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In an instant, the throbbing and burning pains dissipated, and Natsuki Subaru returned.
He wanted to praise himself for not screaming at the scene before him immediately.
Upon his second Return by Death, Subaru returned to the flower meadow, beset on all sides by Witchbeast; closing his mouth with his hands, his thinking became serious.
In a place dominated by the violence of the flowery scent, what could be heard was the sound of Meili clicking her tongue.
By gently moving her fingers and letting out this sound from her lips, she was stealing the attention of the Courtesan Bear standing in front of the dragon carriage. A gamble that robbed the breath of everyone witnessing it.
He had been brought back yet again to the scene he had experienced just a few minutes ago, making it the second time.
――Are you kidding me?
Subaru’s brain kicked into high gear while trying to get the picture of the events that happened to him.
He needed to switch his focus immediately. He had to forget that just a moment ago, countless Witchbeasts were chasing after them with an outcome of bloodshed and so, before that happened, he had to deal with the problem at hand.
The problem, the problem that was in front of him right before his eyes. What would happen next?
He could hear something that sounded much like someone calling a kitten. The actual situation was totally different from that cute imagery, but that thought was hindered by the smell of flowers.
Smelly, sweet, persistent, annoying, itchy, painful, hot, which one was the correct word to describe it?
The more he thought about it, the more it stressed his brain, but no concrete solutions came to mind.
His brain could not keep up with the discrepancy between the current situation and the situation that he had been experiencing up until now. Subaru desperately tried to adapt to the present, then feeling a light push against his chest.
Looking down, it was Beatrice’s small body leaning on his chest.
As Subaru completely embraced her against his chest, she looked up slightly to show that he should be gripping the reins instead of her. Perhaps she had caught what he had dropped during his immediate shock after Returning by Death.
――He remembered the last Death, he remembered Beatrice’s crying face and tears.
Yes, that was it. That really was it.
This made it the third time Subaru had reached this situation.
Twice, he had died here. He had no clue how he had died the first time, but the second time, he could picture that death to some extent. But what he had suffered at the moment of death was not clear.
Feeling like his internal organs were melted after simmering in a pot―― that feeling.
――No, that should not be the priority. Now, the priority should be,
Meili: “Tchtchtch… tchhh.”
Just as Subaru’s thoughts caught up to his second Death, Meili successfully drew the attention of the Courtesan Bear. Following the clicking of her tongue and movement of her fingers, the Witchbeast slowly diverted its gaze from the dragon carriage and was guided to its right side.
There would be no problem if the Courtesan Bear just left in this manner. However, Subaru was aware that it would not be the case.
Right next to the Courtesan Bear who was moving away, stood a ground dragon―― Gian’s breathing was going wild.
The pressure of facing an Witchbeast from so up close, and the scent of flowers that continued its violent spread―― two kinds of pressure tormented the calmness of the ground dragon, which would make that tense thread snap.
If the ground dragon made a noise, the swarm of the agitated Witchbeasts would attack suddenly and simultaneously. If so, it would result in nothing but a repetition of the previous two Deaths.
However, except for Subaru, no one could notice Gian’s agitation.
Even Julius, who held the reins, also had his attention diverted from the ground dragon unconsciously, concentrating on the threat of the monsters before them. Therefore, Subaru was the only one who could take measures.
But how to deal with it?
He was unable to speak. It was impossible to quickly approach and touch it.
There was a big risk in beckoning Julius and making him calm it down. Before that, if he could not make a call right now, he would not be able to make it in time. What should he do――?
Then, in the last seconds, Subaru closed his eyes.
If nothing came to his mind in this moment, he would go full “all or nothing” and call upon Julius. He recalled the two previous Deaths, the onslaught of the Witchbeasts and the light of the Watchtower coming alive again inside his mind.
At the moment of the second Death, there was the fact that a crying Beatrice had clung on to him, pleading “Don’t leave me alone”, which drove a deep thorn into Subaru’s chest―― And then he realized.
Subaru: “Beako, I love you.”
He hugged her small body from the back and whispered those words in her ear. Beatrice was surprised at the sudden expression of love, but the hand over her mouth did not allow her to shout.
Instead, Subaru extended his “hand” towards Gian, to the front and to the side.
The “hand” which had gently caressed and wiped Beatrice’s tears just before his Death.
Though, as his mouth was too busy confessing his love with a whisper, the name of that technique was chanted only within his heart, unfortunately.
Just then, in the center of Subaru’s body―― a different sensation from when the link with Beatrice drained his Mana permeated from him, something dark being summoned, arousing a silent cry.
Asserting its gratitude at being summoned aloud, that which accomplished the lazy Natsuki Subaru’s goals on his behalf, arrived the Unseen Hand that was not of this world.
With Subaru’s chest as its pivot point, the black hand that had been created slowly manifested itself in the world. Of course, its existence could not be seen by anyone except for Subaru. As he was embracing Beatrice, the Unseen Hand just went through her, and it seemed like it did not make any unintended contact.
While admiring that fact, he could feel that something in him was being drained away each second. Whether it was his soul or sanity, Subaru did not know. However, he could not afford to take too much time to avoid reaching out to Julius.
The black magic stretched to Gian’s neck, who seemed like it was about to roar at any moment. The palm slowly stroked its thick neck coated by bulky scales.
The large ground dragon trembled from being touched by someone, but somehow, its instincts probably felt that there was no hostility in the touch of the palm. And so, the ground dragon’s rough breath calmed down, its body relaxing.
