The objective of bringing the refugees back to Roswaal’s estate was achieved two days earlier than last time .
Aside from the date, there was not much difference compared to the previous loop . The refugees boarded the dragon carriages in an orderly manner, and the hired travelling-merchants were released from the Sanctuary along with them . Subaru and Otto accompanied them as well .
If there was any difference, it would be,[Subaru: I did ask for a guide, but I’m pretty surprised it’s Lewes-san . Normally, this kind of thing could just be done by an underling…… or something like that, right?] [Lewes: What, you don’t like that it’s me? After we’ve already drank tea and talked together, Su-bo is still so cold towards me, my heart is devastated]
Saying this, the Loli-Granny looked like she was actually going to cry . Squeezing her tiny body onto the tightly-packed driver’s bench, she self-righteously claimed a spot in the middle, right next to Subaru . The driver’s bench was originally meant for two people, and with the little girl Lewes added to it, the situation became considerably more difficult .[Otto: Mnmn, I feel the same way . Natsuki-san sure doesn’t know how to be modest or considerate of others at all, he probably left all his subtleties back in his mother’s womb, you know] [Lewes: Hey, Su-bo . Who’s that unfamiliar looking fella on the driver’s bench?] [Otto: Is that how low my standing is in your mind!?]
Just when Otto thought he had found another fellow victim of Subaru’s, he was immediately thrown under the bus . Despite holding the reins that were literally the lifelines of everyone on the carriage, he was still completely overlooked .
A shadow descended on his unexpectedly neat-looking features, and,[Otto: Aaahhh…… I get the feeling that ever since coming here I didn’t manage to leave a single impression except as the guy who keeps shouting all the time . Did I really not make any impression on Margrave Mathers?] [Subaru: You managed to show him your usual relaxed self, and he laughed so hard he burst the wounds on his belly… that was a pretty deep impression, I’d say?] [Otto: There are good impressions and bad impressions in this world, and which kind would you call an impression about bursting someone’s belly?] [Subaru: And this is what he says after bursting someone’s belly…… hopeless, this guy] [Otto: If I’m hopeless then you’re a hundred-and-twenty percent hopeless!]
Otto’s reason for coming to the Sanctuary, his introduction to Roswaal, was completed without much delay . Everything proceeded the same way as last time, and in fact, bursting out laughing when he saw Otto’s demeanor, Roswaal’s evaluation of him couldn’t have been low .
Although, one gets the feeling that Roswaal didn’t exactly see him as a merchant .[Subaru: Well, long as you’ve got me looking out for you, you’ll be sticking around for a long time . Either way, you’ve already seen the top secret documents of the Mathers domain so there’s no way you can run away] [Otto: You know, meeting you was the end of my luck, Natsuki-san…… but, I’ve already resigned myself to my fate in a way, so nevermind]
As expected, still not disheartened after encountering misfortune on the road, Otto indeed had the fundamental qualities of a travelling merchant at heart . Even if he wasn’t destined for greatness at the end of the road he had taken, he wouldn’t regret the choice he had made .
Deep down, Subaru did feel a sense of friendship for the guy who stayed with him for a reason like this .[Subaru: I’ll be looking forward to working you like a horse from now on! Otto!] [Otto: What’s he saying with that refreshing expression, this guy!]
Otto wailed as Subaru patted him on the shoulder and shot him a thumbs-up .
Seeing Lewes, squished between them, plugging her ears, Subaru looked down from the dragon carriage ready for departure, and,[Subaru: ――Then, we’re off, Emilia-tan] [Emilia: Mn, be careful]
Lifting her hand in front of her chest with a little wave, Emilia replied while timidly seeing them off .
――Last night, Subaru accompanied her to challenge the Trials . The result, as he already knew, was that she failed . Since Subaru was not allowed to follow her into the Tomb, the Trial was not interrupted halfway through, and in end, as if in a daze, Emilia had to crawl herself out of the Tomb, her eyes trembling, before collapsing into Subaru’s arms and losing consciousness .
Staying by her side the whole night as she slept, Subaru could not remember how many times he had to wipe away her tears from her sleeping face .
To see her worn down like this, it would a lie to say that he wasn’t worried to leave her here . He wanted to stay beside her for as long as he could, and hold up her trembling body, but,[Subaru: I’ll be back in a day or two, so don’t push yourself . Now that the villagers are gone, there’s no need to rush . Slowly and surely, we can take our time and conquer the Trials] [Emilia: That’s……right . Mn, if you say so, Subaru……]
Without any of the returning strength he had seen in her smile the night before, her smile now was weak, and felt like no more than a fleeting facade . In fact, she was already forcing herself just by standing here, seeing them off . Or perhaps, she was distracting herself so she could forget the things that were weighing on her heart .[Subaru: Ram, I don’t mean to remind you, but…] [Ram: Ram is finding it doubtful what that could be other than a reminder . ……But don’t worry . As much as I hate to say this, I share Barusu’s opinion . This should be seen as a long-term matter . Unless there are orders from Roswaal-sama, I’ll keep Garf in check] [Subaru: I’m in your debt…… although that sounds super-scary . I’ll repay you some other way] [Ram: Tch . Barusu is unexpectedly perceptive for a change] [Subaru: Just now, I think I’ve inadvertently avoided another DEATH FLAG there――!]
