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The Melancholic Path

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Margrave Roswaal L Mathers sat alone in his office as the early afternoon sun streamed through the curtains while he absentmindedly looked through the papers detailing Arlam villages expected harvest. Should one have walked in on the margrave they would have thought that he was diligently working away; however only the margrave and one other, knew that he was in the midst of a conversation as he sat in silence. Margrave Roswaal L Mathers was conversing with the one who had shared his body alongside him for the last 400 years, Hector, Warlock of Melancholy.

 

It was a deal between bitter enemies, but also a deal forged out of absolute necessity. Roswaal’s body had been so thoroughly ravaged by Hector’s Authority that he stood on the precipice of death. Hector had been greatly injured due to his inability to hurt his beloved, before having his very soul stripped from his body when the massive barrier around Sanctuary rose. Had even one of the two not been willing to put their obsession with the greedy witch aside than they both would have perished there on that day; but as they each held an obsession that eclipsed even their hatred and disdain for one another, they formed an unholy contract that has allowed their souls to cling to life and resist the Od Laguna’s pull.

 

“It still greatly saddens my heart to think that I must rely on someone as weak as yourself so that I may continue to exist Roswaaaaaaal” Echoed the voice of Hector through Roswaal’s head. The two had been together long enough at this point that Roswaal was able to distinguish the voice of Hector from those originating outside his own mind, and to be able to reply in turn. It took him a fair amount of practice to achieve this, during the early years it was quite common for him to mumble the words with his own voice when he tried to respond to Hector, or occasionally turn around trying to face the source of Hectors voice; these behaviors had led to a fair few of the ancestors he possessed being labelled as straight up mad.

 

“My dear Hector-kuuuuun, it brings a tear to my eye when the one who has become like a brother to me speaks of me sooooooooo. Are we not in this struggle to bring Sensei back togeaaaather?” Although Hector made his distaste of Roswaal very clear, Roswaal generally tried to hide his own dislike for his partner in crime. Although the two differed greatly on how they interacted with one another, they had only grown more and more similar in other regards; or more correctly, Hectors personality had gradually bled into Roswaal over the centuries. Roswaal the dedicated disciple of Echidna shared fewer traits with the current margrave than Hector did; Hector’s verbal ticks had gradually ingrained themselves into Roswaals speech pattern, his clowny and outlandish way of dressing had become the norm. However Roswaal had managed to resist some aspects of Hector, allowing a definitive line to be maintained defining where Roswaal ended and Hector began. Roswaal had always managed to resist Hectors true melancholy, for as long as Roswaal believed he could have his Sensei back once again he would never truly believe that the world was a sad and depressing place.

 

“The disgusting display of that boy still irks me, the pride and audacity, the stupidity to declare what he did in front of the entire Royal Selection made me feel true melancholy. Just what is the point of this great plan buried in your gospel if we must rely on that horrid piece of trash to do just about anything vaguely useful, it even brings melancholy when I think at the possibility that my beloved made an error that led to this gospel of hers being defective.”

 

“I can assure you Hector-kuuuuun, Sensei’s gospel has not made a mistake; Suuuubaru-kun’s devotion to Emilia ensures that he will loop through time until she is on the throne. Then and only then will we have the resources we need to ensure that Sensei’s soul can be returned to her body, and with that our loooooong partnership will end, the thouuuuuught of it makes me want to shed a tear or two.”

 

“Natsuki Subaru lacks the determination to work towards his own ambitious goal in defiance of time, he still seeeeeeee’s joy in the world around him. If he were to be broken, to see that the entire world outside his beloved was just an uncaring grey, then and only then would he be strong enough to be of use. He cares for too many people, the fact that he would go through so much unnecessary effort to save those children, the fact that he cares so much for the blue haired oni are both proof that he isn’t reaaaaady yet.”

 

“Subaru-kuuun will be broken in quite soon enough, his outburst infornt of the entiiiiiiiiiiire upper crust of Lugunica when he witnessed their disdain for our dear doll-sama shows that he’s well on his way. As well he should know that in naught but a few hours my dear friend Geuse will slaughter everyone in Arlam and this mansion, which will catalyyyyyyyyze the next part of Natsuki Suabru’s transformation. He will have no choice but to give up on the villagers and his dear Rem if he wishes to save Emilia. Once he sees that there is no hope to save anyone else besides Emilia he will be perfected, just like you and I Hector-kuuuuun”

 

“It nearly brings tears to my eyes to hear that Roswaaaaaaaaal, you were so close to the truth, yet just a bit too dim to ascertain the correct future. It won’t be both of us that Suuuuubaru-kun stands beside, he’ll only stand beside myself, Hector the Warlock of Melancholy.” And just as the last word finished echoing through the inside of Roswaals head he was hit with a massive wave of pain; for his other half was no longer content with just being half of a whole, it desired to be the entire whole on its own.

 

It started in his head, it felt as if a black mass was beginning to burrow out from somewhere deep behind his eyes. As blots of pain flared across the inside of his skull Roswaal slammed his head right down into the desk, sending papers across the room and causing an ink pot to fall to the ground and shatter.

 

“You know Roswaaaaaaaal, it is just so damn disgusting that you never know when to give up.”

 

The dark mass continued to expand within Roswaals body, it now fully occupied his skull and was reaching around the outside of his chest cavity to occupy his legs and arms. He couldn’t see anymore; his soul had been forced from his head and was now desperately trying to holdout in his chest. As the mass finished occupying his limbs Roswaal could feel his strength falter, his arms and legs were no longer his to control.

 

“If I give up now I won’t ever get my reunion with Sensei, but this happening wasn’t in the Gospel; my only hope at this point is to hold out and hope I can somehow force Subaru to loop, he must’ve caused something to ruin this timeline, meaning he must be forced back down the correct path.” Roswaal thought to himself as his soul was slowly compacted and forced deep within his od. However, the more Hector forced him out of his body, the harder it became for him to push Roswaal back, leading to an equilibrium where Roswaal continued to exist in the od but Hector held full control of the rest. At this point Roswaal could forcibly shut his own gate and kill them both with mana poisoning, but without some guarantee that Subaru would loop it could mean that the timeline would simply persist without Hector or Roswaal. There was a slim chance that a perfected Subaru would arrive at the doors of the mansion to whisk Emilia away, if this occurred with a dead Roswaal than his reunion with Echidna would certainly never happen. And so Roswaal simply hid inside the od of his body, content to wait until he had an opportunity to either force a restart or at least seize back control from Hector.

 

Hector got up from the desk and stretched out his arms in front of him, opening and closing a pair of fists as he examined and got a feel for his new body. Thanks to how he had been influencing Roswaal subtly from within, the body felt familiar. The Mathers had always been somewhat long and lanky, enough muscle to be considered fit, but not enough to give them a bulky frame, just like Hector’s original body had been. The long line of Roswaal’s had even taken to dressing in a manner akin to Hector, clothing that could be considered somewhat extravagant yet more odd than anything else. The main difference is that the long line of Roswaals had always carried themselves in such a way that made them seem eccentric compare to Hector who had always appeared to have a more rundown and depressed look.

 

Hector’s examination of his new body was swiftly interrupted by a red-haired maid bursting through the door, Ram. Hector knew Ram would quickly rush to Roswaal’s aid should she believe that there was even the slightest possibility that he was in danger, not just due to her maidly loyalty to her master; but also due to the feelings Hector knew she harbored for Roswaal, the same feelings that Roswaal had always refused to recognize thanks to his blind devotion towards Echidna.

 

Although the battle for control between Hector and Roswaal had felt like it had taken several minutes if not longer, in reality less than a minute had passed between the struggles beginning and the current moment. The flustered and worried looking Oni had rushed to her masters side immediately upon hearing the disturbance, and now that she had deduced that there wasn’t an intruder present in the room Hector would need to immediately justify the sounds, lest his possession be discovered through means unknown to even someone as learned as himself.

 

“Roswaal-sama is everything alright, Ram heard a disturbance and rushed here immediately! Wait is that blood running down your face? Ram will fetch Beatrice-sama right away to treat your injuries!” Ram had just happened to notice something wrong with Hectors body that he himself had failed to, the struggle for control had caused a small blood vessel behind his left eye to rupture, leading to a trickle of blood running out from behind the eyeball and down his face.

 

Hector raised his hand to trace the small amount of blood running down his face, he needed to ensure that Ram did not get Beatrice; who due to being a great spirit would uncover the possession nearly instantly. But Hector had prepared for such an occurrence, he had been observing and developing means for handling each member of Roswaal’s staff since the day they took up residence in this mansion. He knew Ram’s every weakness and just had to pull a few strings for her to play right into his hand. “Although it truuuuuuly warms my heart to seeeee how much genuine concern you hold for my wellllll being Ram, I am veryyyy busy working to handle the mess created at the royal selection by your juuuuunior. This injury is too minor to be worth disruptingggggg both my own work and Beaaaaaaatrice. However I would greatly appreciate it if youuuuu could do something for me insteaaaaad.”

 

Hector pulled on one of Ram’s weakpoints, her feelings for Roswaal that had gone unreciprocated for so long. Even if it was unlike Roswaal to say anything that could possibly be construed as romantic, you could always leave it to a teenager to take something out of context and make their head spin when the person in question is their love interest. Ram seemed to suddenly fall into a near daze or stupor as she took these kind words way too far and meekly managed to get out, “Ram will do anything for Roswaal-sama.”

 

Knowing that he was in the clear Hector wiped the tiny amount of blood from his face with a handkerchief and gave Ram her instructions, “I expect Subaru-kuuuun to return from the capital soon, when he does cooooould you send him up here, I feel that I must discipliiiiiine our wayward junior butler. Afteeeeer our meeeeeting you may deal with the ink stains I soooo carelessly made when I nooooded off.”

 

“If Roswaal-sama is tired Ram would be glad to ready a bath for him, Roswaal-sama shouldn’t push himself for someone as useless as Barusu.” But with a wave of his hand to indicate that he was not in the need of rest Ram curtseyed before leaving the room to carry out the instructions from the one she believed to be her master.

 

“Now Natsuki Subaru-kuuuuun, just when will you be making your entrance into this performance of mine.” Hector mused to himself as he sat back into his chair.

 


 

Emilia sat at the desk in her room, curtains drawn as she looked down at an open book on Lugunican history. She was supposed to be studying for the royal selection but she hadn’t turned the page in over an hour, occasionally reading the same few sentences over and over again. Her mind was still trapped on what happened in the capital between her and Subaru, he had been the first friend she had made; she thought he would have been able to treat her as a normal girl but in the end even he gave her special treatment. He had always gone way too far for her, getting himself beat up and hurt; he had never been able to keep his promises, all she asked was for him to stay in his room for a few hours until she returned from the royal selection, but he did not. Instead, Subaru broke his promise and snuck into the royal selection, making a speech that drew the ire of all the capitals knights without even realizing like a complete and utter dunderhead. He than once again got seriously injured after trying to duel one of the most skilled knights in the capital, his injuries would’ve been even worse had Emilia not intervened. But after all that when she asked why he did what he did, he made some cockamamie claim that it was all for her, that he was repaying her for when she saved him, something that never happened. After that she asked Subaru to stay away from her, he always pushed himself way too far when he was around her, always getting himself hurt and in lots of trouble, so it was for the best. But it was this statement, the statement that ended Emilia’s first friendship, the statement that made her so sad, so melancholic; that has led her to sitting at her desk feeling too sad to even do something as straightforward as reading a book.

 

“Lia, I know you’re upset but your emotional turmoil is trapping me in the crystal, I can barely even speak right now.” A voice echoed through her head, it was Puck; a great spirit who had contracted with her ever since she had thawed out in the elior forest, and the only other being who was unconditionally nice to her.

 

“Sorry Puck, I guess I just end up causing trouble for you too…..” Emilia said out loud with a heavy layer of self-loathing tainting her voice.

 

“What Subaru did back in the capital wasn’t your fault Lia, he acted like a complete idiot and got what he deserved. He promised you to stay out of the royal selection and then immediately broke that promise and karma got him for that; there was nothing more you could have done to stop what happened.” Puck said in a rather manner of fact voice, highlighting that he was missing the main point just ever so slightly.

 

“THAT’S WHATS BOTHERING ME PUCK!” Emilia shouted out at the incorporeal cat as tears started to form in the corners of her eyes. “He’s the first person beside you to be nice to me, to not see me as some half-devil or monster that needs to be feared. I thought he even might be able to treat me as some normal girl, but even he had to give me special treatment! If I just wasn’t so useless, if I could just do a bit more on my own; maybe than he wouldn’t have felt the need to push himself too far for me and get hurt all the time. Maybe then he could’ve just treated me as a friend instead of some doll that needed to be protected………..” Emilia lamented to herself as she hoped to receive some comforting words from Puck, but nothing came.

 

Emilia looked down at the crystal that contained Puck, the crystal that she was accidently imprisoning him in with her emotional instability. “I only end up hurting the people who try to be nice to me, maybe I am really a devil…..” Tears began to roll down Emilia’s cheeks at the thought that maybe everyone who had spat insults or hurled rocks at her had been right.

 

CRASH

 

After a few minutes of crying to herself over how useless she was, how maybe everyone had been right about her being a devil, Emilia was brought back to reality by the loud crash of wood splitting. Although she wasn’t sure if Puck could even materialize, meaning that she was a spiritless spirit arts user, she still decided to head off to investigate the source of the disturbance. She hoped to the bottom of her heart to get a chance to show herself at least that she wasn’t a useless doll, that she could achieve something without Puck or someone else helping her.

 


 

The was sitting high in the sky as a badly beaten dragon carriage carrying a passenger in an even worse state pulled up to the front gates of the Roswaal Manor. Alone stood a red haired maid at the top of the steps, seemingly waiting for the carriages passenger while simultaneously being surprised at his arrival. However, as the carriage stopped her surprise shifted to shock at the sight of the passenger as she quickly rushed to the carriage.

 

The black-haired boy sat unconscious in the front seat, his breath ragged due to possessing several broken ribs and the associated lung damage caused by them. His outer appearance was not much better for his clothing was completely torn, shredded, and stained with blood from the assortment of cuts and scrapes made visible by his damaged clothing.

 

As the Oni maid climbed onto the bloodstained drivers bench to inspect her co-worker, her characteristic scowl was missing; what replaced it instead was a look of concern for the wellbeing of her only coworker at the mansion. She called his name, or more correctly the blinding curse she labelled him by to try if it would stir him to consciousness, “Barusu, Ram knows you’re lazy but you cannot just lounge like this in front of the mansion all afternoon, it’s unsightly with your current appearance.” When Subaru didn’t stir in the slightest at this remark Ram went one step further; she grabbed his arm and gently nudged it, only to for Subaru to shoot completely awake. His face was contorted in pain as he reached across with his other arm and grabbed it tightly, trying to hold it completely still.

 

Now that he was once again awake Ram hid any bit of concern by bringing back her characteristic scowl as she quickly backed off just ever so slightly to bring a bit more space between the two. As the pain seemed to recede and the boys face began to return to some state of normalcy Ram began ask the obvious before she’d bring him to her master Roswaal-sama.

 

“Barusu just how stupid was whatever antic you pulled for it to both ruin the fine clothes Roswaal-sama so graciously provided you; aswell as to harm you to this point?” However Subaru didn’t answer her question, instead it seemed that his mind descended into a haze like he was trapped in some terrible memory.

 

“I’m sorry Ram…….Rem’s dead, she tried to save me from the whale……..but it was too much for even her……..the fog…………I was just a burden for her……………she died so that I could get here.” As Subaru traversed this memory tears began to run down his face, mixing with the blood coming from the cuts on his forehead to dye most of the lower half of his face red.

 

But all Ram could do was stare at him with a look of confusion on her face, only one thought running through her mind that escaped her lips, “Barusu, who’s Rem?”

 

Upon hearing this the boy froze up, his muttering and crying stopped completely as he just stared at Ram in disbelief as if the words that left her mouth were the last thing he ever expected to hear. As Ram stepped down from the drivers bench to assist Subaru from the other side all he did was mutter more vague and meaningless words that made not the slightest bit of sense to Ram.

 

“I’m sorry Rem……..This loop has failed anyway……..I’ll need to restart anyways……….I should try to tell Emilia, nothing to lose at this point anyways……..” Subaru kept muttering these odd sentences as he accepted Ram’s assistance with his good arm, gradually stepping down the from the dragon carriage with the occasional jolt of pain causing his face to tense up just ever so slightly.

 

“Barusu I still don’t know who this Rem girl is, if she’s some whore who you paid to let you cry into her lap after you upset Emilia-sama, then I shall kindly ask you to not mention her in front of Roswaal-sama. Roswaal-sama has requested that you meet with him upon your return; unless you collapse in which case I shall sully myself to carry your disgusting self to Beatrice-sama first.” While Ram relayed Roswaal’s request to the boy his demeanor shifted once again.

 

“Roswaal? He’s here? That’s different from last time……..” Subaru seemed to calm down yet look perplexed at the same time when he heard that Roswaal was in the mansion, like he didn’t expect it for some reason.

 

“Barusu it seems you have somehow managed to hit your head hard enough to make yourself even stupider, if you could somehow harness your ability to become more and more useless to maintain the mansion than Ram wouldn’t need to lift a finger all day. As well why wouldn’t Roswaal-sama be here in his mansion, it’s his mansion, idiot Barusu.” Ram added a sharp tsk at the end of her insults at the wonderment that was Subaru’s seeming stupidity. Subaru than hobbled into the mansion, towards Roswaal’s office with his one good arm over Ram’s shoulder so he didn’t collapse or fall on the way there.

 


 

As Ram half-supported and half-carried Subaru through the doors of Roswaal’s office he noticed several things were off about the room. Normally Roswaal kept his office as well as himself incredibly tidy, but what was in front of him was the exact opposite of tidy. The normal stack of papers that stood on Roswaal’s desk was strewn across the room were crumpled and in complete disarray as if they had been launched off his desk by some incredible force. Roswaal himself wasn’t much better, his persona of the refined yet comical magical clown lord was off kilter; his makeup was all smudged and even had some tear streaks through it; his clothes were all wrinkled from what looked like some kind of scuffle. Even his normal demeanor was off, when they’d entered the room it seemed like he had been impatiently pacing back and forth, further trampling the papers on the floor that he hadn’t even bothered to pick up. Subaru felt Ram’s body stiffen just ever so slightly at the sight of her master making it clear that she hadn’t been completely expecting this either.

 

As soon as they stepped into the office Roswaal had immediately turned to face them with a slightly crazed look in his eye causing Ram’s voice to audibly catch in her throat before she presented the two of them. “Roswaal-sama I have brought Barusu as you requested, however if Roswaal-sama requires time to collect himself Ram could take Barusu to Beatrice-sama for treatment first.” Ram bowed slightly at the end of their presentation to the mansions lord causing Subaru to wince as the slight movement caused pain to shoot through his broken ribs.

 

“Thaaaank you Ram but that wooooon’t be necessaaaaary, Subaruuuuuuu-kun and I will just be having a shooooooort chat.” Roswaal than gestured to the chair across his desk while he sat down in his normal chair. Ram did as instructed as she helped the badly injured Subaru into the office chair before departing the office.

 

“You seem surprised to seeeee me Subaru-kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun, did this encounter perhaps not happen in your laaaaaast loop?” As these words left Roswaal’s lips he stared directly into Subaru’s eyes with a menacing yet mischievous gleam in his own.

 

“W-what did you just s-say Roswaaal?” Subaru sputtered as he stared at the clown before him in utter disbelief, disbelief that his secret of Return by Death was seemingly not a secret anymore.

 

“I know that you’ve beeeeeeeeeeen looping through time Subaru-kuuuuuuuuuuuuuun” The mischievous glare still holding strong in his eyes.

 

“Roswaal, how long have you known that I can loop, that I can Return by D…………..” Just as the last of the 3 magical words was about to leave Subaru’s lips time in the room seemed to stop; the room got substantially darker as shadows appeared out of nowhere to cloak the floors, walls and ceiling in darkness. Subaru felt a cold presence behind him, he felt her hand on his right shoulder, he felt her face right beside his own but didn’t dare look over to try and catch a glimpse of it. He felt a shadow reach inside his very chest before a massive pain shot through his body, overshadowing all the other pain from his other injuries by several orders of magnitude. The hand of shadow hand grasped his heart, but before he knew it the shadows and the pain were gone. She had once again reminded him that he still was forbidden from breaking the taboo, the taboo surrounding Return by Death.

 

As Subaru sat in the chair panting whilst still clutching his chest with his single functional arm, he looked up to see that Roswaal’s demeanor had undergone a complete shift. He was no longer staring at Subaru with a combination of menacing and mischievous intentions; now he sat there pinching his nose while he fanned the air, his face contorted into one of anger and annoyance as he scanned the room trying to find someone who was no longer there.

 

“Putrid. Disgusting. Rancid. Wretched. Obnoxious. Why must you defile this room with your horrid stench; I can only feel great sadness at the prospect of having to deal with you again after being free of your horrid presence for 400 years.” Roswaal proclaimed this angry declaration not at Subaru but instead to the room himself, like he was orating to an audience that wasn’t present before he refocused on Subaru inorder to speaking to him directly. “I can only feel down at how close you are to grasping the truth Subaru-kuuuun, but you are just slightly off. Yes the incompetent Roswaal knows you can loop, and yes I know you can loop, but I am not Roswaal; my name is Hector, Warlock of Melancholy and I believe you and I have the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship, Natsuki Subaru-kuuuuuuuuun, beloved of Envy.”

 

 

Subaru sat there shocked at all the revelations being revealed before him, not only did the man before him know about Return by Death, but Roswaal also knew; he’d potentially even known for quite some time. As well this man was claiming to be the Warlock of Melancholy, a male witch of some kind, like the Witch of Envy that had cursed him with such a cruel power. But Subaru’s thoughts were interrupted by Hector suddenly grasping onto the desk in pain with both hands.

 

“That damn clown just keeps getting in the way of my plans, he’s so annoying that his persistence makes me feel truly melancholic…..” Hector said this not with the tone of someone in pain, but instead with exasperation as if he was having to deal with some irritating fly. “Natsuki Subaru-kuuuun, I have an offer for you; if you are willing to carry my soul inside your body, if you are willing to do so in order to reunite me with my beloved; than I shall give you the full extent of my melancholy, I shall give you a power second only to Satella in her prime.” Hector than stood up and looked Subaru right in the eye while holding out his hand with his palm facing right towards Subaru.

 

Subaru timidly held out his hand in a similar fashion before hesitantly taking it back, he felt incredibly hesitant with the idea of trusting this man that he had just met mere moments ago to this extent. Seeing this Hector sighed before beginning to speak again, “Although it nearly brings a tear to my eye that you wouldn’t trust me, it does show me that you are no longer the naïve boy who first arrived at this mansion. Subaru-kuuuuun if you accept my offer, I will give you the power you need to become the hero that you wished you were when you first came to this world. I will make you so strong that no petty knight would dare oppose you, that no noble would dare berate the ones that you support. Natsuki Subaru if we join forces, if Envy and Melancholy work together than there isn’t a single being in this world that could possibly oppose us. It will be you who decides who shall sit on the throne of Lugunica, it will be you who saves those closest to you. All I ask is that you give me the chance to be with the woman I love just one more time, than all my power will be at your full disposal.” Hectors voice began with a very determined tone, appealing to Subaru’s desire to be the true isekai protagonist that he’d wished he’d been when he first arrived in Lugunica, but by the end of his speech he was pleading with Subaru to accept his offer, sounding almost like a desperate and broken man appealing to their last hope.

 

Some of Subaru’s worst memories flashed before his eyes, he remembered how he was beaten, ridiculed, and left behind after he proclaimed himself Emilia’s knight, after he couldn’t bare to hear her be belittled by the whole court for another second. He remembered the countless times Rem had died trying to save him from either the witches cult or the white whale, all because he was too weak to do anything but rely on her. Natsuki Subaru remembered all the times he’d been forced to rely on others to protect those close to them, and it was these memories that gave him the courage, the courage to become the hero he’d wished that he’d been when he was first isekai’d.

 

Subaru’s hesitation and timidness were replaced with a steeling of determination as he raised his palm to meet Hectors while staying “I accept.” A smile crossed Hectors face as he closed his fingers so they interlocked with Subaru’s, and that’s when Subaru felt a strange yet dark entity worm its way through the connection formed by their hands. It travelled up Subaru’s arm before seemingly nesting itself around his very heart where it throbbed and oozed until it seemingly encased the whole thing.

 

As if waking up from hypnosis, Hector left the body he’d inhabited and its original owner Roswaal regained control. Roswaal looked dazed at first but than his face contorted into anger as he looked down to see how his hand was connected to Subaru’s, after staring at their hands for a few more seconds his anger seemed to grow, to the point he began screaming at Subaru. “NATSUKI SUBARU DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU’VE DONE? Never mind, this timeline is already over; either you reset it back to a useable point or I will force you too.”

 

Roswaal clenched his hand that was interlocked with Subaru’s, unleashing his inhuman strength to a chorus of snapping and cracking sounds, the sound of the bones in Subaru’s hand being crushed like toothpicks. Subaru’s face contorted in pain as he screamed and tried to pull his hand from Roswaal’s, but Roswaal was too strong for Subaru to escape from, and Roswaal just repeated one line, “Reset the loop if you want the pain to stop Natsuki Subaru.”

 

Subaru could feel a presence in the back of his mind, it felt like a tiny string that tied his being to another; he could mentally reach through this connection almost like he was reaching out to touch this being but no matter what he did he was met with silence, Hector wasn’t going to help him through this.

 

Roswaal at this point had crushed Subaru’s hand into a bloody pulp that more closely resembled a ball of ground beef than a human hand. The pain was so great that Subaru felt a warm and smothering sensation spread throughout his body, like a gentle blanket it covered his consciousness as he slipped away from reality. The pain of having his hand crushed to the point of being nothing but a mass of bloody meat had been too much for Natsuki Subaru to take, and so his consciousness had retreated deep inside his mind, leaving his body defenseless and unmanned in the face of Roswaal’s machinations.

 

Subaru was suddenly jolted awake by the sensation of flying, he was flying through the air before impacting a hard wooden object, passing through what turned out to be the heavy oak door of Roswaal’s office with a deafening crash. Splinters flew everywhere, some impaling themselves into Subaru’s flesh, some flying harmlessly down the hallway, some being harmlessly shredded by a shield of wind that protected a certain pink haired Oni that had been waiting beside the door of her masters office.

 

 

Right before Subaru collided with the hallway wall his eyes met Ram’s, hers were open in surprise as they tracked his path through the air; he saw how her mouth hung open in shock when he slammed into the corridor wall with a resounding crunch. The thick wall of the corridor didn’t budge a single inch with Subaru’s impact as his back and remaining ribs snapped and cracked, further impaling and shredding his already damaged internal organs.

 

Subaru spat out blood as he struggled to breath with his now barely functional lungs as he watched Roswaal walk out towards him with one hand held out flat, horizontal to the floor with several small balls of mana floating above it. However, his approach was stopped by a call from Ram, completely shocked at the shear level of violence her master had employed against one of his own employee’s.

 

“Roswaal-sama, please don’t dirty your hands with Barusu’s blood; Ram knows that he screwed up badly but please consider Emilia-sama’s feelings before you do something drast……..” As Ram desperately pleaded with Roswaal in an effort to make him calm down she was abruptly stopped by Roswaal pointing his palm towards her, launching all the small balls of mana at her with an immense velocity.

 

An explosion rocked the whole mansion as Ram along with a large section of the wall was blown to smithereens by the sheer power of Roswaal’s raw mana being materialized. As the smoke cleared there was barely even a single trace of Ram left, had one of her bloody shoes not been visible hanging from one of the hedges in the garden than it would’ve been possible to assume that Ram hadn’t been caught in the explosion at all.

 

Subaru heard Roswaal mutter “Thank you for your service Ram” under his breath as he resumed his walk to the bloody mess that was Subaru. “Look at what you’ve caused Natsuki Subaru, it was as a result of your own actions that led Ram to die. Will you really allow such a timeline to exist where she has died? Restart the timeline.” Roswaal than lifted up Subaru’s broken body by the neck with a single hand until he was looking him right in the eyes. “Natsuki Subaru, you can undo all this madness; so fix it.”

 

However the tense atmosphere was broken by a teary voice that sounded similar to a bell, “Roswaal, Subaru…………what’s going on……..” The hallway went silent leaving only the crackling of a few flames and the pitter patter of Subaru’s blood dripping from his body before landing on the floor.

 

 

Subaru barely managed to turn to face Emilia, he tried to shout to her to run but all that attempt amounted to achieving was increasing the flow of blood from his mouth, which in turn caused Emilia to panic even more than she already was, further cementing her in place. Roswaal however simply raised a singly finger to point in her direction and with a shout of “Al Jiwald” a single bean of light originating from his finger slammed into the paralyzed Emilia, burning a hole right through where her heart would be. As her body fell to the floor all Subaru could do was stare at her face, a face frozen in grief and anguish at the sight of her benefactor brutally murdering her first friend. Not but a few seconds after her body hit the floor a frost began to quickly spread from her corpse, a ball of mana forming above her as Puck began to assume his beast of the end form so that he may attempt to freeze the world again.

 

Roswaal turned to face Suabru once again, his face looking calm for the first time since he discovered that Hector had left him, “Natsuki Subaru, this is your last chance to rewind time; otherwise you will die along with the rest of us in this timeline.” Said Roswaal.

 

Just as Roswaal finished speaking a deep voice boomed from The Beast of the End, “My daughter Lia lays dead due to your actions, perish in an icy grave along with the rest of this horrid world.”

 

Subaru and Roswaal both instantly froze solid as the world faded to black; with the telltale shadows beginning to engulf his body Subaru was once again sent back in time to try to save those he’d grown close to from certain death.

 

Chapter Text

It squirmed, wriggled, and writhed; it spread, no longer being content to merely encase his heart. It needed more, it desired to see, to hear, and to feel once again. It sought unity as it made its host very self, conform to the self it once had.

 

Natsuki Subaru felt it all happening, he felt the black mass spread up from his heart and into his brain, he felt as it found every nook and cranny, as it fused with his own sense of self. However, Natsuki Subaru did not fight it for his heart had already changed; for the colour had drained from his world and he no longer cared one damn bit about what happened to him or anyone else.

 

“The thought that I perished in another timeline is a truly melancholic idea, it nearly brings a tear to my eye. However since I am with you, Subaru-kuuuuuuuun it seems that another Hector successfully formed a contract with you in order to allow for my reunion with my beloooooved.” Hector’s voice echoed through Subaru’s mind, not seeming to originate from anywhere in particular but instead from all directions at once. Although the idea of someone else successfully looping with him would have normally made Subaru either jump with joy at no longer having to carry the burden alone, or breakdown in fear at what the jealous witch will do when she discovers it. However, Subaru was no longer the energetic and determined boy from before, for the contract with Melancholy had changed his very being right down to his soul.

 

“It’s a surprise for sure that the contract didn’t get overwritten Hector, how you managed that is beyond me; however it doesn’t really matter does it because I could just repeat the last loop and go back to the mansion if it didn’t. So in the end the contract holding doesn’t really matter, just like most things in life when the world is such a horrid place like this………” Subaru’s tone was no longer chipper and energetic, instead it was a mishmash of depression, apathy, and bitterness. He spoke like he didn’t care about a single thing going on around him, not out of free spiritedness but instead because he knew that no matter what horrid things would happen, struggling against them would only be a waste of effort.

 

“Such apathy, such sadness, such melancholy; you and I are more alike than I could ever have hoped for Subaru-kun. It does pain me when you underestimate my abilities like that however, I’m not some meager spirit whose contracts can be affected by something as petty as time. But now Subaru-kuuuun before we begin to build and execute the many plans to allow you to uphold your end of the contract I have but one question to aaaaaaask, what is it that you intend to do with the powers that I will grant you when the contract is fulfilled?”

 

Hectors voice echoed through Subaru’s head as he nearly answered out of habit, he nearly responded with, “to save Emilia and Rem.” But then he remembered, he remembered how Rem had tortured him, how she had killed him; all because of the miasma that followed him for reasons beyond his control. Subaru remembered how Emilia had abandoned him after he tried to stand up for her during the royal selection, how she had refused to trust him after all he had done for her. Subaru almost wanted to cry, he felt only despair and sadness at how his past self had blindly and willingly gone through such terror to save people who had only hurt him. The place in his heart where the love for those two girls had resided was gone, and in its place was a combination of bitter loathing for what they had done to him, and a depressing storm of disdain for the version of him who had been so willing to fight for them. And so the answer Natsuki Subaru gave to Hector was not what he nearly originally said, instead it was, “All I want is to go back home; I want to go back to my homeland beyond the great waterfall. At first I thought I would enjoy being in a new land, being given a chance to have a new life. However, it wasn’t what I expected at all, I ‘ve been suffering so much since I came here that I just want to curl up and cry. Everyone I’ve put my trust in since the day I got here as either used, manipulated, or abandoned me when it seemed convenient for them, I want to leave all of it behind and get to see my family again. I want to go back so badly I can barely think of anything else, being here makes me so sad that I can barely keep it together; I’ve only suffered here, I’ve suffered so much that I could just lay down and cry, and cry, until my tears created a lake deep enough for me to drown in. So please let me be free from this wretched place, let me be happy again, let me know something other than melancholy.” Subaru’s voice started off bitter, so bitter that it gave them impression that he hated the people he thought of with every fiber of his being, but as it trailed towards the end it gave off the impression of a depressed boy who’d lost all hope in the world, who’d give anything just to be happy again.

 

“So you’ve given up on championing the cause of Emilia, the useless doll who needs others to do everything for her? I cannot say I blame you Subaru-kuuuuuuuun, to be fight so hard for someone only to be cast aside by them the second you become inconvenient is truly heartbreaking. Given your new opinions wouldn’t you say it be best to align yourself with another camp, their resources could be useful in achieving our goals…..” Subaru suddenly cut off Hector, the idea presented to him caused a flood of memories to come back, along with the sadness and bitterness associated with them. He remembered how Priscilla had asked him to abandon his pride for her help, only to kick and berate him when he did. He remembered how Anastasia had wrung him dry of any useful bit of information before hinting where he could find a single carriage. He remembered how Crusch had got him to admit that he’d rather the Emilia camp be indebted and withdraw from the race; only to then refuse to help save Emilia because she didn’t like his attitude towards saving her. Although Subaru felt some bitterness towards their actions, the memories mainly brought an overwhelming sense of sadness. Sadness that he once had to beg for help from useless, conniving, manipulative pieces of trash; he knew now that would never ever place himself in a position of having to serve or work for them again.

 

“I want nothing to do with the royal selection whatsoever, I won’t even consider approaching one of those damn fakes with the intent of a partnership of any kind. The only way I could ever even consider working with them at all is if they approach me with some humility and respect, if they can treat me as an equal without being condescending, then I might consider some kind of partnership; but under absolutely no circumstance will I join another camp and get sucked into the royal selection again. And if I ever get the slightest hint that they are trying to exploit me to an extent unequal to the benefit I gain than I’ll end everything right then and there.” But just as Subaru finished his declaration he finally tuned back into the real world, the whole time that he’d been talking to Hector he had actually been back at his old save point, in front of the appa man with Rem.

 

“Subaru-kun, Subaru-kun, Subaru-kun are you okay? Can you hear Rem?” Rem was frantically shaking Subaru as she stood in front of him with her hands on his shoulders. After blinking a few times Subaru turned to face Rem, seeing that her eyes were full of tears, her face almost looked desperate as she continued to try and get his attention.

 

“You can stop shaking me Rem, I was just thinking.” Subaru replied in a cold and uncaring voice as he simply looked at her as if waiting for an explanation for her behavior.

 

“But Subaru-kun was just standing there mumbling to himself, mentioning names like ‘Hector’ that Rem has never heard of. A-And…” Rem than stopped a bit as she choked on her words, struggling to believe what she was about to say next. “It sounded like Subaru-kun was considering leaving Roswaal-sama’s service……….” Rem just look at Subaru as she waited for him to deny what he had said, but Subaru didn’t seem the slightest bit surprised.

 

“Uhhh yeah that’s right Rem, I guess we should talk about that.” Just as Subaru’s voice was flat and monotone, his mannerisms completely lacked energy as if all the joy in life had left him.

 

“If yer going to be having some heart to heart talk please move, I’ve got costumers to serve and you two are scaring em all away, shoo!” The appa man shouted from behind Rem, watching them walk off as Subaru led Rem by the hand away from the crowded market.

 

“What happened to ya kid, it’s like the lights just turned off inside ya all of a sudden….” The appa man exclaimed as he watched the two of them leave, wondering where the energetic and excited boy he first met had gone.

 


 

Rem followed Subaru as they walked in silence up to an empty balcony overlooking the capital, Rem trailed a few steps behind Subaru as she almost didn’t recognize him anymore since his mumbling ended. The Subaru who came back seemed to lack all joy in life, his motions and words lacked all energy, his normal quirks and mannerisms were completely gone; his behavior reminded Rem of how she felt when she thought of how she ruined her sister Ram’s life………

 

Subaru had stopped at the edge of the balcony, his body blocking the sun so it highlighted his hair as it gently blew in the breeze; if Rem’s heart wasn’t in her throat due to anxiety she’d have been drooling over how picturesque her hero looked. But her heart was in her throat, she could barely even speak because of how anxious she was; if Subaru actually was going to leave Roswaal’s employ than that would likely end their time together and this would be the last image she had of him.

 

Subaru turned around to now face Rem, his face drooping slightly as his dead and empty eyes glared right into Rem’s causing her to flinch slightly. Subaru’s shoulders were rolled forward as he slounched ever so slightly, he looked like he had a giant raincloud hanging over his head, bags had seemed to appear under his eyes in the mere ten’s of minutes it took to walk to the balcony. If someone were to see Subaru now they would assume that he was incredibly run down, the dull drab voice that emanated from his mouth as he began to speak would reinforce that idea. “Rem, I’m done with the Royal Selection, I loathe it with every bit of my heart; I wish I never got involved and so I’m ending my involvement right here right now. So Rem, this is goodbye I guess.” Subaru than tried to walk past Rem in order to leave her on the balcony but Rem wasn’t going to let him leave so easily as she sidestepped to keep herself in front of Subaru, blocking his path.

 

“Wait Subaru-kun this isn’t like you, the Subaru-kun Rem knows wouldn’t just walk away from something like this. Please talk to Rem about what’s bothering you Subaru-kun, something is obviously wrong so let Rem help you!” Rem balled her hands into fists as she brought them close to her chest, a sense of determination overpowering her previous anxiety, she was going to help her hero like he helped her.

 

“Rem, making me put in more effort than necessary is seriously making me sad; if I could’ve just walked away in the street I would’ve, so please just let me go…….” Subaru sounded exasperated as he said this, highlighting that having to go through the effort to explain this to Rem was actually a monumental task for him.

 

“Subaru-kun there’s better ways to go about this than giving up on everything you’ve achieved so far, when we get back to the mansion Rem can go with you to ask Roswaal-sama about changing your duties. Subaru-kun could be strictly a butler and not accompany Emilia-sama on Royal Selection work, Rem can handle all of Subaru-kun’s work that could involve the Royal Selection so Subaru-kun can just enjoy a simple life!” Rem got more and more excited as she laid out her plan, expecting Subaru to see her logic and praise her for sorting out his problems.

 

“Rem, your missing so much that I might actually cry; my issues with the selection aren’t strictly political. I done with the camp itself; I loathe having to deal with every single member, everyone used me, exploited me, and then Emilia tossed me aside after I screwed up once, after everything I’d done. The only thing I can feel about the whole situation is melancholy, such intense melancholy that I could drown in it; if I were to go back to the mansion, I’d be drowning in a sea of sadness too deep to ever leave.” Subaru’s tone changed, it was no longer flat and empty, it was a drudgery to Rem’s ears as it emanated nothing but pure depression, his eyes no longer met Rem’s but instead looked straight into the ground.

 

Although Rem should’ve been overjoyed that Subaru’s emotional walls were coming down, it was breaking her heart to see how sad he was. Hearing how low and depressed his voice was, seeing what looked like tears beginning to form in his eyes; all of it almost made Rem want to let him go, almost. But Rem wouldn’t give up on her hero, she’d pick him up just like how he helped her up. “Subaru-kun being sad doesn’t suit you! What happened to being fanatical like a demon, what happened to us talking about the future, what happened to the hero that saved me in the forest? Subaru-kun now isn’t the time to sit down and give up, let Rem help you, let Rem face your problems with you!”

 

Rem had the biggest smile plastered on her face as she tried to encourage her hero to share his burdens with her, she wanted to be there for him as he battled his own demons, with a demon who wanted to be his. But when Subaru looked up at her eyes once again, his were no longer teary and depressed, but instead were stone cold as they looked at her with nothing but bitterness. “Stupid. Hypocritical. Despicable. Obsessive. Weak. Why can’t you just take the hint Rem, why can’t you just accept that I don’t want the slightest thing to do with any of you, why do you just have to keep clinging to me? Why can’t you just accept that I don’t want to be around you or anyone else at the mansion anymore? Why can’t you just let me go?” Subaru’s voice got more and more incensed as his bitterness began to burn and boil into a storm inside him that was beginning to border on shear rage.

 

“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU SUBARU-KUN” Rem shouted out her confession of love as the tiniest of tears formed in her eyes, “I can’t stand the idea of you leaving Subaru-kun, since you saved me in the forest my hearts gone crazy whenever I’m around you. When I see you sleeping peacefully in your bed I’d want nothing more than to join you, I want to feel the warmth of your body, I want the first thing I see every morning to continue to be your face, I want the last thing I see at night to be your face. But now your changing Subaru-kun, you’re changing and about to go to a place that Rem can’t follow; so please Subaru-kun don’t leave Rem behind!” Rem had grabbed onto Subaru’s shoulders as tears began to run down from her eyes, as she poured her heart out for all to see, as she hoped in desperation that her feelings would at least keep Subaru from leaving.

 

“HYPOCRITICAL. CREEPY. VAIN. PITIFUL. USELESS. IF YOU WON’T GET THIS THROUGH YOUR THICK FUCKING SKULL THEN I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL REM?” Subaru shouted in an outburst of pure rage while tears flew from his eyes in antithesis to the flames of his anger burning in his heart. He grabbed Rem’s arms which were still holding onto his shoulders and threw her away from him.

 

“hrrrrrrk” Rem stumbled back before falling to the ground, too shocked to even try and catch herself. Tears began to run from her eyes as Subaru’s rant built and escalated into a complete rage filled tangent. He looked completely crazed as he shouted in pure mania with tears freely flowing from his eyes.

 

“I can’t take it, the audacity you have, the hypocrisy, its just too sad! But its also real fucking cute for you to even dare to proclaim love for me after you were willing to kill me simply because I smelled bad; Roswaal even told you to only observe but you were planning to murder me behind the backs of both your sister and master, weren’t you?” Rem began to full on sob as she continued to sit crumpled on the floor, not just because of the shear harshness of the words but also because she knew that what he was saying was true. She racked her brain, grasped at straws, trying to think of anything that could stop her dear Subaru-kun from leaving her; her mind clasped onto a name. She didn’t want to resort to it, especially after her confession had achieved nothing but if it made him stay it would be worth it.

 

With her voice shaky Rem managed to force out the words between sobs as her tears ran down, dampening parts of her dress as if they were rain drops. “W-What about …….sob…….Emilia-sama?”

 

Subaru froze when he heard her name, his fists balled up and his jaw clenched, “SHE’S THE WORST OUT OF THE WHOLE BUNCH OF YOU! THAT DAMN USELESS DOLL WHO NEEDS SOMEONE TO HOLD HER HAND EVERY FUCKING STEP OF THE WAY, IF SHE GETS LEFT ALONE FOR ONE DAMN SECOND SHE GOES AND LOSES HER ROYAL SEAL OR BLINDLY WALKS INTO A HOUSE TO DIE! WHAT MAKES IT EVEN MORE MELANCHOLIC IS THAT SHE’LL TOSS YOU ASIDE IF YOU DARE TO GET HURT TO TRY AND HELP HER, ‘OHH THANK YOU FOR STOPPING ME FROM GETTING BELITTLED AND RIDICULED BUT I THINK I’M BAD FOR YOU SO I THINK YOU AND I SHOULD PART WAYS HERE.’ HONESTLY ITS JUST SO FUCKING DEPRESSING TO DEAL WITH HER, SHES BOTH FUCKING HELPLESS BUT ALSO HATES GETTING HELP. SO REM IF YOU WANT ONE FUCKING THING TO TAKE PRIDE IN, TAKE PRIDE IN HOW YOU’RE ATLEAST LESS OF A PROBLEM THEN THAT GODDAMN HALF DEVIL!” With his rant over Subaru wiped the tears from his eyes and simply left Rem alone on the balcony. Rem grabbed the hem of his pants in an effort to keep him from leave, but Subaru simply kicked away her hand as he continued to walk; leaving Rem behind to continue to bawl her eyes out alone on the balcony.

 


 

“ Hic……What happened to you Subaru-kun…….hic” Rem trudged down the road leading to the Karsten mansion sobbing as her mind was still stuck on her last talk with Subaru a few hours ago. Her face was puffy and red from how she’d been bawling nonstop since being berated by the man she loved. What made it even worse for her was how he wasn’t even wrong with some of the things he said, she did really want to kill him when she thought he was a witch cultist; but then he saved her, he showed her how he was too kind and gentle to be a vile cultist, she even began to love him for all of it. But the man that had been there on the balcony wasn’t kind and gentle, but mean and spiteful. Even before his outburst he hadn’t seemed right, Subaru had stood there mumbling to himself for several minutes and when he finally came back to reality it was like he saw the world in a completely different way. Subaru had simply looked at everything with an empty pair of eyes that showed nothing except sadness.

 

“Rem-chan what’s wrong?!?” Rem followed the delicate pair of arms that had placed themselves on her shoulders until her teary eyes met with those of Felix Argyle, Crusch’s knight. Felix stood on the front steps of the Karsten mansion with a genuine look of worry on his face as he looked down at her.

 

“GONE, SUBARU-KUNS GONE!” Rem shouted as she enveloped the knight in an embrace, her tears flowing heavily enough to begin to soak the knight’s jacket, not caring in the slightest that she barely knew him and how he might react. Felix tensed up when he heard this as he assumed the worst, thinking that Subaru had dropped dead from some unknown ailment that he’d missed while repairing his gate.

 

“What do you mean he’s gone Rem-chan, is Subaru-kyun…..dead?” Felix’s voice hung on the last of his words, fearing that he’d failed as a healer and lost a patient due to his own negligence; even if he didn’t particularly like Subaru it was still something that would weigh on his mind for time to come.

 

Hearing his words Rem began to cry harder as she processed the idea of having to see Subaru die right in front of her, but feeling the knights tension rise even higher she did her best to calm down and clear the misconception. “No…. Subaru-kun isn’t dead, he’s leaving Emilia-sama’s camp, Rem won’t ever get to see him again……..” Although Rem had managed to contain her sobbing, her voice still quivered and threatened to break again at any moment as she vocalized the thought that had been plaguing her mind.

 

“Oh, I see; men can be such wolves sometimes Rem-chan so you shouldn’t give them your heart so easily, they’ll just take it and smash it to pieces, especially immature boys like Subaru-kyun.” Felix’s tensions eased up now that he knew it was just the boy continuing to run his own reputation even further through the mud.

 

“The Subaru-kun who said that wasn’t the Subaru-kun who saved Rem………..” Rem paused as she recalled the painfully recent memory, as well as the memories of her hero that she cherished so dearly. “The Subaru-kun who just gave up didn’t seem like Subaru-kun at all, he acted like everything in the world just made him sad; Rem didn’t see a hint of his normal energetic and happy antics at all. Subaru-kun only got bitter and angry when Rem mentioned all his friends back at the mansion, Subaru-kun didn’t even swoon when Rem mentioned Emilia-sama, he screamed about how much he hated her. Rem even confessed that she loved Subaru-kun and his cute awkward self wasn’t even there! Normally if Rem gets just a little too close to Subaru-kun he starts acting funny and gets a bit flustered; but he only shouted at Rem about how funny it was for Rem to feel that way after I seemed like I wanted to kill him when we first met……” Rem took a deep breath before delivering her last observation to the now intrigued looking healer, “It was like something happened while he was just standing in the market, he was lost in thought mumbling about stuff that didn’t make any sense to Rem; when he came to it was like Rem’s Subaru-kun was gone and replaced by a different person in Subaru-kun’s body…..” Rem still felt really hurt by his words, guilty of her own feelings towards someone who she considered killing, but now there was also an immense sense of worry for what happened to Subaru-kun to make him act like he did. She knew that her hero couldn’t have changed that much just because of what happened between him and Emilia, but Rem’s thoughts were interrupted by an old man exiting the mansion behind Felix.

 

“Has something happened Felix-dono? Why does our guest seem to be in such distress?” Wilhelm directed his questions while he eyed Rem with a puzzled look on his face.

 

“It seems Subaru-kyun said some very mean things to Rem-chan before withdrawing himself from Emilia-sama’s camp. Rem-chan said that he’d been acting very weird before he did any of these things; with that look on your face, you don’t happen to know anything about this Old Man Will?” Felix cocked his head to the side as he posed this question to Wilhelm, who himself seemed to be recalling something as he just looked at the sky for a second before returning his gaze to the pair before him.

 

“Subaru-dono departed the mansion with his belongings a few hours ago, I do believe something seemed a bit different with his mannerisms and aura. Although I can’t say I know the boy well, it does surprise me too to think that he would take such an action as well.” Wilhelm could only look disappointed as he thought about the path that this young boy could be setting himself down for the future.

Chapter Text

As the sun fell the sky took on a rich crimson hue, a hue that complimented the pinkish tinge that had overtaken the eyes of a blue haired Oni who stood by the gate of the Karsten mansion. Although Rem had tried to keep her sadness of the day’s events contained within, the process of packing up both her own things alongside the belongings Subaru had left behind had ensured that her heart remained in a state of turmoil. What had been the worst was when she found that Subaru had left his tailored butler uniform behind, reaffirming his previous statements that he was not planning on coming back to them.

 

“Rem-chan, I’m sure Crusch-sama wouldn’t mind you staying the night, it’s getting really late and you aren’t in any condition to travel.” Felix said this with a look of genuine concern on his face, turning his head towards Crusch as she nodded in agreement with his assumption.

 

“Felix is right Rem-san, it’s both dangerous to travel at night and your wits are not with you. Emilia-san and I had an agreement to board both you and that boy until his healing is complete, and although he broke that agreement with his actions, I still will not willingly throw someone innocent in my care to the wolves. So, Rem-san do not feel compelled to leave because of any such reason, if you don’t feel up to the journey yet please stay another night and head back in the morning.” Crusch spoke with a stern tone yet looked at Rem with a sense of pity in her facial expressions; relating to an extent with the trauma the maid was going through after having her heart broken. However, when Crusch referenced Subaru using the term “boy” in place of his name, she nearly sneered in disgust as she loathed the weak, cowardly, and arrogant existence he had become.

 

“Rem is deeply grateful for your concern and hospitality, and in Roswaal-sama’s place I would like to thank you for such.” Rem curtseyed as she said this before continuing, “However Rem believes that given what has occurred with a member of his staff that Roswaal-sama would want Rem to return with utmost haste. Rem is also immensely grateful that you have allowed her to borrow a dragon carriage for her journey, Rem is certain that Roswaal-sama will arrange for its immediate return.” Rem than bit her lip as she struggled to say what she wanted to next, a few tears ran down her eyes as her words caught in her chest; what came next was more of a desperate plea as Rem’s stream of consciousness exited through her mouth, absent of all the tact normally expected from a maid. “But please don’t blame Subaru-kun, Rem begs you. Subaru-kun wasn’t acting like himself when he said all those mean and hurtful things to Rem, when he left Roswaal-sama’s employment and abandoned Rem on the balcony; it was like Rem didn’t recognize Subaru-kun. So just please show Subaru-kun some leniency in your thoughts and actions should you encounter him again….” Rem hung her head as she finished, realizing how unprofessional and unsightly her outburst must have seemed.

 

 

Crusch winced ever so slightly as she heard Rem’s outburst as she closed her eyes for a few seconds to allow herself to regain her calm before speaking in a voice that held an odd juxtaposition of being calm yet stern, understanding yet disappointed; like she was delivering a lecture related to a past that still haunted her. “Rem-san, I cannot under any circumstance honor your last request. The boy that you speak of represents everything about mankind that I despise, it is because too many people in our kingdom act and behave like he did that we are so reliant on the covenant with the divine dragon. It is because many here are arrogant about their own abilities that we cannot grow in strength to allow us to rise out from under the dragon’s wing, we cannot leave its protective shade to claim our own place in the sun. It is because many here burn with envy for others that we distract ourselves with trivial pursuits while ignoring the bigger issues ahead of us. It is because of our own pride that we cannot accept the blame for our own actions, leading us to blame others which prevents us from growing through our struggles, forcing us to exist as pawns for a dragon that could not care less about us. Rem-san, Natsuki Subaru is the embodiment of every sin of our kingdom that I’ve mentioned alongside countless others that I have not; if you’ll only take one piece of advice from me, take this; Natsuki Subaru is only going to be a harmful influence on you and anyone around him in the future, so please don’t blindly chase after him.”

 

Rem’s face grew cold as she listened to Crusch’s words about her hero, even if he had berated her and behaved in a disgusting manner, she would never give up on him. And so, Rem once again curtseyed and thanked Crusch’s party before her, just this time in a cold methodical manner only done as per courtesy before departing for Roswaal’s mansion.

 


 

 

“So, Subaru-kuuuun now that you’ve retrieved your possessions from that depressingly excessive manor what do you have in stooooore for us?” Hector spoke to Subaru from within his mind using his normally depressed tone that conflicted with his somewhat playful verbal tick, that at least had sounded playful when it came from Roswaal.

 

As Subaru walked down the street away from the Karsten mansion with a gait that made him look like he’d barely managed to get out of bed, he responded to Hector. Occasionally a passerby would give Subaru an odd look as part of his conversation leaked out, but these were either ignored or met with his own empty and dead eyes. In his hands was the single thing Emilia had left him, her identity hiding cloak, and it was this item that would prove critical to Subaru’s immediate goal, to secure himself a new life in Lugunica. “Sadly in this world we require money to get by, without it I’d either die of exposure or starve; to make matters worse I only brought a small portion of my saved wages with me to the capital. Without more money I doubt I could afford to get by for more than a few days, although the idea of selling myself out as a wage slave to society certainly isn’t a happy one, but it’s better than dumpster diving for scraps of food as I slowly starve to death in some back alley.” Subaru’s own tone was flat and melancholic, barely changing as the words left his mouth.

 

“An existence as a vagrant is disgusting, agonizing, the very thought of it leeches away my spirit, if I haaaaaaad to watch something like that through your eyes, I might just have to end you to ease my own suffering. However I’m assuuuuuuuming that the cloak you have there would prevent both of those possible outcomes since you went through the trouble of retrieving it?” Hector’s voice didn’t change in the slightest even as he off handedly mentioned killing them both in order to prevent himself from having to live through a vagrant; the complete lack of inflection making it impossible to discern whether this was a joke, or if it was a genuine threat.

 

“Honestly I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if you killed me should we fall into a hole like that, but yes the cloak should prevent that from happening. It’s some kind of metia or enchanted item that prevents the wearer from being recognized, the half-devil threw it at me right before she stormed off to leave me in the capital, it should fetch a decent price.” Subaru himself didn’t seem overly caring about being executed by Hector, nor was there any hint of past fondness when he referred to Emilia as a half-devil; his voice remained ever flat and unchanging besides the slight tones of bitterness that sept into it into it.

 

Subaru had begun walking down somewhat familiar roads at this point, it was part of the path he’d travelled with Emilia during his first loop with her when they headed through the slums; and now this path would also be the beginning of his journey through this world without her.

 

“Back in my homeland of Japan I was a shut-in, I avoided contact with most people and stayed in my room all day avoiding both school and any kind of work. Back then I found it kinda sad, but in a way it made me kinda happy, not having to really worry about too much, not having to deal with anything too serious; just coasting through life. I would honestly give just about anything to get to go back to that life, but while I’m here I’m not going to break my back as I work for a pittance trying to get by. I plan to take some of the money from this cloak and use it to construct some things from my homeland, I’ll sell them to make enough to get by. Although having to labor through the day at all isn’t a good thought, at least this’ll mean that I won’t have to work under someone’s whip.” Subaru’s voice emitted just the tiniest bit of warmth as he spoke of his time back in Japan, before growing cold once again as the topic returned to labor.

 

“If I remember correctly from what you toooooold Roswaal, you lived with your parents before you caaaaaaame here, did you enjoy their presence or was it ……. melancholic?” Hector paused slightly before saying “melancholic” with a bit of extra emphasis, giving it an ominous feel.

 

“Overall I enjoyed living with them, my dad made me feel utterly inferior in regards to all aspects of life; but he and my mom did their best to give me a happy life, and for that I’m grateful to them. By the way Hector, I know nearly nothing about you yet you seem to know a fair bit about me….” Subaru’s voice was still tinged with fondness as he recalled his parents, it would not have been an out of place response should he have given it weeks or months ago. Even as he continued towards other topics he seemed almost like his old self, like the cloud of melancholy around him had slightly abated.

 

“My past is one that only brings me sadness and despair to recall, if possible I would want to forget nearly every single moment of it besides the memories of one person. However the idea of leaving out the one who has agreed to aid me would be, distasteful; so I shall tell you later today when we are finished with our other business. On thaaaat note I believe we must discuss our approach to the other candidates, for their assistance would greatly ease our task, and we can both agree that excessive toil towards a task caaaaan only bring sadness to one’s heart.” Briefly images of a women dressed in black and a middle aged man with a big bushy beard flickered through Subaru’s vision as Hector seemingly shared tiny pieces of his memories unintentionally, but just as soon as they appeared, they were gone.

 

The second he heard this melancholy and bitterness returned once again to Subaru’s demeanor, the fond memories of his life in Japan faded as those of his earlier tribulations replaced them. “Although I agree that I’d rather not work my ass off if it can be avoided; I’m not bowing down before any of those damn girls to beg them for a favor of any kind.” Subaru spat this back at Hector as he crossed a small bridge over a stream, bringing him into the slums. “Like I said before, I’d be willing to work with some of them if it could be on an equal or better footing; either I trade something and directly get something back or they come to me with a request and offer something in exchange; I will not be some underling who has to beg their master for scraps, not anymore.”

 

“It pains me with how obvious the solution is, just find something they desire and trade that to them for what we need. As someone who can loooooop through time, looking into the future and returning to the preseeeent to offer exactly what they seek should not be toooo hard for you. Although I shoooould admit that my own memory seeeeemed to have been reset from when you loooooped through time with me, as I can’t exactly remember meeting you at all prior to a few hours ago.” Although Hector’s ignorance over the specific mechanics of Return by Death resulted in a plan that would certainly result in death for Subaru, it also meant that Subaru did not have to worry about being punished by the jealous witch for unwillingly revealing it when he died to Puck, which had been a slight worry in Subaru’s mind ever since he met Hector.

 

“Hmmm, I guess that would be the most straightforward way to get what we want……..Then the question becomes who, and what do we find for them.” Subaru’s voice slightly trailed as he understood the gravity of the suggestion, committing suicide once he had the information he needed; however he seemed to simply dismiss his qualms with the idea as he further questioned how to execute the plan in question.

 

“Well let us start with our dear half-elf Emilia………” Hector began to speak but was quickly cut off by Subaru.

 

“No never, under no circumstance do I want anything to do with her. The mere thought of her depresses me, like my very heart is flowing out of my body; the very idea of having to deal with that irritating half-devil makes me distraught, it crushes my very soul. So no, I would rather die before I would willingly even see her again, or at least I’d prefer if she just dropped dead so the very possibility of having to see her again was zero.” Subaru was vehemently irate at the idea of having to even work with Emilia again, even if it were on a standing that would be acceptable to him if she were another candidate.

 

“So noisy, so rude, to interrupt your partner like that, it depresses me, it makes me lose heart.” Subaru began to feel a pressure build around him, the literal air felt like it got heavier as Hectors rant built. ” Why can’t you just be more considerate of others? Why must you be so noisy, so annoying, why can’t you just wait a few seconds to let me finish before objecting?” Cracks started to form in the pavement around Subaru as he was beginning to have trouble standing, the pressure on his body was slowly building up higher and higher. “Buuuut I can emphasize with what you must feel when the prospect of working with her was brought up; after what she did to you, I can say that I might’ve reacted similarly.” As these words left Hector’s mouth Subaru could feel his surroundings return to normal, the pressure around him dissipating. “From Roswaaaaaal’s research I can say the two most likely candidates for you to be ableeeee to leverage would be Crusch Kaaaaarsten, and Anastasia Hoshin. As you probably know Suuuuubaru-kun, Anastasia is incredibly greedy and as such would probably be willing to do just about anything should she staaaand to sufficiently profit from it. Crusch Karsten is likely to now hold a raaather poor view of you, more severe compared to the other candidates as a result of your recent actions; however I believe that she wouldn’t turn you away over that should she see you as essentiaaaaal to a plan of hers. Aaaaas for Priscilla and Felt, Roswaaaal laaaacked enough information to build a personality fiiiiile of any use; so we should focussssss on thooooose two for now.”

 

“Although I can’t disagree with what you’ve said, why exactly do we even need their help? You haven’t even told me how exactly I’m going to reunite you with this person, if its just travelling there I doubt it would take too long to get enough money to charter a carriage.”

 

“It’s not for my goal Subaru-kuuuuuuun, its for yours, from the disgusting presence of the miasmaaaaaaaa that she placed on you, I think that we caaaaaan certainly use all the help that we caaaan get; even if it’s for nothing more thaaaan some fodder.” As Hector finished Subaru pushed open the doors of a dilapidated shop in the slums, the inside the building appeared incredibly rundown. There were holes in the walls and ceiling, some of the paint was peeling off, and it was absolutely packed with stuff ranging from small trinkets to clothing.

 

“Buying or selling?” An old man with a large and bushy grey beard croaked from behind the counter.

 

“Both” responded Subaru in a flat and empty voice.

 

 

The old man briefly eyed the boy, taking note of how his eyes appeared empty and devoid of life; how his face showed nothing other than how he appeared downcast and rundown. The old man then cleared off a portion of the counterspace before motioning for Subaru to place what he had for sale down on it. Subaru approached the counter and placed Emilia’s cloak down alongside his own tracksuit jacket.

 

“You’re selling your own memento to Japan Subaruuuuuu-kun?” Hector communicated with him telepathically.

 

“I stand out too much with it on, I’d rather blend in from now on, and I can just get a new one when I’m back in Japan.” Subaru replied back to Hector without a single hint of emotional attachment to his once beloved tracksuit but was immediately interrupted by the old man.

 

“Eh Sonny can ya please speak up, I can’t hear what you’re saying” The old man nearly shouted at Subaru as it became apparent to Subaru that he must have been mumbling out his response to Hector alongside saying it within his mind.

 

“Never mind, I’m here to sell this enchanted cloak and a more regular jacket. The cloak makes it nearly impossible to recognize the wearer, if you put it on you can still be seen but nobody will know who they are seeing.” Subaru then demonstrated the cloaks affect much to the shop keeper’s amazement before he returned it to the table and motioned to his jacket. “This jacket is from a land far, far to the east of here; it’s made from cloth not available here so it should still have some value even if it’s a bit rundown.”

 

“5 Holy Coins” Said the old man, but Subaru did not even respond as he grabbed the cloak and jacket on the counter before turning to leave the store.

 

“Wait 6, no 7 holy coins!” The old man reached out for Subaru with an outstretched hand, grasping his shoulder in order to prevent him from leaving.

 

“7 and an introduction to a landlord; and please let go of me, having my person assaulted like that is, distressing.” Subaru’s voice remained cold and level as he spoke, he turned back around and placed the articles of clothing back on the counter in front of the store man. As he palmed the coins the man handed to him something caught his eye. Hanging across a chair was a long, worn, and dark jacket; Subaru turned back to face the man and while pointing at the jacket asked, “How much for that?”

 

The old man simply said “On the house” with an extremely energetic voice, he was obviously going to make a killing off reselling the enchanted cloak and was thus absolutely ecstatic. As Subaru was walking over to pick up the replacement for his track suit jacket the old man said, “just give me a minute and I’ll walk ya over to Karl’s building, he should have a place vacant for ya.”

 


 

Subaru stood inside his new home, or more correctly the single room that constituted his new home. On one side of the room there was a box with a metal grate as its lid, inside it contained a single fire crystal that would generate enough heat to let him cook food, beside it was a small pile of cookware that was not arranged in any particular order. As well the room contained a single rolled up mat and blanket which would have to stand in for a proper futon; alongside this was a single knee-high table with barely enough surface area to hold a single meal. There was a single bathroom and washing area for this floor of the building. From the other units Subaru had walked by, everything in this building was pretty run down. His own room was incredibly dark, the only light coming from a single window that faced towards the richer district of the city. There were holes in the walls that exposed some of the structural supports, as well as small mice holes at ground level that occasionally had a small critter or two emerge, before they quickly scurried back into the building’s walls. The room even had an odd smell to it, it was a damp, earthy smell that one would commonly associate with mold.

 

“Disgusting, horrid, decrepit, depressing, nothing like home……..” Subaru lamented as he moved to look out of the only window in room. As he surveyed the cityscape his eyes landed on one building off in the far distance, the Karsten manor. They were pretty far away, far enough that he wasn’t able to make out the details of the tiny specks that were moving in a frenzy all around the front yard of the manor. But as he stood watching them for a few minutes all the small hairs on his arms and legs suddenly stood on end as his flesh became prickled with goosebumps; he felt like he was being watched and as he focused harder to try and find the source of his bodies alarm his eyes finally settled on it. There was one single speck standing completely still amid the hustle and bustle of the Karsten manor; the speck’s colour was a mixture of jet black and grey, and from what Subaru could make out, it was staring straight at him.

 

Subaru stood back from the window as he realized that he had certainly been noticed by someone from the Karsten manor, but unless this person possessed near superhuman vision there was no possibility that he could be identified. Since both his wardrobe and silhouette had changed mere hours ago it should be more or less impossible to identify him without being able to make out his face. Subaru was now wearing the long dark jacket he had bought, that was more akin to a dark trench coat then his previous jacket. He wore it with the front open, revealing his dark pants and t-shirt, these in turn matched with the dark rings that had formed around his eyes, and his black hair that now hung down in the front to give him the disheveled appearance of someone who looked like they had every last drop of life wrung out of him.

 

As Subaru walked away from the window his hands instinctively went into his pockets and his head hung somewhat lower then normal, his strides were sluggish yet long, it was a demeanor similar to an everyday salaryman walking home after finishing a long stint of unpaid overtime; it gave of the radiance of both exhaustion and regret, yet Subaru felt neither. He knelt on the cold, hard and uncovered floor to give his paper a final once over before he would take it to an artisan’s guild workshop during the next morning. The paper held a rough sketch that depicted a kotatsu; a short wooden table with a heavy fabric frill around the outer edge that was just long enough to touch the ground, a small box with a tiny fire crystal was in the middle to generate heat. The purpose of this device was to serve as a table while allowing the user to be kept quite warm by the heat trapped underneath. Subaru’s plan was to sell this device to generate enough revenue to pay for both rent and food, without having to deplete the store of cash he had built today, it would be this innovation along with others from his world that would allow him to make his way in Lugunica. Although he lacked any formal education in terms of drafting, he checked over his sketch once more to ensure it had all the details he thought were needed.

 

Once that process was done Subaru walked over to the mat and blanket, unrolling both before removing his jacket and sliding between them. As he closed his eyes and felt his mind begin to drift off to sleep, he heard a now familiar voice echo through his head. “Now Natsuki Subaru-kuuuuun I will uphold my promise, now you will experience the past that forced me onto the path of the Warlock of Melancholy.

 

As these words echoed through his head Subaru found himself in the body of a young boy, Subaru could not speak, he couldn’t move. However, he could feel the gentle rays of the sun from the sky, he could hear the gentle rustle of the wind, he could see a field of wheat slowly blowing in the wind, and he could feel the drudgery of existential dread that the boy felt, for dread was the only emotion the boy seemed to know.

Chapter Text

A boy stood alone in the middle of a large field of wheat, he could feel the gentle evening rays of the sun as it began to dip below the horizon, casting across the sky a gentle crimson as if to signal the end of the day. The boy felt the cool evening breeze as sweat dripped down his face and back for he was incredibly tired from a long day at work; one that had begun just as the sun had began to rise above the horizon. The boy’s hands shook and trembled in fear as he gripped a scythe that was much too big for him, he did not hold the scythe in self-defence for he was much too afraid of the man walking towards him to dare try and fight back. All that little Hector could do was stand paralyzed in fear as the man that he had only known as father approached him with a look of disappointment on his face.

 

Hector’s father was not a very big man, being of a very average height and just a slightly heavier than average build. He was by no means a very intimidating man, however when Hector craned his neck to look up at him as they stood nought but a pace or two apart, he may as well have been a giant. Hector had the small stature of a prepubescent boy, not having even reached his tenth birthday; and so as he stood before his father he reached nought more than halfway up his chest. As Hector stood there looking up at his fathers face he saw nothing more then disappointment, he saw how his fathers eyes held no warmth for him, how his face sagged at the very sight of him, how he saw not a son in front of him but a failure. Hector already knew all too well at his young age what was almost certainly going to occur to him, he knew what kind of lesson he would receive due to disappointing his father.

 

“Hector, I thought I told you to clear both the fields by the end of the day; but the field behind you looks far from clear…….” Hector’s father looked down on him with an imposing gaze, it felt like he was staring right through Hector into the back of his mind, trying to decipher why his son had not done what he had asked of him. Hector also knew that should he wait too long to respond to his father, that his father’s disappointment would soon turn into frustration, and it would be precisely then that the ‘lesson’ would solely become a session of anger relief, with Hector being the provider of the relief.

 

“The west field is completely cleeeeeear father, and this field will be doooooone before midday tomorrow.”

 

SMACK

 

 

Before he knew what happened Hector found himself laying on the ground with blood beginning to trickle down from his nose. The left side of his face felt sore, he wanted to cry, his lip began to quiver; but he stopped himself for he knew should he show any weakness things would only get worse. Ever since Hector was old enough to really be afraid, he had been afraid of his father; the slightest of things would set him off and lead to him beating Hector until he grew bored of it. Although Hector was still a child, and a spindly one at that, and he faced nearly daily physical abuse from his father; his father had always ensured that he had enough food and water, he had always made sure that none of Hector’s cuts or wounds grew infected. For reasons beyond what the little boy could comprehend it seemed that his father somewhat cared for him, even if he appeared to despise him, looked like he loathed him, and treated him no better then a slave.

 

“You’re not coming inside until this field is cleared, I blame your laziness on that damn demi blood that you have running in your veins. You may not look like one of them beasts, you look completely human in fact; but you can’t trick us, I know, and all of the town knows who your wench of a mother was. Oh and stop speaking like a damn clown boy, you can say you can’t help it all you want but if you keep it up I may just start dressing you like one.” Hectors father then spit on the ground as he turned and slowly walked back to the house, leaving Hector to stand up on his own.

 

Hector had never known his mother, only knowing of her very existence from when his father mentioned her; on the odd occasion that he did, it was never in a positive light. He did not really know what to feel towards her either, when he was in town, he saw other kids walking with their moms; but it was because of his mother that his father treated him so badly. It was because of her that he was a ‘demi human’ even if he looked like any other kid, but he also saw how all the other kids seemed to love their mothers and be so happy; so should he be like them and love his mother? Or should he hate her for causing him to be miserable and fearful all the time? This was a question that had been plaguing the young Hector for as long as he could remember, but it was also a question that he could not answer.

 

Hector stood up off the ground and let out a sigh before he got to work clearing the field as the sky began to darken and the air grew cold. It took the effort of his whole body to swing the scythe, he often fell over after the swing alongside the wheat; not because he harmed himself but because he did not weigh enough to properly control the momentum of the blade. As he worked, he could feel his stomach rumble, it had been over 12 hours since he had last eaten, and it likely would be a few more simply by the size of the field left to clear. But he had dinner to look forward to, he knew that his father had eaten chicken for dinner and normally he got some leftovers alongside a gruel made of barely and wheat; his mouth salivated at the thought of his dinner as he worked under the nights sky.

 

Early the next morning Hector grunted as he pulled a wooden two wheeled wagon behind him, every step was a struggle as he slogged to make his grain delivery to the mill. What made this worse was how tired and exhausted he felt due to not getting to bed until well past the middle of the night, he had deep and dark eyebags alongside the large red welts on his face. Hector had been too tired to wake up on time, and as a result he was woken by his father’s leather belt on his face.

 

 

As Hector pulled the wagon along, he passed by a group of kids that looked around his age, there were three of them playing with a ball on the side of the dirt street. One of them was tall and lanky, with a mop of golden hair; he was the son of the captain at arms who headed the town guard. The two other boys with him were twin brothers, one around average height and a bit heavy, the other short and tiny. Both had the same chestnut hair colour, but the bigger twin wore his down to his shoulders while the tiny one had a cut close to his scalp. Hector had never gotten to play with these boys, or any other kids for that matter, or play in general if one really thought of it; ever since he was able to work he’d been put to work by his father, before that he was more or less just left alone and ignored. Hector did not know the names of these boys, nor did he think they knew his, but they had their own names for him.

 

“Hey loooooooooook it’s the freak!” shouted one of the twins.

 

“Oh no he’s goooooooooooing to eat me, what eeeeeeever shaaaaaaaaall I dooooo” chimed in the other twin.

 

“Where’s your collar beastboy? If you just happen to be too stupid to keep track of it then I could always tie a rope around your neck insteaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.” Menaced the blond boy.

 

The trio stood there hurling insults at Hector as they always did, either basing them off of Hector’s uncontrollable verbal tick, or his supposed demi human ancestry. Hector wanted to lash back at them, shout at them that it was not true; if he could not do that then he wanted to just run away from them as fast as possible. But Hector could not do either of those things, if he left the cart in order to run he would get even more, and deeper lashes from his dad’s belt when he was eventually found. Should Hector shout back at them, call them liars, demand they stop, then all that would happen would be his dad getting a visit from the guard captain, which in turn would lead to lashes for Hector. He simply had to close himself off from the rest of the world, he only had another few buildings to go before he would be at the millers hut.

 

When Hector arrived at the miller’s house, he pulled the wagon up beside the larger side doors before gently letting go of the crossbar and stepping over it to approach the doors. He banged as hard as he could with his small hands and soon the doors parted to reveal a large and well-built man. The miller was well over a head taller than Hector’s dad, and his whole body was covered in a thick layer of muscle built from turning the quern stone by hand. The miller was bald with a blonde mustache, the green eyes that looked down at Hector were full of annoyance as he eyed the boy and the wagon that he had pulled with him.

 

 

“I was expecting this to arrive a fair bit earlier ya’know, guess you damn demi’s can’t get even simple things right these days….” The miller stood there shaking his head in some combination of annoyance and disdain over how the little boy had not managed to pull the wagon faster, before raising his voice with a tinge of frustration. “Well, what the fuck are you just standing there for? Unload the damn wagon!”

 

At the roughness of his voice little Hector scurried to unload the wagon as fast as his tired little arms would let him, he was already exhausted from his lack of sleep and the hours he had spent pulling the wagon, but he was motivated by fear. The harsh treatment from his father had instilled in him a general fear of displeasing adults, even the slightest trace of annoyance in their face or body would fill Hector with anxiety over potentially upsetting them.

 

After receiving a small bag of coin from the miller Hector set back off to return home, slowly pushing the wagon with the coin pouch lashed to his pants, however as Hector rounded the corner, he saw the trio from earlier, and this time they seemed to be waiting for him.

 

“Oink, Oink, Oink” Went the two twins.

 

“Are you hungry wiiiiiiiitle pig boy? Don’t worry we were kind enough to bring some food for you!” Just as the blonde boy finished saying that Hector began to be barraged by a hail of rotten fruits and vegetables.

 

He crouched down and raised his hands to protect his face as objects slammed into him over and over again. Some of them were hard and hurt when they struck him, others were softer but broke when they hit, causing him and his clothing to be slowly drenched from the juice emptying out of the splattering fruit.

 

They didn’t stop…..

 

They just kept going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on……..

 

He could not take it any longer.

 

For the first time in a long time Hector began to cry; why did they hate him so much, why did everyone he ever meet hate him, why did everyone he ever meet go out of their way to make him miserable. Today was the worst day Hector had ever experienced in his life, he hated it, he hated everyone, he hated the world he had been born into…..

 

These were the thoughts that ran through the head of little Hector as he stood crouched in the road as fruit rained down on him. He really did feel like a helpless beast of burden as he crouched there behind the bar for pushing the wagon, sweaty and smelly from how hard he worked, covered in rotten fruit, and crying from how horrible his life was, and how little he could do about it.

 

Eventually the three either grew bored of tormenting Hector or simply ran out of fruit to throw, allowing Hector a breather to slowly trudge back home with the wagon. He arrived as the sky grew crimson, his face and clothes stained and sticky from the fruit juice, his eyes still burning red as tears continued to roll down his face. Opening the door of his house he was greeted by his father standing there, impatiently tapping his foot on the floor with his arms crossed across his chest. When Hector saw him, he rushed towards him and buried his face into his shirt as his crying returned to sobbing; for while his father may not have been that nice to him, he still was the person nicest to him out of those he interacted with by the sole standard of giving him food and a roof. In his emotional state Hector sought comfort from the man because of this, but anyone would say that this was obviously the wrong choice.

 

Hector’s father was stunned and in shock from the unexpected actions of his son, but he soon snapped both back into reality and at his son. Grabbing a handful of his hair and yanking it back before slamming his fist repeatedly into Hector’s stomach until he doubled over on the floor in pain, that was his response to his sons need for comfort; that was just the kind of man his father was. As Hector lay on the floor clutching his stomach in pain while trying to suck in breathes, both through his own pain and his now uncontrollable sobbing, his father knelt down and screamed into his ear.

 

“JUST WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING BOY? YOU’RE FUCKING FILTY AND YOU GRAB ONTO ME TO AND WIPE YOUR DAMN NOSE INTO MY SHIRT? AND WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO IN TOWN TO GET SO FUCKING DIRTY, ARE YOU ACTUALLY PART PIG AND JUST FELT THE URGE TO ROLL AROUND IN THE RUBBISH? WELL IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER ANYMORE I GUESS SINCE YOUR CLOTHES ARE RUINED.” Hectors father then grabbed a handful of Hectors clothing in each hand and ripped it off him before hurling it into the waste bin. He then lifted the trembling and nearly naked Hector to his feet before shoving him in the direction of the wash basin they kept in a small room. “Go clean yourself up before going to bed, I’d throw your food out but I’m not sure that it wouldn’t just make you dive into the waste bin after it like a wild beast.”

 

And so Hector did as instructed, he staggered to the wash basin and scrubbed his face clean before falling into his rough straw bed, the dried straw irritating his bare skin like it normally did. He lay there crying for a bit before he heard pounding on the wall behind his head.

 

“IF YOU DON’T SHUT THE FUCK UP HECTOR, I WILL COME OVER THERE AND GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!”

 

After hearing this Hector closed his eyes and began to count, a trick he learned to calm himself and stop his tears long ago.

 

One

 

Two

 

Three

 

Four

 

Five

 

Hector took a deep and rattly breath as he opened his eyes; something had changed in those five seconds, it was not just that he felt calmer, it was the world itself that seemed different. Before he closed his eyes, he saw a vibrant yet painful, harsh yet vivid world. When he opened them however there was no colour, all that had made the different things in the world vivid were gone; everything was grey. The fear that Hector had felt, the vivid pain that had struck his heart was gone; the dread that had plagued him as part of his daily life was gone. Even the fear of his father and other adults was gone. For now the world was a cold and boring place devoid of colour, for now there was a raincloud overtop of him that would drown out the harshness of the world, for now it seemed the world saw fit to cloak Hector in a blanket of melancholy in order to protect him.

 


 

Hector opened his eyes and all he saw was ………….. grey. It had been years since that fateful night, the night where he broke in the face of the harsh world, where he gave up on life itself. Everyday since then Hector had simply gone through the motions that he deemed necessary to get by; whether he had rotten fruit thrown at him or whether he was shouted at all day did not affect his mood in the slightest. No matter what happened each day Hector felt nothing more then melancholy, he drowned in it, it permeated him, his very aura exuded it.

 

As he stood up he drearily meandered over to his single pair of clothes, these were colourful unlike what he wore as a child, at least that’s what he had been told, since it wasn’t like he could still see colour in the world anyway. Hector slowly slipped into the clothes, they were significantly more intricate than what he used to wear and such required some time to put on; parts of them had to be tied up, parts had to be put on after other parts, without following the proper process they would get in the way of his work and irritate him throughout the day.

 

Hector walked out of the house without the slightest spring in his step, his face was sullen and his eyes depressed; if one were to see him they would question how he even managed to get out of bed everyday. As per his normal daily routine he was once again pushing a cart, but unlike before his cart was empty. His father had sold off their fields and used the money to open a small store, which he ran; as a result of this Hector became a full-time delivery boy, carting goods to and from the store for the entirety of the day under the hot lugunican sun.

 

Hector didn’t say a single thing or give even the slightest reaction at this point when he had insults or fruit hurled at him, the adversity and discrimination he faced could no longer make him feel even the slightest bit worse than he already did. This did not stop the wretched trio however, everyday they had stuff ready to throw his way, everyday they had new insults prepared to fire off at him. At the very least it was a testament to their abilities to manage to think of a new spin on clown or demi human everyday for several years, if they truly were stupid they would have started rehashing old ones long ago; or maybe it was just that Hector cared so little at this point he could no longer tell when one was new or when one was old. His customers were a little better in this regard, although they generally did make one snide comment over his heritage, his way of speaking, or his dress; they at the very least did not throw anything at him or get up in his face. His father however had only grown worse with his abuse, he hit Hector significantly more and significantly harder now that he had grown enough to endure more, his punishments normally lasting until his father was too physically tired to keep going; his verbal abuse going on until his throat went horse.