Then, also noticing Gian’s reaction, Julius pulled the reins and soothed the ground dragon in earnest. As expected from Julius, he skillfully handled the ground dragon, noticing its agitation, with what could have otherwise been devastating.
Confirming that, Subaru immediately cut off the connection with the Unseen Hand. With the black palm deprived of freedom, it dissipated in an instant, fading away into the parched wind of the sand sea, as if nothing had happened.
Subaru: “Ha, fuuu…”
After dodging that bullet, Subaru took a long breath of relief.
At the same time, he felt like a dark black cloud was stuck in his chest, and he wanted to retch. Of course, things would not be so easy. That sense of loss was the price to pay for using the Invisible Providence, and it remained engraved in the soul.
Thus, Subaru thought about the feeling of loss being gouged in his chest.
Invisible Providence―― the cost of employing the Unseen Hand, the feeling of loss and breathlessness it caused, were certainly easier to deal with than before.
The first time Subaru used the Invisible Providence had been when fighting Garfiel back at Sanctuary. At that time, Subaru had unleashed his power in a feverish manner, and was assaulted by a sense of loss and intoxication that caused a feeling like half his body was gone, causing his consciousness to wobble.
Perhaps it was disgust for the opponent who had utilized that very same power before Subaru, and it was no excuse that the incident happened after Garfiel had beaten him to a pulp in the first place.
It was a strange ability―― rather, Authority, that endlessly intrigued Subaru with the dangers of using it, as well as the circumstances that made it available to him. Therefore, he had never thought to actively use this force until now.
Subaru’s Invisible Providence none of the power or flexibility of the Unseen Hand originally wielded by that madman. At best, wiping away tears or stroking the head was all he could muster.
To pay with the whittling down of his soul was a cost too prohibitive. With that in mind, he thought the only means was to meet it halfway.
Subaru: “It’s not like I’ve gotten used to it.”
Shaken with a feeling of loss and disgust, Subaru felt more anxiety than relief.
What Subaru believed, was that it was always good to hold more cards in one’s hands, but that did not mean that possessing multiple pairless jokers in Old Maid would do him any good.
Of course, it would serve as a powerful hand in games other than Old Maid――
Subaru: “Uh, uh, uh.”
Beatrice: “…What have you been doing for a while now, I suppose?”
Subaru: “Oh? What…”
As Subaru let out a small shriek amidst his worries, a grumpy voice suddenly appeared. Upon opening his eyes to see what was happening, he found his eyes meeting with Beatrice’s own, staring at him.
And that Beatrice looked quite unusual.
Subaru: “Beako, what happened to your head and dress?”
Beatrice: “――It’s the result of Subaru being glued to Betty’s hair and clothes all the time, in fact. Why do I have to suffer such a humiliation, I suppose!”
Subaru: “Huh, me?”
In front of Subaru, who was tilting his head cluelessly, a furious Beatrice was attempting to hide the anger in her voice.
Her splendid drills were jumbled, and both the delicate dress and the white cloak to protect the dress from Sand Wind, were arranged eccentrically and running at the forefront of fashion. It was a state-of-the-art pattern that no one had ever thought of.
Beatrice: “――Your lack of self-awareness is irritating, in fact! You were very worried so I overlooked it, but then it went on and on and on and on and on… And on top of that, do you… even remember saying those words of love, I suppose?”
Subaru: “No, I remember that. I really mean it when I say I love you, Beako.”
To those candid words, a red-faced Beatrice completely covered her head with her cloak. He really wished to admire that unfamiliar cute appearance, but right now he could not play with Beatrice.
As a result of Subaru’s unspeakable efforts, Gian would not make a fuss and would attempt to resume the march of the dragon carriage by relying on Meili’s ability. However, as Subaru went through the gulf opened between the Courtesan Bears, he brought Patrasche close to the coachman’s spot.
Subaru: “Julius, Meili. Let’s make a temporary retreat―― Things are bad.”
It was because of the two Deaths, that he proposed a rework in their strategy.
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Meili: “I’m disappointed in you, onii-san. It was only a bit tense, I didn’t want to run away so soooon.”
Ram: “After all, Barusu is still Barusu. I thought that after becoming Emilia-sama’s Knight, he would be a little better. But I guess a person’s character doesn’t change that easily. Pulled out too soon.”
Subaru: “There’s no harm in just re-enforcing a safety measure!”
After managing to turn back from the flower garden and returning to the meeting place which they had set up after breaking through Sand Time, Subaru was being stabbed with strict criticism for making the decision to withdraw.
Meili, who had successfully tamed the Courtesan Bears and opened the way towards the tower, and then Ram, who had been stuck by the window in the dragon carriage, prepared for any emergency situation.
Subaru, who had stopped the march of the dragon carriage and requested a face-to-face meeting on the sand, was shrinking as he was cornered about stopping their progress based on just his own opinion.
Emilia: “But, I don’t think that Subaru’s judgment was wrong. Even if we got reaaally far through the flower gardens, I think that it’s still the same situation as a little while ago. If we did that, you wouldn’t have been able to get out like we did now.”
Meili: “Onee-san doubts my ability? You believe onii-san more than me?”
Emilia: “We’ve come this far. I believe in both of you, but my opinion is that I especially want to believe what Subaru says. Sorry.”
It was Emilia-tan Maji Megami, that who fought against Meili’s childish rebuttals while putting her heart into it. As if in prayer, Subaru brought his hands together, and beside him, Beatrice fixed her disorderly clothes and hair.
