Zero no Tsukaima:Volume18 Chapter6

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Chapter 6: Spirit Stone of Destruction[edit]

The Pope's caravan was moving at a slow pace towards Romalia. Their arrival was somewhat delayed. Unfortunately for them the trip took 3 days, compared to just a day if they had used dragons for transport.

But one should take into consideration that the Holy Pope's visit was not just anything. He must respond to the devotion of all those believers of Brimir that lived in villages they passed by. This was a primary task for those who had been given the title of ‘Pope'.

However, if the Pope had stopped to give sermons to every person he met during his visit, the number of people would become endless. So he only gave his blessings to babies, to families who became faithful servants in the service of God and Brimir, and to brave soldiers who served in the Crusade.

Romalia needed to continue with the preparations for the Crusade as soon as possible, so this visit of the Pope had a great and deep political meaning.

So due to the fact that the Pope and his caravan were immediately surrounded by people at every village they stopped in, Saito and the others found it extremely difficult to implement their rescue mission.

If they were to proceed in their plan now, not only would they have to deal with the Templar Knights. The people would also turn on them, and they would be immediately surrounded by enemies on all sides.

And besides, fearing a possible assassination the escort staff of the Pope was on high alert. Not even an ant could slip through their impenetrable defense. Not even those rumored as Chevalier of North Parterre members seemed able to make any move against the defense network of the soldiers assigned to directly guard the Pope.

It seemed that planning a move during the course of their journey was impossible.

Also, the guards of the Pope were always in the vanguard. This made it impossible to set up a trap in advance. Thus, attempting a surprise attack when they were in the vicinity of a forest would be unsuccessful due to the low number of soldiers at their disposal compared to the multitude of knights guarding the Pope.

So in the end, the progress in rescuing Tabitha was still minimal.

Two days had gone by since leaving Lutetia...

If the Pope's caravan continued with their pace, they would be able to reach the "Tiger Highway" the next day...

Meanwhile at an inn not far from there, Saito and his group held a meeting on how to continue the rescue mission.

"Soon in that place, a huge number of people will gather to see the Pope; so being dressed as monks and mixing within that crowd should be an easy task. We cannot fail, failure is unacceptable..." Kirche said as she rested her elbows on the table. Proving it, however, was a difficult task as she thought.

"But it has to be soon. We must rescue her before they reach Romalia or else the rescue would be impossible." said Reynald with a completely serious face.

At the same time, Saito was desperately trying to think of a solution; but in the end the anxiety overwhelmed him. The idea of Tabitha being just within his reach but still unable to be rescued made him angry. Beside him was Louise, who kept her eyes closed. She seemed to be really struggling thinking about a solution to this dilemma, but still she couldn't think of any idea.

"Just as I thought then, we do not have any other option but to attack in the front. If we can attack with everything we have, in the end maybe one of us will be able to reach and rescue Tabitha." said Malicorne while nodding to himself.

"That would be suicide! But then if there is no other option, maybe we can just use the decoy plan."

"Decoy plan?"

"Exactly." said Saito.

"I will begin to make a scene near them to get their attention, then you just have to go after Tabitha..."

Before he could finish, suddenly a voice came from behind him.

"If you're the one to do it, then you won't get anything."

"Huh?"

When they turned around, what they found was a large muscular man standing near them. Immediately all present prepared to arm themselves with wands and swords from within their monk robes.

"It's me, Chikasui!" said the man.

"But you're a man?!" cried Louise.

"This person is certainly Chikasui!"

Behind him, Isabella appeared accompanied by another man. As expected, they wore monk robes whose hoods covered their head and eyes.

When the man lowered his hood, Saito couldn't help letting out an 'Ahh'.

It was the man who, during that time on the river banks of the Leilian, had pretended to engage in a duel with Saito in order to deliver a letter for Tabitha.

When he turned his gaze to Saito, the man smiled.

"Long time no see."

"You are..."

"The captain of the Knights of the Eastern Roses, Bart Castlemont." Isabella said presenting him to all those present.

"The first time I heard it I still couldn't believe it." declared Castlemont as he watched Isabella with a cold stare. "But, upon seeing that young girl who now bears the royal crown, I'm forced to believe it. She couldn't be Charlotte-sama! At all costs, we must recover the true Charlotte-sama and restore the throne that is rightfully hers! And so, because of all your invaluable help, I thank you deeply, Tristainian Knights."

Castlemont then faced Saito and the others and offered them a bow.

Afterwards, Isabella started observing all those present around her.

"All right, then I shall begin to explain the composition of our men. First, in the case of the order of battle of Chevalier of North Parterre, including myself and Chikasui there are a total of 7 members. The rest of the order are now monitoring the caravan of the Pope to keep us aware of the situation there. Also, the members of the Rose squad knights commanded by Castlemont consist of 20 men."

"Our members don't have experience in actual battle, however... each and every one of them have sworn their allegiance."

All those present then began to stir.

"We are also accounted. Belonging to Tristain Ondine Knights, counting commander Guiche, there are 4 members and among them is the one who was named the "Hero of Albion", Chevalier Hiraga-dono. Also, those two are friends of Her Majesty. Thus, our total combat force consists of 33 mages."