 

One would think that Hector would have ended his life long ago after having gone through so much on a daily basis, but the thought had never even entered his mind for he ran solely on autopilot, that autopilot taking him through everyday until now when he was pulled back to reality through the fog that filled his mind. For just an instant Hector was back in the world, and its cause was as mundane as the wheel of his wagon hitting a tiny bump on the way back home.

 

Hector put the wagon down and simply stared ahead at the three paths that lay before him; to his left was a barely used track into the forest, it led away from his home to a place he had never been to. As the path entered the forest it became shaded by overgrowth to the point it was too dark to see down. Directly in front of him was the only path he had ever taken; it led to his home and was well worn from the thousands of times he had walked it with his wagon over the years. Finally to his right was not exactly a path, it was more or less just some slightly matted grass from someone treading off the actual path recently. If you followed the footsteps you would see that it led up to a small hill that overlooked the surrounding area, atop the hill stood a lone and withered tree, its leaves long gone as the trunk had died many years ago. For reasons unknown to even Hector himself he felt compelled, or even drawn to this tree; perhaps it was due to some sense of similarity he felt with it, perhaps not. Following this compulsion Hector stepped away from his wagon and began the short trek up to the tree without having even the slightest clue as to why he would risk angering his father to visit it. He walked up the hill with the same expression and demeanor he had worn the whole day, emptiness.

 

Finally reaching the tree he just stood there and looked down at the base of the trunk, there was almost little there, almost nothing but not nothing. At the base of the tree was the remains of an upturned bird’s nest, the eggs of the young that had not had the chance to be born were cold and long dead. As the winter was fast approaching it is likely that they had been here for some time, but whether they had been abandoned by their parents before they fell or long after was unclear, but the end result was the same, without the care and nurturing they needed, they had died. Hector stared at the eggs for awhile before putting his back against the tree and slumping down to the ground, his eyes growing glassy as tears began to form for the first time in along while. Perhaps he pitied the young unborn birds for not having the opportunity to be born, perhaps he envied them for being saved from the clutches of this cruel world by fate; it was almost certainly one of these ideas as he sat on the hill with a grey overcast sky above and a cool autumn breeze swirling around him. It was one of these ideas that he contemplated when he the gentle rustling of grass reached his ear; the sound made by someone walking up the hill from the other side of the tree.

 

As he heard them walk closer Hector prepared for the normal treatment he received from people, he was ready to have them scream and shout at him, demand he leave and stop ruining the view for them. And so as they walked beside Hector he did not utter a single word, merely looking forward as he prepared for the worst, but the worst did not come.

 

“Although I cannot say I personally find it too enthralling to just sit and watch unchanging scenery, I guess I can say that I understand why someone might want sit and just stare.” The voice that spoke was young, feminine, and was carried with a slightly soft tone. After the woman finished speaking Hector could hear her sit down beside him, on the side opposite the bird’s nest.

 

This was not right, something was wrong, why hadn’t she shouted at him yet, why hadn’t she demanded he leave for having demi human blood, or for dressing and speaking so oddly.

 

“Sometimes it is enjoyable to just sit and wonder, wonder how things would have gone differently if just one tiny thing long ago were to have been different. Is that why you are here Hector?” The woman continued to speak in a soft voice, without a hint of malice even as she said his name. She was still not showing the tiniest hint of disdain towards him, even though she knew his name; she even being kind to him.

 

“I don’t thiiiiiiiink about such things, this world is already cruel enough to me, the idea that I’ve beeeeeeeeeeen cheated out of a good life due to misfortune would be one of the few things that could make me feel even worse at thiiiiiiis point.” Hector answered the woman’s question with an empty and hollow voice, conveying nothing but melancholy. Hector did not even turn to face the woman who spoke, instead choosing to face straight forward towards the open scenery in front of him.

 

“Hmmmm well I wouldn’t say that I didn’t expect an answer like that, but any answer to a question such as what I asked is interesting unto itself.” The woman paused for a few seconds before continuing, “I guess that I forgot to introduce myself, seeing as I already know why you are, but you don’t know who I am it would be the proper thing to do. Just by the way Hector, I am assuming you do not have much experience in this regard, but it isn’t good for a maiden’s heart when you don’t even bother to face her when she makes an attempt to converse with you.” The woman then stopped talking and seemed to wait for Hector to face her for the first time in their conversation before she would continue.

 

And so Hector slowly turned his head to see the woman who was unexpectedly showing him kindness, and when he saw her his jaw hung open just the tiniest bit. Seemingly as if decreed by fate the clouds had parted behind her, revealing the crimson afternoon sun which illuminated her, giving her an angelic vibe as her figure was outlined by the last rays of the setting sun. She looked to be younger than he had thought that she was, appearing to be around his age; she wore a long black dress that by its snug fit and pristine condition seemed to show that she was not used to the strenuous outdoor work that he did on a daily basis. Her hair was long and white, contrasting greatly with her black eyes. However what amazed Hector the most about her was that he was seeing her in colour, ever since that night as a young boy he had only seen things in greyscale, but here was a living person in colour, a living person who was being nice to him as well. It was like the world had turned over a coin and decided to deliver him to his saviour.

 

As she watched him with a smile on her face, she opened her mouth and softly yet confidently introduced herself, “My name is Echidna, it’s nice to meet you Hector.” With that she flashed him another smile as he simply sat there awestruck.

“Whyyyyyy are you being so nice to meeeeee?” Hector voiced the question that had been sitting in his mind since Echidna had shown up, why would she be kind to someone the whole village hated, why would she be kind to someone hated by even his own family.

 

Echidna put a finger on her chin and looked up at the cloudy sky before speaking, “hmmm well why wouldn’t I be? I may be an evil magic user but that doesn’t mean I can’t be kind, does it?”

 

Now Hector did not have the slightest clue what Echidna meant by “an evil magic user” but the fact that someone was being kind to him made him feel happy, for probably the first time in his life he was just happy. The words “I see” escaped his lips as he looked down with a smile on his face, a facial expression that he did not ever remember using.

 

“You see Hector, I’m a very curious person so if you don’t mind me asking, can you tell me why you looked like you were going to cry earlier?” Echidna tilted her head quizzically as she posed her question.

 

“Envy, I envied that these little biiiiiirds were saved from this cruel wooooorld while I was not.” Hector motioned to the fallen bird’s nest on the other side of him from Echidna, who leaned out to look at it. The second she saw it she made a “hrrk” sound and leaned back with a gloomy look on her face.

 

“If that’s how you felt then why are you still here, if you think that not being born would have been a better path then why not die Hector?” Echidna’s voice seemed to shake as she said this, as if the topic was legitimately uncomfortable for her to speak about.

 

“Never thooooought about it” Hector replied curtly as he tried to get through the current topic as quickly as possible, picking up that his previous answer had bothered her.

 

“Huh?” Echidna looked up rather sharply, “You mean to say that with how horrid your life seemed to have been up to this point, and how you envy something that died before it was even born, that you never thought of committing suicide?” Echidna was now staring at him with a perplexed expression on her face, but if you were to look into her eyes, you would see a twinkle of something behind them; Echidna was completely captivated by the answer, fascinated. It seemed like the morbid nature of the topic was no longer a concern to her whatsoever, something in the answer had caught her hook line and sinker.

 

“I went through the motiooooons of life up to this point without reaaaaaally thinking, if you’ve only knoooown sadness then why would you seek a means to escape it for something unknoooown? And how do you know soooooo much about me when I had never met yooooou up to this poiiiint?” Hector’s voice remained completely flat throughout the entirety of his statement, not changing in the slightest.

 

Echidna the looked away as her face became ever so slightly tinged with red before she began to speak incredibly quickly with a very heavy hint of fluster in her voice, “Ummm I may have been watching you for a bit…… JUST A BIT THOUGH, IT WAS INTERESTING SEEING HOW YOU HANDELED YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES OKAY. Anyway, its time to go, come back here tomorrow okay?” Echidna then swiftly stood up and after brushing off her dress she swiftly walked back down the hill before Hector knew what was happening.

 

Hector remained sitting on the hill for the next few moments thinking about the encounter with Echidna he just had, it was the first time he had held a conversation with someone and they had not berated or hurt him. It was one of the first times that he had felt truly happy in his life. And so with these feelings of happiness in his mind he stood up and began to walk down the hill to retrieve his cart, and with a smile on his face he resumed the last leg of the grueling journey home.

 

It had been dark for a significant amount of time when he walked through the front door of his house, when he walked in to get punched right in the stomach.

 

“WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN BOY? YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN BACK HOURS AGO” Shouted his father as Hector crumpled to the floor from the punch. However much the punch may have hurt Hector, he chose not to answer the question for he feared that should he answer that he may never get the chance to see her again, to talk to her, to be with the one person who was kind to him again. And it was because of this that Hector was forced to lay on the floor as his father kicked away at him, but Hector did not mind this in the slightest, for now he had something he could hold onto and treasure in his life. Because now Hector finally had something that made him happy.

 


 

 

“Don’t worry piggy we got more food for you!” Laughed the normal trio as they threw chunks of rotten food at Hector as he pulled his wagon through town. It was a continuation of the behaviour that they had been keeping up for nearly a decade at this point, doing their best to ensure that Hector’s life was as miserable as possible. But now things were different, because now there was someone providing a light that guided him through the darkness, because now Hector had Echidna. After their meeting on that hill all those years ago the two had continued to meet there nearly daily, sometimes talking about the most obscure things, other times simply sitting there together until it got dark. It was these meetings that shone a beam of light, giving Hector a shard of happiness to hold in his broken heart; his heart even beginning to behave differently when he was around her. It would beat faster when they were close, it would feel downtrodden when they had to separate, only to become excited when it was nearly time for the two to meet again.

 

However today his heart would not grow excited for the time when his work grew to a close, because today he would not be seeing Echidna on that hill after work. Echidna had been requested by a noble in the capital to heal their ailing heir, the fact that she held such a reputation as a healer had surprised Hector when she had told him of this trip. She would not be back for at least a week or two at the earliest and as a result Hector would be back to a life more or less analogous to what he endured before he met her, alone and melancholic.

 

Besides his own feelings the day went by nearly identical to any other day, he pulled his cart around the village either picking up deliveries for his fathers new store or making deliveries to customers in the name of said store. And like a day that changed his life for the better long ago he found himself stopped at a fork in the path after hitting a rock once again at the days end. To his right was a now more well trodden path up a hill towards a tree, a tree that was once baren and dead but was now being reclaimed by life in the form of vines and moss. Directly ahead down the main path stood the home he had lived in with his father his whole life, a place that had not experienced the joys of happiness in the nearly two decades he had lived there. Finally, to his left was a track that looked like it had not seen use in many, many years; slowly and steadily being reclaimed by nature. If one’s eyes were to follow the track they would see that it lead into a deep dark forest, so dark that from the outside ones eyes could not see but a few meters in.

 

Perhaps it had been because he dreaded an early return home, perhaps it was for reasons unexplainable like when he walked up the hill to the tree, but just like on that day Hector put down his wagon and walked away from the main path, but this time he walked into the dark forest.

 

 

The forest that Hector walked through was an odd one, normally the tree cover would either get thicker the deeper you went, or stay relatively consistent, however this forest was the reverse. The initial outskirts of the forest had tree cover so dense and thick that it stopped most of the light from penetrating. This gave the forest the impression that the entire thing was so densely packed with tree’s that it must be like nighttime inside even when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. However the farther Hector walked it seemed as if the trees began to thin, thin to the point that it could almost be called a glade within the forest, almost but not quite. With the large beams of light illuminating the canopy around him Hector was able to take stock of his surroundings in the new environment. All around him were large ancient tree’s, their trunks many times thicker than his body, all of them were covered in a thick layer of moss that extended for several meters up the trunk. In some places the land was incredibly bumpy with large boulders and thick fallen tree’s littering the ground, in such a density that straying from the path would at the very least be difficult and at worst near impossible. However these areas were broken up by random spherical zones that were completely flat, so perfectly flat that they rivaled and even surpassed the planks made from the mill in how flat they were. The air was heavy in moisture, giving it a heavy and earthy quality that would make one think that they were near a body of water, even if there was not one in sight. What stood out however was the dilapidated cabin visible a hundred or so paces down the path from him. The cabin looked old and rundown, not giving the slightest indication that it was actually inhabited; the building appeared to be completely made of wood with a thick layer of moss covering most of its exterior. The roof seemed partially caved in and on its way to fully collapsing with multiple areas already sinking inward. The cabin lacked anything to cover its windows, no glass nor curtain as they were simply open to the air, when this is pared with the lack of a door it made the building seem more like a shell then anything else.

 

Perhaps it was due to some of Echidna’s curiosity rubbing off on him but Hector began to approach the building, not feeling the slightest unease with this mysterious structure in the middle of the woods. However as he neared the building he saw a silhouette in the window, it was too dark inside the cabin to make out a single detail about them but he could see clearly that they were facing right towards him.

 

 And then the air suddenly got heavier, a lot heavier, so heavy that Hector was forced onto the ground before he knew it. The pressure on his body was so great that he could not speak, could not cry for help, could not even breath. The pressure kept building, higher and higher, he felt his ribs begin to creak, they began to bend slightly as they groaned with their futile attempt to bear the immense weight of the invisible force.

 

“You should know that it is incredibly rude to invade one’s privacy, to strip them of the solitude that they desire; however I guess in the sad world we exist in such a thing is to be expected. The melancholy of such an existence slows my heart, it pains me that I have endured such a thing, and that I will continue to endure for but a little while longer.” The voice that spun the eloquent lines to Hector did not sound old, yet its speaker used deprecated and overly complex diction to convey what should have been a simple message. They spoke in a manner not unlike how Hector used to, and to some extent continued to, with no joy or spark of life behind their words; they spoke as if life itself had left them behind to simply watch as the world marched on without them. As well the speaker seemed to be slightly laboured in their breathing as they walked over, like the short strides needed to reach where he was pinned to the ground was some colossal exertion for them. Although Hector did not recognize the voice in the slightest he could tell that the speaker was likely a woman from their pitch.

 

But as the women came closer, the pressure built even further, it was now causing more pain than Hector had ever felt in his life; it kept building further until he felt a snap followed by an onrush of incredibly sharp pain.

 

“Hrrrrrk” Hector wanted to scream, his chest was on fire, a sharp pain went through him like a rod that started somewhere in his back and went through his chest cavity to his front. Besides the pain he felt a wetness beginning to permeate through him, his throat was being filled by a liquid, it tasted like copper, it was blood. The front of his clothes began to feel damp against his skin, he could feel something trickling out his front around where the rod of pain in his chest stopped, more blood.

 

“Irritating, how you squirm like that and make so much noise annoys me, why can’t you be less irritating? You remind me of him, I don’t want to remember that impertinent imbecile whatsoever, why must you have come here and brought such a tide of melancholy with you, why must you have come to drown me, this sadness is too much. I cannot withstand it, why did you have to saunter over here and make me feel so ba…….” The female voice continued on about how sad Hector’s mere presence made her, but it stopped as she seemed to kneel down near Hector’s face. Hector could not see anything about her since his eyes were clamped shut as his face contorted due to the incomprehensible pain he was in. However as he lay there he felt hot droplets of liquid strike his face in the characteristically slow pitter patter of tear from someone who had just began to cry; she had seen his face and now she was crying and that was why she had stopped carrying on so abruptly.

 

“Why did you have to come here Hector? Why couldn’t I have been free of you, it’s too painful I really cannot take it. I could not run too far yet I was not able to run far enough and now I am forced see you again? Why did you have to come here and make me cry like this, why did you have to come and torment me again like you did when you were an infant? Why Why Why Why? Please get up and leave, don’t come back, just get up and go, I really cannot stand seeing you again, its like I am drowning, too much sadness, too much depression, everything is just pure melancholy in this world isn’t it.” As the woman’s ranting about how sad she was began to taper off Hector felt the pressure holding his body down disperse, but the pain and fire across his chest remained.

 

 

As he heard the woman begin to walk away Hector slowly prepared to get up off the ground, he felt fear like how he felt around his father as a young child. What was different though was how his father always seemed to follow some kind of twisted logic with his beatings, never going too far as to cause substantial damage, only to deliver pain. This lady seemed completely insane, one second calm and collected, the next crying and ranting about how sad she was. What made it even worse was that she spoke of Hector as if she knew him, yet she seemed prepared to completely crush him into a dust because she disliked the memory she held of him. If Hector stayed here and she came back there is a very real chance that he would not be leaving the forest alive, or ever again; this in itself may not have bothered a younger Hector but the idea of never seeing Echidna again certainly bothered him now. And so it was with an image of the girl who lifted him out of his sea of despair, an image of the women who continued to be his reason to keep on enduring the world that Hector forced himself to stand. He fought the surge of pain that made tinges of white grow around the outskirts of his vision in order to force himself up onto his unsteady legs. With a hand clutched to his chest as a thin trickle of blood seeped between his fingers he staggered from the forest, drawing shallow and laboured breaths as thin streaks of blood escaped the corners of his mouth. As the path up the hill to the tree had seemingly saved him, the path to the left into the forest had seemingly put Hector on the precipice of death.

 


 

 

Dizzy, the whole world in front of him was ablur. It had been about a week since he returned from the woods and things had only gotten worse since then. Moving, bending, lifting, even breathing caused sharp pain to shoot through his chest; breathing too deeply caused his mouth to fill with blood and caused a sucking sensation around the puncture in his chest. After leaving the forest Hector had found that one of his ribs had broken off and was currently lodged through his lung and partially out of his chest. A few days after he woke up with an incredible fever and found that the wound on his chest was oozing a putrid yellow pus. It smelled terrible and looked absolutely revolting, the skin around the cut turned dark and split open if he prodded it or moved too forcefully, causing it too to ooze a combination of pus and blood. Today had been the worst day yet, he could barely stand, the ground felt like it was tilting under his feet as he stumbled towards the hill with an empty cloth bag. His deliveries had been light lately which was a godsend, there was no way Hector could pull the cart in his condition. Everything in his head was jumbled, he had not been able to keep the days straight since he woke yesterday, this is why he was walking up towards the hill even though the sun was about to set, and Echidna was still supposed to be gone for another week.

 

Hector took ages to walk up the hill, he was swaying side to side as he staggered, his skin had grown incredibly clammy and sweat was running down his face. Cold, why did he feel so cold if he was sweating, it did not make one bit of sense; on the same topic of things that did not make sense, why did he see Echidna sitting by the tree. She was not supposed to be back for another week, and even with that she normally would be heading home around now, yet there she was.

 

Echidna turned to see Hector walking up the hill towards her with a big smile on her face, but after a little more then a second that smile drooped and faded, her face being overcome by worry as she quickly stood up and rushed down the hill towards him. The last thing Hector saw was her face before he fell to the ground and passed out.

 

The first sensation Hector felt when he came to was something wet, it flowed and coursed through his body like water, it penetrated every nook and cranny, flowing through every crease, just like water. If Hector had never opened his eyes he may have even thought that it was water, but he did open his eyes and did not expect what he saw. He was on the grassy side of the hill lying on his back, knelt beside him was Echidna with her eyes clamped shut in concentration as she held out both her hands just above her chest with a strange light emitting from them.

 

“Huh” A gasp of confusion leaves Hector’s mouth as he stares at the light emanating from her hands, it was beautiful in his eyes. The gentle soft hues of blue that glowed from her delicate fingers, the soothing sensation that coursed through his body, emanating from the area closest to her hands. Come to think about it he felt better since waking up, his mind was clear as day and the chills he was racked with had disappeared. He was able to breath normally without pain shooting through his body and he no longer felt the bone poking through his skin. Had the angel who had brought him back to the world from the depths of his depression now also delivered him from the crippling pain he had felt since entering the woods?

 

After hearing him stir Echidna slowly turned to face him, her eyes red and glassy, her face seemed moist from the streaks of tears that ran down her eyes. After what seemed like a mere instant suddenly Hector could not see anymore, his eyes covered by a soft and delicate hand. What came next was the voice he had come to adore over the years, just now it was shakier than he had ever heard it, “I’m done healing you, just give me a moment please … seeing this bothered me more then I expected. Had I taken even another day in the capital then you would likely be …….. we would not be having this conversation………..” Her voice seemed to trail off as Hector heard her take in several deep breaths, the alternative present playing through her mind must have been truly unthinkable. But if she needed a moment to cry then Hector would give her that moment, it was a small favour to give compared to how she gave and continued to give him a reason to enjoy life.

 

After a few moments she removed her hand from Hector eyes and he sat up beside her on the grassy hill, as he did this she wiped away the last few lingering bits of water using the sleeve of her dress. The two simply sat there in silence for the next few moments before Echidna spoke, her voice once again returning to its normal calm and methodical tone. “I would wager that it was not your father or the townsfolk who did that to you this time was it?”

 

“A week ago I walked into the forest and I encountered a woman whoooooo I didn’t recognize, but who recognized me. Somehow it was like she waaaaaaas crushing me with an unimaginable amount of force, yet at no pooooooooint did she lay a single finger on me. But the second sheeeeee saw my face she buuuurst into tears and left meeeeee.” Hector calmly summarized his meeting with the mysterious woman as he saw a worried look return to Echidna’s face.

 

“To think she would stay that close by but still react like that….” Echidna murmured to herself as Hector just looked at her confused. After taking note of his confusion Echidna refocused on Hector and spoke in a louder voice tinged with the slightest bit of apprehension. “The woman you met is the Witch of Melancholy, she is incredibly mentally unstable and to say that her power is dangerous would be a great understatement. The combination of the two resulted in a reclusive hermit who abandoned her family and ran away to be alone because she believes that it will be the only way for light to return to her world. Most of the villagers believe that she was still out there lurking in the forest but were rightfully to scared to go in and confirm their suspicions. I had thought that it would take many hours if not days to walk in deep enough to find her, but to think she was so close to the edge was certainly not expected in the least.”

 

Although Echidna’s explanation of the behaviour of the woman certainly lined up with Hector’s experience, there was still something off about her explanation, the term or title of witch. “Echidna, what do you mean by witch, I haaaaaven’t heard that term before.” Hector posed his question to Echidna who looked like she wanted to giggle but held it in as she began to explain.

 

“A witch or warlock is someone who has obtained a witch factor, a power derived from one of the seven deadly sins plus the two forgotten ones. Holding one within your body will grant you power beyond your wildest dreams, but should you not represent the sin well enough then you must pay either a physical or mental price; in the case of the current melancholy, it is both physical and mental in nature. In my……” Echidna began to say something relating to herself when she was cut off by the loud shouting from someone marching up the hill.

 

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE HECTOR WITH THAT WITCH, AND WHY THE FUCK DID IT TAKE YOU THE WHOLE DAY TO DO TWO DAMN DELIVERIES?” Hector’s father was screaming at the top of his lungs as he stomped towards the two, Hector was used to his father’s behaviour at this point but Echidna did not seem to take something he said very well as she sprung to her feet and took a step forward to place herself in between Hector and his approaching father, as if to protect him.

 

“You made him lug around heavy objects with a severe puncture wound, broken ribs, and a completely collapsed lung? What in the world were you thinking, he was mere hours away from death when I found him; if I had not healed him you would not even have a son anymore!” Echidna was attempting to maintain some façade of a calm demeanor, but it was not going particularly well as more and more anger seeped into her voice.

 

Smack, that was the sound that rang out as Hector could only watch as Echidna took a backhand with enough force to knock her off her feet and back onto the ground. The sight of this filled Hectors heart with rage, an amount of rage he had never felt before. He had been struck by this man many times, probably with a similar amount of force as he had just witnessed, but that had never set his heart ablaze like it was now. He had never desired to strike back at his father but now since he had decided to direct that violence towards Echidna, especially when she was just trying to protect him, getting angry in his place; for doing that he would smash the man’s skull into so many pieces you could not even hope to piece it back together.

 

Hector jumped to his feet, poised to smash the man’s head into pieces, just that there was a slight problem. Hector was not a fighter, his untrained movements were sluggish and despite all the labour he did, he was not particularly strong. It was because of this that the second he began to throw a fist towards his father’s head, he already had his fathers fist contacting his own forehead. He fell backwards from the hit, his ears ringing as the whole world spun and shook, he was knocked to the ground unable to fight after only getting hit once, not even landing a hit himself.

 

“If this damn useless boy were to be too weak to do the simple jobs I give him, then maybe its just better if he did die, I doubt anyone would particularly miss.” As his father stood over him while making his position clear on how much he valued Hector’s life there was a sudden shift in the wind which had been proceeded by what Hector thought was the word ‘Fula’. As Hector felt this change in the wind suddenly a red cloud emerged out of nowhere in front of him as two small lumps of flesh fell softly into the grass, they were a pair of ears.

 

“I’m not going to apologize for that, instead I am going to tell you that the only reason your head is still attached to your shoulders is because I am not certain how Hector would handle losing his last remaining family member. As well if you know enough to address me by my title of witch then why would you even consider picking a fight with me, I mean I am grateful that I could experience your stupidity, but the lack of logic does irk me just a bit.” Echidna’s voice was low and cold, giving off a heavy vibe of murderous intent.

 

“MONSTER, MONSTERS! THE TWO OF YOU ARE JUST PERFECT FOR EACH OTHER! STAY AWAY FROM ME, DON’T EVER COME BACK TO MY HOME HECTOR, IF THIS WITCH WANTS YOU SO DAMN BAD SHE CAN HAVE YA FOR ALL I CARE.” Hector’s father spat a loud of verbal diarrhea as he scurried away on the ground in desperation and fear to get away from the now blood-stained patch of grass on the hill and the person who created it.

 

Echidna closed her eyes and exhaled deeply as she regained her composure, the aura of murderous intent that had previously surrounding her dissipating before she reopened her eyes. “My apologies for making you see that, but we have to move quickly before the whole village gathers to either drive us out or capture us. Although slaug………… We should just get ready to leave town.”

 

Hector just sat there in silence, completely stunned at the display he just witnessed, stunned at both the shear power Echidna demonstrated but also at just how helpless and how much of a burden he was. He was truly useless, that is why he had to suffer under that monster of a man for so long, that is why he fell after a single hit and could not even serve as a meat shield for her. It was these thoughts that caused Hector’s face to burn with anger as his fingers dug into his palms deep enough to begin to draw blood. It was Echidna seemingly managing to notice these thoughts that caused an expression to begin to break out across her face, one that she had been careful to hide from Hector. Right now a devilish grin ran from ear to ear as she knelt back down to stand by his ear and whisper things that were a bit more then just sweet nothings. “You know Hector there is something you can do for me before we leave, something only you can do, something that I could not ever hope to be able to do myself.”

 

The second these words reached Hector’s ears the frustration left his face as he spun around to face her, an expression of complete eagerness and loyalty plastered on his face; Hector was ready and willing to do anything that she asked him just to be of use to her for once, to be able to return the favour for all she had done for him.

 

“You don’t have to do this for I you don’t want to, but if you go back into the woods, back to the run-down cabin that the Witch of Melancholy was in and tell her I sent you she will give you something very important to me. If you are too afraid after your last meeting with her then you don’t have to, just it would be hard for me to pass up the opportunity that this thing she will give you would present. So Hector, can you do this for me?” Before even the last of these words left her mouth Hector has already jumped to his feet and began to run towards the forest that had nearly killed him before, without even the slightest bit of hesitation.

 


 

 

Hector ran as fast and hard as he could, he was finally going to be able to repay her for how much she did for him, Hector was finally going to be more then just a burden that Echidna had chosen to carry along.

 

He ran along the path through the forest as he saw the rundown cabin appear from among the tree’s, closing in until he came to a stop on the piece of flattened ground where he had nearly died a week before. Hector faced the rundown cabin, not even catching the slightest glimpse of the Witch of Melancholy, so he raised his voice so that it would carry into the cabin. “Witch of Melancholy, Echidna has sent me , she wants me to retrieve the item that you wished to give her!”

 

However what emerged from the cabin was not the Witch of Melancholy, it was not even a person, and as far as Hector could tell it was not even something physical to begin with. For a split instant he could feel something flying towards him at incredible speed even though there was not a single object in sight. As he fell to the ground he felt something dark and black squirm into his body, yet he did not feel the slightest bit of pain nor discomfort, in fact as far as he could tell he had not sustained a single physical injury. Yet he had still fallen to the ground due to an impact that contained no force, an impact with a massless object that seemed to exist separately from the physical world he had known up until now.

 

 

As he lay on the ground he felt it writhe and squirm within him, it was not satisfied with only being in one place in his body, it wanted to be everywhere, to be everything, to be one with him. It was at this point as he felt it spread that Hector came to a realization, after his near two decades of life he realized that he was in fact a sinner. For all the years he had been alive Hector had committed sin after sin, he had lived a life of melancholy, he had not let happiness into his life, and as such he had brought sadness to the one person he cared about. Had he not sinned, had he been stronger to endure then Echidna would never have cried when his path through life led to him nearly dying, had he not been a sinner then Echidna would never been hurt, had he never been a sinner then Echidna would never of had to draw blood. But there was one more realization he had come to, the path he had walked up until now was one he had been put on by the actions of others rather then his own choice, it was there fault he had brought melancholy upon those whom he wished would only ever smile, it was these people who were the true sinners in this world; for their crime of bringing him melancholy and all others who would in the future, he would make them bare the weight of the sins they forced him to carry.

 

It was with this manifesto that Hector once again stood, and with him rose every sin that he had ever had to endure up to this point; they rose up to once again blanket him in melancholy and depression as the colour that Echidna had brought back to his life once again drained out. It was with this that Hector marched out of the grey forest no longer the weak boy who entered, but instead as a man, instead as Hector the Warlock of Melancholy.

 

Hector shambled forth, the effort to stand straight and walk with pride was too much for him, the effort that people expended simply to carry themselves in a dignified manner was something that made Hector sad. Anything that made Hector sad was something that must be crushed and removed from this world, for if it made him sad it must be a sinner that will be destroyed.

 

Hector slowly walked towards the first building he saw; it was one he knew well for he had lived in it for nearly two decades until the man inside decided to take it away from him. Losing his only home brought sadness to his heart, where would he call home if he no longer had one?

 

Hector pushed open the front door and walked in, seeing the man who sat in a large chair in the middle of the room; the man’s head was wrapped in bandages with large red spots spreading from where his ears would have been. The sight of this man made Hector want to cry, cry for all the times the young boy he once was trembled in fear, and quivered in pain; he wanted to cry for the melancholy the mere sight of the man brought to his heart. It took him less then an instant to deicide, this man was a sinner, he was a sinner for daring to bring him to the verge of tears, both now and as a young boy. As a sinner the man must die in order to atone for the crime of making the world just a bit more mellow.

 

 

Seemingly coming to the realization that he was not alone in his home the man turned to face the intruder as his face first filled with shock before contorting in anger. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE BOY, I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE AND NEVER COME BACK. I GUESS SINCE THAT BITCH ISN’T HERE WITH YOU THAT I MIGHT ASWELL TEACH YOU ONE LAST DAMN LESSON!” The man began to stand from his chair and approach Hector, but it was too late and he was too weak.

 

“So noisy, so irritating, I’m getting depressed just listening to you, please shut up, I cannot take it any longer, why did you have to be my father, please just stop existing…….” Hector’s voice was low and empty, lacking even the most basic amount of tone expected from human communication. As these words left his mouth, he pressed on his fathers knees with a small fraction of his sins, and then his father collapsed to the ground screaming in pain nearly instantly.

 

Before he had fallen there had been a sickening crack as his kneecaps were shattered followed by snapping and popping sounds as his legs bent all the way around so that his toes were now pressing into the front of his stomach. Amidst the cacophony of sounds emitted from the crushed and popping knees, the tearing ligaments and muscle, and the screams of the man who owned these body parts, Hector continued.

 

“Irritating, annoying, why must my ears be assaulted by such noise, why must I have to bear this sadness, it is bringing me down, why must I have to endure this.” Following the completion of this next string of sadness a tearing sound erupted as the man’s abdomen was crushed from either side, causing it to split open like a pimple and spray forth a red and sticky mixture of gore, blood, partially digested food, and bodily fluid. The man remained alive but no longer screamed for the pain centre of his brain had been overloaded to the point of being incapable of keeping up with the amount of pain coming in. The man merely lay there with a pale complexion as the life slowly leaked out of him, tears poured out of his eyes as he looked up at his son with nothing but fear, the man knew he would probably die but could only hope he would be spared.

 

“So messy, so unclean, such filth, why must I be forced to stand in such a pig stye….” Hector’s voice trailed off as the shattered body of the man was launched up to the air before being slammed through the thin wall of the house.

 

Hector just let out a sigh as he outstretched his palm and watched the entire side of the house before him come crashing down to the ground before he trudged out through the rubble towards the whimpering body strewn into a heap in the grassy field.

 

“So much effort, why was I forced to do all of this, why couldn’t I just have been allowed to be happy, why must I be forced to live through such depression…” Hector’s voice trailed off as he stood above the broken and sobbing body of the man who had abused him all those years.

 

He heard the weak croaks of “forgive me, forgive me, forgive me” rising from the man he had called father, and it was with these pleas that Hector decided to forgive him, he would forgive him by returning to the man all of the sins he had borne in his name. He reached down so that one of his hands lightly touched the man’s forehead, and with this touch the remainder of the mans body instantly contorted and twisted, limbs turning to unnatural angles as their joints broke with a sickening crack. The bones of the mans body creaked, groaned, and splintered as they sprayed shards of bones in all directions. The flesh and blood of the man’s body were cleaved and launched into a cloud of gore that painted the whole grassy field red, yet not one drop touched Hector’s body.

 

“So messy, why must your last action have to been make me even more depressed…..” Hector lamented as he trudged off towards the village, the sight of burning torches contrasting sharply with the night sky, the shouts of anger and rage piercing the silence of the night. With the half-destroyed home behind him Hector walked past the grassy hill he had sat on with Echidna for years, not even turning to face it as he continued on to the village, a source of great sadness for him throughout his life. Had he turned to face a place that had given him so much happiness and comfort throughout the years he would have seen a certain woman dressed entirely in black, her eyes fixated on him as if he was the most fascinating thing in existence.

 

Arrayed in front of the village was a group of five armed men standing before a group of angry villagers all carrying torches and pitchforks. Hector recognized the armed men, the older two being the captain of the village guard and the blacksmith, the other 3 being children of one of the two, the trio who had insulted and bombarded Hector with rotting food when he had passed by.

 

As he approached the captain of the guard raised his sword and shouted out to him, “Stop right there fiend! You are hereby under arrest in the name of the king for the crime of killing your father, either admit to your crimes and come peacefully or I shall slay you where you stand!”

 

“Noisy, stupid, why must I have to go through all this melancholy” Hector lamented as he raised his palm to face the man before the man’s body was thrown so violently into the ground that a small crater was formed. The captain of the guard was reduced to a gruesome mash of meat and blood as Hector continued to walk towards the group.

 

“FATHER!”

 

“MONSTER”

 

“DEVIL”

 

All of these were shouted at Hector as the remaining four raised their weapons and rushed towards him, the villagers too frozen in shock at the sight of their best warrior being instantly killed to make the slightest move to help them.

 

The blacksmith raised his massive hammer with two hands as he prepared to bring it down in a mighty swing to crush Hector, but he was simultaneously slammed in the head, legs, and chest by invisible forces, however the force striking him in the chest was in the opposite direction of the other two. The result was the blacksmiths body bent backwards like a piece of flat bread being folded, a symphony of cracks echoed as his spine snapped in several places while his head was pressed into the inside of his knees. The instant his body hit the ground he was dead. The two twins came at Hector from both the right and left simultaneously, one with a hatchet and the other a dagger, but dropped dead as they were struck in the side of the head by a strong enough force that their heads rotated all the way around before twisting off, leaving their headless body to fall to the ground as blood spurted through the mangled blood vessels in what remained of their necks.

 

It was then that the last one, a blond man who had once been the boy who jeered at him the loudest stabbed forward with his sword, unlucky for him the sword lacked the ability to surpass the sins that encased Hector. The blade of the sword deformed, twisting and shrinking, before it broke apart into tiny bits of metal. The blond man staggered back at this as he looked upon Hector as one may look at an eldritch abomination, with fear and the sinking feeling that you are standing before a monster that considered you nothing more then an annoying insect.

 

“W-What are you?” He stammered as he fell backwards to the ground and tried to crawl backwards away from Hector.

 

To this Hector slowly turned his head to face him with an exhausted look on his face before saying a single word, “Melancholy.” As this word left his lips the chest of the blond man was flattened to a thickness less then that of a slice of bread, a large spurt of blood flew from his mouth before he lay motionless, life having left his body. It was at this sight that screams rose from the villagers as a stampede to get away from the approaching Warlock of Melancholy broke out.

 

“Splintered, crushed, and broken, your bodies now resemble my spirit…….” Hector sighed as he trudged towards the crowd of villagers tripping over one another as they struggled to get away from him.

 

“Depressing, Tiring, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic, Melancholic……….” Tears began to form in the corner of Hector’s eyes as he raised his palm towards the crowd of people in front of him, a group of people that were about to be asked to bear the weight of the sins they had placed on his shoulders. A group of people that were about to be subject to the weight of the melancholy he had endured for years. The group of people contained an old couple who would spit at him when he had come to their door to deliver fruit, it contained a pregnant woman who had dumped a chamber pot on his head when she was younger, it contained children barely ten years old who had been taught by their parents that it was okay to run up and hit him when he pulled his cart through the village. They were all sinners in his eyes for they forced him to be a sinner himself, they were all deserving to carry the weight of his melancholy, they all deserved to die in the vain hope that he may find respite from his sadness in their deaths.

 

And so it was with that, that he raised his palm, yet they were spared when a shout erupted behind him from a voice he cherished so. “AL JIWAD!” Came the shout, and with it a beam of light that burned so hot that it must have been able to burn through even the thickest metal.

 

Hector spun around in place, pulling his arm close as he balled his palm into a fist causing the beam of light to split into smaller beams and careen into the ground as it neared him, achieving nothing more then slightly warming his skin in the cold night.

 

When the dust settled, he saw a woman walking towards him; she was clad in a snug black dress yet seemed to radiate a light around her, her steps slow and tired yet she shone with strength and determination, her face red and stained with tears running from her eyes yet Hector felt the tiniest bit of joy at the sight of her.

 

“Echidna?” Hector’s voice said her name in with not the slightest hint of endearment, it was cold and empty, completely contrasting with the emotions he held in his heart for her.

 

Hearing her name from his lips seemed to drive a blade right into her heart as she visibly winced, stopping her advance as she clamped her eyes shut, water continuing to seep through her thick white lashes. She mumbled the words “Al Goa” weakly through her breath as a fireball the size of a multistory building formed above her and flew towards Hector.

 

The ball of fire slammed right into him, seemingly consuming him before the flames were thrown outwards in all directions, reducing the surrounding landscape to char and ash. Hector heard the cries of the villagers behind him grow fainter and fainter as they filtered through the village and escaped into the surrounding countryside, escaping the judgement for their numerous sins committed against him.

 

The night grew faint once again as the witch and the warlock stood across from one another, a field of ash being the only thing separating them. Hectors drooping face picked up as he stared into the light radiating from his saviour, his angel, his beloved; the sea of melancholy he was submerged in was no match for the joy that the sight of her brought to his heart.

 

But Echidna was different, tears freely flowed from her eyes as she watched the sight in front of her; as she saw the final form of the broken little boy that she met so long ago, the person she had come to adore and care about, the person she had broken once again after giving into her greed. Her voice quivered and shook as she spoke, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry Hector, I went too far….. I was too curious to know what would happen if you took in a witch factor that you should have perfect compatibility with, I wanted to see the birth of a new warlock, but the cost of it was ……. more then I was willing to pay.” There was then a long pause as she looked down at the ground, seemingly torn as she tried to decide between two options.

 

“Whaaaat do you mean Echidna, if the witch factor was what you wanted then can’t we leave now, or we could even stay here since the villagers left. Just you and I, we could live happy days like what you told me on the hill, everything could be just perfect like how you described when we were younger.” Hector looked towards Echidna with expecting eyes, yet she just looked down at the ground shaking head as tears continued to run from her eyes.

 

“No Hector, no we can’t. It was one thing for you to kill your father after what he put you through, it is an entirely different thing for you to try and slaughter a whole village because you can’t stand being around them. I’m sorry I turned you into……. a monster……. simply for my own selfish desire to fulfill my greed…….” Echidna then looked up and Hector saw right into her eyes as her tears continued to flow, whatever had compelled her to do what she did was gone, in its place stood only guilt and regret.

 

“I don’t understand, but for whatever you did I forgive you, you gaaaave me everything, you are my everythiiiiing; and for that I will forgive whatever you think you did.” Hector said these words with the sincerest meaning in his heart, yet he was no longer capable of conveying anything more then melancholy with his voice. As he took a step towards Echidna who was once again wincing after hearing him speak, her body beginning to tremble as she tried to hold herself together in order to do what she deemed was now necessary.

 

“Stop Hector, please stop making this harder than it needs to be…… You should hate me for what I did, why don’t you hate me, HOW COME YOU DON’T HATE ME?!?” As Echidna screamed at him the entire surface of the field before her lifted up and launched towards the village as one giant sheet, including the ground Hector was standing on.

 

He was flying through the air; he could look down and watch as the entire village was being crushed and torn to shreds as the giant chunks of earth smashed and crushed the buildings. Had Hector not been able to exert invisible forces on himself via his own authority he likely would have ended to in a similar state to most of the houses as he landed rather roughly on the opposite edge of the village, not more then a hundred paces from the closest building.

 

“Why, why, why, why is she doing this, I utterly despise getting all sweaty like this, and yet she does this to me……” Hector sighed as he stood up and began trudging back into the village in search of Echidna, no matter what she put him through it would never outweigh how much she had helped him before, no matter what she did he would always find it in his heart to forgive her.

 

After walking a back into the village he saw Echidna bent over with her hands on her knees panting after she must have run into the village following her last attack. Hector knew that she was by know means an athlete, so did she force herself run because she was worried she had gone too far, or was there another reason?

 

After standing back up straight she saw looked right at Hector before turning and darting into a partially collapsed house, her fatigue evident from how sluggish her movements were. Hector followed her although he did not run, instead simply trudging like he had been for the past while.

 

After entering the house he saw another door shut to one of the inner rooms, a room that likely only had one single door that served as both the entrance and exit. But when Hector opened the door and walked through he found himself inside a room that did not look at all like the rest of the building he had just left. This room had stone walls and windows to the outside, while the building he had entered was built of wood and had appeared to be devoid of windows. When Hector walked towards one of the windows what he saw was not grass, trees, fields, or rubble; instead what stood before him was a vast sea of sand.

 

The next instant he spun around and saw Echidna standing right there in the doorway, he saw in her red eyes more tears, he saw regret, guilt, and sorrow. In her face he saw pain as she spoke in a voice verging on completely breaking down into tears,” I’m sorry, this is all my fault…… but don’t you dare forgive me for this” and with those words she stepped back out of the room and slammed the door shut. When Hector opened the door to continue following her, all that he saw was a sea of sand devoid of all life, devoid of anything but him and the one room hut. It was into this empty sea that Hector slowly began trudging through as he began his journey to be reunited with the angel who had saved him so long ago, a journey he would carry out no matter how long or how much it cost him.

Chapter Text

Not far from the Mather's Mansion stood a quaint little village that was experiencing its busiest time of the day as the sun began to slowly droop from its pedestal high in the sky. The villagers milled about as they finished their daily routine, some worked in the nearby fields, some went to and from the few stores carting goods, some kids played out in the meadow. However, there was something different about the village this day, for there was a silver haired girl who stood by its border with the forest; her mere presence causing a disturbance in the patterns that had been entrenched by the monotonous routine in the villagers. Some of the villagers avoided her out of fear, making large detours in their normal path to avoid her after catching even the slightest glimpse. Some of the villagers sneered at her, calling her witch, and cursing her very existence as they spat at or mocked her. There was not a single villager who managed to go about their normal day due to her presence, and that fact was completely evident to her.

It was this reason that she currently stood at the edge of the village facing her predicament, in order to return to the mansion which she came from she must pass through either the village itself or the fields that surrounded it. However, if she did that she would inevitably disrupt even more of the people who were working so diligently just to make ends meet, and if she did that she would only feel bad for it would be her fault that their day would be upset once again. Although she knew that people would despise her or hold prejudice against her simply because of how she looked, it had pulled on the strings of her heart when she had approached the village boundaries earlier in the day when the villagers truly saw her for the first time.

When this girl woke up she felt that something was off, that something bad would happen soon, or at least that things would get worse than they already were. It was this feeling that had driven her to go and check the barrier in the village, because if something bad happened here it would probably be because of her residence in the regional lord's mansion. When she had reached to grab her cloak that would shroud her appearance she remembered that she no longer had it, she remembered that she had thrown it in the face of the boy who once was her first friend after they had an argument. It was because she lacked this cloak that the villagers reacted the way they did when they finally got to see what she was after all the time she had been living less than an hours walk away. It was because she did not have this cloak that they learned that a disgusting half-elf devil had been living with their lord all this time. It was because of this that Emilia had brought pain and hatred into their day as she tried to prevent them from facing another disaster by checking each of the stones that repelled the mabeasts from Arlam village.

As Emilia stood contemplating how she could get back to the mansion while being seen by the fewest people in the village that something moving in the corner of her eye caught her attention, a ground dragon cart. At the reins of the single dragon that pulled the cart was a blue haired maid, Rem. Rem had never been particularly fond of Emilia, never showing anything more than the professional courtesy expected of a maid towards their lords' guest, never trying to form any sort of relationship or even familiarity as the months of their cohabitation in the mansion ticked by. Sometimes she even thought that she saw the tiniest glints of disgust or even hatred in Rem's eyes when she would ready the bath or deliver tea to her room. Although she had always believed that this was due to her resemblance to the witch there were times that maybe, just maybe it was just the way Rem acted towards others. Of course Rem always showed nothing but love and adoration towards her sister Ram, and nothing but respect and sincerity towards her master Roswaal. But Emilia had never seen Rem act with much familiarity towards the mansions other two residents, Beatrice and Puck; although to be fair it was not like she ever really saw Beatrice, and Rem only ever saw Puck when he was with her, but then he came. When Subaru had first arrived at the mansion Rem had shown him a similar attitude that he had shown Emilia, but then it seemed much worse. The hints of emotion in Rem's eyes when she thought nobody was looking were not hints, Rem would look like she was filled with hatred, she stared at him like he was the incarnation of evil itself.

But then she changed, after the two ran off one day to this very village and both nearly died at the hands of a mabeast attack, that every drop of hatred Rem held for him disappeared. From that day on it was like Rem was as close with Subaru as she was with her own sister, it was as if she had never despised him like she had despised her to begin with. They spent nearly every day from then on out laughing and talking about the future together, consulting each other as things happened right in front of them, even just seeming happy to enjoy the passage of time in the presence of the other as they worked away every day. Emilia had wanted that, she had wanted to be that close to another person, and although she did not have any idea why, she had thought Subaru would be the one to be that for her. Although her interactions with him had sometimes made her feel a bit uneasy or uncomfortable they had also been some of the few times that she could remember feeling happy, being able to just laugh at what was happening without being afraid of drawing attention to herself. But she knew now that what she wanted would never come, because she told the boy who was her first friend that he should just avoid being around her lest he work himself too hard or get injured like he had been ever since they first met.

What pulled Emilia from her thoughts was not something as obvious as a sound or a sudden change in her environment that might beget danger, it was something as subtle yet unnerving as a facial expression, it was the facial expression on Rem's face. As the ground dragon cart passed through Arlam village Rem and Emilia's eyes met briefly and what Emilia saw surprised her, what she saw in Rem's expression was that which one would see in a broken woman. Rem's face looked drained, tinged with exhaustion and fatigue, things that Emilia had never once seen in the hard-working Oni. While Rem's eyes were tinged with just the tiniest bit of red they also glared daggers straight into Emilia, carrying sheer hatred of an intensity that she had never seen her direct towards anyone but Subaru when they had first met. It was like Emilia had seemingly done something in the time that they had been separated that ruined Rem's life, and although she had done many selfish things that had hurt people in her life, Emilia did not have the faintest clue at what she could have done to garner such intense ire from Rem.

"Petra what're you doing get away from her!" loudly whispered a high pitch voice.

"Yeah, Petra what do you think you're doing, she might turn you into a frog!" Squeaked a voice in an even higher pitch.

Before Emilia knew it she felt a tug on her sleeve and when she turned she saw a little auburn haired girl nearly quivering in place looking up at her. After what felt like an eternity of Emilia staring down in confusion and the girl staring up in fear she saw the girl take a deep breath before striking a pose of determination with her hands on her hips, not unlike what someone who used to visit the village and play with the kids would do.

"You live up in the big mansion with Subaru, right?" said Petra in a voice brimming with confidence.

"Um yes" responded Emilia still confused over why this was happening before realizing why this child would ask her specifically if she lived with Subaru. "Ah right he hasn't been down to the village in a few days, these kids must reaaaaally miss him." Emilia's heart then sank as she realized that her selfish request had hurt yet another person.

"Do you happen to know when Subaru will be back to play? We thought of a new game and we were all excited to play it with him but he's been gone a really long time, and I sorta kinda miss him." Petra's seemed to fidget ever so slightly towards the tail end of her sentence as she broke eye contact.

Emilia felt horrible as she delivered the line that was probably the last thing that this girl wanted to hear today, what any of these kids wanted to hear today, "I don't think Subaru's coming back, I asked him to stay away….."

Petra's entire face seemed to droop as the determination and courage she had gathered to approach Emilia drained away at her words, like a flower wilting but instantaneous. Emilia saw her eyes begin to tear up as she turned away with just an "Oh….." leaving her mouth, her friends too frozen at the news to duck back around the house they had been hiding behind as Petra returned to join them.

Emilia did not know that she could even feel worse than she had been the past few days, but this had done it. The sight of how her she had hurt these kids who had been so excited to play with him, just because she could not stand to see the boy who would not tell the truth push himself any harder nor farther for her sake. It was this sight that managed to wretch her heart from the bottom of the pit it sat in, down even lower into an abyss that she did not know even existed.

 


 

Rem stood in the front entrance of the mansion not moving a single muscle, her eyes were red and glassy as her sister stood in front of her shaking her shoulders as she tried to get her to snap back to reality. It really had come to this, being back here made it real, it made it real that this would be the first day of many that she would be spending without her hero, her Subaru-kun. Eventually the dam she had put up back in the capital broke, and what spewed forth where all her emotions that she had tried to hold in as a manner of decorum, flooding forth so that her sister could see just how hurt she was. As the tears rolled down her exhausted face, she found herself in Ram's tight and loving embrace, she heard her gentle and soothing voice whisper into her ear, "It's okay Rem, Ram will stay for as long as Rem needs, when you're ready to talk about what happened Ram will listen."

And so the two stood there for just a few minutes, but they were a few minutes that were undisturbed as the only other two residents of the mansion currently present were unlikely to leave their respective rooms. As the two Oni's continued their embrace eventually the flow of tears from Rem's eyes began to abate, the sobbing that racked her whole body lessened until a sense of calm returned. It was at this point that she told her sister everything that had happened in the capital, to which her sister only listened, not releasing even the most well-deserved insults about the boy that crept their way up her throat, for she knew that doing such a thing would only serve to further aggravate her Rem's pain.

"Does Ram think Roswaal-sama will know what to do?" Rem posed this question to her sister with a heart full of hope, but this hope was met with an unsure look from Ram.

"Roswaal-sama has not been… well lately, but I think we should at least tell him." And with that the two Oni's set off towards Roswaal's office with Ram hesitantly leading the way.

They approached the door to the office of Roswaal L Mathers, a heavy wooden door that had not seen much use lately for Roswaal had not left his office once, only being opened when Ram came to deliver his meals. And it was because of this that Ram hesitantly rasped her knuckles against the door while calling out, "Roswaal-sama, Rem has returned but there is some….news regarding Barusu that Ram thinks you should hear."

There was dead silence as the two sisters waited not one, not two, but three whole minutes before a voice curtly called out from the other side of the door, "come in" it said with none of its normal inflection or clownish mannerisms. As they opened the door the man that sat at the desk before them was not the Roswaal they were used to seeing.

The man that sat behind the desk before them was a mess, his unkept hair was all over the place whilst being full of knots and tangles, it had an unevenness that made it evident that he had been pulling and tugging on it. His makeup was not much better, it was smudged all over his face leaving a combination of streak marks that both resembled his hands, his desk, and those left by tears; all of this matched the mess on his desk, as it seemed to be both stained by water and his makeup. His very expression showed nothing but emptiness, his eyes unfocused and seemingly distant alongside the utter absence of anything whatsoever on his face gave the impression that something had happened, something had resulted in Roswaal L Mathers becoming a broken man.

But this broken man was patiently waiting for Ram to deliver whatever news she had brought to him, more patience than he had shown her since this change had first occurred to him, this was their first-time meeting face to face since he had realized that Hector no longer resided within him.

"Roswaal-sama, Rem has returned from the capital, but it seems that Barusu has decided to abandon us after everything you did for him." Ram spoke curtly and to the point, but as soon as these words reached Roswaal's ears something changed about him. His empty eyes instantly focused on Rem with such intensity that they may as well have been fire lightning bolts straight through her, he leaned forward with his hands placed on his desk keenly waiting for the news Rem would deliver, he was about to learn if his theory would be proven correct.

"Roswaal-sama, something's wrong with Subaru-kun. All of a sudden Subaru-kun started mumbling like he was talking to someone, then after walking to a balcony he started ranting. It was like he was not Subaru-kun anymore, ranting about how sad and depressing everything was, and how we had all made him hate life. Subaru-kun even….. Subaru-kun even went as far as to shout at Rem about how much he hated her, he screamed that Emilia-sama was just a 'half-devil' out for nothing more than to ruin his life after all he did for her . Subaru-kun called Rem and idiot, and Rem knows she isn't the smartest especially with how she had to think a bit about what the word 'melancholic' meant after Subaru-kun started using it so much, but Rem never thought she would hear Subaru-kun say that to Rem!" Rem had begun her recollection of Subaru's actions by speaking calmly and slowly but as the emotions of the traumatic event began to flow through her once again her voice began to speed up more and more, until it was like she was pleading her story, pleading for Roswaal to believe her and bestow upon her some of his vast wisdom that would help her get her hero back. But Roswaal was no longer listening to her, he was seemingly frozen in place, frozen after hearing a specific word leave Rem's mouth, a word that could indicate a situation far worse and vastly more precarious than what he could ever imagine.

"Rem, what exactly was the odd word that Subaru-kun was using, please say it again and say it exactly as he did, it must be the exact word he used and not a synonym nor an approximation of his speech." Roswaal spoke in a cold and calculating manner, without laxness nor accommodation towards who he was speaking to. The presence he was now exuding into the room was one fitting that of the kingdom's greatest magic user, it was one of such pressure that it felt like if he were just a bit more forceful that he could petrify those before him directly into stone.

Rem was taken aback by this behavior, she had never one in her life seen her master act this way with anyone, much less her and her sister whom he had raised since they were but children. She instinctively wanted to step back but her sense of duty forced her to remain rooted in place, she took a deep gulp before uttering the single word she had been instructed to repeat, "Melancholy."

As this word reached Roswaal's ears he did the unexpected, he leaned back in his chair as his face broke out into a massive grin, and he started to laugh. He laughed and laughed, every nook and cranny, every hallway and dust cupboard in the mansion echoed with his laughter. As he laughed, he clenched the arms of his chair harder and harder until the wood was crushed under his immense grip, he then slammed both his fists against the top of his desk with enough force to send cracks through it, but not for one instant did his smile leave his face.

"Roswaal-sama?" Ram called his name with a tone of worry, but Roswaal simply waved his hand as if dismissing it entirely.

"I'm fine Ram, just it seems our dear Subaru-kun has gotten accidently involved with someone he shouldn't have after the 'incident' in the capital. I'm going to need to ask both of you to do something for me, something each to help us get Subaru-kun back." Roswaal then reached into a drawer of his desk and began to write a message on a sheet of parchment.

While Rem's high spirits had returned at the mention of a plan to save Subaru from the influence of the obviously malicious person manipulating him, Ram was different. Ram could only feel concern over how her master desired to aid someone who had only proven themselves to be useless trash over and over again when he was obviously not doing well himself, she could not contain her opinion even if it was against the general rules that were associated with her station. "Roswaal-sama, why must you push yourself for Barusu, he isn't worth straining yourself further over, especially ….. after this" Ram paused and then gestured to the damage Roswaal had caused to both his chair and desk while in a seemingly brief state of mania.

"I'm quite alright Ram, and don't get the wrong idea, Subaru-kun is valuable enough that it is worth every bit of diligence we can muster to retrieve him. Someone who can seemingly rewind time at will is someone we cannot afford to lose, even if that person may be a childish and immature boy, the potential they offer after some mere sculpting and guidance is….limitless." While Roswaal sat there with a look in his eyes that gave off the same sense of a cunning and conniving schemer that those close to him had grown used to seeing, Rem was stuck on what Roswaal had just said.

"Subaru-kun…can rewind time?" Rem uttered these words in complete disbelief.

"How do you think he would have pulled off what he did with the mabeasts, if Subaru-kun was as weak as he seems then he would have just gotten mauled and died the second he tried to do anything. But we cannot dwell on why Subaru-kun is valuable now, for we must move quickly before he drifts even further away then he already has. Ram please deliver this letter to the place in the forest where you have left communications for our dear friend before, and Rem please stay for a few moments, there is still a matter for you and I to discuss." Roswaal then held a stick of wax against the folded piece of paper and with just the tiniest movement of his finger a tiny dollop melted and sealed the letter.

Ram took the folded note from Roswaal and quickly departed, leaving just him and Rem alone in the office as silence descended on the room as Roswaal simply waited.

After a few moments of the deafening silence Roswaal began to speak, "Now Rem, from what you've heard, who do you blame for Subaru-kun's sudden about face?"

Rem spent a moment contemplating her answer, although her heart was telling her one thing, her brain told her another, and so she gave an answer that could not be contrived as disrespectful towards either Roswaal or any of his guests. "Rem believes Roswaal-sama when he says that Subaru-kun is only doing what he is because of an influence. So Rem blames the person currently influencing Subaru-kun for how he acted towards Rem in the capital."

Roswaal just dismissively shook his head at this answer, although it may have been what he expected to hear, it was both not what he wanted to hear nor what he knew Rem wanted to say. Bringing his head to a stop Roswaal began to speak not as Rem's master, but instead as what could be considered more of a father figure. "We've known each other along time Rem, and although our stations mandate that a certain decorum exist between us, just this once I would like you to be truly honest, don't hold a single thing back, let out exactly how you feel."

Rem just stood there looking at Roswaal wondering why he was coercing her to say the name, to say the name of the person she loathed now, the person she despised, the one who drew away the eyes of her hero, the one who broke him to the point that he abandoned them all…..

"Emilia…" Rem hesitated briefly, debating whether to use the honorific but in the end decided to drop it, there was no point in straddling some juxtaposition in regard to respect between what she was about to say. "Rem blames Emilia, if she hadn't of been so harsh with Subaru-kun over what happened in the capital and then left him behind, then maybe Subaru-kun wouldn't have felt the need to do whatever he did to put himself in his current predicament. If she was able to handle her own affairs herself then Subaru-kun, Nee-sama, and Roswaal-sama wouldn't have had to go to such lengths, and Subaru-kun would still be here with Rem. Rem wants to get to see him again, Rem wants to work alongside him again; Rem misses talking with him, laughing about the future… Emilia took him away from Rem, and Rem may now never get to see her Subaru-kun's calm face at the end of the day again. Rem hates her for that, Rem tried her best to not see her as a devil like Roswaal-sama had requested; but since she took Subaru-kun away from Rem, Rem's hero who was important to her like Roswaal-sama and Nee-sama, Rem can only see her like the half-devil she is. She hurt Rem and Rem will never forgive her for that, not even if Subaru-kun is saved and brought back to the mansion."

Rem stood there in front of the desk, her head tilted down as she bawled her hands into the tightest fists, she was capable of, her entire body quivering with anger as she stood with her eyes clamped shut. Tears slipped through the tiny gap between her eyelids as she rapidly switched between the last sight she had of her hero as he left her in the capital, and the devil who stole him from her. But she felt something on her head, a hand was gently caressing her scalp, just like how her Subaru-kun had. However when she looked up the person she saw was not Subaru-kun, it was Roswaal. However just before she opened her eyes, she felt him lean in beside her and whisper into her ear, "I'm going to need your help too Rem, just like I need Ram's, Subaru-kun's going to need your help Rem." When Rem looked up what she saw was not the sly aristocrat she had always known, but the toothy grin of a young adult trying to cheer up his companion; perhaps this was what Roswaal was like before he took his current role in the Mathers family. When Rem looked up at Roswaal she gave him a look of hope, in that moment if he asked her to do anything, she would do it not because it was her duty, but because she believed that he would give her, her hero back.

"Tomorrow morning we will leave for the capital and once we are there I will have a very important job for both you and Ram, but for now I'd like you to do two simple things for me." Roswaal then paused as Rem looked at him expectantly, "First when you let Emilia-sama know that we will depart I would appreciate if you told her just what Subaru-kun said in the capital to you, don't feel the need to sugar-coat it because of your stations. Afterwards I would like you to begin preparing for our departure, that being Ram, Emilia-sama, yourself, and myself; we will only be gone for a handful of days." With that Roswaal patted Rem's shoulders before returning to his chair and Rem left the office with a renewed determination.

 


 

Emilia sat in her room stooped over a book that she was supposed to be studying, it was titled "Common Crops in Lugunica and Neighboring Regions" but she had been on the same page since before she had left for Arlam this morning. The day had just been going so poorly, she had done her best to try and help the villagers, to repay her debt to them for all the trouble her mere presence had caused them, but even then she had only brought them pain, she had likely ruined the day for those kids, little Petra looked so heartbroken when she broke the news that Subaru would not ever be coming back to play.

"Puck, I could really use someone to talk to right now…." Emilia said to the spirit, but just as had been happening for the last while, she heard nothing in return. This had been the most alone she had ever remembered feeling in her life, even when she lived in the Elior forest she at least had Puck to keep her company for most of the day. He would listen to her, talk to her, comfort her over her problems and tell her everything was okay. But now she was alone, and it was seeming that the residents of the mansion had only grown colder to her since they returned from the capital, the look Rem gave her with the brief glance they shared in the village was still with her.

Emilia turned to face the door as she heard someone knocking, knocking but not saying a single word to introduce themself or state their purpose which was somewhat unusual. Emilia stood up from her desk and somewhat roughly hit herself on the cheeks, it would not be due to answer the door while looking as sad as she was.

"Good Afternoo….." Emilia said as she swung open the door only to stop mid-sentence when she was met with an even more oppressive stare from Rem then she had received earlier. The Oni stood there with her arms crossed across her chest, her eyes were as cold as ice as she stared right into Emilia's amethyst ones, exerting such a pressure that Emilia was left speechless, the only sound coming from her was the sound of an empty gulp.

"Roswaal-sama has asked for Rem to relay what Subaru-kun told Rem in the capital after your departure." Rem then stopped speaking and waited for Emilia's reaction, waiting to see what she would do.

"Oh, a message from Subaru…" The façade Emilia had tried to put mere seconds ago visibly fell away as she moved to allow for Rem to enter the room with her. Emilia sat back down into her chair as Rem stood in the middle of the room with her arms still crossed.

"Following your advice Subaru-kun has decided to quit the Emilia camp, he declared that he will no longer be involved with the Royal Selection in any capacity, nor does he want to be involved with anyone from the camp." Rem's voice was tinged in sadness as she said it, paraphrasing the words of her hero that meant that he wanted nothing to do with any of them, Rem included. But then her tone changed, the sadness left it and was replaced with cold malice, she was going to make it well known to Emilia that she was responsible for Subaru's departure. "Subaru-kun was not very nice to Rem when he said he was leaving, but he also wanted to say something about you, Emilia-sama." Rem stressed the honorific at the end of Emilia's name before she began her summary of Subaru's speech. "Subaru-kun was very very upset about being abandoned in the capital after he screwed up, he was upset due to always doing his best to clean up after you, hoping just to be able to help you just a little bit. Subaru-kun felt that he should've been given another chance in recognition for his sacrifices when he retrieved your insignia in the capital the first time, along with defending Arlam in your stead."

Emilia had heard all this before, Subaru had asked her to trust him when they had their final conversation after their fight, and she had sent him away. It seems that Subaru had not grown or learned a single thing, he still expected absolute trust from those around him due to his actions even if it hurt everyone around him.

"That wasn't all Subaru-kun had to say, after what you did to him it seems his opinion of you has changed, Emilia-sama. Subaru-kun said you were the worst one out of all of us, he said exactly that you were a 'useless doll who needs someone to hold her hand every step of the way', he said you cannot be trusted to get anywhere in life alone without screwing everything up; Subaru-kun in the end said you were a useless half-devil." Rem stopped to see if the parting words of her hero would have any effect, and boy did they.

They struck her right in the heart, the first person that she had met that did not seem to care in the slightest that she was a half-elf uttered those words, those words that had haunted her for the entirety of her life. It took the tiny bit of hope that she had always held in her heart, the hope that she was not a devil, that just because she resembled the jealous witch did not mean that she deserved the discrimination. But now that the first person she knew to share that opinion with her, had flipped sides, then the little bit of hope was shattered, gone with her first friend.

"Roswaal-sama thinks Subaru-kun is in real trouble right now, trouble that is so deep that he might not be able to get out of it himself, and he is in it because of what you did." Rem paused as her volume plummeted, she struggled to get the last of the words she wanted to say out; Rem tilted her head down causing a shadow to cover her face as a few tears streaked down from her eyes. "You were not the only one who cared about Subaru-kun, you were not the only one here who cherished him, SO WHY IS IT THAT YOU CAN SINGLEHANDIDLY THROW HIM AWAY, WHY DOES REM HAVE TO LOSE HIM BECAUSE OF WHAT YOU DID!" Rem then held her tongue as she realized she may be over the line Roswaal had drawn for her. And so he gave one last glare to Emilia as tears streaked down from her eyes before storming out of the room, not that Emilia even saw as she could no longer hold Rem's gaze. Just as Rem closed the door she muttered, "Be ready to depart early tomorrow…." Before she slammed the door behind herself.

Emilia sat in her chair looking at the floor, watching as tears left her amethyst eyes to drip onto the floor, leaving tiny wet marks on the carpet. She was surrounded by people who loathed her, who only tolerated her because of her status as an election candidate, but she continued to hurt these people with her actions. Should she even stay in the race, try to fix things with the camp that she was the head of in name only? Would trying to step up even make things better or was she as incapable as Subaru and Rem seemed to now think. Should she continue to just sit there like a doll and let other people use her in exchange for being made the Queen of Lugunica? Or should she just throw all their work away and drop out of the race, return to the forest with the simple life she had before. No matter which path she chose she would be hurting someone, it was a terrible feeling to be in this position. She was in enough pain that staying still hurt enough to push her to action, yet the actions available to her would only bring pain. She was paralyzed with indecision, and so she just sat in her room in a deep melancholy as she behaved just as she was described, a doll that cannot do anything without someone else taking her by the hand.

 


 

Subaru walked into his apartment and sunk down against the wall, letting out a large sigh as he closed his eyes, exhausted. "Who knew people would get so fucking crazed over some simple tables…" Subaru exclaimed as he reminisced over how his last few hours had gone.

Around midday he had gone down to the workshop to pick up his finished kotatsu, and slowly lugged all five of them to the mercantile district of the city, a task that was neither easy nor quick. And when he had finally gotten set up he had been able to run his little street side shop for a whole 30 minutes before he had run out of merchandise. Which had then necessitated him needing to walk back across the whole city in order to place his next order, something he had not been able to do when he picked them up due to a lack of funds.

"I'd say your plan is going well Subaru-kuuuuuuuuun, at this rate you could soon be among the wealthy of the city veeeeery soon." Hector's monotone voice echoed through Subaru's head, its tone not at all matching the praise it delivered.

"I don't care about money, I just don't want to have to deal with so much shit all the time, I'd rather get paid less if it meant I didn't have to do as much." Subaru said this while laying down on his back, hands behind his head as he closed his eyes.

Subaru stayed like this and tried to rest before he was stirred to his feet by a chorus of loud sounds from outside the window, the sound of large amounts of clanking metal and rolling wheels, an army was marching through the streets.

"Get up Subaru-kun, this is likely important so please go and taaaaake a look." Hector spoke this command into Subaru's ear, even though Subaru was not exactly very open to being commanded by anyone, the fact that it was Hector seemed to have some influence over his decision to follow the command instead of arguing.

Outside the sole window of his apartment, he saw an army marching, but not an army ecstatic and brimming with joy over a recent victory, instead this was an army sullen in defeat. Injured and tired soldiers limping through the street wearing battered armor and carrying broken weapons. Wagons were pulled through the streets brimming with those too injured to move, the covered bodies of the deceased, and soldiers laying so still that they seemed to be sleeping.

At the head of the army walked a trio, a green haired woman with her head hung low in shame and dishonor, a grey-haired man who stood away from his comrades, unable to show his face. And finally a demi human who walked worriedly between them, concerned for the mental state of both of his comrades.

 


 

Felix slumped down into a chair inside one of the many living rooms of the Karsten mansion, across from him sat Crusch, behind him Wilhelm relentlessly paced back and forth. They had just returned from their attempted subjugation of the White Whale, and it had gone almost as disastrously as it could of, short of everyone being killed. While Felix was feeling more relieved than anything that both Crusch and Old Man Will were still alive, they had a different look on their faces. Crusch sat there in her marred, scratched, and dented armor as she looked blankly down at the ground; this was a face that she had carefully hidden from the rest of the army as they had retreated to the capital, but now it was out on full display once she was hidden from the public eye. She was obviously down over how the subjugation had gone, watching her army be brutally ripped to shreds at the hand of the whale, it seemingly shook her to the very core as a leader. No matter how hard she had tried, every trick or plan she had up her sleeve had been met with abject failure. Had they not been saved by a phantom beyond their own comprehension they would almost certainly all have perished, and Crusch would have been the one who had led them there, and even now most of the army that had followed her there did not make it back alive.

Wilhelm was probably in a worse mental state then Crusch, one moment it looked like he was shaking with extreme amounts of anger, the next he would look like he was a hollow old man wallowing in sadness. This whale fight had been a chance for him, a chance to avenge his wife, a chance that he had sought after for decades, and a chance that had just slipped through his fingers. Felix remembered the desperation in his eyes as the whale simply disappeared and the fog cleared, he remembered how he had seen Wilhelm scream in rage, thrashing at nothing when he realized the whale was gone. He had failed to avenge his wife, and he had also failed to die trying.

"Who was that, the person who saved us…." Crusch spoke for the first time since they had arrived back at the mansion, her voice empty and trembling as she continued to just stare towards the floor.

And it was this question that sent Felix back into his memories of the subjugation in search of an answer.

 


 

The whole army stood absolutely still, frozen in place at the sight before them, for in the distance in the night sky flew the White Whale. A behemoth of gargantuan size that glided through the night sky without the slightest sound. Like all mabeasts it had a massive horn adorning its head, except the horn of the white whale was the size of some of the largest tree's any of the knights had ever seen besides the natural wonder that was Flügel's tree behind them. The skin undulated in the wind as the whale swam through the sky towards them.

To Felix's right stood Crusch, frozen like a statue midway through drawing her sword, her eyes reflecting nothing but the demon of the mists before her as she was captivated by its sheer size and power. The indomitable presence of this terror of the modern world could reduce a woman Felix had always regarded as one of the strongest willed people of this world into someone no different from the average person, it could bring out fear in anyone.

Anyone but Wilhelm it seemed, for the grey-haired butler looked like he was consumed by nothing but rage. He had two of his blades drawn, one in each hand, his fists clenched with such force that the very handles of his swords looked like they were on the verge of deforming. His face was contorted in sheer hatred as he saw his lifelong enemy before him, after decades of waiting he was finally face to face with the beast that had slain his wife.

Felix himself was on the verge of trembling in his boots, although he was a knight this was just a bit out of his league. Felix was a healer; he was used to treating the widest range of wounds but mostly they ranged from sword injuries to regular mabeast bites. However this was an entirely different scale, based on its sheer size it's likely that anyone who took a hit from this whale would be instantly killed, reduced to a mass of ground flesh that resembled the contents of a sausage. But there was always the off chance that someone would survive with what would likely be life threatening injuries and that's where Felix would come in as the best healer in the kingdom. But since Crusch was here so was Felix, she did not even have to ask him for the second she announced that she intended to subjugate the whale Felix was in, even if he had not been her knight he would follow her anywhere, just as he had been since she had saved him.

Felix looked back to Crusch and saw her close her eyes and take a deep breath before opening them once again and drawing her sword the rest of the way. Her characteristic resolve had returned, the sheer look of determination on her face made her look like a true leader, it was a look that Felix had seen on her face since he had met her, a look that had only gotten stronger since Fourier had died.

"TROOPS! THIS BEAST HAS TORMENTED US FOR FAR TO LONG, SLAYED AND CONSUMED FAR TOO MANY OF LUGUNICA'S INNOCENT PEOPLE. AND WITH ALL THIS THE DIVINE DRAGON HAS NOT DONE A SINGLE THING TO PROTECT US FROM IT. BUT TODAY THINGS WILL CHANGE, TODAY WILL BE THE DAY THE PEOPLE OF THE DRAGON KINGDOM SHOW THAT THEY ARE NOT DEPENDENT ON THE DIVINE DRAGON. TODAY WILL BE THE DAY THAT WE WILL SMITE DOWN THIS WRETCHED BEAST, TODAY IS THE DAY THAT WE SHOW THE WORLD THAT WE ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO STAND ON OUR OWN! SO TROOPS LETS SMITE THIS BEAST!" Crush ended her battle cry with a scream and with a swing of her sword she rushed forward followed by her army, with Wilhelm and Felix not far behind.

The sky above them was suddenly awash with lights as a cloud of fireballs and beams of light soared over them before impacting right into the whale, the work of their magician and magic cannon units. The whale roared and screamed as its body contorted with the hit, black smoke billowing around the sights of impact, but there was not even the slightest drop of blood or sight of damaged flesh. The White Whale had taken some of their strongest hit's head on and barely more than flinched.

"RAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH" Screamed the Sword Demon as he jumped from his ground dragon, somersaulting through the air before landing on the whale's fin, dicing open a portion of its side with his twin blades as he did so. Others followed him as Felix maneuvered himself towards the side of the battle in order to not interfere as he watched how the whale become more and more covered with the soldiers of the subjugation army.

"TROOPS, CARE!" Shouted Crusch as she raised her sword high above her head, its blade radiating with energy before swinging it through the air in front of her, not a few seconds later a long yet shallow gash erupted across the bow of the whale. The whale immediately turned upwards into the air, flying straight up into the sky as the soldiers who had been hacking and cleaving away at its sides jumped or otherwise fell to the ground, most landing safetly but a few obviously taking the fall rather hard.

Wilhelm landed near Crusch as Felix went over to the two as they all stared up at the whale, waiting and watching what it would do as it just continued to climb higher and higher into the sky.

"Something's wrong, this beast is in no ways strong enough to best the previous master swordsmen, its toying with us….." Muttered Wilhelm as he stared up, enraptured with the beast, his face showing nothing but irritation.

"Crusch-sama ..." Felix had turned to face Crusch to get her take on the situation as an ear-splitting cry suddenly filled the night sky.

"Arrrrgh" Felix felt the sound bore right into his head, grasping and piercing every fiber it could reach, for a brief moment he felt the strongest urge to grasp at his head, rip and tear until he could reach it and pull whatever was there out. But he felt that way for just a moment until his body and mind began to acclimatize, to adapt until it could drive out and quell whatever the White Whales cry and brought upon his mind. As his senses came back to him he saw how truly broken their army had become, just a mere moment ago the seemed like they would easily crush the whale, and now it looked like they would be lucky to get out alive.

"Felix!" It was Crusch calling to him, she looked like she was in pain but doing better than most of the troops littering the ground. "Get the uninjured to help the wounded back to the tree, we need to regroup!"

"Yes Crusch-sama!" Felix shouted in response as he slid from his ground dragons back towards the nearest soldier on the ground. He lay there screaming and scratching around his eyes with his chainmail gloved hands, the abrasive material creating giant bloody gouges in his face as he gave into the urge Felix had only felt for a second. For a brief instant Felix tried to pull the man's hands away from his face, to stop the damage he was doing to himself, but it was immediately apparent that the man possessed physical strength far beyond Felix's own, leaving him but one single option. An intense ball of light with a blueish hue surrounded his hands as the man's body fell limp from the intense application of water magic. Felix lacked the time to be gentle as should the whale attack again immediately they were likely done for, or at the very least would have to abandon the wounded to whatever fate befell them. This meant that there was no time to worry about things like using his magic to lull them to sleep, which would even risk trapping them in some nightmare with the whales cry still echoing through their heads. It was because of this that he used enough magic to overload their minds, forcing them into a state between sleep and a coma brought on by the mental overload. It would take them many hours to wake, and they would not be in a condition to fight, but it was the fastest way to make them docile enough to move.

As Felix finished an uninjured soldier instantly arrived to pick up the unmoving one, still efficiently following Crusch's orders even when they were in such a precarious position, fear had not risen in his mind to the point that it clouded the fact that if they did not work together, then none of them would be returning alive. And so Felix went from soldier to soldier, making them moveable as soldiers followed behind him, either slinging them across the back of a ground dragon or carrying them in their arms. As the last soldier was readied for transport Felix called to Crusch, "Crusch-sama, we are ready to move!"

This was met with Crusch bellowing an order to all the soldiers around her in the middle of the field, "TROOPS, FALL BACK TO THE TREE!" With that the group hurriedly moved back towards Flügel's Tree at a pace much slower than which they departed at for they were now reduced to no more then a fast walk due to the injured. Prior to this the whale had not attempted to make any move on them in the slightest, seemingly content with just flying in a loose circle above its prey, but the second that they began moving that behavior changed.

See even though the White Whale is not exactly an intelligent creature, it is still a mabeast, still a predator. Most Predators know that attacking a stationary herd that is prepared for it is a vastly more difficult undertaking then going after one that is moving with an attempt to flee. Even though the whale could easily wipe them off the face of the earth if it attacked, it had learned that these humans were different, they intended to hurt it, they could make it bleed.

But as the subjugation force hobbled back towards the supposed safety of the tree they were vulnerable, slowed and encumbered by the wounded, strung out due to retreat, and such there was not much they could do as the whale came barreling down from the sky towards its next meal.

"TROOPS DISPERSE!" Shouted Crusch at the top of her lungs, but it was too little too late, no matter what happened the majority of them were going to be wiped out.

"YOU ARE BUT A BEAST AND NOTHING MORE!" Screamed Wilhelm as he launched himself into the air towards the whale as it neared the ground, his blades rapidly finding the eye of the great beast. In a single motion they sliced and cleaved through the skin and muscle around the eye, reaching the optical nerve instantly before removing the eye itself with near surgical precision. As the whale's eye plummeted away it instinctively turned away and slammed into the ground beside the army spewing fog from orifices that had opened all around its body. The whale itself soon disappeared into this fog with Wilhelm atop its back still hacking and cleaving with such vigour it seemed like he was possessed by the Sword God itself, but the main group did not have time to worry about this for they too found themselves lost in this very fog.

"TO ME, TROOPS TO ME!" Shouted Crusch at the top of her lungs as she used her sword art to clear some of the fog, creating a pocket where you were able to see more than a meter in front of you.

Felix could see from the look on her face that she knew this was becoming a disaster, Crusch's face was showing the weight of responsibility as a future where they all perished in this field became more and more clear. But she still held a look of determination showing that she had not resigned herself to death, and from what Felix could tell, her soldiers seemed to still believe in her. Crusch swung her sword once more, parting the fog just enough that they could make out the tree off in the distance, no more than a few hundred paces away.

"JUST A LITTLE BIT MORE AND WE'RE THERE!" Bellowed Crusch as the army set off into a run once again.

Felix was near the back of the pack, he turned around to make sure the stragglers behind him were still keeping up when he saw that there was just a wall of fog behind him, and nothing more.

"Felix, how's the rear holding up, everyone keeping pace?" Crusch called from her position at the head of the group.

"No problems here Crusch-sama, nobody is falling behind!" Felix called back, but why did he feel like something was off, something deep in his mind called out that something was wrong, that he was forgetting something…..

Felix looked back towards the front, but he did not have time to think, he did not have time to move, the whale was right above him.

It came barreling down, corkscrewing as it slammed its body right into the middle of the subjugation army, squashing many of their comrades like bugs. It was like they were barely even there to begin with as the whale flew away, revealing how the ground was smeared in the blood and gore of those who had stood there just a few seconds ago, their executioner disappearing into the fog just as quickly as it had come.

Felix saw the mortified look on Crusch's face from her position on the other side of the carnage; she had fallen to the ground just like Felix had. Now she sat there with her mouth hanging ajar, lost in shock at how nearly a third of her army was killed in an instant, and there had not been a single thing she could do about it. Her eyes radiating nothing but fear as it seemed she knew that there was no plan she could make, no daring decision that would save them from this monster that had felled the previous master swordsman, that had just seemingly felled the Sword Demon, and that would soon fell the rest of them. Felix could tell from her eyes alone that Crusch had given up, her dream gone, if they could not best a large mabeast then what hope did they have against the divine dragon.