Beatrice: “So what do you intend to do after all, in fact. If the Witchbeast girl’s Divine Protection is not to be trusted, it’s too reckless to pass through this flower garden, I suppose. If Bubby were here, it wouldn’t have been difficult to annihilate a whole herd of Witchbeasts, but that’s not the case, in fact.”
Emilia: “If only Puck were here, oh well. I guess I’ll try my best?”
Subaru: “I really want that to be the last resort. And even if you completely annihilate the Courtesan Bears here, I feel that other Witchbeasts will fill the gaps and it’ll become an infinite loop. What do you say, Meili?”
With the flow being directed towards her, wearing a pout on her face, Meili averted her face. The girl crouched down, putting her chin over her knees, displaying the attitude of a child,
Meili: “Whaaaat is it?”
Subaru: “It’s weird that the flower gardens would be a territory for only Courtesan Bears. To put it bluntly, if the Courtesan Bears weren’t around, it’d be a home for other Witchbeasts, no?”
Meili: “…It may be right, or it may be not right.”
Subaru: “Which is it?”
Meili: “Yeah, what onii-san said is right. But what are you gonna do?”
While affirming Subaru’s point of view, Meili questioned him back. Receiving her dissatisfied look, Subaru frowned, and Julius shrugged his shoulders.
Julius: “I understand Miss Meili’s point. Subaru’s worries are justified, but there is nothing to be gained just by fretting over unexpected situations. If we could predict what would happen and deal with it accordingly, we would not dub it «unexpected».”
Subaru: “Even so, just leaving it all in the hands of a Divine Protection and rushing in without thinking, is a different thing. Or maybe I should say, that proposal would be very unlike you. That’s more like Garfiel’s role.”
Julius: “Naturally, I would never suggest such recklessness. We should decide what to do after a constructive discussion. Whether we proceed or return, that is.”
Just like before entering the flower meadow, Julius said this, raising his two fingers.
As Subaru snorted at the gesture, everyone began thinking about the situation.
Ram: “What if Barusu acted as a decoy to lure out the Witchbeasts? Then while they chase after him, we find a gap for us to break through.”
Subaru: “United we stay!”
Ram: “Ram and the others will be safe, and any nefarious insects can be kept away from Rem. It is a great idea.”
Subaru: “I’ll be devoured!”
Emilia: “Still, I’ll work reaaally hard to fight for everyone and such…”
Subaru: “Emilia-tan comes to such unexpectedly meat-headed conclusions at these times.”
Emilia: “Meat-hee… Huh, what are you saying suddenly? I’m humiliated.”
Subaru: “It’s unusual to me, this isn’t an unconditional compliment to Emilia-tan, okay?”
Julius: “Leave it to Miss Meili’s Divine Protection, and we will advance through the flower garden until we can no more. Once we have reached the limit, we shall launch a preemptive attack and rush to the Watchtower. It is a powerful gamble.”
Subaru: “I can’t explain it, but it’ll fail. I can’t explain it, but I’m sure.”
Julius: “Hmm. You say this as if you possess an absolutely certain basis.”
Subaru: “Ah, I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.”
It was tough to dismiss the progression strategy without touching on the forbidden subject of Return by Death. And, during the strategy meeting that seemed somewhat lacking in progress, Subaru noticed something, and tried his luck.
Because he had to give first priority to Gian’s shock, then afterward the retreat from the flower garden, he had forgotten to sort out the cause of those two Deaths which had actually triggered his return in the first place.
The first time around it had occurred too suddenly, and the second time around, it was a mess, so it was not very clear to him―― but the cause of both of Subaru’s deaths was related to the fact that the tower in front had been glowing.
Subaru: “That tower glows, is there anyone else seen that?”
Everyone: “The Watchtower glows…?”
At Subaru’s question, everyone tilted their heads with surprised faces.
Subaru groaned at the poor response and that no one saw it. It was somewhat natural. In honesty, Subaru had witnessed that light at more-or-less the same time of his Death. If that light really possessed an intent to kill, then all those who laid their eyes upon it would not live to tell the tale.
An attack that would materialize certain death, that was what he should regard it as.
Anastasia: “Natsuki-kun, ya saw the tower glowin’?”
Subaru: “Huh? Ahh, I don’t think I’m mistaken about it, I think it might’ve shined.”
Anastasia: “When was that?”
Subaru: “…When I was in the flower garden, I believe?”
He replied to Anastasia’s inquiry in the form of another question.
However, because the situation in the flower meadow meant that he could not speak out, it did not seem suspicious that he had kept quiet about the light at the tower. Since Subaru had seen the tower’s light both times Return by Death was activated, it was possible that the taboo would be considered as violated.
For a second, he felt sorry that he was able to report the truth only in in irregular bits――
Subaru: “If the tower lights up, doesn’t that mean the Sage-in-the-Tower-san was watching us?”
Anastasia: “Not necessarily, it’s nighttime too, it wouldn’t be strange to use a light.”
Emilia: “I see. If the Sage has noticed us, it may be a good idea to let them know that we don’t mean any harm.”
Except, since Subaru’s argument had been blurry and ambiguous, Emilia’s thoughts went in a completely different direction. Of course, it was a journey to seek friendly contact.
If the cause of the light was indeed the Sage, it was only natural that such an opinion would arise.
But to Subaru, who was aware that the light was anything but friendly, this would be the same as running towards a cliff.
Subaru: “Wait, let’s try to sort out our information for now. And then let’s decide whether or not to get in touch with the Sage.”