"I would say it's a very good number." said Guiche with voice of complacency.

"Very well, then as for a commander... Tell me, there isn't any problem if I am to be the commander, right?" Isabella said with a serious face. All those present gave their approval.

Certainly, no one within the group had any reason to object. Besides, leaving the command to the leader of the Order of Chevalier of North Parterre, whose specialty was dirty work, was the best possible option.

"Alright, let's start with the planning."

Isabella then spread out a map on the table.

"Right here, we will take our position and begin the assault against the Pope's caravan. Our sole target is the carriage of the Pope. Whoever arrives first will be responsible for rescuing Her Majesty. After that, he must go on this path where we have already prepared a wind dragon. Finally, he and Her Majesty must then flee in the direction of Lutetia."

Then with a skeptical face Guiche said:

"Are you trying to say that with only a handful of men, we will make a direct attack against two full companies of Templar Knights?"

"Precisely."

"We will be annihilated! They will surely destroy us!"

"We cannot consider 'team work' in this plan because all present here come from different nations with their own different ways of organization. So running a precise and flawless plan is frankly impossible. The only possible option left is to buy time for someone to get into the carriage and perform the rescue, then that someone will take care and safeguard the Queen and bring her safely to Lutetia."

"You might be right, we don't seem to have any more options." Castlemont said while nodding to Isabella.

"We are a squad of knights, there is a different way for us to act in frontal attacks. We cannot lose here, if we fail we will end up making things worse. We must give all that we have to make sure that won't happen."

Saito then said as he raised his head thoughtfully.

"I'm against this plan."

"What did you say?"

"This will result in unnecessary sacrifices. We will all die before being able to save Tabitha."

Louise also agreed with those words.

"Saito is correct."

"But then what choice do we have?" Guiche said as he bent his head.

"There should be another way." Louise then directed towards Guiche.

"If Tabitha is not rescued here it is likely that a terrible war might break out. If that happens, a lot more people will die in the end. Is that what you want?"

Taking that into account, Saito looked at each one of those around him. All appeared to be quiet, however, in their eyes he could see complete resolution.

After seeing the nervous faces of Malicorne and Guiche, Saito finally understood.

"It seems that the one who is being naïve... is me."

Everyone here has already prepared themselves for what lies ahead.

At that time he desperately wanted to reach and take the hand of Louise. He slowly moved his hand to her, but then stopped. It was a cruelty that he was about to commit. It was pretty obvious that everyone here also wanted to be able to hold the hand of his/her dearest. What he would do might be totally unfair.

But then, are we really engaging in this battle?

Do we even have a chance of winning?

Then from within his heart, Saito shook his head.

It's useless!

We cannot beat an enemy that exceeds us 10 times in numbers and moreover, they were not an ordinary enemy, they were the Templar Knights. Considering the experience of all of us in real battle conditions, we are still weak and naïve.

...Indeed, it would be useless to fight... Before we could even approach the carriage, magic attacks would already be fired upon us; but there is a possibility that most of us survive. In that case, we can rescue Tabitha and run... But the Templar Knights have pegasi. Even if we use dragons to escape they can still chase us mid-air, and certainly it would be impossible to get rid of them... the chances this might work are almost zero.

But still, even if the chances are zero, if at that time the luck was on our side Tabitha could indeed be rescued. The only thing left is to go for that small gap that might open by some miraculous event. As expected of the Halkeginian nobles, when it comes to this, their resolution is unwavering.

But I...

Saito looked at Louise.

And then watched his comrades who were prepared to die.

I don't want to die, I will not let them die.

After thinking this Saito started to say.

"This is not right. It's not like I don't understand what you've said, however, we will all die here. It may be true that the war would stop with our sacrifice but... it is more likely that we may not succeed, or rather we will surely fail. How is it that you agree with a bet so dangerous?"

"I never thought to hear that from the man who faced 70000 soldiers alone." Guiche said in a surprised voice.

"The circumstances were completely different back then, since I was the only casualty. At this time we are talking about the lives of everyone. Surely, I understand your reasons for we must do it to avoid greater evil, but, even after knowing that, I still don't want to see my friends die in vain before my eyes."

Again silence flooded the room.

"Well then, what do you propose?" Isabella asked, breaking the silence on her own.

Then, at that time, Saito remembered the words spoken by Pope Vittorio.

"We must negotiate with the Elves, and place our power behind our backs."

Of course, if negotiation was not enough then it would be necessary to start a war.

But at this point the Pope thought there was still room for negotiation.

So with this renewed thought, Saito started to say:

"Let's try to negotiate."

"Impossible! What position do you have to start a negotiation? You know that the only thing they really want to do is to start a Crusade. It seems that you don't really understand them." Said Castlemont, to which Saito became silent while pondering. Then he asked Louise.

"Tell me Louise, can you create a large army using ‘illusion'?"

"With that power, I could but..."

"Well." Saito nodded in satisfaction.



The next morning...

The group assigned to lead the Pope's caravan was none other than the Order of Arieste Knights of the Church, which was commanded by Carlo Trobontino.