The soldiers around her were in a similar state, frozen, terrified, some even crying out for their loved ones, regretting that they had come here instead of spending another second with them. But then a voice rang out, a soft voice that had no place on a gruesome battlefield like the one they were currently on.

"Wonderful, simply wonderful. The desire to push the limits of mankind can only be applauded, but so can the desire to maintain one's own life. But I'm afraid the I must end this little escapade right here, I have bigger plans for this whale you see, and he needs as much of his skin as possible for this, so I will be having to take him now." These words came from what looked like a phantom in the distance, yet its voice reached them as clearly as if they were but a few paces from one another. The phantom looked to be a fairly short female with long platinum hair, her body covered by a long white dress that hung in such a way to make it look like nothing more than a white sheet with a hole for a head. But this phantom was not done, what it said next would probably stay with Felix until his dying days.

"The White Whale was here, but it is here no longer, instead it is deep within the plains and far from Flügel's tree." And with that the whale was gone, along with the fog and the phantom, all in a single instant.

If none of them had been enraptured with this phantom to the extent that they were they would have seen a beaten and bruised Wilhelm kneeling in the grass, distraught at the departure of his mortal enemy. As the army slowly came to its senses the only thing that could be heard were Wilhelms desperate cries, "I'M NOT DONE WITH YOU, YOU WRETHCED BEAST SO DON'T YOU DARE RUN FROM ME. YOU TOOK THERESIA FROM ME AND YOU WILL NOT ALSO TAKE MY CHANCE OF VENGENCE ASWELL!" The strength fell from Wilhelm as he slowly realized that the whale was gone and with it his chance to avenge his wife. His arms slowly fell to his sides, his swords dropping to the grass, and with them tears from his face. Wilhelm Astrea had been given the chance to slay the White Whale, the beast that had claimed the life of his wife nearly 14 years ago, and he had failed to do so, and with that failure he had been unable to prove his love to her, and he unlikely ever would get the chance.

 


 

"I see, you don't have a clue either….." Crusch said despondently before returning her gaze back to the floor.

Felix did not have the slightest idea on what he could do to help his two friends deal with the failure of their expedition, for one it was supposed to be the first step towards the end of the dragon's covenant, to the other it was to be revenge for a crime committed 14 long years ago. It had however become a symbol of both their failures, a symbol of how after all these years their determination to reach their goals had amounted to nothing.

Felix did not get the chance to even think further on this issue as suddenly all three had their attentions drawn outside the mansion to where the sun was setting, the city around them began to descend into chaos as a chorus of screams filled their ears.

 


 

Emilia and Roswaal stood amidst a crowded and bustling market square as the sun stood well past its highest point in the sky. The two had arrived in the capital not long ago along with the maids from the mansion, Rem and Ram, although the two had been sent off by Roswaal on a task right after they had arrived.

"Roswaal, you haven't really told me what we are doing here besides meeting an old friend of yours for the Royal Selection, but who is this friend, it's starting to realllly bother me that I'm being kept in the dark like this." Emilia said this while looking at Roswaal with the most authoritarian face she could manage, which amounted to not much more than a vaguely intense stare.

"Emilia-sama I can only ask for some trust in this regard, haven't I provided everything needed for your campaign up to this point?" In the face of this question directed at her Emilia could only agree, there was not a single situation that had arisen so far to her knowledge where Roswaal had fallen short, nor was there a situation where Roswaal had acted in a way to betray the trust between them.

"There isn't much I can say to that I guess, just where is your friend, Roswaal? Are we really going to be meeting them here or are we supposed to go elsewhere? And what about Rem and Ram, you gave them some kind of signal the second we arrived and they ran off somewhere, are they coming with us?" Emilia stood before Roswaal asking this as another passersby gave her a glare from behind.

"My friend appears to be running a little late, I believe that I shall need to take a quick look for him. However I believe that you should continue to wait here just in case he arrives before I return." Roswaal then quickly turned and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Emilia to stand on her own, forced to do what he said simply due to the inability to even follow him through the dense crowd once she lost sight of him.

As Emilia stood there she caught a familiar set of colors out of the corner of her eye, a black haired man wearing a black, orange, and white jacket. "S-Subaru?" Emilia called as she reached out to get the persons attention, but the second her hand touched the man he spun around and she realized her mistake. This person was not Subaru, he had the same black and spiky hair as Subaru, even what seemed to be the same jacket with its odd fabric and "N" shaped symbol on the chest.

"Keep your hands off me you dirty half-elf devil" The man spat, but before any further discord could brew between the two they were interrupted by a cacophony of screams and rush of people from the opposite side of the square.

Chapter Text

On the uppermost floor of the capitals outermost barracks was a smoke-filled room, the smoke so thick that it created a haze that obscured one’s vision, so thick that the unprepared choked on the very air they tried to breath as they entered. From the room emanated laughter as a rambunctious crowd of guardsman sat around a table covered in cards, coin, and empty bottles of ale.

 

This behavior they were exhibiting was certainly not accepted by the standards Lugunican guardsmen were normally held to, it was such a deviation of the expectations they were held to that it could even be considered explicitly forbidden. However, these men were not knights, they were guardsmen; guardsmen were not drawn from the upper crust of society, nor were they considered skillful enough to warrant being uplifted into the nobility to become knights. These men were ordinary commonfolk who carried a sword solely for the money and nothing more, they held no debt to society, no sense of honor that drove them to diligence. It was this lack of drive that encouraged their slothful behavior, patrolling only enough to pass the rare inspections by the knights. Outside of this they participated in a gross dereliction of duty, spending there days gambling and drinking their money away. It was these activities that currently consumed the men who formed the main line of defense for Lugunica’s capital.

 

“Heyyyyyyyyy Fritz, can ya grab us some more bottlessssssss, we’re running dry hereeeeeee” Slurred the man at the head of the table as he leaned back hoisting an empty tankard over his head, the compatriot he was speaking to stumbling into the room while doing up his trousers.

 

“Why can’t ya get it yerself ya lazy fuck?” Slurred back the man just as he sat down.

 

“As yer captain I’m ordering ya ta grab some more ale from the storeroom!” The guard captain slammed his hands down on the table, causing some of the coins to roll off the table onto the floor.

 

“Hey!”

 

“Watch it!”

 

“Calm down!”

 

The other guardsmen shouted at the captain as he made a mess of their carefully arranged gambling winnings, and losses.

 

“Okay, Okay, hold yer dang horses, I’ll be right back.” Shouted the guard as he stood up and began to walk to the basement where they stashed their excess ale.

 

The storeroom located in the basement was used to store a multitude of things, from the arms and armor they carried during patrol, to the guilty pleasures like ale, to a small tunnel that led outside of the city they used to smuggle in illicit goods to earn money on the side, money that routinely exceeded their wages.

 

But it was because of this tunnel that when the guardsmen walked down into the basement that he was greeted not by the normally empty room full of boxes, but by a procession of robbed and hooded figures headed by a green haired man.

 

“OI! Who the fuck do ya think you and yer buddies are to be here, this aint some fucking playground!” Fritz shouted at the group only to freeze when the green haired man lifted his head, so their eyes met.

 

“Witch’s Cult Sin Archibishop representing sloth, Beteguese Romanée-Conti” and with his introduction a wide smile crossed the face of the crazed sin archbishop as Fritz stared right into his eyes, he did not even get the chance to scream.

 


 

“What the fuck is taking him so damn long…” Grumbled the Captain as he stood up from his chair and began to walk towards the door when it was unexpectedly thrown open.

 

“There you finally ar……..” The Captain suddenly stopped speaking when he saw Fritz in the doorway, or more correctly, when he saw Fritz’s broken and mangled corpse floating in the doorway as blood dripped onto the wooden floorboards with a steady drip sound.

 

He was just there suspended, his limbs looked like they had been twisted around to the point his joints had broken open, the jagged ends of the bones were poking out of his skin, his head was twisted 180 degree’s from where it should have been, leading to them looking at the back of his head.

 

As they stood there in a morbid silence, Fritz’s neck started to turn; with the snapping of cartilage and the shattering of bone, the tearing of skin and muscle, he now faced him. His face was stuck in an expression of terror, blood poured out of the corners of his mouth, his nostrils, and from behind his eye lids.

 

Suddenly his mouth began to open and close, jarringly move as if he was talking, but the voice speaking was not his own, it was but a very crude imitation.

 

“IT HURTS, IT HURTS CAPTAIN. MAKE THE PAIN STOP. TWISTING, TURNING, BITING, SNAPPING, CRACKING, MAKE IT STOP!” The corpse of Fritz then began to make a sound like it was crying, as its mangled arms rose to its eyes as if wiping away tears, but they achieved nothing more than smearing blood all over its own face.

 

The men at the table were so shocked that when they did not even move when Fritz’s corpse was suddenly hurled from the doorway into the table they sat around. It slammed into the table with enough force to break it, shatter the few intact bones left in Fritz’s body, and cause most of the guardsmen to be knocked to the floor.

 

As they began to stand up from the floor a robed man with green hair entered the room. “What a truly, truly, truly, truly, truly mind-bending sight. The fact that the people entrusted with overseeing the safety of the city, the ones trusted to be diligent, have fallen to sloth.” The man then bent over backwards and grabbed at his own hair in a frenzy, “Such a very, very, very, very entertaining sight! My brain trembles at the idea that those most diligent in the city are too slothful to even keep their own safe. It was with your fingers, your hands, your actions that lead to your friend’s death, and it will be your slothfulness that will be what leads to this entire city becoming the most slothful of all” The man then had his face break into a big smile, and with a excited and almost happy voice he finished his sentence, “DEAD!”

 

“Fuck this crazy, lets get him!”

 

“Yes lets end this madman!”

 

“What he did to Fritz is unforgivable, I’m going to enjoy flaying this fucktard!”

 

The guardsman grabbed their swords and other assorted weapons and prepared to charge the robbed man when all of a sudden, they found themselves floating in the air, they felt something wrap itself, or more correctly grad them by the neck and squeeze as it lifted them up.

 

“AAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH” Screamed one of the guards as his comrades could only watch as he was slowly having his limbs torn off one by one as they all floated helplessly in midair.

“Authority of Sloth, Unseen Hand.” Said the green haired man in what resembled a normal voice as he slowly torn apart the guardsmen until the room was awash with nothing but blood and dismembered corpses.

 

Betelgeuse then turned to face his procession of cultists who had waited diligently behind him as he had dealt with the guardsmen. Before speaking he pulled a small black book from his robes, the gospel, the symbol of the love bestowed upon him by the Jealous Witch. Every action, every life he takes, every injury he sustains is for her, all of it to show his love and affection for her, all in the hope of receiving the slightest bit or reciprocation.

 

The gospel made it clear to him what he needed to do next, although indecipherable to most, it provided him the guidance necessary to ensure that Satella, The Witch of Envy would once again walk this world free of any bindings or seals. It was this gospel that had instructed him to trust and adhere to the suggestions from the man’s letters. And with all of this being confirmed once more Betelgeuse could begin the next chapter of the final act, The Ordeal.

 

As he began to speak, he began to lead to the procession of cultists towards the exit of the guards building, “Today is a day of love, truly about love, familial love, erotic love, generous love, respectful love, pure love, tender love, friendly love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love, love. Today is the day we can finally repay her for all the love she has granted us, show her the diligence we’ve been driven to by our love for her. Go forth my fingers, preform what is necessary for the Ordeal with the utmost extent of your loving diligence!” As Betelgeuse finished his sermon, he and the cultists were standing outside the guard hut surrounded by the residents of the city, all completely frozen in shock. As the cultists drew their blades and conjured their mana into fireballs that shock quickly rose into panic as a cacophony of shrill cries filled the air, and as fire and blood began to fill the streets.

 

Betelgeuse left his fingers to their work as he began his walk towards the square mentioned in the letter, removing the letter from his robes in order to ensure he was following the writ of the gospel down to the exact letter.

 

Dearest Betegeuse

It has come to my attention that we now share a common obstacle, someone who is both a hinderance to your ordeal and to my reunion with my sensei. This hinderance is a young man by the name of Natsuki Subaru, one who has been chosen as the champion of the Witch of Envy yet who has rejected the role.

 

Betelgeuse did not lift his eyes from the page as he lifted a knight with his unseen hands and smashed him into the wall with enough force to scatter his brains all across the roadway.

 

Natsuki Subaru bares Satella’s love in such abundance that I daresay exceeds even your own my friend, yet he does not even attempt to return it towards her, instead using it to spite her in the form of obstructing you and your followers. In all likelihood he will attempt to save the half-elf that you intend to use as a vessel for Satella’s return, and should you not act with the utmost diligence, he will likely succeed.

 

A crowd of civilians who were trying to squeeze through a narrow archway block Betelgeuse’s path, so he simply picked up several pieces of burning timber from a nearby house and hurled them into the crowd, killing many and injuring many more as only a few managed to escape through the passageway. As Betelgeuse stepped over their charred corpses, he did not even grant those being burned alive due to being trapped under the timber mercy, for those too slothful to act did not deserve the mercy of death.

 

I trust you to eliminate this threat, and in return for doing such a favor for me I will ensure that the half-elf you seek is trapped in the lower market square on the day of your ordeal. All but one of the cities gates will fail to open, creating chaos which should allow you to achieve your goal as the majority of the knights and the sword saint will be too busy saving the innocent to stop you.

 

Betelgeuse began to approach the lower market square which appeared to be packed with civilians that seemed to be preparing to evacuate through the fire and his cultists. Among them to serve as escort were only a handful of knights, led by one with purple hair, a force that was no match for his diligence or his love. And behind the knights was his prize, the silver haired half-elf who would serve as the vessel needed for the completion of the ordeal.

 

But I must warn you once more, beware of Natuki Subaru for he will certainly be your most dangerous opponent should he become involved in this. I wholeheartedly recommend his immediate elimination.

 


 

“You really were and have always has been truly useless.” A faint yet familiar voice ran through Emilia’s head, her own voice.

 

“Puck please come out, people are dying right now and I can’t help them without you!” Emilia pleaded into the dormant crystal, pleading with the great spirit that had been by her side since she had unfrozen in the Elior forest.

 

“You have never managed to accomplish anything on your own merit alone, you will always and forever will be reliant on the strength of others.” The voice ran through her head again.

 

Emilia hopped back towards the wall as an armored knight was thrown into a fountain in front of her with enough force for the masonry to perforate the thinnest parts of his armor. Emilia ran up to him and tried to call upon the minor spirits to help heal him. The wound was deep, the brickwork had penetrated in between the platework he wore and cut deep into his abdomen leading to a torrent of deep red blood leaking into the fountain, dying the water a rich crimson.

 

“If nearly anyone else with your gifts or strength were here then this man would be as good as saved, but this man is cursed with the luck of having only you to rely on.” The voice chimed into the back of her head.

 

She focused with all her might to draw as many spirits as she could to herself, to try and get them to push mana into the knights wound in order to heal him. But not a single one came to heed her call for she currently was violating one of the sacred requirements of the spirit arts. For a spirit to heed the command of a spirit arts user they must like, admire, or believe in them. And such this leads to the users of the spiritual arts needing to make themselves appealing to spirits, and since this mostly boils down to an innate natural affinity it means that a practitioner of the spiritual arts needs not much more then to keep a calm head in order to not repel the uncontracted spirits when dealing with them. But if a user of the spirit arts is unable to meet this requirement, even temporarily then they cannot hope to draw upon the aide of any uncontracted minor or quasi spirits. And it was because of this that Emilia could do nothing but struggle in vain as the knight bled to death at her feet.

 

“He probably would prefer to have any other image to see as his life slipped away then that of a half-elf like me.” The voice taunted her as she froze, looking right into the now lifeless eyes of the knight who’s soul had just left his body.

 

“Al Clarista!” Shouted Julius Juuklius as a beam of light fired forth from his sword towards the source of their desperate situation, a man who called himself Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti, the man who claimed to be the Sin Archbishop of Sloth from the Witch’s Cult.

 

When she heard his introduction, something stirred in her memories, something was missing. She felt some strange familiarity with the name he used, like she was supposed to feel something from seeing him, like she had known him. But she had never known nor seen this strange and crazy man in her life before.

 

“ARRRRRGHHHHHH” Screamed a male voice, and when Emilia looked  up she could only see the horror on the face of Julius as his attack burned the last of his fellow knights to the brink of death.

 

The attack launched at the Sin Archbishop had been stopped just short of its mark, the same invisible power which had been steadily demolishing the knights protecting those in the square had picked up the last knight besides Julius and used it as a shield to protect its master’s body.

 

“HA YOU KILLED HIM, With your slothful practice of making your spirits fight for you, with those words of yours you took away his life! If only you had the diligence to fight yourself then your friend wouldn’t be dead!’ Screamed Betelgeuse in a mania as he bent backwards with his hands pulling bits of his green hair out.

 

“Anastasia-sama has entrusted me to fulfill my duty as a lugunican knight by defending the citizenry of the city while she gathers the iron fang. I, Julius Juuklius do not intend to violate that trust in the slightest, and such I shall end you here and now Sin Archbishop!” Julius raised his sword in the air before shouting “Clarista!” and rushing forward with immense speed and grace to the still distracted Betelgeuse.

 

And he made it about half the distance before he was lifted into the air, each of his limbs being grasped by something unseen and stretched out to the point he could not do anything but struggle in vain.

 

“You take pride in the notion of undertaking great actions, you speak of great actions, you attempt great actions, but in the end your actions amount to nothing, everything you do amounts to nothing. Therefore you have always, and always will do nothing, therefore practicing sloth. My brain truly truly truly truly truly truly truly truly truly TREMBLES, HOW CAN SOMEONE SO FULL OF DILIGENCE BE SO SLOTHFUL!” Betelgeuse bit down onto his own fingers to the point that blood seeped out of his mouth, while he did this he slammed Julius’ body into the ground with a sickening amount of force. He immediately raised it back up into the air to reveal that the impact had concussed the knight into a daze, blood dripping from his mouth and nose, alongside a multitude of cuts adorning the rest of his body.

 

“I cannot comprehend how someone so diligent, so trusted to be diligent, can practice sloth to such an extent?!? How can the knights who should have prevented this immense tragedy in the first place let it occur, BECAUSE THEY AND YOU HAVE BEEN PRACTICING SLOTH FORM THE VERY BEGINNING! THE SIGHT IS SO TRULY ENTERTAINING, JUST HOW WE BETRAY THE WITCHES LOVE WITH OUR SLOTH, SO HAVE YOU BETRAYED THE LOVE AND TRUST OF YOUR KINGDOM!” The blood flowing from Betelgeuse’s fingers grew in volume and richness as he bit deeper and deeper into the bone. He also slammed Julius into the ground again, using even more force such that when he lifted him up, Julius’ entire face was red with blood, and not showing more then the faintest hint of life.

 

Betelgeuse began to walk forward with a leisurely stride towards the fallen Julius, kneeling down beside him and whispering into his ear, “You my friend, are truly slothful.” Before standing up and looking right at Emilia who was still knelt by the corpse of the fallen knight she had attempted to heal. It was at this moment that his entire body seemed to be overcome by emotion, tears began to run from his eyes as he strode towards her swaying vigorously from side to side, his arms wrapping around his own body in order to embrace himself as he preached his sermon of love.

 

“FINALLY AFTER ALL THESE CENTURIES I CAN REPAY THE LOVE I RECEIVED, I CAN REPAY THAT LOVE WITH LOVE. THE ORDEAL, THE MEANS I HAVE TO SHOW MY DILIGENT LOVE CAN FINALLY BEGIN. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELOVELO.” Betelgeuse suddenly froze, his jaw stopping mid word as his whole head rotated a quarter turn to the right, his eyes slowly creeping up the building to look at the roof, his nose sniffing the air as he watched a boy with black hair and mean eyes sprinting across the rooftops.

 


 

“Natsuki Subaru-kuuuuuuun, now is the time to make your finaaaaaaal decision; will you be a hero, or will you leave this city to burn?” Hector’s voice echoed through the inside of Subaru’s head as he stood looking out his window.

 

He saw the entire city burning, it had started as a series of isolated fires springing up all of a sudden, but then it was like the entire city started to scream in pain at once. It was in sync with these screams that the isolated fires seemed to roar, grow in ferocity as they began to engulf entire buildings at once. He could see already how large crowds had formed, trying to push their way to safety outside the city, but being met with closed gates, or in some cases, cut down and slaughtered in droves by hooded figures. Whatever or whoever had decided to attack this city had decided that they would not take half measures, the entire population of the city would be given a choice, burn to ash or drown in blood. From what he could see, the knights of the city were struggling to deal with the chaos of the crowds and fire, not to mention the hooded figures that looked identical to the cultists he had seen before, who were causing it all to begin with. In all likelihood they would manage to deal with it in the end, but there would be a lot of death and damage if the situation was not improved by a near miracle.

 

Miracle, that is what his actions probably looked like to everyone else, when he miraculously knew things he should not, or when he dodged attacks from those far faster than him. But Natsuki Subaru had made up his mind, he would not give Lugunica anymore miracles if he could help it.

 

“Fuck them, they made their bed, let them die in it” Subaru responded in a bitter voice to Hector’s question, he had made up his mind. Natsuki Subaru the wannabe hero who was transported to Lugunica against his will was dead and he was never coming back.

 

“Climb to the rooftop then and run along the roofs until you see a gate that will allow you to pass through the wall.” Was all Hector said in response.

 

And so Subaru did exactly this, running out of his dwelling and down the corridor to the maintenance room, inside which was a service ladder used to reach the roof. Once he reached the roof he began to survey the city, stopping to take in the devastation and plotting out his route in order to escape.

 

There were 4 gates through the city’s walls, normally all were open and allowed people to freely flow in and out, however that did not appear to be the case. By looking closely at each of them, Subaru could see a large crowd gathered around, crowds that were not moving; by looking even closer Subaru could see that the large gates themselves did not seem to be open, a state that they had no good reason to be in during an emergency like this. This situation was identical for 3 of the 4 gates, however one of the gates had a different situation, its crowd was vastly larger than the rest but appeared to be moving slowly through the grate before dispersing outside the city, it was this gate that he would need to use in order to escape.

 

However by looking away from the gates to the city as a whole showed the true scale of the cities woes, the woes that were strangling the city in an embrace of fire and blood. Across the whole city were large pockets of flame engulfing entire blocks of buildings as they spread outward. Many of the city’s streets were awash with blood and filled with corpses to the point a ground dragon would be unable to draw a cart through them.

 

The only odd thing about these atrocities were there locations, they were everywhere as if originating from multiple points simultaneously, but there was one place that had no fires and no bodies, a single market square. And this meant that the only way for Subaru to cross the city safely would be to use this market square as a corridor in order to reach the only open gate.

 

And so Natsuki Subaru ran along the rooftops, jumping over the small gaps between the buildings as he made his way through this makeshift corridor that would let him cross the devastation of the city as he made his way to safety.

 

“So this is whaaaat they’ve been building up to aaaaaaaaaall this time” Mused Hector as Subaru continued to run along the buildings, not even bothering to respond to Hector as he focused on his footing, leading to Hector to continue the conversation on his own. “They’ve been bidding their time for the past hundred or so years, I rarely encountered them. But this, the slaughter of a whole city, is truuuuuly unexpected, if my memory serves correct the moderates of the cult fuuuuuuuully opposed violence, and now they’re resorting to mass killings.”

 

Subaru’s focus was taken from his surroundings as he focused in on what Hector was saying, thinking about how the Betelgeuse he had met, a member of a cult that Hector claimed was initially opposed to violence, the person who had without qualm attacked him and Rem on the road back to the mansion, sparing him due to some twisted logic beyond comprehension.

 

Subaru then found himself falling, the roof underneath his feet collapsing into rubble as he began to fall to the ground below, towards the market square below where Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti stood waiting with a crazed yet expecting look on his face.

 

Subaru landed hard on among the rubble on the cobblestone of the market square with a cracking sound as pain shot through the fingers on his left hand, his forearm and elbow, and the ribs on the left side of his chest. He could not move the fingers of his left hand anymore and they were bent at odd angles, almost certainly broken; and although he could still move his left arm it sent a sharp pain down the left side of his chest, meaning that there was likely some serious structural damage there too.

 

Subaru grimaced in pain as he used his right arm to help himself up, even though it felt sore it was definitely in a better condition than his left. But as he pressed himself up, he caught sight of two other people, one made him nearly sneer in delight, the other making him feel an overwhelming sense of bitterness and sadness rise within himself. Julius lay motionless on the ground, motionless and barely breathing as he looked like he got the absolute shit beat out of him. Seeing the pretentious asshole who had beat him into a pulp being on the other end of the stick would have made Subaru happy, but the other person he saw ruined that for him, like she had ruined his second chance at life.

 

His eyes met Emilia’s, his burned with disdain at bitterness at the sight of her while hers were filled with tears as she seemingly shrank at his gaze. He hated her, he despised her, he loathed her, she took his happiness from him, drained every last bit of joy from his heart and second life, and now she had taken his joy from seeing a broken and beaten Julius too; Emilia was the half-devil who had tempted him with an apple only for that apple to be the thing that corrupted his world and caused his descent from the garden of Eden to a land of nothing but melancholy.

 

As Subaru slowly got up Betelgeuse seemed to be both losing his patience and what little remained of his mind, “I truly truly truly truly can’t understand how someone so obviously loved could refute that very love, it doesn’t make any sense, MY. BRAIN. TREMBLES” Betelgeuse bent over backwards while yanking handfuls of his green hair out as he tried to comprehend how someone could reject the witches love, the very love he had yearned after for so long.

 

“Love, you call the torment I’ve received from that silver haired half elf bitch love? My god why didn’t anyone tell me that she was ruining my life because she LOVED ME, while she can take her fucking love and shove it! If the reason you’re hear is because of one of these damn half-elves or the other, then you can leave me the fuck out of it because I don’t want to have anything to do with either of them!” The moment Subaru let these words leave his mouth he realized that he made a mistake, to insult the Witch of Envy before someone driven mad by their love for her would not end well for him.

 

“To think so highly of yourself as to reject her love like that, to have so much pride as to throw insults in the face of the one who gives only love, I truly cannot understand such an idea. We are supposed to repay love with love, yet you threw her love into the dirt. The gospel warned me that you must be eliminated, she warned me that you must be eliminated yet she adorned you in such love, such intense love.” Betelgeuse’s whole body froze for a second as if he came to some realization, a big smile broke out across his face as he saw the Jealous Witches true intent. “MY BRAIN TREMBLES, IT TRULY, TRULY, TRULY TREMBLES! ALL OF THIS WAS MEANT AS A REWARD FOR MY DILIGENCE, LOVE FOR MY LOVE, TO HAVE A BODY SUCH AS THIS, A FINE BODY SMOTHERED IN LOVE TO BE MY NEW VESSEL. ITS WONDERFUL, FANTASTIC, AMAZING, SUPRISING, MY BRAIN WON’T STOP TREMBLING!”

 

As Betelgeuse was nearly dancing in place in happiness all of a sudden Subaru felt something painfully press on his head, exerting such a pressure as if it was a foreign object trying to force its way in. He grasped the sides of his head and fell back to his knees as he strained to keep whatever was trying to force its way in out, but he gradually felt his own grasp on his body slip away, and with it this foreign presence entered his mind.

 

Everything was black, dark, but there were no shadows, and he also was not alone. Subaru did not feel as if he had a body of his own, he could look and see anywhere with no physical restrictions. He also felt normal, there was no sadness, emptiness or bitterness affecting him here, but he also could not seem to do anything more than just look around, but that is when he saw them.

 

There were two men in front of him, one standing while appearing to be filled with such a maddening rage at merely seeing the other here that he was tearing chunks of his green hair out. The other sat in a wispy and barely visible chair with his head propped up by one of his arms, a look on his face that showed the immense depths of his own depression, his melancholy but also his disinterest at the whole situation. Subaru recognized both these men to some extent, they looked familiar to people he had seen before but not exactly. The depressed man strongly resembled the young Hector he had seen, the long brown hair, expression, and dress matching nearly identically. The other man however was a bit looser in his fit to the one Subaru thought he was, Sin Archbishop Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti. His robes matched perfectly, his hair was also fairly close as it was just a bit longer and did not quite have the bowl cut of the archbishop he was used to seeing. His face also had a bit more color to it, holding a healthier tone that just made him look a bit more alive. However his crazy mannerisms were identical to the Betelgeuse Subaru knew, becoming heavily apparent as he listened into the conversation the two men were having.

 

“HOW ARE YOU HERE YOU HERETIC? YOU SHOULDN’T EXIST, YOU SHOULD BE DEAD, GONE, BUT YOU’RE HERE IN THE VESSEL THAT IS TO BE MY REWARD FOR MY DILIGENCE?” Betelgeuse tore chunks of green hair, bits of his scalp coming with them and leaking blood onto the non-existent yet present floor.

 

“You’re incessant and obsessive statements are making my ears bleed, their annoying, you’re disgusting, why must I have to endure the wretched and depressing sight of the artificially insane like yourself. Get out, leave me alone, let me carry out my only desire in peace, your interruptions are annoying, depressing, making me feel even more melancholic….” As Hector finished speaking Betelgeuse just started to manically laugh at him.

 

“YES, YES I’LL DO JUST THAT, I’LL LEAVE! BUT THEN I’LL TEAR THIS BODY, THIS MOCKERY OF LOVE TO PIECES WITH MY DILIGENCE. I TRULY CANNOT ALLOW SUCH A THREAT TO THE ORDEAL SUCH AS MELANCHOLY TO PERSIST, I MUST ENSURE ONLY LOVE AND DILIGENCE REMAIN FOR HER RETURN.” And with that Betelgeuse instantly vanished.

 

Hector sighed before everything began to spin for Subaru, the odd place that he did not have time to understand was soon replaced with the square once again. However Subaru felt just as he had before, as something boundless and floating without a body, except now he was stuck looking through his own eyes, now he was simply watching someone else control his body.

 

Subaru then felt his mouth open as words that were not his left his body, “Uhhhhhh, to have to go this far drains my soul of joy, so depressing, so much melancholy.” Subaru then found his eyes looking right at Betelgeuse as the seven unseen hands he had witnessed before became visible to him before a brief rippling and surging occurred and suddenly there were more than a hundred around the sin archbishop.

 

“To think my fingers would be defeated so quickly……he must have arrived, I must begin the ordeal now or I will have fallen to sloth and failed.” Betelgeuse mused as all hundred of his unseen hands darted forth right towards where Subaru was standing.

 

Hector simply stepped back in the laziest way possible as the ground exploded in front of him into a cloud of rubble. Seeing that his unseen hands, the token of affection bestowed upon him by the Witch of Envy had in fact been seen certainly did not sit well with Betelgeuse.

 

“You can see them…..YOU CAN SEE WHAT IS MEANT TO BE UNSEEN TO ALL BUT ME! MY AUTHORITY, THE SYMBOL OF MY DILIGENCE, MY REPRESENTATION OF THE WITCHES LOVE. WHY CAN YOU SEE IT? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY MUST YOU OF ALL PEOPLE, YOU THE HERETIC BE ABLE TO SEE, TO EXPLOT MY AUTHORITY!” Betelgeuse screamed this as he bit down on his fingers with enough force to draw vast amounts of blood, tearing through the soft tissue all the way down to the bone, he truly looked delusional as he wailed and screamed with a mouthful of his own blood.

 

“I’m irritated, annoyed, saddened by having to deal with you. This is the worst of the worst of the worst. I can’t stand it anymore, why must you drag me back down like this. I hate it” Subaru could tell it was Hector controlling his body now, and Hector was acting significantly more melancholic then when he had merely been residing inside Subaru, yet Subaru felt significantly less melancholy compared to then.

 

Hector walked forward as the unseen hands rocketed towards him once again, except they seemed to distort for an instant before all collapsing inwards and dispersing.

 

“You’re so weak that it bores me, bothers me to have to deal with you, why must I have to exert myself like this, I truly hate it.” Hector said this as he continued to approach Betelgeuse, who was raving at how his authority was not able to overpower Hector.

 

“WHY,WHY,WHY,WHY,WHY,WHY,WHY MUST IT HAVE BEEN YOU, WHY MUST MELANCHOLY HAVE OPPOSED THE ORDEAL, WHY MUST THE TOKEN OF HER LOVE NOT BE ENOUGH TO STOP YOU, I TRULY, TRULY, TRULY CANNOT UNDERSTAND HOW EVERYTHING IS FALLING APART WHEN I FOLLOWED THE GOSPEL TO THE LETTER….” Betelgeuse stood still as he continued to launch attack after attack with the unseen hands, all of which were stopped midair by the authority of melancholy before they could land. Betelgeuse’s own body was entirely consumed by his raving madness as he did not make even the slightest attempt to keep the distance between them.

 

“Putting in effort like this makes me depressed, so much melancholy, too much sadness, I truly cannot take it. Why did you have to make me endure this, why did you have to bring such melancholy to this place, this time.” And with that Hector had slowly trudged across the square to stand within arm’s length of Betelgeuse, all to just reach out and touch his shoulder.

 

The second he made contact Betelgeuse’s whole body twisted and contorted, his spine twisted to the point that the cartilage broke; the nerves tightened, contracted and snapped, the muscles tore until his lower half was connected to his upper half by nothing but the small amount of remaining connective tissue. His arms were compacted into his chest until the joints popped and broke.

 

“Being forced down a path like this truly depresses me, I cannot continue to stand it, I cannot endure such melancholy as this.” Betelgeuse’s body was then launched upward before another force slammed into it from above, compacting it into the ground with such force as to create a small crater in the cobblestone paved square.

 

“Something as horrid as this would steal the remaining joy from my life if there was any left, this world truly is depressing and pointless…….”

 

Betelgeuse’s broken body was then launched into the building behind him, flying through the door.

 

“You really are the worst of the worst of the worst to make me feel as bad as this, there’s no joy in this, just irritation, annoyance, and melancholy……”

 

Hector raised his hand so the palm faced the building.

 

“I hate it, I hate how I have been forced down a path like this, how I must be so depressed, it really is there fault, all their faults, the world’s fault. Why must I be made to show how unloved you are, your weakness should be testament enough to that, so why must I be forced to exert myself…….”

 

And with that the supports to the building creaked and groaned before giving way as it collapsed into rubble on top of the broken Betelgeuse.

 

“Huuuuh, finally done with this depressing business” And as those words left the lips of Subaru’s body with a sigh, Subaru felt as if he was being pulled forward, pulled back into control. He felt the pain from all the injuries from falling off the roof came back, he felt the melancholy and bitterness return like a tidal wave, but he could also move his limbs and blink again.

 

“Satella……..Satella………Satellaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” Cried Betelgeuse as he slowly and painstakingly dragged his shattered body out from under the rubble, crawling on the ground towards Subaru as if he intended to continue the fight.

 

“I’ll leave this part to you, you need to be able to kill without hesitation in the future so now will be your chance to learn.” Hector’s voice echoed through Subaru’s mind.

 

“Ah, I guess you’re right….” Subaru responded out loud as he walked towards Betelgeuse, limping due to the injuries from falling off the roof. As he closed in on the sin archbishop who barely clung to life he reached down to pickup a loose cobblestone from the ground.

 

“Forgive me Satella, I could not overcome my sloth…..” Those were the last words that left the lips of Betelgeuse Romaneé-Conti as Subaru brought the stone down on his head, connecting with a sickening thunk as the archbishop’s skull gave slightly to the force of the stone, flattening a bit as his body went still and blood began to leak from the wound. But Subaru was not finished, he remembered everything this sick cultist had put him through, how many loops had failed because he had encountered him. And so he brought the stone down again and again, each blow further deforming Betelgeuse’s skull, each blow swung in an effort to alleviate his bitterness, but doing nothing more then fueling it.

 

Why must he have had to suffer through this, why did he have to get caught up in the attack on a city he could not care less about, why did this cruel world just keep dragging him back down into the mud. He hated it, he hated every last horrid piece of it, he just wanted happiness but everything that happened either made him more and more bitter, or more and more sad and upset. His swings grew more and more frantic until he stopped, he stopped because he could not swing anymore. His shoulders heaved up and down as he caught his breath, his injured left side screamed in pain due to being exerted after sustaining such extreme injuries. He looked down at the gory mush that was once the archbishops head, bearing not even the slightest resemblance to its former self. It was then when something that was black and slimy but held no form, dark but held no alignment lunged at him from the corpse. It went straight towards his heart, trying its best to worm its way in, trying its best to perpetuate the cycle since its creation by the Od Laguna untold centuries ago. But it was not let in, for something of equal power opposed it, rejected it. And so for the first time since it was removed from the box of one of its former carriers that it chose something unliving, something dead to host it. It retreated back into the corpse of its former master so that it may wait for another host.

 

His mind and body felt different compared to before he had lost control, physically he could almost feel as if the tentacles of something were extending out from within him, reaching out and into his body parts where they grew tiny appendages that spread throughout him. These appendages grew into his flesh in some places, and where they grew felt different, felt wrong. The Natsuki Subaru that was exposed to their influences was changed just ever so slightly, just enough to be described as different, but not enough for him to really notice. Mentally he felt as if a dam in his mind had sprung a leak, he felt as if he were sitting around a campfire, warmed by the flames of his anger and bitterness. But directly behind him stood a massive dam that held back a vast ocean of melancholy, depression, and sadness; now that ocean was beginning to leak out and lap at his ankles, suppressing his fire and drenching his spirit.

 

As he stood he first looked at the path out of the square that would lead him in his originally intended direction, out of the city. Much to his dismay this route was blocked by rubble, he would have to exit in the direction he had come from, but when he turned to head this way he was met with the sight of the people he least wanted to see. On the ground by the unmoving body of a fallen knight knelt Emilia, her eyes empty and glossed with water as she lamented how her uselessness had now gotten people killed. Entering the square and walking towards her was a trio comprised of Roswaal, Rem, and Ram. Roswaal’s face was neutral until his eyes widened in surprise at the sight of Subaru departing from Betelgeuse’s disfigured corpse. Rem’s face was initially still and cold, just like it had been when he had first met her, however the second she saw him her mood seemed to lighten and spirits lift before once again falling at the sight of his injuries. Behind them was a crowd of civilians their faces a mix of astonishment, fear, and joy; this range of emotions were all directed at Subaru, formerly the one who was the butt of many jokes due to his display in the castle, now occupying a position as the one who had seemingly saved them from being killed at the hands of the witch cultists.

 

When Subaru looked back towards the trio, he could see that Rem seemingly wanted to approach him, but was held in place by the iron grip of Roswaal, his hand on her shoulder as he regarded the situation with a slight frown on his face. However Rem calmed down and did not try and fight him when she saw that Subaru was approaching them, of course something he was only doing as it was the sole way out of the square.

 

“Subaru-kun! Subaru-kun! Are you alright? Rem saw part of your fight and it reminded Rem of how much of a hero Subaru-kun is, like when he fought the mabeasts!” Rem cheered at his approach.

 

“I’m…….fine…….” Subaru managed to get out, he was overcome with exhaustion and his mind felt heavy as if full of fog, but he absolutely wanted nothing more to do with these people and just wanted to get away from them.

 

“Subaru-kun doesn’t sound fine……. you’re arm, and eye look hurt, and your breathing doesn’t sound right. Rem doesn’t know if she can fix your internal injuries, but she can try!” Rem then lifted her hands towards Subaru as a glow began to appear around them, before Subaru swatted her hands away and began to limp past her, Rem’s head just sunk as she realized that nothing had changed with him since their last meeting.

 

At this action Ram looked like she wanted to say something but Roswaal spoke up first, “You should let Rem heal you Subaru-kun, we owe you a great debt for protecting Emilia-sama from the witch cultist attack.”

 

“Look at him and open your left eye Subaru-kuuuuuuuun” Hector’s voice bounced around inside his head from an undetermined direction, revealing that his eye had been closed, something that he did not even realize. And so Subaru did just that, he turned to face Roswaal and opened his left eye to reveal a new black pupil. At the sight of this Roswaal visibly stiffened, giving Subaru the opportunity to give the remark that had popped into his head ever since the Emilia camp’s stupid debt obsession was brought back up.

 

“You don’t owe me a damn thing, if Betelgeuse hadn’t of attacked me I just would’ve left her to die.” Subaru spoke in a voice that was empty, the only thing revealed by the tone was how tired he was, and after leaving everyone in shock he left the square behind and headed home. He was no longer concerned with leaving the city as the atmosphere had been growing more and more calm, his only desire right now was to lay down and sleep.

 


 

Reinhard arrived on the scene by leaping over a heap of rubble blocking the road while carrying Felix in his arms bridal style, one of his divine protections had alerted him to the fact that someone close to him would die if he did not arrive with utmost haste.

 

His heart sunk when he saw the scene, bodies of his fellow knights were littered across the square, arrayed semi-concentrically around the heavily disfigured corpse of a witch cultist. However the civilians they were meant to protect all seemed to be safe, but Reinhard had still failed. If he had only been a bit faster in dispatching the other cultists, then he could have been here in time to prevent this tragedy from occurring.

 

“Julius!” Felix cried out as he sprung from Reinhard’s arms and rushed to the collapsed form of their friend, soaked in what seemed like his own blood. A wave of relief washed over Felix’s face as he began to heal Julius, showing that he would almost certainly be alright. Reinhard cursed himself again, if his thoughts and environmental perception had been anything but instantaneous then he would have hesitated and potentially held back Felix, which could have cost Julius his life.

 

As he walked towards the civilians, he first stopped by the royal candidate who was presently kneeling beside the body of a deceased knight, he called to her. “Emilia-sama, I am truly happy to see that you are alright.”

 

But as his words met her ears all she did was look up at him with empty and broken eyes, before returning her gaze to the dead knight in front of her, not saying a single word in kind. But before Reinhard could curse himself once again over his deficiencies a voice called his name.

 

“Reinhard van Astrea, a truly assuring sight in trying times like these” Reinhard recognized the voice but not the manner in which it spoke, Roswaal L Mathers, the greatest magician in the kingdom.

 

“Roswaal-sama, I am truly grateful towards you for defending these citizens in my stead, I apologize that I was unable to do so due to my own weakness.” But at these words Roswaal frowned, the second person Reinhard had made upset with his own words.

 

Roswaal quickly hid his facial expressions before correcting Reinhard, “It was not I who dispatched the Sin Archbishop, but my seemingly former junior butler Natsuki Subaru who did so, but he has seemingly left before he could receive treatment for his injuries or recognition for his heroics of besting Sloth in solo combat.”

 

“Subaru…….did this” Reinhard was shocked, or as shocked as he could be with his divine protections telling him that not one word Roswaal was saying was a lie.

 

Roswaal then lifted Emilia up by the arm and began to lead her out of the square with Rem and Ram following close behind, before he turned and said one last thing.

 

“I would recommend you seal the archbishop’s body; you can probably tell but there is something very evil residing within it.” And this Reinhard already knew, the body gave off a truly horrendous stench; even as he directed the knights now arriving on the scene to fetch a yin magician, he felt only bad omens for the future when he thought about what might be inside the body.

Chapter Text

He did not know what to think, he should not still be alive, that madman should have killed them all, but here he was, sitting in the square with the rest of the people who had been trapped here by the witch cultist attack, as they were slowly being checked over and allowed to filter out, back into the scorched ruins that their city had become.

The only reason he was here was because of that boy, that boy who did what all the knights did not, the boy who protected them when those who should have could not. The boy who had been the butt of jokes after the news of his outburst in the castle spread, "the weakest knight wannabe in the capital" they had all called him, but if he was actually weak what did that make them?

He had watched in awe as that boy completely crushed his opponent, an opponent that defeated multiple knights simultaneously, like he was nothing more than an irritating pest.

"All fixed up, you're good to go!" said the energetic demi human knight.

"You have my thanks knight-sama" he said as he stood up and began to walk out of the square, back towards where he hoped his home still stood. As he left he looked down at his arm, it had been horrifically burned when he had been rushing through the streets by a piece of falling debris, but now you would never have known that anything had even happened to it, healing magic was really something else.

As he reached the exit of the square he took one last look back at the place where he thought he should have died, it was nearly empty now compared to before when it had been packed with panicked townsfolk like himself. All that remained were the knights who had arrived to retrieve the fallen bodies of their comrades, the group that had bar one all been killed trying to protect them, the sole survivor being a purple haired fellow, Julius Juuklius who was moderately renowned his virtues as an ideal knight. The other group consisted of Reinhard van Astrea, the Sword Saint himself who watched over the corpse as mages cast some magic that slowly encased it in a purplish black crystal. Finally there was the healer who had treated all the injured, a cat eared demi human who could wield astounding healing magic, not that any healing magic would fail to astound someone who had never seen its power before.

He had been the last one to be healed so he had gotten to witness as this healer slowly chatted away with his patients as he treated them one by one, whether it was to try and calm their nerves, or to try and piece together the story of what exactly happened was unknown to him. However he did remember that the healer visibly recoiled when the boy who had saved them all was described.

On the topic of saviors, why had they even been able to be attacked like this in the first place, this city was home to many of the kingdom's knights including the Sword Saint, as well a most of the Royal Selection Candidates. It should have been impossible for something like this to occur here, but as it did how could he trust any of them to lead the nation if they could not even keep their own home city safe.

The man mused thoughts like these as he walked through the debris choked streets towards his residence, sometimes he had to step over a body part belonging to a city resident or one of the hooded figures who had attacked. Sometimes he would turn a corner and choke on ash or smoke as he passed a building that still stood burning, but none of this phased him anymore, in the short few hours that had passed he had seen many people die resulting in him becoming jaded to it. Maybe tomorrow it would but as he was alive in the moment he could accept the fact that he would have to face those realizations, but he could also take joy in at least being alive to deal with processing today's events.

Then he came to it, a crowd of his neighbors gathered around where his building used to stand, where his home used to be was now nothing more than a pile of ash and rubble. Everything he had was there and so he just stood in silence staring at it as little bits of ash continued to slowly waft down from the sky creating a somber ambience for a somber moment.

Some of the people huddled around the remains of their burned home reacted the same way he did, others were a bit more vocal about the misfortune that had befallen them.

"So us common folk get slaughtered in the streets and have our homes burn down while the rich folk just mosey back to their pristine untouched mansions after making a show of trying to help, give me a fucking break?" uttered someone in anger.

"Yeah and what makes it even better was they barely managed to do anything to help, they were completely paralyzed by the attack to the point that they barely won even when outnumbering their enemy and being on home turf." Someone else said in a tone full of mockery.

"I was stuck at the square when the mad leader of the bunch came about, he completely trashed all those hoity toity knights who think so highly of themselves. But then this kid came by, and I don't have the slightest clue what he did, it was like magic, but he made beating the living shit out of that madman look like utter child's play." Said one person with a tone laced with astonishment.

"Oh so some rich kid came down and used some magic lessons that cost his father more then I'd make in a lifetime to be a hero for a day, I mean I'm not mad he did it, it's just that it's more of the same…."

"That's just it, he didn't look like some rich kid, he was dressed in the same worn clothes as you and I, just an everyday dude had the power to fight off a monster that these rich knights and nobles couldn't even scratch." Said the astonished person back.

"That kid? I heard he is the former servant of one of the selection candidates, the same one who made a big scene in the Royal Selection meeting a little while ago, what was his name? Nadserku, no… Natsuki Subaru! Yes that's it, Natsuki Subaru, he used to be a butler for that half-elf candidate backed by the Mathers family, the one we all assumed to be brainwashed!" Chimed in another voice.

"The half-elf candidate, you mean the witch looking one who was in the square looking like she was going to bawl her eyes out as we were all about to be killed? There ain't a hope in hell that she's going to win." Fired off another voice from within the crowd.

"I mean how much better are the others, nobody actually saw the likes of Priscilla swooping in to save us, Anastasia was probably more concerned with protecting her businesses, and Crusch already got most of her men killed hunting the White Whale for brownie points. And it's not like we can make that kid the king, unluckily for us regular people the Dragonstone didn't seem to want to choose someone who gave two shits about us." Snarled another voice from within the crowd.

By this point the man tuned out the voices around him as the gravity of the situation he had just gotten through began to fall on his shoulders. Yes he had survived a gruesome attack on the city he called home, but within the city itself he had lost his home and nearly everything he owned, and now he would somehow need to find a way to get by with nothing, he would have to start again from pretty much zero.

 


 

Not many dragon carriages departed the city that day, but of the few that did there was one that was driven by a pink haired Oni. While Ram was in the front of the carriage driving, Rem, Roswaal, and Emilia sat in the back in a somber mood. Emilia looked down at the floor blankly, her mind consumed by the idea that her presence alone had led to countless deaths, and that her uselessness had directly gotten people killed before her very eyes. Roswaal's face was stoic, with nothing adorning it but a grimace, grimacing at the fact that he had been checked by Hector after 400 years and was at risk of it falling further behind into a checkmate.

But it was Rem that decided to break the still silence that had engulfed the inside of the carriage since their departure, the recent events of the fight between Subaru and the Sin Archbishop of Sloth were still fresh in her mind.

"Roswaal-sama, please forgive Rem for speaking so forwardly, but is there any way for Rem to help Subaru-kun? It breaks Rem's heart to always see him so angry and bitter, Rem hates it that Subaru-kun would rather suffer on his own then accept help from anyone. Rem will fight the person manipulating Subaru-kun that's what it takes to free him!" Rem had a defiant look on her face, showing her resolve even after witnessing the fight between Subaru and Sloth but behind that look of defiance it was easy to see that she was hurting on the inside still, hurting badly.

Upon hearing these words Roswaal initially wanted to laugh, laugh at the idea of someone like Rem, even if she were an above average fighter, taking on the monster that was Melancholy, a task that even his Sensei could not surmount directly, a task that would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible for all but the strongest warriors or most cunning magicians.

But Roswaal did not laugh, it would achieve nothing to crush her hope as brutally as that, in fact it would likely do no more then to hinder his own goals if by some feet he managed to make Rem give up. He already had invested into someone who had become deadweight, and if anyone else became like her it could lead to a scenario where his goal became unattainable.

"His name is Hector, he's the one manipulating, or more correctly controlling with Subaru-kun at this point. Although I hate to say it, he is not someone with whom you could fight directly, someone once known as the Warlock of Melancholy cannot be taken lightly like that. Should you try and fight him head on you would likely end up no better than that Sin Archbishop, a twisted and broken corpse. All the while forcing Subaru-kun to watch as his body was used as the weapon that slayed you." There was not much Rem could say to Roswaal's words, but he was not done yet as he continued to speak after not but a short delay.

"The one that you can consider to be the founder of my house in its current form had a run in with him, 400 years ago. Although his ability to wield magic at the time had yet to reach the potential that mine does today, he stood head and shoulders above everyone but his Sensei in terms of magical ability. He battled Hector when that monster set is eyes on his Sensei and the results were…. unpleasant for him…." Roswaal paused as the memories of his humiliating defeat, a defeat which left him with physical wounds that his original body never recovered from, and mental ones that could be said to still be carried by him flowed back.

"To give you an accurate idea of Hectors strength in a fight, its less than likely that I would emerge victorious from one with him. Even the Sensei whose teaching have been passed down by my family for generations didn't think she had anymore then equal odds in a direct confrontation with him, even after she had already managed to best him several times. Short of Reinhard van Astrea drawing the Dragon Sword Reid, which would certainly kill Subaru-kun alongside Hector, it's doubtful whether there is someone who could fight him and have complete certainty of winning, anyone who could choose to fight him at least." Roswaal spoke these lines with a grave tone to his voice as they directly related to the impending conundrum that he was almost certain would arise soon, he was certain that he must face Hector once again in order to be reunited with his Sensei.

"Did Mathers-sama's Sensei leave any wisdom on how she beat Hector, anything that could be of use to Rem or Roswaal-sama." Rem asked this question as she looked for a shred of hope in this situation, picking up on the graveness of it.

"Sensei said that when things come down to it that Hector is easily consumed by his own Melancholy, falling into incomprehensible insanity. Because of this he is impossible to reason with for most people appearing as nothing more than a delusional lunatic, but it also means that all his cunning falls away in critical times when he relies on his authority, meaning he can be tricked. This was how Sensei beat him, someone who becomes little more than a hammer when the conditions are right could never hope to beat Sensei, one of the most intelligent people to ever live. So Rem, although you and I may have our work cut out for us, we do have a chance to get Subaru-kun back; we just need to draw Hector out and lure him into a trap." Rem had a big smile on her face when Roswaal finished talking, her hope and determination reaching new levels, she would save her hero just like he had saved her. It was at this point, with the sun beginning to dip below the horizon that the carriage began to slow as it pulled to the side of the road, the ground dragons exhausted panting audible even to those within.

 


 

A purple haired knight walked down the hallway with a bit of a wobble in his step, his face determined but quite pale, he had recently sustained grave injuries that resulted in both blood lose and head trauma, yet he was still determined to stand by his lady's side. He knocked on the wooden door of her office and quickly received a reply in the form of "come in" in the particular kararagian accent of his lady, the lady he had sworn to serve, sworn to see placed atop the throne of Lugunica.

"Julius, are you sure you should be up and about like this? Shouldn't you be in bed resting for at least another few days? Facing a Sin Archbishop and living to tell the tale is enough of an accomplishment itself, you can take it as a pass to cut yourself some slack and kick your feet up for a bit." Anastasia said while seated behind her desk, a look of worry adorning her face at the sight of her knight slowly walking into her office, looking like he could keel over any second.

"I'm still capable of serving you Anastasia-sama, and my performance against the Sin Archbishop of Sloth can be called anything but an accomplishment, I fear I have only brought shame to your name with my inability to perform during the crisis…" Julius spoke with a voice low and full of melancholy, haunted by just how powerless he was against the opponent he nearly lost his life to.

He was moving slowly towards his normal position just behind and offset from the chair his lady sat in, so that he would instantly be ready to assist her with whatever matter she required, but he was interrupted before he could reach such a position by Anastasia herself.

"I get the feeling that you're going to be really stubborn over this, a knights honor and chivalry and all that stuff, and I'd rather you don't fall over and pass out on the floor while we stand here debating whether you're okay to be up and about. So how about you take a seat in one of the nice chairs we got here and I'll let you help me with what I've been stewing over for the past little bit?" Initially Julius was going to argue that he was completely capable of standing while assisting her, but Anastasia gave him a glare that said "I'm giving an inch here that I normally wouldn't be giving, take it or leave it" and Julius chose to take it by sitting in one of the chairs.

"To catch you up with what I've been doing, hasn't really been much. I've gone over a damage report from a fire set by one of those loons to a storage building, its more than made up for by the increase in value by our other goods. In terms of what you can help me with, there isn't much until Mimi gets back with the documents, I asked her to look for." Just as Anastasia finished the last of her words the door to her office was abruptly and violently thrown open as a short orange haired and cat like demi human ran into the office waving a bunch of papers in the air.

"Mimi found them; Mimi found them!" Anastasia could do nothing but smile at the sheer excitable energy of Mimi as she accepted the small stack of papers from her. The pages detailed the order volume for one of their artisan workshops, a place that mainly produced goods for the Hoshin company but was known to handle small volumes of custom orders from outsiders. The pages were ledger like, detailing the object being made, its quantity, the date, and the name of who placed the order. Near the bottom of the list, among the more recent of the orders placed were two lines with mostly the same information, placed just a day apart, the customer's name circled, Natsuki Subaru.

"Shortly after you were brought back here, all banged up as you were, your friend Felix dropped by to give you another look over to make sure you were okay. He gave me the rundown on what happened to you in the square, based on what he heard from the people you were protecting. Apparently we have to thank that boy, Natsuki-kun for saving you from the Sin Archbishop; according to what Felix told me he got dragged into the fight and squashed the Archbishop like a bug." Mimi clapped her hands together using the same motion one would when swatting an irritating fly or mosquito, smiling as Anastasia continued. "So I had Mimi here take a look into if any of the associated businesses with the Hoshin company had any interactions with him, seeing as the past digging we've done since the Selection Meeting turned up literally nothing. Since then, we've only heard rumors that he quit the half-elf's camp and struck out on his own here and based on the quantity of these 'kotatsu' that he's been ordering, the rumors seem to be true. I'd like to try and get a piece of the action from the things he's building, it could put us in a position to capitalize on an emerging market, as well it would mean we'd have some connection to someone who is seemingly quite strong. We could try and use Natsuki-kun to show that we offer not only economic strength, but also martial strength, which should edge us ahead of Crusch. Julius, are you listening?" Mimi and Anastasia looked at Julius, who seemed to have zoned out, consumed in his own thoughts. In truth he had not been listening for a while, not since he heard that he had been saved by Natsuki Subaru, the same Natsuki Subaru that he had beaten to a pulp not more than a few days ago. Somehow the boy who had narrowly been saved from being killed by the knights of Lugunica for claiming to be one of them had managed to do what these very knights had failed at. The words of the mad Archbishop still rang through his mind, about how he and the other knights had prided themselves on their prowess and accomplishments, yet when it truly mattered they had been unable to achieve anything important, when it mattered they had been slothful. No matter how hard he tried to push these words out of his mind, telling himself that they were merely the ramblings of an insane lunatic, he could not for in his heart he knew that they had held a shard of truth. And now it was even worse, what were he and the knights to think of themselves, they held themselves high over this boy, claiming to be better than him, and yet he had been the only one to not practice sloth in that crucial moment.

Julius suddenly snapped back to reality and nearly jumped in his seat at the sight of his entire vision being filled by the sight of Mimi's face. "He's back! Mimi got Julius to pay attention again!"

"I don't think you're ready to be out and about like you are right now Julius, get yourself back to bed and then we'll talk when you're feeling better." Anastasia said with a stern expression on her face, Julius began to open his mouth in order to protest but was then swiftly shut down by Anastasia.

"I ain't arguing with you this time, if you're spacing out like that then ya obviously still aren't recovered, Felix said ya got hit on your head pretty hard, so this is for yer own good. Go back to your room, you ain't useful to anyone if you're barely able to stay awake like you are now." Hearing this Julius hung his head in shame as he left the room to rest once again.

After the door closed behind Julius, Anastasia turned her head to face towards Mimi, then she said "Mimi I've got another job for ya, but you gotta listen very closely."

Mimi leaned in as Anastasia waited for Julius' footsteps to slowly fade away as he moved further and further away from the office before she began to quietly relay her instructions to Mimi.

 


 

Crusch sat in a chair slumped over the desk in her private study, before her was a glass containing expensive alcohol, but it sat completely untouched for she could not bring herself to sink that low, no matter how greatly she desired to be unshackled from her woes, albeit temporarily. She was still clad in her scratched, dented, and dirtied armor, bearing the wear that served as proof of her efforts during both the failed whale expedition, as well as her part in the desperate defense of the city against the attack by the Witch Cult.

She had once again led her now exhausted army into battle as they attempted to carve a path to connect the inner portion of the city to the outer gates through a market square, but they had been headed off at every turn by cultists determined to stop them in their tracks. They had fought long and hard in an attempt to break through, filling the streets with both their own blood as well as that of their enemy. However it seemed that for every inch of ground they gained, that the tenacity of their enemy doubled, and soon they had found themselves surrounded. She had sent Felix off earlier with Wilhelm to the main gates to aid in the evacuation of the civilians, leaving her alone at the head of her cohort of soldiers, depriving her of her strongest allies in the name of what was best for the city. Things had reached a bleak state once again as it looked like her army would be wiped out by the seemingly unending influx of cultists, only to be saved by the arrival of Reinhard. He smashed the cultists to bits without breaking a sweat and then immediately rushed off somewhere with Felix in tow.

"Crusch-sama?" Felix gingerly opened the door to Crusch's study with a concerned look on his face, before his expression completely sunk at the sight of his lady's state.

"Crusch-sama…" Was all Felix said as he knelt beside her, one arm on her back to comfort her, the other gently pushing away the untouched glass.

Felix felt lost, he was thinking as hard as he could to try and find something to alleviate Crusch's depressed state, but she had always been his strength, been the one to inspire him to aim for the heavens.

"Nothing ever goes perfectly Crusch-sama, there's always ups and downs, the Crusch-sama Felix knows always got back up after she got knocked down." Felix tried to put on an inspiring voice, reminding himself of all the times that he had witnessed Crusch give an inspiring speech to lift someone's spirits, or when she had managed to push through a difficult task no matter how badly it had been going for her. He was trying to imitate her in order to help her.

Crusch did not stir in the slightest from the table as she mumbled a response with her face still buried in her arms, "I know that nothing ever goes perfectly Felix, you don't have to tell me that." Her voice was down, low in volume and full of melancholy, bearing not even the slightest resemblance to the iron-willed personality renowned for achieving great feats through both ability and force of will.

"The Crusch-sama Felix knows always has a plan, no matter how bad things got she always had another card up her sleeve to play, that was the Crusch Fourier knew too." Hearing this Crusch lifted her head from the table, besides a slight red mark where her forehead had been resting on the table her face was devoid of color. She looked utterly exhausted to Felix, but in her expression, he also saw conflict, immense conflict as if core pieces of herself were fighting with one another.

"I have a plan Felix, I heard you talking to Wilhelm about the defeat of Sloth, I have a vague idea of a longshot to dig us out of this hole I've dragged us in. We use that boy, do whatever we have to in order to get him to help us kill the whale, use the accomplishment to rebuild our reputation and get us back in the running for the selection. But to do that would be hypocritical, to rely on someone who behaves like he does, who I have proclaimed as being essentially irredeemable as a person, I would be abandoning every value I ever held dear. However if we don't do that, I don't see a way to redeem our reputation. We have very few soldiers left, and without some amazing feat I don't see us winning the election; either we lose with dignity or risk everything in order to not lose sight of the goals that put us on this path to begin with." Crusch then sighed and sunk her head back into her arms on the table, as she did this however another person entered her room, a refined older man dressed as a butler.

"Old Man Will, Crusch-sama could use some of your advice, she's conflicted on what to do…" Felix said while turning to face Wilhelm, Crusch did not move from her current position.

"I cannot promise that I have any advice to give, but it is truly an honor for my wisdom to be sought after." Wilhelm said as he took a stance of attendance, his back perfectly straight as he faced Crusch, who with how she was sitting had her back facing him.

"Crusch-sama believes that trying to use Subaru-kun is the only way to get us out of the hole we're in, yet she feels that doing something like that would mean giving up on her ideals, yet if she doesn't give up her ideals it would mean giving up on her goal." Wilhelm stroked his beard as he contemplated this, he knew that it could mean that he would get aa rematch with the white whale, yet he did not want his own personal desires to cloud the advice he gave to his master.

"Forgive me for how I'm about to put this, but I believe that you are looking at this the wrong way, this is not a matter of 'either ors'. Try to avoid seeing it as abandoning your own ideals in order to stoop down to the level of someone you may despise. Instead you can look at it as offering a hand, offering to help a young man change his behavior and view of the world in return for his help in achieving your own goals. Yes it would mean taking an action that goes against the beliefs you preached to the maid from the Mathers domain, however it could also mean that your accepting the humility of an incorrect prior judgement. A truly great leader does not find a hill to die on simply because they stood atop it at one point, they know when it is time to be flexible, to be humble, and when it is a time to be strong, stubborn, and iron willed. It is not my place to tell Crusch-sama what to do, for I can merely share the wisdom I have acquired due to the many failures of both my youth and my aged years. For a long time I looked at the world as if it were black and white, against or with me, and I still have trouble not looking at it that way, many of my past actions being driven entirely by such a view point. Perhaps this makes me a hypocrite, but as you still have your youth it would make this old man happy to see you do as he says instead of what he did." Wilhelm then watched with a tiny kindle of joy in his heart as the lady he had sworn to serve slowly stood up from the table, the look of confidence that he was used to seeing from her returning to her face.

"Wilhelm, Felix, I want you to get the earliest meeting possible with Natsuki Subaru, we will do whatever we need in order to get him to lend us his strength for the second subjugation of the White Whale. We may have few soldiers compared to what we had last time, but now we know all the tricks it has up its sleeve, and with the strength you claim he has then it shouldn't matter that we are few in number. Ideally we get him to join our camp, but as long as we can claim the credit for this then it shouldn't matter if he refuses to join us outright. I refuse to compromise my stance on what is right, if he joins us then he will need to learn how to properly behave like an adult. I trust you two to do what is necessary in order to get me this meeting." Crusch was at this point standing with her hands on her hips, a smirk on her face as she exuded immense confidence, she was once again working towards her goal, once again she felt that there was a hope of success in the path she chose to walk. The iron-willed Duchess that had been lost somewhere between the whales screams had returned, and she intended to impose her will no matter what it took.

Felix and Wilhelm both bowed before leaving the room, a smile graced Felix's face as the confident commands of his lady graced his ears. The Crusch he was used to, the confident duchess that he adored was back, and he would follow her wherever she went or whatever command she gave, simply being of use to her and getting to be her companion gave him all the happiness he needed in life.

However as they left a look of concern was evident on the face of Wilhelm, something about what they were doing was enough to make the sword demon just a tad uneasy.

"How'd you know Subaru-kun lived here Old Man Will?" Felix asked Wilhelm as the two of them walked up the stairs of a decrepit tenement house.

 


 

"When we were preparing to depart to face the whale, I saw him leaning out from his window and seemingly watching us, this is the building he was in and so I assume that we are likely to find him here." Wilhelm spoke in a voice that was matter of fact, yet with a slightly somber undertone.

"Shouldn't you be happy about this, you're going to get your chance to face the white whale again, complete your decades long mission of avenging your wife, yet something seems to be bothering you about this." Felix stopped at the top of the staircase, wanting to finish this line of conversation before they began their negotiations with Subaru.

"There's something wrong with the boy, something about him that does not make sense to me, resulting in things that don't make any sense. When we first met him at the Mathers mansion, he had the eyes of someone who has seen death many times, stared right into its eyes and lived to tell the tale, he had the eyes of someone who's grown use to death, similar to the grizzled veterans who survived the demi human war. Yet from what we've seen he still behaves very similar to that of a child, because of this I assumed that he may have been some form of child soldier, yet it is easily apparent that he has no idea how to fight, Julius Juuklius swatted him away like a fly. Then when I saw him in the window he had changed yet again, he had the expression and demeanor of someone who had given up on life itself, the joyous and almost childish energy he had before was completely absent. Now I'm hearing that he has slain a Sin Archbishop in single combat, a feat that I'm not certain I could achieve at this point. I'm concerned that the person we are going to see and try to work with is no longer who we think he is, we are walking into an unknown situation and so we must be cautious, not just for ourselves but for Crusch-sama as well." Wilhelm's voice was grim, his words dug into Felix like daggers, the implications that they were dealing with someone who both could wield immense power, and was seemingly handling some form of mental trauma.

"Still Crusch-sama has entrusted us with this job and we must see it through as far as we can." Felix stated, almost in disregard to what Wilhelm was saying.

"I don't disagree with either that statement or that this is likely the only route to save Crusch-sama's election campaign." Wilhelm then turned and continued to the door that seemed like it led to the room he had seen Subaru in earlier. Wilhelm's body was ready for whatever was behind the door, but he remained calm as his hands did not stray towards the sword that hung from his waste, as Felix knocked and called out.

"Helloooooo Subaru-kyun, its Ferri-chan and Old Man Will, we'd like to talk to you so can we come in?" At first there was no reply, but after a mere moment of silence they heard coughing, a groan and then a few words in a voice that held only the most basic resemblance to the one they remembered.

"There isn't a lock on the door, you can come in." The voice was completely monotone, conveying not the slightest bit of emotion whatsoever, completely unlike Subaru's manner of speaking which had involved changing his inflection by large amounts in order to overexaggerate his emotions.

Felix opened the door and was greeted by the site of a dark, dank, and rundown apartment. It lacked nearly any kind of furnishing whatsoever and if you looked closely, you could see that there were tiny critters and insects running in and out of small holes in the walls.

Felix looked around as he stepped into the apartment with Wilhelm following directly behind him, they walked into the middle of the small room to where Subaru was standing, if standing were used in the most general of terms. His complexion was poor, vastly paler than it should have been, there were dark rings around his eyes that gave them a sunken appearance. He stood slightly off kilter, one of his legs was slightly bent, similar to how one of his arms hung limply to the side of his body. His other arm was wrapped around his chest, holding one side of his rib cage as he breathed raggedly and tiredly, it was painfully obvious that his fight with the Sin Archbishop had not been as one sided as Felix had heard.

"No…..I'm not doing that…." Subaru mumbled under in a quiet and low voice while looking directly at the two who had just entered his apartment.

"Wait Subaru-kun why are you saying that so soon? We haven't even said what we wanted to say…." Felix was both surprised and a bit downtrodden, although he was not planning on giving up so easily it would obviously be significantly more difficult if he was being rejected right out of the gate.

"Huh, oh never mind… What're you here for." Subaru spoke as if he was surprised, yet he did not show a single expression on his face nor did his voice reflect his words.

"Huh? You're quite confusing Subaru-kun, anyways Crusch-sama would like to meet with you tomorrow to try and work out a deal to acquire your assistance with something." Felix cut right to the point, not dressing his words whatsoever.

"No, I'm not getting drawn back into the Royal Selection, no ….. matter what." Subaru winced while saying this and clutched his side harder.

"I don't care if he can heal me…..I'd just end up being indebted to them, anything that leads to me becoming part of the selection…..is something I despise." Subaru once again mumbled to himself.

"Who are you talking to? And that's right, I'll heal you in exchange for you coming tomorrow. There'll be no debt, just come tomorrow at the beginning of blue time and we'll be even, okay?" Felix walked forward and held out his hand.

Subaru did not move for a few moments, staring off into a corner of the room and mumbling in an inaudible tone, like he was talking to someone else in the room before his face was overcome with a defeated look. He then reached out for Felix's hand and shook it, agreeing to the exchange of healing for attendance.

A few moments later after the use of a generous amount of healing magic Felix and Wilhelm were leaving Subaru's home.

"See you tomorrow Subaru-kun, remember and don't be late!" Felix waved as he left feeling happy that he had succeeded in getting the meeting Crusch wanted. However Wilhelm held a concerned expression on his face as he left, turning to give a slight bow before he left behind Felix.

"Ah….Yes, I guess I don't have a choice now Hector" Subaru mumbled as the two left in a volume barely audible to the two.

Once Felix and Wilhelm were outside the tenement house they immediately started to head back towards Crusch's mansion.

"Something is definitely not right with him, if he didn't look like Subaru-kun it would be hard to believe that they were the same person." Felix said in a hushed tone as they briskly proceeded back to the mansion.

"It seemed like he was speaking to someone else who wasn't present in the room, 'Hector' was the name I heard. This leaves the question, is this Hector even real or is he merely an apparition of his mind?" Wilhelm said as they entered the wealthier area of the city where the mansion was.

"As long as Subaru-kun doesn't become a threat to Crusch-sama then I don't particularly care, I despised him before and if he can provide some worth then that's good enough. Just be on your guard tomorrow Old Man Will." Felix said as the rounded a corner.

"I'll be ready, but we should inform Crusch-sama of this, diffusing a situation before it happens is the best course because as I said before with how he dealt with the Sin Archbishop, I cannot guarantee that I would win." Wilhelm said in a serious voice.

"I guess so, still it seemed that Rem was fine after her encounter and Subaru got pretty worked up, and he hasn't gone to hunt down Julius or anything, so hopefully things won't spiral out of control." Felix spoke with a slightly hopeful voice as they entered the mansion grounds and went to inform Crusch of their success.

 


 

"Your body is repaired now Subaru-kuuuuuuuuun, does that make you happy" Hector's voice echoed through the inside of Subaru's head.

"It feels like I'm getting dragged back into this mess…. I hate it, its terrible…." Subaru lamented in return.

"Hey over here, Mimi heard him, he's in here!" Subaru heard a voice echo from outside his door, a voice he remembered from a failed loop. He then heard someone pounding on his door before they started calling to him from the other side.

"Hey, Hey, Subaru, its Mimi, please open the door Mimi wants to talk to you!" Mimi kept pounding on the door as fast as she could as she continued to call to him.

"So noisy…it's irritating…" Subaru said as he stood up and began to walk towards the door. When he opened the door he was met with the sight of two demi humans, the short orange haired Mimi whom he had met before, and a large wolf whom he didn't recognize, who was carrying a large machete on his back.

"If you're Subaru then you need to come with Mimi tomorrow to visit Mimi's lady, she wants to talk to you!" Mimi was incredibly energetic but also seemingly oblivious to the utter look of depression plastered across Subaru's face, his cheeks sunken looking, his posture poor, nor did she notice that his hand was starting to clench into a fist, she was going to keep going when the large wolf like demi human placed a hand on her shoulder.

"What my overeager second in command is trying to say is that the Hoshin company would like ta' offer you a business deal, there should be quite a lot of coin in it for ya' if it works out, so whaddaya say, will you come tomorrow to hear our lady out?" Ricardo stopped but kept his hands on Mimi in an attempt to control her energy.

"You should hear them out, this could proooove useful Subaru-kuuuuun." Hector said to Subaru, encouraging him to accept the offer.

"This is only going to get me more involved; I hate the idea of being dragged back in like this, it only makes the future seem even bleaker…" Subaru said back to Hector, showing his wish to reject the meeting due to its face value.

"It would certainly mean significantly less work on your part" Hector delivered the part of the argument needed to win Subaru over, he did not enjoy the process needed to earn money in order to live, making the meeting a choice of evils rather then an evil versus nothing.

"I guess you're right, for that reason alone I'll hear them out." Subaru responded back to Hector, accepting the argument he gave.

"You will! Mimi is excited that you'll meet her lady!" Mimi hopped in the air, her arms extending over her head in excitement.

"Huh…..ah, I guess I said that aloud….but yes I'll listen to what Anastasia has to say….." Subaru now intentionally spoke aloud.

"I trust that ya can find the place, the Hoshin headquarters here are hard ta' miss. Name's Ricardo by the way." After that the two left in what was seemingly a hurry, Ricardo more or less shepherding Mimi out of the apartment before she irritated Subaru further.

 


 

The next day Subaru walked up to the mansion that served as the Hoshin company's headquarters but before he opened the door he stopped and began to speak with the one who had driven him down this path.

"I don't like this, why must I be forced to meet with her, I'm going to get dragged into the Royal Selection somehow, drag me back down a path filled only with regret and melancholy…." Subaru lamented to Hector, both uncaring and unsure if the words were also being formed by his mouth or not.

"Don't fret Natsuki Subaru-kuuuuun, I'm absoluuuuutely certain that come time you will not regret this, and remember you only came to hear them out, nothing is set in stone yeeeeeeet." In contrast with how Hector had normally spoken since meeting Subaru, his voice sounded ever so slightly more joyous than it was when they met, a change that had slowly begun since he relinquished control over Subaru's body after their encounter with Sloth.

"Eh Boss, wer' ya intending to just spend the whole afternoon out here when yer' already late?" Ricardo said as he emerged from the front door.

Subaru looked up at the taller demi human so that his own tired, depressed and sunken eyes met with those of Ricardo, who was seemingly sizing him up with his own curious eyes. Subaru then said, "Does it even really matter at this point…."

Ricardo took this comment literally, whether it should have been or not however is unknown, but after stroking his chin for a moment he came to a conclusion that he voiced, "Well, I guess it doesn't, Ana-bo is still here and probably will still meet with ya, follow me." The two walked through the halls of the mansion not saying a single word to one another until they arrived in front of a large door when Ricardo raised his large hand to hammer on the door, the deep thunking sound that resounded from it proved that it was made of a heavy and expensive hardwood.

"Ana-bo, Natsuki Subaru is here for yer meeting." Ricardo called through the door after knocking.

Subaru heard a voice call back in what he would have called the kansai dialect from back in Japan, a voice he had heard a few times before, Anastasia Hoshin. "He actually came? Come in, come in, bring him in then!"

At the command of this voice that could be described as somewhere between being simply excited and almost frantic Ricardo opened the door. When the two entered they were greeted by the sight of the purple haired kararagian merchant hurriedly shuffling stacks of papers back into neat piles.

"Sit, please take a seat Natsuki-kun." Anastasia gestured to one of the chairs placed right in front of her desk, while this happened Ricardo lazily leaned his back against the wall by the door they entered, a dull thunk sound reverberated through the room when the large cleaver sheathed to his back made contact with the wood of the wall.

"So Natsuki-kun, I assume you can probably guess why I wanted to meet ya here, but to get straight to the point, these 'kotatsu' things you've been selling caught my eye, and I want in. I caught sight of the orders you've been placing at one of my workshops and so I had some of my people look into how they been received. What they brough back frankly blew me away, it's been the talk of the town and nearly everyone with the money to buy one has been after them, yet the supply has been so low that its caused a bit of frustration from potential buyers. Because of this the Hoshin Company would like to partner with ya, we'll handle the production and distribution, in exchange you'll agree to give us the sole right to produce these kotatsu, and for every unit sold you'll receive a royalty payment as their inventor. I understand that ya don't have a mercantile or business background Natsuki-kun, and even if it would be biased for me ta say this, it's in your best interest to sign a deal like this because there is a fairly sizeable chance that this could become an overnight fad which'll disappear faster than ya can blink, and your best bet to keep it going is to fuel it with enough product to keep their interest without oversaturating the market and smothering it. The Hoshin company can offer this, and there are few others in Lugunica with both the resources we have, and the talent and experience to manage it properly. So whaddaya say Natsuki-kun, are you willing to work with us?" Anastasia gazed at the unmoving Subaru with just the tinniest bit of apprehension seeping through her steeled poker face. She had spent a fair amount of time preparing her pitch, however she had expected to be dealing with the junior butler from the selection meeting, an inexperienced child who wore his thoughts and feelings on his sleeve. However this was not at all an accurate description of the persona that she was dealing with now, he had quietly sat and listened to her speech, neither moving nor showing even the slightest bit of interest. In fact from the demeanor, he held it seemed that he had very little interest in this ordeal to begin with, arriving late and appearing to barely care that he was even here to begin with. Ricardo had warned her that he was different from before, but no warning could have prepared her for this drastic of a change.

"You won't need anything else from me other than the design?" Subaru said as he cradled his head with a hand which in turn was propped up by the arm of the chair.

"Besides signing a contract, no not really. We will handle everything from that point onwards and give a nice bag of coin to ya at the end of each month." A tiny tinge of excitement slipped into Anastasia's voice at the slightest bit of interest being shown by Subaru. She stood to gain vastly more from this then he did, this was a hot and emerging market where every single unit stood to sell the second it left the workshop. If he either continued to handle the operation himself or took it to a smaller producer and rake them over the coals to get a deal more favorable to him then he stood to make more than if he took her deal. In fact if he tried to bargain for a greater share then she would probably have to agree, her only real bargaining chip was that her company would need zero involvement from him once it was signed, and to her that timesaving did not justify the cost, so quite frankly she would not take her own deal if she was in his position; the only reason she had even tried to swindle him like this was because she predicted that he was the same naive boy as before, which evidently had been a false assumption.

"Fine" Was the single word Subaru said, he sounded so tired when saying it that one would think he had been put through some arduous process and was happy to be done with it.

But this surprised Anastasia, from the behavior he had been showing she was ready to be rejected and had been working on how to present her counteroffer to try and keep the negotiations going. "Huh, wait, really? Just sign right here then!"

She hurriedly passed Subaru a paper and an inkwell with a feather sitting in it to write with, before he could change his mind about the deal.

Subaru gave an empty look at the piece of paper littered with I, Ro, and Ha glyphs as if he were unable to decipher their meaning, before his eyes came to rest on the area of the page that was obviously set out as if for a signature. He took the quill and with a series of slow and methodical strokes left what he knew as the kanji for his name.

Anastasia took the contract back from Subaru and then when looking it over to ensure that it had been properly signed her eyes landed on Subaru's signature and stood still while her face took on a puzzled expression.

"Natsuki-kun, is this your signature? I can't read it, I don't even recognize any of these symbols ya used here…." Anastasia's eyes did not leave the page for even a second as she just stared at the symbols Subaru used.

"That's my name" Subaru answered the question and nothing more, not even commenting on why the symbols used to write it were not the standard lugunican glyphs.

"This isn't lugunican is it? What's it written in, are ya by chance from some isolated vollachian tribe or something?" Something about the kanji had caught Anastasia's curiosity as she was now switching from staring at the kanji to Subaru, and back again.

"It's the writing from my homeland, an island far to the east of here, not south." Subaru spoke with complete disinterest to the questions he was beginning to be bombarded with.

"By chance Natsuki-kun would ya like to join us for dinner? There's a bit more I would like to discuss with ya." Anastasia placed the page down and keenly waited for answer, but Subaru responded immediately.

Before Subaru could respond Ricardo spoke up, "Ana-bo, you remember that yer supposed to be dining with Russel Fellows tonight?"

Anastasia quickly fired back however, "I think something that could potentially be much more interesting and important then listening to that dry washed up merchant has come up, reschedule him to whatever time is free, but don't ya dare tell him why!"

Subaru however finally decided to cut in, and "No" was all he said.

"Well then…." Anastasia was a bit blindsided and disappointed at his response, but the meeting had been successful as she had gotten the deal she desired, yet there were dots beginning to form in her head and she needed to know if they were meant to be connected. "Anyways, if you happen to have any more spur of the moment inventions the Hoshin company will gladly back them, I'm looking forward to working with ya in the future, Natsuki-kun."

"Ah" Subaru just uttered a sound in agreement as he stood up and walked to the door, leaving the mansion as he made his way to the next meeting he had been unwillingly wrangled into by Hector.

 


 

"See Natsuki Subaru-kuuuun that wasn't so bad. You're monetary woeeeeeeees seem to be at an end, and you weren't forced to join a camp to do soooooooo." Hector talked to Subaru as they made their way towards the next meeting they had today, this time with Crusch Karsten.