Emilia: “Sort out our information?”
Subaru: “Yeah, organize. Because, you know, it’s all there. That light’s not necessarily a sign of life from the Sage. It’s more, uh… There’s possibility of it being a dangerous thing like a searchlight, isn’t there?”
Anastasia: “In other words, Natsuki-kun’s suspectin’ that the light he saw’s like a defense mechanism set up by the Sage?”
While Emilia had a question mark hovering over her head because of the unknown Western characters used, Anastasia, or rather, Eridna, understood the true meaning of Subaru’s words. And hearing that and pondering over it, was Julius. The Knight murmured, “Is that so?” under his breath, and,
Julius: “I do not know whether the Sage has been alive for hundreds of years, or if it is merely exaggeration. Is it possible that the Sage has left behind his legacy, still working as a device to protect the world?”
Subaru: “Oh, oh… I didn’t think so far ahead, but it’s possible.”
Julius: “If that is the case, it would assume for convenience that everyone approaching is one who schemes to resurrect the Witch of Envy, even the Kingdom’s envoys. It has been a long-standing mystery as to why the Sage, who was supposed to be friendly towards the Kingdom, would display such violent conduct as told in reports.”
Seemingly relieved, Julius spoke, spurring Subaru’s admiration with a “So there’s also this way of thinking?”.
Indeed, it was plenty common to find defense systems having been prepared and left behind by great men in the past that, even after the death of their master, would still remain in place, driving away intruders. In a world where magical devices were rife, it was not so strange for such a system to exist.
Subaru: “If that’s the case, I want you to give me a break because it means this trip will be a waste.”
Ram: “With the Sage dead, it is merely a matter of collecting any documents left by the Sage. It’s still too early to leave the world in despair, Barusu.”
Subaru: “I’m not gonna let nee-sama’s bullying manner get to my head.”
If Julius’s speculations were correct, the whole foundation of the journey would be undermined. But even against such a possibility, Ram’s determination would not waver nor change. As one would expect.
Anastasia: “In any case, keepin’ watch for hundreds of years without rest… it may be possible, altho’ it ain’t realistic. Besides, I don’t think there’s such a need to be disappointed ‘bout whether Sage Shaula’s dead or alive.”
Emilia: “Really? Why?”
Anastasia: “It’s not particularly surprisin’ that they’d be alive even now, if they’re from a long-lived race. My Echidna’s birth itself was hundreds of years ago.”
Pulling out the white scarf from inside her robe, Anastasia smiled. In response to that, Emilia stare absent-mindedly, and immediately touched her pendant, thinking of Puck.
Emilia: “Oh, my Puck also lives a long time. I’m not losing to that Echidna.”
Subaru: “Why are you competing with each other, Emilia-tan? Well, my Beako is quite the loli-granny too. Right?”
Beatrice: “Do you think Betty will just laugh and answer that, I suppose? Disgusting, in fact.”
As Beatrice sneered with anger, Subaru shrugged. With the conversation having diverted from the main subject, Ram clapped her hands.
Ram: “The Sage being dead or alive is irrelevant to the discussion. Leaving that aside, the problem is the true identity of the light that Barusu saw. Whether that is dangerous, or just Barusu’s delusion, we have to reach a conclusion.”
Subaru: “It’s about time our relationship develops to the point you don’t doubt whether what I report is true or false, you know?”
Ram: “It is not about deciding whether it is a lie or not, Ram will concede on this matter.”
If they did not reach a consensus, it was likely that there would not be any progress. In any case, the discussion ended up returning to the subject of the true identity of the light.
Subaru: “I… think it’s dangerous. At the very least, it’s not friendly.”
Julius: “And the basis is, just intuition?”
Subaru: “…Well, that’s right.”
Julius: “Right―― that’s troublesome.”
The light of the Watchtower―― Subaru was convinced that it was the cause of both of his Deaths, but to convey that fact was a difficult task. So, he thought it would be impossible to use “intuition” as his reason, but surprisingly, Ram took that reply seriously.
And not only Ram, but Emilia and Julius too.
Subaru: “Eh? Just based on my intuition? You don’t have any more doubts about it?”
Emilia: “If this were only a hunch, I’d think so, but it’s Subaru’s intuition, right? In that case, it makes more sense to think about it than to doubt it suddenly.”
Julius: “Do not be so self-deprecating. You have been through this kind of hopeless situation already, have you not? There is a certain kind of intuition that only works for such a person. To put it in other words, it is somewhat alike a rule of thumb. It is by no means something to make light of.”
Ram: “Like when field mice change their territory before heavy rain. Barusu’s intuition cannot be fooled.”
Subaru: “It’s just stupid enough… Is that what you’re saying?”
Like a reflex reaction to the poisonous remarks thrown his way, Subaru’s shoulders relaxed a tad.
Not being able to reveal the source of his information, even to those close to him, was an absurd reality. Subaru had come across the same situation many times, but each time he was saved by the concern and trust of the others around, in the same way, over and over again.
Rem in the Royal Capital, Otto and Ram in Sanctuary, Emilia and Beatrice in the city of Pristella. They all believed in Subaru, in what he was.
Subaru: “There’s no way to catch their attention in a friendly way. If you even make a loud voice, Bear-san will come to welcome us before the Sage does.”
Julius: “That is something I wish to avoid. Then, the realistic means should be sending Emilia-sama’s magic… Or so it seems.”
While looking towards the Watchtower, Julius stretched his right hand and closed one of his eyes.
