. Indeed, Reid had great eyes, and could see perfectly.
—Julius Juukulius knew that he was a man who just wanted to look good.
“That’s why I won’t change who I am.”
“Your words are correct. There are a lot of things that come to mind... In a world where everyone forgot me, I did not speak about it, but I am not a legitimate son of the House of Juukulius.”
Julius had begun to speak in an audible tone to Reid, who frowned, and to Echidna, who looked forward with a determined expression on her face. This was the true history of Julius Juukulius, which only Natsuki Subaru could remember.
“My father, who ran away from a house of nobility, married my mother, who was a commoner, and I was born between them. And so my origin is that of a commoner. Until my parents died and my uncle took me in, I had nothing to do with the culture of the nobility... So, I forged my own path.”
“You’re an ugly faker.”
“Might be so. My true essence is probably that of a crude child who doesn’t know his ideals who is running around a field laughing with his friends, and wearing plain clothes instead of formal attire.”
Without knowing etiquette, without ideals to aim for, working hard to live every day. This was the future promised to Julius. However, that future was swept away by the flash floods along with his parents, and disappeared.
“That is why I pretend to be a knight. I will stick with that appearance and keep my true self hidden.”
“I was ignorant and didn’t know anything, but I met my ideal. —I longed to be a knight. I longed for the image of a knight who was dignified and clean. Therefore, I will stick to that longing.”
Julius’s cloak made a sound as it was put on once more, and his gaze was full of strength.
Reid had been put into a bad mood, and the expression on his face went from frustrated to suspicious. He had been surprised that his words had been denied, but he couldn’t even make a rebuttal. And then Julius continued with a loud voice—
“I am a clumsy man. Things began to take shape on their own, and I came to believe that as long as I had a good sword, wore fine clothes, and used the correct words, that I could be like that. That’s why I have to be stubborn. I must hold on to my vanity.”
Julius knew that some people hated vanity and that kind of language. One person that came to mind was Natsuki Subaru. But Julius thought—
“It is used as a crutch to carry out my will by straightening my back, adjusting my tastes, and pretending to be that way. That is the fake appearance I decided to suffer with forever.”
“Some will make a fool of my vanity. But I believe there are others who are just as dazzling as that. —Let me continue to long for the Way of the Knight.”
Julius couldn’t remember who first made him long to become a knight, but he became a knight regardless. He was called ‘The Finest’ not only because of his refined swordsmanship and spirit arts skills, but because he was gifted with great ability. Because he was made to think that the way Julius Juukulius should be is the way a knight should be. When he pretended to be The Finest of Knights, it made him feel as if he dazzled.
Julius then relaxed his lips and turned to Echidna. He lightly shook his head at her—who borrowed the appearance of his beloved lord—at her who deeply regretted that she couldn’t remember him. There was no need for him to feel guilty about it.
“There is no need to fear, regret, or mourn being forgotten. Because I exist in the chivalry that I yearn for that everyone knows.”
And the same thing could be said of the girls who were here—
“Sorry about this, my buds. I held onto the bonds that had been lost, however, not letting you go only made you all uneasy. Now I will release you all from your restraints.”
Followed by Julius’s whisper, visible pale lights made up of vivid colors could be seen—beautiful spirits bearing six attributes, Julius Juukulius’ quasi-spirits. They were inseparable beings that had been with him since before he became a knight. But they had also forgotten him, who had lost his Name due to the Authority of Gluttony.
However, they had been attracted to the everlasting contract between the Spirit and the Contractor and Julius’s Divine Protection of Gathering Spirits, so they had continued to linger.
Julius also believed that if he could regain his Name, the relationship could be regained, and so he refused to let them go. Oh, how foolish that was. Due to everything that had changed, he probably didn’t want to lose anything else. But—
“The buds who have always been with me. You were so dear to me that I refused to let go of your warmth and kindness. I was hoping to be able to return to the old days without issue, but nothing happened. —Oh, how weak, pathetic, and ugly I am.”
In a state of bewilderment, the six quasi-spirits swirled around Julius. Then he softly held out his arm to them. After seeing the arm that looked like a perch, the quasi-spirits gathered there slowly. And Julius smiled at the dim lights that hung upon his arm.
“I was afraid of change. However, there are some things that cannot be obtained without the willingness to lose them. For example, it is the flowering of a bud called love. A future where buds that have been around for a long time can see with their own eyes what kind of flowers the buds will bloom into.”
The girls did not respond, however, they seemed to be expecting something to happen. Therefore, Julius went along with it and—
“My buds! I will let all of you go now. I’m sorry I clung onto our bonds for so long.”
At the same time he said that, the quasi-spirits surrounding Julius’s arms were blown away. It seemed to have been accompanied by a shock, but it was a violent sensation like being struck by a bolt of lightning, and it only seemed to have pierced Julius and the quasi-spirits.
The connection, the bond, the spirit-to-spirit contract that had certainly been there, was broken. The pain and grief that came from losing a spirit-to-spirit connection was only something a spirit arts user could know.
Julius did not yet know, but Emilia had once experienced the same pain and cowered in anguish. He himself had just experienced parting with the six quasi spirits at the same time, which damaged his soul. He then felt a strange sensation in his chest, as if something had been separated from his soul.
This was a pain that was fundamentally different from being forgotten by his buds due to the Authority of Gluttony. Julius and the spirits themselves must have experienced the same pain and regretted it. The spirits may have even cursed the wounds inflicted on themselves and wondered why they had ever made a contract with a human in the first place. But—
“—On top of all that, I will call you all again.”
“I love you all. If you accept this vain man’s courtship, then let’s reconnect. —A new contract between me and you all!!”
Julius shouted loudly and stretched his arms out to the heavens. Hearing his cry, the quasi-spirits scattered about and flickered for just a second.
However, their hesitation and indecision only lasted for a moment.
A warm light enveloped Julius Juukulius. It gently seeped into the wounds of his soul that had been caused by the severance of the contract. There was joy; there was anger; there was sadness; there was love; and there was also hatred. These were the emotions that each of them had accumulated for over a decade. He then decided to just let bygones be bygones and forge a new path into the future. He wasn’t sure if that was the correct answer, but he wanted to get it right this time.
Julius knew that it may go wrong many times, and that he may not choose the right path every time and make mistakes, but he vowed that he would shape himself every time. Even if he made a mistake, he was not alone. He was never alone.
If he moved forward, there were the ideals created by many great predecessors.
If he stopped, he would feel the warmth of the buds who had been lovingly watching over him.
And if he looked to his side, there was the profile of his lord who he had pledged his faith to, which had shaped him.
What on earth could Julius Juukulius fear from now on? Nothing.
“—That’s right. My beautiful flowering maidens.”
The six buds answered in a unified voice—no, it was the answer of the flowering maidens.
Light was born—
“I will continue on this deep, kind, and thorny path.”
The pain of breaking the contract had been healed by the bond that had been reformed.
Wrapped in six more mysterious lights than before, Julius Juukulius looked ahead. There was a figure at the apex that he longed to reach as one who devoted himself to the sword.
However, the envy of Julius Juukulius was pointed at a different place from the apex in front of him. And so, he did not hesitate to express that longing with the light of the rainbow.
“—My apologies for keeping you waiting, Sword Saint Reid Astrea. —Nice to meet you.”
He shook his knight sword aside, grasped his cloak in his hands, and bowed gracefully. Then he raised his face , became the ‘It’ that he most admired in the world, and announced his name.
“—I am the Finest of Knights, Julius Juukulius. The sword of the Kingdom that will slay you.