"It worries me that Anastasia wanted me to stay later, getting dragged into her camp, someone who's that greedy means I'd only be no more than a tool to facilitate her greed, the idea of a meaningless future such as that is nothing more than depressing, I don't know if I could take being trapped in such a life as that….." Subaru responded to Hector when he was pulled back to reality by a voice that he was beginning to become more familiar with then he would like.

"Anastasia…..hmmmmmm. So that's where you were before coming here Subaru-kyun…." Felix commented as he stood directly Infront of Subaru, seemingly appearing out of nowhere at the gates of the Karsten mansion.

"Huh, so you heard that…." Subaru mumbled these words, but they held the intention of being said outloud.

"Who were you talking to Subaru-kyun?" Felix looked at Subaru with a puzzled look on his face as he asked a question he had held since their last meeting the night before.

"Don't tell him about me." Hector commanded Subaru.

"Just thinking out loud" Subaru gave one of the least believable lies he had ever told, something so difficult to believe that it might have struggled to fool a toddler.

Felix eyed Subaru suspiciously, obviously not believing the lie for a single second, however in the end his job was to bring him to the meeting, and should he prove to be a threat the Sword Demon would be ready to deal with him.

Felix began to lead Subaru towards where the meeting would be held, and with an expression that showed that he just wanted to get it over with Subaru followed him. They crossed the courtyard, entered the mansion, and then walked through a long hallway until they entered a room with multiple couches and chairs arrayed around a large wooden table. Crusch was seated in one of the chairs, behind her stood Wilhelm who had a sword hanging from his belt.

As they entered Crusch stood up to greet them, Felix swiftly walking to the other side of the room to stand beside her.

"Thank you for coming today Natsuki Subaru, I frankly wasn't exactly expecting you to actually show" Crusch said as she returned to her seat, Felix joining her as Subaru took his own on the sofa across from them.

"If I didn't come it would likely only result in more trouble for me…" Subaru lamented in a quiet voice.

"Well you came, but before we begin I would like to clarify one thing. Are you or are you not still part of the Emilia camp, because if you are then I must make sure that you can still speak on your masters behalf." These words from Crusch that should have been fairly innocuous were like an incendiary to Subaru, cutting through the melancholy that clouded his mind like a hot knife through butter; they stirred the flames of bitterness and hatred, albeit temporarily that had been seemingly extinguished by the warlocks possession.

"I'M DONE WITH THEM, I HATE THEM! I NEVER WANT TO HAVE A SINGLE THING TO DO WITH THEM, I WISH I NEVER HAD TO SEE THEM AGAIN." Then like magic all the vitriol and vigor seemed to drain from Subaru's face, the hatred vanished as his mood plummeted back to one more fitting of the witch factor that resided within his body, "Every time I see them, it's like a little bit of the remaining joy in my life is stripped away…." Subaru's tone once again trailed off as he looked down at his hands, despair and hopelessness being the only expressions shown on his face.

Crusch unclenched her hands, Subaru's outburst at his former camp seemed just as childish and immature as she had remembered him being. She would only deal with a person like that if she had to, and so she had held her tongue, but the way he suddenly shifted, the only thing crossing her mind being the thought, "what could've happened to this childish and immature boy to make him seem so broken?" But that would be a question for a later date, if he could be of use to her in the subjugation of the whale then nothing else would matter for now. But it was clear to her now that she would have to avoid the topic of the Emilia camp with him if she wanted this meeting to make any ground whatsoever.

"Well then, if you're not part of any camp Natsuki Subaru what do you intend to do with this power of yours? And well we're on this topic where did it even come from, you're seemingly strong enough that you shouldn't have lost to Juuklius-san in your duel?" Crusch asked these questions for two reasons, one being to slowly shift the conversation from the topic that caused his slightly concerning outburst, the other reason because she was legitimately curious, just as everyone else who had heard of both these events, how does someone go from being so weak that they were crushed in a duel to being strong enough to win against a sin archbishop in single combat?

"I know that…..yes I'll think of something" Subaru mumbled under his breath.

"Who are you talking to?" Crusch asked, unsure whether she should feel concerned that he was communicating with someone not present in the room, or worried that she was a few feet from a lunatic capable of killing people with an unseen force.

"Was there even a point to brining me here, being grilled on the same stuff over and over again by everyone I meet is extremely irritating, it ruins my mood, I want nothing more than to leave….." Subaru just looked at Crusch with cold and empty eyes as he waited for her response, his face was so long that it might as well have been touching the floor.

"In the end I guess it is true that we have an objective to this meeting." Crusch leaned forward and placed both her hands on the table that separating them, showing how serious she was about the issue in question. "Natsuki Subaru, what would it take to have you lend us your strength with the white whale?"

"No" Was all Subaru responded with.

"Nothing? You could have more money than you ever dreamed of, a respectable position in government after I'm made queen, if none of that interests you then what could you possibly want, name it and I'll provide you what you want in return for your aide with the whale." If Crusch was not as strong willed as she was to control her own mental state she would probably be somewhere between panic and despair right now. She had been forced to go through substantial mental gymnastics to justify even having this meeting, and now the person in question was flat out rejecting the offer that seemed to be her only real hope for getting back into the running for queen.

"I refuse to be dragged back into this selection, it's terrible, it ruined everything for me, it took away the last of my happiness, forcing me down the path I'm currently on….." Subaru lamentations about the royal selection pulled Crusch back to the present situation when Felix leaned in close to her ear and whispered.

"Subaaru-kyun came here from Anastasia's mansion"

"So you refuse to join my camp because Anastasia has already lured you into her's, does she already have you wrapped around her little finger that far, is that why there's nothing I can offer you, because she's already offered everything I could?" Crusch spat this accusation at Subaru, knowing that it was not a good tactic for negotiation, but the negotiations were already seemingly over, and she had been under enough stress that she had to vent just a bit.

"You think I'm in her camp? I'm done with the selection…..donedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedonedone. I have nothing to do with the royal selection, absolutely nothing, I will not and will never have a part in it. If I've been dragged back in unknowingly….. I don't know how to handle that depressing future, I don't think I could take it, maybe everything will just have to end… It's not like this world is a place worth living in…" The room went completely silent as Subaru began to descend further and further into madness.

He grasped the sides of his head with both hands, tears were streaming from his eyes as he tried to comprehend the idea that he had joined another royal selection camp. He was slightly rocking back and forth, while Wilhelm tightened his grip on his sword, ready to attempt to cut down the boy should he confirm himself to be a threat in any way.

Subaru stopped rocking and looked up at the ceiling with wide eyes, his head turning rapidly as if searching for something in the room.

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN I'M NOT PART OF HER CAMP, ITS OBVIOUS, SHE'S USING UNDERHANDED METHODS TO TRAP ME, TO ROPE ME IN! SHE'S A TRICKSTER AND YOU HELPED HER HECTOR! YOU WERE NEVER ON MY SIDE, YOU WERE ONLY USING ME!" Subaru was screaming at the top of his lungs at nobody in particular, there was anger and hatred in his voice, but it gave the impression of a wounded animal more than anything else.

Felix leaned down to Crusch's ear and whispered "I think Hector's the voice in Subaru's head, he was talking to it a fair bit yesterday. And if you're willing to be a tiny bit manipulative you could probably get Subaru-kyun to do just about whatever you want while he's vulnerable like this."

And so Crusch was once again faced with a moral quandary, she did not consider herself to be a manipulative person, she hated the idea of becoming someone like that. But Felix was probably right on the idea that she could get anything she wanted from this boy if she had the right words, but it could also be said that if she did not manipulate him then she probably would not come to any deal, he had clearly become completely unreasonable at this point. But manipulation was a slippery slope, allowing herself to try it once could easily lead to it becoming a habit. There were already rumors lambasting her for her failures, calling her unfit to lead her house and the worst thing to happen to the Karsten family since its inception. In that vein it was her duty to correct her mistakes, both for her own goals and that of her family's wellbeing. Crusch came to the decision that she would have to try being someone she was not but she would not do anything to rob him blind without recompense, and after this deal was fulfilled she would never deal with Natsuki ever again.

From the half of the conversation that she could hear between Subaru and this voice in his head it seems that he thinks that he has been pulled back into the royal selection by whatever agreement he made with Anastasia, but he seemingly did not think this way about the agreement when he initially made it. Trying to change his view on this agreement so that he was not against it and then convincing him that her offer was effectively the same thing would be her only way forward, even if it would save Anastasia from facing the collapse of her own deal. She bit down on her lip hard, hard enough to cause a small trickle of crimson blood to make its way down the pale white skin of her chin. She felt Felix physical stiffen at the sight of this, the only reason that he probably did not act out was because he too knew how difficult it would be for Crusch to do what he suggested.

And so in the most caring voice she could manage she leaned forward and placed her hand on his knee to get his attention, putting on the warmest smile she could manage. "Natsuki Subaru, what did you agree to with Anastasia, if you tell me I might be able to discrene how trapped you really are, I might be able to guide you out of this agreement that Hector led you into against your own judgement." Crusch did not like at all what she was saying but the fact that Subaru had put his madness on pause to look directly at her means that it might at least work. But it was the look he was giving her that was now making her uneasy, it was one that was wide eyed and full of dependance, like what would be expected from a lost child.

"I let her sell something from my homeland in exchange for a royalty" Was all he said.

That was it, that was what caused him all this mental trauma, he was blowing it out of proportion, she felt slightly better about her bit of manipulation as it would at least lead to him understanding his own situation just a bit better, the end does not justify the means, but at least the end would be good for him.

"Natsuki Subaru, you haven't trapped yourself in with anything, she cannot make you do anything since she cannot hold that deal over your head for anything, withholding royalty payments would land the Hoshin company in trouble with the merchant guild. So in essence as long as you do not agree to any deals requiring more involvement then what you have already made, you should be completely fine." Subaru looked at her with blooming eyes like she had just saved him from something terrible, but now would come the part of this process that she would loathe the most.

But she had to do this, she had resolved to, and so she would do her best to see this resolve through. "Natsuki Subaru, I will give my offer again, however I will not ask you to join my camp. Instead I want to make an equivalent exchange, a favor for a favor; I want you to help as with the White Whale and in return I will do whatever you ask, assuming its on par with the aide you provide me. Think of it just like the deal you made with Anastasia, once we both uphold our part there will be nothing holding us together, no lingering attachments." She made the motion of cutting a string with her fingers to emphasize that part, but she was shocked as Subaru's expression suddenly changed again.

For the briefest of instant it seemed that he was in immense pain, but then he began to mumble words to 'Hector' like none of the prior events had even happened, the look of dependance on his face was replaced by the return of his previously depressed look. "Sure…Roswaal? Fine…." Was all that could be heard from Subaru's mumblings.

"Fine I'll help, but in return you must shelter me from Roswaal if I need it. I'll find the whale for you even though it irks me to do that, I'll only provide some assistance beyond that." Subaru then stopped and looked blankly at Crusch, waiting for her response with a seeming look of dread on his face.

"Yes that's fine, perfect actually, we'll lend you a ground dragon to help you with your work." Subaru then stood up without saying anything as he walked towards the door, Crusch gestured to Felix to follow behind him in order to get him the ground dragon from their stables.

The second the door closed behind the two Crusch exhaled and buried her held her head in her hands, mumbling in a muffled voice, "once this is over, we are not dealing with that boy again…."

The room then drifted into complete silence, only to be interrupted several moments later by the sound of the door opening as Felix stepped back into the room.

"Crusch-sama, Ferri-chan is so surprised, it looked like you had Subaru-kyun completely wrapped around your finger for a moment, Rem-chan would've been very envious if she saw that. And thank you for being here Old Man Will, I was quivering in my boots for a bit there, it looked like he was going to completely lose it!" Felix spoke in an upbeat and chipper voice, clearly very pleased with the results of the meeting, but the other two in the room were nowhere near as happy as he was.

"Something happened to that boy, something very severe happened to break him into the mess we just saw. I cannot take any pride in such underhanded tactics like manipulation, but to do something such as that to someone of such unsound mind…. It leaves more then just a bad taste in my mouth….." Crusch spoke in an incredibly regretful voice, clearly upset at herself over her own actions.

"The boys mind is seemingly gone, something I've only seen in rescued prisoners who'd been subjected to months of captivity and torture structured with the sole goal of targeting their mind, but the boy was seemingly fine mere days ago. At this point he is seemingly closer to the description we have of the sin archbishop who had attacked the castle then the junior butler that had accompanied Margrave Mathers on his trip to the capital." Wilhelm's voice was tinged with sadness as he compared the boy he just saw to the one who had brought him a cup of tea outside the mansion when they had first met.

 


 

She was useless, she could not do anything herself, she was so thoroughly and truly incapable of doing literally anything useful that she was nearly always a hinderance to those around her.

Emilia looked down at her hands and she saw blood, the blood of the knight that died because she was unable to fight herself, that died because she was unable to heal him using her spirit arts; the spiritual arts were supposed to be her one redeeming quality, but when it came down to it, she could not even use them either.

She hated everything about her life as it had been since she left the forest, she was surrounded by people but had never felt lonelier, she was supposedly living in higher society now but had never felt more miserable. She had gotten to meet so many people, even made a friend for the first time, but now she had lost her friend, her father had disappeared without a word, and everyone looked upon her with either scorn, fear, or disgust. At this point Emilia regretted every moment she had spent outside of the forest, she wished she never left but knew that things would never be the same even if she went back, she would be forced to live with these feelings for the rest of her life.

"Why the long face Emilia-sama, that isn't a look suitable for a candidate to the throne." Roswaal spoke in a calm tone but with how he placed the emphasis it could easily be taken as being slightly mocking. As he said this Ram opened the door of the ground dragon carriage to show that they were stopped off the side of the road under a bright, starry night sky.

"Sorry Roswaal…..also why have we stopped?" Emilia did not look up from the ground as she gave her apology for something that should not even be apologized for.

"You weren't listening? The ground dragon didn't get a proper rest from when it brought us earlier today so it must be given an hour or so break in order to bring us the rest of the way back to the mansion, if you'd like to join us for some tea as we wait then please come outside." Roswaal spoke as he stepped outside, leaving Emilia alone in the carriage.

"I guess I can't even be a doll, not that I really want to but it's kind of sad that I'm that incapable to fail even with that… right Puck?" Emilia spoke in a low and quiet voice, a tear or two falling from her eyes, her question being met only with silence, "right, I guess even you want nothing to do with me anymore… after Roswaal kicks me out when I lose the selection or even before that, then I guess I'll be completely alone…"

Emilia wiped her eyes and stood up, she intended to make the most of the time she had with others, even if they disliked her at least she felt like she somewhat belonged when she was with the residents of the Roswaal mansion. They had not made her feel welcome, nor did they show her any kindness beyond what was expected from their stations; but none of that could change the fact that they had lived under the same roof for so long, shared meals together. She would try to make the most out of every last interaction with them she could, so that when the day came when they sent her away to be alone once again, then she could at least have some bittersweet moments to treasure.

At one point she had some memories that she could even consider to be completely happy, like when they had a festival like event during Pucks magic release period. She got to have fun, laugh, and play alongside the residents of the mansion and Arlam villagers. But memories like those had been tainted by what happened afterwards, she could no longer think of them and smile, only regret that the good times had been tainted.

Emilia shook her head to bring herself back to the moment and stepped outside. Ram was crouched by a fire, tending to a kettle as she made some tea. Rem seemed to have just placed some extra firewood by the fire and was now sat by the fire, looking right at Emilia as she sent daggers right into her with the intensity of her glare. Although it hurt her to see such hatred in Rem's eyes, she forced herself to look past it and onto Roswaal, but his face was frozen in a grimace as he looked at a spot that did not contain any of the mansion's residents, and so Emilia followed his gaze.

He was staring at a girl with long platinum hair and crystal-like blue eyes, wearing what looked like a white sheet with a hole cut for her head.

"I would say that this is a pleasant first meeting Margrave Mathers, but we've met before have we not? So it must be more fitting to call this a wonderous reunion, wouldn't you say Margrave?" The girl spoke in a voice that was both soft and childlike resulting in it having a slightly eerie feeling. In terms of eerie feelings, whenever Emilia looked at this girl, she felt something odd within herself, she felt sheer hatred, like her soul itself despised this girl, hated her to the greatest extent possible.

"Why are you here Pandora, Witch of Vainglory…." Roswaal was nearly snarling at this girl, his whole-body tense and seemingly ready for a fight.

"Calm you anger Margrave Mathers, we need not resort to violence here, I simply wish to resolve the differences between you and I, so that our paths need not clash again." Pandora spoke in a serene and completely calmed voice that contrasted sharply with the vitriol that seemed to be building inside Roswaal.

"Sensei warned me that you cannot be trusted, cannot be reasoned with. Why would I entreat with a delusional sociopath obsessed with an unfounded theory regarding Flügel? You must be truly mad if you think I would disregard her warning like that." Roswaal then turned to Ram, his voice still as grave and tense as it was before, and he said "Ram, Rem, we're leaving now!"

Pandora did not move in the slightest to stop Rem or Ram as they stirred the ground dragon and essentially pulled Emilia into the carriage, Roswaal following close behind them. Pandora did not move but she did speak, "Margrave Mathers, nobody knew Flügel as well as I did, nobody could see behind his vain front, nobody knows that he truly hates the sacrifice he was forced to make, nobody knows that he wants to be released from the hell he's trapped himself in for so long. Although I see a wonderous sight in the love and worship you have for Echidna, I cannot allow you to manipulate and misdirect my cult, my tools to Flügel's salvation any longer. Vainglory shall always use its power to force adherence to the original loop in order to seek his salvation, just as the Seven Deadly Sins shall reject the truth, just as Melancholy shall live in its own world, in the end I will ensure that Flügel is freed from his self-imposed prison, that his soul is allowed to get the rest it deserves. He was a friend and mentor to me as well as your Echidna, Margrave Mathers, why can you not find it in your heart to help the quest that shall deliver him his deserved salvation." Pandora stopped talking for a second as she just looked at them as if waiting for a response.

As the carriage hurried off without its normal divine protection Roswaal screamed at the top of his lungs, "ITS UTTER MADNESS PANDORA, IT'S BEEN 400 YEARS, GIVE UP ON HIM, HE'S GONE AND NEVER COMING BACK. THERE IS NO ENDLESS LOOP, NO CYCLE, FLÜGEL IS DEAD, LEAVE YOUR OBSESSION OF HIM BEHIND, THERE IS NOTHING TO AND NOBODY TO SAVE ANYMORE."

It should have been impossible to hear what she was saying because of how quiet she spoke, yet her words reached their ears independent of both the distance and noise of the carriage. "I can forgive your actions and lack of faith Margrave Mathers, but I will take it upon myself to ensure that they don't continue into the future, nor interfere with Flügel's salvation. The White Whale was here just as it should have been."

With those words suddenly a massive white beast appeared in the sky, one of the three great mabeasts. Its horn was the size of a large tree, its eyes nearly the size of a person's upper body, and its roar drove nothing but fear into Emilia's heart.

Chapter Text

“AL GOA!” Screamed Roswaal as a giant ball of fire conjured out of thin air above the carriage and flew towards the whale, the ball which was easily the size of the whale’s head radiated with energy. As it flew it managed to scorch the ground below it, even though the fire ball was separated from the ground by a gap at least the size of Roswaal himself.

 

It slammed into the whale at a velocity near incomprehensible to a normal person, bursting and losing shape as the flames quickly wrapped their way around the entirety of the whale. But with a roar that would drive true fear into the heart of even the most seasoned warrior these mighty flames dissipated into nothing more then trails of smoke and steam as the near unscathed Great Mabeast rocketed forth, barreling towards the carriage with vigour and primal hunger in its eye.

 

The whale dove towards the carriage with a grace that could be compared to that of an angel descending from the heavens, however an angel with an alignment fitting that of a servant of hell. The last rays of the setting sun catching its large body and casting a dark shadow that was both long and wide, engulfing its prey in a blackness that was comparable to the early hours of night.

 

It screamed its brain shaking cry, and with its cry came forth a torrent of thick grey fog, a large billowing stream that threatened to swallow the dragon carriage and its occupants whole.

 

“EL FULA!” Shouted Ram, her right arm extended with wand drawn and pointing straight at the cloud of fog, her left arm clasped tightly to the inside of the carriage as she hung out the open door as a series of large win blades rocketed forth to meet the fog with enough power to mortally wound nearly any living being.

 

Although her magic was formidable, it did not match the power of the White Whale, it could not completely stop the fog that devoured people from the memories of the world’s living. But it did provide them the briefest of respites, delaying their end by fractions of a second, but fractions were all that were needed.

 

“Ul Fula” Chanted a defiant voice as the air around the carriage adopted a stance in sync with the caster, the caster who was regarded as the greatest living magician. The air around the carriage instantly morphed into large and curved blades the size of a large man before rocketing out in nearly all directions where they scattered the fog.

 

Although the fog still cloaked their surroundings and obstructed their view, its concentration had been reduced significantly, meaning that the erasure of the carriage’s occupants had been delayed for the time being.

 

This was enough for Roswaal L Mathers as he stood on the roof of the dragon carriage as it rocketed off road across the plains near Flügel’s Tree, without the normal divine protection offered by the ground dragon. This feat of his was only possible due to an immense display of magical strength, wind magic diverting most of the air around him in order to lower his drag, yang magic acting between his feet and the roof of the carriage that made them behave as one object and anchor him in place.

 

His face held a serious grimace as he faced his opponent, the White Whale, a face that was serious because he understood that he stood little hope of winning this fight. Had it been the Great Rabbit instead of the whale he would have been able to win within seconds, a single spell of his could wipe it off the face of the earth. Had it been the Black Serpent he would have easily won if he initiated the fight, should he be caught off guard then it would become a battle of reaction speeds, which would have been a battle that was still winnable.

 

But the White Whale, the cursed spawn of Gluttony was the worst possible opponent for him, it was near immune to magic as its tough hide naturally dissipated mana that made contact with it, leaving him capable of little more then annoying it.

 

But there was a reason he stood atop the carriage with such confidence, it was not like he had spent the last 400 years without giving a single thought to what he would do should he run into the White Whale while passing through its hunting grounds near Flügel’s Tree. There existed a place deep within a forest on the edge of the plains that was held something that the White Whale would dare not approach, for its limited intelligence was strong enough to know that something lay dormant there that it should not trifle with.

 

Although if he took them to the Sanctuary it would mean that Emilia would end up being trapped with little likelihood of freeing herself, such a thing was of little consequence to him, she would either overcome the trials and become useful once again, or live out her days within the barrier as a failed experiment of his, for which the Sanctuary would be a fitting dumping ground.

 

“Rem, make a one-eighth turn to the left then head straight into the forest” Roswaal had to raise his voice to say this, not out of urgency but out of necessity, to be heard over the sound of rushing wind and the whales’ screams was in itself a difficult task.

 

And so as he stood atop the carriage, the wind blowing his blue hair so that it pointed straight out from his face, towards the direction he faced, away from where the carriage was travelling. Its at this point that the fog burst apart before his eyes and the White Whale dove towards the carriage, its maw agape as it readied itself swallow the carriage along with its occupants.

 

But Margrave Roswaal L Mathers was confident, and it was not misplaced whatsoever, he did not need to say the words for the spell’s complexity was trivial to him, after 400 years this spell came to him as easily as breathing. And so with as little effort as it took to breath, a massive rock pillar grew out of the ground and rocketed into the whales jaw, catching it in the final seconds of its dive and throwing it off course so that it slammed into the ground mere paces from the carriage, sadly having sustained only the most minor of injuries.

 

But the Disciple of the Witch of Greed caught movement out of the corner of his eye, a second whale, without moving his feet from where they were anchored he raised his left hand as three giant spears of ice formed and launched towards the whale with such force that the whale was launched back into the fog. Invoking the power brough by the word of Al without even uttering its name was something he had mastered centuries ago.

 

As he heard Ram invoke highest tier of wind magic to launch a strike capable of diverting the attack of another of the whales, Roswaal spun around to face the direction that the carriage travelled, to face towards the Sanctuary, the place where his current mission had begun so long ago.

 

His once neat hair was in complete disarray from the wind, he was in the midst of a battle with one of the Three Great Mabeasts, and the Warlock of Melancholy had once again taken the mantle of his opposition. His situation could be considered hopeless, untenable, pure chaos, but the Margrave tilted his head to the sky and smiled, he extended his arms outward to his sides, spread his fingers to catch as much wind as possible.

 

This was excitement, true exhilaration, after 400 years he had arrived at what was to be the final act of his grand plan that he had been orchestrating for the last 4 centuries, the coming few days would decide if Echidna, The Witch of Greed would once again walk the world alongside the living. Roswaal L Mathers, or more correctly, Roswaal A Mathers was determined to ensure that this happened, no matter the cost.

 


 

As 3 of the 4 members of the Emilia camp were fully occupied with the battle that raged just outside the carriage, its last member and leader in name only knelt on the floor inside. She knelt inside and clutched a green crystal to her chest as she begged to it, begged to the spirit that lay dormant inside to stir and awaken, begged to it to emerge so she could feel anything but uselessness.

 

She was afraid, terribly afraid, but the few tears that flowed from her eyes came not from fear, but from frustration. She was so frustrated at her own inability to do anything useful that she simply could not handle the emotion any other way. Emilia wanted nothing more then to feel as if she was not just being dragged along as dead weight, she wanted nothing more then to help.

 

“Puck please……. Please just come out, we really need you now…… I need you……” Emilia spoke as she looked down at the green crystal, the soft hue of light within the crystal continuing its slow steady rhythmic pulsing, showing that nothing would be changing with it for the time being.

 

Emilia was then briefly launched airborne as the entire carriage jerked upward before crashing into the ground, just as she was lifting herself up after being splayed face first on the floor by the impact, she was launched back first into the left wall by the right side of the carriage hitting something and briefly lifting. Before she even had a chance to regain her bearings she was once again launched into the right wall as the left side of the carriage proceeded to slam into something outside.

 

She pressed herself up from the floor as a thin trickle of dark red blood ran from her nose down her near porcelain white skin. Her whole body was sore, adding to the reasons why the past few days of had been so bad. At this point she no longer had any reason to doubt that her life since leaving the forest had truly become the worst of the worst of the worst. She was miserable, she hated every last horrid moment of it, if this path had been inevitable then she felt that she may as well have never been born.

 

“Roswaal-sama which way? Rem cannot see anymore.” Rem called from the driver’s seat, and her call was soon answered by Roswaal who still stood on the roof despite the rough ride.

 

“Continue straight ahead……SWERVE REM SWERVE!” Roswaal’s voice was initially calm as he gave directions before becoming frantic as he shouted.

 

The air outside grew hot, the whole carriage jerked to the right as there was a massive crash to the left, the sight of the White Whale’s hide filling the entirety of the windows on the left side of the carriage. Emilia had once again been thrown around inside the carriage as it seemingly balanced precariously on just its right wheels alone. The carriage then suddenly righted itself as it jerked to the left, repeating the events of just fractions of a second earlier as a whale slammed into the ground right outside the right side of the carriage.

 

Rem tried to preform a drastic swerve one final time, but whether it was due to the whale simply being too fast, or her superhuman reaction speed being insufficient is unknown; however what is known is that the whale had finally gotten one step ahead of its prey.

 

The front of the carriage lifted into the air, the screams of the ground dragon became consumed in an orchestra of crashing and banging as Emilia rapidly slammed from one wall to another, her ears ringing from the constant impacts between her head and the wall. Her vision was left spinning as the carriage violently hurtled and tumbled through the air after being tossed by the whale as if it were a mere toy.

 

They came down with a crash, wood shattered, split, and splintered around her, she felt her skin be split and pierced by broken planks falling around her, and burying her.

 

She heard two people frantically running outside, but not towards her, she may have been injured and buried in the fall, but she was not their priority, because at this point she did not matter to them in the slightest, its not like her wellbeing meant anything to them anymore.

 

She forced herself to her feat, her half-elven strength easily pushing away the wood above her, she was battered, bruised, and bleeding, but nothing was broken. The very carriage that had been the source of these injuries had also likely been the thing that broke her fall, leaving her in better shape then most of her travelling companions.

 

Roswaal of course was more or less unhurt, being thrown into the air is not exactly that big a deal when you can fly. Rem looked to be vastly more beat up then Emilia, most of her clothing covered in rips as blood oozed out, some of her fingers bent at odd angles, but her face was contorted in pure rage as a soft pink glow illuminated it in the setting darkness brought by the coming night, her oni horn had emerged. This had likely happened in order to keep her mobile even with the severe injuries she had sustained from being launched through the air without even having the carriage to break her fall.

 

Rem was holding something in her arms and shouting to it, pleading to it, but Emilia could not hear over the ringing in her ears, and her brain still felt a bit foggy from all the head trauma she had sustained, causing a delay in her realising that Rem was cradling Ram in her arms, and Ram’s body was completely still.

 

Ram had been perched from one of the carriages windows during the fight with the whale, but as she had not been under the wood with Emilia after they landed it is likely that she had been thrown from the window when the carriage was launched into the air. When you also consider that Ram likely had little to no mana left after battling the whale for as long as she did, leaving her with nothing to use to break her fall. This combined with the fact that Ram does not have a horn like Rem meant that she had no way of pulling additional mana in order to use her Oni form, making her not much more physically tough then a normal human, and a normal human would be pushed to the brink of death from a fall like that.

 

Like Rem, Ram’s body was covered in cuts that oozed blood, but most of her limbs were bent at odd angles, showing clearly that her joints had been broken and twisted far out of position. Blood flowed freely from her mouth and nose, not as a result of a mere internal laceration, but as a result of the right side of her chest being caved in from the impact, likely causing massive internal bleeding. These injuries stood far outside both Emilia’s and Rem’s healing abilities, they would likely be doable for a healer of Beatrice’s calibre, and probably trivial for someone as well versed as Felix, but current the best Ram could rely upon was her sister Rem.

 

As Emilia’s hearing slowly returned, she could make out what Rem was saying as she frantically shook Ram’s body, “NEE-SAMA, NEE-SAMA, DON’T DIE HERE NEE-SAMA. NEE-SAMA, YOU’RE TOO TOUGH TO DIE LIKE THIS…..” Rem was brought to her senses by Roswaal shaking her by the shoulders before delivering some instruction that Emilia could not hear, before Rem shifted Ram into one of arms as she placed the other just above Ram’s heart and began to emit a blue glow, healing magic.

 

Roswaal’s face showed nothing but anger, pure rage as he stepped not more then 3 paces away from the two maids. He turned his head to look to his left and extended his left arm straight out with an open palm, its target was the ground dragon that was scrambling to its feet in a panic after receiving a glancing hit from the whale when it flipped the carriage, leading to it being launched into a patch of smaller tree’s.

 

Roswaal seemingly still needed this ground dragon and so he mouthed the words “Vita” leading to the ground dragon having its body pressed against the ground as its legs gave out due to the temporary vast increase in body mass caused by the yin magic.

 

Roswaal extended his other hand towards the group of three whales that were approaching them as if to finish them off. From the tips of his fingers came three colourful balls of mana, one glowed red with the passion of the world, the passion to reduce the world to cinders. The next glowed a serene blue, calm as embodied the gentle water that knitted life together. Another one was a pale yet swirling grey, ever turbulent as it represented the tumultuous path that a gust of wind may take through the trees. The final orb was green, green as it represented the diligence of the plants that struggled to thrive as they pushed their way out of the ground.

 

With nothing but hatred in his eyes Roswaal looked at the approaching whales that made up the Great Mabeast, looked as the four orbs of mana flew from his fingertips before exploding with such force that they threw the whales away, uprooted trees, and levelled an entire section of the forest.

 

Before the dust could settle Roswaal rushed back to the maids, lifting them up and placing them on the pinned ground dragon, all the while Rem continued to pour her mana into her mortally wounded sister.

 

“The ground dragon should take you to Sanctuary, Emilia and I will join you there, but I expect Garfiel will be able to provide all the help you need until we arrive once he catches sight of you. Don’t look back, don’t hesitate for one moment if you want your sister to have even the slightest hope of surviving.” And with those words Roswaal released his magic from the ground dragon, which began its hurried run away from the whale and towards the Sanctuary.

 

Afterwards Roswaal turned to the beleaguered Emilia, and with nothing more then a jerk of his head to indicate to follow him he rose into the air and flew off in the direction the ground dragon went.

 

And so Emilia choose to follow him by running on foot, its not like she had anywhere else to go.

 

Running after him should not have been hard for her, he was not moving particularly fast, and for someone with elven blood in their veins this should have been easy, but right now that was anything farther from the truth.

 

Her entire body hurt from getting tossed around like a ragdoll in the carriage, there was still fog in her mind from how many times she hit her head. When this is compounded with how sleep deprived she was, with how little she had been eating the past few days, it turned what should have been a short jog into an arduous slog.

 

When she finally arrived at where Roswaal had landed her legs felt like they were about to give out underneath her, she could barely get enough air in to fill her burning lungs, her head felt so light that she could barely stay on her feet, if Puck did come out of his crystal he would probably chastise her for how badly she had been taking care of herself lately.

 

As she leaned herself up against a nearby tree to try and catch her breath, she saw that Roswaal was talking to a pink haired half-elf, and a golden-haired boy. Rem and Ram were nowhere to be seen, but when she looked farther she saw that the dragon they had ridden was lashed to a post outside a house, it itself was curled up in a ball, obviously incredibly distraught over the events of just a few minutes earlier.

 

Her attention was drawn back to the boy as he raised his voice to Roswaal, seemingly out of frustration or anger.

 

“What d’ya mean th’t yer goin’ inta the tomb, ya ain’t got the qualification, so ya won’t be gettin’ in. Ya think my amazin’ self’s gonna let ya even try aft’r ya pulled the damn White Whale all the way here!” The boy roared angrily at Roswaal, baring his mouth of razor-sharp teeth at him, but he was seemingly calmed and held back by the half elf placing her small hand on his shoulder.

 

Although she did not look particularly old, her voice was cracked and tainted with immense age, “Gar-bo you don’t need to be so defensive towards Mathers-sama, at least listen to why he wants to do what he is suggesting.”

 

Roswaal flashed the half-elf a smile, it seemed as if there was something behind his smile, a history with this person, but behind his eyes there was nothing but pain, once more seemingly tied to this person he looked at. He did not turn to the young boy before he spoke, he continued to face the half-elf but ow with a fallen face that exuded nothing more then fanaticism.

 

“I merely do what Sensei asked of me, nothing more and nothing less…….”

 

And with that Roswaal walked past the two, the young boy confused, the half-elf’s face dumbfounded.

 

Lacking anything else to do Emilia heaved her tired body away from the tree and walked towards the village, she had quickly lost sight of Roswaal as he seemingly knew this place like the back of his hand, but having never been here before she was completely clueless when it came to navigating her way around.

 

The village consisted of a collection of rundown homes, their walls either comprised of stone or wood; those made of planks were warped with age, leading to spaces opening between the boards that were filled with clumps of moss. The houses with stone walls had stood the test of time better then those made of wood, yet they too were not impervious to the many seasons they had to endure as most were littered with cracks created by the rise and fall of the temperature, the freezing and thawing of water. Every building however had a roof made of a mixture of thatch and wooden planks, in general they all appeared to be much newer than the buildings they topped, likely due to being replaced over the years.

 

This led to a situation where all the buildings had very slight visual distinctions, but overall they looked very similar; meaning that after some time it would be easy to navigate through the village but prior to that it would be very difficult. When you consider how the sun had already set, resulting in the entire area being enveloped by a thick darkness, further increasing the difficulty of navigating this new place.

 

But she could see the building that had ground dragon lashed to a post outside it, the building where Rem had likely brought Ram. With nowhere else to go Emilia approached this building and walked through the door to an inside lit solely by a single candle.

 

The candle illuminated a bedside with a flickering orange glow, illuminating one side of Ram while casting long shadows across her other side. Her once ornate black and white maid uniform was now torn, and drenched in blood, her own blood. It had so thoroughly soaked through her clothing that it caused it to glisten, reflecting the scarce amounts of light as her chest rose and fell as she struggled to take each shallow breath with what remained of her respiratory system.

 

Ram’s face was pale and devoid of colour, her eyes shut as her face contorted in pain with each breath she managed to suck in. Beside her Rem was knelt with her hands hovering over Ram’s abdomen as the blue glow of healing magic illuminated the deep gashes and chest wound on her sister’s body, wounds that were not closing in the slightest.

 

Without looking up from her sister Rem spoke to Emilia in a voice that was both tired but full of hatred, “Can you not leave Rem alone, can you not take anything more from her? First you took Subaru-kun away and now Nee-sama is badly hurt because of you. It’s like you want to ruin Rem’s life by destroying the lives of everyone Rem cares about, so what are you going to do next half-devil? Will you find a way to draw the whale right to Nee-sama’s bedside? Will you make Rem watch Nee-sama die?” Rem’s voice at the end began to falter as she visualized the idea of her sister dying, a few tears began to fall from her eyes and landed on the edge of the bedsheets. Rem bit her lip before saying, “Rem needs to focus on Nee-sama, so please leave Emilia-sama…”

 

And so Emilia did just that, she walked out the door and slumped down beside it, pulling her knees up to her chin and burying her face into them as she began to sink into a sea of self loathing and melancholy.

 

Raindrops began to fall and as she had nothing above her head and nowhere to go she quickly became soaked to the bone.

 

“Can’t say I don’t deserve this…. But I realllly wish things didn’t turn out like this…… I don’t even have you anymore Puck…………” Emilia said this out loud to herself in a quiet and small voice full of regret, but as her face was buried and therefore muffling it there was no chance that even Rem would hear anything over the sound of the rain.

 

She wanted to cry, she felt so terrible on the inside for all that she had done to those around her, but she had been crying so much lately she did not have anymore tears to shed. She likely would not be sleeping tonight on account of the rain, so she was left with nothing but her thoughts to accompany her through the night, something that had been happening all to often these past few days when she would be unable to fall asleep.

 

She thought back to what seemingly started this series of events, when things had gone from being enjoyable to wretched, when they all used to laugh and play games together to being full of tears and anger.

 

She still thought that she was right for what she said to Subaru, that he should of told her what was going on, that he should see her for what she was and not the amazing person he saw in his head.

 

From what she had heard from Roswaal this had led to him making some arrangement with a very bad person, that person had twisted and toyed with his mind until he hated each and every one of them to the point that he would gladly watch her die. It hurt her to think that her own action had led to the boy who had been so nice to her, who had always been so happy to be around her, to wish nothing but death at the hands of a mad man on her.

 

She had brought the witches cult down upon the capital, they had been hunting for her and while they had done that they essentially put the city to the sword. They hacked civilian and knight apart with their sharp daggers, they drenched the city in flames, burning both homes and their occupants.

 

People had died for her, some willingly, some unwillingly; she watched one knight die before her very eyes as he bled to death, waiting for her to administer healing magic via the spirit arts, waiting for something that never came.

 

And now because of her they had been forced to leave the city earlier then intended, leading to them running into the whale and having Ram be so badly hurt that it did not honestly look like she would make it. Emilia was by no means anywhere near an expert on healing magic but seeing that her wounds were not closing showed that at best Rem’s magic was doing nothing more then keeping her from deaths door, but not moving her any farther from it. Eventually Rem would run out of mana, and when that happened Ram would become another name on the long list of people that Emilia had killed.

 

Roswaal did not seem to see her as anything other then luggage, Rem hated her, and now it seemed that not even Puck wanted anything to do with her.

 

She was wrong, she still had tears to cry, and they were coming out now, coming out as the rain gradually lessened in intensity before stopping completely. Leaving her to shiver in her soaked clothes as the moon moved across the sky before it to set and the sun began its rise opposite to it. The whole time nothing crossed her mind other then how terrible she was, so terrible and useless that nobody wanted anything to do with her, so terrible and useless that she questioned why they had not just throw her from the carriage in an attempt to divert the whales attention.

 

As the sun’s rays began to crest buildings of the village Emilia was stirred from herself loathing by the sound of approaching voices.

 

“My amazin’ self told ya that ya wouldn’t be ‘llowed into th’ tomb, yet ya tried anyways and got what was comin’ ta ya.” It was the golden haired boy who had met Roswaal when they had entered the village the previous day. Although Emilia did not lift her head from her knee’s she recognized who he was speaking to the second he spoke, it was a voice that was familiar to her that spoke in a manner that was odd in its normalcy, as this normalcy was but a new replacement for its old eccentricity.

 

“As I said before, I do just what my Sensei instructed, if this was the result then this is what she intended to happen. Were I to deviate from her instructions even in the slightest then the shared interest between us may quickly become unattainable. Therefore I shall follow the writ exactly, regardless of whatever consequences may befall me, Garfiel.” Roswaal spoke in a grave and serious voice as he led Garfiel towards the hut, when he reached the door he stopped briefly beside Emilia.

 

“This will pertain to you as well, in fact it may be more important for you then almost anyone else.”

 

He then grabbed Emilia by the arm and dragged her to her feet, before leading her into the house with Garfiel in tow.

 

As they entered the building Garfiel seemed to freeze up at the sight of Ram, his breath catching in his throat as he froze in place, his eyes not moving away Ram for even an instant.

 

“Rem let Garfiel take over for a bit, you need to recuperate your reserve of mana.” Roswaal said in a voice devoid of any concern whatsoever, almost like a passing remark.

 

“Rem is alright Roswaal-sama, Rem can continue as long as Nee-sama needs her.” Rem’s voice was filled with exhaustion, but she sounded determined to do whatever her sister needed.

 

“This concerns Ram, you will need all the mana you can get in the coming days, should you run out then Ram will die. So rest now while Garfiel can cover for you, unless you hold your own pride above your beloved sisters well being?” Roswaal sounded slightly annoyed as he said this, like it was just a mere trifle in the way of what he really wanted to accomplish.

 

Garfiel approached Ram’s bedside with glossy eyes, unable to believe what he was seeing.  As he knelt down beside the bed he locked eyes with Rem as he placed his hands in a similar fashion to hers, emitting his own blue light as he began to pour his own mana into Ram in the form of healing magic. However just like Rem’s it did not seem to have any effect besides keeping Ram breathing, her grievous wounds showing not the slightest sign of healing.

 

Once Rem had confirmed that Garfiel had adequately taken her position she stood up, her movements vastly more sluggish than what was normal for her, the fatigue of casting healing magic straight through the night was clearly catching up with her.

 

Roswaal slowly and carefully lowered himself into a chair, like he was an old man with a bad back; Rem seemingly collapsed into a chair across from his as Emilia lingered in the doorway as there was not another chair for her to sit in.

 

“Tomorrow you will take Ram back to the mansion Rem, once your there Beatrice should be capable of healing the wounds that Ram has sustained. Since it is likely that you will need to preform healing magic for the entirety of the way there, starting from when Garfiel’s mana gives it, it is necessary for you to rest now.” Roswaal was leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed, his breathing was slightly ragged. Wherever and whatever he had been doing the night prior had clearly left him completely drained and exhausted, but he continued, nonetheless.

 

“In order to facilitate this escape I will go out and face the whale, while I have its attention will be the time for you to leave atop the ground dragon.” Roswaal kept his eyes closed, but his brow was furled as if hard in thought, focusing on something as he tried to understand it.

 

Rem spoke up however, although it took a great load off her heart to know that Roswaal had found a way to save her sister, there was still something bothering her about this plan.

 

“Roswaal-sama, Rem has faith in you, but can you beat the whale, will you be okay to be left behind like this….. Rem doesn’t know how Nee-sama will react if she finds out that Roswaal-sama died so that she could live…….” Rem’s face showed the confliction she felt as she said this, she wanted to be happy that her sister would certainly survive this, but she dreaded having to tell Ram that Roswaal was gone forever, because she was certain that he could not best an opponent who was all but immune to most conventional magic.

 

At first Roswaal did not answer this in the slightest, he just reached into his clothes and produced a large book, holding it out for all in the room to see.

 

“I’m not doing this for Ram, the Gospel’s Writ states that I am to face the whale on that day, it also no longer states that you two are necessary, and so I am grating you this opportunity in recognition of the service you both have done me. Whatever transpires in the fight with the whale is what my Sensei has foreseen, so whatever occurs will occur because it is necessary.” Roswaal finally opened his eyes, looking right at Rem as he said what he did, his voice and facial expressions showing pure devotion and fanaticism.

 

But as Roswaal rose to leave the room after returning his book Rem called to him, there were many things that she did not understand from what he said, but one thing stood out, contrasting against his previous words.

 

“Roswaal-sama, isn’t it your ancestors Sensei, not yours?” At these words Rsowaal turned his head so that Rem could only see his blue eye and not his yellow one.

 

“As far as I am aware, I did not stutter.”

 

Roswaal then turned his head to face forward, speaking again but this time to Emilia and not Rem.

 

“This marks the end of my sponsorship for you, Emilia. From this point onward I shall not provide political, material, nor support of any other kind. Consider yourself to now be the sole remaining member of the Emilia camp. Unlike Ram and Rem, I have nothing to give you, you don’t deserve any kind of parting gift in the slightest.”

 

With that Roswaal turned and left the house, at which point Rem went into another room to lay down and rest, so that she would be in the best condition possible to help her sister when her turn came.

 

Meanwhile Emilia wanted to be shocked but quite frankly she could not possible be surprised. She had expected this day to come and it finally did, Roswaal had given up on her and now she had nothing. In the space of less then 10 days she had gone from finally starting to be happy, to being unhappy, to having absolutely nothing. She was now in a worse position then she had been in the Elior forest, even though she had lacked a steady food source, and she had faced occasional discrimination when she had encountered others. But at least she had been able to find joy in her simple life, now however she had been brought into a highly complex political situation, every single person she had grown even slightly close to had turned away from her, and she had been all but abandoned in an entirely unfamiliar part of the country.

 

Emilia looked down at her feet, and the growing pool of water that was running down her body and pooling beneath her. She decided that she would just walk away as she was now completely detested here, Rem defiantly did not want her here and if the look Garfiel made when he saw Ram’s condition was anything to go by, he would not want her here either when he found out who caused Ram to be in the condition she was in.

 

She sighed as she pushed herself off of the wall she was leaning against, her feet still ached so badly, just like the rest of her body. She had not had the chance to rest and so her body felt even worse compared to yesterday, she was beginning to get the chills even though it was too warm at this point to warrant such a feeling. She could feel beads of sweat forming on her body even though she had not done any kind of rigorous activity since she had to run from where their battle with the whale finished. Her head felt unnaturally heavy, it teetered as she felt like she was barely strong enough to keep it steady atop her shoulders.

 

As she walked along a path that led away from the village she swayed slightly from side to side, barely able to keep to a straight path, almost like she had consumed a large quantity of alcohol. However her condition was not due to some kind of overindulgence, it was due to her poor diet and sleep deprivation being combining with how she spent the entirety of the past night out in the rain.

 

She reached a three-pronged fork in the path and looked around with her tired eyes, ringed by deep and dark eye bags whilst being half closed. The world around her was beginning to look more and more murky as the fog in her head that had been brought on by her head trauma began to thicken.

 

To her left she saw a path that led down into a deep and dark forest, the path was overgrown but she thought she saw a young man running down it towards the forest. She got a sense of determination from him, but something seemed wrong with his body, she could only see its outline. She blinked and rubbed her tired eyes but then like magic the outline burst apart into a cloud of green butterflies.

 

She followed the cloud of insects as the flew from the path on her left to the path straight ahead, a path that appeared to lead to the ruins of a smallish home that had collapsed long ago. When they reached the path they took the form of the young mans silhouette once again, except this time they walked straight towards her.

 

When she set her eyes on the young man she got the feeling of immense sadness, such intense melancholy that she could not comprehend how someone could possible endure feeling this way. The young man kept walking towards her, it looked like a liquid was dripping off his body, but the aura of pure depression only got worse as he closed the distance between them.

 

He finally reached her and stopped but she could not make out even one detail of his face, all that she could tell was that he had a longish face and carried himself in a manner resembling a shamble, like simply existing was the worst thing in the world.

 

But before she knew it he burst into a cloud of butterflies once again, and once again she followed them with her eyes as they travelled to her right. They went to the smallest of the paths that split off from the fork, a narrow one that lead up a hill topped with a dead tree covered in vegetation that barely clung to life.

 

The butterflies congregated once more, but this time into the shape of a women, who seemed to be waring a long dress that clung tightly to her body. She slowly walked up the hill with sluggish strides, like she was incredibly exhausted, there were only two thing Emilia felt when she saw her, regret and incredible and insatiable greed.

 

Emilia watched the silhouette as it eventually made its way up the hill, reaching the tree where it buried its head in its hand and remained motionless until it to eventually burst once again into a cloud of butterflies.

 

Emilia did not have the energy to think, even if she did her head was filled with so much fog at this point that she could not comprehend the world around her even if she wanted to. Her legs felt like they were made of lead, but she kept walking nonetheless, slowly going up the hill towards the tree where the woman’s silhouette had gone.

 

When she reached the top of the hill with the tree she saw the woman’s silhouette once more, this time walking alone to her right, away from everything into the woods, but she was not following any paths. As Emilia followed in the footsteps of the woman took she quickly realized that the tree’s were not much of a forest, they were a wall, growing just densely enough to prevent someone from seeing through them, making it clear that they had been deliberately planted and did not naturally grow this way.

 

They surrounded a single log cabin, one that was ever so slightly larger than those that were contained in the village, but it seemed to be in near pristine condition, untouched by the wear of nature like those of the village.

 

The door was closed but as Emilia walked closer to it she saw the silhouette of the woman once more, it was sat on the edge of the cabins porch, head buried in hands once more. But behind this woman was another silhouette, one of a man. The man sat behind the woman, a hand wrapped around her shoulders as he pulled her head towards his chest; the feeling Emilia got when he saw him was one of understanding, the man understood what the woman was going through, yet she did not get the feeling of anything else particularly strong between them.

 

When Emilia looked at the outline of the man it seemed familiar to her, she did not get this feeling from any of the other silhouettes, nor did she know who this silhouette reminded her of, it just felt familiar. She got within arms reach of the two but it was at this moment that they finally burst apart into a swarm of butterflies, but as they did this the door to the cabin behind them slightly creaked open as the butterflies swarmed in.

 

Emilia continued to follow the butterflies, entering the cabin that seemed to be devoid of life, yet completely untouched by the march of time, there was not even a single speck of dust anywhere to be seen. However she could feel vast amounts of mana pulsing around her, so much that it made her uncomfortable, she did not feel this way even when Puck and Roswaal had flung magic strong enough to level mountains at one another.

 

Emilia walked through the house until she reached the only open door in the house, but through the door she saw a bed just large enough for a single person. She was exhausted and wanted nothing more then to just fall into it, she was too tired to feel tormented by all the sins she had committed up to this point. She walked up to it, collapsing upon it without even caring that her clothes would make it damp, but they did not. She felt her clothes become bone dry without the sheets even becoming the slightest bit damp; the sheets felt so soft, like they were brand new after just being stitched together, if she could she wanted nothing more then to stay like this forever.

 

She slowly turned onto her back and was met with two figures looking down at her, they were the two silhouettes she had seen outside. They looked directly into her eyes with their blank and empty faces as they stood at the edge of the bed, slowly bending down so that their blank faces were nearly touching her own as if examining her.

 

But it was at this moment that her feverish and exhausted body finally gave out and her eyelids slowly slid shut as she fell into a deep and dark sleep.

 


 

The boy was submerged beneath a deep sea, a sea so deep that no matter what fire he may try and muster it could do nothing to bring him something even close to relief.

 

The boy could not swim to the surface for he was shackled to the bottom of the sea by chains comprised of his past, chains that had wrapped their way around him thanks to the choices he had made from the limited set of options that had been presented to him.

 

But the boy had long stopped struggling, no longer reaching out for the surface to try and take a breath of the joys life had to offer. He did this because the black thing, the foreign monster within him had spread far enough, it had spread everywhere. No longer was there any part of the boy that was free of its influence, they were one and the same, it had become impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.

 

Every last piece of who he used to be was gone.

 

Natsuki Subaru could no longer slip from the influence of the Warlock of Melancholy for more then a second.

 

For all intents and purposes, Natsuki Subaru was now well and truly gone, and she did not like that one bit.

 

But her thoughts and whatever she might do were not things that concerned the warlock in the slightest, for he knew what he had to do.

 

“Suuuubaru-kun, do you see what I see over the trees over there?” Hector questioned Subaru, who after a few seconds of searching his own cone of vision managed to discern the shape of a large object flying through the air. But Natsuki Subaru did not respond to this for his very independence was being restricted at this point, his mental stability had deteriorated to the point that the only way for him to uphold his end of the contract was to serve as a vessel and nothing more.

 

“It’s just a biiiiiiit too dark to know for sure from this distance, we must get closer to confirm that it is the White Whale we have agreed to find.” Hector commanded Subaru to get closer, and so he did; however not a single muscle moved on his face, he did not produce a single response nor inkling of self determination, all except for a single tear that rolled its way out of his right eye, his eye that was still its old brown colour as opposed to the black his left had become.

 

They darted across the plains that they had spent the whole day searching, and the entirety of the previous day following their meeting with Crusch, the meeting that had almost led to Subaru going berserk.

 

Of course they were not doing any of this on foot, instead they were using the ground dragon that had been lent to them for this very task. It was a large and aerodynamic black Diana, one of the most prideful species that one could find in either Lugunica or its neighboring kingdoms, it had shocked everyone when it had taken a liking to Subaru.

 

And so it was this dragon that led them across the empty plains near Flügel’s tree, running both nimble and swift as the sun slowly slipped beneath the horizon, carrying them towards this large floating thing that was meandering around a forest that bordered on the plains.

 

“Look below Subaru-kuuuun, signs of battle, and recent” As Hector spoke, Subaru did. He looked down and saw the scarred landscape around them, deep ruts made by wheels and large swaths of earth that were seemingly ripped out and scattered in all directions.

 

“You wouldn’t recognize this place Subaru-kuuun, but for me it brings back so many memories, most of them so horrid that they make my heart plummet so far into the abyss that I wish I didn’t have to recall them. Howeveeeeeer among those memories are a handful, all about the same person, the one who had been the light of my life, the sole reason I was able to persist all this time.” At this point Hector’s voice truly changed, gaining a fullness and elatedness as it filled with emotion, happiness. “Everything I have done since we were separated on that fateful day so many years ago, that fateful day where we both fell, everything has been to see the one who saved me one last time. I have tried before, with peace, and with force, but every time I have failed to pierce through her greed, every time I have met not with my saviour, but with the one who had damned me. However this time will be different, this time I will play the last card that can be played, and in the end if that doesn’t work then it shall prove that I spent the last 400 years pursuing a path that never truly existed…..”

 

But just as Hector’s mood began to fall at the prospects of his long quest being for nought the air was split by a mind twisting cry, the shrill sound made by the White Whale as it noticed their presence. Although the whale was still quite far away, it was unmistakable at this point, they had found what they were looking for.

 

“This is it Natsuki Subaru-kuuuuun, you must remember that the White Whale lies outside the town of Sanctuary in the Kremaldy Forest, you must remember this for my memories will not be brought back in time like yours will. So remember Subaru-kuuuun, and bring us back in time, bring us back to the steps of the manor of Crusch Karsten this morning.” There was a brief pause as Subaru reached into the bag lashed to the saddle of their ground dragon, but the second the object he had grasped in his hand entered his field of vision Hector went ballistic.

 

“Wait Subaru-kun what are you doing? Rewind time, don’t end it!” Hector’s shouts echoed through Subaru’s head as he saw the large hunting knife that Subaru was holding in front of his body.

 

For the first time since they left the city Subaru said something, “I guess not even my own life matters anymore…….” Before he plunged the hunting knife into his chest, tearing a hole right through his own heart in order to fulfill the command he had been given.

 

He was dead mere seconds after hitting the ground after falling from the saddle on the ground dragon.

 


 

He was in a world filled with shadows, giant billowing black plumes. They surrounded him, they surrounded everything, yet they did not obscure a single thing, but they existed as far as he could see.

 

His body did not exist anymore, he could not move, he could only look, for he was just a pair of eyes.

 

Before him stood a door, a large black door that stood taller then almost any door he could remember seeing in his life. It looked to be made of metal, a deep black metal that had exquisite and intricate yet flowing patters engraved in it. There was no obvious handle on this door which one could use to open it, however this door also lacked any form of lock that could be used to hold it shut.

 

This door seemed to lead into some kind of tunnel, a tunnel of black shadow that spiraled off far into the distance, shadow that bore little resemblance to the other shadows that made up this world, so different that it was unfair to label both kinds the same way.

 

It was dark and crude, completely opaque, while the other kind flowed beautifully this kind did not flow whatsoever, seemingly trapped in time it just hung there. If both these shadows were the product of something, a result of some intelligent design as opposed to natural phenomenon, they could not be attributed to the same creator, one was seemingly a masterful work of art while the other seemed to be an early try of an apprentice rushing against the clock.

 

Although Subaru was only a pair of eyes and this tunnel of crude shadow stretched off far away, he could still see where it went for the exquisite shadows did not obstruct his vision.

 

The tunnel of shadows led far away to another door, an exact replica of the one that stood directly in front of him, and directly opposite to that door was a third one, also identical to the previous two.

 

Connected to this third door was also a tunnel of crude shadow that spiraled and spun a long path through this realm that existed beyond the understanding of most. But unlike the first tunnel, this one slowly spiraled towards Subaru, closer and closer it came, until he saw that it connected to a fourth door, identical to the other 3.

 

This door stood directly behind Subaru, and if one where to consider his starting orientation, they could say that he was ‘coming’ from this door and ‘approaching’ the one that stood directly before him.

 

But after completing this look around of this strange place that felt so familiar yet so foreign a voice rang out.

 

“I love you” was all it said.

 

And then Natsuki Subaru found himself back in his body, back in the capital city of the kingdom of Lugunica.

 

“The stench surrounding you is truly horrendous, Subaru-kun, waaaaaaaaait……” Hector’s voice rang through Subaru’s head, slowly catching on to what must have occurred.

 

“Sanctuary in the Kremaldy forest.” Was all Subaru said in response to Hector, and he could almost feel Hector smiling, if such a thing were even possible for someone who lacked a mouth of their own.

 


 

A man walked through the trees towards an area that had been ravaged by an attack that had shook the very land to its core, it had picked up and tossed trees like they were sticks, diverted streams like they were nothing, and massacred untold amounts of wildlife like they were mere insects.

 

The man wore not his usual attire, in place of his clownish outfit was a long and exquisite black jacket, with a white shirt underneath; the whole arrangement itself was not something that had been seen outside of choice events in hundreds of years, it was not something he had worn for four centuries.

 

He did not don his makeup, allowing his natural face to be seen by the world, showing that he did not intend to play a trickster or manipulator any longer, he intended to face the coming trial as directly as he could.

 

The wind gently blew the long blue hair of Roswaal J Mathers to the side as he locked eyes with what would be the first of his opponents this day, The White Whale.

 

And the White Whale did not delay for one instant, it had already been denied a meal once thanks to a scent it feared, it would not be denied again.

 

Its jaw flung open as a column of its terrifying mist hurtled towards him as the whale flew just behind, mouth open as it prepared to enjoy a feast days in the making.

 

But Roswaal did not move, not even as the mist was a hair length from consuming him, instead he just smirked, because he had one advantage compared to last time. This time he had no allies that he had to hold back around out of fear of killing them through collateral damage.

 

Just as it looked like he was finished the air all around him exploded outward in a fury, a massive crack filled the air as a violent swarm of air blades that all stood taller than the whale was long dissipated the fog like it was child’s play. Several slammed directly into the whale itself, throwing it into the ground with a force that should have been capable of crushing buildings as their battle truly began.

 

The second the whale touched the ground Roswaal darted forward, jumping atop the whale as it began to attempt to regain altitude. The White Whale may have been a mabeast, but it understood just how dangerous it is to have a small and nimble opponent clinging to its massive body.

 

Roswaal knew that he would never win a war of attrition against an opponent that countered him so heavily, he knew that he had to end this fight quickly. In order to accomplish this he had prepared 2 trump cards, both had required the entirety of the past day to prepare due to the sheer complexity and power of the magic involved. One of them could only be cast once, the other would exact a heavy toll from him each time he had to rely on it.

 

Roswaal also knew that the chances of Hector coming for him grew by the day following his failed attempt to steal Subaru back with the attack on the capital. He desired to keep his distance based attack in reserve, facing Hector in hand to hand combat was suicidal, however the whale may not grant him the luxury of choice in this regard. But Roswaal also knew that if the whale split before he could mark the real one that he would be forced to gamble with his trump cards, he would have to guess and hope that they landed on the true target, and with each that did not his options would only grow more and more limited.

 

Maybe the whale knew this, maybe it was just bad luck on his part, but the whale chose to split the second it lifted off the ground. Its 3 constituent bodies all flying upwards in parallel to one another, pores on their back opening up as they spewed fog everywhere, before they all curved inwards and slammed their backs together in an attempt to crush the pest that had squirmed its way into the midst of them.

 

But they were too slow for Roswaal had long released his grip, falling to the ground and landing softly on his feet with the aid of some magic.

 

As all three whales dove down towards him in unison he prepared to make his first bet, there was no point in wasting his own effort on firing conventional magic that had no hope of killing the whale, and if he won his bet then the fight would end here and now.

 

As the first of the whales drew closer, its brethren close behind Roswaal began to run towards it, taking one step, then the next before leaping into the air; with the help of murak he managed to fly just a bit higher than the whale as he began his descent towards it.

 

As he began to fall straight towards its cranium, he twisted his body midair, twisting himself as he prepared to deliver a punch that would break the whale. The whale in question took just a few instants too long to realize that he was above it thanks to his use of magic to alter his trajectory.

 

Roswaal untwisted his body and threw his punch, and just as his fist touched the White Whale he mouthed the words “Al Vita” to himself.

 

And in that instant the whale was thrown into the ground like a ragdoll, its body crushed and broken, reduced to a mere pulp as a massive crater formed around it. One of the three White Whales had just been killed in a single punch, struck with a fist that had been made to weigh more then a mountain by a spell that had long been lost to the annals of history, a piece of shadow magic that was so complex that he had been forced to prepare it with his own forearm as the target.

 

Roswaal hit the ground hard, rolling over and over as his clothes were torn to shreds and his body cut and bruised. His face was contorted in pain as he forced himself to his feet, what remained of his right arm hung uselessly to his side. He had felt how his fist and forearm had been instantly ground to dust by the sheer recoil of his hit, before being brutally ripped from his body by the immense momentum they possessed thanks to his invocation of the strongest level of Vita.

 

But in the end he had guessed wrong, the other two whales barreled through the air towards him as the body of their fallen brethren slowly began to dissipate into mana. Roswaal stood to meet them with an immense amount of blood pouring from the stump left behind by his attack, the bleeding only being quenched when he turned to ice magic to freeze a coating of the coldest ice around the remains of his arm.

 

He still had three limbs left to use, losing another one would be a fifty-fifty chance of winning the fight, losing another afterwards would guarantee his victory. But he had already more or less crippled himself with his last use of Al Vitae, and he would not likely have any greater a chance against Hector should he show up if he lost two limbs compared to if he was down his other trump card as well.

 

But he did not have time to think about things like this, as one whale dove for him he launched himself away with Al Dona before utilizing his flying technique to avoid the other whale coming from a direction perpendicular to that of the first.

 

In the brief moments he spent floating above the air he surveyed the battlefield, the pure destruction created by the so far and hopefully short confrontation between the White Whale and one of the most powerful magic users to ever live.

 

Although the landscape was disturbed from their previous encounter, that was nothing in comparison to the utter devastation that lay before his eyes now. The sheer power that was Al Vita had been enough to kill one of the whales in a single hit had produced a massive crater that stood well over 10 men deep. The shockwave produced by the impact of a mountain with the whale had caused far more damage, flattening trees as far as his eyes could see; when he turned towards the village of Sanctuary far off in the distance, he could even see that some of the buildings there had collapsed.

 

Roswaal quickly flung his body to the side as a blast of fog nearly consumed him just as he began to land. But he did not have time to rest as he quickly cast Al Huma at the whale to drive it off course, just as the other whale resumed with a second attack, forcing Roswaal to throw himself to the ground in order to avoid it.

 

The situation was beginning to spiral out of control, the whale’s attacks were becoming more and more rapid. Perhaps it knew that its prey was wounded at this point, perhaps it was a mere illusion brought on by his blood loss, perhaps both. But if one thing was for certain it was that if Roswaal did not make another gamble soon then it would likely be the end of the line for him.

 

He would be unable to fulfill the last page of his Gospel, the final instruction he was given in order to ensure the return of his Sensei to the mortal realm. Originally it had seemed like it would have taken at least another decade or two to fulfill the gospels writ, but everything had changed after Hector left him.

 

At first it had brought mania and madness to his eyes, when the whole world seemingly diverged from what was described by the sole thing that had guided him for the past 4 centuries, but to his wonderment the Gospel had course corrected itself.

 

It had been a sight to behold, it had brought wonder, it had reinforced his trust and belief in Echidna when he watched the lettering rearrange itself before his very eyes. The gospel had laid out a new path, one that was only a few pages long and would be fulfilled mere days after he saw it.

 

At the end of this path was one last instruction, one final commandment, if he could survive his encounter with the White Whale then he will have fulfilled the writ. And so he had to do just one last thing, after that nothing would matter, survive and his life’s work will be completed.

 

And so from this he found the will to draw his other trump card, one that he would use to gamble with once more.

 

As one of the White Whales barreled towards him, flying low across the barren landscape riddled with shattered tree trunks, Roswaal Raised his left hand and pointed towards it.

 

His body may have been broken, his mind all but wrecked, but his heart stood strong, and that was all he needed to unleash his spell, Ul Shario.

 

The sky itself contorted, twisting and turning, before it began to burn. It took on a reddish hue before becoming incredibly bright as a single star itself hurtled towards the ground.

 

Roswaal had cast a piece of magic that had not been forgotten by those alive today, it had never been discovered by normal humans to begin with. Not even his Sensei had taught it to him, his sole knowledge of the spell came from when he had heard Beatrice boasting that Echidna had used the Al version to kill over a hundred silver dragons in a single go.

 

The complexity of the spell meant that Roswaal could never hope to just cast it, it had taken him nearly an entire day to prepare the Ul version meaning that Al would have taken him much longer, too long. But Ul had been enough, he watched with glee as the burning star hurtled towards the whale, setting most of what remained of the Kremaldy forest ablaze underneath it before it slammed into the whale.

 

The whale was instantly pinned to the ground before the star pierced it and set it alight, before exploding into a wonderous ball of fire that scattered carbonized chunks of the whale in all directions. Having been met with a demonstration of raw magical power that exceeded its ability to dissipate and absorb mana, the whale was simply overwhelmed by raw power before it could do anything about it. The spell had not failed due to lack of magical energy before it managed to transfer its massive amount of kinetic and thermal energy to the measly body of the whale.

 

But his glee was soon dissipated when the third and final whale did not disappear, he had rolled wrong again and killed another copy.

 

But a sound rang out that returned some sense of hope that he would survive his meeting with what essentially constituted the anitmagic mabeast, it was Crusch Karsten shouting the word “Attack!” at the top of her lungs.

 


 

“Crusch-sama, Ferri-chan doesn’t know how to say this, but isn’t this just a bit too hasty?” Ferris questioned Crusch nervously from his position atop one of the ground dragons.

 

“Felix, there are times to be cautious and avoid risk, and there are times that one must move with momentum and take the hand they are dealt. If we don’t succeed here then there is no purpose in even pretending that there’s a chance of winning the Royal Selection, and if we don’t try there is no chance of success. Place your faith in Wilhelm that this will succeed, and if by chance Wilhelm is unsuccessful then we must place our faith in the one who found the whale to begin with.” Crusch rotated in the saddle of her ground dragon to look towards the rear of the column she led, towards where Natsuki Subaru road with Wilhelm not far behind. She could see from where she was that his mouth was moving, but that everyone around him was attempting to ignore him, that he was speaking to himself.

 

Under normal circumstances there was no way she could bring herself to rely on someone like him, no chance she would allow someone so clearly unhinged to accompany her army into battle. But this time she did not really have a choice, for her army stood so few in number that it could barely be recognized as a fighting force of any significance anymore. The first battle against the White Whale, and the desperate defense against the Witches Cult’s attack had surely taken their toll upon the strength of her house.

 

Many of her loyal retainers had been lost, either falling in battle or being so wounded that they were in no condition to fight any longer, some likely for the rest of their lives. Among her retainers that held a lesser degree of loyalty there had been rampant desertion as they chose to forsake the house they had pledged their loyalty to, no longer seeing the same surety of a future as they had before.

 

And so it was due to this that their fight against the whale would likely hinge on two people, Wilhelm Trias, The Sword Demon, and Natsuki Subaru, The Mad Slayer of Sloth.

 

But the entire column was suddenly jolted to attention as massive crash echoed through the land, so massive that it caused the very ground beneath their feet to shake with such ferocity that some men lost their balance atop their ground dragons and came clattering to the ground.

 

The sound had originated not far from where they stood, and so Crusch rushed to the top of the tiny foothill that seemingly obscured their vision commotions source. And she could not believe the sight before her eyes, Roswaal L Mathers stood in the midst of a massive crater, blood pouring from one of his arms; however with him in the crater was a corpse of a large whale. It looked like it had once been white but it was now red and no longer resembled a whale in the slightest. It looked like a giant mass of ground meat as it lay there horribly contorted, appearing as if every single last bone in its body had been shattered by whatever had impacted it, but it would not remain for long as they watched it slowly disappear.

 

As her army filtered up the hill to join her they were all frozen in place, unable to move as they watched a spectacle unfold before them. They saw the margrave face off against two whales, skillfully avoiding them through a combination of magic and physical techniques despite his wounds, but it was clear that unless something changed that he would soon fall.

 

Crusch was just about to give the order to attack, to join the battle while their surprise ally still stood, but just in that moment they saw the margrave simply point at the whale as the air grew hot around them, as the normal morning sky above them seemed to twist and streak.

 

Nobody could move as they saw how a star plummeted from the heavens towards one of the two remaining whales, how the ground underneath it was scorched to cinders by the immense amount of heat that it radiated. They were left speechless when they saw it slam side on into the whale, driving it into the ground like how a fence post was driven by a hammer, piercing it like how a person could be impaled on the end of a spear, before the starburst apart into flames, scattering the whale in all directions.

 

But Roswaal L Mathers looked like he was completely spent at this point, his back was no longer ram rod straight but bent as he leaned forward. He panted as he tried to recover from the exertion of casting a spell whose power eclipsed that considered reasonable by mortal standards.

 

Although his exhaustion and fatigue left him in a dire straight as he faced an opponent that seemed just as fresh as ever, it would also provide an opportunity for the Second Subjugation Army led by Crusch Karsten. They would swoop in and save the margrave from his last remaining opponent, allowing them to be able to claim partial credit for the defeat of the White Whale.

 

And so to achieve this Crusch raised her sword high into the air as she screamed one word, “ATTACK!” at the top of her lungs.

 

And with her word the entire force under her command surged forth with vigour, down the hillside and into the crater, towards the Great Mabeast itself.

 

Well almost the entire force.

 


 

Subaru remained motionless atop the black ground dragon as an army charged around him, but he was alone in his fixation, his fixation on the blue haired mage off in the distance. His entire body was as still as a statue as he watched, except for his mouth which moved just enough to let the occasional fragment of speech out into the open air.

 

“Why is he here, that means they have to be here. Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why v Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why Why did you force me to come here Hector. Why do you force me to have to see them over and over again, it makes me too sad to see them, but you keep forcing me into situations that I will be forced to. It’s so sad that I can’t take it, I don’t want to have to take it, yet you make me take it, you force me to have to endure it. Over and over and over and over again I am dragged into dealing with those people who made my life so bad, so terrible. They used me, hurt me, killed me, but you you you you you you don’t seem to care, don’t seem concerned in the slightest that I will have to see them again. I’m done with you, no more deal, no more contract, I’ll take the punishment, just let me out. I want to go home, I want to die, I want to go home, I want to die, I want anything that will give me peace, give me respite, so just let me ou………..”

 

Subaru fell from the saddle of the ground dragon as his body became racked with pain, his nerves burned like someone had cut his skin open and was rubbing salt into them. His muscles were spasming so severely that his limbs were contorting beyond their normal range of motion; he wanted to scream yet he could not as the muscles in his throat clamped his windpipe shut so that he could not even breathe. His eye with the black pupil grew red and bulged outward until several blood vessels within it burst, leading to a crimson stream beginning to seep out from around it.

 

After that happened Subaru’s body went limp, his resistance vanished, but after a single moment of stillness he pressed himself up from the ground. Once he stood on his own two feet again he opened his mouth as if to speak again, and speak he did.

 

“It really brings me down having to do this Subaru-kuuun, it truly saddens my heart to have to turn on my partner like so, the world is truly a horrid place to force my hand as such, yet in the end I can not let you ruin things so close to the end.”

 

However as these words left his lips the world froze around him and grew dark, shadows billowed at his feet as he felt a pair of slender arms reach over his shoulders to place themselves on his chest.

 

“I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him I love him” Rang out from all directions in the form of an insane chant coming from a voice that was as soft and soothing as the ring of a little bell.

 

“I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him I will free him” Chanted the voice before it disappeared into the shadows, which soon dissipated as light returned to the world and time resumed.

 

And the second that it did Hector turned to remount the ground dragon, but perhaps sensing a change in its master, the black diana stood there growling at him, refusing to let him ride.

 

“The Witch of Envy moves to oppose me, that alone shows how horrid this world has always been towards me, but your opposition isn’t even depressing, it just irritates me…….”

 

As the last of Hector’s words left the lips of Subaru’s body the air grew heavy in an instant as something unseen slammed into the back of the ground dragon with immense force. It hammered it over and over again, the first few times were met with the ground dragons screaming accompanied by a chorus of snapping and cracking as the bones broke in its body. The latter few were not met with anything other then a squishing sound as spurts of blood were thrown into the air from the mashed corpse of the black diana.

 

“So depressing…….” Was all Hector said as he began to trudge his way after the army that had begun their attack on the White Whale, showing not the slightest bit of haste even though he knew he was now racing against the clock.

 


 

“Keep your spacing but remain in eyeshot!” Crusch bellowed at her troops as they scurried around the ground, desperately dodging the whale’s attacks as they hurled spells and projectile weapons up at it, barely even scratching it.

 

They were few in number, far too few to dare to challenge the whale like they had, relying on two individuals to carry them through the day; of these two one had not followed them into battle, choosing to remain back and watch instead, the other driven into such a reckless bloodlust was likely beyond logic at this point.

 

“YOU ARE NOTHING BUT A BEAST, I SHALL NOT ALLOW YOU TO ESCAPE AGAIN ASLONG AS I DRAW BREATH!” The Sword Demon screamed this at the top of his lungs as he jumped from the saddle of his ground dragon, sword in hand.

 

The whale passed directly underneath him mere fractions of a second later, swallowing his ground dragon whole. But while it was busy with this Wilhelm spun midair and came down on it with vengeance as he drove his sword deep into its back as he landed just behind its head.

 

His movements were truly fitting of a demon, running so fast that it was hard to keep up as massive spurts of blood emitted from everywhere along the whales body.

 

He hacked, slashed, chopped, and cleaved that one could doubt whether he was still sane, whether the title of demon was still just a title.

 

Nothing could quench his bloodlust, only deepen it as pieces of flesh began to fall off the whale, before the whale howled in rage as one of its eyes fell to the ground below.

 

He sprinted along the White Whale’s back screaming as he cleaved a long and bloody trench as he ran, but the White Whale was not so meek as to just let all this happen.

 

It curved its body upward and sailed into the air, gaining altitude at a brisk pace, beginning to spin and emit fog as it did so.

 

It quickly became apparent to Wilhelm that the whale was far too high in the air for him to safely jump to the ground, so he jammed his sword as deep as it would go into the whale, all the way up to the hilt and clung to it for life.

 

He looked down below at all the soldiers he had accompanied here as they quickly became mere specks, some scurrying around, some standing still as they watched, and some unmoving as they grew red.

 

They had been in battle with the whale for just a few minutes, but they had already lost a sizeable portion of their force, mainly due to how they were but a fraction of the army that had faced the whale the first time, for every ten they had then they now had to make do with just one.

 

But the Sword Demon could not care less about such trivial matters at this point, if it meant finally killing the whale he would sacrifice anything, his life, the lives of his friends, the whole army if need be, the only thing that mattered was this horrid monster finally dying.

 

But the whale did not grant him such luxuries like dwelling on his thoughts as it soon broke the cloud layer and began to twirl, to spin with such violence that he could barely hold on.

 

His sword was slick with blood, slippery, but he held on, held on with every fiber of strength in his being.

 

Held on even as he felt the handle begin to slip from his hands.

 

Held on until it finally did slip from his hands.

 

As he began to plummet towards the ground he reached out trying to grasp onto the handle of the blade that jutted from the mabeasts back. As he fell he looked up at the whale and even he was not oblivious to the irony of it all.

 

He had loved his wife with every fiber of his being, cherished every moment they had spent together, but in the end he had never managed to say those fateful words to her, the fateful words “I love you.” And before he knew it she was gone, dead, slain by the beast above alongside her own grandson who resided back in the capital, not on the battlefield avenging his grandmother.

 

Just like then he had come so far, spending every day since her death on a path of vengeance, finding the opportunity not once, but twice. However just like then he had been unable to see it through to the end, he had never gotten to tell her that he loved her and now he would never slay the beast that took her away.

 

As the ground drew closer Wilhelm closed his eyes, he knew he would be dead in a few seconds and there was one thing he wanted to do. He recalled the last moment they had spent together, when she had left the house to fight this very whale, when she had stopped him from going in her place or joining her, and he said “I’m sorry Theresia……….”

 

But the death he waited for did not come, in fact his body felt incredibly light, too light. And so when he opened his eyes he realized that he was floating just above the ground. He was shocked, he should have been killed by the fall, and when he looked around with a face matching his mindset he saw a blue haired mage with a stump of a right arm.

 

“What can I say, my grandmother was quite fond of you and it would’ve saddened her to know that I let you die when I could’ve easily saved you.” The fatigued and injured mage just shrugged his shoulders at this while Felix and Crusch rushed to his landing sight.

 

“Old Man Will are you alright?” Shouted Felix in a panicked voice as he knelt down and quickly began to check Wilhelm over for injuries.

 

Wilhelm waved him away however and began to stand up, and said “Nothing more then my pride as a swordsman was injured, that predicament was the result of a lack of skill on my behalf….”

 

Wilhelm then turned to Crusch and seemingly bit down on his tongue before saying the words he seemingly dreaded to say, his voice heavy with regret as he spoke them, “Crusch-sama, it appears that we are unlikely to win this predicament, it seems that I am no longer strong enough to best the whale…….”

 

Wilhelm then bowed, going as far as to kneel before her as he made a final request, “if an old man may have a final wish, hand me another sword and let me face the whale as you leave with the last of the troops. If I cannot slay the beast, at least let this old man repent for his sins and die the same way his wife did……”

 

Wilhelm looked up at Crusch as he waited for an answer, his eyes held the beginnings of a tear as they glistened in the sun’s rays. He had arrived on the battlefield as a man filled with vengeance, anger, and hatred, but in short order those had been stripped from him when he realized that after his second attempt he had not bested his adversary, leaving him with nothing more then a death wish.

 

Crusch grabbed Wilhelm by the collar and lifted him to his feet before speaking directly to him in a voice filled with strength.

 

“Wilhelm I will not allow such a look to exist on the face of a man of your stature! There will be no running away this time, nor will there be any suicidal sacrifices because we have given up. What has happened to you, what happened to the man that marched into the Royal Palace and challenged the Sword Saint, Theresia van Astrea to a duel? What happened to the man who bested a sword saint in single combat, fueled by nothing other then the love he held for her? What would she think if she saw you like this, how would she react knowing that the man she fell for had been reduced to a broken shell of his former self? She would be heart broken I tell you!”

 

Crusch then paused for a moment as she changed the voice she used from that befitting a commander to one used by a friend.

 

“I don’t refuse to run away because of something as vain as the Royal Selection, I do it because each and every one of us has or has had a Theresia in our life, someone who wouldn’t be able to stand to see us reduced to regretful broken messes. I promise you Wilhelm that we will not die here, there is still a chance of victory in this fight, we still have a card in our sleeve.”

 

As Crusch finished Felix turned his head to look behind Crusch as Roswaal narrowed his eyes, both seeing the same person slowly walking towards them with a gait that radiated nothing more then his general disdain for life itself.

 

“To inspire a man who has given up, to force someone who no longer wishes to fight, it brings me down to hear it. You truly are the worst of the worst of the worst Crusch Karsten, by trying to drive away the melancholy that encroaches on one’s heart you only end up making it worse in the end, its truly depressing…….” Hector sighed after he finished speaking, walking up to join the loose circle that had formed, a circle consisting of Crusch, Felix, Wilhelm, and Roswaal.

 

“Subaru-kyun that’s very rood to Crusch-sama! First you don’t join in the battle as she risks her life, then you ridicule her like this when she’s just trying to help Old Man Will, who do you think you are?” Felix began to get worked up at who he though was Subaru, but Roswaal clamped his remaining hand on the healer’s shoulder to stop things before they could escalate any further, his eyes wide like he was looking at a ghost as he did so.

 

“That name…. it brings me down to be addressed by it, its wrong, its irritating to be called something I’m not. If I wasn’t so distraught, I would ask Roswaaaaaal to correct you, if I didn’t despise him so much this would’ve been a reunion. If this wasn’t keeping me from the reunion I wish for I would say that I don’t hate this with the vigour that I do, there’s just so much melancholy here…………” Hector looked straight at Roswaal while saying this, blood continuing to trickle from his eye as he looked directly into Roswaal’s panicked ones.