It was a gesture akin to a painter attempting to get a sense of distance. Then staying like that, silently thinking for a moment,
Julius: “Roughly, from here to the Watchtower is around ten kilometers―― it is not a realistic range for Emilia-sama’s magic, if produced from the front of the flower garden.”
Subaru: “By the way, how far can you cast your magic Emilia-tan?”
Emilia: “How far? Well, I haven’t tried to measure it before, so I don’t know. But I don’t think it can reach the tower from here. It’ll disappear before it hits.”
The silhouette of the Watchtower at their current location was clearly closer than the silhouette visible before the Sand Time. In fact, on their trip through the field of flowers, they had come very close.
Even so, the plan to aim at the tower from the edge of the flower garden was not practical.
Subaru: “If passage were granted by simply informing them of one’s existence, Reinhardt would’ve been able to get through. Being that guy, it’s like… couldn’t he make a magical attack that could cover a distance of about ten kilometers?”
Julius: “There is no way of knowing that, except asking him, but it is likely that Reinhardt did not get through Sand Time when challenging this trial. We have only reached this far because Anastasia-sama… No, because Echidna knew the way.”
Subaru: “Got a point there… Ahh, shit. Don’t you know anything more?”
As the proposal was rejected, Subaru pointed to Eridna with a melancholic voice. Then, playing her part as Anastasia, Eridna appeared skillfully handling the muffler concealing her state,
Echidna: “I do not like you putting it like that. Just being able to claim the existence of a path to be found after Sand Time is an achievement that had yet to be accomplished. Should you not give me more credit?”
Subaru: “We’re the first to get here, is that it? Claiming to have the way there in memory, but you’re actually a newspaper man on delivery duty with only a faint recollection. You’re not doing your job.”
Echidna: “Hmm, got a point there.”
Despite Subaru’s theory being rude, Eridna did not attempt to refute it. The scarf kept silent, and that pondering attitude also passed onto Anastasia. Then, suddenly raising her face, Anastasia,
Anastasia: “That’s right. But now, looks like it’d be better to sum up the things we know at the moment.”
Subaru: “The things we know―― So.”
Anastasia: “Natsuki-kun’s light of the Tower, as well as its supposed danger, the Witchbeasts’ flower garden present in front of the Tower, the three Sand Times, ‘n… Is there somethin’ else?”
The information that Anastasia listed had all been established so far.
It was important to build a path and pave the way to a conclusion. Subaru folded his arms and recalled the journey thus far and the dangers he had witnessed, for a while.
Subaru: “Now, this is the place that we came to after choosing to cross the Sand Time of the night. Then there’s the fact that it’s too much of a burden on the ground dragons to pass through that flower field. Also, I’m pretty sure Meili brought a Witchbeast alongside us without telling anyone.”
Subaru spoke while counting on his fingers, and Meili’s shoulders hitched in a panic. Everyone’s eyes turned to the little girl, having seen her blatant reaction.
In response, Meili hurriedly shook her head and,
Meili: “Wha, wait, wait. Yes, onii-san is right, but… how does onii-san know that?”
Subaru: “Guesswork. It was just a trick question.”
Julius: “Still, it seems that Subaru’s imagination was right―― What will you do?”
Julius, in a quiet voice, questioned what should be done regarding Meili’s betrayal. Hearing that attitude, Meili’s face turned pale, but Subaru did not wish to make matters worse.
Stopping Julius with his hand and fixing his eyes on Meili,
Subaru: “Don’t worry. I’m not talking about scolding her. I understand it’s just your insurance. Still, it was just a suspicious factor.”
Meili: “D-do you want me to let it go? Then, you won’t be angry?”
Subaru: “There’s no need to release it. If you think you need one, please keep it. If we’re being surrounded or chased by a group of Courtesan Bears, it’d be a great help.”
Thinking he must be joking, Meili widened her eyes and just nodded. Just to be sure, Subaru stared back at Julius, who had yet to loosen his vigilant eyes,
Subaru: “That’s what children do. Let’s give her a pass.”
Julius: “If that is the appropriate handling of a child growing up, then I shall do my utmost to do likewise. However, the girl’s power is too strong to simply trust in her openly. Even more so in the land of Augria, which can be said to be the garden of Witchbeasts.”
Subaru: “Even so. We’re all sharing the same dragon carriage, so please get along.”
With that statement of Subaru’s, Julius hesitated a bit and then ceased reaching for his sword. Then, instead of the silent Julius, Emilia raised her hand.
Emilia: “So, Subaru. Let’s continue the talk from earlier.”
Subaru: “Yes, yes. Let’s move on.”
Emilia: “When it comes to passing through the flower garden… What do you plan to do? Do you want to try the same thing with another Sand Time and see if it goes to a different place?”
Subaru: “That’s one way, but… There’s something I’d like to try briefly.”
Emilia: “Something you’d like to try?”
Having no clue as to what Subaru was thinking, Emilia tilted her head in confusion. Copying that from Emilia, Subaru turned his eyes toward the edge of the flower meadow―― the sea of flowers that filled the area up to the Watchtower.
Of course, it was not possible to see its end――
Subaru: “If the flower garden comes to an end somewhere, we won’t have to worry about being targeted from all sides at least. It’s worth a try checking whether there is an edge like that or not, right?”
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――And so, their plan had all the participants verifying the edge of the flower garden.
Julius: “If moving in separate groups, getting lost would be devastating. Besides, it would not be sensible to advance in the immediate vicinity of monsters without Miss Meili’s assistance.”