After almost an hour after they left the last village, they reached an area of land that seemed like a vast wasteland. Shortly, they arrived at the foot of the Mountain of the Fire Dragons. And soon they would travel to the route which joined Romalia and Gallia, the 'Tiger Highway'.

Meanwhile, daydreaming as he traveled, Carlo recited a sacred hymn as he could almost see the illusion of the Crusade that dwelt in his mind.

He imagined those hated elves burning by his sacred magic until they were reduced to ashes. His chest swelled with joy.

In this state, while immersing himself in his sick fantasies, his subordinates were already shaking and urged him to look in the location directly across from them.

"Commander!... See there!..."

"What? Behave vile worms! We are distinguished gentlemen of the church!"

As he said this, Carlo fixed his eyes in the direction pointed to him. He ended up losing his composure.

"What the hell? Are those...?"

In front of them, about 500 mails away, he saw the ranks of several thousand troops. Even at that distance, he could clearly distinguish the cannons from the cavalry.

"Stop! All Stop!"

Then Carlo stopped the advance of his pegasus. All of his troops immediately halted. Afterwards, a messenger was urgently sent to the place where Pope was to inform him of the situation.

"What the hell, where did these morons came from? How dare they stop the advance of His Holiness the Pope..."

At that time, the sharp eyes of one of the subordinates of Carlo distinguished their banner.

"Is that... The coat of arms of the lords of southern Gallia?"

"The Southern Gallian gentlemen you said!?"

What the hell are they thinking, marching right in front of us and stopping our progress?

But the southern lords, who fought at the front lines in the previous war, were supposed to be allies.

At that time, from within the marching army the figure of 3 men on horseback came out to meet them. One was carrying a white flag and slowly approached the caravan.

"They are asking for a truce!"

"Truce? Do they seek a war? To wage a war against us, the Army of God!? Repent, a thousand times, damn!"

While trembling with rage, Carlo prepared his troops as he pulled out his wand.

The suspected trio then stopped about 20 mails away, standing right in a place where Carlo could clearly see them. One of them, taller than the other two, dared to take a step to the front.

"I presume that this was the caravan of His Holiness the Pope. I am the captain of the Order of the Eastern Roses. My name is Bart Castlemont! And I have to proclaim to His Holiness the Pope that we demand his immediate surrender! We must reclaim what is respectfully ours!"

While shaking with rage, Carlo responded.

"You dare to obstruct the passage of His Holiness the Pope, this is BLASPHEMY! You have the guts to march all your troops behind our backs!? Are you stupid enough to start a war with us!?"

"My army has the sole purpose of getting back our master. So if you don't resist and return our master, we will immediately turn around and gladly escort you to the border."

"Stop saying nonsense! No matter what petty reasons you have, if you bastards dare to raise your wands against us, we will immediately accuse you of heresy!"

"Before accusing us of heresy, I would like you to tell me: who is the person currently sharing the carriage with His Holiness? Tell me, who has given you the authorization to take that person to your country? Depending upon your answer, I'll immediately give the signal to attack!"

"Is that even a threat? Bastards! Perhaps you're saying that you're trying to threaten His Holiness the Pope!"

Then Carlo prepared his wand to make an attack. As he took a forward step, a voice was heard echoing behind his back:

"What's the commotion here?"

"His Holiness!..."

Without thinking, Carlo immediately bowed down. With a calm expression, Pope Vittorio glanced toward Castlemont, Saito and Chikasui.

Saito was nervous while he was being gazed at directly by Pope Vittorio. The Pope seemed to be traversing through his eyes, as if looking directly into his heart.

Are we discovered?

The army behind him was no more than the "illusion" created by Louise; though it would certainly be impossible to tell the difference between this and the real army, those mere illusions were obviously unable to attack.

Could it be that another Void user like Vittorio is able to see through it and expose its falsehood?

If they had been discovered, they would have to continue their previous plan, as Guiche and several gentlemen of Gallia were hidden around the wasteland waiting for the opportunity to make a direct assault. But it was obvious that if compelled to do so now any benefit granted by the element of surprise would be lost. At this time their chances for success seemed to have shrunk drastically.

Unable to do anything the icy cold sweat began to drop at his back.

"His Holiness!"

Saito then took off the hood covering his face; this sudden action perplexed Carlo.

"You bastard!..."

However, the calm expression of Vittorio didn't change at all, so Saito decided to continue with his words.

"Tabitha...no, I ask you to return Her Majesty, Queen Charlotte. She has nothing to do with the war you want to start."

Vittorio's reaction was nothing but a smile. He didn't even try to deny the accusation brought against him.

"If you pledge your support for our plans, I will gladly return her." With this, Saito became speechless. "You know, I'm not really concerned. It was never my intention to control Gallia nor anything of what's in it. My only goal was always to lead them in order to complete again the Four of Four."

"Why are you so persistent with this Crusade!? Is it really important to wage this war? You should stop all of this and forget the Holy Land!"

"There is a reason to take back the 'Holy Land'. If you would indulge me, I would like for you to join us, for there is something that I want to show you."

You're still trying to convince me?, Saito thought.

It was at this time.