 

“Why would you bring a monster like him here? Why would you deem it wise to bring Hector, The Warlock of Melancholy to the Kremaldy forest. He is a devil that has haunted me and my Sensei for 400 years and you brought him right here, the last place in the world that he should be!” Roswaal was falling deeper and deeper into mania as he faced Hector, who did not stir from his melancholy in the slightest.

 

While this was going on between the two Crusch and Felix were taken aback at the idea that Hector was not just an alter ego created by Subaru’s madness, that Roswaal knew him, and that he was addressed with the title of Warlock, a title of the same caliber as what the Witch of Envy carried.

 

Wilhelm was trying to resolve the quandary in his mind, it was true that Theresia would have hated to see him as he was now. But he also could not get over being unable to beat the whale, and at the age that he was he could feel himself getting just ever so slightly weaker with each passing day, thus it meant that if he could not win now, he never would. This thought poisoned his heart as he found himself completely consumed by his failure, unable to bring himself to any form of action, even if every instinct screamed in his body that they were in incredible danger at this very moment.

 

“To call me by such names, it really wears away at my heart Roswaaaaaaal. Although it saddens me to say this, we must put this encounter on pause as the stench this boy is plagued with has drawn in something even more depressing than yourself. I hate having to do more work then is necessary, it dampens my mood so much, but it will get in the way of what I must do if I don’t deal with it.” Just as Hector finished talking he slowly looked up, and when everyone else followed his eyes with their own they were greeted with the sight of the White Whale’s open jaws, only a few body lengths from where they stood.

 

“Felix!” Crusch shouted as she shoved her friend as hard as she could out of harms way, watching the look of terror on his face with a heavy heart as he came to the realization of what would happen to her.

 

“So depressing………” Hector muttered as Roswaal sprung back, and Wilhelm remained completely still.

 

As a result the trio of Crusch, Wilhelm, and Hector were swallowed by the White Whale.

 


 

Her midsection was on fire, the air around her felt damp and humid, and when she slowly cracked open her eyes it was so dark she could barely see, yet she could feel herself being moved, she knew where she was, inside the mouth of the White Whale.

 

She needed to breath, her lungs screamed for oxygen, but her mouth was full of a liquid that tasted like iron, it was blood. She rolled her head to the side and opened her mouth as a massive amount of it flowed out, drenching the left side of her face as it ran out.

 

She could feel that she was on her back, but she did not feel anything underneath her, so she tried to sit up, but when she did so her body exploded into a storm of pain. It was electrifying as it ran out from her midsection to all parts of her body, screaming at her to stop trying to move, it was the worst pain she had ever felt in her life, she wanted to scream out, she wanted it to stop.

 

She clamped her eyes shut as her entire face was contorted and twisted, her body barely able to handle the unquantifiable amount of pain that was shaking her to her very core. She started to feel everything grow cold, her vision going in and out of focus as her consciousness began to lose its grasp on reality, as she moved closer and closer to passing out.

 

She took in a deep breath and tried to steady herself, she was strong and would force her body to keep fighting by willpower alone if necessary. She built her willpower and gathered her strength as she craned her neck forward to look at what was causing this fire in her midsection, and when she what it was she could not help but wince.

 

Crusch Karsten was impaled through her midsection on one of the White Whale’s teeth.

 

As she came to the realization of how dire her situation was the entire world tilted as the whale began to turn and something black flew out and hit her pinned body.

 

She screamed out as the pain grew from what she thought was the maximum possible to new unimaginable heights, her vision burned bright white as she felt she the muscle, skin, fat, and connective tissue of her middle be slowly torn apart against the jagged and serrated edge of the whale’s tooth. She could not keep her eyes open as the pain soared higher and higher, until she felt herself falling as part of the tooth cracked and snapped off.

 

The pain and her cries grew even worse as slammed into the wall of the whale’s mouth, the jagged piece of bone being jammed even further into her, widening the wound, yet when she managed to open her eyes she wanted to cry out for a different reason.

 

Filling nearly the entirety of her field of vision was Wilhelm, or more correctly the upper half of Wilhelm. His cold and lifeless eyes were locked with hers as his torn and tattered body lay there motionless, his mouth slightly agape as the still warm blood that filled his veins leaked out both there and from the bottom of his chest cavity. His face was permanently frozen in an expression of melancholy, her speech had been unable to purge the poison from his heart and as a result he had spent his final moments of life as a broken man.

 

“So annoying…..” She heard the depressed voice of Natsuki Suabru call out, or more correctly, the depressed voice of Hector, The Warlock of Melancholy.

 

Crusch did not have a firm knowledge of what the title ‘Warlock’ particularly conveyed, but she knew that it was nothing good for it bore stark similarities to the title of ‘Witch’.

 

“To be put in somethings mouth like food is disgusting, its depressing, I hate it, I can’t stand it…… My heart can only sink so low thinking that I must exert myself even in the slightest to be reunited with her. I feel only more and more melancholy at the idea that I will need to try even in the slightest, this is truly the worst………” Hector slowly shambled into Crusch’s vision behind Wilhelm as he placed his hand on against the mouth of the White Whale.

 

And in that moment everything was turned on its head.

 

The entire mouth of the whale quivered for a single instant before all hell broke loose. The mouth twisted in on itself as flesh was torn, bones broken, glands compacted, the very air itself became filled with a mixture of blood and particalized flesh.

 

Before Crusch knew what was happening she felt herself falling through the air as chunks of the whale’s carcass rained down all around her. She saw a large horn fall by her on one side, on another an eye, and a little father away a giant slab of the whales hide billowed in the air; it appears that Hector had completely reduced the whale into nothing more then chunks of meat.

 

Crusch hit the ground hard on her left shoulder, feeling the pop and crunch as the socket was completely smashed to little bits by the impact. She felt a crack an instant latter as her head hit the ground, her vision instantly growing blurry but thankfully her body went numb with it, giving her a respite from the pain. This was a good thing as she would not have to feel the pain brought on by the sharp piece of tooth logged in her cutting the rest of the way through her, resulting in her lower half being held on by little more then a sliver of skin and muscle on her right side. She lay like this as a torrent of blood began to surge out of this massive wound, being joined by the droplets of whale blood that still rained down from the sky.

 

However she did not lay like this for more then a few seconds, the time it took for a certain demihuman healer to find her amidst the carnage.

 

He rushed to her side, his eyes growing wide and glassy as he saw the state that the most important person in his life was in, but thankfully for her he did not freeze up, for if he had she would have most certainly died.

 

With both his hands hovering over her body, emitting a blue light that was so bright and powerful that it might blind someone he dumped every last bit of mana he had into her body. She felt ever single fiber of her being quiver as it was overwhelmed by this electrifying power, her body being slowly dragged back from the gates of the land of the dead by the most powerful healing magician to ever live.

 

“Your eyes look so cloudy…… don’t leave Ferri-chan alone Crusch-sama….. Ferri-chan will mend your body even if it kills him, so don’t stop fighting, not yet!” Ferris choked back tears as he set about his gruesome work of repairing a mortal wound, making her body fit to hold life again. One could say that it would have been more merciful if he had just waited a few seconds to let her pass, for injuries this gruesome leave behind more then just aesthetic scars.

 


 

Roswaal was elated, he felt a feeling that was indescribable, after 400 years he had finally completed the writ of the gospel that had been bestowed upon him by Echidna. As the corpse of the last of the three whales rained down, the corpse of the original and true whale, the one created by Daphne four centuries ago he removed the gospel from his robes and flipped through its pages.

 

A smile slowly drew its way across his face as he watched with exhilarated eyes as the words slowly faded off all the pages of the book, leaving them blank.

 

This day was truly the best day of his life, it was happiness without bounds.

 

But if there was to be one thing true in life, there is no happiness without sadness.

 

“I truly and utterly despise you Roswaaaaaaal, it brings nothing but sadness to know that in the end you must be my final obstacle.” Hector’s voice sailed through the air to reach Roswaal’s ears as he emerged from an area littered with large chunks of the White Whale’s corpse.

 

“Hector… You’re too late, you cannot stop me, I’ve already completed the gospel’s writ! Sensei will return to walk among the living and there is not a thing you can do to stop her, I need to do nought more then what I have done before, buy her the time she needs.” Roswaal forced his body to adopt a combat position, his legs spread shoulder width apart, his remaining arm raised to direct magic.

 

“It irks me, hurts me that you think I would want nothing more then for her to return, it brings sadness into my heart for you to associate such poooooor ideas with me.” Hector took a few more steps towards Roswaal before he stopped but a short distance from him, now all that separated them was a distance that either could close in an instance if they put their fullest effort into it. Yet Roswaal would not do such a thing for close combat was something he needed to avoid, and Hector refused to move with vigour regardless of the situation.

 

“You have hunted her, tried to hurt her, driven her to desperate measures in order to avoid her! Accept it Hector, regardless of what you say, when it comes to the topic of Echidna you cannot be seen in anything but a poor light!” Roswaal fired these accusations at Hector with clenched teeth and glaring eyes.

 

“Its depressing with how wrong you are, I want nothing more then to be reunited with my saviour, it depresses me with how she blames herself for what I’ve become while ignoring what she saved me from. It saddens me to see her be twisted by her own affliction as she desperately struggles it fend it off. It causes me only melancholy to see how you refuse to look past your infatuation with her to see how she suffers. That is why you are so annoying, why I despise you, you refuse to see that her greed is likely the only reason she ever met you, the only reason that she ever taught you, the only reason you’ve been deceived into undertaking a 400 year long quest.” Hector laid out his intentions and reasoning with a voice utterly flat and without any emotion aside from melancholy, while Roswaal only grew more and more incensed as he heard each word.

 

“How could I ever trust a single word that came from the Warlock of Melancholy, you’re deranged, delusional, no better than Vainglory! Sensei always told me that there was no reasoning nor understandable logic behind what you do, and if you think that I would give up on her wisdom, her infallible lessons that have led me all this time then you are wrong! If there’s one thing that I know I must do at this point, its that I must stop you, delay you, no matter the cost! Of course I would love nothing more then to be reunited with Sensei, but in the end I can rest easy knowing that she will return. So Hector, Warlock of Melancholy, whether I win and am united with her, lose and be saved by her, or perish on this field, let it be known that Roswaal A Mathers was loyal to his sensei, Echidna, Witch of Greed, right to the end of the eleventh hour!”

 

And with this statement it became a certainty, a certainty that Hector, The Warlock of Melancholy and Roswaal A Mathers, The Disciple of the Witch of Greed would face of in combat one last time. Their battlefield would be one already stained by the blood of the first of the Great Mabeasts to die, the place where Hector had been saved by Echidna as a child, and the place where Roswaal had nearly met his end centuries ago.

 

Roswaal was the first to make his move, and it was a move that should have ended the fight against nearly any other opponent. He outstretched his left hand and six colourful balls began to float around it. With fire he wielded the passion that he had always held for his mission; with water the diligence to slowly work towards a task regardless of how long it took; with earth the stalwart determination to continue on no matter the setback he faced; with air the shrewdness to always find the way past any obstacle; with yin the willpower to endure his long separation from his sensei, and finally with yang the hope that they would be reunited one day.

 

With this he launched forth an attack fueled by both a massive amount of mana alongside the emotions that had held him through his four century long life, an attack that should have been able to fell nearly any opponent he could have ever believed he would face.

 

But unluckily for him Hector was among those that could survive such a massive and awe-inspiring display of magical prowess.

 

He should have been disintegrated, the explosion should have been so great that Roswaal should have been nearly killed by the back blast form it, if the area was not already completely ruined then it would have been. But his opponent was truly a monster.

 

The orbs of mana rocketed forward and burst into energy just as they should have once they reached him, but as the explosion of energy expanded, it suddenly stopped. The explosion that looked like it initially consumed Hector quivered, shivered, and shimmered, before it was flattened into the ground and dissipated as if it had never appeared in the first place.

 

“To force me to exert myself, to have to harness something more then a fragment of my power is annoying, applying effort itself hurts me, it makes me feel so sad, why must you do this to me over and over again. You make things so bad, so depressing, so melancholic………” Hector lamented as he began to slowly trudge towards Roswaal.

 

Roswaal began to back step in an effort to maintain the spacing between them as he conjured massive spears of ice in the air and flung them towards the advancing warlock.

 

But it did not matter in the slightest, as each one approached him it was shattered effortlessly midair without even the slightest reaction from Hector.

 

“So irritating……” Hector muttered as he continued his approach, and in that instant Roswaal collapsed to the ground wincing in pain, his knee reduced to mush as his leg collapsed in on itself, the result of Hector’s first attack against him.

 

But Roswaal did not give up, mouthing the words “Al Dona” as the ground began to lift underneath Hector, but Hector just shook his head at this as he flattened all the ground around him with a stamp of his foot, reducing tiny pebbles to sand with the sheer amount of force he used.

 

Roswaal used his remaining leg to continue to try and push himself along the ground as he desperately flung spell after spell; he used water, air, fire, earth, even yang and yin, but in the end it did not matter in the slightest as not one managed to get through Hectors defences.

 

“You’re really bringing me down with how you are dragging this out Roswaal……… why must you do this to me, why must the world be so sad as to constantly subject me to this………” Hector lamented as he unleashed a flurry of attacks.

“I’m losing heart……” he said as Roswaal’s other leg was crushed into a mess of torn flesh and shards of bone.

 

“I’m losing interest…….” He lamented as he crushed Roswaal’s abdomen, reducing his internal organs to a thick meat soup.

 

“Melancholy, melancholy is the only thing I can feel, the only thing I’ve felt for so long……. Melancholy and nothing else………..” He said as he slammed Roswaal’s ribcage with far more strength than he should have needed, flattening his chest as rib, lung and heart were reduced to nothing more then an unrecognizable flat mash.

 

The battle had ended as soon as it had begun, Roswaal A Mathers lay nearly motionless on the ground as he desperately clung to life, life that was rapidly seeping away from his body.

 

Hector slowly trudged the last few paces to arrive at the corpse of his fallen adversary, kneeling down and cradling his head in his hand as he looked him directly in the eye.

 

“It always brought sadness to see you knowing that the Witch of Greed had sacrificed and manipulated you just as she had done to I……. it seems you too were driven onto a path of melancholy by her insatiable greed…….”

 

As those words left Hector’s mouth and reached the ears of Roswaal he waited and watched, waited for a response as he watched the gears slowly turn behind Roswaal’s eyes, but as the coughing and sputtering of blood continued he got no response, no response as he saw the light of life leave Roswaal, the glint leaving him as he finally experienced death.

 

“So depressing…….” Was all Hector said as he stood up and began to walk towards the Sanctuary, towards the tomb of the one he wished to meet after long last, the one he had caused all this chaos for.

 


 

Why was he here, why did he have to come back after all this time, seeing him only brought melancholy into her life. It did nothing more then take her heart and try to wrench it free from where she had buried it, she absolutely hated being reminded of all the failures in her life, the times she had given into greed and completely and utterly ruined someone that she had come to care about.

 

And who was better at bring back those thoughts, feelings and memories then the first instance of her inability to resist her greed, Hector.

 

When she had first met him she had felt bad for him, felt empathetic at the misfortune he endured day in and day out, but she was also curious at how he managed to endure it like he did. She had learned from a book that even at a young an age as they were that such severe emotional trauma as what he experienced should have broken him, yet he was able to withstand it.

 

The curiosity had built and built until she decided that she had to find out, she had to know more then she could from simply watching him, and so she had chosen to approach him when she saw him sitting by a tree on a hill one day. They had talked for a long time and she had come to understand how he endured, he simply knew no joy in life, he had never known real happiness, nor did he expect it, life to him had always been and was expected to be melancholy.

 

But he was also one of the few people who seemingly had no issue conversing with her, he had absolutely no fear nor qualm with interacting with the Witch of Greed, something most people avoided simply because she was a being different then what they were. It meant that their conversations were things that she had come to enjoy, something she had come to look forward to, and slowly but surely her heart began to feel just ever so slightly different when they were together.

 

It would beat just the slightest bit faster when they were together and would ache in just the slightest bit when they were apart. She began to fall for the person that was ostracized by everyone just as she was, even if they did experience it to different extents as her knowledge was sought after by some.

 

Of course she knew that he held feelings for her that were similar to what she held for him, he wore them on his sleeve like he wore the rest of his emotions. And it was from this mutual bond that grew that her first scheme began to be plotted, an innocent one meant to deliver them both from the cruelty and indifference that characterized the society they lived in. Her scheming progressed farther and farther as she planned how they would skip town one night and seek out a place where they could both live in peace, but in order to do so she relied increasingly on the tomb granted to her by her authority.

 

She had never known her mother and had been a little girl when she was forced to raise herself after her father passed. But before he had died, he had given her a stern warning, to avoid reading and becoming lost in the tomb of wisdom like her mother had been, it would offer her everything she could desire, it could quench her endless curiosity, but her greed would grow uncontrollably the more she searched through it.

 

And it was this tomb that caused a thought to float through her head one day as she laid in bed, a question that she did not know the answer to, what happened to someone when they took in a witch factor? How did they change, what was the before and after like?

 

She had been born a witch, inheriting greed from her mother when she died during childbirth so she did not know from personal experience, leaving her only one place to turn to for the answer.

 

She quickly delved into the tomb she drew from thin air in search of answers, but it did not directly present her with any. Instead it gave her page after page of information about the compatibility between an individual and a witch factor, which although did partially answer her question, was nowhere near enough. However the last paragraph did contain something that caught her attention, the location of another witch factor that was close by, the witch factor of melancholy.

 

The dots instantly connected in her head, she knew someone who should have near perfect compatibility with it, Hector. But she instantly tried to push those thoughts from her head, she absolutely refuted the idea of using the only person she cared about as a lab rat, as a possible sacrifice to sate her curiosity.

 

But the idea kept gnawing at her, gnawing worse and worse as the thought grew stronger and stronger in her head. This continued until one day when she returned from dazzling some noble with some trivial healing magic after she had been hired to treat his heir in a place far from where she lived.

 

When she returned she waited for Hector to return from his day of work as she sat on the hill, but what she was greeted with tore her heart to pieces. She had always considered herself to be a fairly logical person, above sudden surges of emotion, but the sight of him being as badly hurt as he was, was too much for her. The sight bothered her so much, hurt her so badly that it sent her head and heart into a tailspin, she did not feel in control of herself any longer.

 

Even after she healed him, brought him back from what would have been his death bed if she had not arrived back when she did her emotional state did not get any better. When his pig of a father came to throw a fit, striking both of them she had to use ever last drop of willpower to avoid simply disintegrating him where he stood.

 

And it was then, in her moment of weakness that she could not rein in her greed, that it overflowed the meager walls that she had created to try and rein it in. The words flowed as naturally from her mouth as anything when she manipulated someone for the first time in her life, when she manipulated Hector into beginning the path that he had been walking for 400 years.

 

And now as she sat under an umbrella in the realm she had created, the castle of dreams she saw two beings shimmer into view. Both brought forth memories of her past, one was a monster of her creation the brought back regret and heartache, the other strongly evoked memories of a father figure she greatly respected, someone who managed to constantly teach things to someone who supposedly knew everything.

 

They may have shared a body back in the real world, but their souls were distinct and as a result they would appear and behave as distinct entities within the dream castle.

 

And now as she saw him, looking identical to how he did back when she had unleashed the barrier of Sanctuary at him like a weapon she felt like someone was driving a knife straight into her heart. It was this feeling alongside the regret that she had fled from for so long, fled from the sight of the face that used to light up when she saw it, being reduced to nothing more then a depressed mess, but now she had nowhere else she could flee.

 

“You don’t appear to have changed since we last met, Hector….” It felt as if the very mention of his name burned her mouth as it left. However in contrast to her statement she did notice something different about him just after she said his name, his characteristic frown seemed to disappear, and turn into a slight smile.

 

He walked towards her, not with his normal dreary trudge but instead with strong strides, strides filled with vigour and determination.

 

She stood up, she had to be prepared to fight him in case he tried anything, she may not have a good chance of winning, but she would not simply give up, she would not roll over and die after all this time, she would not give in to an insane maniac who acted irrationally and without any kind of control whatsoever.

 

But the man that walked towards her bore no resemblance to the monster she had twisted the boy she had fallen for into, instead he reminded her of the boy who would happily find the energy to run up the hill to meet her after a long day of hard labour.

 

She wanted to gather the mana to launch an attack at him, pull down a sky full of stars to hopefully smash him into a paste, or send forth a beam of energy strong enough to burn him to cinders. But she could not do such a thing as the monster she wanted to target was not present, and to a certain extent he never had been. Hector had been turned into a monster by her, but she had only told herself lies that the original person was gone forever when in truth he had been buried beneath a sea of depression, still managing to pull the strigs he needed to from the bottom of that ocean.

 

She had told herself this to make it easier to run from all the regret she had, to make it easier to tell herself to bury her emotions and live life with only greed. She had always known what he truly wanted as he chased her for so long, but she had seen herself as nothing but a monster, far worse than him and thought it would be unfair to him to even entertain the idea of accepting forgiveness.

 

She was pulled from these thoughts when he stopped a mere pace from where she stood, her defences fallen as she could not bring herself to hurt him anymore then she already had. At this point if he decided to exact his vengeance he could just reach out and touch her, twist and break her body into an unnatural shape and watch her die.

 

And that’s exactly what he did.

 

Hector reached out towards Echidna with both arms, her eyes clamped shut as she could not bring herself to look at him any longer.

 

But instead of placing his hands on her shoulders and reducing her to a mangled mess, they reached around her back and pulled her into a tight embrace instead.

 

Her eyes shot wide open as she felt this, it seemed like forgiveness, something she did not think she deserved, something she refused to receive as she looked out emptily across the grassy plain that was her castle.

 

Her arms hung limply at her sides as she slowly noticed the 5 other residents of the castle manifest themselves, taking on a physical form so they too could seemingly witness this long-awaited reunion.

 

“Why……why don’t you hate me…….YOU SHOULD HATE ME!” Echidna choked out as her eyes began to grow glassy before she began to scream.

 

“So it seems that even the allllllll knowing Echidna has to learn something every once and a while.” Hector said in a voice quivering yet full of happiness.

 

“What is there to learn from this, you have every right to hate me, every right to despise me, yet you refuse to do so! That’s shows that you are simply delusional, and there is nothing more to it….” Echidna began to cry as she spoke, her voice growing weaker and weaker with each word that she said, it hurt her to insult him like this.

 

“The girl who saved me is still in there, she’s here with me right now, and I will forgive her for everything because I still love her after all these years.” Hector whispered this into her ear and it sent her spiraling, but not in the way she did on the hill all those years ago when she made her mistake.

 

For the first time in forever she felt her heart beat begin to rise once again, she saw all the memories of their past flash before her eyes, not because she regretted ruining them, but because of how much she enjoyed them, of how much she loved them.

 

She returned his embrace, and in a first the Witch of Greed and the Warlock of Melancholy were joined in a tight embrace, something that had never had the opportunity to do in all the time they knew each other, it was an experience that had been stolen from them by the paths they had been unwittingly driven down.

 

She felt the muscles in the side of his face tighten as he broke out into a massive smile, her own doing the same, she felt her hair grow slightly damp as tears began to flow from his eyes to match her own.

 

“This makes everything worth it, every year and every sacrifice was worth it for this moment. It would bring nothing but joy to my heart if it could last forever.” Hector hugged her even tighter as he said this, his voice breaking as the tears began to flow ever so slightly faster from his eyes.

 

“It can, without a body you can stay here forever, it can be just like we always wanted, a life with nothing to disrupt it. You and I, together forever.” She felt the happiest had in a long time, pure joy and bliss as she too wished that this moment would continue on indefinitely.

 

“I’m sorry Echidna” was all he said to her in a voice that held a precarious juxtaposition of being full of both regret and a deep happiness at the same time.

 

At first she did not understand, but as she gradually clued back into her surroundings she understood what he meant, and it broke her recently repaired heart into more pieces then it had ever been in.

 

She began to hear the sobbing, coming not from Hector but from the boy behind him as he lay on the ground in a fetal position.

 

She noticed Typhon standing above his head, calling out “Who hurt Flü-Flü, tell me who hurt you and I will make them pay!” as she scanned around, searching for the perpetrator that brought sadness to the man that had stood in as her father.

 

She saw Sekhmet trying desperately to calm Typhon down before a certain someone heard her.

 

And then she noticed that the sky had grown dark in a place where it was eternally daytime.

 

“You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him  You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him You hurt him” Chanted a soft bell like voice from behind her as shadows began to swirl at their feet.

 

“It seems my time has finally run out, our reunion wasn’t long enough, but then again I doubt any amount of time would have been enough…….” Hector’s voice was full of regret but also acceptance as he released Echidna from his embrace, a gently removed her arms from around him.

 

The second he did this she instantly spun around and placed herself between him and the Witch of Envy, spreading her arms out as if they could shield him from the harm that envy would try and exact upon him.

 

But Hector just stepped around her as he gently pushed one of her arms back to her side.

 

“There’s nowhere to run from her, we cannot fight her, its better to just get this over with. To me death is a worthy price to pay to truly see you one last time, I can have a happy ending that I don’t regret in the slightest.” Hector said as he spread his arms out, showing the Witch of Envy that he did not intend to resist in the slightest as she exacted her vengeance.

 

Echidna wanted to call out to him, to scream that she was not happy with things ending like this, but she did not get the chance.

 

A jolt went through his body as his chest was penetrated by over a dozen spikes made of shadow, going limp as he fell, only to be caught in her arms.

 

As the Witch of Envy walked past the two in order to go towards the person who had joined Hector when he arrived here, Hector looked up at Echidna and flashed her a weak smile.

 

“….. love you” Were the words he barely got out before he faded away to nothing, his spirit destroyed, never to return.

 

And Echidna broke and began to sob at the sight of this.

 

It was not long enough, it was nowhere near enough time, not after things had been so broken between them for so long.

 

Just as they had been reunited, they were now separated, and this time there was no hope that they would ever meet again.

 

It was at this point that the Castle of Dreams began to grow white, everything began to shimmer and fade as its physical representation broke down, reducing it to nothing more then a vessel of souls.

 

The only sounds that could be heard as this happened were Echidna’s sobbing and this Witch of Envy desperately chanting “I love you” over and over again as she pulled a broken and sobbing boy to her chest.

 

The souls of the slain witches would remain here alongside Echidna’s, the souls of the boy and the Witch of Envy would be returned to their physical bodies, and Hector’s would have already begun its journey towards the Od Laguna where it would be scrubbed of its memories and be reborn as a new person with no recollection or connection to its past.

Chapter Text

It was a morning like any other, not too warm nor too cold; the fauna of the forest just beginning to awaken from their slumber as they filled the damp air with their songs.

 

Two people walked across a patch of grass still fresh with the morning dew, one walked with empty hands while the other carried a third member of their party wrapped in blankets, illuminated by the soft blue hue of healing magic.

 

Ram barely moved and did not react whatsoever to the world around her as she was carried by Garfiel, a product of the immense pain she was enduring as well as the severe weakness brought on by the still untreated and mortal wounds afflicting her.

 

Garfiel both carried and healed her as he walked, his face consumed exclusively by immense worry, his eyes fixed on her as her body struggled with each breath she took. He may have bestowed himself with the title The Shield of Sanctuary and carried himself with the demeanor of a ruthless warrior, but when someone he was close to was on the verge of death his young age shone through and he had to fight just to hold it together. Perhaps the only reason he was not more erratic due to the situation was the result of his nightshift as Ram’s healer, leaving him exhausted and with dark circles around his eyes.

 

Rem led the group as they approached the ground dragon, surrounded by an aura of steeled determination, her beloved sister was relying on her and so she would do everything Ram needed. It tore her apart to see her sister in the state that she was in, it pained her, hurt her, it enraged her.

 

Her heart was a flaming swirl of emotion, on one hand was the heartthrob for her sister, on another was the guilt that it should be her in Ram’s place. Ram was perfect and had not done a single thing in her life to deserve a fate as cruel as this, on the other hand Rem was one of the worst things to ever happen to her sister. If Rem had never existed then Ram undoubtedly would have lived a better life, but Rem did exist, and once she had even felt joy at her sister’s misfortune, and she would never forgive herself for that single moment of feeling.

 

Then there was a burning hatred that was juxtaposed somewhere between the heartthrob and guilt, Rem’s hatred for the half-devil that had brought this misfortune to her sister, brought misfortune to all of them. If they had never met Emilia then everyone would still be in the mansion, still living a content and enjoyable life. Ram would not have had to suffer; Ram would not have to consumed by such pain.

 

In Rem’s eyes Emilia was a terror, a scourge sent unto this earth, she was truly the worst of the worst of the worst, she was truly fitting in that respect to the witch that people thought of when they saw her.

 

Immediately after Rem clambered onto the ground dragon, she twisted her body so that Garfiel could pass Ram to her.

 

Although they both did their utmost to be as gentle and smooth as possible as they moved her like this, they both felt their hearts get wretched from their chests when Ram’s breathing suddenly began to worsen, seemingly catching in her throat for a few seconds as the blankets above her wounds began to have a faint crimson seep into them.

 

Thankfully this stopped not long after they had finished passing her between them, the weak rasps that had become the new normal for her returning to offer a painful relief to those around her.

 

Rem made sure that Ram was secured in her arms as she replaced Garfiel’s healing magic with her own, letting the tiniest of smiles creep onto her face when she noticed how Ram’s breathing got the tiniest bit more relaxed as she was basked in the soothing light of the water magic.

 

When the unique and abrasive tone of Garfiel reached her ears, she did not look away from her sister, but she devoted some of her attention to the boy nonetheless.

 

“Ram’ll be okay right? Even myself knows th’t ‘ven if she looks so delicate and ‘ll th’t Ram’s one of the toughest there is. She’s the warrior who remains prideful even when Liesel calls, but seeing her like this, can’t help but lead anyone to think anything but the worst…….”

 

Although Rem was not looking at Garfiel as he spoke she could tell that he was on edge, ready to break solely by the way his voice was inflecting and the way his tone was changing. He was trying his best to stay strong but it was more like he was trying to keep a cart from careening off a path, with every passing second the emotions he was trying to hold in got closer and closer to spilling out.

 

Rem did not want to comfort him in the slightest, she did not hate him or anything, just she wanted to focus entirely on her sister, but unlike her Ram was kind, Ram would have found the words to calm him down, that is one of the many traits that made Ram so great in Rem’s eyes.

 

So in order to do what her sister would do Rem decided to give a few words to calm the boy that she’d known for so many years, however she would not say a single lie, she would simply say words that she believed with every fiber of her being.

She spoke in as gentle a voice as she could manage even if she did not look away from her sister in order to face who she was talking to.

 

“Rem believes in Nee-sama, she’s the strongest person that Rem has ever met, and with Roswaal-sama concocting a plan there is no way that Nee-sama won’t be completely fine. All Rem has to do is follow Roswaal-sama’s instructions and give Nee-sama the little bit of help she needs to get back to the mansion and receive treatment from Beatrice-sama. So Nee-sama will be completely fine, in fact Rem is more concerned that she won’t be able to pamper Nee-sama enough while she is resting!”

 

But Rem did not have the chance to witness the effectiveness of her attempt to do what Ram would have, because the second that she finished talking a massive wall of air slammed into her as the ground shook with such ferocity that it made her ground dragon stagger.

 

Out of the corner of her eye Rem saw some of the more shakily constructed houses in the village collapse as villagers came out of their homes in a stunned stupor.

 

But now was not the time for Rem to be sitting around gawking at the chaos unfolding in the village around her, that disruption, that shockwave from an attack powerful enough to rumble the earth was almost certainly the product of a great battle, the great battle between Roswaal and the White Whale. Now was the ideal and most opportune time for Rem to begin her journey to reach the mansion, the journey that was meant to save her sisters life.

 

Garfiel obviously knew this as well as he stepped back from the dragon, giving it space as it rocked forth from a standstill away from the village and into the Kremaldy forest.

 

“Bring her there safe Rem, my amazin’ self is rooting for ya!” Garfiel hollered as he watched the departing ground dragon, clearly in higher spirits compared to just a mere moment ago.

 

Rem rode the ground dragon without being able to really hold onto the reins, her hands were dedicated to other tasks meaning that the most she could do is rap the reins around one of her arms and try to use the grip produced by her legs to keep her place atop the animal as it moved at a blistering speed.

 

One of her arms was completely devoted to cradling the crippled body of her sister, the other was applying the healing magic that served as the lifeblood for Ram while also providing a minor amount of direction to the ground dragon through the reins wrapped around it.

All along their ground dragon ran the fauna of the forest, from the smallest insects up to larger four-legged beasts, everything was trying to flee the massive battle that had broken out on the opposite edge of the forest.

 

Rem looked down and listened to Ram’s weak and rasping breathing as she lay there wrapped in the bundle supported by Rem’s arm.  It was a sight that would have broken the hearts of many, and it wrench Rem’s as well, but it filled Rem with determination as she saw her sister fighting, fighting to keep going, it reminded Rem of how strong her sister was, how much stronger she was then anyone else Rem knew.

 

Rem remembered the sight clearly, when their village was getting attacked and put to the sword by the Witch’s Cult.

 

All the adults in her village were doing the best they could to fight off the cultists, but their best was nowhere near enough. But Ram, even when she was only a child was able to slaughter the cultists, but this is back when Rem had hated her for her strength, despised her for it.

 

Ram was so much better than her at everything, there was no reason for Rem to even exist, her sole achievement up to that point had been stealing one of Ram’s horns from her.

 

But in that moment Ram had put everything she had on the line to protect Rem, but even after doing that Rem had felt joy swell up inside her when she saw that blade swing down, swing down as it made contact and took away the sole horn Ram had.

 

The joy had lasted only for an instant however, when it was replaced by an immense and crippling guilt. Rem had felt joy at the sight of her sister losing something so great, losing it while defending Rem, losing the only horn she had after Rem had stolen the other one at birth.

 

And ever since then Rem has been trying to redeem herself for that guilt, even if Ram did not seem to care all that much about it, even if she would probably forgive Rem if she asked it did not matter.

 

It did not matter because Rem could never forgive herself.

 

Rem suddenly had to clamp down hard with her legs in order to avoid falling of the ground dragon as another shockwave slammed into her back, sending such a shake through the ground that it was hard to remain atop the ground dragon.

 

But only then did Rem come to a realization, it was not due to the odd colour and distortion of the sky, instead it was a realization that they were no longer running alongside other wildlife, instead they were running alone.

 

Then it was like time itself slowed, and Rem could only watch in horror as the very ground beneath the feet of the ground dragon dematerialized into nothing.

 

For a brief moment they were suspended in air before they began to plummet down into a deep dark pit.

 

Rem had to stop healing Ram as she flattened her body against the ground dragon and using her now free arm to grip the harness, using her body and other arm to pin Ram in place between her and the dragon.

 

She might have been able to jump from the dragon with Ram in her arms, but she could not guarantee that she would clear the hole due to having to jump from a falling and unsteady platform with the added weight of Ram.

 

But she had to focus to keep her sister safe as the ground dragon twisted its body and thrashed erratically, its clawed appendages smacking into the rock walls of the hole only to slide off their slick and smooth surface.

 

The ground dragon let out a series of violent and fear wrought shrieks after realizing it could not gain a purchase on the wall before striking the wall so violently that Rem and Ram were thrown from its back.

 

Rem wrapped her arms and legs around her sister as they fell, she managed to maneuver the two of them so that her body was below Ram’s, meaning that she should be between her and the ground.

 

She was not a moment too soon in doing this as only a few seconds past between this maneuver and the impact with the cold stone that made up the bottom of the pit.

 

Rem felt herself slam into the cold hard stone of the ground, the back of her left shoulder taking the brunt of the impact while the entirety of her back taking the rest of it. She felt the force of the impact travel through her shoulder, she felt as her clavicle snapped and imbedded itself inside her shoulder joint, tearing and immobilizing her entire left arm.

 

Pain spread and shot out from her shoulder and moved throughout her entire body, doing its best to try and keep her down and force her to rest, screaming at her to stop moving, to stop fighting.

 

But it was the sound that came from Ram that stirred her to action, it was a horrid sucking sound as blood leaked from Ram’s mouth and dripped onto Rem, blood that was pooling inside her and threatening to drown her.

 

Rem forced herself up, forced herself to stand, forced herself to fight through the pain to save Ram.

 

She did her best to get while using her sole usable arm to gently reposition Ram so that she was laying on her back with Rem kneeling beside her.

 

Rem pushed mana out of her right hand in the form of a soft and gentle blue glow, healing magic; and a broken smile graced its way across her face, her eyes grew glassy as she watched Ram’s body relax in a slight and barely noticeable manner.

 

Ram was not in a good state, even though she had been cushioned by Rem the fall had still done a number on her. It was taking every bit of skill and every iota of mana that Rem had to keep the very blood that kept Ram alive inside her; the sheets that she was wrapped in had quickly become heavy with a deep dark red slick that leaked from Ram’s body.

 

With Ram being stabilized Rem took a moment to take in and process the situation they were in and what potential options they had.

 

By looking up Rem could see where the stone ceiling had collapsed, resulting in the dirt that it was supporting giving way to nothing, leading to them falling like they did.

 

Rem could probably make them jump if she was on her own, but since she would have to carry Ram with her she would certainly need to jump off the wall at least once in order to make it, but as had been seen with the ground dragon the walls were so slick that she would probably fall if she tried, and at this point it was almost certain that Ram would not survive another fall.

 

Rem looked around the bottom of what seemed to be the pit that they were in, and that’s when she learned that it was not in fact a pit, but the end of a cave.

 

On her left Rem could see what was the passage that connected this part of the cave to what is likely the rest of the cave system, except it was blocked by a massive pile of heavy rocks, some of them so large that they were nearly as tall as Rem was.

 

Looking to her right Rem saw where the ground dragon had landed, and why it had gone so silent even after it had been so panic stricken as it fell. While its violent twisting had thrown the two Oni sisters in one direction, it had ended up travelling in the opposite direction, and been vastly worse off for it.

 

It had been met on landing by a patch of stalagmites, their pointed ends being a far sight from the bed of flowers that the ground dragon had probably wished for. Several large shafts of stone had sundered the dragons rib cage and abdomen, coating themselves in blood as they punctured and tore their way through flesh.

 

However they were not especially sharp and as a result they dealt the damage they did mostly due to the weight of the ground dragon itself, however this also meant that a lot of the damage was due to the stones ‘pushing’ and not ‘cutting’ thanks to it not being particularly sharp nor having a particularly defined point.

 

This led to a scenario where most of the grounds dragons insides had been mashed before being jammed out of the stalagmites exit wounds, leading to what should have been an immensely painful yet slow death.

 

However the ground dragon had been granted a single mercy in the whole situation it was unwillingly led into, a single stalagmite had struck it in the throat, piercing through and shattering its spinal cord just below the skull, killing it instantly.

 

Rem’s gaze then returned to her sister Ram as she just watched her for a few moments.

 

She watched as Ram’s face contorted in pain as her chest struggled to rise in order to take a breath in.

 

She heard the painful sound of suction due to the blood pooled in her lungs.

 

She witnessed her own vision blur as tears began to obstruct her eyes, as her face began to grow hot, as muscles tensed in her face, as she began to cry.

 

She could not take it any longer, she could not take seeing her beloved sister in such a state, seeing her suffering so badly when she did not deserve it in the slightest.

 

First and foremost it was the fault of the half-devil that seemingly poisoned the lives of everyone around her, but in a way it was also Rem’s fault.

 

Rem could have driven the carriage better, she could have been faster and avoided the whales attack that had sent them flying.

 

And to carry this train of thought to its complete and most polarized potential ending, Rem thought about how if she had never been born then Ram would have had another horn and would have had her Oni form to allow her to better handle the whale’s attack.

 

Rem wanted to bury her head into her sisters clothing, to cry her heart out and feel Ram’s hand run through her hair, but she could not do that, she did not want to hurt her sister anymore then she already had, and it seemed unlikely Ram would even be able to react at all to such a move on Rem’s part.

 

She looked straight up as tears streamed down from her eyes, looking up into the column of light that streamed down through the opening, and in that moment she knew what she had to do.

 

Rem would never leave her sister, and so if she could not leave with her then she would stay with her, she would put everything she had into ensuring that Ram would survive until rescue came.

 

Once Roswaal was finished with the whale he would certainly return to the mansion, and once he realized that they had not managed to make it then Rem could only hope that he would find them here.

 

And it was from this thought that Rem knuckled down and poured every ounce of mana she had into her sister, not even using the tiniest bit to repair her ruined shoulder.

 

Even as she felt herself grow more and more tired, as sweat began to drip from her face, as the sun fell and rose, she continued.

 

But as the sun began to reach its zenith on the second day her head began to grow woozy and vision blurry, her mana reserves were falling to dangerously low levels.

 

If Rem ran out of mana it would not only be potentially threatening to her own well being, but it would put the final nail in Ram’s coffin, severing the flow of healing magic to Ram would be the same as severing the thin string that had become her life.

 

Rem was extremely tired, so exhausted that it was making it hard to think, but she had to rack her brain in order to find a way to get more mana, to keep Ram going until Roswaal found them.

 

And then a memory from her early days in the mansion came to her, a memory form one of the first lectures on magic theory Roswaal had given to her and her sister.

 

Oni’s were renowned for their skill with magic, and backing this reputation was a very applicable and practical education given to the children of the village by their parents, spells and techniques passed from generation to generation, but this was application focused and not theory.

 

Because of this Roswaal had made the focus of some of the earliest lessons he gave to the two on theory, rounding out their knowledge so they could understand why some things happened, and why they had been taught to do things the way they did.

 

The Oni horn had a topic of one of these lectures, he had explained why Rem would feel so much stronger when she summoned her horn, and why Ram could still use her Oni power for brief periods even though she no longer had a horn.

 

Roswaal had told them that the horn itself does not provide any strength whatsoever, but what it does do is vastly increase the rate that mana was absorbed into the body, significantly dwarfing the amount that was ambiently absorbed by the rest of the body.

 

An Oni that summoned their horn had access to effectively infinite mana as long as there was enough in the environment itself. Seeing as they were trapped in a pit without any living things there was almost certainly a vast amount of mana pooled here, even if it would not be replenished beyond the tiniest trickle, it would offer them a fair bit more time then just the mana Rem carried in her body.

 

And it was with the recollection of that memory that another hue joined the soft blue that illuminated the pit, a harsh pink spread across the cold stone as a horn emerged from Rem’s forehead, a horn that quickly began to lap up all the mana that it could from Rem’s surrounds. It was this mana that provided new fuel to the magic that kept Ram alive.

 

And it was this magic that Rem continued to cast as the days rolled by.

 

Day after day she kept at it.

 

Even as she could no longer keep track of the time.

 

Even as she could no longer remember how long she had been in the pit.

 

Even as she grew so exhausted that her whole body became drenched in sweat.

 

Even as she grew so exhausted that she could no longer sense how much mana was around her.

 

She continued to cast the magic that kept her sister alive.

 

Until after so many days rolled past that their situation changed once more.

 

In the near angelic moonlight that illuminated the two sisters at the base of the pit, in the apex  of the night, long after Rem had lost count of how many days had gone by she realized something once again.

 

There was no longer any mana in this pit to draw into healing her sister.

 

It was a morbid situation for nearly anyone to be in, a situation that would force anyone into a horrid decision, whether to abandon someone they loved so much.

 

But a decision like this was not a hard one for someone like Rem, someone who loved Ram more then anything in the world, even themselves.

 

Rem was extremely weak at this point, having no food, water, nor rest, all the while casting a healing spell constantly for many days.

 

She could barely find the strength speak, but she managed to because there was still something that she felt that she had to say.

 

It hurt her to say what she did, not because of what it would mean she would lose, but instead what it would mean she would miss.

 

She looked at Ram’s closed eyes with her glassy ones, watching how weakly her sister was now breathing after having survived so long off nothing but healing magic.

 

Rem leaned in closer so her tired and quiet voice would reach her sister with the hope that Ram could hear and take in what she had to say.

 

“For Rem’s whole life you’ve taken care of and looked after her Nee-sama, you’ve made Rem feel so happy even when she hated and despised herself. You were Rem’s whole world, both when it was just us, and even after we met Roswaal-sama and Subaru-kun. You’ve always been so amazing with how strong and kind you are, you’ve been such an amazing role model to Rem, she could only hope that she could live up to your greatness. And its because of this that Rem knows that you’ll make it through this, that Roswaal-sama will come take you back to the mansion and that you’ll be healed back to tip top shape, you just need Rem to give you a little more time.”

 

Rem paused for a moment as a few tears ran out of her eyes, tears that held some of the last water in her body.

 

“This is selfish for Rem to ask, but please don’t forget about Rem, she may have been a terrible person, a horror guilty of sins that should not be forgiven. But please find it in your generous heart Nee-sama to remember Rem as you go on to live a long and happy life, Rem knows that she will never forget Nee-sama, even if she can’t remember anything in whatever comes after this world she will find it in herself to carve Nee-sama into her very soul.”

 

A faint and gentle smile then found its way across Rem’s face as she reached inside herself and grasped her od.

 

The smile remained on her face as she felt a fiery warmth spread through her as her od was unwound into mana, mana which found its way through her right arm into Ram in the form of healing magic.

 

Mana which fueled a blue glow.

 

A blue glow which gradually grew fainter and fainter.

 

A blue glow which was barely visible whatsoever after but a handful of moments.

 

A blue glow which faded to nothing as Rem collapsed to the cold stone floor alongside Ram.

 

She lay alongside Ram as her eyes, devoid of any signs of life looked upon her sister.

 

Eyes that were overjoyed to have Ram as their last sight, a feeling shown by the weak smile that remined plastered across her cold and lifeless face.

 

A feeling that seemed to stick with Ram as her chest continued to rise and fall with each breath, rise and fall as the sucking sound caused by the blood pooling inside her grew worse.

 

A sound that grew worse until it started to grow fainter, grow fainter as each breath grew shallower and shallower.

 

Grew shallower and shallower until a peaceful calm and stillness settled over the pit that they had spent an unknown number of days in.

 

A calm and stillness that remained as clouds obscured the moon so that the twin Oni sisters could have the darkness necessary to begin their eternal slumber, leaving the world just as they had entered it, together.

 


 

The sky was a beautiful kaleidoscopic mixture of crimson and orange as the sun fell from its zenith as the day began to draw to a close; a gentle wind blue a handful of leaves in front of Emilia as she stood in front of the cabin she had fallen asleep in, watching and listening to two people conversing.

 

One was a man with black hair that was kept close to his head, his face adorned by a pair of mean looking eyes as he did his best to comfort the woman he sat beside, for reasons unknown to Emilia she felt a sense of familiarity as she looked at the man, like she had met him somewhere before.

 

Emilia however did not feel this way about the woman, she did not look familiar to her in any manner, neither her black and green butterfly shaped hair clip, nor her long white hair caused any recollection within Emilia’s memory.

 

The woman was sitting in such a way so that she was facing away from the man as he looked upon her with a face full of pity and anguish, an expression that she was unable to see. Meanwhile the man could not see how her face was contorted due to an emotional pain, biting her lip as she tried to keep everything inside.

 

Emilia felt a sense of bewilderment as she looked upon the scene before her, she felt out of place to a certain extent, not just because she was eavesdropping but also because she felt that she had fallen into the middle of everything, like these two had been interacting before she had arrived.

 

“It’s completely normal to feel this way after your forced to do something like what you did to someone you cared about, and the healthy thing is to let those emotions out, process them so you can slowly move past the events that caused them, not bottle them up.”

 

The mans spoke in a tone that fringed upon being gentle as he tried to comfort the woman but he made no effort to reduce the physical distance that separated them as they sat on the front porch of the cabin. Although he may speak as if they knew each other it was clear that the relationship between the two was not one where physical contact would be considered normal.

 

The woman took a second to respond, continuing to bite her lip before starting to speak, and when she spoke it was in a voice that was almost neutral but with the slightest undertone of instability.

 

“It may be normal for a human, but I’m not human, I’m a witch. The Witch of Greed, an eldritch abomination beyond the comprehension of regular humans; I don’t feel emotions, I manipulate people to sate my own curiosity, something I have done since I became a witch upon by birth, something I’m surprised you don’t understand Flügel."

 

That name rang through Emilia’s head, it echoed, it was familiar, she’d heard it before and where she heard it felt like it was on the tip of her tongue, but she just could not take the last step to connect the dots and recall where she heard it.

 

“Just because you inherited the greed witch factor mere moments after your birth does not mean that you were not born initially as a human. Do not attempt to use that argument to try and sweep the emotions brewing up within you under the rug. And using the label ‘Eldritch Abomination’ is a disservice to both yourself and your fellow witches that you once called your friends. You know better then I that there was more to Minerva then just her anger, that she could find love in this world. There’s more to Pandora then just her vanity, she’s probably one of the most dedicated and hardworking people you and I have ever met.”

 

The man that the woman called “Flügel” said this with a tone like he was lecturing the woman, the manner of his speech slowly shifting from what would act as an emotional shoulder so to say, to what could be considered as a speech of emotionally fuel rhetoric.

 

“Of course you would bring her name up, Pandora, your favourite student, and she would be your ideal student if she was actually capable of learning a single thing even after all the effort she would put in. One could say that she only puts in the effort to seem like a good student, while her inability to learn is a reflection of her true self, which is in itself the definition of vanity.”

 

While the woman’s voice grew more and more devoid of emotion, Flügel’s slowly started to grow more incensed as he listened to the woman’s rhetoric.

 

“That’s the most cop out answer of all, if you only look for ways to prove what you believe then you will obviously find it Echidna!”

 

But it seemed like either this was Echidna’s goal, or that she simply did not care.

 

“It’s rich for you to think that you understand the witches of sin better then one of their own, even for you Flügel.”

 

As her words seemed to hit Flügel in a way that hurt, the two continued to argue, neither side seemed willing to budge.

 

“So if you are so correct then why did Sekhmet go out of her way to provide guidance to Typhon, was that sloth? How about Minerva falling in love and having a child, where is the wrath in that?”

 

Echidna then turned to face Flügel for the first time in this conversation that Emilia had witnessed, but the expression on her face was one that was hard to describe. Although her face was almost blank, her eyes were wide open such that she gave off an eery expression.

 

“Then if the witch factors don’t affect ones personality then why did Satella choose to destroy part of the world……..”

 

After these words were spoken Flügel fell silent, looking down at the dirt as seemingly all joy left his being.

 

But it was at this moment that Emilia’s vision began to distort, a rippling effect appearing around the edges of what she saw. The world briefly grew grey as everything began to zip by at a speed that was neigh impossible for her to keep up with.

 

But just as this incomprehensible phenomenon began, it ended; colour returned to Emilia’s vision as time reapproached what one could consider a normal rate.

 

However all had not returned to normal, when she looked down she saw that the ground was moving underneath her feet, like it was water flowing beneath her. However oddly enough her mind did not see this as something weird nor out of place.

 

When she looked up from the ground she saw Echidna and Flügel walking down a path side by side, this occurring evidently later in the day as the sun appeared to be dipping below the horizon as night began to fall.

 

“Wanting to show me something, don’t tell me…. Your research into eternal life has come to fruition?”

 

Flügel look towards Echidna with shock and surprise, his mouth almost agape, but she did not look back at him as she spoke.

 

“To say it bore fruition would not be incorrect, but to say it was entirely successful would not be correct.”

 

Echidna had a look on her face that was a combination of regret and disappointment, an odd way to feel about solving one of the greatest mysteries of their world.

 

“So that means that you’ve finally solved the issue with how to make a soul foreign to the vessel compatible? I must say that as your teacher it fills me with pride to hear how my former student has so thoroughly surpassed me, even if such a thing was already certain from the first time we met.”

 

Flügel was puffing out his chest in pride as he seemingly chose to selectively ignore or overlook a portion of what Echidna had said, and she made a point to quickly correct his mistake.

 

“The idea of soul transcription for such a task is fundamentally flawed, a body is only innately compatible with the soul its meant to carry, there must be at least some similarities between the souls for it to work. What I was referencing when I spoke before was using a combination of yang and yin to achieve stasis, suspended animation. I doubt I need to explain the specifics to someone so well versed in those fields as you, Flügel.”

 

And her words were obviously true for the look of pride quickly peeled off Flügel’s face to be replaced with one of disgust that was seemingly directed at the idea she spoke of.

 

However before Flügel had the chance to talk they both found themselves at the end of the path as it opened up into a town with a large stone building that seemingly resembled a church at the end of it.

 

The villagers were seemingly beginning to file home for the day as darkness slowly began to cover the surroundings. Occasionally one would look over but quickly make themselves scarce when they saw the looks on the faces of the two as Flügel followed Echidna towards the stone structure.

 

As Echidna was walking up the stone steps leading to the front of the structure Flügel stopped at the bottom and began to speak, or more correctly lecture her on his view of what she was intending to do.

 

“So you intend to just abandon Beatrice and Roswaal then, after all the time you’ve spent together with them, after all that they’ve done for you. Don’t you realize that you’ll destroy them, break them if you do such a thing? Beatrice see’s you as her mother, while Roswaal is still just a boy that is so infatuated with you that he would gladly die if you just asked him. You don’t feel even the slightest bit of pain or remorse in any of this?”

 

Flügel was growing more and more incensed with every word he spoke, anger built up behind his voice as he struggled to accept that his former student would do such a thing to those that he had been so convinced that she had cared about.

 

“Beatrice and Roswaal have been provided with a version of the truth, they believe that what I intend to do is absolutely necessary, that it is a result of the strain put on my body when I banished Hector’s soul. Roswaal seems determined to bring me back to this world, and while there is a mechanism for him to do so I don’t see it being something that he can achieve simply due to how his mind works. Beatrice accepted the task of guarding the library I built with what I had learned over the years, she like Roswaal have both been provided with a tome to provide them with guidance when I see fit to give it to them.”

 

While Echidna spoke she made sure to hide her face from her enraged former teacher who still stood at the base of the stairs, doing her best to ensure that her voice remained as neutral as possible, ensuring that any emotion inside her would not rise up and erode her resolve.

 

“So in the end you force yourself to appear as a monster in order to prove to me that you were always one, you’ve gone to such unnecessary lengths in order to deny the truth…… Tell me this Echidna, what would you do if I simply annihilated this algorithm and tomb of yours the second you activated the spell, what would you do if I decided to deliver one final lesson to you?”

 

Flügel’s voice began to grow low, descending into a growl as the world began to grow darker around them. Shadows began to pool at his feet as they wafted up to reach around his body, cloaking him as the light from the stars in the sky was pulled down to him in long streaks, bending into glowing bands around his body.

 

“I wouldn’t doubt that you could stop my plan in the slightest, you were capable of preventing Satella from reverting time backwards beyond more then a few seconds, compared to her authority my stasis spell must seem trivial…..”

 

Flügel angrily interrupted her, beginning to walk up the steps as the area round them had become nearly pitch black, the only light coming from the bands around his arms.

 

As he began to ascend up the stairs he started to shout at her, “Yes it would be! I could undo the yin that kept your soul from your body and force you to wake up, or I could undo the yang that kept it anchored and let the Od Laguna mulch it to pieces! The choice is yours Echidna, if you see yourself so adamantly as a monster why not be put down like one, why not be treated like you treated your oh so dear Hector when you sent his soul to be destroyed?”

 

But Flügel seemingly struck a nerve for there was a brief flash of mana before he found himself face to face with the Witch of Greed, her stone cold facing staring right into his eyes after using teleportation magic to instantly reduce the distance between them to something nearing zero.

 

“Tell me Flügel, you do know that I could kill you with as little effort as it takes me to breath, you are still human after all. Your exceptional affinity for yang and yin, nor your ability to mask yourself from even my tomb of wisdom won’t be useful in the slightest if I froze what’s left of this world solid. In the end you are just a human, a slightly above average human who is just a bit too eccentric and arrogant for his own good. But you know what, it would be vastly more interesting to see how you reacted if I removed the enchantment on that key, watch as it materialized within its carrier and killed them, watched as all your planning unravelled in your face and fell apart. Watch as the Great Sage Flügel realized as his life up to this point had been wasted.”

 

The eyes that he looked into were not a pair that reminded him of his student, they looked cold and dead, devoid of all that could be considered human. As the black iris burned holes through him he realized that Echidna was not bluffing, she would kill him if she felt the need to, and that was not something that he could allow, not yet atleast.

 

Faced with this situation Flügel backed down, his anger faded as his mana dissipated, hanging his head in shame as he took a step back, but he did not apologize for his actions.

 

Seeing this Echidna turned and began to walk back of the steps towards the open door of the tomb. Once she reached the top step and stood right before the door she stopped and turned half her face as if to see that Flügel’s demeanor had not changed.

 

“I’ll take this as us having come to an agreement that you won’t interfere in my plans and I won’t interfere in yours. I did not particularly want our goodbye to be like this but I will say that its been an interesting time. I would also say that I’m excited to see what you will be up to in the future from my Castle of Dreams but I don’t doubt that you will continue to hide from my sight. It’s been an experience Sensei, this is goodbye as I doubt we will ever meet again.”

 

And with that Echidna entered the tomb as a soft blue light began to emanate from it briefly before disappearing, leaving Flügel in darkness as he continued to stand motionless halfway up the stairs.

 

It was then that the distortions to Emilia’s vision returned as everything once again grew grey and rippled around the edges, objects beginning to dart around at incredible speed as time began to accelerate. However this time the irregularity lasted far longer then before, Emilia watched the stone of the tomb weather as moss slowly started to inch its way up the building, she watched the grass grow until everything slammed to a halt, the distortion and irregularities falling away as once again her vision returned to normal.

 

Now Emilia watched as a man she assumed was Flügel stood exactly where he had when her last bout of normal vision had ended, except this time there was something significantly more off about him.

 

He looked disheveled, his once neatly kept hair had grown long and was in complete disarray as if he no longer put in the effort to comb it. Streaks of grey ran through it, complimenting the mixture of grey and black scruff which now covered most of his face. But it was his eyes that stood out the most, the previous calm that was once there was there no longer, instead it was replaced by fervent fire of madness.

 

From what Emilia could see, Flügel appeared to have lost his mind.

 

As he walked up the steps of the tomb the world around him grew dark as shadows rose up to wrap around his body, like a semitransparent bedsheet with a hole cut for his head.

 

“Fear not my former student, I have not decided to break our agreement after so long, just I can no longer trust you to hold your own namesake.”

 

Flügel did not say this like he took any joy in it, he sounded downtrodden and exhausted but there was still conviction in his voice like he was doing this because he felt like he must.

 

Mana continued to swirl around him as he approached the tomb, crude arms composed of shadows shooting forth from his body and flying towards the door.

 

Once the arms reached the door they grew so thin that they were able to fit between it and the edges of the opening before prying the door from its hinges and throwing it to the side, allowing Flügel to pass and enter the tomb.

 

Perhaps sensing the intrusion, perhaps due to some automatic mechanism, the tomb began to grow a violent blue as if it intended to deal with the intruder.

 

But a wave of mana rocketed out of Flügel’s body in a giant pulse, causing the tomb to fall silent as the blue light dissipated.

 

Emilia then lost sight of Flügel as a billowing cloud of crude looking shadow spewed out of the door he had passed through, obscuring her view.

 

When Emilia tried to walk forward to follow this man that she felt strangely familiar with, she found that every step she took did not bring her any closer to the tomb, looking at her feet they seemed to just slide across the ground with each step she took, like they were moving across a sheet of ice.

 

But in the end it would not have mattered for a massive cloud of the same crude shadows blasted out of every opening in the tomb, and a few seconds later she saw Flügel stumbling out of the front door.

 

As he stumbled out of the staircase while still being cloaked in shadows Emilia could see that blood was running down from one of his hands, a hand that had a stump where one of his fingers should have been, in his other hand was a small black box that he clutched close to his chest.

 

Emilia watched as he stumbled for a few more steps before darting off into the forest, all the while villagers were beginning to stumble out of their homes with cries of “FIRE!” echoing between them.

 

But as Emilia began to watch the villagers as they ran towards the tomb only to stop dumbfounded as the smoke began to disappear into nothing, a massive shockwave travelled through the land.

 

However as Emilia found herself falling face first into the ground she noticed that everything around her seemed completely unaffected by it, the tree’s did not even sway in the slightest.

 

She watched as the ground got closer and closer to her face, time felt like it slowed as she got closer and closer, her vision beginning to grow blurry before a ripple shot through it, and with this ripple the dirt in front of her face was replaced with wooden floorboards.

 

With a thunk and a dull pain beginning to spread through her forehead Emilia found herself on the floor beside her bed, the sheets still pristine and neatly made as she struggled to recall even one detail of what she just experienced.

 

She lay on the floor for the next few minutes as she tried to comprehend what she had just experienced, struggling and grasping at the fresh holes in her memory that removed her ability to understand her recent past.

 

But before she could understand what happened the light that streamed into the room suddenly changed as the sky outside distorted and twisted, and before she knew it another massive shockwave slammed into the building.

 

The walls shook around her as anything that was not fixed in place was sent careening into the air, Emilia tried to push herself to her feet but when she looked up she saw a painting hung on the wall come loose and fall straight towards her.

 

She was still drowsy from just waking up and as a result her reflexes were still slow and muddled, leading to her not being able to move out of the way of the falling painting.

 

The painting struck her right in the middle of the forehead with its heavy metal frame, causing Emilia to instinctively jerk her head downward as she felt pain radiate out from where the painting had struck her.

 

Emilia did not immediately try to get up after this, instead of raising her head back up she gradually curled herself into a ball and let herself lie on the floor of the room, tears began fill her eyes and flow out, joining the slight trickle of blood that left her forehead.

 

“I hate this so much……… I don’t know how much longer I can take it……. Do I really deserve this for being born a silver haired half-elf……..”

 

Emilia stayed like this on the floor, unable to find the strength nor the will to get up, to keep putting one-foot in front of the other so that she could continue her journey. To her there was no longer a point to doing such a thing because it would not work out, it would just lead to her suffering more, facing more and more punishment.

 

She lost track of how long she stayed in this pit of self loathing, she did not keep track of how many hours had ticked by as tears trickled out of her eyes on the floor, but it had been long enough for the blood from her forehead to dry.

 

But eventually her self loathing was interrupted as something grabbed her attention and pulled her from her melancholy, but it was not some fairy tale like gesture of a prince who had ridden in to save her, instead it was something as mundane as the pain of an empty stomach.

 

Her hands moved to clutch her midsection as she debated whether to listen to the pain and loud noises demanding she stand up and get something to eat, or her heart telling her that there was no point in such a thing and that she should not even bother getting up.

 

This debate continued for a few moments before the hunger pangs eventually won out and Emilia slowly stood up, reaching to pickup the painting that had hit her in order to move it off the floor.

 

However as Emilia picked it up the contents caught her eye and she held it straight in front of her, noticing that it was not a painting of some scenery, but a portrait of four people.

 

There were 3 women sitting on an expensive looking couch with a man standing behind them, although there did seem to be an age difference among them it was not so great that this could be any form of family portrait, even if it did seem to be one from the demeanor of those involved.

 

On the far right of the portrait was a woman in a black dress with white hair and a green butterfly hairclip, she looked somewhat bored as she leaned on the arm rest and balanced her chin on the knuckles of one of her hands, her eyes looking somewhere far off into the distance.

 

The woman seated in the middle of the couch was hard to describe, someone had seemingly burned part of the painting where her face should have been, allowing Emilia to see nothing more then her clothing and some of her hair, but not a single detail about her face.

 

From what she could see this woman wore a dark dress similar to that of her companion beside her, however hers was of a looser fit as well as being adorned with streaks of golden trim, sharply contrasting with the deep black of the dress. What surprised Emilia however was the colour of the woman’s hair, it was the same shade of silver as her own.

 

But when Emilia moved her eyes to the woman who was on the left side of the portrait she felt an unreasonable and immense hatred rise up within her. She did not have the slightest clue as to why she felt this way but it was like some deep recess of her mind was screaming out at her to kill this person, to skewer them with spears of ice until they bled to death, and then to keep going to make doubly sure that they were dead.

 

She had no idea why the sight of this woman who looked to be more like a young teenager then anything else made her so angry, the sight of her beaming smile made Emilia’s hands clench so tight that her knuckles became completely white. Emilia felt like she wanted to throttle her when she saw her long platinum hair and crystal blue eyes.

 

Emilia’s eyes were fixed on her as she hugged the woman beside her, the one with the blanked-out face, but eventually Emilia managed to shift her eyes away to the man who stood behind the couch, his face adorned with a proud smile as he stood there with his arms crossed in front of his chest.

 

Emilia felt strangely familiarity when she looked at him, she definitely knew him from somewhere, the feeling was too strong for him to just have been a random passerby, but no matter how hard she tried she just could not remember where she saw him.

 

Emilia’s focus was draw away by the sound of knocking, someone was at the door.

 

Emilia placed the painting down on the night table beside the bed and walked towards the door to meet her unexpected visitor, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand as she did so.

 

As Emilia walked towards the door whoever was waiting for her was seemingly getting more and more irritated as they started knocking again, just louder and a bit more violently.

 

This continued until she eventually opened the door, revealing a very pissed off and irritated Garfiel standing outside with a brown burlap bag on the ground by his feet.

 

He glared at Emilia as the two stood face to face at the threshold of the house as Emilia shrank slightly in place, unable to stand up to the pressure he was exerting as a result of her mental state.

 

“Ol’ Gran said my amazin’ self would find y’here, like the merchant breaking fast in Bannan, finding you in the old witch’s house, doesn’t surpis’ my amazin’ self in the slightest that ya were let in.”

 

Garfiel’s tone was not particularly friendly and he more or less spat his words at Emilia, although his comparison of her to a witch definitely did not do wonders for how she felt at this point her heart was full of so many holes that another one made little difference.

 

She just looked at him with blank and empty eyes as she waited for him to continue, which he did after a brief pause as if he were debating his next action.

 

He lifted up the burlap sack which adopted a rather full teardrop shape and Emilia heard it rustle with grains as it stood suspended in the air from his outstretched hand.

 

He held it towards her as if offering it, but Emilia did not so eagerly reach out as to grab it for this seemingly kind gesture was in direct contrast to his demeanor which was still exuding immense hostility towards her.

 

“Gran told m’amazin’ self ta bring this to ya, said we sho’ld treat ya like a guest ‘n all, but if ya want this rice th’n yer gonna come and see all the destruction ya brought here t’ us. Rem ‘nd Roswaal told me all ‘bout ya, I ain’t lettin’ ya off the hook for what you’ve done to them or us, my amazin’ self’ll keep Sanctuary safe from ya.”

 

Garfiel continued growling at her as he held the bag out, the bag that Emilia did not particularly want to take if it just meant that she would be forced to feel even more miserable then she already was. However this thought was quickly driven from her head by her stomach loudly and painfully rumbling just as she was beginning to push the bag back towards Garfiel in order to decline it.

 

It was this painful and gnawing reminder of how long it had been since she had eaten anything that made her close her eyes as her face winced. She did not wince from the pain in her stomach, it was a wince as she knew that taking the bag would mean untying her boat from this metaphorical dock that was the log cabin and resuming her journey down the treacherous river that was the pain that lay ahead.

 

One may ask why Emilia knew that pain would await her if she did anything more then just wait in the house, and the only answer that they could be given is that she had experienced so much pain leading up to this point that she no longer had any reason to expect her future to be anything else.

 

Emilia placed the bag of rice just inside the door before closing it and beginning to follow Garfiel as they walked down a path through the forest in complete silence.

 

Almost immediately upon leaving the cabin however Emilia’s nose was assaulted by an immense smell, it was harsh, acrid, and earthy, it was the smell of a forest on fire. It seemed to taint the very air to the point that she could not avoid it if she wished to breath, if she looked anywhere other then the ground she could not avoid the sight of it.

 

All around her she could see vast plumes of smoke, immense walls of it rise high into the sky as the entire forest seemed to be burning.

 

But she continued to follow Garfiel, eventually the trees on either side of this dirt path began to thin until everything seemingly opened up as they arrived back in Sanctuary proper, and it was only then that Garfiel stopped and began to speak.

 

“Look ‘round Princess, see the sufferin’ ya brought on us by comin’ here…..”

 

Garfeil’s voice lacked the characteristic anger that Emilia had been hearing from him up to this point, instead it was laced with an almost destitute sadness and unfathomable amount of regret. When he called her ‘Princess’ he did so not out of some sense of respect, but instead he emphasized the title to make it an insult, Emilia was as useless and removed from reality like a pampered princess in his eyes.

 

As Emilia looked around she could not help but feel anything other than guilty, the sight of stunned villagers standing in front of their collapsed homes, some wrapped in bandages that were soaked in blood, others kneeling on the ground crying, faces buried in hands.

 

“Is there anything I can do to help, I can hea……..” Emilia spoke meekly as she almost offered to help heal the villagers with her spirit arts, but then she remembered how she had tried to help the knight back in the capital, and how he had died as a result of her failures.

 

It was this thought that made her stop midway through, resulting in an awkward silence, a silence that Garfiel broke before he began to walk away from her with a slow pace seemingly now devoid of energy. It seemed like the energy and anger he had built up before had all fallen away when he was forced to face the sight of the ruins of his hometown, being replaced by melancholy.

 

“You’ve done ‘nough Princess, Gran wants ta talk with ya, meet us on the steps of the tomb over th’re, and if I can find him my amazin self’ll br’ng Roswaal ov’r there too.”

 

Garfiel pointed towards a large stone building that stood on the edge of town, before he walked off into the chaos that still enveloped Sanctuary, leaving Emilia to walk to the meeting place alone.

 

She walked through the dirt streets of the village, having to step over chunks of stone from collapsed walls or logs from the buildings that were of wooden construction instead. She kept her eyes low as she stared at the ground so that she would not make eye contact with any of the villagers she passed, she could not bring herself to see anyone else suffering because of her at this point.

 

But when she rounded the last corner that would put her on the short and straight path to the tomb she ended up in a situation that would have shattered her heart if it was not already broken beyond repair.

 

Emilia heard the voice of a young child up ahead, alongside what she assumed was the sobbing voice of the child’s mother, a situation that managed to make Emilia look up before she froze in place, wishing she had not removed her eyes from the ground.

 

“Mama what happened to Shou, why isn’t he moving?”

 

The voice of the little girl was curious, inquisitive as she tugged on her mother’s clothes asking why her little brother was still in the mother’s arms.

 

This little girl looked significantly younger than the children she had seen in Arlam village, she probably was not much older then 4 years old at the very most.

 

The mother was knelt on the ground rocking in place as she clutched the child in her arms tightly to her chest, when she finally managed to choke out a few words while barely managing to not break down, doing her absolute best to hold herself together in front of her other child that was still breathing.

 

“Lena….. Shou’s gone to another place, a better place………”

 

Emilia could see the red-hot tears pouring from the mother’s eyes as she choked out her words, trying to explain the concept of death to a child too young to understand.

 

“What do you mean another place, he’s right here Mama he hasn’t gone anywhere?”

 

Lena tilted her head as she looked at her mother before trying to peer at her brother in her mother’s arms, but the second Lena tried to do this she found her vision swiftly blocked by her mother turning her body, hiding the body of little Shou from his older sister.

 

“Why are you hiding him Mama, I wanna see Shou, you said he’s gone but he’s right here, I wanna see him to make sure he isn’t gone!”

 

The little girl tried once again to look at her brother but stopped as soon as she realized her mother was looking off at a stranger, looking at Emilia.

 

Lena quickly scurried behind her mother to hide from the stranger as her mother clenched her teeth at Emilia and shouted in a voice full of anger and sorrow.

 

“YOU, WHY’D YOU HAVE TO BRING THIS ON US, WHY’D MY LITTLE SHOUREI HAVE TO DIE FOR YOUR SINS! HE WAS SUCH A HAPPY LITTLE BOY, ONLY 2 YEARS OLD AND LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO HIM!”

 

The mother then thrust the body of the little boy towards Emilia so that she could see what happened to him, so that Emilia could see how black and blue the boys head was, so that she could see that the entire right side of Shourei’s head had been pushed in by a falling stone. The mother held out the little boy so Emilia could see how she was the reason that an innocent toddler had been killed.

 

“No I didn’t…. I’m sorry…….I didn’t mean too………..I……I”

 

Emilia sputtered this as she backstepped away from the mother, her eyes wide opened in horror as she could not remove them from the corpse of the little boy hanging limply in the wind from the mothers outstretched arms.

 

“I…..I…….I……I…..”

 

Emilia could not get anymore words out, but the mother had heard enough to scream at her once more.

 

“I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I, THAT’S ALL I HEAR FROM YOU, YOU ONLY CARE ABOUT YOURSELF, YOU COULDN’T CARE LESS ABOUT THE PEOPLE CAUGHT UP IN YOUR PATH OF DESTRUCTION, ITS JUST WHO YOU ARE!”

 

Emilia’s vision began to blur as her eyes began to fill once again with tears as she learned more and more about the monster that she truly was.

 

She was useless.

 

She was helpless.

 

She hurt people.

 

She killed people.

 

And throughout it all she had only cared about herself, only focused on how sad everything that had happened made her.

 

She was self-centred and so very selfish.

 

At this point Emilia could not take anymore and so she turned and ran, sprinted as fast as she could away from the mother, away from everyone in the village, and towards the tomb that the villagers seemed to avoid.

 

However as Emilia reached the base of the stairs a blue light violently blasted out of every opening in the tomb as someone staggered out.

 

Natsuki Subaru began to stagger down the front steps of the tomb, right towards Emilia.

 

However he did not look one bit like Emilia remember him from when they had last seen each other, a period of time that felt like an eternity, yet it was a period of time that was more aptly measured in days rather then years.

 

He still had the jarring physical changes that she had caught a glimpse of back in the capitol, one of his eyes was still a different colour, his hair was still down rather then up, and he still wore clothes that did not fit the demeanor of the old Subaru whatsoever.

 

But even compared to then something was wrong, it did not seem to be physical even though he was completely covered in what looked like blood; something looked to be mentally wrong with Natsuki Subaru.

 

He stumbled down the steps of the tomb with both hands clasped tightly to the sides of his head as massive streams of water poured from his eyes, the whole time his mouth moving rapidly as he muttered something to himself over and over again.

 

However as he stumbled down towards her with his entire body quivering with each step it was like he was oblivious to the world around him, like he could not see even though his eyes were wide open.

 

And before Emilia knew it she found herself face to face with him as he walked right into her, causing them both to fall backwards down the stairs that led up to the entrance of the tomb.

 

His face was separated from hers by nothing but the smallest gap, she was too shocked to move, she could not think of what she should do in this situation, but what scared her was his eyes, seeing them rapidly dart all over the place seemingly at random.

 

And it was then when she heard what he was saying.

 

“I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom I’m sorry mom. I’ll do better, I promise. Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad Don’t hate me dad  Don’t hate me dad. I can still fix everything, there’s still a chance for me to become a good son, right?”

 

Subaru then pushed himself back up and away from Emilia as he stumbled into the town, like he had never seen her to begin with, leaving her frozen on the ground to come to another realization.

 

“Subaru had a family, a home where he came from…….. he got separated from them and I ruined his life…… they’re never going to get their Subaru back because I broke him and the old happy Subaru will never get his family back either………”

 

She mumbled her thoughts aloud, maybe she secretly hoped that someone would hear her and just maybe tell her that she was wrong. Maybe she wanted someone to shout at her, to punish her for them so that she could feel like she paid her penance, or maybe there was not reason for her actions whatsoever.

 

Emilia pulled herself up so that she was sitting on the step with her knee’s pulled close to her chest, her face buried in said knees. She stayed like this as she stirred in a depression even deeper then before, only moving her head to look up with her tired and tear stained eyes when she heard people approaching her, Garfiel and a pink haired half-elf.

 

While Garfiel appeared even more pissed of and even anxious then Emilia had ever seen him in the incredibly short time that they had known each other, however she could not get a read on the short half-elf walking beside him.

 

She wore what looked to be a slightly oversized robe, the collar of which rose up to cover the lower half of her face, leaving nothing but the upper half exposed. It was because of this that Emilia could not get a read on if she was feeling similar to Garfiel, if she should expect her to be hostile or not.

 

Emilia should have been shocked at the very least and even possibly elated at the sight of someone the same as her, never before had she met another half-elf. Emilia would have felt this way if everything had been normal, if she hadn’t been drowning in guilt and self hatred like she was right now.

 

“Now this is lik’ findin’ Reid among the dragon corpses if my amazin’ self ever saw it, looks like the witch, acts like a witch, lives where a witch did, and now waits where the witch wa………”

 

Emilia heard Garfiel’s unique way of speaking that carried words that were obviously directed at her, but the pink haired half-elf walking beside him cut him off, and to Emilia’s surprise he only protested half heartedly.

 

“Gar-bo, to say things with the intent of only hurting another is not the way I want to see you act. Emilia-sama has not done anything to warrant such hostility from you.”

 

The pink haired half-elf spoke in a voice that sounded far older than what suited her appearance, speaking slowly and deliberately as her voice cracked with age.

 

“You heard what Roswaal said ‘bout her, ‘bout what she did to ‘veryone ‘round her, ‘bout what she’s done to th’ Sanctuary. Now Roswaal’s dead, th’ Sanctuary’s destroyed, and we’re all outta a home with no way of findin’ one before winter, ‘course I’ve the intent t’hurt her, ev’n if it was unintentional l’ke that vampire witch ya told me ‘bout, I wouldn’t feel bad ‘bout it in the slightest.”

 

“Roswaal is dead” those words struck Emilia harder than she thought they would, Roswaal was dead because of her, he had become another name on the list of deaths caused by her that was seemingly growing by the day.

 

Even if Emilia had never been close to Roswaal, their only interactions being meals or when something concerning the Royal Selection came up he was still the one who had brought her out of the forest.

 

Had she gotten the news at any other time she would have been completely distraught, but at this point she was already too distraught for her feelings to become even the slightest bit more negative then they already where.

 

It was no longer possible for Emilia to feel any worse than she already did.

 

“Gar-bo, I think that you should go and find something to keep your hands busy, your mind clearly is not in the right place to be part of this discussion right now.”

 

But Emilia could not help but pay attention to what was going on around her as for the first time since immediately prior to her fight with Subaru, someone was seemingly on her side, someone was defending her.

 

“Tchhhhhhh” was all Emilia could hear from Garfiel before no sound left him other then the soft impacts made by his feet as he walked away.

 

The next thing Emilia noticed was the pink haired half-elf sitting down beside her before she heard her old yet kind voice ring out.

 

“Gar-bo isn’t a bad kid, life has not been the kindest to him, just as it has not been the kindest to you Emilia-sama.”

 

Emilia did not know how to respond to this, this kindness was so different then what she had been experiencing, so different that she could not bring herself to respond.

 

Emilia buried her head once again into her knee’s, but this did not seem to bother Ryuzu who just tilted her head up to look at the sky as the two half-elves sat side by side.

 

“I suppose it is somewhat rude of me to not introduce myself until now, I go by the name Ryuzu and I once was among the overseer’s of this place, and until recently I was not even allowed to walk within the town.”

 

Ryuzu then stopped and murmured something while seemingly laughing to herself.

 

“Even after all these years I still don’t understand her……”

 

But Emilia had finally found the words she was looking for, the question she must ask, the question who’s answer held priority above all else to her in this moment.

 

“Why…..why are you……being so kind to me?” Was what Emilia managed to choke out as she could not even bring herself to look at the person she was asking it to.

 

But Ryuzu’s response was one that was seemingly perfect for her, the most perfect answer for one who had always looked at things like a trade, a give and take of equal proportions.

 

“I fear that it’s because I have to ask for your help, and with nothing to give but a bag of rice and the knowledge I’ve accumulated over my years, I have to hope that some kindness is enough to balance the scales when I make my request.”

 

Emilia slowly raised and turned her head to look at Ryuzu, who had turned her own body to face Emilia, who was seemingly waiting for a response from her.

 

“You want my help…….you want me to help you? I’m useless, you’ll only get hurt by dealing with me, your lives will be ruined…….”

 

Emilia spoke in a voice devoid of joy and full of melancholy, her depressed and tear stained face contrasting with Ryuzu’s calm and kind one.

 

“Giving up before you’ve even tried is not a good way to get through life, but yes I need you’re help, everyone in the Sanctuary does, in fact. Our homes are destroyed and we have no way of repairing them with the forest burning down, and we can’t leave due to the barrier that holds us all here. Should things not change before the winter then many will die and even more will suffer, it may be greedy but that’s why I have to ask you to lend us your strength.”

 

As Ryuzu spoke of the coming doom that would befall the citizens of Sanctuary should they not be able to leave the barrier, Emilia was searching her soul, the old her and the new fighting it out over how to handle the request.

 

The new Emilia wanted nothing more then to return to the witch’s cabin, lay down on the floor and languish in her melancholy with not a single hope for the future.

 

But the old Emilia was still somewhere inside her, the Emilia that would do her best to not let a single person suffer if she could help it, the Emilia who would go out of way to help someone and then claim she was doing it for herself and state that things were even between them because of that, the Emilia that Ryuzu had never seen yet was seemingly appealing to.

 

And it was that Emilia who managed to nod in agreement.

 

“I feel that my younger self would want to jump up and hug you right now, but you’ll have to settle for my sincerest gratitude, I’m just a little too old to be jumping up and hugging people anymore.”

 

Staying true to her word Ryuzu stood up and gave one of the deepest bows Emilia had seen before she stepped of the stairs and began to walk towards the town, turning after a few paces to deliver some parting words.

 

“I’m afraid that the other overseers won’t tolerate my presence here much longer now that I’ve done what I’ve been asked, so this is likely to be the only time we will meet Emilia-sama. If you could return here after nightfall then Garfiel will be able to give you the instructions for the task we need you to complete, I will do my best to get him to just be a little more cordial.”

 

Ryuzu then waved and left as she walked off and disappeared amongst the carnage of the village before Emilia could say a thing, the last sight she had of her was her white robes swaying in the breeze.