Julius’s point gained unanimous approval. Subaru also agreed on this, and decided to give priority to safety rather than convenience alone.
Subaru: “Well, I’d like to start departing soon, but.”
Everyone prepared to depart, getting on their respective dragon carriage or ground dragon.
With the rule to always keep the Watchtower’s silhouette on their right side, and with the direction they were heading towards was to the left, the party would make sure they were heading north.
However, whether the rules of east, west, north, and south still worked in the Sand Dunes, was a different affair altogether.
Subaru: “Thinking calmly about it, this whole place’s also a strange case of space-time distortion. If by going through Sand Time you arrive here, it’s somewhat similar to Door Crossing…”
Beatrice: “I don’t know what Subaru is trying to say, in fact. It’s true that distorting space and making physical distance vague is one application of Door Crossing, I suppose. Betty set up Subaru into it once too, in fact.”
Subaru: “You did, to me? When?”
Beatrice: “…I’ll never forget it, it was on our first encounter, I suppose.”
Subaru: “First encounter… Oh! In Roswaal’s mansion, when I completed that infinite loop corridor in one try! I’m sorry about that. Even though it was so hard for you to prepare it, I’m sorry for tramping all over your hard work… Sorry?”
Beatrice: “You seriously apologizing for it is seriously frustrating, in fact! Forget it, I suppose!”
Subaru: “You reminded me…”
Beatrice: “Hmph! That’s it, in fact!”
Riding with him, Beatrice was getting somewhat angry, so Subaru had no choice but to take on the difficult task of handling the peculiar girl. For the time being, he held her in his arms and soothed her, commanding Patrasche to walk towards the dragon carriage. And then,
Subaru: “Are you ready there?”
Julius: “Without a problem. Now all we need is for Emilia-sama to perform her task.”
Emilia: “That’s right.”
Nodding to Julius, who had finished his preparations on the carriage’s coach, Subaru looked up at the roof. Much like in their march into the flower garden, Emilia’s position was still fixed on the roof of the dragon carriage.
Subaru raised his hand to Emilia, who seemed enthusiastic while standing high, and asked her to create a landmark as she had before.
Subaru: “Emilia-tan, please here. For the time being, this is our base camp. Be as quiet as possible… like, so you don’t disturb the Witchbeasts.”
Emilia: “Okay, understood. If I wake up a Witchbeast with this, all the trouble we went to being all quiet back then would be meaningless, right. So, quietly, quietly, quieeetly.”
Subaru slowly moved his hand gesturing to go slowly, and Emilia mimicked it while, before their eyes, a tower of ice emerged from the sand.
It seemed like they were right in their judgement that it would proceed quietly; in fact, the ice tower was built slowly and gently, so the usual tense sound in the air went unheard. A few parts had come out looking a bit weak, but it had a fine finish, and seemed to be able to fulfill its role safely.
Emilia: “Is it okay?”
Subaru: “Alright, no problems. As expected, Emilia-tan!”
Giving the anxious Emilia a big “O” and “K”, Subaru peeked in the direction of the flower beds.
There were concerns regarding the Witchbeasts, namely if they would be able to sense Mana activity, but fortunately, there was no sign of anything other than the sweet scent of nectar flowing from the flower gardens.
Actually, it seemed quite dull.
Subaru: “Even now I wonder, why are they pretending to be a flower garden…? If they want to camouflage themselves, don’t you think a desert is a strange place to do it?”
Beatrice: “Witchbeasts aren’t expected to have that much intelligence, I suppose. They’re simple, can’t do anything except what is carved into their instincts, and they think of nothing else, in fact. Animals are just like this, I suppose.”
Subaru: “I see. Very interesting――”
Beatrice, held near his bosom, gave a bitter evaluation. Nodding at those words, Subaru diverted his gaze to the flower garden and aimed to give the order to their departure―― and he noticed.
At the edge of his field of vision that contained the flower garden, a change took place, somewhere different from the flower garden.
The Watchtower glowed.
Immediately, Subaru raised his voice and called out to Emilia on the roof. Hearing the urgency in his voice, Emilia stiffened. But, the effect of the light exceeded that.
Making a violent sharp sound, the ice tower took a direct hit from something, and smashed it to pieces.
The large, slender ice tower, its height ten meters, was nothing but fragile. However, as if destroying a sandcastle, the attack broke the ice with ease, and reduced it to Mana.
――Again, he had not been able to see it. But, he understood.
Subaru: “I knew that light was an attack――”
Beatrice: “Subaru! Next one is coming!”
While his body was bathed by fragments of shattered ice, Subaru turned his neck to Beatrice’s call. Immediately after that, the Watchtower shone again, as per his intuition.
The light’s next blow was aimed at Subaru.
――The light would approach at a speed that did not even allow them to blink, and it would target his vital points with its single blow.
Its devastating power was already known to Subaru, who had died from it.
Therefore, the moment his brain detected that it has been targeted by the light, Death had already been determined.
The light attacked, aiming straight for Subaru’s forehead.
It was Death itself, killing its prey without a sound, only leaving behind a skewing wind. Natsuki Subaru was once again about to be killed in cold blood, with no assistance possible.
Subaru: “――E · M · M!”
Beatrice: “I suppose!”
――In this case, Natsuki Subaru was not the only one being aimed at.
A pleasant sound echoed, and the attack that should have hit Subaru, missed. The cause was simple. Subaru’s strength surpassed that of the attack.
E · M · M was one of the three original spells Subaru had developed with Beatrice.
This particular one was Absolute Defense Magic.