Chikasui, who was on the far left, suddenly started to cast a spell. From the palm of his hand, a blinding light began to radiate. Everyone was surrounded by the intense light.

Saito instinctively looked away from the glare, just as Carlo and the Templar Knights around him covered their faces to protect them from the light.

As if expecting this move from Chikasui, it seemed that Castlemont was the only one who still retained his rapid movements.

As expected from the square-class mage of "wind", in the blink of an eye he covered the distance of about 20 mails separating them. He quickly approached Vittorio, put the Pope's arms behind his back, and immediately pointed his wand at his neck.

"Don't move!" Castlemont screamed as the confused Templar Knights were about to take out their wands.

"Drop your wands!"

From that moment, Castlemont began to give orders to all those knights gathered there. The expression on their faces was totally alarming.

They hesitated to move. They kept looking at the Pope and at their wands.

Pope Vittorio was calm, and a warm smile was still on his face.

"Drop your wands! It's an order! Don't force me to take the life of His Holiness!"

Then Vittorio started to say.

"Gentlemen, please do as this person says."

At these words, the Templar Knights began to throw their wands to the ground. Chikasui hurriedly cast Alchemy on the wands, and they began to melt.

Then Castlemont shouted to Saito who seemed to be confused about what was happening.

"Quick! Go to the carriage and rescue the Queen!"

Hearing that, Saito returned to his senses. Although he was against this hostage taking, this was not the time to ask questions. After all, they were in the middle of a battle.

It was necessary for their goal. They had to set aside their emotions in order to make the most appropriate decision. He himself had learned this hard truth, if not, he wouldn't be able to save anyone.

"Eh, understood!"

Saito rushed to the carriage, opened the door, and found Tabitha and Sylphid inside sitting next to each other.

"You are..."

Saito then turned to a surprised Tabitha and said:

"I'm here to rescue you! We must hurry!"

"Kyui! Kyuikyui! I cannot believe this!" Sylphid screamed and hugged Saito.

"Sylphid, return to your dragon form and take Tabitha with you!"

"Understood!"

That said, Sylphid immediately returned to dragon form, took Tabitha with her mouth and mounted the Queen on her back.

The Templar Knights saw their escape as Sylphid quickly ascended to the sky.

Meanwhile their allies, who had remained hidden, began to approach the carriage.

"Saito! Are you okay?!?"

"Yes! Saito did it!"

Those were the Knights of North Parterre and Eastern Roses. One by one they began collecting the wands belonging to the Templar Knights. The next thing they did was to melt them with Alchemy or split them in two. Carlo began to murmur as fury marked his face.

"Bastards!... You cannot even be considered heretics, you're just animals! You along with your entire families will suffer the Inquisition. Your name will not be heard as we will annihilate every last one of you!"

Addressing Carlo, Castlemont still held Vittorio hostage.

"Unfortunately, I don't have any relatives."

Every one of his companions was detailed to disable one by one the wands of the enemy, however... The number of wands were equal to the members of the two companies escorting the Pope, so destroying them one by one would take too long.

We have to gather them all in one place to securely hold them.

If reinforcements came, we wouldn't stand a chance. So we have to take every possible opportunity to maintain this advantage.

By the time they were about to gather all the wands of the Templar Knights...

Up in the sky, a shriek from Sylphid could be heard.

"Kyuikyui!"

Flying up in the sky, moving like a lightning strike, a wind dragon appeared before Sylphid.

The wind dragon began to chase the stunned Sylphid, with the sole purpose of stealing Tabitha.

"Julio!" Saito cried seeing the person riding on the back of the dragon. The one who was able to manipulate all beasts, Windalfr.

That dragon, manipulated by the familiar called the Right Hand of God, was tirelessly working trying to follow the movements of Sylphid to snatch her load.

"Flee in this direction!"

Not knowing if his instruction had reached her, he saw Sylphid attempt to make a fast descent while Tabitha was still on her back. However they couldn't make it as Azuro, showing precise hawk-like movements, and Julio were able to intercept them and snatch Tabitha.

Tabitha not having her wand was just a little girl. Unable to put up any resistance, there was no way she could change the situation she was in now.

Holding Tabitha in its mouth, Azuro made a loud flapping sound and began to return to Romalia.

"Kyuih!"

Sylphid reached Saito, landing right next to him.

"This is bad!"

As Saito shouted this, he immediately jumped on the back of Sylphid.

"I'm coming too!"

By the time they were about to leave, Louise also jumped on Sylphid's back, followed by Kirche doing the same.

"Hey Kirche! What are you doing?!"

"I just remembered you two cannot use ‘levitation'!"

Saito nodded at this, and then shouted.

"Go after them, Sylphid!"

"Kyui!" Sylphid cried and started to ascend.

"Hurry up! If they make it to Romalia, we're in serious trouble!"

Sylphid flapped fiercely as Julio and Azuro looked like a point in the distance.

On the ground, Castlemont and company as well as the Templar Knights were still stunned seeing the spectacle in the sky, but... after a while, everyone prepared to ride their horses and pegasi and started pursuing the two dragons.

"Damn! They're really fast! Sylphid, can you fly faster?!"