 

Emilia then looked up to the sky and found the sun and seeing that it was still far from setting, combined with the nonstop rumbling in her stomach she decided to get up and walk back to the cabin to give cooking a try.

 

Emilia found herself in slightly higher spirits as she walked back to the cabin, she was by no means happy, but the idea of someone wanting her help made her heart feel just the tiniest bit lighter.

 

It did not take Emilia long to return to the cabin, and when she did she found it almost exactly as she had left it. The bag of rice was still just inside the doorway and the door to the bedroom was still wide open, just as she had left it.

 

However what was different was how the door to the kitchen was wide open when she returned, a door that had seemed to be sealed shut both when she’d arrived as well as when she had woken up was now wide open.

 

Emilia hesitantly entered the kitchen with the bag of rice in her hand, she may have been too out of it before but now she felt very uneasy being in the cabin.

 

However when it came between uneasiness in her chest and pain in her stomach, the pain would win out every time.

 

Emilia found a pot on the counter and added some of her rice from the bag to it, then she added just enough of the crystal-clear water she found in a basin to the pot, before placing it on the cooking surface and activating its magistone.

 

She watched it like a hawk, she did not know how to cook but she would do her best to make sure that it did not burn at the very least.

 

She stared at it but as she did so she made sure to be at such an angle as to ensure that she would not catch even the slightest glimpse of her own reflection.

 

She kept watching the pot, doing her best not to let her eyes wander.

 

She remained as fixated as she could on the pot, the water beginning to roll into a boil.

 

Her eyes remained fixed on the pot until a painting in the corner of her eye grabbed her attention away from the pot.

 

At first Emilia saw a large and vibrantly green tree growing atop the hill, within the many branches of the mighty tree was a bird’s nest.

 

The nest was comprised of an assortment of many tightly woven twigs, pieces of straw, and pine needles. Within the nest was a tiny and newly born bird, it’s head tilted up towards the blazing sun in the ocean blue sky as it chirped, begging its parents for food.

 

The two parents happily obliged the baby bird, and as if following the trajectory of the worm, Emilia’s gaze moved down the tree to the two people sitting beneath it.

 

One had long white hair, the other had shorter yet still slightly longer then average brown hair; one had a green butterfly pendant in their hair, the other had nothing in their slightly messy locks.

 

There may have been many differenced between the two, but there was a single similarity between them as they sat there in the shade at the base of the tree.

 

Both of them were smiling.

 

But as Emilia looked at them she found herself being drawn further and further into the painting, drawn in until she began to see different meaning in the lines.

 

It was not like the picture itself was redrawing itself, but the very meaning behind everything was changing so that it became something so very different that it may as well have not been the same painting.

 

The sky was no longer bright and blue with the sun at its zenith, instead it was shrouded by dark grey overcasting clouds.

 

The grass covering the hill was no longer growing thick and green, instead it was withering to a brownish colour devoid of life as it grew sparser and sparser.

 

The tree atop the hill lacked its vibrant green leaves, instead it stood there dead without the faintest hint of life within its not so mighty trunk. However although the tree may be dead, it lacked even the faintest hint of decay, as if it refused to give up on the world that had condemned it to the path it lay on.

 

The bird’s nest had seemingly long fallen from the branches, within it lay a single abandoned egg that was as cold as stone, the child within it never having been born, never being either graced with the joys of life or condemned to the suffering that would accompany them.

 

Finally the lone white haired woman sat beneath the tree, half her face contorted in anguish as tears streamed out from one eye; the other half of her face however lacked any emotion whatsoever as it looked blankly out over the dark and dying grassy field.

 

Emilia could not pull herself from the painting, it entranced her, captivated her, verged on consuming her, all until the acrid smell of something burning filled her nostrils.

 

Emilia looked down at the pot and stared at the charred and inedible mess that filled it; all the water had all evaporated leaving nothing but the ashy remains of rice that had been cooking dry for who knows how long as Emilia had stared at the painting.

 

She silently deactivated the magistone, turned around so she faced into the centre of the room and sunk to the floor.

 

Her face remained empty for a mere instant before the muscles tightened in her cheeks, her eyes clamping themselves shut.

 

She ran her through her silver hair until they reached the sides of her head at which point they balled into fists, grabbing clumps of her hair and pulled.

 

Her legs pulled themselves close to her as her head buried itself into her knees.

 

Emilia began to cry out to nobody in particular, no longer capable of holding the torrent of emotions that filled and weighed down her heart, emotions that were as heavy as lead.

 

“Why can nothing go right…….why does everything have to be so bad…….everyone was right…..I’m useless……….I’m a walking disaster……how could I even think I could help Ryuzu and the villagers……… they’re all going to die because of me…………………”

 

Emilia’s speech was punctuated by sobs as her grip on her hair gradually loosened only for her hands to place her nails against the sides of her head and push.

 

Her arms shook as her nails dug deeper and deeper, beginning to draw blood that slowly trickled down to the ground to join her tears.

 

“I hate this…..I hate myself……there’s nothing happy about anything anymore……life brings nothing but pain…..I wish I’d never been woken up in the forest………….”

 

Emilia threw herself so she fell deeper and deeper into a pit that festered with her own self loathing, her own depression, a place that the old Emilia could not survive in.

 

But once again something stopped her from going all the way to a place she would never return from, a voice broken up by its own crying echoed through her head, a voice that only she could hear, but it was a voice she had heard before.

 

“I’m so sorry……. I’m so sorry Lia……..I wasn’t there when you needed me most…….”

 

Emilia knew that only she could hear Puck, she knew that since it felt like his voice was bouncing around inside her head that he had not taken a physical form, but it was doubtful that she would raise her head to look for him even if he did have one, she could not even bring herself to speak back to him.

 

“I tried, I really did……..I really tried my best to come and help you Lia……….. But even now I’m not sure I can keep this up……”

 

Puck cried to Emilia as she did not respond in the slightest to what he was saying, they were truly father and daughter, both consumed to varying amounts by some form of self antagonistic emotion.

 

“Can you stop Lia…….can you stop hurting yourself like that……..you could leave scars……”

 

And it was this of all things that managed to draw Emilia’s attention away from the misery that she was wallowing in.

 

“What does it matter, I already look like a monster so how would something like that even change anything, I can’t possibly look worse.”

 

Emilia’s voice was low and barely audible as she said this, but even hearing her speak at this point was enough for Puck to regain his composure, it was progress, no matter how small it was.

 

“What happened to you Lia………….”

 

The despair was so thick in Puck’s voice that one could probably cut it, but it was slowly managing to get Emilia to release her own shackles made of melancholy.

 

“I LEAREND THE TRUTH PUCK! I LEARNED THAT I’M A USELESS, HORRIBLE MONSTER THAT ONLY HURTS EVERYONE AROUND ME! LOOK, I’M HURTING YOU RIGHT NOW, YOU CAN’T EVEN APPEAR BECAUSE OF ME!”

 

For the first time in their conversation Emilia lifted her head from her knees, if someone else were in the room with her they would have been able to see the trails of tears and blood that ran across her face, they would have been able to see how her eyes shimmered as she shouted out due to the emotional pain plaguing her.

 

“That’s not true Lia, it’s not true at all……..None of this is your fault……..”

 

Puck was trying to console her, trying his best but he could not keep the sadness out of his voice, the sadness caused by seeing the state that his daughter was in.

 

“THEN WHOSE IS IT PUCK? IF IT ISN’T MINE THEN WHOSE IS IT?”

 

Initially Emilia was shouting, but as the words that she would say next floated into her head the vigour behind her words vanished.

 

She was exhausted and emotionally broken, but even then shouting out at her father as he tried to help her was not something she wanted to do, it had been something she had done solely as an emotional outburst.

 

“All those people I killed, there’s so much bloods on my hands now Puck……. The knight, the innocent citizens just trying to live their lives, Roswaal; I got Ram so badly hurt that she might die, and Subaru’s mind is broken. I did it all to them Puck, I’m a horrible monster that should just hide away from the world until I die. I just want to disappear Puck.”

 

After speaking Emilia rested her chin on her knee as she just looked at the floor, tears now slowly rolling out of her eyes as she blinked instead of the torrent that had flooded out before.

 

“That’s not true Lia, you can’t just take responsibility like that, you have to remember that those people had choices to that played into what happened. If at any moment they had decided to do something different then they could have avoided what happened, they could have avoided the fate that met them. You can’t let others blame you for everything Lia, but you also can’t blame yourself for everything as well. Remember Ryuzu, I heard how she asked you to help her and all the villagers here, would she have done that if you were a useless monster like you say you are?”

 

Puck’s voice was sounding more and more confident as he spoke, every time he managed to nudge Emilia a bit closer towards the light she had usually resided in his own mood improved vastly.

 

“She shouldn’t have asked me since I’m only going to let her down, and then I’ll have her blood and that of those that have survived so far on my hands as well.”

 

While Emilia may no longer have been as far under the sea of melancholy as she was before, by no means was she free of it, her refusal to believe that she was anything but useless was proof of that.

 

“You shouldn’t give up before you even try like this Lia, if you don’t want to believe in yourself then will you try because I believe in you?”

 

And with that Puck managed to coax Emilia back into trying, even if she did not believe in herself she would not give up as long as one person believed that she could do it.

 

“Ohhhhhhh, why do you always know how to get me to do things even if I don’t want to.” Emilia lamented as she blinked her eyes a few times to knock out the remaining tears, tilting her head up just a bit to look where she imagined Puck would be floating if he had a form at that moment.

 

“I wouldn’t say that Lia, I never could get you to try Peppirs a second time. There’s also still a little time before you have to meet Garfiel by the tomb, why not try to cook the rice again and I’ll give you some pointers.”

 

And with that Emilia stood up from the floor, although she had needed help she had managed to survive her encounter with her own melancholy once again, scoring herself a meal in the process.

 


 

“If Puck believes in me I can do this.”

 

Emilia said these words to herself over and over again as she walked down the same trail she had walked along with Garfiel earlier in the day. The difference between then and now however was that the sun had already fallen below the horizon, leading to a deep blanket of darkness cloaking the land, the same reason as to why Puck was not with her, he was fast asleep within his crystal.

 

It was already incredibly dark, and with the tree’s casting even deeper shadows then it would probably be impossible for her to navigate her way anywhere in any meaningful manner, the only reason she had any belief that she could get to the tomb is because the path was devoid of any forks.

 

But each step she took brought her closer and closer to the tomb and eventually she saw faint specs of light off in the distance, and before she knew it she was standing amongst those who held the torches, right before the tomb.

 

“You seem a bit differ’nt from earlier, Princess.”

 

Garfiel said as he looked slightly miffed at the appearance of Emilia when she stepped into the light of his torch and the villagers that waited with him before the tomb.

 

“Huh, different? I guess I ate for the first time in awhile, but I didn’t think it would make me look any different?”

 

Emilia’s inability to understand the meaning behind is commented managed to irritate Garfiel just a tiny bit, but he did not let that stop him as he has a job to do, and they were all up against the clock after all.

 

“My amazin’ self’ll cut to the chase, in order to leave the Sanctuary we need to get the permission of the witch who lies in that tomb over th’re. To do that you must be eligible and then pass her test to prov’ it to her or something. Do that ‘nd then we can all not die slow and gruesome deaths to the coming winter, fail and we’re stuck here. I ain’t taking any questions so just waltz up there and you’ll see for yourself.”

 

Garfiel stood there with his arms crossed trying to look as tough as possible, but his tone was significantly nicer than it had been earlier in the day, whatever Ryuzu said must have had an effect.

 

“Hmmp”

 

Emilia took a breath before painting a determined look onto her face before she began to ascend the steps that lead up and into the tomb which began to grow a soft blue once she got close.

 

As Emilia entered the tomb she noticed that room she was in had nothing in it, there was a closed door in front of her and the opening that she had entered through behind her.

 

She walked forward towards the shut door but before she could reach it she was hit by a wave of drowsiness so great that she immediately found herself on the stone floor.

 

Her eyelids slowly drifted up and down as she fought to stay awake, fighting a battle they could not possible win, losing as they fell shut.

 

“Face the past that you run from” echoed out in Emilia’s own voice as she soon found herself in a reality far different then the one she had just left.

 

Bitter biting coldness was the first thing she felt, it penetrated her skin and seeped right down to the bone.

 

The air was so frigid that every single breath she took burned the whole way down from her throat, setting her lungs on fire as she simply tried to do what she needed to in order to live.

 

Her hands quickly grew sore, ever bit of skin in contact with the ground felt like needles were slowly shooting their way up and gouging into her.

 

She pushed herself up to her feet but her hands and ears were soon starting to sting so much that it was hard to focus on anything other then the pain, at this point it was difficult for her to even open and close her hands into fists.

 

It was so cold that her fingertips were already starting to discolour.

 

Emilia looked around but the only thing around her was white, blowing snow that obscured her vision in every single direction, preventing her from seeing anything with one exception.

 

Infront of her stood a raised tree on a mound with a small door that looked like it led to a tiny room that must have been constructed within the root system underneath the trunk.

 

Emilia did her best to stagger through the blizzard, with every second that passed the snow got deeper which made it significantly harder to walk; it certainly did not help that her legs felt stiffer and stiffer with each and every passing second from the cold that seemed to be latching on and gnawing at them.

 

When she finally reached the door she instantly reached for the handle, the frigid metal burning her skin on contact, but she endured through it in order to throw the door open and reveal what was inside the room.

 

She was immediately greeted with the sight of a little girl who stood in the middle of a tiny room looking up at her.

 

Behind the little girl on the table was a crude hand painting of a tower emerging from the sand, surrounded by tiny things laying all over the sand dunes that Emilia could not recognize for the life of her.

 

But Emilia’s attention soon switched to the little girl; she had long silver hair that was topped by a purple headband. Her eyes were the same amethyst colour as Emilia’s and she wore clothing in the same white and purple colour scheme as Emilia, but she looked to be many years her junior.

 

Emilia stepped forward to enter the room, but just as her foot was about to cross the threshold the little girl just stuck her tongue out and slammed the door shut with such force that it seemed unlikely that the little girl had actually been the one to do so.

 

“Hey! It’s reaaaaaally cold out here, I’m going to freeze!” Emilia tried her best to shout this over the raging blizzard as she reached for the doorhandle a second time.

 

But as she threw open the door a second time she was not greeted by the same sight as before, in fact this one was vastly different.

 

There was red everywhere, the walls, the floors, even the ceiling dripped with it. There was blood coating every surface of the room and in the midst of it stood a platinum haired girl with a knife that dripped with it.

 

She looked at Emilia with crystal blue eyes, a smile on her face, and the body of a black-haired man with a gaping chest wound at her feet. Emilia instantly recognized both of them, they were both in the painting she had seen in the witch’s cabin.

 

The girl continued to smile and began to slowly step towards Emilia, Emilia felt immense rage and hatred swell inside her as she looked at the girl, the same emotions she had felt when she had seen her in the painting.

 

Emilia hated this girl, her heart screamed out at her to grab her by the throat and throttle her until she stopped breathing. But Emilia’s mind was urging her to act differently, it was urging her to run from the knife wielding girl who seemed to have already killed the man, before she got close enough to do the same to her.

 

Emilia slammed the door closed and ran, she ran off into the pure white of the blizzard without even the slightest clue of where she was going or what she would find.

 

She ran until one of her legs got caught in the deep snow and she found herself flying forwards.

 

However Emilia did not fall, she found herself in the arms of what looked to be an elf.

 

However this Elf was seemingly an ice statue, there was not a single speck of flesh of any kind within the crystal clear ice.

 

Before Emilia could say anything she heard the grinding of ice on ice as the elve’s head turned so that it looked right at her, and then its mouth began to move.

 

“YOU DID THIS, YOU CONDEMNED US TO THIS HORRID FATE!”

 

Emilia recoiled her body in shock, falling out of the ice elf’s hands and onto the snowy ground.

 

She started to see more of these frozen elven statues appearing from all corners of her vision, the sheer panic they induced in her making her scramble to her feet.

 

As she ran off into the blizzard once more she kept hearing their voices follow after her.

 

“MURDERER!”

 

“WE ALL DIED BECAUSE OF YOU!”

 

“WE GAVE EVERYTHING FOR YOU AND THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY US?”

 

These words managed to keep up with her no matter how far she ran.

 

They kept up with her until she heard another voice call to her within the storm, a voice calling her name.

 

“EMILIA!”

 

The voice did not sound angry in the slightest, it was full of worry and concern, like a mother looking for a lost child.

 

“EMILIA!”

 

The voice called once more as Emilia began to see an outline form within the storm directly in front of her, an outline that soon turned into a person that rushed towards her.

 

She had silver hair like Emilia’s except hers was significantly shorter, cropped close to her head. The woman’s eyes were the same amatheyst colour that the little girl’s were, except unlike the little girl this woman had mean and scary looking eyes, similar to Subaru’s.

 

When the woman reached Emilia she grabbed both of Emilia’s upper arms and pulled her close as she started to barrage Emilia with questions, a worried look overtaking her face as she stared directly into Emilia’s eyes.

 

“I told you to stay in the room Emilia, why are you out here like this? You feel so cold, we need to get you somewhere warm before it’s too late, but we also can’t stay here long, we realllllly need to hurry…..”

 

The ladies voiced was full of worry and concern which was only made worse by Emilia’s inability to answer her.

 

Looking at her made Emilia’s head hurt, she felt familiar somehow but Emilia did not know why, there was a void in her head and whenever she tried to venture into it she was hit with a mind splitting pain flaring inside her skull.

 

Emilia fell to her knee’s as she thought as hard as she could about who this lady might be, but this action only caused the lady to freak out even further as she rushed down as well trying to see what was wrong with Emilia.

 

Emilia had her eyes clamped shut as she thought as hard as she could, but nothing was coming up.

 

The lady was shaking Emilia by the shoulders while calling her name, “Emilia, Emilia!” as she tried to get her attention, her voice getting more and more desperate with each repition of the call.

 

Emilia could not figure out who the lady was, eventually she opened her eyes and decided to simply ask, something she would instantly come to regret.

 

“I’m sorry………but who are you?”

 

The words should have been innocent enough, especially when asked in an innocent voice without the slightest hint of malice.

 

But Emilia could only watch as the woman’s face contorted in pain, Emilia could see in her eyes that it was like something deep inside her soul had been broken by those 6 innocent words.

 

The lady froze as she was unable to come to terms with what she was hearing, her mouth made a few movements as if trying to form words, but there was no sound.

 

Eventually one sound did come out, “Fortuna” but before anymore words could follow behind this name the woman’s chest sudden burst open like something had slammed into her body from behind and pierced through.

 

Emilia could not move a single muscle as she froze up in shock, Fortuna’s blood drenching her as she watched the ladies heart float outside and in front of her body, like something invisible was holding onto it.

 

Blood ran out from the corners of Fortuna’s mouth as she weakly smiled at Emilia before her body went limp as her heart was crushed by whatever invisible force had held it in the air.

 

“EMILIA, GET UP, WE HAVE TO GO!”

 

A new voice shouted from behind her as a hand grasped her arm and began to pull her away from Fortuna’s body as it floated motionless in the air in front of her, devoid of life.

 

“EMILIA!”

 

The masculine voice once again shouted as the blizzard began to increase in intensity, howling to the point that it threatened to drown out his voice.

 

But Emilia could only watch in horror as Fortuna’s body was violently pulled backwards, consumed by the blinding white snow where it disappeared from vision.

 

The man who was the source of the voice and the arm that tried to pull her back suddenly rushed around in front of her, allowing Emilia to see his long blonde hair and light green eyes.

 

“Emilia if you don’t get up you will die, you have to do something for yourself this once, if you don’t then nothing will change!”

 

The man said these words without the slightest hint of malice even if he did have to shout in order to be heard over the deafening wail made by the wind.

 

Before Emilia could respond however something black streaked across her vision and slammed into the man’s ribcage and bit down.

 

It was a large black serpent.

 

It released its grip and retreated an incredibly short distance as the area around its bite on the man began to rapidly change colour.

 

It pounced again and bit down on another part of the man’s body.

 

It did this again and again, the man could not do a thing to fight back, and soon he lay still in the snow and unmoving.

 

The snakes focus was entirely on the man as it began to bite down once more, but by the undulation and pulsation of its muscles Emilia could tell that it was sucking something out of the man’s body, feeding on his liquified insides like a spider would after its venom had done its gruesome work.

 

The snake did not react to Emilia in the slightest, nor did it react when one final person began to walk towards her through the snowstorm.

 

It was the girl who she had seen with the bloody knife, except now there was not even the slightest hint of blood on her body, nor did she have the knife anymore.

 

Her eyes however were completely locked on Emilia as she moved past the snake that was feasting on the man like it was completely insignificant.

 

“The key”

 

The girl spoke in a soft voice, but there was an undertone of determination behind it as she made her demand, drawing ever closer with each step.

 

“I need the key to save him, give it to me.”

 

Emilia did not have the slightest clue what the girl meant by the key, she was consumed solely by fear and hatred when she looked at her, even if she had this key that was being spoken of she definitely would not give it to her.

 

“If you give me the key I can fix everything, undo all this pain and return the world to the way it should be.”

 

When Emilia heard this her opinion changed, she may hate this person but was that hatred worth leaving this horrid scenario as it was?

 

“I don’t have any key though”

 

Emilia managed to call out in response to the girl, who stopped in her tracks when she heard the words.

 

“You do have the key, Sensei gave it to you, look inside yourself, you must have it.”

 

Her voice remained soft and calm but Emilia could tell that she was not pleased to hear what she just did.

 

“I really don’t have it, I don’t know what’s going on, I’ve never been given any key…..”

 

As those words left Emilia’s mouth for the first time she saw the girl frown, frown as she uttered four final words.

 

So be it then

 

And with those words the snake suddenly shot upright from the man’s corpse, its cruel black eyes fixated directly on Emilia.

 

In the next instant it bolted directly for her, her limbs were too frozen at this point to move, she could not avoid it as it’s sharp black fangs bore straight down on her neck.

 

Pain shot through all of Emilia’s body as she felt something vile flow into her through the fangs that had driven themselves deep into her body.

 

Searing pain consumed her as she felt what little warmth that remained inside her flow out through the site of the bite.

 

Emilia felt her body go limp as her vision faded to black, she now lay on the ground unable to see even though she was sure her eyes were open.

 

She no longer felt like she was freezing as the cold had long disappeared.

 

She no longer felt the snake’s maw bearing down on her as she was somewhere where it was not.

 

The howling of the wind had given way to the sounds of someone softly crying, a woman whose voice Emilia had never heard.

 

Emilia felt vastly smaller then before, smaller then the little girl she had seen, so small that she may as well have been an infant again.

 

She was in her arms, strong yet small arms that Emilia had never felt before.

 

“I’m sorry Emilia……….” Were the only words she heard from her as she cried, the last words she heard before her body finally gave way and broke apart.

 

Emilia was nothing more then dust now as she slipped away through the woman's fingertips and was blown away by the gentle gust of a slight breeze.

 

Emilia had failed.

Chapter Text

The blankets were warm and soft, it felt like he was in heaven, so much so that he thought he could stay like this forever as he laid in his bed with his eyes closed.

This was a bliss that Natsuki Subaru had not experienced for a long time, yet felt like it was only yesterday, simultaneously too far away to feel recent yet too recent to possibly forget.

Subaru slowly cracked his eyes open to look at the dark room around him, it was his room, and it was only dark because his heavy curtains were drawn over the windows, preventing the light from streaming in.

Everything was just as he had left it, his posters were still there on his walls, his manga and light novels were still neatly arranged on his bookshelf, and finally his computer still sat in standby mode on his desk from what must have been a prior late night of gaming.

His eyes then slowly rolled shut as he tried to drift back to sleep, while doing so random echoes of what seemed like distant memories flashed through his mind, they painted a picture of a classic fantasy world where one would be transported at the beginning of an isekai adventure. However when Subaru tried to remember more about this place the only thing that he felt was sadness, a crushing depression so intense that his eyes began to well up with tears behind his eyelids, a few of which trickled out to make part of his pillow just the tiniest bit damp.

"Uhhhhhhhhhhh" Subaru lamented in a barely audible tone as he lifted his head just enough to shift the pillow to a place where it was not damp.

But not more then a few seconds after he put his head down to return to his blissful sleep his alarm came on.

It blared at him angrily in a harsh, shrill, and artificially electronic beeping sound; he knew that it would keep going forever unless he shut it off.

Subaru rolled over in bed and opened his eyes to face the alarm, but when he looked at it his heart jumped into his chest, anxiety spiking at the sight of what the harsh red lettering said on it.

"7:30"

It was set later then normal, school began at 8:30, if he did not get up now he would be late.

He knew that he needed to go to school, that he should go to school, and because of this it felt like some part of him was trying to urge him to get out of bed and begin getting ready.

However at the same time another part of him felt absolutely terrified, urging him with ever little bit of strength and will power that it could muster to just stay put, stay put until enough time had passed when it would be too late to make it on time, when there would no longer be any point in going.

He made a deal with himself, a compromise, he would count to ten and once he reached zero he would get up and be ready to go to school.

"Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six….Five…Four….Three…..Two….One…..Zero"

Subaru counted under his breath, but with every number he said he could feel his heart rate rise even as he was increasing the time between numbers the closer he got to zero.

But he was at zero now so he had to get up, he had told himself that he would get up now, but even now he still was not ready.

His heart had firmly lodged itself in his throat to the point that he could hardly breathe, he could feel his heart rate rising higher and higher as beads of sweat started to form on his forehead.

"Five more seconds, five more and I'll be ready to get up."

He told this to himself as he began to count once more.

"Five…..Four….Three…..Two….One….Zero"

And once again he was here at the end of his count, and once again he was nowhere near ready to get up and get ready.

"Two more…"

Subaru made promises with himself as fast as he could break them, each time promising to get up after a shorter and shorter count, and each time finding himself only more and more anxious.

"Two…One…HRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRK!"

Subaru's count was interrupted as he found himself getting body slammed into his bed to the point that he could feel the mattress springs getting compacted underneath him as all the air was forced out of his chest.

It was the completely ripped middle-aged man that was Subaru's father, Natsuki Kenichi.

"SURPRISE FATHER SNEAK ATTACK!" Shouted Kenichi as he swiftly maneuvered to place Subaru in an armbar.

"OW OW OW OW OW OW, I TAP, I TAP, YOU WIN" Subaru shouted as Kenichi eventually released the arm bar.

It had been a completely one-sided and quick fight that was not at all like their normal father-son wrestling sessions, it had probably been disappointing for Kenichi but Subaru could not bring himself to mount an adequate defense in the slightest.

Kenichi sat up on the edge on the bed as he raised his hands closer to his face and just looked at them, Subaru remained laying on his back staring up at the ceiling while he did this.

"Say Subaru, I would normally call this a win…. But was I interrupting something…..you seem to be pretty sweaty….."

Kenichi said this with a somewhat despondent voice as his eyes remained fixed on his hands before he gradually turned to look at Subaru, his face a mix of slight disgust and surprise.

"Ohhh maybe I should leave, this seems like a father-son talk kind of subject."

Naoko said with her characteristically "out of it" voice that made her sound as if she was always a bit out of whatever was going on. She stood in a position in the doorway where she had been leaning against the frame as she peered into the room, watching the antics of the two.

"MOM?! HAVE YOU BEEN THERE SINCE DAD CAME IN?" Subaru shouted out in a mixture of surprise and embarrassment as he flung his upper half up so he too was sitting up in the bed.

"Oh I just came up to tell you and your father to not get too distracted since breakfast is ready, but it can wait until after you two finish talking." Naoko said this before she returned to the main floor, leaving Subaru and Kenichi alone in the room.

Kenichi turned to fully face Subaru with his whole body, looking at his hand once more before wiping it on the bedsheets, brining his legs up onto the bed in order to sit in a cross-legged position as he did so.

"Uhmmmmmm….This is a normal thing to feel the need to do son, especially when you're surrounded by figurines and posters of such beautiful 'women', you don't need to feel ashamed."

Kenichi put on the most adult like and fatherly voice he could as he said this, painting a stark contrast from earlier when he had been piledriving his son into his bed.

Subaru briefly looked around his room and did come to a realization of what Kenichi was saying, like most anime merchandise he had seen the posters and figurines he owned from his favourite franchises were almost exclusively of the female protagonist, and most of them were not in exactly the most 'conservative' of outfits.

Subaru snapped back to the topic in question quickly though, he was being falsely accused of masturbation by his own father and mother, an accusation that he must clear himself of.

"I'm telling you that I wasn't doing anything like that, I was sweaty because of how hot it was last night, we don't need to have any kind of talk about things that didn't even happen!"

Although Subaru was still really embarrassed he was finding it in himself to be just so ever slightly calmer, hoping that it would make his slight lie meant to deflect the embarrassing half truth just a bit more believable.

"You don't need to be embarrassed and defensive Subaru, wanting to do something like that is a natural for a boy your age. We've all done it, it does feel really good; well until I met your mother at least, now she feels REAL good, she's got this lit….."

Kenichi's attempt to talk to Subaru about masturbation was eventually sidetracked leading to the topic shifting to the one thing that was even more uncomfortable to hear about.

"PLEASE STOP DAD!"

Subaru could not take it anymore, he had his forehead pressed into the bed sheets as he prostrated his body, begging to be freed from the awkwardness, the embarrassment, the borderline cringe of his dad's attempt to talk to him about masturbation as well as sex in general.

"Well I guess we should go eat breakfast otherwise you'll be late for school…."

Kenichi quickly rocked to his feet before turning around to stretch out a hand to Subaru, which Subaru took.

"There, up ya go Subaru!"

Subaru was quickly rocketed to his feet by his father's strength, or more correctly pulled into the air so his feet were separated from the ground by about a centimeter or two before he fell to the floor, thanks to his fathers strength.

Subaru followed behind Kenichi as the two walked down the stairs into the kitchen where his mom had prepared breakfast, and both of them froze in their place when the saw the table.

Each person had a small plate with a single piece of toast smothered in strawberry jam alongside a small bowl containing miso soup with small squares of wakame seaweed floating in it, but these were not the things that caught their attention.

Situated directly between Subaru and Kenichi was a large bowl pilled high with steaming green peas.

"Uhhhhhm….That's a lot of peas mom"

"You could paint a whole forest with that much green…"

Both Subaru and Kenichi bemoaned a statement regarding the massive pile of green's that singlehandedly occupied a fair portion of the limited tabletop real estate, all the while Naoko just stood beside the table with her hands on her hips and a big smile on her face, like she was immensely proud of her creation.

"I thought that today would be the day for you two to bond as you got over your hatred for peas."

Naoko exclaimed this with as much pride and enthusiasm as she could muster, like she had devised some scheme of pure genius.

In spite of the sight in front of them both Subaru and Kenichi found their ways to their seats with grimaces on their faces, even as Subaru walked around the table he could not manage to tear his vision away from the peas.

He watched as tiny droplets of water slowly rolled off one pea before finding its way to the next, a continuous process that the water would follow as it slowly made its way to the plate at the bottom where it would create a slightly off green pool of pea tasting liquid.

When he focused on the peas in the pile he could see how their skin sagged slightly, they had obviously been overcooked a bit. The taste and mouthfeel of an overcooked pea had been burned into Subaru's memory since he was little, the soft and subtle split of the pea's skin as its soft, gooey, and slightly bitter inside spilled out into his mouth, an experience he never wanted to relive if he could avoid it.

The thin and tiny wafts of steam that came off the peas reached his nose, carrying the putrid smell that he utterly detested since he was little, where he would scrunch up his face to show his distaste for them, just like he had seen Emilia do whenever she had been served Peppirs.

Emilia, that name had come to his mind yet he had trouble placing it to a person, when he thought really hard he only got the most brief of feelings and the vague flashes of in descript images.

Purple stripes, white clothing, silver hair all flashed before at a speed that was barely visible, however what did stick with him was a lingering sadness, a sadness so immense that he could feel a single tear roll its way out of his eye.

"Heeeeey Subaru, are you okay, you're not looking so good right now." Naoko said as she looked at Subaru with a concerned look on her face, a sentiment obviously shared by her husband.

"Peas are truly the worst of the worst of the worst, they bring everybody down, whenever I see them I feel my heart falling farther and farther until I can feel nothing but distraught, peas don't make anyone happy in the slightest..."

Subaru spoke slowly and in a low voice as he said this, exuding an aura of nothing but pure sadness and melancholy as he went through and carefully enunciated each sound and syllable.

"Subaru! Your mother was just trying to make something that would give you the vitamins you need to get through your day at school, I know you don't like peas, and I cannot say I do either; I would make them into a pilaf or something so they'd be easier to get down, but we don't have time for that now. Apologize to your mother for what you said, she tried really hard and at least the effort and care she put into making this meal should be recognized!"

Kenichi almost snapped at his son as he spoke intone that was almost bordering on being angry, devoid of his normal playfulness as he assumed a behaviour that was in no way inline with the way Subaru would remember him acting.

Subaru felt himself snap out of some melancholic state that he had unknowingly found himself fall into, after rubbing his eyes he turned to his mom who seemed to be completely unphased from his earlier outburst and spoke apologetically.

"Sorry mom, I didn't feel like myself there, but what I said was not nice and I'm sorry for that."

"Oh its quite alright, I'm starting to think that maybe making all these peas was not the best of ideas first thing in the morning….."

Naoko just fixed her vision on the pile of peas as she stroked her chin with her hand, obviously deep in thought, completely unconcerned about the odd behaviour of either her son or her husband.

After this the meal consisted mostly in silence as the Natsuki family made their way through their meal that should have signaled the end of an eventful early morning and the beginning of the regular day.

The toast was just as he remembered it, at least how he thought he remembered it. The bread had been toasted just right, the outer layer had hardened so that it was crunchy while the inner portion of the bread was more or less just heated to the point of being warm.

The jam on the bread was spread thick and extremely sweet, leading to each bite being a crunchy blast of sweetness followed by a soft sweet pillow as the jam mixed with the warm insides of each slice in his mouth.

The miso soup was probably his favourite part of the meal however, it was the perfect breakfast soup with its light and salty broth that was only enhanced by the slightly chewy wakame and tofu.

But Subaru did not get a chance to really enjoy this soup due to the reignition of the tableside conversation.

"Say Subaru, are you going to be on time for school today, with all that went on this morning you're running a tinsy bit behind schedule to make it on time."

While Naoko said this with her own place at the table already cleared she raised her hand in front of her eye and nearly touched her pointer finger to her thumb, adding extra emphasis as she said 'tinsy'.

"Yeah Subaru, wouldn't ya say that all this delicious food would make great fuel to power your brain through a day of learning and socializing at high school, the place adored by those books and shows you like!"

Kenichi swung his arm in front of his chest with all the muscles tensed as he leaned forward a bit whilst beaming Subaru with his pearly white smile.

But Subaru could not be anywhere near as energetic as his parents were about going to school, he could not possible be as his anxiety had risen to the level of jamming his heart right into the top of his throat.

All he could hear was his heart pounding, it was so loud that he could no longer hear his parents continued attempts to persuade him to go to school; his breathing becoming shallower and more rapid to match.

He felt his skin begin to grow warmer and warmer until he could feel himself starting to break out in a cold sweat, he could not stay here and listen to talk about going to school any longer, it was like his anxiety was going to tear him apart.

"I'm not going to school, I'll go back upstairs and sleep until noon."

Subaru chocked these words out though a throat that felt so tight that he was slightly surprised he could even talk.

He left behind his nearly untouched miso soup as he stood up from the table and nearly sprinted out of the room leaving his parents sitting at the table in silence, their faces with an expression that was a mixture of surprise and disappointment.

Subaru walked as quickly through the hallway as possible, he wanted to feel safe, if he could just make it to eight thirty then it would be too late to be there on time, then he would not have to worry about going since there would not be a point anymore.

But his walk was stopped by a wet and squishy feeling underneath his foot, he had stepped on a wayward pea that had managed to roll its way all the way from the kitchen to where he stood at the base of the stairs.

He lifted his foot and looked at the green splattered gunk that now was both all over his heel as well as the floor. It was the remains of the pea, a pea that had through a circumstance unlikely of its choosing found itself diverted from the course of its original purpose of being eaten to another far sadder path of being crushed, scrapped off, and then eventually thrown away into the garbage can.

Once in the garbage can the pea would eventually find itself in the dump where it would sit and rot away into the dirt, only to eventually begin again when life inevitably sprung from its remains. Although in appearance this path did not seem much worse than what could have been, in fact from a superficial view it may even appear better, but if one considered all they knew then they could determine that this path was far worse for the pea when compared to what it would have achieved if it had been eaten.

One should also consider the separation the pea endured, there was no guarantee that Subaru would throw the portion of the pea on his foot out in the same way that his mother would end up throwing away the portion on the ground when he inevitably left it for her to find.

This would mean that the two parts of the pea could follow a separate path to the same destination, the different bins that they are disposed in could be emptied on different days, leading to them ending up in separate landfills. However in the end the two parts of the pea would rejoin the earth and therefore experiencing their intended fate together just as they had begun it.

Should the pea have been eaten then it would have had purpose, it would have fuelled a living being by providing energy as it was broken down in a stomach, and as the pea went on its journey it would eventually have found itself reach the same conclusion anyways.

No matter which initial path the pea had found itself on it would always eventually find itself returned to the earth ready to birth life in order to begin the cycle again. Therefore one could conclude that regardless of the path the peas followed they would always arrive at the same fate, whether the path had been one that was enviable, one filled with purpose, or one that was melancholic, devoid of anything as noble as purpose.

Subaru reached for a tissue from a box that sat on a small table at the base of the stairs and scrapped the pea off his foot before hurling the balled up tissue into a trash can in the nearby washroom.

He then proceeded to walk up the stairs, leaving the other part of the pea behind, smeared on the floor for someone else to find and clean up.

However as Subaru walked up the stairs things felt different, he was no longer walking up the narrow, carpeted stairs of his parents home but instead walking up the wide and grand marble steps of the Roswaal manor.

He was no longer wearing the flannel pajamas that he had woken up in, instead he was dressed in the black suit that served as his butler's uniform.

"Are you sure that you are able to carry that Subaru-kun? Rem can carry more of the laundry if its too heavy, Rem could not live with herself if Subaru-kun injured himself due to working too hard…"

Subaru felt like he was looking through a set of long glass tubes, like he was watching the events unfolding as a bystander, except it was a bystander that was looking through the eyes of a past Subaru.

He felt his head turn on his shoulders to look towards the source of the source of the cheerful and caring voice, it was a girl around his own age with a head of blue hair and a maid uniform, Rem. He should have known this from her use o the third person in her speech, but it had taken him a few seconds to adjust to the sudden yet oddly not surprising change of environment.

Subaru could feel a smile spread out on his face as he looked at her, he could feel his body break into a pose where he tried to balance the large basket of laundry on his hip with one hand while flexing his other to try and show off his strength.

"Don't worry Rem I am Natsuki Subaur, I may have been a shut in but I worked out to defend my home, this laundry is nothing compared to the weights I used to lift!"

It felt incredibly odd and out of place to Subaru to have his mouth moving and producing sound to speak in his own voice, yet he himself did not feel like he was speaking.

The voice sounded incredibly proud and excited, those feelings only growing stronger when he saw the girl break out into a smile at what he said, an ear to ear grin with closed eyes, complimented by a slight tilt of her head, a scene that would make anyone's heart melt.

"As expected of Subaru-kun! Rem is impressed with your strength; she never should have doubted you in the first place!"

The two then proceeded to walk up the stairs in high spirits, each carrying a massive basket of folded laundry with both their hands.

"What's the plan Rem-rin, how're we going to handle putting away the laundry once we meet Nee-sama?"

Subaru felt himself once again turn to face Rem as he posed her this question, at this point they were about halfway up the staircase.

"We will meet Nee-sama at her room where we will separate out the clothing and then split up to put them away in the rooms they belong, of course Rem doesn't mind working together with Subaru-kun if Nee-sama doesn't need Rem's help."

"Wait Nee-sama's room? Don't tell me she's been in there laying down there while we were collecting and washing the laundry?!"

Subaru could feel the faked and exaggerated outrage in the voice as his face briefly froze so that his mouth was hanging agape.

At this sight however Ram tried to stifle a giggle, holding one hand to cover her mouth as she easily managed the laundry with a single arm.

"It's just an incredible example of Nee-sama's foresight, to think so far ahead that she is in the perfect position to assist Rem and Subaru-kun; Nee-sama's amazingness blows Rem's mind every time!"

Rem was a beacon of pure admiration as she spoke of her sister's greatness, this admiration was so thoroughly ingrained in her that it thickly laces her voice to the point that it was the only emotion that one could pick up from her.

By this point the duo had reached the outside of Ram's room where they were greeted by the pink-haired Oni as she leaned against the doorframe with a certain drowsiness gracing her face, she clearly had been napping up until a few minutes ago.

Ram blinked a few times before eyeing the hamper in Subaru's hands, at which point her entire face slowly contorted in disgust as she realized just what was in that hamper. At that point it took only fractions of a second for her to snatch it away from him, turning her body to shield it from him eyes.

"Perverted Barusu. Using laundry duty as an opportunity to creep all over Emilia-sama's undergarments…Disgusting."

Ram then proceeded to scoff at Subaru while giving him a stare that could only be deserved by the most pitiful and lowly creature imaginable.

"Emilia-tan's underwear is in there?... WAIT NEE-SAMA IT ISN'T LIKE THAT!"

Subaru was in a panicked and panicked state due to the accusations being levelled against him, but thankfully for him Rem came to his aide.

"Don't worry Nee-sama, Rem kept Subaru-kun from having to touch any clothing that could make him uncomfortable, of course if Subaru-kun wanted to get more comfortable around that type of clothing Rem would gladly volunteer her own."

Ram's demeanor changed the second she heard this from Rem, she looked at her sister with a big and bright smile gracing her face as she turned to face Rem, completely ignoring Subaru as well as Rem's slightly concerning statement regarding her own undergarments.

"Thank you Rem, Ram loves you"

Ram said this as she opened her arms wide to embrace her sister, who in turn placed her hamper onto the carpeted floor and accepted her sister's offer of an embrace.

"You're welcome Nee-sama, Rem loves you too!"

The twins embraced for a few seconds longer before separating, at which point Ram turned her head towards Subaru and scowled right at him.

"You better not due anything disgusting with this image Barusu, I wouldn't put it past you. Pervert."

All Subaru could do at this was open his mouth wide and say "HUH?" while Ram smirked devilishly and said her corresponding yet short "Hah."

This was the characteristic banter that defined the relationship of the trio that had grown increasingly close over the few weeks since Subaru had joined them at the mansion. Ram would find a reason to insult Subaru over anything, no matter how small and Subaru would in turn blow up his reactions while Rem would watch with glee from the sideline. No matter what happened between them at this point they would always find a way to make fun out of a jest targeted at another; it was the moments of these that had become some of the most cherished times of the day for the three.

They then walked into Ram's room in order to sort out the clothing on her freshly cleaned floor, avoiding potentially blocking the hallway in case another of the mansion's residents needed to pass by.

Ram's room was kept in pristine condition, the bed was so neatly made that one could call it perfect; the sheets on it were so sharply folded that one may have trouble recognizing that they were in fact fabric and not something more rigid. The pillows were so precisely fluffed that one could see how the surface gently bulged outward all the while being completely devoid of even the slightest sag or wrinkle, making them appear to be as soft as a cloud.

Light gently streamed in along with a cool spring breeze through the open window above her desk, both filling the room with the exquisite morning scent of flowers and dew-soaked grass all the while giving it a cool and natural illumination.

Atop the desk sat a single piece of paper that was anchored down by a paper weight so that it would not flutter off onto the floor as a result of the breeze.

Beside the page was a single quill and an inkwell that stood prepared should a list of supplies need to be formulated, or a letter should Roswaal not be able to find the time himself to draft it.

Even the very walls of the room where in excellent condition, there was not a single speck of dust that could be seen with the naked eye; all of this was a testament to the diligence that the mansions staff showed to their duties.

Subaru turned to close the door so that there would be more space on the floor to spread out the laundry, yet after the soft thud of the door closing he realized something that was out of place, he could no longer tell that Rem and Ram were in the same room with him.

There was neither the sound of their characteristic banter, nor the ruffling of clothing being folded, there was not even the sound of someone breathing.

And it was when he made this realization that the smell hit him, the lingering and unique scent of death.

Subaru began to slowly turn around so that he was no longer facing the door and instead facing into the room once more, and that is when he realized that it had changed.

The walls were no longer pristine and spotless, the paint now appeared to be cracking and flaking off as if it had aged decades in the instant that he had turned away; there was also such a thick buildup of dust on the walls that their former colour had been more or less been completely overtaken by that of a dull grey.

The very air in the room was thick, stifling, and heavy like it had been undisturbed for a significant amount of time, it made it hard to breathe, and even slightly hard to see through as the dust that hung in it was getting in Subaru's eyes and causing them to tear up.

Most of the room was obscured in a thin veil of shadow with the exception of a single beam of light that extended down from a hole in the ceiling that had not been there when the trio had entered. This beam of light illuminated the centre of the room like a spotlight, causing Subaru's attention to become completely fixed on a sight he wished he had never seen.

On the floor stood two skeletons piled up against one another, a few tattered remains of their maid uniforms hanging off their fleshless bones, the odd strands of bright blue and pink hair laying around them, these were without doubt the remains of Rem and Ram.

Subaru felt his legs weaken as his knees began to buckle, his eyes swelled with tears as he found himself sinking to the floor.

"Ram…Rem…"

He managed to mutter their names as he stared at their remains, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible death of his two friends.

His eyes remained wide as tears began to flow down his cheeks, his mouth continued to hang open in shock as he reached his arm out to touch the bones, as if such an act would result in anything meaningful whatsoever.

As his finger touched the jumbled pile, a pile too intertwined to define where one skeleton ended and the other began, a pile too chaotic to tell which were Rem's and which were Ram's, the skulls of the two skeletons suddenly turned to face him.

The jaws of both skulls suddenly fell open and for the briefest of instances Subaru thought he could see Ram and Rem floating above the bones staring at him, but they did not look the way they did just moments ago when the trio had happily working together.

They both wore looks of immense hatred as they glared at him, the look on Ram's face reminded him of one of his first few loops at the mansion, when Rem had been cursed and died in her sleep.

Her pink eyes held enough rage and hatred to set the entire world alight, emotions not missing from her voice in the slightest when she began to scream at him.

"IT'S YOUR FAULT THAT WE ARE LIKE THIS, YOUR FAULT THAT REM HAD TO SUFFER FOR SO MANY DAYS IN THAT PIT, YOUR FAULT THAT REM SACRIFICED HERSELF, YOUR FAUILT THAT WE DIED!"

Beside her sister Rem looked just like she did when she had tortured him for hours during one of the loops where he had believed he was a witch cultist, one of the loops before he had experienced his first mental breakdown.

She bared her teeth as her horn shone brightly, her pupils fully contracted as her entire body trembled in rage, like she was standing before one of the vilest existence on the face of the earth.

"YOU KILLED NEE-SAMA YOU CULTIST, REM SHOULD'VE NEVER LET YOU LIVE, REM SHOULD'VE MURDERED YOU THE FIRST CHANCE SHE GOT. REM WISHES SHE NEVER MET YOU, NEE-SAMA WOULD'VE BEEN SO MUCH BETTER OFF IF YOU HAD JUST BEEN LEFT TO BREAKDOWN AND CRUMBLE ON YOUR OWN!"

Subaru could feel the pain in his chest, each word he heard striking him like a knife blow, each one cutting deeper then the last.

He found the strength to move, although he did not know some of the events that the two spoke of as he had no recollection of them occurring in any of the loops up until now, he had only just recovered from his wounds sustained while fighting the mabeasts in the forest he did have a heavy blanket of guilt enveloping his heart, a blanket with an unknown source.

It was this guilt that drove him to beg for forgiveness as words found their way to his mouth that were not his.

"I'm sorry, I did not want it to end up this way, I did not intend for anyone other then me to have to suffer like this…I didn't want any of this…."

But the apology of Natsuki Subaru, if it could even be called his apology if the words he said were not his to begin with, was not accepted by the twins.

They spoke in unison resulting in an eery echo as their voices merged into something that sounded purely demonic.

"THERE IS NO APOLOGIZING AT THIS POINT, SUFFER AS REM SUFFERED!"

"THERE IS NO APOLOGIZING AT THIS POINT, SUFFER AS RAM SUFFERED!"

They shouted the exact same words, with the exception of crying out their sister's name instead of their own.

These words became like a command for as Subaru looked up he saw the horrid amalgamation of bones flying towards him with outstretched hands.

It threw him backwards onto the ground as it pinned him there with its skeletal fingers clasped tightly around his neck.

There was nothing he could do to fight it, while two of its arms strangled the life slowly from him, the other two pinned his arms to the floor.

He could not fight it, there was nothing he could do to resist, he could only lay there and wait for death.

It was a horrid situation to be in.

It was truly melancholic.

As Natsuki Subaru's oxygen starved body began to slowly shutdown his vision began to fade to black, he could still see the amalgamation of bones that was strangling him as well as the Oni Twins standing behind it with their menacing glares of rage.

Things grew darker and darker, contrast melting away from the world to allow darkness to take its place.

Natsuki Subaru was going to die.

Everything was black.

Natsuki Subaru was dead.

Until he opened his eyes.

Natsuki Subaru awoke to find himself laying on his bed with his own two hands gripping onto his throat as hard as they could, a grip that was quickly released, leaving nothing more then a pair of angry red marks on his neck.

Subaru almost immediately found his face contort back as his vision began to blur, his eyes filling with tears, his entire chest heaving forward as he began to cry, all the memories of his journey to Lugunica were beginning to flood back into his mind.

"I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, I hate this…. This is so bad, life's so sad, I don't think I can take it anymore. This is just the worst of the worst of the worst, I don't have the spirit to keep going, I can't get up again, I can't keep putting one foot in front of the other anymore….."

Subaru lay in his bed as he began to regret life as he slowly began to sink deeper and deeper into melancholy, a melancholy that was only broken when he heard voices rising up through the floor below.

"Have you seen the letter we got from the school yesterday dear?"

Subaru heard his mother begin to speak to his father, he forced himself to focus in order to listen in on the conversation, yet when he heard the mention of school his breath caught in his throat.

"I haven't, have you?"

His father responded to his mother, which was soon followed by the sound of someone rifling through a drawer, most likely in search of this letter.

"So our sons officially a failure…."

Kenichi did not sound impressed in the slightest after reading the letter, the sheer disappointment towards Subaru was heavily apparent in his voice. Subaru however could not believe what he was hearing, his parents had always been nothing but supportive but now it seemed like they had done a complete 180 degree turn in their behaviour towards him.

"Subaru's flunked out of high school unless he gets a note of leniency from the principal today, should we tell him?"

"There's no point, he's already failed the year and its not like he'd get up anyway….."

They had given up on him, after all he had done to disappoint and scorn them Subaru had finally crossed the line that would lead to his parents giving up on him. There was once a time when he wanted his parents to look down upon him, to view him as the slothful degenerate wastrel that he was, he wanted that because even he knew that it was the only thing that could give him the drive to better himself.

It was terrifying, it brought on a nigh insurmountable quantity of anxiety, but Natuski Subaru forced himself to stand up, he forced himself to don his school uniform which had sat unused in his closet for who knows how long, he grabbed his knapsack which had been hidden behind his desk so he would not have to see it.

Natsuki Subaru was going to force himself to go to school for the first time in forever, even if the anxiety it induced would kill him.

He ran down the stairs as fast as he could and found his parents just sitting in the living room with downtrodden looks on their faces.

"Mom, Dad, I'm going to school!" Subaru shouted enthusiastically as he made his way past the living room and towards the front door.

"There's no point Subaru, it's too late to escape the fate you've committed yourself to….." Naoko said this without even bothering to look up from the school's letter, speaking with a diction that was vastly different then what she normally used.

"Subaru, you're just going to disappoint us more, don't bother, your fate is already set in stone…." Kenichi did look at Subaru however, his face looked so sad when he did so, like he was pleading with Subaru to stay.

These words did not fit his parents whatsoever, he had never expected them to say something like this about him, it was unimaginable, it was a depressing thought to imagine that this is how they would react to him trying to better himself.

It hurt him to hear this, it dampened his spirits, it tried to pull his heart so far down that he could not possibly keep going,

But Natsuki Subaru had to keep going, if he stopped for even the slightest instant it was likely that that the tiny kindle of flame driving him to try and preserve the last thing he had would go out, and if it went out it was likely that it would never remerge.

As an aura the aura of depression that filled the air around his parents began to radiate out like it was chasing after him in order to smother anything that was not melancholy. It surged forth towards Subaru like a torrent, and so he soon found himself running from it as fast as he could as he flew out of the house and towards the school.

He sprinted down the middle of the empty road, there was neither a single car nor person in sight as he ran. The houses and stores that stood alongside the road seemed to be completely barren and devoid of life, like all the people that formerly had inhabited them had simply disappeared into thin air.

But Subaru could not stop to investigate, he had to keep running, he could feel the aura that had begun around his parents chasing him, the melancholy from them had not stopped following him.

It felt like an immense wave that hurtled after him as he ran down the street, it lapped at his feet as he tried to escape it, as if it echoed the sentiments of his parents that it was his fate, that it was something that he could not escape.

He heard the voice of a person whilst he ran down the street devoid of people which lead him to turn to face the voice, one that he recognized all too well.

Naoko sat on a bench alongside an older lady who had no face, the same Naoko who had not left the living room of his house.

No matter how far or how hard Subaru tried to run along the street he did not seem to move whatsoever relative to the bench and the people sitting on it, like they were anchored together so he could do nothing but watch as the conversation between his mother and the lady she sat beside played out.

"So I heard from a little bird that Subaru is being kicked out of school, is that true Naoko?"

There was a sense of genuine curiosity in the old lady's voice as she spoke like this, all the while Naoko seemed to be completely unphased by how she was speaking to someone who lacked eyes, a nose, or even a mouth to speak from.

When Subaru looked to his mother however he could tell solely from her facial expressions that she was completely and thoroughly depressed, like something critical to her life had completely fallen apart.

"Yes it is, truth be told Kenichi and I are embarrassed to call Subaru our son….."

It was the melancholy in Naoko's voice that really hit Subaru, she had well and truly resigned herself to the way she felt, like she and Kenichi would never take pride in Subaru like they had done when he was still a young boy.

Suddenly Subaru felt himself moving forward as his mom, the old lady, and the bench they sat on was consumed in an odd fog that came out of nowhere.

The fog was shapeless and white while being completely opaque, as even the thinnest tendrils found their way around Naoko and the old woman they became completely obscured from view, however they did not react to this in the slightest.

His eyes stung with tears, his lungs ached from running, his heart ached with the sentiments he had just heard from his mother, but he had to keep going.

He felt something deep within him urge him on, telling him that he had to keep running, it brought with it an odd sense of hope that he could still fix everything if he only kept moving forward.

And so Subaru kept running, he kept putting one foot in front of the other as he soon found himself rounding another corner, to find himself looking right at Kenichi sitting alone on a bench.

"Where did I go wrong, what else could I have done…One moment he was a happy little boy and now this….."

Subaru heard his dad lamenting to himself as he sat alone on a bench in the middle of the park, he wanted to run to him, he wanted to tell his dad that he would do whatever he could to be a good son now, that hearing his parents talk about him like that pushed him into bettering himself.

But Natsuki Subaru could not do anything like that, no matter how forceful or long his strides were the distance between them remained constant, he could only watch as his dad's face sunk into his hands as a few droplets of water dripped between his fingers.

And it was after witnessing that, that the same fog that had swallowed his mother emerged to envelop the image of his dad in its wispy tendrils, at which point Subaru was once again forced to progress towards the school.

Subaru kept running as hard and as fast as he could and so he soon found himself standing before the school building that he had been looking for the whole time.

There was a steel security gate which would normally be closed at a time like this, but oddly it seemed to still be open, its thick black bars would not stand in his way and there was no security guard in sight.

After passing through the gate Subaru found himself running across the paved courtyard of the school as he looked up at the massive concrete building covered in an ordered assortment of windows, the white paint giving it a very bright look thanks to the intensity of the sun shining on it.

Subaru ran up the short flight of stone steps that lead to the door before hurling the double door open and rushing through, finding himself alone in the school lobby.

It appeared like a ghost town, completely devoid of life, there was not even the slightest trace of anyone walking through this part of the school as it was in completely pristine condition, not even the smallest speck of dirt to be seen anywhere.

The building did not feel familiar in the slightest, it did not feel like the school Subaru remembered at all, everything just seemed to be a tiny bit off.

He would look to where he expected there to be a window and find it was not there, only for it to be somewhere else entirely, somewhere it did not belong.

There were doors that hung open on walls, behind the door was nothing but another wall, resulting in the door opening to nowhere. There were windows that had walls intersecting with them at the perpendicular, completely obscuring the majority of the view through said window.

This building was not normal, there was something wrong with it, it should not be here and Subaru probably should not be inside it either.

But he had to find the principal, he had to stay in school, he had to escape the aura which he felt to be encroaching ever closer to him. His goals and desires had at this point become completely manic, he was no longer thinking clearly nor properly understanding just how wrong the world had become around him, at this point it was questionable if he had ever been thinking clearly since waking up this morning.

He spun in place while in a panicked state, looking desperately for where the principal might be, where the office or anyone who could help him might be.

He looked around him but every door he saw seemed to lead to nowhere but a wall, he looked harder until he saw one door that was different from all the others, a door on the floor.

This door did not look to be in pristine condition in the slightest, it looked well worn, like it had been used tens if not hundreds of thousands of times, its wooden body that looked so old that it could have been around for hundreds of years.

Subaru sprinted at full tilt towards this door, flinging it open and jumping in to find himself in what appeared to be the school's office.

It was a dreary room lit by nothing more then a single flickering incandescent bulb that hung from the ceiling, in front of him behind a desk sat a platinum haired woman who appeared to be the school secretary, the only other door was directly behind her.

"I'm here to see the principal" Subaru said in a rushed and anxious voice.

The platinum haired woman looked up from the paper she was studying, looking right towards Subaru with her crystal blue eyes, a bewitching and innocent smile spreading across her face as if the words he spoke brought true joy and wonder to her heart.

"The principal…..that's wonderful to hear, it really is wonderful! Go right on in, Principal ****** is expecting you."

The woman's voice was a mixture of rhythmic calm and wonderous joy as she spoke, but when she got to saying the principals name it was like Subaru's brain could not process the words, the sounds that he heard had become so horrendously distorted that he could not make out what the principals name was no matter how hard he tried, a feeling of confusion and disorientation washing over him as he tried.

But the woman gestured to the door behind her the second that she finished speaking, making it clear that she wanted him to proceed as well as that she had nothing more to say.

Subaru walked past the woman, he could feel her eyes watching him as he walked towards the door, a door that seemed incredibly similar to that one that he had used to enter the office, that was the fact that it seemed to be incredibly old and well worn, like it had been used an uncountable number of times.

Subaru gripped the handle, feeling how his hand fit absolutely perfectly into the grooves worn into it from use, the fit was so perfect that it initially surprised him.

But he could not dwell on this surprising fact, so Subaru took a breath and opened the door and entered the room behind it.

The room that he now found himself in was small, uncomfortably so, it was barely large enough for him and the principal to stand in without touching each other.

Maybe it was because of how little there was in the room beside the two of them, maybe it was because of the eery feeling that Subaru felt when he looked at the principal, but Subaru could not help but have his eyes drawn to the back of the man as he looked out the only window in the room.

The man appeared to be exactly equal to Subaru in height as he stood looking out the window, a small glimpse of which was visible over the top of his right shoulder.

All Subaru could see through this small glimpse was a sky filled with swirling shadows, an image that should have caused some combination of wonderment and fear in anyone to see it, but not Subaru.

The scene through the window felt intimately familiar to him even though he could not remember it, he felt that he had not just seen it before, but that he had been immersed in it once. As a testament to the intensity of these feelings it should be noted that he felt this way entirely from the tiny sight he had of a few swirls of shadow.

"So you've arrived Subaru, I would like to congratulate you on how quickly you got here this time, I wasn't expecting our next meeting for a few more years."

There was a fire within the principal's voice, a conviction that seemingly drove him on as he spoke about things with such gravity as waiting in this tiny room for years on end.

"Huh…..I'm just here to ask for permission to stay in school, I don't know what you're talking about…"

But Natsuki Subaru did not have the faintest clue as to what the principal was talking about, not a single word that he mentioned struck a chord within Subaru, he was just pursuing a seemingly innocent goal that had thrown him into a situation that could only be described as somewhere between fantastical and supernatural.

"I'm not surprised that you don't remember or even have the faintest clue as to what I'm saying, those memories were given to me and not you after all."

It was with these words that Subaru took a closer look at the principal, who still had not turned to face him even though they were conversing.

As expected of a principal the man was wearing a suit that gave him a demeanor of professionalism, something that was sharply contrasted by his haircut. The principal's hair was quiet frankly a mess, it looked like it had once been cut close to his head but had been allowed to grow out long and free. It did not appear to be combed to be in any sort of order whatsoever as it was tangled and knotted together, hanging out in all directions. There were streaks of grey amongst the rest of his dark black hair, this man was clearly either somewhat old as would be expected of an actual principal, or he was young and had just been exposed to immense amounts of trauma.

"Uhm, am I in the right place, I really need to start going back to school….."

Subaru once again asked about school which the principal had previously ignored and continued to ignore.

"Subaru, you and I are two sides of the same coin, two peas in a pod, and we still have much more to do, things that are much more important then any more schooling at this point. Life's never normal or easy after you've been sent to an isekai fantasy world…"

The principal continued to speak with such conviction, but also determination; like there was some kind of arduous journey or difficult obstacle coming up that he must steel himself to pass.

What was odd about this however was how Subaru could feel these emotions beginning to swirl inside himself as well, it was a phenomenon that was not the product of some rousing speech but instead one that was seemingly the result of the principles emotions becoming directly implanted in Subaru.

And then there was the fact that he was seemingly aware that Subaru had been isekaied at one point, a fact that Subaru had been having trouble recalling himself since he woke up today.

But Subaru's attention was drawn back to the man as he noticed his posture shifting, as he noticed him slowly beginning to turn around.

And then he saw it, the principals face or more correctly his lack of one, but it was not like the old woman from before, instead it was something far more eery and unsettling.

Where the principals face should have been was instead replaced by a black hole that seemingly had no exit nor bottom, the hole took up all the real estate on his face from just above the bottom of his jaw all the way up to his hairline at the top of his forehead.

The feeling Subaru had felt when the woman had said the principal's name returned but this time in a force about a thousand times greater than before. It felt like his vision was being torn apart as he just stared into the abyss that was this mans face; it was a sensation that was so intense that he began to get lightheaded, the sheer disorientation and confusion he felt beginning to overwhelm him.

Subaru stumbled backwards as he lost his balance, falling to the floor as the principal turned away from him to return to simply staring out of the window.

"We will meet again Subaru, once what needs to be done is done."

The tone the principal used was one of resolve, it would have sent a shiver down Subaru's spine if he had not been currently struggling to stay conscious of the floor of the tiny room.

He looked up at the bland and white texture less mass that was the rooms ceiling as it started to bulge, vibrate, and shimmer as it seemingly started to lose its form. As it seemingly began to unravel before his eyes Subaru felt the aura of melancholy that he had been trying to outrun the entire time since leaving his parents house finally catch up to him.

It got closer.

And closer.

Until it washed overtop of him.

He felt like he was drowning as this incredibly intense aura washed overtop of him, it was like a tsunami had slammed into him before pulling him back into the ocean where he sank to depths that he could never come back from.

He sank deeper and deeper into the ocean, so far that he would certainly drown if he tried to fight the inevitable and swim to the surface. He sank so deep that the light from the surface would no longer reach him, its warm rays would no longer strike his face to provide him warmth within the cold and dark abyss.

And it was within this abyss that the Natsuki Subaru from Japan well and truly died, never to return as long as time remained linear.

What replaced this Natsuki Subaru was another Natsuki Subaru.

Where the previous Natsuki Subaru had been happy this Natsuki Subaru only felt melancholy, where the old him had possessed cherished attachments and relationships this him only saw withered vines that had died long ago.

This Natsuki Subaru was different all the way down to the very core, he no longer battled against the darkness and vileness that had once wrapped its way around him, no longer was he an amalgamation of conflicting values; he was one existence that was whole and uniform, he was now well and truly the Warlock of Melancholy.

He loathed his parents; they had risen his expectations of how happy life would be before allowing him to be slowly degraded and worn away as things had fallen apart as he had slowly moved through life.

Had they never done this then there would have been no ledge for his heart to fall off, they made him happy and then allowed him to fall into melancholy for the first time in his life.

He despised Rem and Ram, they had tormented him throughout his time at the mansion, not relenting one bit until he bent over backwards to please them so they would allow him to continue to live, the thought that he had ever considered them to be close annoyed him, it brought him down.

And then there was Emilia, the half-elf that Subaru had initially fallen for after being saved from some thugs in an alley, thugs that Subaru learned could be dealt with without involving her whatsoever. He had been willing to do anything for her, he had always been nearby to smooth over her mistakes, to die if necessary to ensure that no matter what happened that a good path would always be available for her to take.

And after all that she had abandoned him like a used toy when he screwed up once, while he had never once thought of abandoning her no matter how many mistakes she had made, she had done so to him on the first one.

Every memory from the stretch of time that he was with her depressed him, the idea that he had helped her so blindly annoyed him, the sheer melancholy brought on from the idea of her very existence made him question why he even continued to live on in this world.

In his eyes she was truly the worst of the worst of the worst.

She had become the core of Subaru's melancholy.

Unlike his predecessor his melancholy was not undirected, it was directed and embodied by his past and those tied to it.

Whether this path he walked was one set in stone or one among many possibilities is unknown to anyone without the ability to walk amongst and tweak the threads of time. However what is certain is that from this point forth there was no going back for Natsuki Subaru, his bed had been made long ago when he met his predecessor and he had finally chosen to lie down in it.

As the ceiling above Subaru began to unravel into nothingness as he found that the woman who had let him into the principal's room was standing above him, but instead of the smile full of wonder gracing her face she had a frown that made her face look like it was full of sadness.

"There's really nothing wonderful about this, I'm sorry about this Sensei Flügel, its hard for me to see you like this so it must be horrendous for you. I'll do my best to forgive those who have forced you into this state, but I will take it upon myself to guide you to what you truly desired. You guided me when I had truly lost sight of what life was, anything short of trying to save you from the torturous loop you've trapped yourself in and covered with a fake sense of vanity would in itself make me vain for telling myself and others that I want the best for you. After what happened to Sister Satella I won't allow the only other member of my chosen family to suffer like this."

With these words the platinum haired woman only seemed to be getting sadder and sadder as the world seemed to transform around her, becoming what seemed to be the inside of a fabric covered carriage.

When this happened a wave of fatigue suddenly washed over Subaru's body, like he had been through hell and back and not been given the chance to rest after. His feet ached with such intensity that it if someone were to tell him that he had been walking for many days he would not be surprised. His throat was parched and horse, like it had not known the cool sensation of water since he had started walking, a dull pain pierced through his stomach that made him think that he had not eaten in at least as long.

For his physical body to be in such a condition, to feel so poor only made him feel sad, depressed over the thought of why he must suffer so.

His eyes slowly slid shut before rebounding into a semi-open state as the platinum haired woman continued to look down upon him with worry, it was then that he heard yet another voice that he did not recognize.

"He's awake?! Flügel-san's awake so he's not going to die in my carriage, right Pandora-san?!" The voice that called out was completely panicked as it spoke, and by the fact that it sounded slightly more distant than the woman it referred to as Pandora, its owner must be the one currently driving the carriage.

"Yes Trader Otto, the malefactor that was disrupting Sensei Flügel has settled down and stabilized within his body, however his physical condition is still quite poor so you must get him medical attention once you arrive in the city."

Although Pandora seemed to be upset by the state that Subaru was in, she did not allow it to affect her calm demeanor as she slowly yet diligently laid out instructions for Otto to follow, but not once did her eyes leave Subaru.

"Wait why are you using 'I' instead of 'we', where are you going Pandora, don't tell me that you are leaving Flügel-san with me?! There isn't even anywhere on the Lifaus plains for you to go, the city is the closest place and we're already heading there, you can't possibly be leaving?!"

Otto's voice became very high pitched and miraculously managed to sound even more panicked then earlier, however Pandora did not pay attention to him in the slightest as she instead choose to spoke to Subaru.

"We will be parting once again Sensei Flügel, but don't worry I will use all that you taught me to make sure things continue to progress to the point that we can save you, hopefully Sister Satella will be able to join us because it will be the most wonderful moment of all. So until then please stay safe Sensei Flügel, I will do my best to move things along quickly, much is already in motion."

And with those words Pandora suddenly vanished, leaving not a single trace to suggest that she might have been there in the first place.

"Pandora-san? Pandora-san?! PANDORA-SAN?! WHAAA YOU ACTUALLY LEFT?! Flügel-san did you see where she went?"

Otto was at this point in a full-blown panic as Pandora seemingly disappeared leaving him alone with a very unwell person that he had never even met before in his life.

"Wait never mind that Flügel-san, focus on not dying instead, I'm already stuck with all this oil I can't sell, I don't want to be stuck with a corpse as well….."

At this point Subaru's conscious held an even looser grasp on reality compared to before, he found himself seemingly falling in and out of consciousness as everything would briefly go black before coming into some kind of blurry focus after an unknown period of time, which for him felt instant but almost certainly was not.

"KNIGHT-SAMA, KNIGHT-SAMA, OVER HERE WE NEED HELP!" Subaru heard Otto yell from the drivers position during one of his bouts of consciousness.

"My meager abilities may not be enough but I hope they can prove at least some use in solving your predicament, now how can I help."

The voice that spoke was totally calm, cool , and collected, and despite what it may have said it's owners powers certainly were not meager.

"R-R-R-R-R-R-R-REINHARD VAN ASTREA, T-T-T-T-THE SWORD SAINT?!"

Otto sputtered out the name of the Sword Saint as he was frozen in surprise before managing to collect himself after a few seconds and remember why he had sought out help in the first place.

"I-I-I picked up some travellers on the Lifaus highway on my way here, one of them isn't in good shape and the other disappeared, but please help I don't know what to do if he dies in my cart!"

Otto was practically begging Reinhard to help him as the Sword Saint climbed aboard the carriage to get a look at the state of the passenger in need, but when he saw who it was his eyes widened a bit, however briefly.

"Subaru? Otto, how did this happen, do you know why he is in a state like this?"

The pace of Reinhard's voice seemed to quicken as he knelt beside Subaru and began to examine him in more detail, all the while waiting for Otto's response.

"Subaru? The other traveller he was with, Pandora kept calling him 'Flügel' not Subaru; I don't know how this happened, when I found them on the side of the road, he was already collapsed like this but he wasn't even slightly conscious then."

It seemed that Reinhard's very presence was no longer causing Otto to panic anymore and in fact having the opposite effect, he was beginning to grow just a bit calmer.

"I see…. Normally in cases like this we would bring them to the guard house, but could you please drive up to the Astrea mansion in the city, I'll give you directions if need be."

There was a hint of concern and worry in Reinhard's voice as he continued to intently stare down at Subaru like he was studying him, while Otto drove them in his carriage to the mansion that Reinhard resided in.

 


 

The room was dark, not so dark that one could not see but sufficiently dark so that one could rest, and that was exactly what Crusch was doing in this room, resting.

She lay beneath the sheets of her bed with her hair sprawled every which way, as she slowly and calmly breathed in and out.

She was lucky to have survived her injuries, if Felix had been even a second slower in rushing to her aide she almost certainly would have perished from them, she was even luckier that her body could be repaired to the point that she could lay like this without being in crippling pain.

Felix had stepped into the room to watch her for a bit, he had to make sure that she was okay, that she was not going to suddenly die and leave him alone once more, he did not known what he would do if he lost her as well at this point. He still remembered having to slowly watch Fourier be worn away by a disease that slowly ravaged his body no matter how hard Felix tried to fight it back.

It was these feelings and memories that had driven Felix to constantly keep an eye on Crusch regardless of how her condition seemed to be improving, he would run himself ragged to ensure that her chances of making ti through these injuries were even the tinniest bit better.

"Here again Felix?"

Crusch's voice was completely calm as she spoke without opening her eyes, but never less it made Felix almost jump out of his own skin as it broke the somber silence that had been enveloping the room.

"You should be sleeping Crusch-sama! If you were following the doctor's orders you wouldn't realize that Ferri-chan was here to check on you!"

Felix tried to deflect the fact that he had been caught checking on Crusch, something that would not be out of place seeing as he was serving as the physician treating her injury and she was his patient, but from the wording she used it seemed that she was aware about how frequent his visits had been.

"You've been 'checking' on me every half hour Felix, at this point that is vastly more often then necessary."

There was not a single hint of anger or displeasure in Crusch's voice, but it gave the impression that she was disappointed in something, but what she was disappointed in was not exactly clear.

"It is necessary Crusch-sama, people with injuries as bad as yours generally die, Ferri-chan is going to take every single precaution to make sure Crusch-sama's recovery goes as smoothly as possible. And if you know how often Ferri-chan has been visiting then that means that you haven't been resting, this isn't good Crusch-sama!"

Felix tried to hide the true intentions of why he had been checking on Crusch so often, hiding his twice hourly checks that had even been occurring throughout the nights without the slightest delay. But it heart his heart to have to lie to Crusch about anything, he had done it once when Fourier had asked him but he could not bring himself to do it again.

"When Ferri-chan saw you so badly hurt on that field he thought that he was going to lose you, seeing you nearly split in half with so much blood everywhere, Ferri-chan was not sure that you would make it… Ferri-chan cannot lose you Crusch-sama, he'll go to the ends of the world to make sure you're okay, even if you are upset or cross with Ferri-chan for it he cannot help it, you're just too important to him."

Felix looked towards the ground as his voice began to fall, strength leaving it as the truth behind his actions began to come out.

Meanwhile Crusch opened her eyes as she began to just stare blankly at the ceiling above her, her face blank and devoid of both strength and anything resembling a positive reaction to her friend telling her how much he cared about her wellbeing.

"Why do you even care so much Felix?"

Crusch said this statement in a fairly blank voice, an empty voice that made her sound like she had given up.

"Crusch-sama!"

Felix stammered in response but before he could get anything more then her name out Crusch cut him off.

"I'm not this great leader that you think I am, I have thrown away every advantage that I, those around me, and those employed by my house. I have led us into a worse position then we were in when the selection began, I have led us into death trap after death trap, I have gotten so many of my own soldiers killed while achieving nearly nothing with their sacrifice. There's no longer any point in following me Ferris, I'll only end up ruining you as well…"

Crusch sounded completely broken as she spoke, utterly and thoroughly depressed as she recounted all the reasons why she was a horrid leader unfit to have even a single follower.

"That's not true Crusch-sama! You have done your best with the situations that you've been put in, nobody else could have maneuvered their way through everything that has been thrown in your path! You shouldn't look down on yourself Crusch-sama, you've done so much, achieved so much, don't throw all that you've done away just because things did not go perfectly, the Crusch-sama that Ferri-chan is used to seeing is a lot stronger then this!"

Felix's declarations were creating a situation not unlike what had happened between two others where one person sank into their own melancholy as they railed about how horrid they were while the other battled against their melancholy by stating how great they were and how their circumstances were not of their own making.

"You seem to view me in a gilded light Ferris, nobody else would ever manage to view this situation as anything other then the product of my own failures, if you could step out of that light then you could realize how unworthy I am of your praise….."

Crusch's analysis was partially a product of truthful self-reflection and partially a product of the depression and self doubt that had slowly washed over her since she had awoken after the battle with the whale had ended.

"Old Man Will was beside you for everything that you're claiming was your fault just as Ferri-chan was, he definitely would've shared the same sentiment as Ferri-chan in regard to what whether it was your fault or not!"

Felix shook his fist as he made his declaration, trying to show his conviction in the statement that Crusch was not in the wrong over what happened.

"I doubt it Ferris, we didn't even manage to find his body, its incredibly shameful for a master not not even be able to show a servetn that level of respect…."

However Felix's declaration did not achieve anything other then reminding Crusch of yet another of her failures, she could not even give someone who had done so much for her a proper burial.

"Ferri-chan would like to think that Old Man Will is at least finally able to rest alongside his wife, her body was never recovered after she fell to the whale…."

Felix noticed that his words had not had the impact that he had wished they had, this alongside the fact that he was reminded of the death of one of his friends led to him uttering one last wish for the Sword Demon in a low voice.

"I think we have to leave for the hearing in the palace soon, could you call someone to help me get dressed Ferris?"

The prior topic of conversation had gradually petered out, leaving an awkward silence between the two which was broken a few moments later by Crusch recalling her only obligation for the day which she had learned of not soon after the events surrounding the whale had been brought to the council of wise men. Crusch Karsten had been summoned in person to further elaborate on the massive carnage that had claimed the life of the kingdoms strongest magic caster, a hero of the last demi human war, and the appearance of someone who's behaviour seemingly defied common sense.

"Ferri-chan doesn't think that you should be going there in your condition, but he will do as you say Crusch-sama…."

With that Crusch let out a sigh as she returned her eyes to their closed state, steeling herself for what was to come.


 

"So Crusch seems to be in an even worse position after the second subjugation then she was goin' into it which is quite frankly an accomplishment in itself, she's probably somewhere near the back of the pack now if I had to guess. Emilia's chances of winning the selection are pretty much zilch at this point with her sponsor kicking the bucket, overall I'd say this result is quite favourable for us, don't'cha thinks so as well Julius?"

Anastasia looked up from the set of bound pages in her hands as she looked to her knight and waited for his response.

"Although I don't think it would be right to take anything resembling happiness or joy from an event that resulted in the deaths of those of such stature as Wilhelm Trias or Margrave Mathers, I cannot deny that the outcome is one that gives you the best chance of winning the selection Anastasia-sama."

Julius spoke in a tone that held hints of sadness in it, unlike his lady who viewed the event primarily as one which would aide their endeavours, Julius saw it as one that had weakened the kingdom overall by a great deal, a weakening that he feared could lead to even harsher times in the future.

"But there's one thing that bothers me about this, there's something missing from the story told here, where'd Natsuki-kun or this Hector end up. We know he survived the fight as he was seen both entering the ruins of the nearby town and then running off onto the nearby plains, but what happened to him after the army lost contact with him?"

Anastasia posed this question to Julius, not just because she valued any input or theory crafting he could provide, but also because of the interest he had taken in their security following the attack on the capital.

Julius had made a point of pouring through any information that was brought in from Anastasia's information network that could potentially shed more light on Natsuki Subaru's power or the activities of the Witch's Cult, all in the name of trying to keep Anastasia safe, lest she become a target of the cult like Emilia had been. Although he had very little success in regards to finding anything in relation to the cult as their activities were so sub verse it seemed that even the cultists themselves lacked knowledge that extended to any part of the cult beyond their own. He had however been able to slowly and painstakingly dig up what seemed to be every available piece of information about Subaru, from when he seemingly appeared in the capital one day without having ever been recorded entering it, to how he had suddenly increased in power to the point he was able to kill an archbishop not more then days after losing his duel with Julius.

When the report had arrived from a merchant who had been paid to carry supplies for Crusch's second whale expedition came in Julius had poured through it, he had read every single line at least thrice before even brining it to Anastasia, and it was the information that he had gleamed from it that started to fill in a few of the holes in the story of Natsuki Subaru. The picture that he saw forming before his eyes from all this investigative work quite frankly terrified him, he had come to the only conclusion that could possibly explain the events surrounding that boy, even if said conclusion might appear as absolute lunacy.

Julius Juuklius believed that the person he had beaten to a pulp in the dual, and the person who had slain the greatest magic user in the kingdom were not one and the same. This individual that had gone by the name of 'Hector' was quite obviously not the same as Natsuki Subaru, he had used some strange power to take the place of Subaru as a cover for his assassination of the Margrave and was now likely to still be at large and possibly preparing to strike again at his next target.

There was also one more piece of information that he had received and purposely withheld from Anastasia, Natsuki Subaru had been seen being brought into the city gates by a grey-haired merchant before being whisked away by Reinhard. Although the second the Reinhard got hold of Subaru it became impossible to continue tracking him, they had managed to have someone follow the merchant and therefore knew that he was at the merchant's guild building at this very moment.

It was the fact that Anastasia read through the report and still decided to ask Julius about Subaru that was causing problems for Julius however, he may believe that it was in Anastasia's best interests to avoid such a dangerous and unstable individual, but he also could not outright lie to his lady to try and divert her attention elsewhere.

"Anastasia-sama, if I may say this, I believe that it would be best for you and the Hoshin company to avoid dealing with Natsuki Subaru. From what I believe with the information that we have, it seems likely that he has been replaced in some fashion by this being named 'Hector' in order for Hector to murder the Margrave. It's quite likely that when you met with Subaru that you were actually dealing with Hector instead of him, until we find out more I would wholeheartedly recommend that you avoid seeking him out lest he end up harming you."

Julius did his best to dodge the question posed at him as he spoke of the dangers of dealing with this unknown factor, but even he had known it to be a longshot to attempt to deflect someone as clever and inquisitive as his lady.

"Julius that wasn't an answer to my question….. It's not like you to keep things from me like this, you definitely know something don't you"

Anastasia put the tiniest amount of disappointment in her voice in order to chastise her knight, Julius had a heart of gold and even the slightest hint of her dissatisfaction with his actions would be enough to get him to feel guilty enough to confess what he was hiding.