Clicking her tongue, Ram politely bowed without fail as she saw them off . She took a step back, and Subaru sat up straight on the driver’s bench, ready to depart―― when he saw, at the back of the group of people sending them off, a golden-haired youth crossing his arms, staring at him .
The same time Subaru noticed Garfiel, Garfiel noticed him as well as their gazes met .
Over their crossing gazes, neither could tell what emotions the other must be feeling, and after what happened to Emilia last night, there was even less ground for reconciliation between them .[Subaru: Ugh . I gotta find some clues to get through to him somehow……] [Otto: Natsuki-san? It’s about time to head out, shall we go?] [Subaru: Yeah, let’s go . Lewes-san, we’re counting on you] [Lewes: Leave it to me]
Lewes nodded with a spirited reply, and Otto, holding the reins, gave the signal to Patrasche and Furufu . The dragon carriages started to move, and the great migration of the refugees was underway .
Far from reaching full speed, the dragon carriages proceeded at a crawling pace . This was inevitable, considering the passengers were primarily women, children and the elderly .[Subaru: Even so, it seems everyone’s faces have lighted up because they know they’re going home] [Lewes: Home, it does hold that kind of power . No matter how unremarkable, how banal it is, in the end, there is where people’s hearts will remain]
Lewes followed on Subaru’s whisper as he watched the long procession behind him . Hearing her remarks, Subaru crossed his arms and tilted his head [Is that right?],[Subaru: Lewes-san, do you also feel attached to the Sanctuary, after all?] [Lewes: ……Well, who knows . In my case, I’m in a special situation where I know nothing except that place . And just the thought of another place terrifies me, I often find] [Subaru: Terrifies you?] [Lewes: To set foot into a completely unknown place is a terrifying thing, Su-bo . For me, this ancient self who had passed her years in vain, this is especially so]
With an aged smile emerging on her face, Lewes turned her eyes to the distance . But, since she looked like a little girl, no matter how serious she tried to be, he found it extremely difficult to see her as anything except a little girl stretching up her back pretending she’s older .
And, intermittently exchanging this casual conversation, the procession of dragon carriages continued its way through the forest . It would be about an eight-hour one-way journey to get there . The Divine Protection of Wind Evasion ensured that the journey would feel like sitting on a royal-class seat, but that also made time appear to pass slower .[Lewes: Such a clever ground dragon . She’s barely made any mistakes even without me guiding the way] [Subaru: Yeah, she’s my kawaii-little-pride-and-joy, you know . It might be strange for me to be the one saying this, but all the characters around me are pretty HIGH-LEVEL, aren’t they?]
Beginning with the members of Roswaal’s Mansion, and then with the start of the Royal Selection, all the people he encountered were at the top of their respective fields . It was miserable how much his mediocrity stood out while mingling with them, although now, he was looking on the bright side .
Already behind by a lap at the starting point, he had nonetheless started running . To catch up to them, the only thing he had to do was to keep running―― and he had already been given the strength to do so .[Subaru: Now that I think about it, while I’m grateful and all that you’ve come all this way to guide us, how will Lewes-san get back? If all the dragon carriages are heading to Arlam village, you won’t have any transportation, right?] [Lewes: No need to worry, I’ll just walk back on my own two legs like a normal person . Just so you know, these legs of mine aren’t about to lose to the youngsters, you know?]
*Pat Pat*, Lewes gave her short tiny legs swept along by the motion of the carriage a pat . In other words, it was completely unpersuasive, but Subaru didn’t have the heart to shatter the little girl’s confidence,[Subaru: I got it I got it…… Oy, Otto . Think you got the strength of will to carry a loli back to the Sanctuary?] [Otto: Since I don’t know what the intention behind that question is, do you mind if I refuse to answer that?] [Subaru: You hear that, Lewes san? Looks like we can’t even count on this guy to carry a little girl back home through a dark and scary forest . A little girl or two, he couldn’t care less] [Lewes: That’s terrible, how desolate people’s hearts have become] [Otto: You two have totally teamed up against me, haven’t you!?]
As usual, Otto’s wail shattered through the silence of the forest . Lewes and Subaru looked at each other and smiled, then she turned up her face, and,[Lewes: Almost there]
Hearing Lewes’ whisper, Subaru furrowed his brows . But that very same moment, Lewes’ body abruptly leaned towards him . Softly catching her tiny body, [Huh?] Subaru slightly raised his voice,[Subaru: Otto, stop . Lewes-san’s looking a little strange] [Otto: Should we, go back to the village?]
At Subaru’s short call, Otto pulled on the reins and brought the dragon carriage to a stop . Giving the same instruction to the rest of the line behind them, one by one, he heard the ground dragons’ cries as they halted .