"This is all the strength I have!"

Although both Azuro and Sylphid were wind dragons, the difference between them looked like a puppy compared with an adult dog. No one could reach the speed of the wind dragon commanded by Windalfr.

"We're about to cross the border!"

Right in front of them they could glimpse the enormous mountain range of the Fire Dragons. This was a ridge that stretched from east to west dividing Halkeginia... And right behind those mountains was Romalia.

The moment they saw the wind dragon something horrible happened. Leaving the mouth of Azuro, they saw Tabitha fall to the ground.

"Saito! Tabitha is...!" Louise issued a desperate cry.

Performing a maneuver like a somersault, Azuro swooped at full speed and once again captured Tabitha in its mouth. Without changing direction, Azuro continued rotating reaching an astonishing rate of descent.

"They did it on purpose, they just wanted to hurt Tabitha!" Kirche said desperately.

Upon hearing those words Saito's heart was set on fire. If they continued with that she could fall and hit the ground... and yet they were playing with her small body as if it was a rag doll.

There was still a chance, an opportunity obtained by putting his life in danger, he would never allow them to escape.

"Come on! Sylphid!"

"Understood!"

Sylphid quickly began to close the distance. Azuro tried to escape, but his speed didn't increase.

"Attack them, Sylphid!"

"Kyuikyui!"

Sylphid prepared to attack with everything she had. However Azuro swiftly dodged them. At that moment, Saito jumped while drawing his sword.

With his left hand, he was able to hang on to a claw of Azuro. Then following Azuro's movements, he began to climb up and reach the dragon's back.

Having faster reaction time than Julio, Saito took him by the neck and pointed his sword.

ZnT18-124.jpg

"Get us down!"

Despite the situation, Julio kept his calm face.

"You're just in time. Come, I want to show you something."

"You've got to be kidding me!" Saito screamed furiously.

"Oh God!... you're always acting like this, at least listen for once to what people have to say."

"Do you expect me to listen to a selfish person like you? Always talking about the Crusade, always clinging to that foolishness. Just GET us down!"

As Julio shook his head "As you wish.", was when he finally decided to land Azuro.

Upon reaching the ground, Saito immediately ran to where Tabitha was.

"Tabitha!"

"I'm... fine."

After leaving Tabitha in Kirche's care, he turned once more to Julio.

"Hey Julio!"

"What now?"

"We need to talk."

"Alright. Honestly for once, I always wanted to have a little chat with you."

"What's your purpose, the reason for continuing with this Crusade? Can't you just live in peace and forget about the Holy Land?"

Hearing him say that, the face of Julio seemed to display an expression of someone who has to help a friend in his studies because he always gets bad grades.

"We must find something necessary for our purposes in this world. Just think a little, what do you think is the reason why we have repeated wars for the last 6000 years? If you look a bit, initially the people are still the same, they still fight just for a piece of barren land and for their pride... Do you think that justifies all the blood that has been spilled so far?"

"I don't know."

"That's because we are in a situation where our hearts cannot find a support to cling to. We are in a situation where our 'sacred land' has been stolen by the heretics. And so, what should we believe then?"

"So, that was your reason for starting a war against the Elves?"

"Yes, for they have unjustly occupied a land that was rightfully ours from the beginning."

"... Dammit, is that really a reason?"

For a few moments Saito remained staring at Julio. Then suddenly he began to laugh.

"A ha ha ha! Don't look!

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing, it's just that, I never really thought that petty reason would start this endless war. Really, it would be fine to just leave the sacred land alone. It's really absurd to fight, you know. And it would be a hundred times, no, a thousand times more fun to just stay and play with your friends."

"What did you say?"

Saito's face turned pale. This guy is really getting in my nerves.

"You insist on going on this endless Crusade forever without giving any logical reason, waging war against the elves over and over again. Do you really expect to win if you only fight for honor? How much time has passed since your ancestors were displayed as pathetic losers after failing to recover their land even after a millennia?"

"You... Perhaps, are you trying to mock me?"

Filled with rage, Saito then threw a punch at Julio. However Julio smoothly and nimbly dodged it.

"Hey! Hey! Do not get mad for something so simple. Things will get very bad if you cannot even control your emotions like this."

Saito could only keep seeing Julio with full hatred.

"You... that's what people like you always think, always controlling and treating us like idiots! Do you really look at all the people around you only as mere pawns?"

"Of course not, I never thought something like that."

"Liar! What about that girl, Tabitha's sister... when she wears that crown? What did you say to make her cheat? What did you say to her for her to betray her own sister? Surely, you've tampered with her with a potion!"

Upon hearing this, Julio's face turned slightly serious.

"Potion? I would never use something like that."

"Well, then what did you do? Or perhaps, do not tell me you..."

Saito bit his lip because of the thought that overwhelmed him.

"Are you trying to tell me you made that poor girl fall in love with you?"

Julio opened the palms of his hands. It was really strange that this young man felt proud of himself in such a desperate situation.

"If I say yes, what would you do then?"

Saito was outraged by the hostile tone of Julio and began to respond.