"Forgive me Anastasia-sama, I should not be hiding anything from you, such behaviour is wrong of me and unfitting of someone who holds the title of your attendant. I truly believe that you should avoid any further dealings with whoever Natsuki Subaru really is, but I do know a bit more then what was found in that report. Natsuki Subaru was sighted being carried into the city whilst in poor condition aboard a merchant's carriage, he was then taken to the Astrea manor by Reinhard himself. We believe that he still resides in the manor however it is impossible to know for certain, however we do know that the merchant who brought him into the city, Otto Suwen is currently inside the merchants guild headquarters. Although it isn't my place to ask such a question, if I may, why does Natsuki Subaru interest you so much?"

Julius had initially bowed his head when he made his apology, he truly regretted his deceitful actions when he had tried to deceive his lady, and so he had faithfully confessed every last detail in an attempt to make amends for such an error. However unlike him he had followed this up with a question about her motivations, an action unfitting of a knight.

"Check that nobody is outside the door Julius."

Anastasia immediately issued this command when she heard Julius' question, and although it had initially shocked him and stood up to preform the check as requested before returning to his seat, shaking his head to let her know that nobody was listening in.

"Initially it had just been mainly a business interest with the slight hope that his strength could prove useful, exactly as I had explained it before, but then I saw this."

Anastasia then removed a small key from a pocket within the insides of her jacket before she carefully inserted it into a keyhole in order to open a hidden compartment in her desk. From within the compartment she produced a single piece of paper which she handed to Julius.

"The only other person who's seen this is Ricardo because he was present in the room when it was signed, direct yer gaze to the signature at the bottom and tell me if the script reminds you of anything you've seen before."

Julius did as instructed and his eyes went wide when he realized what she was talking about.

"It looks just like how Hoshin wrote…."

The shock and amazement in his voice were very apparent; Julius had always had more then just a cursory interest in history, and one of the greatest enigma's for not just the history of the Kararagi but also Lugunica was Hoshin himself, his diary was written in a script that was indecipherable to supposedly everyone alive today, and here he was staring at someone who had signed their name in that very same script.

"So now that you know that my interests are not something as shallow or childish as infatuation would you be able to take me on a bit of a detour to visit this merchant on our way to the castle today; we won't get anywhere near Natsuki-kun as long as he is with the Sword Saint, but perhaps this Otto-kun could shed just a little more light on things for us.

"We would have to leave right away to ensure that we still make it to the hearing on time."

"Then let's be off Julius-kun!"

The two then rose from their seats, and after Anastasia returned the paper to its hiding place they made their way to a dragon carriage at a brisker then normal pace.

Chapter Text

He stood in the middle of a large hall that was illuminated by the suns golden rays streaming through the large skylights above, skylights that themselves were gilded in a mixture of gold and fine veneer, an expensive extravagance that only added to the overwhelming atmosphere of the room.

 

No matter where he looked, he could not find a part of the room that could be described as anything other then the most extreme example of luxury. From the couches occupying the halls corners made of opulent red leather to the black onyx pens used by the clerks as they worked away, there was not one thing that he could see that could be described as less then the best of the best.

 

On the topic of clerks, the room was packed with them; lining the benches and tables that filled the outer edges they seemingly worked tirelessly and without pause as they counted coin and balanced ledgers.  This created a symphony of scratches made by their pens as they glided over the paper, alongside the clicks of coins hitting the table as they were counted and examined for authenticity.

 

Click click click.

 

Men and women wearing expensive clothing made of the finest furs and softest silks ran by all around him, likely going to and from deals that involved more coin than he had ever handled in his entire life.

 

Scratch Scratch Scratch

 

In front of him stood a man wearing clothing that was just as fine as all those rushing around them, in the form of a high-quality suit. He had longer then average golden hair alongside a matching golden beard that just barely extended from his chin.

 

His name was Russel Fellow, the Treasurer of the Merchants Guild of Lugunica, one could say that if any significant amount of money was moved anywhere in the kingdom then it almost certainly occurred within Fellow’s purview, and more likely then not also involved his hand in one way or another.

 

CLICK CLICK CLICK

 

Otto did not want to come here, he did not exactly have to either, just if he had skipped town it is more likely then not that he would one day wake up to find his arms and legs bound with a bag over his head, his possessions and likely his life forfeit in order to show why one does not try to ditch a debt they owe to the guild.

 

He could feel his entire body grow warmer and warmer as he listened to Russel Fellow speak in front of him in a calm and collected manner with not the slightest hint of malice, speech that he could barely hear over the beat of his own heart thumping away in his ear.

 

“I’m afraid that due to the present value of your assets, that you won’t be able to cover the principal of the debt nor the accrued interest, Suwen-san.”

 

It was not supposed to have gone like this, it was supposed to be a sure thing, guaranteed profit, if such a thing could even have been said to exist in this world.

 

He had taken out a large loan to fill his cart nearly to the brim with high quality heating oil, he had painstakingly researched and plotted a route to and through the northern Holy Kingdom of Gusteko such that he could be sure to avoid any encounters with bandits.

 

But he had learned soon after arriving at the first city he had intended to trade with that all was for nought, the profits he had expected to be there had seemingly vanished into thin air. Maybe it had been a caravan carrying even cheaper vollachian oil, maybe it had been an uptick in magistone heaters replacing the older oil ones, maybe it had been neither, or maybe it had been a combination of the two.

 

The reasoning behind the sudden drop in price did not particularly matter to Otto, what mattered was that if he tried to sell the oil in Gusteko is that he would have had to take such a loss that he would not have been able to pay the loan back.

 

But seemingly out of nowhere it was like the world decided to offer him a second chance born out of the sheer misfortune of others, the news of the Witch’s Cult’s attack on the capital of Lugunica reached his ears.

 

Otto had rushed back as fast as his dragon could carry him, intending to sell the oil at an almost unethical markup to cover the loss of the highly flammable stockpiles that had almost certainly gone up in smoke thanks the liberal use of fire by the cult during their attack.

 

On the way back he had run into two rather odd individuals on the side of the highway, one of which seemed rather unwell.

 

Otto had taken the two aboard, maybe out of some desire for karmic balance to offset his intention to take advantage of those who had so recently lost their homes, maybe just because he did not like to sit idly by and watch others suffer.

 

But not too soon after learning their names, Flügel and Pandora, did things become freakishly abnormal; Pandora spoke of nothing but plans, both from the distant past and far-flung future to a Flügel who seemed to be barely clinging to life.

 

Then before he knew it, Pandora simply vanished into thin air; at first he had thought that she had jumped off the back of the cart, yet when he looked back he could not see her anywhere across the far flung plains that dominated the landscape near the capital.

 

She had left this unwell man, whom she referred to as her sensei alone with someone she had just met, she had not even left more then the vaguest statement regarding meeting this sick man after he had received treatment, the whole experience had felt incredibly surreal and unnerving to Otto.

 

Of course he then immediately sought out aid for Flügel, aid that had arrived in the shape of Reinhard van Astrea, the current Sword Saint and Master Swordsman of the kingdom, a knight that was so awe inspiring that Otto had almost been left starstruck.

 

Afterwards he had rushed through the city streets under the direction of Reinhard as they made their way with great haste towards a manor owned by the Astrea family in the city.

 

Upon arriving at the mansion the Sword Saint had jumped from the carriage with Flügel in his arms bridal style, and after quickly thanking Otto he rushed his way through the front doors of the manor before disappearing from view as they shut behind him.

 

At first Otto had almost forgotten why he had returned to the capital to begin with, after running into so many people that seemingly managed to so distinctively stick out in a world that was normally so bland and ordinary it was unsurprising that his mind had been distracted from the task at hand.

 

However it did not take Otto long to remember his plans of liquidating his oil stock, leading him to the largest wholesale trading depot in the city, located conveniently and also suspiciously across the street from the merchant guild headquarters.

 

Maybe it was because his karma had not been balanced by aiding Pandora and Flügel, maybe there was no such thing as karma, maybe the world just hated him.

 

Otto learned rather quickly when he tried to sell the oil that the prices had not skyrocketed like he thought they would. The reason for this was due to several Hoshin Trading Company warehouses surviving destructions thanks to being located in a corridor of the city that had survived the attack mostly unscathed, a corridor located around a marketplace where the Sin Archbishop leading the attack had been slain.

 

It was the oil in these warehouses that ended Otto’s hope of escaping financial ruin, the Hoshin Company had likely reaped the massive profits he had sought before the demand returned to vaguely normal levels. Because of this drop in demand the price ended up settling at a level that was once again a bit below what Otto had previously paid.

 

“In order to pay down the remainder of the debt after liquidating your assets, as well as to continue to cover your interest payments would require about 30 years of miscellaneous work for the merchant guild; a figure inflated by the fact the room and board do rather significantly reduce the already meager pay associated with such a job, the remainder barely exceeding the interest payments.

 

Otto gulped hard as he realized the real meaning behind Russell’s words, they meant indentured servitude. Otto tugged at his collar as a single bead of sweat found its way down his neck as he thought about the end of his merchant career and beginning of his life as something that was more or less a slave under a different name.

 

He wondered what his parents and family would think of him knowing that he had failed as a merchant, that his whole life had become a slow downward slide after he had been forced to leave his family home at an age younger then planned. He could only wish, could only hope that they never found out what would become of him, that they would believe that he managed to happily get through life as a moderately successful merchant, lest they place any blame upon themselves for how he turned out.

 

Otto may have been well and truly screwed, but he just could not bring himself to say the words that would condemn him to a terrible path of suffering and melancholy.

 

Click Click Click

 

Otto heard the coins clicking on the table’s infront of the clerks, as Russell’s eyes bore down on him an intense glare that he could not match.

 

Scratch Scratch Scratch

 

He heard the pens scratching away on the paper as the clerks continued to balance ledgers while otto adjusted his collar once again.

 

Otto’s mouth began to open. As the words formed in his mouth, the words that would change the course of his fate forever. He could see the excitement rising within Russell’s own eyes, he was clearly excited at the prospect of this business arrangement concluding in a way that was favourable to him.

 

“Russell-kun, and …… Otto-kun! Just the person I was looking for!............Oh am I interrupting something?”

 

The cheerful Kararagian voice was a godsend to Otto, it stole those few cursed words from his mouth before they could condemn him, it had bought him just a few more moments of freedom at the very least.

 

Otto watched as Russell’s face bore itself into a grimace at the sight of the source of this voice, his eyes narrowed at her appearance and so Otto’s own gaze followed his stare.

 

Standing nought but more then a few paces from the entrance was a shorter purple haired woman flanked by a knight of a much larger stature with hair of a similar colour.

 

It did not take Otto even more then a second to recognize them, the two were incredibly famous, and it seemed the room was of a similar mind as even the clerks had stopped their drudgery of noise making to allow a veil of silence to envelop the room.

 

But Otto did not let the shock of meeting Anastasia Hoshin, one of the leading candidates in the Royal Selection, and Julius Juuklius, the finest of knights dumbfound him; Otto may have generally poor luck but he was still a merchant, and a fairly smart one at that.

 

“F-Fellow-sama and I were discussing how long I’d have to work to pay off my debt…….”

 

The words may have gotten caught in his mouth due to the sheer amount of pressure and anxiety currently plaguing him, but he had a bet to make, a bet to save his future.

 

If Anastasia Hoshin came here looking for him and Russell Fellows was seemingly unhappy to see her then he could only hope for one thing……..

 

“Ohhhhhh now that could cause some problems for us, wouldn’t ya say so Julius?”

 

Anastasia turned to face Julius as she posed this question, placing a finger on her chin and tilting her head as she asked it.

 

Julius in turn made sure to face Anastasia before he began to speak, but his voice was projected to be far louder then what was necessary for her to hear, he projected as if it were his goal to fill the entire hall with his words.

 

“Yes Anastasia-sama, it is unlikely that Otto would be able to be of any use to you should he be forced to toil his days away as an indentured servant, in fact his lack of assistance could pose to be quite the troubling matter for your selection campaign.”

 

With Julius’ calm words the room reached a new level of silence, like every single person collectively held their breath at exactly the same time, you could hear a pin drop at this point as the prospect of the person representing the forefront of Lugunican business interests losing the election due to the kingdoms own merchant guild was brought up.

 

The tension in the air was so thick that one could probably cut it with a knife if they tried, and when the tension peaked is exactly when Anastasia decided to make her move by applying pressure to the very knife she had just prepared against Russell Fellow’s throat.

 

“Russell-kun what do you say to the Hoshin company purchasing Otto-kun’s debt, you get your money and we get the assistance we require from him? That should be the perfect offer for you, unless Russell-kun has another reason for wanting slaves?”

 

Anastasia’s voice on the outside appeared to have a completely innocent demeanor but if one were to see behind the façade, they would see her for the vixen she really was; she was clearly enjoying the disruption of whatever plan Russel Fellow had for Otto.

 

“I guess there really is no bargaining with Anastasia-sama, especially if we want to enjoy our operations after her coronation……Deal accepted……”

 

Russell Fellow grimaced as he said these words aloud, in complete contrast to how Anastasia beamed him with a smile before turning to Otto.

 

“Well Otto-kun, it appears you work for me now, and right now I would say that your help would be more then just a little important. So lets say depending on how things go will be what decides the length of your contract to pay off this debt that you now owe to us, at worst you’ll get whatever Russel-kun demanded but at best it may only be for the duration of this job. So let’s put our best foot forward and get to work!”

 

Anastasia then turned to leave the hall without even waiting for Otto’s response.

 

“Y-Y-Yes!”

 

Was all Otto could sputter out as the relief of escaping a lifetime of certain indentured servitude overwhelmed him, only to be pushed away by the uneasiness and anxiety of a future that would be decided solely by the whims of someone he had never met before sank in. He had managed to better his situation as he could be free potentially as soon as this job that he was needed for was complete, but there was also the possibility of him being forced to work for the remainder of his healthy years.

 

However at this point there was nothing he could do anymore other then follow the two who had seemingly so easily changed his fate for him.

 

He scurried after them as they boarded an ornate ground dragon carriage, a carriage which set off at a brisk pace the second he was aboard.

 

“T-T-T-THANK YOU ANASTASIA-SAMA!” Otto found himself profusely bowing from where he stood in the centre of the carriage, a gesture that Anastasia only smirked at.

 

“As I said Otto-kun, the length of your term with us will depend on how helpful you prove, so how’bout we start with how you brought Natsuki-kun into the city.”

 

Anastasia’s eyes remained fixated on Otto as she waited him to begin, placing him in a spotlight that only made him more and more nervous.

 

However before he got the chance to respond Julius took the chance to cut in.

 

“You might want to sit down Otto; we are likely to begin accelerating soon in order to make the hearing on time.”

 

Julius could not have been a second too late with his warning as the second the last of the words left his mouth as the carriage suddenly jerked as it accelerated to a rather high speed, one that was well above what was considered normal for travel within the city.

 

It was this jerk that caused Otto to lose his balance and fall forwards towards the two who sat nearly side by side on the opposing bench.

 

But luckily for Otto, and for Anastasia who was the one most liable to bear the brunt of the impact from him falling, two strong hands found their way onto Otto’s shoulders to steady him.

 

“THANK YOU JULIUS-SAMA!”

 

Otto may have outwardly appeared to be ecstatically happy, but as he found himself being guided to his seat he could not help internally curse himself for his clumsiness there, he was already starting off poorly with the people who could literally bind him to chains for the next several decades if they felt so inclined.

 

“You’re welcome, now that your seated could you begin to share the information requested by Anastasia-sama?”

 

Julius spoke in a calm and collected voice as Otto took the few seconds he needed to gather his thoughts, they were only asking for fragments of a story that he had already replayed in his head only mere moments ago, this meant that it did not take him long piece the words he needed togeather.

 

“I don’t know anyone named Natsuki-kun…… Unless you are talking about Flügel-san, that’s at least what Pandora-san called him.”

 

Otto then began to gesture to his own body as he started his physical description of who he knew as Flügel-san.

 

“Black spikey hair that comes down in front of his forehead, mean looking eyes, wears dark and worn clothing, accompanied by a blue eyed and platinum haired woman named Pandora-san……..”

 

Otto then stopped as he watched the two processed the description he gave, he clasped his hands in front of himself in anticipation as the two looked to each other before turning back to face him.

 

Anastasia then spoke up in a voice that seemed slightly restrained, like she was still focused on processing some piece of information.

 

“Your description of Flügel seems to match who we know as Natsuki-kun, just we’ve never heard about this Pandora before, who is she? And what about Natsuki-kun, we know the Sword Saint has him but was he injured?”

 

There was a slight delay between Otto hearing the question and answering it, not because he needed the time to think of the answer but instead because he wanted to be as composed as possible, something that was hard to do given the circumstances that he had so rapidly found himself thrust into.

 

“He didn’t have any physical injuries, it was like he was so exhausted and weak from something that he could barely stay conscious, like how someone is after being without food or water for a few days. Also it looked like he was covered in some kind of blood, but it did not look to be his own.”

 

Otto then paused for a moment as he thought hard on how he might even attempt to describe someone as incomprehensible as Pandora.

 

“Pandora-san is difficult to describe if you haven’t met her, she has this really calm demeanor about her, but her eyes, those eyes………”

 

Otto stopped once more as he wrapped his arms around himself and shivered a bit, the memory of looking into Pandora’s eyes was still fresh and still sent chills through him.

 

“It’s like she doesn’t look at you like you are a real person, the stare from those calm and crystal blue eyes of hers make it seem like she see’s you as something that isn’t even alive, like you are just one large straw toy in the shape of a person…….. But when she looks at Flügel-san errrrrr Natsuki-san it was completely different, only then were her eyes full of emotion.”

 

Otto then stopped speaking as he watched Anastasia as she seemingly tossed the mental image of this person around in her head before she decided that she was ready for more.

 

“I guess we will just have to try to wring something out of Crusch at the hearing then….What happened to this ‘Pandora’, she didn’t stick with you by the looks of it? Did she go with Natsuki-kun to the Astrea manor as well?”

 

Otto got a little bit more animated in the face of this question as it touched on the part of Pandora that confuddled his mind the most.

 

“THAT’S THE THING! SHE JUST VANISHED INTO THIN AIR A BIT OUTSIDE THE CITY! POOF. She said something about helping or saving Natsuki-san before she left, then just abandoned him to be saved by a stranger who had just picked them up on the side of the road.

 

Otto then made a gesture of a large bubble breaking apart as he watched and waited for the duo to take in this set of information that even he did not understand.

 

Hearing this a concerned look overcame Julius as his whole body tensed up while a more skeptical look overcame Anastasia’s face as she sat there studying Otto intently before turning to look out the window.

 

“There has to be more to this then just disappearing Otto-kun, but it seems like we’ve arrived at the castle so I guess we will continue this discussion later.”

 

The second the carriage came to a stop Julius disembarked almost instantly before turning to help Anastasia down, before they both turned to look at Otto with expecting eyes.

 

“H-Huh, you want me to come into the castle with you?!?” Otto shouted out in an almost exasperated voice as he looked at the two unflinching faces of those standing before him, giving the only answer he needed to his question without even having to say a single word.

 


 

Everything hurt, she did not know if she could keep going, she wanted to give into the pain and just fall to the ground where hopefully she would be granted some respite.

 

But she could not due that, now of all times was the worst for Crusch Karsten to show even the tiniest hint of weakness.

 

The wound that had nearly severed her in half may have been mended by the greatest healer in the kingdom, but its severity ensured that not all of its effects had been dispelled so easily as the tear in her body had been; trauma that severe tends to be much more long lasting in ways that not even healing magic could fix.

 

An electrifying pain shot out from her core to all her extremities as she stood before the empty throne of the castle in a defiant pose, both her hands on the pommel of her sheathed sword, tip against the hard stone floor.

 

The pose produced quite the imposing image; however she wasn’t doing this for the sake of intimidation, it was to keep her steady so that she did not just suddenly fall over when a wave of either pain or weakness slammed into her.

 

Her face felt hot, it radiated with warmth yet was so incredibly pale that it mimicked that of someone who suffered from poor nutrition, the occasional bead of sweat formed on her forehead and ran down the side of her face as she gritted her teeth in order to try and bare through it.

 

She felt a weakness in her knees as they began to slightly buckle, wavering under the weight of the task of allowing her to remain standing, but it was in this moment that she felt the warm breath of someone caress her ear as she heard the quietest of whispers.

 

“Crusch-sama, if you need a chair Ferri-chan can get one for you.”

 

She wanted to accept his offer, she almost did accept, but she could not bring herself to sink that far, to admit defeat and surrender what little pride she had left.

 

To sit down in a chair and admit that she could no longer stand in front of the other candidates and the Council of Wise Men would be tantamount to admitting defeat and giving up the royal selection, she would show that she was no longer strong enough to do something as mundane as standing. Crusch Karsten may no longer be likely to win, but for the sake of those who died to get her where she currently stood, she would keep battling for victory all the way up to the very end.

 

It was because of this that Crusch did not give an audible response to Felix, she did not even turn to face him nor shake her head, all she did was draw her lips back to show him her bared teeth, an indication of her intention to continue the fight.

 

“Apologies for being late, I know that time is money and all that, but we truly got hung up on important business on the way here!”

 

Anastasia and Julius burst through the door with a grey-haired merchant following close behind while looking absolutely panic stricken. While Anastasia proceeded straight forward to take her place in the line of candidates that stood in a line before the empty throne, Julius stopped to bow gracefully as he entered the room with the merchant looked around rather frantically before doing so as well, just with his bow being vastly more rushed and less gracious in execution.

 

They then continued to walk before standing a bit behind Anastasia, completing the list of expected attendees at this hearing; the list consisting of Crusch Karsten and her knight Felix Argyll, Priscilla Barielle accompanied by Al, Felt and her knight Reinhard van Astrea, and finally Anastasia and her knight Julius.

 

This meant that they had one extra person in attendance and were missing a candidate, although said candidate was expected to be missing, however both of these things had to be addressed before the main topic at hand could be confronted.

 

The aged Lord Bordeaux stood up, his dominant eyebrows and bald head giving him a menacing appearance that was only amplified by the expensive regalia that adorned the ceremonial robes of the Council of Wise Men that he was garbed in.

 

“Before we begin this hearing, Anastasia-sama who is this person you have brought with you, it was explicitly stated that none other then the candidates and their respective knights were to attend, please justify his presence or we will have him thrown down the front steps this instant!”

 

Lord Bordeaux’s voice was projected with an air of annoyance at the blatant disobedience of his instructions, the merchant visibly shrunk in stature and audibly gulped as he heard this, but Anastasia seemed completely unphased.

 

She stepped forward and gestured to the merchant who was shaking in his boots with one arm while facing Lord Bordeaux as she began to speak in a voice that showed that she was completely unaffected by Lord Bordeaux’s attempted intimidation.

 

“This is Otto-kun, the newest employee of the Hoshin Trading Company, he’s the one who brought Natsuki-kun back to the capital after the events detailed in Crusch’s report. Since he seems to have some information regarding what happened I thought it might be beneficial to bring him with us.”

 

Anastasia then turned her head to look at Otto as Julius gently prodded him in the side with his elbow, in that instant Otto dropped to the floor with his forehead pressed to the ground in a prostrate position.

 

“M-My deepest apologies for intruding Bordeaux-sama, my name is Otto Suwen and I hope that I can be of use!”

 

Otto’s voice quivered with every word he quickly spoke under the immense pressure of being put on the spot in front of what could be considered some of the most important people in the entire kingdom.

 

“Anastasia-sama, this is still completely unacceptable! You cannot just bring outsiders into closed meetings, Commander Marcos!”

 

Lord Bordeaux completely ignored Otto as he spoke directly to Anastasia before summoning the massive green haired man clad in a full suit of steel armour that commanded every royal knight and guard across the entire kingdom.

 

But before Commander Marcos could even take a single step towards Otto he stopped upon noticing an elderly hand on the shoulder of Lord Bordeaux.

 

“Bordeaux-dono, I don’t think we can possibly throw out this young man after he has shown such excellent manners.”

 

Lord Miklotov spoke in a voice that cracked with age yet was tinted with a gentle kindness as he looked not at Lord Bordeaux but instead at Otto.

 

“If that is your wish, Miklotov-sama.”

 

Lord Bordeaux then looked towards Marcos as he relaxed his body and removed his hand from his sheathed sword. While this happened, Otto stood up and gave one final bow towards Lord Miklotov, who smiled in return, before he returned to his place beside Julius.

 

“Let us move onto the next topic then, I’m sure you’ve all noticed that the fifth candidate, Emilia-sama is missing from among your ranks. I am also certain that you have all read the report detailing the successful subjugation of the White Whale at the hands of a force led by Crusch-sama. Within this report it details the actions of an individual who called himself Hector, an individual who carried a title similar to that of the Witch of Envy, being referred to as the Warlock of Melancholy by none other then Margrave Roswaal L Mathers himself.”

 

Lord Bordeaux then paused for a moment as the whole room grew tense with the mention of the Jealous Witch, but he did not stop for long before continuing.

 

“It is this individual that the hearing will focus on, he currently stands convicted of slaying the Margrave, a man important to this nation and member of this royal court as the head of the court magicians, a horrid crime that carries with it the punishment of death should he be deemed guilty. Alongside this it is assumed that he is the reason that Emilia-sama, the fifth candidate that has not been heard from since she departed the capital with her sponsor the margrave. After murdering the Margrave, Hector was reportedly seen moving towards that village that the margrave was seemingly protecting, a place that Emilia was likely residing in as her sponsor engaged in battle. Although we can only hope for her continued good health, we cannot help but assume the worst, that she too met her end at the hands of the menace that slayed the great magician that was Roswaal L Mathers.”

 

Lord Bordeaux then paused to allow everyone to take this in before he continued once again, a few gasps could be heard around the room at the mention of the death of Roswaal. It is unlikely that many would have particularly cared about Emilia being killed however due to the view the court held regarding silver haired half elves, if anything it mattered more to them that a selection candidate in general was believed to have been killed rather then the fact that the candidate was Emilia herself.

 

“Therefore we have decided to hold this hearing for a dual purpose, we wish for Crusch-sama to shed further light on the events detailed by her report, as well as to decide the fate of this man who calls himself the Warlock of Melancholy. We wholeheartedly believe that he may have the potential to become a much greater threat to this kingdom then the whale ever was. So if you please Crusch-sama, you may begin.”

 

Lord Bordeaux nodded slightly towards Crusch as he said this before taking a half step back so he stood shoulder to shoulder with Lord Miklotov, yielding the focus of the room to Crusch, an act of kindess that meant that she did not have to step forward to achieve the same effect.

 

“I’d like to paint Hector as some kind of incomprehensible monster, and well that could be true, its also true that Felix and I wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for his intervention. We departed the city on our hunt for the whale with Natsuki Subaru but by the time we had met Margrave Mathers it was Hector who was with as seemingly through Natsuki Subaru’s body. Margrave Mathers recognized him instantly, but the rest of us did not clue into it until he coined the term that you heard before, Warlock of Melancholy. The two managed to find a time to converse in the middle of the battlefield that resulted in us all being caught of guard by how upset and angry Margrave Mathers seemed to be at the sight of him, and how nonchalant Hector was about the whole situation, he did not have the slightest bit of fear regarding Mathers anger. In fact it seemed like the two had a history, Mathers claimed that he had met Hector 400 years ago…..”

 

Crusch’s voice began to trail off as she realized that her story had reached the point where it had begun to seem ridiculous, something that was not unfounded based on the muttering that instantly broke out around the room.

 

“Crusch-sama, forgive me for saying this but are you sure your memories were not affected by a head injury? It’s common knowledge that Roswaal L Mathers was nearing his 30th birthday, to claim that has been alive for 400 years is simply preposterous!”

 

Lord Bordeaux called out in a voice that was slightly angry to give the impression that he was chastising Crusch for saying something so ridiculous, however Felix did not take these accusations towards his master so well.

 

“Why would you say such a thing like that about Crusch-sama! Ferri-chan heard exactly the same thing, it was certainly a surprise to find out that Hector was not just something made up by Subaru-kyun’s delusions but an actual person…….”

 

Even though Felix was defending her it still bothered Crusch that he was willing to speak to one of the wise men in such a tone, prompting her to intervene against the one who had initially intervened on her behalf.

 

“Felix! Such a tone is not appropriate here!””

 

Crusch then turned to face the enraged lord and tried to bow her head in apology, however as she tried to bend in order to give a more formal bow an even greater surge of pain coursed through her causing her to audibly gasp.

 

“Hrrrrrrh”

 

Which in turn resulted in Felix returning all of his attention to her as he was forced to watch her struggle with the pain the still crippled her, pain from the remaining damage that he was not capable of healing.

 

“Can though cease to waste mine valuable time? Mine venerable self came here on a whim in an effort to add some entertainment to the day. Although I must say that watching the crippled and disgraced noble who so desperately tries to maintain a shred of dignity nearly fall over, a result of the failures of this healer who claims greatness so far above his abilities when he can’t even provide his master a shred of relief is at least good enough to pass the time. However it’s just a trivial sideshow that has become boring whilst distracting from the main event, now either move on or mine self will leave in search of a better distraction from boredom.”

 

Priscilla spoke in her normal condescending voice while fanning herself in such a way as to cover the lower half of her face, her words may have been inflammatory but in the end not a single person in the room was at all surprised with what she said.

 

The results of this however was that both Felix and Crusch were glaring at her with such intensity as if they were trying to fire a laser from their eyes and burn holes through her fan and face behind it.

 

Felix had at this point moved beside Crusch and used his body to help her right herself, a position he remained in, in order to help her stand; something she reluctantly gave into and allowed by wrapping one of her arms around his shoulders.

 

“Priscilla Barielle, Ferris has done his best and far exceeded what could be expected from any healer in this kingdom. He has reduced mortal wounds that should have killed me mere moments after I sustained them to ones that will heal given enough time, I am completely and thoroughly satisfied with the treatment I have received from him up to and including this point. What you have said is nothing short of demining and ignorant of the feats he has achieved.”

 

Crusch spoke in the most confident and defiant voice she could manage in the defence of Felix, something that she could immediately tell he appreciated when he heard him quietly mumble her name with a volume so low that nobody could hear it besides her.

 

“Ohh so you’re alright with mediocrity, have you sunk down to the ranks of the commoners and taken the idea of being content with half measures, do you no longer wish to see others strive for even higher stations like mine self does?”

 

Priscilla fired another jest towards Crusch but it seemed Lord Bordeaux had slowly been growing more and more irate at the sight of what was going on in front of him and decided to put an end to it, even if his interruption had been the spark that had set everything off to begin with.

 

“Priscilla-sama, these comments are uncalled for so I must ask you to stop or otherwise leave the premise if you intend to disrupt the meeting further.”

 

Lord Bordeaux spoke in a voice that was rough and firm, yet Priscilla did nothing more than raise a single eye at this.

 

“Ohhhh, so now you wish to pretend to be something more then common dirt and dare to stand before mine perfect self. Tell me what exactly I am interrupting? Do thou simply wish to walk through some false process in order to label the commoner who once served as my appa handler as a traitor and have the red haired brute over there hack his head off? Is mine presence a possible affront to such a scheme as vile and ill thought such as that, could it be that someone full of such false pretenses as thine self fears mine own nobility, fears mine ability to see though such thinly veiled lies that obscure your true desires? It should not really be hard for even the commoners in this room to realize that thou intends for no more investigation other then the meager amount to justify a guilty verdict.”

 

For the first time in the meeting Priscilla lowered her fan and just stared at Lord Bordeaux, the fiery princess met his glare and overwhelmed him with the sheer pressure her aura was exerting to the point that he found himself speechless and forced to take a step back.

 

It took everyone else in the room a split second to realize that her knight had taken a step away from her as well, and it took them a second beyond that to realize that she was not smiling nor acting as if the whole ordeal was some source of entertainment. In that moment the Sun Princess showed a side of herself that perfectly fit the lineage she hailed from, that of the emperors of Vollachia.

 

The other two candidates in the room who had previously stayed silent up until now took this dominating silence created by Priscilla as an opportunity to make their own opinions heard.

 

“So this whole thing is just an opportunity for you to find a reason to kill Big Bro, after all he’s done for you when he saved the city from those nasty cultists? If that creepy clown dude had been the one to kill him then we wouldn’t have been going through all of this, its not the governments place to go into a private dispute like this.”

 

Felt shouted up at Bordeaux and Miklotov with this statement before she turned to her knight Reinhard as he stood behind her, wincing slightly at her lack of decorum.

 

“Reinhard, I’m ordering you not to raise a hand to Big Bro if these two old geezers tell you to just because they don’t like them, understood?”

 

This put Reinhard in a bit of a tough position where his priorities and obligations became muddled, as the Sword Saint it was his duty to obey the commands of the rulers of the kingdom in the name of its protection, which at the moment was the Council of Wise Men. However as the knight of Felt it was also his duty to obey her every command up until the conclusion of the selection.

 

The result of this conundrum is that Reinhard was left speechless, unsure of what to do until such a situation actually occurred where he could only hope that the correct choice presented itself.

 

“It really would be a shame if the public were to find out that their hero had been executed by their own rulers, wouldn’t it Bordeaux? Everyone in this city knows that Natsuki-kun had saved them from the cultists, and it won’t take long for word to spread that someone who is seemingly the same person as Natsuki-kun saved Crusch by slaying the whale. I couldn’t possibly imagine what they might due if word were to slip out of exactly who it was that decided to kill such a hero of the common people.”

 

The voice of Anastasia Hoshin then rang across the room as she delivered what essentially amounted to a threat directed at Lord Bordeaux himself, when she finished she let a smile sit on her face that ended up giving an impression that was far to menacing for what someone would imagine if they were to look at solely her physical appearence.

 

Seeing that he had somehow managed to unite three people who had previously been known to despise one another against himself, Lord Bordeaux could do nothing more then grimace as he stepped back, symbolizing his surrender in the battle that had been waged verbally between them all.

 

“If its seemingly so wrong to execute him then what do you believe I should do, Priscilla-sama?”

 

Although it was phrased as a question, Lord Bordeaux spat these words towards Priscilla in a way that made them more closely resemble a challenge then anything else.

 

Hearing this seemed to improve her mood at least slightly as she began to fan herself once again, dropping her imposing aura just ever so slightly.

 

“It’s only natural that those who lack the ability to properly think would seek enlightenment from someone as learned as mine self, and mine self has decided purely for entertainments sake to grant thy the tiniest bit of guidance, thou need not even praise me for it.”

 

Priscilla then turned and gestured to the duo of Crusch and Felix with her hand before doing the same to Otto, who seemed to visibly stiffen in the face of the gesture.

 

“This disgrace of a noble and her loyal yet incompetent servant have both witnessed the very event that thou is so interested in, the commoner then interacted with him for a time between then and now, is it really necessary for mine self to point out that thou should wring ever drop of information from them first before bringing the one in question up here and doing the same to him, afterwards thou shall be fit to deem if his head is still worth more upon his shoulders or beside them.”

 

After so graciously bestowing this information upon the supposedly wise man of the council bearing the same name, Priscilla shifter her weight as she leaned back whilst crossing her arms, showing to the rest of those in the chamber that she was satisfied with simply watching from now on.

 

Lord Bordeaux did not look pleased to have been seemingly educated by someone less then a third his age, but he had been forced into a position where the only real option present to him was to accept the advice given, lest the situation devolve into one that could pose a more permanent threat to his power.

 

“Crusch-sama, please continue.” Were the only words to escape his mouth as he looked down with closed eyes, accepting that he was no longer in sole control of the flow of events in this hearing any longer.

 

“To continue to drive home just how out of place Hector seemed to be in the modern day and age, he viewed an attack from the White Whale as nothing more then an annoyance, the White Whale itself as nothing more then a speed bump in his way before dealing with whatever business he had with Roswaal. The next main encounter of note with him was just after I had found myself in the whale’s mouth, right after Wilhelm had fallen………”

 

It was at this point that Crusch found her voice falling as she looked towards Reinhard, the grandson of Wilhelm. What she saw was both surprising to her and not surprising at the same time, never before had she seen the indomitable Sword Saint look more beaten in his life.

 

Reinhard van Astrea’s eyes had fallen down to stare only at the stone floor below his boots, the muscles in his face were tense, but this tension was unlikely to be anywhere near representing the turmoil that must be rising up within him.

 

Many of those in the room choose to ignore what they saw, for some it may have been out of politeness, others because they refused to see such weakness from the strongest man in the kingdom, finally some probably refused to look because they simply did not care in the slightest.

 

From what Crusch could see, Julius, Felix, and Felt looked at Reinhard with pain in their eyes, however of those three it was evident that only Felt did not know the true extent of why Reinhard’s pain surpassed that of what could be considered normal for someone losing a family member.

 

She had only met Reinhard rather recently and so it was unlikely that she would have known the true extent of the unresolved tension between the Sword Saint and Demon, in fact it was entirely possible that she did not know about the gulf between them at all.

 

Crusch knew the true extent of the guilt and regret Wilhelm held for his behaviour regarding his grandson, how much pain he would feel in his heart from a mere glimpse of his grandson. Crusch knew how Wilhelm felt that he was completely undeserving of any form of reconciliation with his grandson that he had spurned and blamed so long ago.

 

But Crusch also knew that he had wished to try, that he would only attempt to do so after the White Whale had finally been slain, it would have been both a reward for himself and a final hurdle he would have to overcome at the end of his long and somewhat tragic life.

 

And now all who knew that also knew that it was a goal that would never be achieved, Wilhelm had fallen to the same beast that had claimed his wife’s life, the same beast that had been the spark for the divide between him and his grandson. They all knew that Reinhard and Wilhelm had never gotten a chance to make up and that Reinhard’s last major memory of his grandfather would be of when he had blamed him for what happened and declared him a murderer, the wounds made that day had not healed and now in all likelyhood never would.

 

Crusch cleared her voice before continuing in an effort to offer the Sword Saint the tiniest of distractions from his own emotional pain.

 

“Within the mouth of the White Whale Hector stood up unharmed, seemingly only annoyed at the fact he had to be inside such a thing, before he placed his hand against the Great Mabeast and killed it in a single hit, reducing its entire body to nothing more then chunks and shreds of flesh.”

 

And it was then that you could hear a collective gasp echo across the room before a silence fell that was pure enough to allow one to hear the subtle clinking sound of a pin falling. It was a truly outrageous claim to make, for someone to slay the White Whale in a single strike like it was an afterthought was no trifling matter. It was a beast that had plagued the land since the time of the Great Calamity and claimed the lives of many great warriors including that of the previous Sword Saint before Reinhard.

 

“Afterwards I can only provide the words of my retainers and Felix as I had become incapacitated from the injuries I had sustained from both the Whale’s initial attack and the subsequent fall after I was released from its maw. However I wholeheartedly believe that their word should be taken with as much seriousness and thought as my own.”

 

Crusch then paused as she waited for Priscilla to butt in and make a comment about her overvaluing her own word or the like, but surprisingly enough nothing came from the princess as she simply stood back and continued to listen.

 

“Hector was seen falling from a great height only to land without showing signs pf sustaining even the slightest of injuries, before approaching Roswaal. The conversation between the two is something that has completely escaped both my own and the comprehension of even the most well read and learned in my house, only the smallest fragments of it line up with the records available to us. Before combat began between the two they both conversed about what sounded like the same person, a woman with the title Witch of Greed, Echidna; even more so both the Margrave and Hector spoke about wishing for her return to this world as it seemed that she had perished long ago. Roswaal declared himself to be a student of hers, calling himself by the name of his long dead ancestor, ‘Roswaal A Mathers’ before they initiated combat. Finally within this long winded introduction there was a reference to one more with the title of a sin, they spoke of someone who went by the name of ‘Vainglory’ but their mention was brief and devoid of further detail.”

 

Crusch then stopped to let this information sink in a bit, she looked around the room only to see that the colour had drained from the faces of most of those in attendance, guards and members of the various selection camps alike, all but a few showed the true fear that was brought up by the mention of another with the title of ‘Witch’.

 

“However just as with the White Whale, Hector did not seem to view the Margrave as much of a threat and from what it appeared like he was no match for this Warlock of Melancholy. The Margrave threw magical attacks that had never been seen by the likes of anyone present, producing devastation of an intensity that was neigh unimaginable to us, yet he could not do so much as scratch Hector. Hector ended the fight with a barrage of blows that shattered and eviscerated the already injured body of the Margrave until he lay on the ground on the verge of death. However after the fight and before the Margrave passed Hector was seen to kneel by his body and give what were believed to be parting words before he made his way to the ruins of the nearby village where we lost track of him.”

 

Crusch had finished telling her tale and stopped inorder to surrender the floor to the next speaker, she watched as Lord Bordeaux opened his mouth as if to take the attention of the room only to be taken aback as Anastasia more or less rushed forward while nearly dragging Otto with her to take the rooms attention instead.

 

“I think this is where our Otto-kun can shed some light on the situation as well, now Otto-kun tell everyone here just what ya told Julius and I earlier, the more detail the better.”

 

Anastasia then took a step or two back to leave Otto alone before the throne with all the candidates at his back, and with how he looked back you could very clearly tell that being put on the spot like this was not something he enjoyed.

 

“I-I was making my way back to the capital in an effort to sell some oil that I had left in my cart when I was flagged down by a woman and man standing on the side of the road, while the woman was standing at least, the man was flat out on his back unconscious. From what I understand the man is who you all know as Natsuki-san but the woman referred to him as ‘Sensei Flügel’, she asked for my help in order to bringing him to the capital and as I had room in the carriage I let them aboard. There really wasn’t too much to say about the majority of the journey, just the woman talking to Natsuki-san while he was unconscious, she seemed concerned about his well being and that seemed fitting for the situation he was in so I didn’t give it too much notice. However when we got closer to the city Natsuki-san started to drift in and out of consciousness and that’s when things got weird, she started to mention things to him about plans already being in motion and how she would do her best to aide him but then she just vanished, like she was never there at all. I looked behind the cart to see if she had fallen off, but she was nowhere to be seen on the entire plain, but she also wasn’t in the cart; she had just left this person she seemed to care a fair bit about with someone she had just met after telling him that she would save him, I don’t really know how to describe it…….”

 

Otto looked towards the ground as his face wrinkled up as he thought about what he should say next, something that was given to him when Lord Miklotov decided to speak up after being silent since the beginning of the hearing.

 

“I see it was a wise decision to let you stay, now how about you describe this woman a bit more, like her name, what she looked like, and if she left any impression on you.”

 

Miklotov spoke in a voice that was just as kind as before, but it could be seen by how he looked at Otto with an intense gaze that the situation had changed as such to warrant every bit of attention he could muster, he was now giving off an air of cunning alongside that of the wisdom that was exuded by his age.

 

“Well to be quite frank she felt almost terrifying to be around, the way she looked at me with those ever calm, crystal blue eyes, it made me feel like she looked at me like I was nothing more then a straw toy that she could manipulate in any which way possible.”

 

Crusch then briefly shifted her attention from Otto to Priscilla as she once again expected her to remark on how this woman had obviously manipulated him, but once again she was surprised to see Priscilla taking in every last detail that she could with a stone faced expression, totally captivated in the events being described before her.

 

“She called herself Pandora, and besides her eyes she had fair skin, wore what looked like a white cloth with a hole cut in it for a head, and hand long platinum coloured hair…….”

 

“What!”

 

Everyone in the room then turned to face Crusch as she had unwittingly stammered out in surprise at the description Otto had given, everything from the voice to the clothing to the physical characteristics matched perfectly with the person she had encountered during the first subjugation attempt of the white whale.

 

“Do you know her by chance Crusch-sama?” Lord Miklotov now shifted his attention from Otto to her, his gaze bearing down intently.

 

“She matches the description of someone we encountered during our first subjugation attempt against the White Whale, what we experienced then matches the words of Otto Suwen. She arrived seemingly out of nowhere and then said something about needing the White Whale, disallowing us from slaying it, before she and the entire whale disappeared without a single trace.”

 

The room then went quiet for a few moments as Otto made a hasty retreat from the centre of the room now that the spotlight was off him. Every single person was now carefully considering the information that they had been given, realizing that they may be involved in something far beyond just bad blood between two participants in the royal selection.

 

“So do we know if the Big Bro we have in the infirmary is actually Big Bro and not this Hector, if they even are different people?”

 

Felt posed this question to the room at large but none seemed to have an answer for her which resulted in the room falling into silence until Commander Marcos spoke up for the first time since anyone had entered the hall.

 

“Reinhard-sama, was he restrained to the bed in the infirmary after you brought him here?

 

There was the slightest hint of concern in Marcos’ voice as he said this, likely brought on by all the talk of witches and warlocks, along with the mention that this individual could potentially be the one who killed the most powerful magic user in the kingdom like it was a mere afterthought.

 

“I did not Commander Marcos, I felt no malicious intent coming from him so I concluded that he could not possibly be the Hector mentioned in the report. As well the doctors at the Astrea manor concluded that even if he did wake up that he would still be fairly weak and out of it until he had at least a few days of bed rest so I thought such measures could only aggravate the situa……..”

 

Reinhard’s voice was cut off as a door to the chamber was suddenly flung open as a pair of guards were backstepping into the room with quivering spears pointed towards a man who just kept walking towards them, uncaring of the fact that he had sharpened weapons pointing right in his face.

 

When he entered it was like the very atmosphere of the room darkened due solely to the aura that surrounded him, he radiated nothing but sadness, depression, and an incomprehensibly deep melancholy.

 

The face of the man who entered was incredibly pale, to the extent that it made him look sickly, his eyes were surrounded by dark rings that gave off the impression that he was eternally exhausted and deprived of sleep. He walked towards them with his arms in the pockets of his dark coloured and well-worn jacket. The colour of his eyes no longer matched as they had when he had first come to the castle so long ago, one of them had been turned a putrid black colour that appeared unnatural compared to his other brown eye. His pointed hair that had once been a prominent feature had seemingly lost the will to continue to resist gravity and now hung down and covered part of his forward.

 

Natsuki Subaru had left the infirmary to join the candidates in the main hall.

 

“I have memories of this damn place, and they aren’t in anyway happy, part of me had hoped that the cultists had levelled this horrid building to the ground so that I would never be forced to relive the pain of what happened here……..”

 

Subaru said this as he stood still in the hall, turning to look at the architecture around him while ignoring both the candidates, and the guards who had rushed to surround him.

 

“Protect Lord Miklotov!” Shouted Lord Bordeaux as he pulled his compatriarte back and away from the intruder, at the very instant of his command being uttered Marcos had drawn his sword and entered the circle formed by the guards.

 

“Reinhard! This man is a threat to both the candidates and the Council of Wise Men, slay him where he stands!”

 

Marcos roared this command as he looked upon the intruder with pure determination in his eyes, but to his surprise Subaru was not annihilated instantly, because Reinhard did not attempt to draw the dragon sword.

 

“Glad to see your feeling better Subaru, I’m sorry that everyone is a bit on edge, but to say they are afraid of you would be an understatement right now.”

 

Reinhard spoke in a kind and friendly voice as he entered the circle to walk towards Subaru with a nonchalant and open demeanor, like he was welcoming him into his home instead of the current situation.

 

“To say being in this situation makes me feel anything other then depressed at the idea that I am now seen as nothing but a monster due to the actions of others is truly upsetting, Reinhard……..”

 

Subaru turned his whole body so that he directly faced Reinhard as they had a conversation amidst the circle of soldiers, all of whom looked at their Sword Saint in complete disbelief as he both defied orders from the knight commander and conversed with someone who had been made out as a complete monster.

 

“I don’t like to see my friend be treated like this either, maybe if you’d be willing to sit down and talk things over with everyone it would put their minds at ease, a trade of sorts to make everyone feel just a bit better of the situation they’ve found themselves in.”

 

Whether it was due to cunning, luck, or some form of divine protection that had been granted to him Reinhard van Astrea ended up saying the key set of words for negotiating with Natsuki Subaru, the mention of an equal trade were nobody stood to benefit anymore then another.

 

Subaru stood still as he seemingly contemplated the offer he had been given before coming to a conclusion.

 

“Sure, although it pains me to have to defend myself without having committed a crime, I still remember being helped by you at the loot house, although the sense of inferiority I felt at the sight of your power remains a depressing thought…..”

 

Subaru hung his head as he recalled one of the earliest memories that he had of this world, one that reminded him of how truly insignificant he was in the face of the insurmountable strength of the Sword Saint, Reinhard van Astrea.

 

“I’m not so strong that you should feel insignificant beside me, and I am still immensely grateful for that moment as I would not have found Felt-sama had it not happened, I believe it would be fair to say that we are more or less even on that front Subaru.”

 

Reinhard then turned towards the guard nearest to him and gently pushed his spear downwards with one hand before projecting his voice to all the guardsmen that could hear him.

 

“I think that we would be more productive if we had just a bit more space, don’t you agree Commander Marcos?”

 

Marcos did not respond with anything more then a grunt as he kept his eyes fixed on Subaru, however he did lower his blade and take a few steps back, a gesture that the rest of the guards mimicked.

 

“Let’s just get this annoying farce over with then……” Subaru muttered as he crossed his arms and stood there waiting for someone else to take the initiative in the conversation.

 

“What happened to you big bro……” Felt muttered in a volume that was probably not meant to be heard yet Subaru managed to hear it nonetheless.

 

“I am the victim of others manipulations, forced onto a path I neither wished for nor wanted, used as a tool then discarded when others decided I was no longer needed. It’s annoying, its irritating, its depressing to have no agency over my own future, I hate it, I despise it, it depresses me so much……..”

 

Subaru looked at Felt with eyes that were devoid of joy and spoke in a tone fitting his gaze, leading to Felt looking towards the ground while saying ‘Ah” as she knew all too well what he was going through.

 

Subaru at this point almost perfectly fit a stereotype of the slumdwellers to the tee, someone downcast on life after it had chewed them up and spit them out, someone who no longer believe that things could get any better for them, someone who had given up.

 

It was a painful sight to see when she compared it to the Subaru she had last known, the one who she had met in the slums and had fought the bowel hunter simply because it was the only option for his survival, even if his chances of winning were poor. He had once perfectly fit the motto of “live strong”, he once had but now no longer.

 

“Are you actually Natsuki Subaru or are you Hector simply masquerading as him?”

 

Crusch called out to Suabru as she stood beside Felix, relying more and more on him to simply continue to stand as time went on, something that was evident in the sharp pain tainting her voice.

 

“Hector, Hector, HectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHectorHector, I hate that name, I so thoroughly wish I would never have to hear it again. He used me and cast me out once he got what he wanted, once he was reunited with that wretched witch of his. There’s so much melancholy in it all, melancholy in being used by someone that claimed they would help me, the only redeeming factor in it all is that he finally got what was coming for him, but knowing that I will never be able to get payback against him……..”

 

Subaru seemingly grew absolutely incensed at the mere mention of Hector’s name, although his voice remined low and devoid of anything other then melancholy one could tell that it truly bothered him by the amount of lunacy it seemingly drew out of him.

 

“Who killed him then if he is dead like you say he is?”

 

Crusch however seemed unphased by this as she decided to press the issue further and ask a second question on the same topic as the first.

 

“The fact that you don’t trust my word is irritating, to be forced to go through the effort of explaining things that are unnecessary is in itself depressing. In the effort of getting this over with all I will say is that I saw his lifeless body hit the ground and when I woke up I was alone without any trace of him with the sole exception of the reward I was promised for aiding him.”

 

The irritation in Subaru’s voice was beginning to grow after having to have even the smallest of back and forths over one of these questions leading Crusch decided to cut it short even if there were so many loose ends out of fear that he might straight up explode into a torrent of violence that she had witnessed firsthand.

 

“What do thy intend to do now that thou are no longer mere common rabble, what is it that thy intend to achieve with the power that they now so obviously hold?”

 

Priscilla spoke up while walking into the circle of guard to join Subaru and Reinhard, staring intently at Subaru as he turned to face her and look her right in the eye.

 

“Die, this world is just too sad and depressing to keep enduring but my homeland is just as bad, I just wish that I could die die die diediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediediedie but its just so fucking sad that the goddamn witch just brings me ba…………”

 

Subaru then collapsed to the ground clutching his chest as his face began to contort in what seemed like an unimaginable amount of pain. Seeing this Priscilla just continued to watch him without showing the tiniest hint of concern nor care, however she did seem to be at least entertained and even going as far as to have taken an interest in the events going on before her.

 

“Subaru, are you okay?”

 

While everyone excluding Priscilla was seemingly held back by the sudden shock of what was going on Reinhard knelt down beside Subaru who was now near crumpled into the fetal position on the ground still clutching his chest. However it was not until then that Reinhard could hear the crying, Subaru was laying on the ground crying while muttering some lamentation between the bouts of tears.

 

“I just hate this so much, why’d it have to happen to me………what did I do to deserve being tortured like this……………I was so excited at first but now I know that nothing will ever truly get better until I die for good……..”

 

Its unknown how long it took the others to recover from the shock of what he had said and what they had seen, but there was one of the candidates who still had an agenda that they wished to further during this meeting.

 

“So I think we can all agree that Natsuki-kun doesn’t really seem to be a threat to the kingdom while he’s in a state like this, so maybe we should discuss what’s going to happen to him next, I doubt it’s the best even for him ta keep living alone in that rundown apartment of his.”

 

Anastasia then looked to the faces of each of the major players standing in the room, Crusch had a look of shell shock on her face that bordered on terror, maybe it was the way he spoke, maybe it was the mental instability he radiated, maybe it was the few memories she had of the monster he seemed so similar to, but what was certain is that she clearly did not want to be anywhere near him

 

Anastasia then turned to face Priscilla who seemed to notice that she was being stared at and turned to lock eyes with the kararagian merchant.

 

“Mine self was gracious enough to lend an ear to him, I have decided that giving further charity to someone so clearly uncaring about what goes on around them is pointless.”

 

Priscilla then crossed her arms underneath her chest and walked out of the hall with Al following close behind, his own emotions completely veiled by the steel helmet covering his face with the sole exception of how his vision seemingly stuck to the boy he barely knew for just a second longer then expected.

 

Anastasia’s gaze then found itself on Felt who had continued to stand just outside the circle of guardsmen surrounding Reinhard and Subaru. She appeared incredibly torn as if she was seemingly being led in two different directions by two different options in a difficult decision. She kept up a silent front, not even managing to return Anastasia’s gaze, a silence that continued until Reinhard once again spoke up.

 

“Felt-sama, could we possibly take Subaru in, in a more permanent manner, it hurts to imagine what he could end up doing if he was left completely alone and to his own devices for too long right now……..”

 

Reinhard looked up at Felt as he still remained kneeling on the ground by his friend’s side, it was obvious that he wanted to help him, but Felt’s torn and undecided demeanor had not changed in the slightest in the face of this appeal.

 

“I want to help him Rein, I really do…… It’s just that I can’t help but shake this really bad feeling when I look at him, its like something really bad is going to happen if we get too involved with him……….. I-I’m sorry Rein but I guess I just can’t agree to taking him in even if I do want to help him……….”

 

Felt’s voice sounded sad and upset as she lowered her gaze from Reinhard and Subaru towards the floor, a motion that was mimicked by Reinhard after a short “I see” escaped his mouth.

 

“So then if nobody wants to look after Natsuki-kun for a bit then nobody would object if my camp took care of him until he gets his feet back under him. There’s still some stuff I wanted to discuss with him anyways, so it isn’t like he’d be racking up some imaginary debt while he recovered.”

 

Anastasia then turned to face Lord Bordeaux and Lord Milotov who were standing about as far away as they could from Subaru and the Sword Saint, their faces both at least a few shades paler then what they were when the meeting started.

 

“Just keep him outside the city for a bit while you do.” Was all Lord Bordeaux mumbled to her before he and Lord Miklotov departed the throne room.

 

Anastasia then turned behind her to flash her two subordinates with an almost excited smile as she called out to them.

 

“Do ya hear that Julius and Otto-kun, its time for all of us to go on a little work trip once Natsuki-kun is ready to head out.”

 

Hearing this Julius’ entire body tensed up as the anxiety of having to somehow find a way to protect his lady from a berserk Subaru who may or may not still be capable of killing things as powerful as the White Whale.

 

In comparison to Julius, Otto’s reaction was vastly tamer as he just stood there with a dazed look on his face, questioning his life decisions that had led him to being placed in a situation like this.

 

Needless to say it was solely Anastasia who seemed at all excited about this, even Subaru was still crying on the floor while lamenting over how he was still alive in a world that he despised.

 


 

She felt herself falling from where she had been before, descending from a place that felt high in the sky as one piece of herself, moving towards what felt like another portion of her own being. They had been separated for so long, a separation brought about by the desire of part of her to feel useful and prove that she was more then a mere doll, and a separation ended by her failure to overcome the obstacles that entrenched her in that very mindset.

 

It did not take long for the feelings of breezes, grass, cloth and skin to be replaced by something that was cold and hard. It did not yield nor feel like it was melting like the ice she had known in the forest, nor did it feel like the frigid snow that had been whirled around in the blizzard she had just escaped from mere moments ago.

 

Whatever it was, it was cold enough to take what little heat remained in her body away from her, hard enough that the intricate carvings etched into it were digging into and imprinting upon the soft skin of her hands, face, and legs.

 

It was a situation that was by no means comfortable, so uncomfortable in fact that it made her want to stand up if only to find a place more suited to giving up and surrendering to the sense of overwhelming despair that had descended with her back to her body.

 

Her eyes slowly cracked there way open to gaze upon the inside of the tomb, the place she had gone to attempt her first trial in order to liberate the sanctuary, but she had not liberated them. They had gone out on a limb to place their faith in her even though she had only shown them how useless and incompetent she was. It had been an opportunity to redeem herself, an opportunity that she had squandered.

 

Emilia knew that she had failed the trial, she knew that she would now have to go outside and walk past Garfiel and anyone else who had bothered to wait for her to finish, anyone who had enough faith in her to wait for the faint hope of hearing that she had passed and that they were now free.

 

She would have to tell them all that she failed and see that faint glimmer of hope fall away as they saw her for what she truly was, a useless doll who had condemned them all to die yet was too incompetent to save them no matter how much she might want to.

 

She knew that she had to face them eventually, that the trial had ended and that they would be expecting her to leave the tomb soon, but she was not ready, not anywhere near prepared to face them.

 

Images of all the people she had seen flashed through her mind, the woman she felt hatred for, the man who felt familiar dying on the floor, the woman who looked so heart broken when she could not recall her name.

 

She saw them all, she saw them all either kill or be killed, she had met them all before yet for the life of her she could not remember where or when.

 

She pulled her legs close to her body as her mind raced back, going through every little detail of the trial, doing its best to try and make sense of the incomprehensible mess that she had forced herself to endure, but nothing helped her even in the slightest.

 

She could not even remember things that should have been major events of her life, she strained herself so hard to find what these things meant that she soon found the trial fall out of her mind entirely as something rose up within her and flung it into the abyss of the depression that dominated her heart.

 

It spoke to her in a voice that matched her own perfectly.

 

“Your useless” it cried.

 

“The greatest gift you could have given this world would have been to never be born!” it shouted.

 

“Even the simplest things are completely beyond you………” it lamented.

 

Emilia felt her eyes grow moist as tiny tears began to form where they ran down her face before falling to the stone floor, she gripped her legs tighter and tighter as she tried to make herself as small as she could, maybe if she could become tiny enough the world would forget about her stop forcing her to suffer.

 

“That’s not an expression that suits your pretty face Emilia-tan.”

 

But she was suddenly pulled back to the world when he heard a voice call out from behind her, a voice that she remembered well, a voice that she had not heard speaking in a happy tone for what seemed like a very long time. The voice sounded kind yet at the same time it sounded upset, upset at how it had to see her in such a state.

 

The owner of the voice was Natsuki Subaru.

 

“Why are you here Subaru………you hate me for abandoning you, remember.” Emilia spoke to Subaru without turning to face him , her voice muffled and tainted by the depression that was threatening to consume her.

 

“Me hate Emilia-tan, impossible; if I ever felt like I hated you then I deserve to be beaten senseless with a stick, Emilia-tan is too lovely to ever hate!”

 

Emilia could tell that Subaru was probably doing some kind of exaggerated hand gestures as he spoke by the way the source and pitch of his voice were changing, she wanted to turn around to see it, to be reminded of all the happy and fun times before everything had turned bad, the times when she had gotten to laugh and giggle at the sight of gestures like that.

 

Part of her urged her not to, telling her that it would only make her feel worse to see him, she would only be reminded of all the pain she had caused everyone, but in the end, she had to. Even if it made no sense for him to be here whatsoever she wanted to see him happy, to see him happy to be around her, he was one of the few who ever had been and she missed it now that it was gone.

 

She slowly pushed herself up from the ground so that she was standing on her own two feet, running her hands up the sides of her face so that they were at her eyes, she could feel the marks in her skin left by the engravings on the brick, they were probably angry and red, making her look even more horrid then she already did.

 

Emilia wiped the tears away from her face before turning to face the source of the voice.

 

“EMILIA-TAN IS GRACING ME WITH A SIGHT OF HER FACE, MY HEART CAN’T TAKE IT, TRULY EMT!” Subaru swooned over her as he clasped his chest with both hands, right where his heart would be.

 

He looked so happy with the big smile on his face, he was even dressed in his characteristic track suit that he had been wearing ever since she had first met him in the capital. In fact everything about him looked just like she had remembered, the front of his spikey black hair was still pulled up and off his forehead. Both of his mean looking eyes were still their natural brown colour, both still appeared to be full of the joys of life, both still radiated happiness as they looked right at her.

 

The Subaru standing right in front of her was a complete spitting image of the one that had arrived at the mansion so long ago, right down to the tiniest detail he perfectly resembled how she preferred to remember him, and that’s why Emilia had to say what she said next.

 

“You’re not real are you Subaru, you hate me and wouldn’t possible say all those nice things to me anymore…….”

 

The sadness that had been ever so slightly abated by being able to see him once more began to slowly creep up on her, but Subaru was not yet finished with whatever antics he was up to.

 

“Huh, Not real? It would really suck to find out I wasn’t real all of a sudden...”

 

Subaru then raised one of his hands to his cheek and pinched himself.

 

“Ouuch! That hurt Emilia-tan, but it shows that I’m real! In all the movies and TV shows If someone isn’t real they don’t feel pain when they pinch themselves, but it hurt, it really hurt!”

 

Subaru then proceeded to really exaggerate the pain he was in from this tiny pinch he had given himself, but the effect of this is exactly the opposite of what he had wished for.

 

“You just came back and I’m already putting you through so much pain again……………….. I’m sorry Subaru…….”

 

Emilia’s head began to tilt downward as her eyes looked towards her feet.

 

“Noooooo, No, No, No, No, it was a joke Emilia-tan, a joke, don’t be sad………. There is still someone who gets really upset when they see you suffer like this…………………..”

 

Initially Subaru seemed like he was going to reach for Emilia’s shoulder but then it was like he decided against it as he rescinded his hand and stepped back to recreate distance between them, his voice then following a similar arc as Emilia’s with its descent into sadness.

 

“I know you’re not real Subaru, I’m either imagining you or your someone pretending to be him, either way lying won’t make me feel any better……..”

 

With these words that Emilia delivered to Subaru he furrowed his brow as he looked off to the side, seemingly considering whether he should do something or not.

 

“E-Echidna-chan is already going to be r-really mad at me for doing t-this, I just hope she doesn’t hurt me. I-I didn’t mean to t-trick you Emilia-chan, y-you seeing me as s-someone e-else is y-your own d-doing t-though.”

 

The voice that spoke to Emilia was nothing like Subaru’s, it was feminine and both sounded fairly meek and timid, the complete anthesis of what Emilia remembered. It was this sudden change in the voice speaking to her that made Emilia look up from the ground to see who was now standing in front of her.

 

She looked like a young woman with light pink hair and blood red eyes that reminded Emilia of those of another candidate, Priscilla Barielle. However unlike her fellow royal selection candidate, this woman wore baggy clothing that completely shrouded and obscured her figure, leaving no skin exposed but her hands and her face.

 

“I don’t know why I would see Subaru of all people here after he told me how much he hated me, how he didn’t care if I died, why would I see him when you were trying to help me………”

 

Emilia’s gaze seemed to settle on the pink haired woman standing before her, the stare produced by her empty eyes that had long lost the glint of life’s joys seemed to make the woman uncomfortable, it made her fidget and shift in place as her own eyes darted around the room.

 

“P-People tend to see me as s-someone that they cared about or as someone w-who was i-important to them. I-It’s why I w-was asked t-to come and h-help you, s-she t-thought I c-could get you to stand u-up and k-keep going; I-I only agreed b-because I-I couldn’t stand to s-see her s-suffer because o-of the l-love she h-had for y-you, i-it really hurts her to s-see you so d-depressed.”

 

Emilia really did not know what to make of the words the woman said to her, she did not want to believe that there was still someone out there who loved her, who cared enough about her to feel hurt at the sight of her suffering, but in the end it seemed this person had gotten what she wanted as Emilia was now on her feet once again.

 

“I don’t know what to say to that, I don’t think I can believe that there is someone who actually loves me like that anymore…….But I guess I should say thank you to them, and thank you to you as well, I guess in the end I am standing again……”

 

Emilia then paused for a second as she thought about what to say next, perhaps sensing this the woman took the time to look back towards Emilia while she was looking away from her.

 

“Could you tell me your name, and could you tell me more about her, I realllly want to know about this person, I’m starting to feel this warm feeling in my chest when you mention them.”

 

And it was true, the second this pink haired woman had mentioned that there was someone out there who loved her Emilia felt something grip her heart, a warm and fuzzy feeling rising to combat the cold sadness that had previously engulfed it. But perhaps this was not the best thing to say to this pink haired woman as she seemed to become rather frantic when Emilia said this, she began to slowly shuffle her way towards the open stone door, the door that had most certainly been closed when Emilia had initially arrived in this room before the trial, the door that this woman had most certainly originated from behind.

 

“I-If you’re starting to feel that way then it m-means I-I’ve been h-here too long, s-she’ll be very u-upset with m-me if I-I reveal anything a-about her, j-just know that she loves you and if y-you ever f-feel alone, k-know that s-she’s up there c-cheering you on.”

 

Before Emilia could say anything the woman had scurried behind the stone door and seemed prepared to close it behind her when she stuck her head back out.

 

“T-This’ll p-probably make E-Echidna-chan e-even more c-cross with me, b-but my name is Carmilla, the W-Witch of L-Lust.”

 

And with that Carmilla closed the stone door behind her and completely disappeared from view, leaving Emilia alone in the tomb.

 

“Thank you Carmilla…… and I guess thank you as well to whoever’s looking down on me from up there……” Emilia said as she simply stood there looking at the sealed stone door that the Witch of Lust had disappeared behind before turning to look up towards the ceiling.

 

“I hope Echidna isn’t too upset with Carmilla, I don’t want more people to have to suffer because of me…….”

 

Emilia then turned to face the exit to the tomb and began to slowly walk out, she may still have completely despised herself but knowing that there was someone out there that cared about her made her heart feel just the slightest bit lighter. It was now light enough to keep moving forward, even if it was only for the sake of easing the suffering she had placed upon this unknown person who dwelt far above.

 

Chapter Text

For some it may be comforting to know that there was someone out there on their side, someone out there that wanted things to go well for them, someone that wanted them to be happy. But this did not work for everyone, especially people who feared what impact they could have on others should they not provide things worth cheering for, should they not be able to put a smile on their unknown supporter’s face.

 

There was a point in her life that Emilia would have been completely ecstatic and over the moon to hear that there was someone who cared about her, who wanted the best for her, who wanted to know that she had a big smile plastered across her face at all times of the day. But Emilia had long passed this point in life, and doubted that she would ever well and truly find it again.

 

You could not possibly say that it did not make her heart just a bit lighter; it would be wrong to say that it did not light a tiny candle inside her, that it did not give her the tiniest bit of drive to just keep moving forward a little longer.

 

But you also must consider the pressure and pain it put her under to know that for every tear she shed, someone else would shed two. It gnawed at her heart to know that when her depression rose that it spread from not just within her, but to this other person as well. It meant that Emilia would have to live with the fact that she would be and had been hurting someone who cared about her over and over again.

 

“Haaaaaah, good morning Lia”

 

Puck let out a yawn as he stretched while floating midair in front of the window, leading to the great spirit of fire to be bathed in the crimson glow of the newly rising sun.

 

The rising sun, something that Emilia had used to tell herself represented a new chapter, a new day where everything that happened over the course of the previous day would be erased, a new opportunity to make everything just a tiny bit better.

 

But that was then and this was now, and while there were opportunities to make everything better on this new day, to say Emilia was especially hopeful would be incorrect, but she would keep trying if it meant that whoever wanted her to keep going could feel just a tiny bit better.

 

“Good morning Puck……” Emilia said, her voice tired and heavy with fatigue.

 

“Did you not sleep well Lia, y’know its important to get your beauty sleep!”

 

Puck flew closer to Emilia’s face as he examined her, and truth be told she could use some beauty sleep, if not to help her physical state then to help her mental one.

 

Her previously fair skin had began to take on a sickly pale colour, only to be contrasted by the dark rings and bags around her eyes. As Puck flew closer to her eyes which had grown just slightly duller and had the tiny red veins streaking through them, a tell tale sign of fatigue, Emilia noticed something, Puck looked smaller then normal.

 

“I didn’t sleep at all Puck……..I just can’t get over what I saw in that tomb……….. I can’t get over what Carmilla said to me about there being someone out there that cares about me…………”

 

Emilia said this in a voice that sounded down and broken, but also confused due to her minds inability to process the paranormal memories of the past day, so much had happened yet it was just so hard to believe that it left her feeling just a bit lost.

 

Puck cocked his head as he floated with crossed arms, looking at his daughter as he did so with a slightly pained expression, its obvious that he did not enjoy seeing her in such a state.

 

“How is it so hard to believe Lia, I care about you a lot! Maybe this Carmilla was probably talking about me, who is she anyways?”

 

Puck tried to sound cheerful as he said this, almost puffing out his chest at his own reference to himself, yet Emilia’s expression did not change in the slightest.

 

“No, I don’t think so Puck; she kept saying that this person was ‘up above’ like she was really far away but could still see me somehow, it just made me really confused……….. Carmilla confused me too, she called herself ‘The Witch of Lust’ but she was really timid and anything but lustful.”

 

Emilia began to look more defeated than anything else as she eventually found herself closer and closer to giving up on trying to decipher the events of the previous day but she couldn’t bring herself to do so, she just could not get those memories out of her head.

 

“Well then I guess that means that there is another person who must really care about my daughter, as your father I’m not sure how to feel about this really, especially seeing as you were out seeing someone who called themselves a witch late at night…….. I might have to ground you later Lia….”

 

Puck then floated there with his head balanced on his tiny paw as he was obviously deep in thought about something before his face broke out into a smile like a lightbulb turned on above his head.

 

“But first lets turn that frown upside down Lia!”

 

Puck exclaimed as he flew down to the frown on Emilia’s face and by pushing the corners or her mouth with his paws he was able to turn her expression into what looked like the most forced smile ever seen. However the second he stopped holding up the corners of her mouth it fell back into its now natural resting state of a frown.

 

“Not even a little giggle from Lia, I was sure that I would get at least a chuckle for that one……”

 

Puck hung his head in shame at his failed attempt to lift his daughters spirits, it had seemingly done more harm then good as Emilia’s spirits sank just a bit lower, most liekly a result of it resembling something that the first friend whom she had a not so genuine reunion with would have done.

 

“That sounds like something the old Subaru would’ve said…….”

 

Emilia mumbled this as she could do nothing more but let her head droop so she stared down at her own legs that dangled aimlessly over the edge of the bed.

 

“Why are you brining him up now, I thought you would’ve gotten over him a long time ago after all those stunts he pulled?”

 

Puck simply tilted his head as he looked at his daughter suffering, seemingly confused and unable to understand why she was getting as upset as she was.

 

Emilia looked up with her tears beginning to pool in her eyes, replacing the dullness with a coating of water that gave off a gentle glisten, every muscle in her was tensed up as her soft and pale skin began to turn a gentle red hue, her lips spread apart as they quivered, Puck’s statement had well and truly dredged up a fair bit of emotion.

 

“I DON’T KNOW PUCK, I REALLY DON’T KNOW! CARMILLA SAID I ONLY SAW HER AS HIM BECAUSE HE WAS REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME, HE SAID SO MANY MEAN THINGS TO ME BUT I JUST CAN’T GET HIM OUT OF MY HEAD. THEN I FOUND OUT ABOUT SOMEONE CARING ABOUT ME, LIKE REALLY REALLY CARING ABOUT ME, ITS ALL JUST TOO MUCH. IT FEELS LIKE MY HEART IS JUST GOING UP AND DOWN, LIKE ITS GETTING TWISTED TO THAT EVERY LITTLE BIT IS GETTING WRUNG OUT, I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHATS HAPPENING BUT I JUST CAN’T TAKE IT………………….”

 

Emilia’s breathing began to accelerate, catching in her throat and causing her voice to hitch as tears began to stream down her face. Her fingers began to curl inward with the exception of the knuckle joint, which tried to bend outwards, resulting in her hands taking the shape of something resembling a gnarled and flattened claw. With her hands like this she pressed them into the bed with considerable force, causing the mattress to sag as her breathing reached levels that could only be described as a textbook example of hyperventilation.

 

 

“I REALLY DON’T NKOW WHY I FEEL LIKE THIS, I JUST WANT IT TO STOP……. IT’S LIKE THERE IS A STORM SWIRLING INSIDE ME……… I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT……… IT JUST MAKES ME FEEL SO HORRIBLE……..”

 

Emilia started to feel herself getting a bit dizzy yet even the dizziness did not provide relief from the emotional torrent swirling inside her, however at this point there was something off about the whole situation, why had Puck not done a single thing since her outburst started.

 

Perhaps he did not care anymore, perhaps he was cross with her for shouting at him, perhaps he had simply given up on her.

 

Maybe this was why Carmilla had never made the slightest mention of Puck when she had spoken of this mysterious person who cared about her.

 

This may have been just a maybe, but in the end it was an unknown that must become a known.

 

Whilst continuing to hyperventilate Emilia slowly looked up as she pulled her legs in close, prepared for the worst, yet utterly and completely unprepared for the sight that greeted her.

 

Puck was frozen in midair in the position that made him look like he was about to hug her, his two short yet furry arms spread wide, it was a hug that Emilia well and truly needed, yet it was a hug denied to her by a world that seemingly despised her like everyone else she had ever met.

 

Yet the frozen Puck only occupied her attention for so long, on account of the person she saw standing outside her window, however she was visible for such a brief instant that Emilia only got the briefest of glimpses. The only things Emilia could be sure she saw was a streak of platinum, white, and crystal blue, she did not even know for certain how long she had been outside the window.

 

“Lia I think there is something we need to talk about soon, regarding our contract…………. It needs to be broken………”

 

Emilia’s attention was immediately snapped back to Puck by these words, words that she could not believe she was hearing, words that were so shocking that they managed to maker her hyper active breathing come to a complete and rapid halt.

 

Emilia could feel it happening, the bond that intrinsically linked her to her father changing, the string that held them together beginning to fray. It felt like it was stretching well beyond its means, that the middle of it was under so much stress that it verged on snapping if one were to tug on it just a little bit harder, and that extra tug felt like it could happen at any time.

 

“Puck, wait…….WHAT, PUCK, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! YOU ONLY JUST CAME BACK, DON’T LEAVE ME PLEASE, JUST WAIT!”

 

Emilia grew more and more frantic as she reached out for the floating cat spirit in front of her but just as she was about to touch him with the tip of her fingers it was like time froze for her, it was a moment so horrid that it could only be expected to feel like it was dragging out into a timeframe longer then it really was, the world well and truly enjoyed her suffering so why would it not prolong the experience.

 

“Lia, you probably don’t know but our contract seals away a significant portion of your memories, and without those memories I doubt you’ll be able to escape this place. But you’ve grown so much since I first met you, I know you’ll make it if I just give the last little bit of help you need. You’re strong enough to have made it this far so I’m certain you’ll overcome the obstacles ahead, you even seem to have some people willing to look out for you! It’s sad this is how things have had to end and I hate to have to say this, but goodbye my daughter, I know you’ll do fine.” As the last of these words left the little cats mouth, he gave her a wink before the final tug came that caused his body to explode into a burst of mana that briefly lit up the whole room.

 

Emilia instantly grasped the green crystal at her neck that Puck normally resided in, hoping to see the dull glow that it emitted when he was resting inside, but the sight she saw was not that, instead she was greeted by the emptiness brought on by the utter absence of the glow.

 

Crack

 

With that harrowing sound a split formed across the crystal as Emilia cupped it in her hands, her mouth wide open as if she wanted to call out once more but not a single sound emerged.

 

Crack

 

A second Crack shot across the crystal perpendicular to the first, Emilia held her breath as she was afraid that the slightest movement would be the final straw that would break the crystal, but in the end it did not matter even in the slightest as one last, horrify sound echoed across the room.

 

Shatter

 

The sound of the crystal shattering into a more then a thousand tiny pieces, each no larger than a single grain of sand.

 

Emilia’s consciousness seemingly went with the crystal as her body fell limp, causing her to fall from the bed and to send the small pile of broken crystal a strew across the room.

 

The light of awareness was gone from her eyes even if they remained half open while she fell, perhaps this was all a result of her hyperventilation followed by how she held her breath, perhaps it was recoil from her contract with a great spirit being unilaterally and forcibly broken, perhaps it was something else entirely.

 

Whatever it was that was the result of her passing out, it ensured that she was not the least bit aware of her surroundings when her head hit the wooden floor with a dull thud.

 

The world that she believed hated her had seen fit to take advantage and grant her one last final vision.

 


 

A man stood atop a lone hill with a vast forest before him, a sudden gust of wind rushing towards him, flattening the grass as it went along until it slammed into him face first, blowing his hood off to reveal his long black hair with streaks of grey running through it.

 

The man continued to stand atop the hill as the wind caused his robes to flutter and his satchel to sway just ever so slightly as it hung by its strap from his shoulder. The man could have entered the forest in order to be shielded from the impressive strength of the wind that continued to whip the hair on his head every which way along with the mostly grey beard that extended far from his chin. The man knew however that it would be immensely hard for one to see him should he leave the top of this hill for the cover of the trees, and as he was waiting for someone, he knew that such a thing just would not do.

 

He had scoured the ends of what remained of this world, walked through the coldest blizzards of the north, endured the harshest sandstorms of the east, a gust of wind was nothing for him at this point.

 

But then with a subtle twitch of his eye he saw what he was waiting for, a procession approaching the forest from the east. The procession was comprised of both wagons and large groups of robed figures walking along side them, with a trio that stood out from the rest at its head.

 

He immediately noticed a platinum haired woman in white walking in the lead, she was flanked on one side by a white haired man wearing an ornate white overcoat; on the other side of the woman walked another man who wore a robe similar in appearance to the rank and file of the procession, his striking green hair being the only thing that led to him standing apart.

 

It seemed that they had noticed him as well as the woman turned to face him and enthusiastically waved despite the vast distance separating them, an action that Flügel returned albeit with less enthusiasm before he raised his left arm to point somewhere into the forest. It may have been unnoticeable due to the distance separating them but if one were to have been close enough to Flügel then they would have noticed that the hand he was pointing with was missing every single finger, each seemingly amputated right at the knuckle.

 

Flügel then lowered his arm and began walking in the direction that he had just pointed, the procession altering its course just ever so slightly, they both made way towards the point where they would meet within the forest.

 

As Flügel walked amidst the trees in order to make his way deeper and deeper into the forest he passed by the occasional dweller of the forest. Some of them had blond hair, some brown, a few pink, and even fewer had a particular shade of silver that reminded Flügel of days long passed. There was however one thing that all the forest dwellers had in common, each and every one of them was an elf.

 

The elves seemed happy and content as they went about their day, some picked wild fruits that grew on bushes and smaller trees, some fished, and others collected deadfall to use as fuel for their fires. Some of the elves nodded to Flügel as he walked past, a gesture which he made sure to return; meanwhile some of them waved to him, a gesture too which Flügel made sure to return, however he used his right hand to do so, his hand which still seemingly had four fingers attached, missing solely the thumb.

 

Yet as Flügel continued to meander his way closer and closer to what appeared to be the centre of the forest, to the point that he expected to arrive within the next minute or so he soon found captivated by the sight of someone running towards him.

 

The captivation was not brought upon by something as vain as beauty nor as disgusting as lust, but by guilt instead. She was but a young child, probably no much more then two season old, yet her silver hair, her amethyst eyes, and even the structure of her face hidden beneath the characteristic roundness of a toddlers features reminded him of someone that had been lost many years ago.

 

Even though the little girl appeared to be running as fast as she could it still took her some time to reach Flügel on account of both her short legs and the clumsiness that she ran with, she was still clearly getting used to moving on two limbs  instead of all four.

 

Despite how long it took and how Flügel was supposed to be meeting others here he found the time to kneel down and wait for the child with a smile on his face, he held out both his arms to catch the giggling and merry child as they ran right into him.

 

“Ohhhhh Hello Emilia! How’re you on this fine day!” Flügel said in the kindest and old man-esque voice he could manage as he looked down at the giggling child squirming around in his arms.

 

“Hi Floooogel, I’m reaaaallly happy today!” Emilia exclaimed with glee as she finally stopped squirming long enough to look up at Flügel.

 

“I’m happy to hear that Emilia, I hope I can contribute just a little happiness to your day as well, I brought a treat just for you!” said Flügel as he scrummaged around through one of the pockets of his robe with his right hand before producing an intricate and expensive looking cloth bag, within which he removed a single pearl white candy.

 

Emilia’s eyes went wide as she looked at the candy before looking back up at Flügel with wide and expected eyes, her mouth just so slightly agape.

 

“It’s…. for me?” said Emilia as she seemed to be in pure wonderment at the idea of being given a piece of fancy looking candy.

 

“Yes, just don’t tell Fortuna about it, it’s our little secret okay?” Flügel said this as he handed Emilia the candy, ruffling her hair after she plopped it in her mouth.