During the activation of E · M · M, Subaru would not receive any interference from the outside world, being rendered unable to move. It was the result of applying all of Beatrice’s Yin magic skill and knowledge into manipulating time and space in a limited area around Subaru.
Subaru: “It’s a bit weird realizing that the effect is similar to that asshole’s―― Guah!?”
The Sin Archbishop of Greed, Regulus, could stop the effect of time on his body by transferring his heart.
E · M · M could be said to be a downsized version of that ability. However, there were no harmful side effects like one’s heart stopping, so a person would become invincible as long as their Mana was not exhausted.
In this situation, though, it was nothing more than buying some time.
Subaru: “But, ugh!? Just buying time!? I’ve got important things to do!?!?”
Beatrice: “Hey! Subaru, what are you screaming for, in fact!? Are you okay, I suppose??”
Behind Subaru, Beatrice’s worried voice yelled as she used his body as a shield. It was like this because even though they were protected, sound and shock were still being transmitted.
After E · M · M activation, the light of the Watchtower seemed to wonder why Subaru was not dying even after being hit again and again, so it kept bombarding him with consecutive attacks.
Subaru: “Guh!? Gah!? Ugh!?”
Its rate of fire, and the accuracy of its aim, were both extraordinary.
Although the pain and the force of the blow was one that Subaru’s body did not suffer, unfortunately, it was human reflex to react with a yell upon being hit by something.
Emilia: “Subaru――! Geez… Ehh!”
Watching Subaru being showered by a concentrated attack, Emilia attempted to support him from atop the roof.
Looking to protect Subaru from the Watchtower’s attack, a thick and enormous ice barrier was erected from the sandy ground. Perhaps, the toughest defensive wall Emilia could create in an instant.
It was well-intentioned, a shield from the attacks targeted at Subaru, but――
Emilia: “No way!?”
Julius: “Even the ice walls do not stand a chance!”
Emilia let out a shriek and Julius a startled cry; as they could see, the ice wall was crushed in one shot.
That unbelievable power―― was not the only reason. The ice wall was struck, but somehow weakened the light enough to avoid having it hit Subaru. Much of it rebounded and struck the sand, which kicked up a white smoke.
Looking at it closely, the marks of the destruction of Emilia’s ice wall showed that it had been melted, rather than pierced.
Emilia: “Heat? Did the heat, melt the ice?”
Julius: “Something fell to the ground… a needle?”
Looking at the effects of the attack, Emilia and Julius simultaneously reached different conclusions.
In the meantime, the assault resumed. Subaru was struck by a staggering number of attacks, and even though he was in an invincible state, it was exceeding their limit.
Beatrice: “Subaru! There’s a problem, in fact!”
Subaru: “I’m listeni―― Ah! But I can’t―― Ugh!”
Beatrice: “If things keep going the way they are, we’ll be running out of Mana very soon, I suppose!”
Beatrice: “It’s almost over, in fact!”
At Beatrice’s cry, Subaru bit his molars while still under fire.
Of course, what Beatrice meant to say was not “Since Mana is running out, you should supply more, I suppose”, but “Since Mana is running out, we should counterattack, I suppose.”
Subaru: “Can you do it?”
Beatrice: “What a foolish question, I suppose!”
Beatrice did not answer his question by saying she could not. Hearing the response of his trusted partner, Subaru loosened his jaw, relieving his molars, and steeled himself.
Subaru: “The third one’s incomplete… Let’s go with the second one!”
Beatrice: “I’m going to deactivate E · M · M right after it hits!”
There was no time.
Subaru looked at Emilia, Emilia looked at him and nodded. There was no time to discuss concrete measures. But he believed it was conveyed.
The light set off, and again Subaru suffered a direct hit. Because E · M · M had been activated, the attack would not reach him―― it would be canceled.
Each of the original spells was a trump card that could only be used once a day. With the release of E · M · M, Subaru would lose its protective function against that light.
And they would have to fight back before the next one arrived――
Subaru: “The light――”
As if it could read Subaru’s actions, the next strike of light was even faster.
Thus far, the speed, power and frequency were obviously meant to finish off Subaru. Naturally, with Subaru’s paper-thin defense, only one direct hit would be enough to send to the other side. And so――
Emilia: “Stop―― Hk!”
A vortex of magical power was deployed in multiple manners in front of Subaru, creating walls of ice standing on the sand ground. This time, the defense was not limited to only one wall; instead, six sheets of ice walls had been conjured at the same time.
The light struck straight into those six lines of defense. It went through the first one wirhout a hitch, the second one with ease, the third one like it was nothing.
However, there was a slight resistance on the fourth sheet, and the fifth one could endure it for only a bit. By the sixth and last one, the speed of light was clearly dulled―― but could still go through it.
The light penetrated through the sixth ice wall, and was about to pierce through the forehead of the defenseless Subaru.
――Just before it hit, a Knight’s sword drew a semicircle, catching the light that had lost its speed and cutting it down.
Julius: “Unfortunately, there would be a number of women who would grieve if he is hurt――”
Rushing from the dragon carriage to this place and striking the light with a slash of his sword without minding the danger, was Julius.
Emilia’s defense had weakened it, and Julius had stopped it. Even though he was slightly jealous of that combined strike, Subaru’s preparation was complete.
Subaru: “Let’s go! The second! Absolute Invalidation Magic, E · M · T!”
Lifting the hood that protected him from the sand, Subaru opened his mouth wide and chanted.