"Damn you... You're the worst! How dare you use a woman who is in love with you... seriously, you are the lowest. I wonder what your God would do if he knew this!"

The color of Julio's face changed at this.

"What did you say?"

His eyes burned with anger and his grin had disappeared completely.

Demonstrating his contempt, Saito said as he lifted his lips.

"You, was it your 'body and soul'? Or is it your God that tells you it's okay to use women in love with you for your silly purposes?"

With quick movements, Julio's reaction was to deal a strong blow to Saito's face, which Saito swiftly pushed back.

"Think what you're doing, idiot!"

While recovering, Saito placed his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"Do you still want to continue?"

"What did you say about my own body and soul?!!"

Julio, without hesitation, then dealt a punch to Saito.

"Idiot!..."

In the time that Saito was about to draw his sword, he noticed what was on Julio's face, an expression of such fury that prevented him from controlling himself. This, combined with the disappearance of that mocking tone which mocked anyone talking to him.

"Are you really trying to face me, Gandalfr, while I'm unarmed and without any beasts?"

In truth, Saito didn't have the slightest idea about what was going on and apparently, Julio wasn't even considering the consequences of what he was doing. But anyway, Saito had never faced an opponent before who was unarmed.

After regaining his composure, Saito decided to throw away his sword which was picked up immediately by a worried Louise.

"Saito..."

"You dare to talk about what's inside of my soul... You know nothing!"

The tone of Julio made Saito remember those of his childhood bullies.

Then, Saito punched Julio with the fist of his left hand and immediately after, in less than an eyeblink, dealt a direct hit with his right hand.

This seemed to have become boxing practice. However there were times when the fight was becoming more serious. Without the power of Gandalfr, Saito was just an ordinary boy. He would eventually lose this match due to shock.

However, the physical abilities of Julio were worthy of admiration. He could dodge Saito's punches easily, then respond by throwing a kick. Even so, Saito caught his leg and with all his strength pinned him down, and then he began to throw punches one after another right in the beautiful face of Julio.

But the attacks of Saito didn't last for long, as Julio took one leg of Saito and then turned his body skillfully, thus changing positions.

Their fury seemed to last forever, exchanging punches again and again. Such a display of tenacity and fury made Louise, Kirche and Tabitha speechless as they observed them in dismay, waiting to reach the conclusion.

Finally, both Saito and Julio were exhausted. They lay down and were not able to send another punch. The two of them were in such a pitiful state that they seemed to be unrecognizable. Saito's face was completely swollen and part of his left eye was hidden behind his swollen cheeks. For Julio, an endless stream of blood flowed from his nose, this combined with the deformation of his face which was caused by the immense swelling in his cheeks.

This had been a contest of fists, so it was obvious that the hands of those two contestants were completely destroyed. Their hands were so swollen that even their little fingers were twice their original size. Those limbs were completely impossible move right now.

So while in a state of breathing laboriously, Saito started to say.

"... This is very strange of you, you, who made yourself lose your sanity."

At this Julio answered revealing his pain.

"You know, I envy you."

"What did you say?"

"You can love someone without having to worry about anything."

"What are you trying to say?"

"What, you really thought I had no feelings? I have done a tremendous effort to avoid falling in love... And yet I fell for it, and not only that, I also saw the need of having to use it. I really believed that someone like you would be able to understand what's in my heart!"

"Well, I don't understand the fact that it is 'necessary' to use it."

"That's very unfortunate."

"But then, use it for what?"

"Who do you think we're doing this for? For them, for everyone, for you... We are doing everything for you, you who are living on this doomed earth."

From that moment, Julio began to cry; * gushih ** gushih *. From his eyes tears flowed, then he started a plain sob.

For Saito, he never would have guessed that Julio was able to mourn, so he was really surprised.

Eventually after crying for a moment Julio stood up. With puzzled expressions, Kirche and Tabitha rushed to them. Both Saito and Julio, feeling poorly, were treated with some "healing". Apparently it was not enough to completely stop the pain, but at least it served so they could calm down for a bit.

Then Julio said brokenly.

"That's enough, do whatever you want. I do not care anymore how you guys would be able to live in this land, nor for everyone who always likes to kill each other for just a small piece of land."

"Julio, what's wrong? What are you talking about?" Louise asked, confused by what she had heard.

"See it for yourself." said Julio with a voice that reflected his discouragement.

"What the hell are you talking about!?"

At the moment Saito approached Julio after saying this....

The earth began to shake.

                       ***

Castlemont and the others, who still had the Pope as their hostage, were following the trail of Saito.

Right behind them, riding on their pegasi, the Templar Knights also followed closely looking for answers.

One of the nobles chasing the wind dragon had spotted Saito and the others. After using a ‘far-sight spell', he shouted excitedly.

"They already landed!"

"Very well!" Castlemont said as his troops began to increase the speed of their horses.

After a few minutes...

A violent tremor began to shake.

"Uwa! An earthquake!"

As the knights lost control of their horses, one by one they stopped. The horses started to panic and some of them began running, stumbling and inevitably ended up lying on the ground. Even so the intensity of the shaking became stronger.

"It's too violent!"

The shaking continued for a few moments... then stopped abruptly.