Then, in his arms, Lewes raised her little hand,[Lewes: ……Sorry, there’s no need to go back . It’s only the effect of coming so close to the Barrier . If I advance any further into the forest, I can’t guarantee that I will stay conscious] [Subaru: The Barrier…… the same thing happened to Emilia when she entered the Sanctuary]
In Subaru’s time, it was already a week ago when he first arrived at the Sanctuary .
Just like in the shaking dragon carriage just now, Emilia lost consciousness, and then they were greeted by Garfiel’s rude welcoming .
Lewes’s expression looked just like Emilia’s back then, and if the dragon carriage continued any further, she consciousness might be ripped out just like Emilia’s was .[Subaru: Say, this Barrier really knows how to tell us apart . Whether it’s the sensitive-skinned me, or the insensitive-skinned Otto, neither of us can feel a thing] [Otto: Insensitive-skinned, what’s that supposed to mean? My skin doesn’t feel particularly sensitive or insensitive here] [Subaru: That’s what happens when young people don’t take care of their skin, once you gradually start getting SPOTS & FRECKLES in your late twenties, you’ll regret your ignorance earlier on in life] [Otto: I seriously have no idea what you’re saying anymore, but, getting back on topic, this is where we say goodbye to Lewes-san…… isn’t it?]
Disregarding Subaru’s random commentary, Otto turned to Lewes . And, on the receiving end, Lewes nodded with a pained expression on her face,[Lewes: Well, yes . This is as far as I go . Those born inside the Sanctuary have terrible compatibility with the Barrier . It has been a long time since I came this far…… Well, there was nothing special] [Subaru: Unless, was testing the Barrier part of why you came along?] [Lewes: It seems I was too optimistic with that thought . The result is as you see . ……It’s not possible, after all . The Sanctuary can only be liberated by completing the Trials . That much is clear, Su-bo]
Under the little girl’s gaze, Subaru realized that she had come all this way to personally confirm that they were truly imprisoned within the Sanctuary . And he could see how much she wanted to be outside the Sanctuary, and that it was all too natural that she would want this .[Subaru: Emilia would probably feel the same thing if she came this far] [Lewes: Since she has already come inside, it would be so . Not all residents of the Sanctuary were born and raised here . Ros-bo would occasionally come to bring in those with similar circumstances from the outside . Those children too, become properties of the Witch from the moment they enter the Sanctuary . Emilia-sama is no exception] [Subaru: ……there it is again, kinda feels like I’ve just heard some information I can’t let slide…]
Roswaal brought new residents into the Sanctuary from the outside――if they were people who are affected by the Barrier, it would mean they were half-bloods as well .[Subaru: Then he’s bringing them in and shutting them in here? Oyoy, the hell’s he thinking?] [Lewes: As for his true intentions……I cannot rightly say . When you get back, you should ask Ros-bo this yourself, Su-bo]
Lewes powerlessly shook her head, and pulled herself out of the frowning Subaru’s arms . As she lightly jumped her tiny body down from the coachman’s stand, Patrasche extended her head over to her, and Lewes patted her on the neck,[Lewes: Good ground dragon . Become your master’s strength, now]
Patrasche nudged her nose on Lewes in reply, acknowledging her words . In fact . without coming off as boasting, this was the first time Subaru had seen Patrasche being so intimate with anyone except him . Even Otto had eaten quite a few head-butts while trying to have conversations with her .[Subaru: There are all sorts of things I still need to do in the Sanctuary, so once I’ve asked all I want to ask from Frederica, I’ll come right back] [Lewes: That would be best . ……This is only my intuition, but without you here, I don’t think anything will be moving forward inside the Sanctuary] [Subaru: That’s another huge over-evaluation to dump on me…… even if it’s just intuition] [Lewes: It’s the intuition of woman who has lived over a hundred years, you know?] [Subaru: The way to see that depends on whether we look at its good side or not, I guess]
Replying to Lewes this way, Subaru politely bowed from atop the coachman’s stand . Watching her back away from the carriage, Otto quietly spilled [We’re going],[Subaru: Yeah, see you again, Lewes-san . Take care on your way back] [Lewes: Mmm . You’ll get out of the forest if go straight ahead from here . Keep going until you hit the road, and then the ground dragons can take it from there . Take care]
Waving her little hand, Lewes bid them farewell . Otto waved the signal flag and the line of dragon carriages resumed its march .
After watching them leave, Lewes turned her back and headed into the depths of the forest . Watching her little figure disappear into the gaps between the trees, praying that she would get back safely―― Subaru felt a lump inside his chest that he couldn’t put into words .[Subaru: ……Something just, feels off]
He had felt a sense of incongruity in their previous conversation . But, unable to quite put his finger on what it was, Subaru relinquished his weight onto the rocking of the dragon carriage .
Coming out of the forest, into the radiant light of the sun, the road broadened out before them―― they had crossed the Barrier, and left the Sanctuary .
From here, there was still a long, long road ahead .
There were things he must do, and things he must say .
Weighing down like mountains, Subaru continued on in the swaying dragon carriage .