Then, hiding behind Subaru’s back, Beatrice drained Mana from Subaru and multiplied it with her own magical power to cast new magic.
In the next moment, a light expanded around Subaru and Beatrice, forming a spherical field of about ten meters, also encompassing the dragon carriage.
The result was the equivalent of having wrapped themselves in a transparent, invisible sphere of light.
However, the effect was tremendous.
Julius: “This is…”
In front of the astonished Julius, the Watchtower once again radiated light. Noticing it at the corner of his eyes and immediately grabbing hold of his sword, the next second, he opened his eyes wide.
The light went straight ahead, aiming directly for Subaru, but the moment it entered the field, it simply lost all its momentum. The overwhelming speed that seemingly surpassed even bullets disappeared, and the only thing remaining after it had lost its velocity and power was a strange white object, both long and slender.
It was easily brought down by a swing of Julius’s sword, falling on the sand and scattering away.
Subaru: “A needle, huh?”
Julius: “Something like that. No, more than that, Subaru, this magic…”
Subaru: “Wait, wait, wait! There are heaps of things I want to talk about, but for now we have to withdraw! Get in the dragon carriage right away! Let’s get out of here! We can’t take too long!”
Julius: “――! Understood! Let’s hurry!”
With the call of urgency, Julius jumped into the dragon carriage, taking back his questions. He took the reins immediately, and the dragon carriage turned its front towards the Sand Time.
It would be a suicidal act to go towards the Watchtower now. This was the right decision, there was no choice but to believe it.
Subaru: “Let’s go! Don’t get too far from me! Stay within the light!”
Emilia: “Wah, Subaru, wow! Even though there’s so many lights being fired…”
Clinging on to the roof of the running dragon carriage, Emilia watched Subaru with astonishment.
It seemed like even though it had no effect, the light continued to target Subaru. But no matter how many attacks it launched, the light would simply lose its power as soon as it entered the E · M · T field, and fall into the sand as was. The invalidation is absolute.
Julius: “At any rate, it is a terrific power. Is this yours and Beatrice-sama’s trump card of some sort?”
Subaru: “One of the trump cards! I’m not going to spoil it! For now, our priority should probably be getting away from the Watchtower!! No, definitely!”
Julius: “I believe it is an application of Yin magic, invalidating the effects of Mana within the range? If that is the case, it is the natural enemy of mages… No, you are a formidable opponent for anyone who uses Mana to aid their skills.”
Subaru: “I would say, it only seems to give a relative advantage, it doesn’t make me stronger. I’ll still lose in a fair fight against a strong guy. This is the ability that I developed thinking of when I’ll give Ros-chi a black eye.”
It seemed Julius had genuinely praised him, so he felt a little better. Of course, escaping from the attack of the Watchtower also brought him relief, but in any case, it was nothing more than letting his guard down.
However, it was probably impossible to predict what letting his guard down would bring right now, even for Subaru, so no one could be blamed.
Emilia: “Subaru! Are we going back to the dunes in front of the flower garden like this?”
Subaru: “For just a short time, but yeah! We need to polish and refine our countermeasures anyhow――”
While voicing such voice, on their retreat to the swirling sandy breeze of Sand Time―― On the moment the E · M · T field touched it, the World broke.
Beatrice: “Oh no, I suppose!”
Until then, Beatrice had been clinging to his body with relief at getting through the attacks.
Right in front of her eyes, the view of the nightly sand dunes was torn apart, causing her voice to tremble.
Beatrice: “The distortion of space is invalidated by E · M · T, in fact!”
Beatrice: “It’s like you said, I suppose! The distortion here is similar to Betty’s Door Crossing in that house. In other words, the distorted space will return to its original state!”
Subaru: “What does that mean――?”
Subaru’s question did not reach its end, only the feeling of Beatrice clinging to him remained.
Just like that, the World was torn and unraveled like paper, coming apart, and the crack in space swallowed up Patrasche with Subaru and Beatrice, and the dragon carriage with Emilia and the others.
Subaru: “Not good… Emilia!?”
Thrown into the darkness, Subaru cried out the effect of gravity lost its hold on him.
He could not tell top from bottom from left from right. He did not know where the dragon carriage was. But he could hear Emilia’s voice echoing in response to Subaru’s cry.
Subaru: “This is――”
Bad, before he could say it, he was thrown out into the other side of the broken space.
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
The boundary between the flower field and the sand sea was crumpled and broken, and it was seen that a small group had been swallowed in it.
From far, very far away, witnessing that, a shadow wriggled inside the tower.
It walked away from the window, stepped onto the cobblestones, and went down a spiral staircase.
Its steps were slow, but gradually became faster and more impatient.
Shadow: “――Found him.”
And, as if it had not spoken in many years, let out a musky murmur.
Except, no one who heard it would be mistaken, that it sounded absolutely delighted.
Shadow: “Found him.”
That much was certain.
 Much like in Arc 5 Chapter 1, this is yet another “aishiteru” (愛してる), the granddaddy of “I love yous”. Important to note that it is not strictly used in the romantic sense, before you start getting any weird ideas.
 Old Maid is a card game from the Victorian era, in which players must discard any pairs they have in their hand. The last player left with a card without a pair is the loser. For more information, see here.
 So, a fun fact: the literal translation for the Japanese here is “簡単”, which literally means “premature ejaculation”. But it doesn’t translate to English all that well, so the subtly-sexual “pulled out too soon” translation is frankly hilarious.
 “エミリアたん・マジ・小悪魔”, translated as “Emilia-tan is seriously a goddess”.