"That earthquake was so strong! I've never felt something like that before!"

At that moment, Castlemont heard someone muttering. It was the Pope. Pope Vittorio, who was mounted in front right next to him bound tightly with magic rope, started to say.

"It has already started!"

"What did you say? What was already started?"

"The 'Great Uprising' has begun!"

"What's that?"

At the time Castlemont wondered about this, a new tremor started and shook the earth violently. This new tremor was far stronger than before. The horses began to kneel, and even the soldiers who were on foot could not remain standing as they felt the intensity of the earthquake.

"Hwuah!"

Castlemont was thrown from his horse. Vittorio also rolled after falling to the ground. Crawling quickly, Castlemont went to where Vittorio had fallen. The intense shaking of the earth felt like being swallowed in a violent storm.

"What the hell is going on?!"

Without answering, all Vittorio did was to observe something at a distance.

Castlemont then fixed his gaze in the same direction as Vittorio.

This time, he was completely speechless.

                       ***

"Oi, what the hell is that?!"

Malicorne and Guiche kept their hands on the ground due to the intensive shaking. They soon noticed that Reynald remained staring in one direction.

"Hey Reynald, what's wrong?"

Reynald didn't answer. He just raised his finger slowly and pointed forward. Seeing the disaster right in front of them, they were completely shocked.

So, because no one could explain what was happening, they decided to extend their hands and then pinched each other's cheeks.

"It hurts!" Both Guiche and Malicorne said, almost wanting to cry.

"... This is not a dream!"

The men from the North Parterre, Eastern Roses, and the Templar Knights ended up forgetting their precautions and hostilities they had with each other when they saw before their eyes that gigantic and horrifying natural disaster.

As if remembering something, one of these gentlemen began to murmur.

"So it's true, the continent of Albion was once part of Halkeginia..."

                       ***

A tremendous roar emerged echoing in their ears. The increasingly strong vibration did not show any signs of stopping.

With a voice as if not believing in what he was seeing, Saito said.

"The mountain... is floating!"

The Mountain of the Fire Dragon that he was watching... this mountain that was once a part of the great mountain ranges began to ascend up into the sky.

It was a spectacle that could be described in one word: 'Majestic'.

As if there was a rocket pushing the mountain up, it inexorably ascended towards the sky.

Once the mountain was fully in the air, a furious cloud of dust rose from where it came from. The surroundings darkened as if night had started prematurely. The same dust came into the throat of Saito almost suffocating him.

"What the hell was that... what's going on?"

Julio then explained it to Saito:

"This is the 'Great Uprising'. This happens when the gradual accumulation of wind stones begins to raise an entire land mass.

"Wind stone?"

Certainly they are used to raise "ships" into the sky, in addition to being a crystal that holds the power of the wind from the Previous Resident...

"... As you know, the lands of Halkeginia are rich with these wind stones. To put it in simple terms, a wind stone is a crystal wherein the power of spirits lies. So what happens is that it gradually crystallizes in the ground forming a 'spiritual power'. After tens of thousands of years, the amount soon becomes enough that those wind stones eventually raise the whole earth."

"The whole earth, you say?"

Then Julio said in a tired voice:

"Unfortunately, right now a large saturation of wind stones are buried throughout Halkeginia. We will soon be tossed like a pancake into the air and huge chunks of land will began to float. Do you finally understand? This is the reason why we must reach the Holy Land."

"Then why do you keep it secret all this time?!"

Julio replied as if spitting:

"Tell me, after finally seeing this, was it hard for you to believe in the sincerity of our words? An idiot not seeing things with their own eyes will never believe."

                       ***

After 30 minutes the shaking subsided. With that, Vittorio, the Templar Knights, Castlemont, Guiche and company finally arrived at the place where Saito and the others were.

Apparently what happened today in the mountains of the Fire Dragon had came as a surprise to members of the Templar Knights, as they were confused not knowing what was happening.

"Are you surprised?" Vittorio asked Saito.

"Yeah... this is the first time I saw a mountain rise up like that."

After listening to Saito, a smile spread across the face of Vittorio.

"The land that has risen will gradually consume the power of the wind stones, so once again they will return to the surface. The continent of Albion is part of the remains of what has become known as the first ‘Great Uprising'."

"What is really happening in Halkeginia?" asked Louise with a worried face, to which Vittorio said while shaking his head.

"Actually... It's not all of the land. According to research we have done personally, our estimate is that 50% of the whole land would rise up just like what you have witnessed. But there is some margin of error in our calculations. Anyway, the damage to all the continent would be catastrophic and within a few decades these types of events will begin to occur throughout Halkeginia."

"So, what you're trying to say is that we will be left without a place to live?" said Guiche in a shocked voice.

"Yes. It will not be today nor tomorrow, but in the near future half of the Halkeginian population will lose the land needed to live. When that happens, there will be land conflicts, and a war with no real winners will begin. To prevent that from happening, we have awakened 'the Void'. That is why we must recover the 'Holy Land' that was taken from us by pagan Elves."

"In the Holy Land... is there something?"

Vittorio quickly answered that question.

"There is a giant magical device built by the Founder, Brimir. The only one that is able to fight against this (spiritual power). We, the Four of Four who possess the power of 'VOID', it is our duty to recover the Holy Land, for our salvation lies in it so that we can rid our land of this threatening disaster!"

"This is something... something important, why have you kept this hidden all this time!?" Cried Saito as he clenched his fists tightly.

Seeing his reaction, Vittorio repeated the same words that Julio had said only a few moments ago.

"Do you really believe that anyone would ever believe a story like this? Unless they see it with their own eyes, people will never actually believe. And also, in the given case that we have told this story before, probably at least a few of you would say "Can we really believe what they said?" Then rumors will begin to spread, which alone would lead to unnecessary panic among the people."

That may be true, Saito thought to himself.

If I hadn't seen the truth with my own eyes, if I hadn't witnessed that such a mountain could rise up into the sky, when I heard this story I most likely would never have to believed it.

"See, I told you." Julio said in a mocking voice.

"We must act 'seriously', although this could cost us our lives. If it is to recover the Holy Land, we will do whatever is necessary. Those words came from the mouth of God, even Valhalla (Death) would cooperate with us in our Crusade! The 'Great Uprising' of today was what we might call our moment of TRIUMPH. All of these things were done with the sole purpose of helping us to believe!"

Vittorio then took Saito's hand.

"Will you lend us your strength, Gandálfr? Everything is for the distant future, that our descendants may live quietly in a safe land, which really belongs to them. No matter what happens in the Crusade, our first priority now will be to begin with negotiations. If the Elves peacefully return the 'Holy Land', then there will be no problem. But if they don't, we will continue initiating the attack. That would be our last option. We must fight for our right to survive!"

Saito and his friends began to look at each other's faces.

Isabella and Castlemont, Malicorne, Guiche and Reynald, Tabitha and Kirche, all evidenced in their faces that they did not know what to do.

The whole story was too incredible, too unexpected. Their heads still could not process what was really happening. But...

The mountain floating in the sky right now, as they looked up, became an extension of the clouds in heaven showing how the unimaginable could turn into a reality. Their reasoning was shaken uncontrollably.

But it was precisely for this reason that at the moment they could not reach an agreement.

After what Romalia had done so far it was difficult to say whether they would accept 'cooperating' with them.

Seeing these concerns clouding their judgment, Louise tried to calm Saito by taking his hand and then said to Vittorio.

"We currently do not have the authority to respond to your request. So I ask to give us time to make our considerations. But before that, we have a few conditions."

"Go ahead."

"First, I ask that from this moment, you won't hide any information."

"I promise."

At that point, Louise looked at Tabitha.

"The next thing is, that the throne be restored to the rightful Queen of Gallia."

"I cannot do that."

"Why?"

"Gallia is a huge nation. If you don't have a Queen in command, their morale in battle would not be enough to achieve victory." Vittorio said in as calm a voice as he could.

"But Tabitha can..."

Saito saying this, Tabitha started to respond on her own.

"I, I intend to go with you."

"Is that alright?"

"That was my intention from the beginning. The main reason I accepted that crown was to help you. Though I really don't like it, I still agree with the plan that the crown be given to the imposter sent by Romalia..."

Having said that, Tabitha took the other hand of Saito.

"Then it's settled."

At that time, Vittorio began to look around.

"All of us here have seen, for the first time today we shared here our truth and so, we have become true brothers! May the grace of God enlighten us in our future endeavors!"

All of the soldiers rose and began to look at each other in amazement. However, after a time they decided to shake hands and embrace each other.

Saito and others, who still had trouble accepting this, saw how things had become.

While he rubbed his face, Julio asked Saito.

"What's wrong, aren't you satisfied?"

"Well it is, or rather, still I do not like the idea that in the end everything turned out just as you had planned."

"Do not say something like that. But things finished well, at least for my part. I really have to make a great effort to resist."

"What do you mean?"

"All of this would have been easier, if we only waited for the new Void user."

"Why was it not done?"

After hearing this, Julio replied as if sighing.

"I was excited."

"About what?"

"I wanted to fight you. I really wished to face you. In order to achieve greatness, one must remove their obstacles. That is the way to solve problems. However, I'm not really that strong. Damn, if only I could be stronger, I would have been more worthy."

Saito then stared Julio. His face was haggard, swollen everywhere and blood could be seen on either side of the handsome face of Julio.

Then he recalled his words of just moments ago:

'You can love someone without having to worry about anything.'

That guy... Although we are almost the same age, he can act so casually while hiding the truth in his chest. He was also reminded of his tears before. Totally crying like a small child.

"Idiot!" Saito said.

"That's what I should say." Julio said while his eyes remained fixed on Saito.

"By the way, I would like to apologize for what I said before about who owned your body and soul. But it is also your fault for your bad habit of always wanting to deceive people."

"...I haven't truly deceived people before." he said in a dejected voice.

Then Saito turned his face away trying to avoid looking into Julio's eyes. He decided to extend his hand to Julio.

"What is this?"

"A handshake. But this does not mean that I have already accepted cooperating with you."

Julio watched that hand for a moment, but in the end he strongly returned the handshake.


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