 

“MMMMMMHHHHHMMMM” Emilia closed her eyes and brought both her hands to her cheeks as she ate the candy, completely consumed by how delicious it was.

 

“Emilia! Where did you go, you know you shouldn’t run off out here like that!” A female voice called out as Flügel saw the woman whom it belonged to slowly rounding a bend in the direction which Emilia come from.

 

She had the same silver hair as Emilia except hers was cut much shorter, the same amethyst eyes except instead of Emilia’s kind and round ones she had sharp and mean ones, her name was Mother Fortuna and she was the one who looked after Emilia after the passing of her birth mother.

 

Emilia however did not seem ready to see her, quickly scurrying around Flügel and burying her face into his robes the second she heard her Fortuna’s voice.

 

“What’re you doing Emilia?” Flügel said in a slightly hushed voice so that he could play along with her attempt to hide from Fortuna.

 

“I sneak!” Emilia said in what was probably the loudest whisper ever heard by man or elf.

 

“Huh?” Flügel forced himself to question the actions of the little one as he did his best to stifle the laughter that seemed ready to pour out of his mouth.

 

“I. SNEAK!” Emilia pretty much shouted out loud in a voice that managed to carry all the way to Fortuna’s ears.

 

“Emilia I heard you, its reallllllly time to stop hiding. Mommy is going to be busy soon and its time for your nap!” Fortuna said this in a motherly yet stern voice as she walked towards Flügel and Emilia, making it completely obvious that Emilia had not exactly done the best job at hiding.

 

“The jig is up Emilia, I guess its nap time for you.” Flügel said while chuckling a bit as he stood up, revealing the still hiding Emilia behind him as he did so.

 

It took Emilia a few seconds to realize that Fortuna could now see her as she was only a few paces away, but once she did realize this, she turned to run away only to be scooped up almost instantly before she could get far.

 

“Got ya you little trouble maker! Where did you think you were going to be going, you know that its nap time.” Fortuna cradled Emilia with one arm while poking her right on the tip of her nose with her free hand, making Emilia close her eyes and cover her nose with both hands.

 

“I don’t wanna sleep, I wanna play more!” Emilia stammered as Fortuna was fussing over the bits of dirt that she had gotten on her clothing.

 

“But you’ll be really cranky if you don’t have a nap, do you want to be cranky?” Fortuna posed this question to the young Emilia who answered almost instantly with a resounding “No!”

 

“Then its time we go back and put you down for you nap missy!” Fortuna tickled Emilia’s side as she held her causing her to squirm around and giggle, but as she giggled Fortuna got a look at the candy inside her mouth.

 

“Flügel you didn’t giver her candy did you, she’s already so hyper……..she’s never going to sleep now…..” Fortuna’s voice sounded slightly despondent as she lamented the fact that her toddler had just indulged on a sugary treat right before their nap time, like she foresaw a future where Emilia wouldn’t nap on time and then wake up in the middle of the night as a result.

 

“I don’t get to come here often, and with how things have been going lately for me this could be the last visit I’m able to make. Just how much could a little candy hurt, its only one nap and its not like she’s going to get many opportunities to eat candy from Kararagi in the future anyways.” Flügel kind of shrugged his shoulders as he said this with an almost unconcerned tone in his voice.

 

“Come on, you’re talking like you’re about to keel over any minute but even in your human lifespan you’ve got at least another decade or two left in you. And if you think that missing one nap isn’t a big deal then you can try to handle her when she has a tantrum over the colour of the grass or how her hair doesn’t have the same pattern as the butterfly’s wings, its realllllllly fun.” Fortuna almost laughed as she said this, but Emilia had already gotten board and was starting to pull at her hair, causing Fortuna to have to defend herself from the toddlers onslaught while still trying to carry on a conversation.

 

“See, she’s already getting fussy, I’m going to go and try to put her to bed. Pandora, Geuse, and the man who accompanied them are waiting for you in the village centre so you should probably join them unless you intend to sabotage my ability to be a parent even more.” Fortuna said the last bit of her sentence as if it were a joke but when she saw Flügel start to reach into his pockets she shot him a scowl that he could only laugh at before he joined her as they walked back into the village.

 

It may have only been a few minutes walk that would leave little opportunity to further converse but there was still one thing that Flügel had to confirm with Fortuna, one of the reasons why he had told Pandora to meet him here to begin with.

 

“Emilia seems to be doing well, no signs that the key is causing any issues? No signs of her acting any different, even in the slightest?” Flügel’s tone was completely serious as he focused intently on the toddler who was presently playing with Fortuna’s hairclip as she was being carried.

 

“No signs of anything physically wrong, and if you’re worried about what I think you are then that isn’t an issue either, Emilia is just a normal toddler who does normal toddler things, even if she is a little troublemaker!” Fortuna then tickled Emilia again and smiled as she heard her daughter squeal and laugh, it even brought the smile back to Flügel’s face as well.

 

“I see, that’s good to hear, amazing actually. Well, I wish you both the best but I think that its time for me to get to work.” They then exchanged goodbyes as Flügel and Fortuna split at a fork in the road, one heading to the village centre while the other went to their home towards the edge of the village.

 

It did not take Flügel long to find the people he was looking for as the three stood right in the middle of the village as the other members of the procession unloaded goods from the carriages and distributed them to the eagerly waiting elves.

 

As he approached the three halted their conversation in order to turn and face him, not saying a single thing until he had joined them to form a closed circle that none of the robbed members of the procession nor the elves of the village disturbed.

 

“It’s marvellous to see that you have returned from your journey in good health Sensei Flügel, I have made great headway on the task you gave me, The Witches Cult already has already grown immensely in size and I believe that the two here will be suitable to serve as two of the first Archbishops at its head.”

 

With the mention of their names the two Archbishops stepped forward and knelt before the Great Sage, only then did they introduce themselves.

 

“My name is Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti, it is an honor to be able to assist you in your endeavours Flügel-sama.”

 

The tone that Betelgeuse used could only be described as respectful, resulting in an image that starkly resembled that of a knight kneeling before their liege.

 

Flügel watched Betelgeuse kneel without responding in any way, shape, or form, his expression only grew more and more grim the longer he looked at him. Pandora could be seen to be getting slightly uneasy at this response from Flügel, he did not seem overly enthusiastic about her first choice in the slightest.

 

Flügel then turned to face the white-haired man who knelt just like his compatriot, his face not changing in the slightest as he looked upon the prospect to be the second of the first archbishops.

 

“I am Regulus Corneas, I’m eager to help lead the world out of the shadows it was cast into by the Witch of Envy, I think I can help turn it into a kingdom that is truly perfect.”

 

Just as he had with Betelgeuse, Flügel did not respond to Regulus, but unlike with Betelgeuse a slight smirk could be seen spreading across his face before he immediately banished it so that his grimace may return.

 

Flügel looked up from where Regulus continued to kneel to face Pandora, while doing so he reached into the satchel that hung from his shoulder with his right hand as he began to speak.

 

“They will do, now find four more to follow behind them, if one of these six ever falls then it is imperative that the replacement be sought out immediately.” Flügel then removed his hand from the satchel so that he held out two tiny black boxes in it before he began to speak again, except this time he spoke to those who continued to kneel, yet he could not bring himself to face them.

 

“Protect these with your lives, not just your own lives but also those of everyone around you, if need be you must be prepared to drown the entire land in blood to ensure that they remain protected. But above all else you must know that they must never be opened, if you can retain them in their sealed state until the time that I return to collect them then you will have preformed your duties to the highest degree of perfection. That is all I have to say to you two, now Pandora please follow me as there is still one last ting for us to discuss.”

 

Flügel watched as the two slowly raised their heads to look at the boxes in the palm of what remained of Flügel’s hand, Regulus eyed the boxes with what seemed to be the fire of desire behind his eyes, the golden sheen of his pupils seemingly growing in intensity as he confidently plucked one from Flügel’s hand. Betelgeuse was a lot more hesitant as he cautiously reached for the remaining box only to quickly hide it within the many folds of his robes. Yet throughout this whole process Pandora’s eyes did not deviate from the missing fingers of Flügel’s hand.

 

With the two boxes taken from his hand Flügel walked past the two Archbishops in order to cross the town centre and head off into the forest with Pandora in tow. They walked for a bit in silence before Pandora decided to speak up.

 

“Sensei Flügel, what happened to your hand…..I could fix them if you let me…..” There was a heavy hint of sadness when Pandora brought up the missing fingers on Flügel’s hand, which only became worse when he revealed that his other hand was missing all five of its fingers.

 

“It’s quite alright, in fact should you return them with your authority it could pose quite a problem as their amputation proved to be a necessity in order to seal the witch factors inside those boxes. Should the fingers be returned to me then both Regulus and Betelgeuse would likely be immediately corrupted as the factors jumped and burrowed into their body, and I would be the victim of the other four here.” Flügel then patted his satchel with his right hand, causing the remaining four boxes to gently bang against one another with a hallow thud.

 

“In fact the reason I asked you to come with me is not just because there is something to discuss, that could’ve been done in front of the Archbishops, I need to ask you a favour.” As Flügel said this he turned to face Pandora as the continued to walk along a narrow path that led them through the trees, he could see her spirits raise at the mention of him needing her to do something once again.

 

“Yes Sensei Flügel, whatever it is I shall do my best!” Pandora exclaimed in anticipation.

 

“Well you see, since I’m missing so many fingers, including both my thumbs its pretty much impossible to hold the razor and my beard is getting just a bit too long……..” Flügel sounded slightly embarrassed as he brought this up, he was in the beginnings of becoming an old man and he was incapable of properly grooming himself.

 

Yet Pandora seemed to find this absolutely hilarious as she let out a burst of laughter that she could not stifle no matter how hard she tried.

 

“You need help with that, you just wanted to ask me to help you shave you, did we really need to walk this far out for that?”

 

Pandora was still laughing as she looked up at Flügel awaiting his answer, at this point however they had reached a point where the forest had opened around them to reveal a clearing with a large black door at its centre, seemingly leading to nowhere; yet neither of them seemed perturbed by its presence in the slightest.

 

“Well I don’t think its exactly fitting for the mysterious great sage to be seen being so incapable as to require assistance shaving……….” Flügel did not sound exactly happy as his voice fell as he once again was forced to mention his new shortcomings.

 

“That is quite vain of you, unexpectedly so. Anyways give me the razor and I’ll get to work while we discuss this other topic, Sensei Flügel.” Pandora moved behind a rock on the outskirts of the clearing as Flügel sat down, producing an elegant straight razor from his satchel and passing it to Pandora by clamping the blade twixt two of his remaining fingers before setting down the satchel beside the rock.

 

“No cream or soap?” Pandora tilted the straight razor to one side to the sun gleaned off its long and sharp blade, a blade so well polished that Flügel could see his own reflection in it. He could see that he was no longer the refined looking young man that he had been when he had started the journey that had led to him becoming the Great Sage. His face was wrinkled when before it had not been, his hair had grown out long and developed streaks of grey when before it had been short and completely black. He had even lost the spikes of hair that had been turned up at the front of his head, in fact the only part of himself that seemingly still remained was the intensity of his glare, and yet something in his eyes even eclipsed that.

 

Flügel knew that he was slowly losing who he was after everything he had done to his own soul, yet he had done it, in the end he had managed to arrive here at the last step before the end of his journey, if it was one that could even be considered to have an end.

 

“I don’t, it doesn’t have to be perfect so just try your best, anyways I will be leaving the other four witch factors with you to entrust with who you see fit, Regulus and Betelgeuse seem to be good enough choices so I will trust your judgement on the remaining four.”

 

Flügel’s voice did not seem to be full of praise as he said this, yet Pandora’s seemed to change showing her gratitude at the complement as she slowly and methodically began to scrape the hair away from his face with the razor.

 

“It’s wonderful to hear that from you Sensei Flügel, just why are you unable to do so anymore? I don’t want to complain about the trust you have in me, I think its amazing and it makes me truly ecstatic, but you were so adamant on meeting the first two that I thought you intended to meet the rest?”

 

Pandora had moved begun to shave Flügel’s neck and so he had tilted his head straight up, allowing her to see his eyes even though she stood behind him.

 

“Today marks the end of my journey for now, I have ensured that the Witch Factors are safe with people who can be trusted to do what is right with them; you, Roswaal, Regulus, Betelgeuse, and whoever will bare the other four. You each may go about their safekeeping in your own way, even deviating from my instructions, but the path laid out is one that should generally minimize the damage done by those abhorrent things. I’m sorry for this Pandora but now it is time for us to each begin our last and final task, that is truly the reason I brought you out here.”

 

Flügel’s voice was filled with regret and guilt as he said these last few words, yet Pandora saw the sudden flare of determination in his eyes, and before she knew it, she felt something warm flowing onto her hand.

 

Pandora slowly looked down at her hand that held the razor against Flügel’s neck and saw it covered in the red blood that flowed out from the wound created by the blade being jammed halfway through her Sensei’s neck, a blade with his own hand on the other end.

 

“Sensei……. Flügel…….” His name fell out of her mouth as she was struggling to comprehend what she was seeing in front of her.

 

Pandora looked back to his eyes and as she watched them grow dim as his soul left his body, she finally became aware of reality, the reality where Flügel had seemingly killed himself while in the middle of a conversation with her.

 

Her hands started to tremble as she stumbled back before falling to the ground. Pandora watched as the blood ran down from Flügel’s neck and stained his clothes a deep crimson, she saw as his now limp body slowly slumped off the rock and fell onto the grass with the straight razor still firmly jammed in his neck, the whole area around the body soon being dyed red by the sheer amount of blood leaving the wound and pooling on the ground.

 

She could still fix this, she had not been thinking straight, her Authority of Vanity could undo everything, it could bring him back as he was not able to block its effects while being deceased.

 

“Sensei Flügel is a……..Sensei Flügel is alive just as he should be.” Pandora’s voice sounded broken at first, she could not bring herself to accept that he was dead and to use her authority to state that he should be alive right now was acceptance of that fact. Yet in the end she had gotten herself to say it, however in seeming defiance to her power nothing changed, he still lay before her unmoving with blood still pouring from his neck.

 

Sensei Flügel is alive as he should be!” Pandora’s strained voice grew in volume with the hope that the world would hear her cry and bring back her Sensei, one of the two only real family members she ever had, one of the two people who had come on that faithful day to save her from the sin that plagued her original family.

 

But the world would not grant her wish, it would not bend to her will this time, it would not because contrary to every other demand she had made of it, this specific one could not be fulfilled due to one of two very specific sets of circumstances being fulfilled.

 

Seeing that he was not getting up Pandora scurried to her feet and rushed to where he lay in a pool of blood, where she knelt down and pressed her hands against the wound in an effort to stem the blood flow from an already deceased body.

 

It could be said that in this moment something broke deep within Pandora fore the trembling in her hands suddenly ceased, the look in her eyes changed the panicked mania being overtaken by an eery and unnerving calm. Pandora no longer saw the world as one of wonder, but one of vanity, one that hide the incomprehensible truth beneath a layer of comprehensibility that mortals referred to as reality. She realized that one would need to look beyond this reality if they were to attempt to understand things in sufficient detail such that they may follow a path towards their desired future.

 

If one were to say that up to this point that Pandora had just been a willing follower who bore the title of Witch of Vanity in name only, then it could be said that it was in this moment that she truly became fitting and deserved of the title. In but a single instant she had become just as twisted and incomprehensible as every other being to ever carry the title of witch or warlock, an incomprehensibility that a certain older sister had done their best to shield her from.

 

And it was in this moment with her hands being drenched in blood from trying to hold the wound shut and her legs painted red by the blood that had already flown from his body that Pandora came to a realization, his last words finally clicked in her head.

 

It was when she looked down at the bloody corpse of her Sensei that Pandora made a decision that would affect her and many others for the rest of time, it was when she decided that the Flügel she knew could never possibly end things like this while the world still needed him, it was when she refused to accept that he was well and truly dead.

 

 

A wry smile crossed her face as she released the pressure on his neck, allowing the last of the blood that had been held back to flow free. She leaned down to his ear even though she knew that there was no purpose behind such an act, that such an act could be described as nothing but vain.

 

“I’ll do just as you said Sensei Flügel, but after I’m done I will save you, and then we can all have a grand reunion; you, Sister Satella, myself, and even Echidna can all be happy once again, just as we should have been…….” Pandora’s voice had gone completely calm as she said this, the smile remained on her face as she stood up and turned to see three people staring at her in abject horror.

 

They had arrived because while Pandora had been with Flügel something had gone very wrong on the other side of the village.

 

After splitting up with Flügel, Fortuna had continued to walk towards her home with Emilia in her arms so that she could put her daughter who was growing ever fussier down for a nap before things got too out of hand. Yet after brushing the dirt that seemed to be attracted to Emilia like a magnet off, she reached what she thought would be the hardest part of the process, getting the little one to actually close her eyes so that she could fall asleep.

 

Yet as she looked back up at Emilia’s face she saw that her eyes were beginning to tear up as her face started to get red, she looked like she was going to cry.

 

“What’s wrong Emilia, tell Mommy what’s wrong so she can make it better.” Fortuna used her most sympathetic voice possible as she was internally preparing herself to have to deal with a tantrum from her toddler.

 

“It hurts, it really hurts………..” Emilia whimpered as her eyes remained closed, her little hands bawling up into fists as she pulled them close to her body.

 

“Show me where it hurts Emilia, I’ll give it a biiiiiig kiss and I promise that it’ll feel better!” Fortuna tried to mix some enthusiasm into her voice as she said this, she was not the slightest bit worried because as far as she was concerned Emilia had probably just bumped into a tree while running around or had a slight tumble.

 

As tears began to roll out from between Emilia’s eyelids, she managed to unfurl one of her hands and point to the area right above her heart, which caused Fortuna to furl her brow a bit as it was a very odd area for a child to hurt themselves. This confusion was further increased because when she shifted her daughter’s clothes so she could see the area there was nothing there, no scrape, no bruise, not even a red mark.

 

Fortuna’s gaze shifted right back to Emilia’s face afterwards as she prepared to tell her that she did not see anything except when she did so she was hit with an image so shocking that it caused her entire body to freeze.

 

Emilia stood there looking completely devoid of emotion, fists unfurled with her arms down at her sides, eyes open and looking at her with complete calm, the redness completely gone from her face. Her gaze bore down on Fortuna with an intensity that did not seem natural coming from a child that was only two years of age.

 

Emilia looked right into the depths of Fortuna’s eyes as her mouth opened and she spoke in a voice that was far more mature then what could ever possibly be heard coming from someone Emilia’s age,a voice that belonged to someone Fortuna had only met once or twice in her entire long life.

 

“He did not violate the contract, yet he stole something important from me, therefore I shall not violate the contract yet I shall due my utmost to disrupt it short of breaking it.” The voice that came from little Emilia’s mouth was completely empty yet it still made Fortuna’s eyes widen as she instantly grabbed Emilia and sprinted out of her house as fast as she could.

 

As she sprinted along the path to the centre of the village Emilia continued to stare straight up at her with her unnaturally blank expression, she continued to speak to Fortuna as someone who certainly was not Emilia.

 

“To say that I failed to notice the change in Flügel’s personality would be entirely incorrect, and because of this I prepared certain countermeasures in the key given to the witch’s daughter, I hope dear Sensei Flügel yields a more interesting reaction as so far yours has not been worth the wrath I will have to deal with after this whole ordeal.”

 

Fortuna heard this as she reached the centre of the village, elves and robed cultists alike turning to face her in surprise at her sudden arrival. She stopped and scanned the surrounding area as she looked for somebody who she did not end up finding, but she found who ended up being her second choice.

 

“GEUSE, WHERE’S FLÜGEL?” Fortuna shouted across the square as both Betelgeuse and Regulus turned to face her.

 

“He went down the path leading to the gate with Pandora, wh……………………” Betelgeuse’s voice suddenly halted as he saw Emilia in Fortuna’s arms and the desperation on Fortuna’s face, causing him to immediately chase after Fortuna as she ran off down the path he had mentioned, Regulus not far behind him.

 

While Betelgeuse seemed to have some idea of what was going on Regulus did not have one in the slightest, unlike his companions he had never been to this forest before or met any of the elves who lived in it. Of course he did understand that something was amiss the moment he saw Fortuna running around looking for Flügel with her child in her arms, but his lack of understanding regarding the current situation was not the only thing bothering him at this point.

 

He looked at the small black box clenched in one of his hands as he ran, unlike Betelgeuse he had not put it in a pocket inside his jacket, it felt far too precious to do something like that. He held it in his hand as it almost called to him, the sheer desire radiating from it gnawing away at his mind, calling to him, tempting him, demanding that he open it, that he accept it.

 

But that was something he should not do, he was told not to, at the very least it would have to wait until whatever the current crisis was had subsided. Then he heard the little girl in Fortuna’s arms speak in a voice that sounded like it belonged to a mature woman, not a toddler.

 

“I was thinking I’d give this little one a nice three hundred year long nap, with the amount of mana she has in her it should easily run the stasis algorithm for that long, it’ll put a nice little pause on both her life and whatever that traitorous Flügel was using her and that key for. Yes, I think I shall do just that, but first I want to see Flügel’s face when he realizes what exactly are the repercussions for his earlier actions.”

 

Regulus had no idea what to make of what the little girl was saying, but when he saw the scene in front of him as the trees began to open into a clearing, he found himself in an even deeper pit of confusion, one that left him completely speechless.

 

Flügel, the one who had given him his task of guarding the black box lay sprawled out on the grass soaked in blood with a blade lodged in his neck and kneeling beside him covered in what appeared to be his blood was Pandora, and she was smiling.

 

“Well to say that I did not expect this would be the understatement of the century, to think that you would kill Flügel Pandora, I thought it even less likely then Satella doing the deed…..” The little girl’s unnaturally blank demeanor was torn as surprise and even a bit of shock managed to seep into her voice.

 

However not even the expression on Betelgeuse’s face lived up to the one on Fortuna’s, all the colour was gone from her face as her eyes moved from Flügel’s corpse back to Pandora, before going back to the corpse to repeat the process again.

 

“W-What have you done Pandora, w-why would you do this……..” Fortuna stammered as she stood nearly speechless whilst staring at the scene before her.

 

“Done something? I have merely provided Sensei Flügel with the assistance he needs for the final part of his journey, it’s really wonderful isn’t it, getting to help someone so important to you one last time.” Pandora turned to face them whilst speaking in a completely calm voice, when she began to stand up all the blood that soaked her arms began to slowly run down and drip to the grass below.

 

“I believe that I have seen enough, you can have this wretched being back whenever the stasis wears off.” Fortuna’s daughter spoke with complete disinterest at the situation before her body went completely limp, causing Fortuna to become even more panicked.

 

“I let him into the forest because my brother and his wife trusted him, I let him build his gate because he said its what she would have wanted, I let him give Emilia the key because of similar reasons. But now Emilia’s been condemned and he’s dead, leaving nobody to help her. You all better leave this forest, LEAVE BEFORE I MURDER YOU LIKE HOW YOU MURDERED HIM!” Fortuna began by looking down at the unmoving Emilia that barely seemed to be breathing, yet as the anger and vitriol seeped into her voice she turned to face Pandora who seemed utterly unphased by the threats being levelled at her.

 

“The love and adoration you hold for Emilia is admirable Fortuna, its marvelous, if only the whole world held such a thought for one another, if only then we would not all need to suffer, only then would Flügel not have to go through what he is right now.” Pandora began to clap and give a round of applause as everyone just looked at her completely stunned, the eery calmness in her eyes made this action appear utterly insane.

 

“YOU’RE INSANE, YOU’RE BEYOND MAD, FOR YOUR OWN SAKE I HOPE YOU FIND YOURSELF IN DEATH!” Fortuna shouted as she raised her free hand and conjured mana into an array of sharp ice crystals and prepared to fling them right at Pandora, but she was stopped by a familiar face appearing right in the path of her magic.

 

“Fortuna-sama, this isn’t the time for rashness, please calm yourself so we can find out what happened to Flügel-sama!” Betelgeuse had flung himself in between Fortuna and Pandora where he spread his arms wide apart in order to prevent even a single piece of ice being able to reach her without hitting him in the process.

 

“OUT OF THE WAY GEUSE, SHE KILLED HIM AND TOOK AWAY EMILIA’S ONLY CHANCE AND SO SHE DESERVES TO DIE, DON’T TELL ME YOU WERE PART OF HER SCHEME TO KILL FLÜGEL AS WELL?” Fortuna’s pupils had reduced to small pinpricks as she stared at Betelgeuse, giving off the impression that she may have become slightly unhinged due to the sheer amount of anger coursing through her.

 

“Regulus Corneas take Pandora-sama and our followers out of the forest, I’ll calm Fortuna and join you later to get to the bottom of this!” Betelgeuse turned to face Regulus as he shouted this to him, and Regulus did exactly that.

 

Regulus Corneas rushed forward and grabbed Pandora by the wrist and pulled her along as they ran from the forest, and to his complete surprise, Pandora did not resist in the slightest except to grab a satchel as they left. He ran with her from the forest, he shouted at those that had followed them here to leave as they blew by them only to be met by empty stares and sluggish movements. He ran with her until they found themselves atop a small hill with a strong breeze that stood outside the reach of the trees.

 

And it was atop this hill that he expected would be a time where they would wait in silence until Betelgeuse returned, yet this expectation could not farther from the truth.

 

“Bishop Corneas, do you know why Sensei Flügel decided to create the Witches Cult?” Pandora sounded just as she had when she had stood beside Flügel’s corpse, completely calm as if her future had been decided and she just had to wait for it.

 

She said this as she stood atop the hill, the wind gently blowing her platinum hair behind her as she looked off towards the forest that they had just left, not facing Regulus as they conversed.

 

Regulus was still apprehensive on how he should be dealing with Pandora, as far as he knew she had just murdered the Great Sage, but he decided it would be best to hear her out in the least.

 

“I’d never met Flügel-sama in person prior to today Pandora-sama, so I cannot say that I do.” Regulus turned to face Pandora after saying this, yet she continued to face away from him and towards the forest.

 

“For as long as he knew of, there has always been Witches of Sin roaming the earth, each possessing a mighty ability that defied common logic and even the bounds of reality at times. Sometimes they have had good intentions, sometimes bad, yet no matter what they have always brought devastation upon the land regardless of any intent. Their hands are stained with the blood of hope, the blood of choice, the blood of both the future and the past. It was the Witches of Sin of this era that showed Flügel that a single marvelous action was needed, it was my Sister Satella and the love she held for this world despite her inability to control her own destruction of it that drove him to take drastic action to free the future of the sins of the past. It is her wonderous love that we seek to live up to, her love that we seek to spread, and her love that we seek to make our own, it is the very reason why we carry the gospels as we do, to let the guidance of her love show us the path. It is because of this love that we are more apt to call ourselves ‘The Wtich’s Cult’ rather then ‘The Witches Cult’ as we seek to only follow the love witnessed from Envy and not the ways of the others, not the devotion of Melancholy nor the forced martyrdom of Wrath.”

 

Pandora then paused as she turned around and pointed towards the small black box that Regulus still clutched in his hand with her own blood stained one.

 

“Bishop Corneas, do you want to open that box?” Pandora looked directly at him as she said this, looking straight into his eyes with her own, her unnatural calmness unnerved him as he pondered the question.

 

“Flügel-sama said that the box should not be opened no matter how many lives must be spent to ensure its protection. I intend to do my best to follow his request, especially on the day of his passing, so no I do not wish to open the box.” Regulus matched the stare of Pandora’s crystal blue eyes with his own golden ones, doing his best to avoid the call that came to him from within the box, the call to take what was inside for himself, the call to claim what was rightfully his.

 

“Bishop Corneas, Sensei Flügel can be quite prideful when he speaks, putting far too much emphasis on certain aspects of the task to make it seem far more important than it actually is, and this here is a wonderful example of such behaviour. The reality of the situation is that it does not matter in the slightest whether the factor resides in the box or within your body, he has already judged you as an adequate protector of it, so the choice of how to protect it is in fact yours. Your determination and devotion to your duty is truly wonderful, should that devotion be combined with the power to drive away the unbelievers who seek to undermine our mission then our cult would be truly unstoppable. I will not force you down either path Bishop Corneas, but do not think for a second that I do not see through your vanity, I understand what your heart truly desires in this circumstance.”

 

In the time that Regulus took to blink Pandora was gone, having vanished in a mere instant, yet she was not gone for long as he soon felt her hand on his shoulder as she now stood behind him.

 

“No matter what you choose I think the fact that you have even arrived at a crossroads like this as being truly marvelous, to have the chance to truly confront ones own vanity is something that many go through entire lifetimes without doing. I eagerly await your decision, Bishop Corneas.”

 

Pandora then went silent as Regulus could feel her breath continue to brush against his neck with a continuous rhythmic frequency as he looked down into the box he held in his hand. He felt something squirming and writhing within it, it cried out to him yet it remained bound in place unable to reach him. It offered him everything, even perfection, yet it demanded nothing from him other then his acceptance of it.

 

He could not bring himself to reject it any longer, it was clearly a product of fate that they had been brought together and such it would only be a denial of his own rights to experience his rightful future to deny it.

 

And so Regulus gripped the lid of the box with one hand while holding its base with the other and opened it, thereby greeting him with the sight of a glowing black mass that seemingly clung to a severed finger.

 

He dropped the lid of the box to the ground and reached inside inorder to touch the mass, yet just as his finger was on the verge of reaching the mass it suddenly jumped to him and disappeared inside his body.

 

There was no struggle between them for control, the instant they made contact they were one and the same, they had absolutely perfect compatibility. As such the only change was like that of a mask being taken off, the true face of Regulus Corneas was finally revealed for the whole world to see, and he was ready to take what was rightfully his.

 

“That was truly a wonderful sight to see Bishop Corneas, truly truly wonderful” Pandora’s calm voice could be heard alongside her applause at the sight of Regulus’ transformation from a normal Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult to that of a Sin Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult, yet it was in this moment that they were rejoined by their third companion.

 

Betelgeuse finished running up the hill as he struggled to catch his breath, behind him the procession that had followed them here could be seen waiting a short distance outside the outskirts of the forest.

 

“Pandora-sama, Regulus Corneas…….. I finished talking to Fortuna-sama………..She’ll let me continue our duties in the forest………….She still doesn’t want either of you coming back however……………And even I’m not allowed to see Emilia ever again……..” Betelgeuse had his hands on his knee’s as he struggled to get the words out between hurried and anguished breaths.

 

Regulus however just looked at Betelgeuse as one of his eyes slightly twitched before he took a step towards him and began to make his opinions on the matter perfectly clear.

 

“Huh, who is she to tell me what to do, I Regulus Corneas, Sin Archbishop of The Witches Cult representing Greed, the most perfect being in existence. It is a complete and utter violation of my rights to do such an absurd thing as restrict my freedom of movement like that! The nerve, the pretentiousness, the utter and sheer pig-headedness of that wretch to even dare and do such a thing. From my point of view it is utterly and completely unjustified, is such behaviour due solely to how I pledged to work towards a brighter future for this world? Is it because I, the embodiment of one who desires nothing in this world lent a hand in aide to those in need that the feel like they can simply grab it and hurl me into the mud with them? It is so utterly and incomprehensibly unfair to even think that such an action is at all justified, to think that you have any say whatsoever in what the purest being in the entire world can or should due is nothing but utter derangement and delusion. She is a piece of obnoxious, annoying, irritating, delusional, indignant trash if she even presumes that she could stop I, Regulus Corneas from walking down into that forest and reducing every last living being in it into nothing more then a puddle of blood. Yet for her to due something as greedy as to demand that I Regulus Corneas, the most humble and merciful being in the world, come down into her forest in order to educate her on why she is wrong is so horrendously greedy that it leaves me almost speechless. To demand something like that from someone else is nothing more then an infringement of their rights, to force them into a situation where they feel like they must teach you, must educate you on why you are wrong just so they can go about their life. It is so thoroughly and utterly insane to expect something from someone that it would vex me if I was even capable of something as lowly as anger. It makes me so utterly indignant and vexed to have to think that there could be someone so goddamn greedy out there as to even presume to try and make me want to enter a forest as downtrodden as that by stating that I cannot enter it in the first place. To try to trick me as such is so irritating, annoying, maddening, vexing, enraging that if I weren’t so peaceful, so humble, I would level that forest until it was so flat it could be used as a pasture. I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,I,,I,I,I,I WANT NOTHING MORE THEN TO RIP HER AND THAT DAMN CHILD TO SHREDS FOR DARING TO EVEN BELIEVE THAT THEY COULD INFRINGE UPON MY RIGHTS AS SUCH. TO FORCE ME TO HAVE TO EXERT MYSELF, TO FORCE ME INTO ACTION IS NOTHING MORE THEN TRODDING UPON MY RIGHTS TO LIVE LIFE AS I WANT.”

 

Regulus seethed with sheer rage as Betelgeuse looked at him in complete disbelief, and it was only then that he noticed the two halves of the open black box on the ground that he realized just why Regulus had changed so much in such a short time.

 

“Regulus Corneas…….you didn’t………” Betelgeuse sputtered in disbelief.

 

“Do what? Do you presume that you have the right to tell me what to do just like she does, do you think that I am such a pitiful existence as to allow you to infringe upon my right to decide my own life. Do you think I could disregard something as serious as you daring to posses an opinion, daring to even comment on a choice I have made. I am Regulus Corneas, an existence that is only capable of making choice that are perfect. You dare pity my existence, you dare stand so tall on your pillar of virtue as to think yourself above me, it is simply madness to think you could place yourself as such to me. To even imagine that I deserve something as lowly as the pity from someone who places themselves above me, to believe I            need to be pitied upon by being given such advice. To presume yourself better then me, to even dare to think that you have a right to comment as such is nothing more then a violation upon my right to be free of criticism. By criticizing me you attempt to stain my perfection, who do you even think you are to even try to do such a thing as that to me! I am Regulus Corneas, The Witch’s Cult Sin Archbishop Representing Greed, I am the most perfect being in the world, AND THERE IS ABOLTULY NOTHING YOU NOR ANYONE ELSE CAN DO TO EVEN AFFECT ME IN THE SLIGHTEST!” Regulus’s vision bore down on Betegesuse with sheer rage, his golden pupils glowing with such intensity that he seemed on the precipice of unleashing true devastation, yet before he could even take the slightest action to cause harm a calm voice rang out from behind him.

 

Regulus Corneas is back in his house with his family, just as she should be”

 

And with that statement Regulus suddenly vanished form right in front of Betelgeuse’s eyes, so suddenly in fact that it was almost like he was never there to begin with.

 

“I have sent Bishop Corneas away, he seemed to be verging upon taking an action that would jeopardize our position and ability to carry out the tasks Sensei Flügel left in our hands. He may be an example of perfection in this world, yet he is unable to see the wonders of imperfection, so Bishop Romanée-Conti I shall have to leave the task of handling the imperfect situation in this forest with you.”

 

As Pandora said this, she shouldered the satchel that her Sensei had brought into the forest with him before turning and walking down the hill, leaving Betelgeuse alone at its peak.

 

“Of course I will Pandora-sama, but what will you do, what about Flügel-sama’s death?” Betelgeuse called out after her as she walked down the hill, causing her to stop and turn her head so he truly got a good look at her eyes for the first time since it happened, and what he saw chilled him to the bone.

 

The happiness and innocence were well and truly gone, her eyes gave off the impression that she no longer viewed anyone nor anything in the world as truly existing, merely as sets of puppets and props that were maneuvered to give the audience a specific impression. It scared him to look at her, if he had to choose he would rather spend eternity with what Regulus had become then another second with this twisted abomination of what used to be a devote student of the Great Sage.

 

“Sensei Flügel has left me with one final task to attend to, to find the remainder of your fellow Bishops, and afterwards I will work towards easing his suffering so that things can be just as they should have been. Do not think for a second Bishop Romanée- Conti that he is truly gone, Sensei Flügel is a wonderful person and he will surely return, despite his actions I know that he would never truly subject us to something as horrible as to suffer alone until our inevitable deaths.”

 

And with that Pandora turned her head away from Betelgeuse before she continued to walk down the hill, before she vanished from all sight completely, before leaving Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti alone atop the hill wondering how things had changed so suddenly.

Chapter Text

The past, the present, and the future, all terms that can be used to describe time relative to one’s current position in life, all capable of being looked upon in both a positive and negative light, yet all affecting one in a slightly different way.

 

The future is something that one can look at with hope and anticipation as they can see that it will certainly herald times that one will enjoy and relish, the same as one may anticipate basking in the sun’s warm rays as they wait in anticipation for it to rise during the dawn of a new morning. Yet the future can also be looked upon with dread and anxiety, for just as easily as one can predict the goodness ahead, they can also potentially see catastrophe as they await the inevitable collapse of a precarious situation. If one were to be standing atop the surface of a frozen lake and they were to hear a cacophony of cracks coming from all directions, both around and below them then they would understand that it was only a matter of time until the ice gave out and they plunged into the frigid waters below. The future’s true impact comes when one manages to understand and accept that it is inevitable, after a certain point it becomes impossible to change and all one can do is simply wait for its arrival; once one has made their bed all they have left to do is to lie in it and meet with the dreams that await them, good or bad.

 

While the future’s main impact on one’s emotions comes from how it has not arrived, the present affects one due to it being the current state they are in, the fluidity of the environment around them as it changes in what can seem to be a confusing manner at times. The present can seem to be easily changeable by some while being completely insurmountable by others, some see how their actions have immediate effect while others get too caught up in the situation around them, leading to them becoming overwhelmed and unable to see how they are altering their own path. While some realize that the present is their only opportunity to alter the path that their future will take while it remains malleable, others do not. The captains of some ships that travel through storms understand how critical it is to keep their boat fluid and supple, yet how important it is to not yield to the storm around them during the singular critical time in order to prevent disaster. In contrast some captains fail to tread this fine line, either leading to them yielding to the storm completely and achieving nothing or failing to yield even an single bit in the face of the storm. It is these captains that fail to realize that they must diverge from their desired course that are certain to suffer the worst fate of all, they fight as hard as they can to keep their ship completely rigid and stay on their direct route only to be forced to watch as everything is torn apart around them, as the ship and its crew whom amount to their entire life’s work are thrown asunder and consumed by the storm, until the captain find themselves slowly sinking into the deep blue sea knowing that the only thing that awaits them is a watery grave.

 

Yet of all these points in time it is the past that can be the harshest or the most liberating, and this is due to solely one single thing. No matter what happens the past cannot be changed, no matter how hard one may try, it is set in stone for all eternity. Of course the stone can be presented in different ways, be it hidden, put on display, recoloured, but no matter what the stone cannot be removed from existence. Even if one were to try and banish the stone to the deepest reaches of the sea there is nothing that one can do to truly run for it, for no matter what they do they will know where the stone is and exactly what is said on it. No matter where one goes or how fast they try to run the stone will always manage to catch up to them, even if the stone never moves it will always chase someone at a speed that far exceeds what one could possibly sustain as they try desperation to escape it. And unlike any living creature, stone does not tire, the march of time is nigh insurmountable, to the point that even those who claim to bend it to their will are likely no more then its servants, their actions destined since the beginning and fated to occur far before the end that shall never come.

 

What is more interesting than these abstract views of different points in time is the psychology of those living in them as they desperately struggle to comprehend the world that flows around them. It is a fact set in stone that those who experience time are incapable of comprehending all its aspects at once. No matter how wise, intelligent, or learned one may be, it is a simple matter of the fact that they experience time, and that they can therefore only focus on one of its aspects at any single moment. In general, an individual will place far more weight upon either the past, present, or the future, neglecting the other two in order to immerse themselves in the one of their choosing. Be it a burdened life of being chained to the past, a carefree one in the present, or a hopeful one that looks ahead to the future in hope of better a better tomorrow; no matter what there is only one, singular focus.

 

There is no exception to this rule, not a single being is able to truly escape one of these three viewpoints as they move through their life. Emilia herself was no different, as she lay near unmoving on the floor of the cabin, her consciousness only beginning to awaken to reality as her mind returned from a vision that could have been potentially a gift or a curse from another, a vision whose vividness was rapidly fading.

 

However, as the images left new ones flooded in, if new could be the proper term to use for them as they had existed within the confines of her memory the entire time, simply being blocked due to her contract with Puck.

 

It was like an uncountable number of connections within her brain were suddenly forming, the first trial which had at first seemed completely incomprehensible suddenly gained form and meaning as it flashed before her very eyes. The frozen elves who blamed her for their untimely demise, the woman broken by the fact that Emilia did not remember her name, the platinum haired girl drenched in blood.

 

Emilia remembered it all.

 

She remained on the floor where she had fallen when she had collapsed when the vision had wormed its way in. There was a small patch of dried blood around the area where her head had hit the floor, entirely due to a slight break in her skin and not a more serious or debilitating injury.

 

Her eyes opened sluggishly at first, however the second the world around her came into focus she scurried of the floor and pressed herself into the corner of the room. Her pupils shrunk to the size of tiny pinpricks as they frantically darted around, even if it may have been pitch black she was seemingly in a state of pure terror as she looked around for something. Her heartbeat with such vigour that she could hear it in her ears, feel it in her throat, even her skin broke out into a cold sweat as she pulled her legs to her chest and gripped them as hard as she could with her arms, ever single part of her body was quivering in fear.

 

Yet the outwardly directed fear soon ceased, instead redirecting inward and towards herself, as well as being corrupted by a crippling melancholy which washed over her. However her body did not free itself from the reaction to the fear that had enraptured it when it had awoken, it felt totally justified in keeping them as it truly began to fear itself.

 

Emilia had positioned herself so that she was sandwiched in the corner of the room between a night table and the wall. Atop this night table was something that Emilia had avoided for the short time that she had been in the cabin out of a habit from living with Puck for so long, yet she now reached for it as there existed a curiosity in her mind that she desired to have answered, while she still had time.

 

It took nought but a few seconds, but her hand soon found the heavy brass object she searched for and grasped it before lowering it in front of herself. It was a small brass mirror that one would commonly use when getting ready in the morning, and Emilia now firmly held it right in front of her face.

 

While one handheld the heavy metal mirror the other cupped her cheek which had taken on a clammy and sickly pale colour since her night out in the rain when she arrived in the Sanctuary. Her eyes gazed into the mirror where her reflection stared back at her, the look she saw was one of a sad, depressed and broken girl. Yet this did not surprise her in the slightest for she had felt this way for a long time, it was almost comforting to know that her appearance adhered to how she felt, to what she was, there was not the slightest hint of vanity within her.

 

Her eyes had long lost their luster, there was no spark of joy nor twinkle of life within them, they were a combination of white, amethyst purple, and blue that looked as if a dull glaze had formed overtop of them long ago, only broken by the bright red of the tiny blood vessels that angrily reached to the surface. Her skin had taken on a sickly greyish colour that complimented the dullness of her eyes, leading to them appearing as if they had slightly sunken into her face. Her once lustrous silver hair had long lost its sheen, leading to it taking on a dullness that made it seem almost grey in colour. Her hair had seemingly grown more and more frayed and thin since leaving the mansion, giving it a wiry feeling that gave the appearance that the volume it once held had seemingly been sucked out almost overnight.

 

However none of this was what really stood out to Emilia as she looked into the mirror, she knew that she would appear to be in a terrible state, because that would just be the physical manifestation of her mental state. The thing that stood out most to Emilia where the features of her face that were not things she could change, things like the skeletal structure and the shape of her eyes.

 

She had expected her face to see features similar to Mother Fortuna’s, features that were sharp, strong, mean looking. Yet she did not see Mother Fortuna’s sharp jawline, strong cheek bones, not even her mean looking eyes. Her own face was instead rounded, gentle, her eyes could even be described as being kind, yet Emilia knew she was anything but kind, she now knew just how horrible she was.

 

She moved her hand around her face, watching her skin shift under the pressure exerted by her fingertips before her lips began to tremble as she spoke aloud to nobody in particular.

 

“I guess they were right……….I deserve to be compared to her……………..I’m a monster just like her…….I’m a murderer too…….”

 

Emilia’s reflection began to grow blurry as her eyes began to fill with tears, but her vision did not divert from the mirror for even an instant, she could not bring herself to look away from her reflection, she did not feel that she deserved such relief.

 

It was almost as if she could still hear their voices from the trials, the voices of the frozen elves and Mother Fortuna, it felt like they were almost standing around her, jeering at her with their lamentations.

 

“I’m sorry I killed you all……..I’m really sorry……. I don’t deserve your forgiveness……..I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry”

 

Emilia’s voice grew more and more frantic, tears streaming down her face as she gripped the mirror in two hands, staring at it in desperation as it slowly swayed in her hands before her, the words leaving her mouth began to be punctured by gasps of air as she began to sob.

 

“I’m terrible….. I’m really horrible…… I don’t deserve to have gotten to live alongside all of you……. Mother Fortuna loved me and I killed her……..You all would’ve been better off if I’d just never been born…..”

 

Emilia clamped her eyes shut as she gripped the mirror with both hands and brought it so that the glass just gently touched her forehead, her grip on the handle of the mirror grew tighter as she began to sob even harder.

 

At first the mirror wavered a bit as Emilia’s breathing grew harsher and harsher, before it suddenly became completely still. Emilia had come to a decision on how to best proceed down this path she found herself on.

 

She would end it in the name of all the sins she had committed.

 

“I wish I had never been born……It would have been better for all of you…….”

 

Emilia muttered as she slowly moved the hand mirror an arms length away, from here she proceeded to swing it right back into herself with every bit of strength that she could muster.

 

The mirror hit her face at such an angle that it struck both the tip of her nose and the centre of her forehead at the same time, the glass pain shattering into a spiderweb before spewing forth a cloud of shards as the mirror made contact with her skull. This cloud of razor-sharp glass flew into her face with enough force and at sufficient speed such that they cut into and left long and deep gouges, some of the shards even driving themselves deep into her skin where they remained as painful protrusions.

 

As the hand mirror was made of a heavy bronze it carried significant momentum behind it, the force of the blow it dealt to her face was enough that there was a painful and sickening crack as her nose deformed so that it harshly bent to one side, where what remained of her nostrils began to flood with blood.

 

Her face erupted into a combination of burning, stinging, and electrifying pain as blood began to leak out of the smaller cuts, the deeper gouges, and the puncture wounds created by the glass shards, joining that which poured from Emilia’s now shattered and broken nose.

 

She moved the now broken mirror which had been reduced to not much more then the bronze frame and handle with only a few shards of glass remaining, away from herself. When it was about half an arms length away, she began to speak in a voice contorted by the pain that was plaguing her. It was not the physical pain emanating from her face that mangled her voice however, it was the emotional pain swirling within her heart, pain that had risen up into a torrential storm that was rapidly tearing her apart from the inside.

 

“I HATE HOW I LOOK!”

 

Emilia shouted at the top of her lungs in what amounted to something between a wail and a cry for help, the tears that still streamed from her eyes mixing with the blood flowing from her face, quickening its flow.

 

She then slammed the mirror back into her face with even greater force then the first time, driving the glass shards even deeper and causing the break in her nose to travel further up the bridge. She could feel each of the shards of glass rending the flesh of her cheeks as the flow of blood from them increased.

 

“I HATE WHO I AM!”

 

Emilia did not give herself even a moments respite as she immediately slammed the bronze frame into her head once again, causing blood to spatter all over her white clothing as well as the walls and floor.

 

“I HATE MYSELF, I WISH I’D NEVER EVER BEEN BORN!”

 

Emilia then frantically struck herself one last time in the head with the mirror using every last bit of strength that she could muster, sending even more blood around the room, but this time there was a loud and even more sickening crack when contact was made compared to the blow that had broken her nose. A small red crack had appeared on her forehead that ran about one third the way across and was located roughly where the top edge of the mirror had struck her. The bone of either edge of this crack was slightly depressed inwards where it had been pushed by the force of the strike.

 

Blood of a deep crimson colour found itself slowly oozing out of this self-inflicted wound onto her face before it ran down her chin and dripped onto her clothes at a slow but steady rhythm.

 

The second this final blow had made contact with her skull, all the strength had seemingly left her body as she had gone limp, the remains of the bronze mirror clattering to the blood-spattered floor as her grip opened and her arm fell to her side.

 

It was the result of this mental break brought on by the return of her memories that had revealed sins that were so vile to Emilia that they had driven her to make an attempt on her own life. An attempt that had left her on the brink of death, alone and in the corner of the unfamiliar room where even her father had decided to abandon her.

 

Her once white clothes quickly became dyed crimson as the blood that gave her life leaked out onto them, her eyes that had remained open a crack were completely devoid of motion, the only sign that life remained at all within her body was the slow and weak breaths that still somehow managed to travel through her parted lips.

 

If something did not change soon it is almost certain that Emilia would be dead before the sun rose, yet this was the fate that she seemingly desired.

 

Everything felt numb, she could not move, she could not even speak, it was like she was trapped inside her own body as she was forced to watch time play out in front of her, forced to watch as beads of blood gradually rolled overtop of her eyes and dyed her vision red.

 

She did not feel the slightest bit of strength in a single fibre of her body, her mind grew cloudier and cloudier as she sat there slumped in the corner. The only indication that time was even still passing was the gentle shifting of the rays of silver moonlight streaming through the window as the occasional cloud moved across the sky.

 

Emilia may not have been anywhere near an expert in regard to healing or medicine, but she did not need to be one to know that she would soon die given the rate she was bleeding.

 

 

Yet she did not feel the slightest bit of panic nor urgency at this idea, not even resentment or regret of her most recent action that had caused it, one could even say that she would say that it was for the best, if she could still speak.

 

If someone where to see her right now they would liken her appearance to that of a monster made up by older children in an attempt to scare one another. Her forehead was cracked open and seeping blood at an alarming rate, her face was covered in cuts ranging from that of a deep scratch to a terrifying gouge where the skin appeared to have been ripped apart. Some of the glass that had dealt these wounds remained buried in her once pristine face, either at the ends of the cuts they had creating when they tore the skin apart or driven deep inwards as part of a puncture wound. The metal frame of the hand mirror had done its part too besides simply splitting her forehead, leaving her once angelically porcelain skin black, blue, and swollen from the repeated impacts.

 

The blood-stained body of Emilia stayed slumped in the corner as time continued to march ever onwards, with each step it took forward her body only grew weaker and her mind foggier, with each step time took forward the moon fell lower and lower in the sky. As the moon travelled the brilliant silver rays it reflected moved across the room until they reached Emilia in the corner, forcing her immobile eyes to stare into their light.

 

For a second her consciousness slipped away from the world before quickly returning to her, yet when it did she found herself looking into the glossy amethyst eyes of someone she knew well, yet had forgotten about until recently. However her ability to fully comprehend the sight before her eyes was immensely hampered by the mental fog that was undoutably brought on by a severe concussion.

 

The amethyst eyes belonged to a woman who was kneeling in front of Emilia, she had short silver hair and the characteristically pointy ears of a full-blooded elf, and she looked to be in complete disbelief and unfathomable shock to see Emilia in the state that she was in.

 

“Why Emilia……why would you do something like this after all this time…….after everything we all did for you, after all the sacrifices we made……..why would you give up like this……..”

 

Mother Fortuna looked completely heartbroken as she stared into the near lifeless eyes of her daughter, a gaze that Emilia would give anything to not have to return, but she no longer had control over the direction her eyes pointed.

 

“It’s not because you owe us for what we did, we all did so willingly because we loved you………Your Mother, Father, Geuse, and myself………. We all gave everything to save you because we wanted to see that happy little girl go on one more day………Your Mother and Father may have only known you as an infant, but they willingly gave up everything in that pit so that their little baby girl could coo and cah at butterfly’s and birds for another day………….. Geuse and I died so that you would get to go another day without having to bear the guilt of unleashing the monster behind that black door, so that you would have a world to grow up in…….But our happy little girl isn’t in there anymore is she? We didn’t guide you far enough so that the little one who brought joy to all our hearts could make it to the point that she could stand on her own against the storm………. I’m sorry Emilia, I’m reallllllllllly sorry……………”

 

Mother Fortuna broke her gaze with Emilia as she hung her head seemingly out of shame, as tears dripped out of her eyes, falling to the floor before striking the wood and disappearing into nothing.

 

Emilia wanted to call out to her mother that it was not her fault, that the sight she saw before her was a product of her own actions and not Mother Fortuna’s nor anyone else’s. Emilia could not stand to see how she had hurt her, how a choice that she had made entirely on her own had brought so much suffering to someone who was so important to her. She did not want to die anymore, she wanted to go on and keep suffering solely so she would not hurt Mother Fortuna and everyone else she had mentioned that had cared so much about her as to give up their own lives.

 

Emilia may have desperately wanted this, but in the end there was nothing she could do about it, she had gone so far as to seemingly remove all agency she had over the direction of what little remained of her life.

 

Emilia wanted nothing more but to tell Mother Fortuna that everything would be alright, that she would be okay, even if it would make her a liar. But Emilia could not do that, all that happened was a single tear rolling its way out of her eye as the world turned black and her consciousness slipped away once more, her desperate cry that she did not want to die being lost along with it.

 

She did not know how long she was out, it was something impossible to tell, all she knew was that when her consciousness returned that she could see the faint crimson rays of the rising sun streaking in through the window, and that there were two visitors in the cabin with her.

 

“Gran th’ cuts on ‘er face ain’t closing, the big one ain’t letting ‘em, I think I can ‘ven see ‘er brain through it, what’re we gonna do?”

 

Garfiel was knelt in front of Emilia with his jaw clenched and a look of complete focus overtaking his face, a soft yet immensely strong blue light emanating from his palm that was nearly touching her face, a light that was so strong that she felt like it could blind her.

 

“Just keep your magic up for a little bit longer Gar-bo, I’ve found some cloth that should be sanitary enough to use as a bandage. We’ll move her after the larger wounds are covered.”

 

Ryuzu’s voice then dramatically dropped in volume as she seemingly muttered something to herself that was only just barely audible to Emilia.

 

“What Echidna-sama doesn’t know cannot hurt her I guess.”

 

This muttering was then followed by a loud ripping sound as a chunk of cloth was seemingly torn off what could only be assumed to be a piece of clothing. Emilia then heard light yet hurried footsteps as Ryuzu came into the corner of her vision carrying a makeshift bandage made of elegant black cloth.

 

She then knelt beside Garfiel as she gently affixed the bandage to Emilia’s face, completely obscuring Emilia’s vision.

 

“What’s moving her gonna do, if my amazin’ self can’t heal her then there’s no one in the whol’ Sanctuary who can, who are we gonna take ‘er to?”

 

Garfiel’s voice was hurried but also sounded strained by the sheer amount of focus he was investing into his healing magic, but the surprise that entered his voice when he heard his grandmother’s response was somehow evident through all of it.

 

“We’re going to bring her to the tomb and hope that Echidna-sama decides to heal her, if she cannot or decides not to then there’s nothing to else we can possibly do. Her odds of beating death are far, far less then it besting her at this point.”

 

There was a heavy tone of resignation that laced Ryuzu’s voice as she spoke, like she herself did not believe in her own plan.

 

“But the Witch in that tomb is long dead ain’t she? How’s she going to be able to do a damn thing, why would she do a damn thing if she’s kept us all trapped here for so long anyways?”

 

Garfiel sounded like he was in complete disbelief as he heard his grandmothers plan, like it was absolute lunacy in his eyes, something that fundamentally made no sense even at the most basic level.

 

“Pick her up Gar-bo, I’ll explain on the way, but we have to hurry, there isn’t much time left.”

 

Emilia felt herself being roughly scooped up and then jostled around as Garfiel began to run while carrying her, from the sound of Ryuzu’s voice Emilia could tell that she was managing to keep the pace despite her age.

 

“When we get to the tomb I want you to carefully place Emilia just inside the trial room by reaching in while keeping your body outside, if you end up inside the trial instead of her then you will have no choice but to face it again, and it will also ensure that Emilia dies. However make sure that she is far enough inside that she cannot be seen by anyone outside the tomb and then leave immediately, this part is equally as critical as the first. As for Echidna-sama, she is almost certainly not de……..”

 

It was at this point that Emilia’s consciousness drifted away once more as the blackness that filled her vision descended onto her mind itself, preventing her from hearing the rest of the conversation.

 


 

The numbness was gone from her body as normal feeling had returned to replace it, she could clench and unclench her fingers and there was not even any noticeable pain left, in fact she could even go as far as saying that she physically felt better then she ever remembered feeling.

 

Emilia slowly reached towards her face with her hands and removed the cloth bandage whilst running her hands against her smooth skin, there were no cuts, no gouges, not even any pieces of glass remained jutting out of her face.

 

It was as if she had never harmed herself in the first place.

 

Emilia felt the cool earth beneath her head, a rich and loose floor of dirt that was covered in a soft and thick layer of moss; she looked up towards the sky and saw tall trees that reached towards the clouds far above gently swaying in the wind with their luscious green leaves.

 

“So you’re just going to lay their waiting for people to fawn over you I suppose, you truly still are quite the attention whore.”

 

Emilia slowly got up off the ground so that she was standing opposite the source of the voice, it was a woman with long white hair, a black dress the went all the way to the ground, and an emerald green butterfly ornament in her hair. The woman was leaning against a tree for support as she glared at Emilia with her arms crossed underneath her chest, the look in her eyes was one that someone would use if they were staring at the most disgusting, revolting existence in the world.

 

“Oh so you’ve decided to gift me with some of your attention, my-my we must truly be blessed on this oh so splendid day. Are you hoping that I’m going to obsess over you now, subject myself to suffering in order to aide you, do you think I’m just like Natsuki Subaru, Carmilla, or Minerva? Do you think I, Echidna, The Witch of Greed will fall for your tricks? Do you think I will force myself to endure endless trauma, anxiety over reprisal, or heart ache, just to help you? Did you come here thinking that I would pity you and give you and easy way out of the nightmare that awaits you?”

 

Echidna essentially spat these words at Emilia as she continued to stare at her with her cold, black eyes. The words she hurled at Emilia like daggers stung as they drove themselves into her heart with their razor sharp edges, releasing a near torrent of other emotions as a side effect, as if they had been laced with poison.

 

Emilia was selfish, she knew that through and through, whenever she had tried to do something for herself it had only ended up hurting others, making them suffer for her or in her stead. She had ruined Subaru’s life, Carmilla looked so afraid that someone would hurt her when she took the risk to help Emilia, but Minerva was a name she did not know, yet one that felt intimately familiar as it brought out an odd yet warm feeling in her chest. But if that name was being mentioned alongside the other two then it was clear that Emilia had hurt her somehow, made her suffer because she had dared to help her.

 

Echidna’s words may have hurt, they may have stung, but Emilia knew they were the truth, and Echidna had supposedly saved her life after she was carried into the trial on the verge of death, and no matter what such an action had to be thanked properly.

 

Emilia tried her best to meet Echidna’s gaze, but she could not do such a thing, at this point she could not find the strength to withstand it, which led to her eyes drifting down towards the ground near the Witch’s feet.

 

“Thank you…….for saving me……”

 

The voice that Emilia spoke in was one that was incredibly meek and completely devoid of any kind of self confidence or strength.

 

“Huh……Save you? You think I’d even lift a finger to save you after that stunt you pulled? If it were up to me I would’ve let you live the rest of your short life with the consequences of your actions, but Minerva just couldn’t stand to see you suffer like you were. She was completely distraught, barely able to keep herself together, brought to a state nearing the same madness she fell to after she saved your life the first time. You subjected her to this torment entirely because you ignored what Carmilla told you the first time. It’s like you tried to kill yourself solely for the attention. You’re so self centered that its honestly disgusting to see.”

 

Tears once again began to build up behind Emilia’s eyes as she thought about how her recent actions had impacted those few who still cared about her, how hurt they must have been to learn about how she had taken everything they had done for her and simply thrown it away. Emilia thought about how badly she must have hurt them when she gave up and gave into the sadness, when they had to learn that she decided to kill herself and reject their love.

 

“I……I didn’t do it to hurt her, I just couldn’t take it anymore……. Even now I don’t think I can keep going……”

 

Tears ran down Emilia’s face as she leaned her shoulder up against a tree for support before tilting her head to do the same. Somehow, she was overall even more broken emotionally now then when she was trying to bash her own head in, yet the only reason she was not trying to repeat the attempt on her own life was due to a combination of both sheer exhaustion and a dearth of passion in her emotions, her depression was devoid of the earlier mania that had driven her to such acts as before.

 

“Well if you truly wanted to end it all you would have just taken a shard of the glass from my mirror and cut your wrist open, it would have been a significantly more effective method then trying to bludgeon yourself to death with the thing.”

 

Echidna held out a hand in front of her and turned it around whilst splaying her fingers, seemingly inspecting it as she spoke about this incredibly morbid topic as if it were seemingly an after thought.

 

Emilia however upon hearing this held out her own arm in front of her and turned it as she stared at her own wrist, her eyes locked on the patch of sickly white skin which lay just above the radial artery, which when severed would quickly leak enough blood to end her life. However her attention was soon drawn away from herself as Echidna spoke up.

 

“If you still intend to end your own life, I ask that you avoid doing so here. As you would be both forcing her to watch it and it would leave me pointlessly stuck watching some parts of your worthless life until the trial finished running its course.”

 

While Echidna’s voice was completely devoid of any concern whatsoever for Emilia herself, which was also backed up by her still completely relaxed demeanor, however she did seemingly manage to remove Emilia’s attention away from her wrists and back to the situation at hand.

 

“I guess so, I’m not someone worth crying over anyways…..”

 

Emilia’s voice was full of sadness as her head drooped even lower as she said this, to the point that she was staring at the ground next to her own feet instead. Yet for a brief moment a tiny bit of surprise flashed across Echidna’s face.

 

“Well that’s just a bit surprising, you seem to be close to honestly meaning what you say. Now let’s get on with this trial, after you.”

 

The surprise quickly faded from Echidna’s face however as she ceased leaning against the tree and gestured with her arms for Emilia to take the lead. Seeing this Emilia slowly walked towards her before passing her, a sullen frown gracing her face as her head remained tilted so she looked exclusively towards the ground.

 

Both her posture and gait were poor as she walked down a dirt path between the trees, her shoulders rolled forward just ever so slightly, her back bent just enough to give it a curved appearance, her feet only raising far enough off the ground to avoid being dragged through the dirt with each step.

 

Emilia seemed almost oblivious to what was going on around her as she walked not much more then half a pace ahead of the Witch of Greed, whose face may have been devoid of any real expression, yet whose eyes remained fixed on the depressed half elf walking in front of her.

 

They walked in silence for a bit until the Greedy Witch oddly decided to break it by speaking to the person she had only shown the utmost disdain and loathing for until this point.

 

“It is honestly surprising that you’re back, it is truly rather rare for someone to attempt the trial a second time after failing it, but then again its not like you returned due to your own willpower was it?”

 

Echidna posed this question to Emilia with her voice only having the slightest bit of underlying edge to it in order to insinuate that it was meant to be an insult to her, yet Emilia did not stop nor even turn to face her when she responded. Instead Emilia kept walking forward with her head held low, and spoke in a voice equally as quiet.

 

“I know I’m useless, incapable of doing anything on my own, the only reason I made it this far is because others were literally willing to carry me along with them…….”

 

The melancholy in Emilia’s voice was heavy and as Echidna heard Emilia’s response her eyebrows raised just ever so slightly, this was not exactly how she had expected the Witch’s Daughter to act from the glimpses of her she had already witnessed.

 

“Well, it’s a good thing that you recognize the truth at least, now is there anything different about this trial so far compared to the disaster that was your first attempt?”

 

Contrary to both the wording of her question as well as how she had delivered her previous one, Echidna’s voice was completely lacking in malice as she spoke to Emilia. Hearing this Emilia lifted her head from the ground and took a brief look at the surroundings as the two continued to walk along the path.

 

She saw the green leaves gently swaying with the trees in the wind, she saw the birds flying through the sky, even the little insects on the ground as they hurriedly crawled under and around rocks and deadfall, yet there was one thing that stood out to her.

 

“It’s warm, there’s no snow or storm this time.”

 

Was all that Emilia said to the Witch, yet Echidna certainly was not through with this line of thought and decided to press further.

 

“Do you have any idea on why the trial might be different like this?”

 

Echidna’s tone when she said this was a quizzical one, like how a schoolteacher poses a question to their pupils that they already know the answer to.

 

“I’m not very smart Echidna….. so I don’t know……….”

 

This self defeatist remark was all that came from Emilia as the two stopped walking somewhere along the trail, Emilia standing with her back to Echidna as she resumed looking towards the ground.

 

“Well see this trial is constructed out of your memories of a rather important part of your past, something with immense emotional significance. But seeing as up until now your memories were partially sealed by the contract you held with Puck, the whole process got just a little stymied. That is why your first trial seemed so abnormal, so jumbled, so wrong yet so true. You could say that Puck leaving you like he did has a silver lining in that by returning your memories to you he gives you just the tiniest chance to actually complete the trial and liberate Sanctuary.”

 

In the face of Echidna’s words that seemed to carry the tiniest bit of hope Emilia could feel nothing but despair. They served as nothing but another reminder that someone else had been forced through an arduous task, risking their own wellbeing for her sake, as well as serving as a reminder of the pain she had so recently gone through herself.

 

“I would thank Puck if I could……but remembering is also so painful…..having to recall what I did to them all…….. just………hurts so much. I love Mother Fortuna, but I’d almost rather have not gotten my memories back………..they’re just tearing my heart apart with guilt.”

 

From Echidna’s point of view it was possible to see a few tears falling from Emilia’s eyes, these along with the audible breaks in her speech when she sucked in a breath made it clear that she was on the verge of breaking down sobbing. Emilia’s face was most likely growing red and contorting as she tried to hold back the dam of sadness that was threatening to break.

 

“I’m not going to stoop to comforting you, I won’t give you a shoulder to cry on. All I will say however is that if you want to stand here sobbing away that you will likely miss too much of the trial and fail it, in order to come to terms with your past it is essential to fully understand it, and your memories as they stand now are nowhere near detailed enough to achieve that.”

 

Hearing Echidna’s words Emilia weakly nodded her head as she wiped her tears away and continued walking down the trail in silence, Echidna following close behind. The two continued to walk like this until they reached an area where the trees grew less dense and small huts started to appear around them, as well as Elves milling about as they got to their days.

 

The second Emilia saw them she froze up, her hand rushing to cover her mouth as a barely audible cry escaped it, her eyes wide open and glued to the figures milling about only a handful of paces from her.

 

Some of the elves were coming back in from denser parts of the forest carrying an assortment of different things, fish, berries, wood, even stone. Meanwhile others were seemingly heading out as they carried with them a variety of tools, many of which Emilia did not recognize nor understand the purpose of. Yet of all the elves in this town square that she saw heading off in all directions, there were two that just so happened to be heading straight for where she was standing.

 

One was a woman whom Emilia could not recall ever meeting, she was of an average build with long brown hair that hung down as far as her waste, her eyes were an emerald green colour that nearly matched the foliage around her, however the man whom she was talking to as they walked was someone Emilia recognized instantly.

 

He wore clothes of a white and purple colour scheme that were reminiscent of Emilia’s own before they had become splattered with blood. His long blond hair ran down just below his shoulders in two long and elegant twin tails, his eyes were a shade of green that almost perfectly matched the woman who walked beside him with the sole exception that his were only slightly lighter in tone.

 

This man was undoubtedly Arche, the member of the village who Emilia had been closest to bar Mother Fortuna.

 

The path he walked would undoubtedly take him within arms reach of Emilia as she stood at the mouth of the path, perhaps even closer.

 

He proceeded to get closer.

 

And closer.

 

As he neared what would probably be the closest point Emilia slowly raised an arm as if to try and grab onto a loose fold in his clothing, yet just when she tried to grasp the cloth, she found that her fingers simply phased through it.

 

“Arche….”

 

Was all that Emilia managed to mumble in a nigh despondent tone as Arche walked past her before disappearing from view behind the trees as the path curved away. This left Emilia standing still with her arm still extended, which she slowly lowered to her side as her head fell once again.

 

“Sometimes the trial allows for one to interact with it, other times you are left to merely watch events unfold in front of you, this appears to be the latter rather then the former.”

 

Hearing Echidna’s explanation from behind her Emilia simply let out a “ahh” in acknowledgement before beginning to trudge forward almost aimlessly while essentially dragging her feet behind her.

 

The two walked along a path in complete silence as they slowly found themselves travelling farther and farther from the village centre where they had been previously, before they eventually stopped in front of a lone hut on what seemed to be the very edge of the village.

 

The door to the hut was directly in front of Emilia, yet she did not make the slightest effort to grasp the handle in order to enter the dwelling, instead choosing to simply stand in front of it with her head down.

 

“Had enough already? Was that all it took to get you to give up on the trial? If you brought us all the way here then I’m certain that whatever lies inside that building is important to you, and I can be fairly confident in saying that if you don’t face it then you will certainly fail. So do you still intend to face your past, or do you intend to cower away in fear?”

 

Hearing Echidna’s remark Emilia took a rattly breath in before gingerly moving her hand to grasp the handle, only for it to completely phase right through. She proceeded to try a few more times, almost like she was pawing at the door rather then trying to open it, yet each time her hand passed right through as if the door was not even there to begin with.

 

“I can’t grab the handle Echidna…..”

 

Emilia spoke with the tone of someone who had completely given up on life while once again not even turning to face the person she was speaking to.

 

“If your hand can phase through the door then so can your body, just walk right through. It’s really not that hard you know, even I expected a little bit more from you then this.”

 

Echidna said this remark with an incredibly condescending tone while shaking her head slowly and crossing her arms, she very clearly was not impressed.

 

“Sorry…….”

 

Was all the Emilia mustered in response before ducking her head and walking though the small round door in front of her, Echidna following suit shortly after.

 

The two found themselves standing in what looked to be the main room of a tiny home, the only other living spaces looking to be at the top of a staircase that was tucked away in the back of the room. Just in front of said staircase was what looked to be a stone fireplace that must have served as both the main heating source for the dwelling, as well as the place where meals would be cooked. The fireplace connected to a chimney that appeared to be made of the same stone, however these two things appeared to be the only items of stone construction in the building, with the rest being, including the walls, comprised of wood instead.

 

There was a small table placed up against one of the walls with a somewhat rough cloth placed overtop of it, it only had three chairs set up around it with the place for the fourth being taken by the wall itself.

 

The last thing of note in the room was the wooden counters next to the door, there were a wide variety of bowls, cutlery, and other various objects laid out atop it. However what was vastly more interesting and likely important to the trial was not the layout of the house nor the objects contained within it, it was the two people standing right in front of Emilia and Echidna.

 

The two stood side on to them, or rather one stood while cradling the other in their arms, given this and taking into account the vast age difference that was readily apparent between the two, it would not be incorrect to assume that one was the mother of the other.

 

Both wore clothes with a purple and white colour scheme, and both had the same amethyst eyes and silver hair, the sole exception being that the woman wore hers fairly short while the child’s was long enough to hang partway down their back.

 

Seeing this sight Emilia audibly gasped even if she had tried to prepare herself for this, all the strength left her knee’s as she sank to the ground, both her hands clasped tightly over the opening to her mouth as her fixated eyes began to produce a near uncontrollable flow of tears.

 

“…………………….Mother………………..Fortuna…………………”

 

These were the only words to escape Emilia’s mouth after she fell to the ground, her eyes were so utterly fixated on the sight in front of her that it seemed that she could not bring herself to focus on anything other then it. Meanwhile Echidna leaned against the wall with her arms crossed underneath her chest, seemingly content to watch the scene unfold before her.

 

Mother Fortuna held what looked to be a two year old Emilia in her arms, a smile on her face that made her look utterly ecstatic, captivated, even enthralled by just the sight of Emilia alone, like a mother holding a newborn for the first time. Meanwhile Emilia appeared to be incredibly drowsy and barely awake, like she had just woken up from an incredibly long sleep, her eyes even fluttering slightly like they were verging on closing again as she struggled to stay awake.

 

Mother Fortuna then lifted Emilia up so that she was pressed into her cheek, and with a smile that nearly stretched from ear to ear began to speak to the still sleepy little half elf.

 

“I realllllllly reallllllllllly reallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllly missed you Emilia, I love you, I reallllllllly realllllllly love you and I hope you know that. I’m not going to let anything happen to you ever again.”

 

Mother Fortuna then started rubbing her cheek against Emilia’s as she held her child as close as she possibly could to herself, but little Emilia seemed to be finally waking up at this point and did not seem to be exactly happy with how much affection she was receiving.

 

“Stop, stooooooooooooop!”

 

Emilia shouted this as loud as she could with her tiny voice she used her two little hands to try and push Fortuna’s face away from her own, which did not achieve much besides signalling to Fortuna that her little Emilia had enough of all the love for now.

 

“What’s wrong Emilia, have you had enough of your mommy already? You’ve been asleep for soooooo long that I just can’t help but be excited!”

 

Emilia did not immediately respond to this as she started to squirm around in Fortuna’s arms while stretching her arms and legs out, turning her head away to look at the floor while doing this.

 

“Mhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmm MMMMMMMMMMMMMHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMM”

 

Emilia did not open her mouth but instead decided to groan through her closed teeth while Fortuna began to giggle and swoon over this display of cuteness that she had been deprived of for so long.

 

“Now Emilia, in this house we use our words, if you want to be put down you need to ask politely.”

 

Fortuna tried her best to put some authority behind her voice but she could not even manage to hide her smile from her daughter as she tried her best to parent her.

 

“I’m a big girl now, no more mommy!”

 

Emilia blurted this out as Fortuna almost froze up in shock when she heard this comment from Emilia.

 

“What do you mean ‘no more mommy’ Emilia, do you not want me around anymore? Are you ready to go live out in the world on your own?”

 

It was obvious from how Fortuna spoke that she did not take Emilia’s statement literally, yet even though it was irrational she could not help but feel hurt that this was the first real thing her daughter said to her after they had been effectively separated for so long.

 

“I’m a big girl now, only babies use the word mommy!”

 

After Emilia said this she crossed her arms and puffed out her cheeks while looking at Fortuna straight in the eye. Which although was probably meant to be serious only ended up looking absolutely adorable to the point that Fortuna could not help but beam a big smile in response, her earlier irrational thoughts falling away completely.

 

“Oh so you think you’re too grown up now to call me ‘mommy’ anymore missy? If you’re so mature then what are you going to be calling your mother from now on?”

 

Fortuna used an incredibly playful tone to say this, and whilst doing so she used her free hand to tickle Emilia in the side who then proceeded to burst out into a fit of giggling and laughing.

 

“hahahahahahahahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”

 

Emilia’s laughter and giggling filled the whole house and one could readily tell from looking at Fortuna that she was having the time of her life and was incredibly happy, but that happiness was soon interrupted by a knock on the door.

 

“Fortuna-sama, Bishop Romanée-Conti has arrived and is waiting in the village centre.”

 

While hearing this voice come through the door Fortuna stopped tickling Emilia but did not respond, instead choosing to walk to the door and begin to open it. Emilia however was not exactly the happiest of campers at the prospect of being ignored and started to fuss in Fortuna’s arms as she was carried with her. When Fortuna finally opened the door to reveal a male elf who looked to be average in all respects Emilia had begun to entertain herself by trying to reach the clip in Fortuna’s hair, however it was just slightly too far away for her tiny arms to reach no matter how hard she tried.

 

Initially the in descript male elf opened his mouth to speak once the door was open, however the second he saw Emilia his eyes opened wide in shock.

 

“Emilia…………is finally awake?”

 

The elf’s voice sounded just as surprised as his face looked, before turning to one of joy when Fortuna confirmed what he was seeing in front of him with his own eyes.

 

“You can see it can’t you, it’s a bit odd to think that you two were born only a few months apart.”

 

Fortuna looked down at Emilia with a smile on her face before poking Emilia right on the nose, causing Emilia to cover it with both her hands and pout while looking right back up at Mother Fortuna.

 

“Don’t worry about Romanée-Conti-sama, Fortuna-sama. We will do our best to get by without you today, just do we have permission to inform him about Emilia?”

 

The elf had quickly regained his composure, yet a tiny smile remained on his face even as he spoke, it was clear that Emilia waking up was going to be news across the entire village.

 

“Thank you, its realllllly appreciated, and you can tell Geuse, just as long as he agrees to keep it to himself.”

 

Hearing this the Elf nodded and began to walk away from the house, Fortuna looked down at Emilia and waved to him as he left, leading to Emilia to wave to him as well with her tiny hand before Fortuna closed the door and carried her back into the house.

 

Once she had closed the door behind them Fortuna raised Emilia up higher in her arms so that she was face to face, only then did she notice that Emilia was struggling to keep her eyes open.

 

“I’m realllllllly sleepy, love you Mother Fortuna……”

 

As Emilia said this in a voice that only emanated how tired she was, she wrapped her arms around Fortuna’s neck in as tight an embrace as the little girl could manage before she fell asleep with her head resting on Fortuna’s shoulder. The only sounds coming from Emilia now was her soft rhythmic breathing as she lay nearly motionless with her arms still around her mother.

 

“Sleep tight little Emilia, I really reallllllllllly love you too.”

 

Tears started to well behind Fortuna’s eyes with a few escaping each time she blinked, yet they were not tears of sadness but instead tears of joy. A smile graced her face as she hugged her sleeping little girl back before she started to walk towards the staircase at the back of her house.

 

“I guess sleeping for 300 years wasn’t enough rest for you, but today was a big day, a really happy day…..”

 

These were the last words both Emilia and Echidna heard before time seemed to grind to a complete halt, leaving Fortuna frozen both midstep and midsentence.

 

The trial seemed that it would give the Emilia of the present a bit of a respite, something she appeared to sorely need.

 

Her eyes were wide open, trembling as they remained fixed on the frozen figure of Mother Fortuna before her. As she stood kneeling, her entire body trembling at the sight that she had just witnessed, she had both her hands pressed against the side of her head.

 

“Mother Fortuna……..How could you love me………how could you love someone so horrid as me…………….If you knew what I did………….what I would do…………….you’d hate me right?”

 

Emilia’s tone was feeble, weak, shaking as she spoke, she was completely incapable of viewing the events before her in any other light then the one she saw the modern times in, she could not possibly comprehend the idea that someone could love her like she had just seen.

 

“I wonder if you would be saying what you are right now if you had been allowed to see her initial reaction to you waking up after your first long sleep, but then again seeing that may have just made you feel worse.”

 

Echidna gave her thoughts out loud but the only person who could seemingly hear them was completely ignoring her, she could not possibly remove her attention from what she had just seen, from what she was still seeing as she looked at the frozen image of her mother embracing her younger self.

 

“You loved me so much, enough to wait three hundred years for me to wake up………. And what did I do in return………I killed you and all the other elves in the forest……”

 

The tears that had slowly been building behind Emilia’s eyes finally took the chance to stream out, rocketing forth in a torrent, yet this time her hands were preoccupied with something else instead of wiping them from her eyes.

 

While they were pressed against the sides of her head, her hands had curled up into what resembled claw as she drove her nails right into the thin layer of tissue that covered the sides of her skull.

 

“I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself I hate myself IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF IHATEMYSELFIHATEMYSELF ”

 

Emilia once again seemed to completely surrendered what little self control she had to the torrential storm of her emotions, letting all her regret, guilt, and melancholy over her own actions weaponize her own body against itself. She began to rock back and forth as her nails dug deep enough that thin red trails of blood began to trickle their way down her fingers and arms.

 

“Stop it”

 

Echidna called out from behind her, but instead of her voice having its normal air of reserve or apathy surrounding whatever emotion tainted it, it held nothing but a raw annoyance. Except Emilia did not pay the slightest bit of attention to it, her mental state too far gone at this point to recognize anything as subtle as a different tone of voice.

 

“I should be dead instead of all of them……..why do people keep saving me…….why don’t they just let me die…….WHY CAN’T I JUST DIE!”

 

Emilia’s tone initially fell to that nearing a whisper before once again building up to a shout as she dug deeper and deeper into the flesh adorning the sides of her head, as she began to tear away at it and vastly increase the blood now pouring out of the sides of her head.

 

“I SAID STOP IT!”

 

Yet Emilia soon found someone grabbing onto both of her wrists and trying to pull her hands away from the sides of her head, yet she was far stronger then this unathletic Witch who had once been human. No matter how hard Echidna tried to stop Emilia from tearing away herself in an act of self harm, there was no even the slightest chance that she would be able to physically overpower the strength brought on by the elven blood in Emilia’s veins, even if Emilia was still immensely malnourished and sleep deprived.

 

There was no look of annoyance in Echidna’s eyes as she let go and took a step away from the rapidly deteriorating half elf, instead her eyes burned with pure, raw anger as she raised one hand so that her palm faced Emilia.

 

“Ul Vita” were the only two words that she nearly snarled in the direction of Emilia as she watched her body instantly get pressed against the floor of the dwelling they were in, Emilia’s hands finally being removed from the sides of her head by the vastly increased force of gravity being exerted upon her body.

 

Echidna walked around Emilia as she continued to struggle a bit against the gravity pinning her down, yet it was strong enough that she could not even open her mouth to speak. Once Echidna stood in front of Emilia she knelt down and so that the distraught half-elf could see directly into her eyes.

 

Emilia’s pupils initially darted every which way in an attempt to avoid making eye contact with the enraged Witch, yet due to the circumstances and the lack of distance between the two there was nowhere else they could go other then the face that was currently contorted in anger as it looked at her.

 

“I absolutely loathe you, despise you, I truly wish that I had never been forced to meet you. You’re weak, stupid, lazy, and ignorant, you are absolutely nothing compared to the mother that gave up everything she had for you. I could not care less about what happens to you, yet I asked you to do one simple thing and you were too incompetent to even do that properly. I told you to not harm yourself here because she can see you, and then you go and do this. She was one of my few friends, she hated having to see violence or suffering, yet she drove herself to madness in order to protect you, she broke herself in that pit by making a martyr out of her own husband when she forced him to continue to stand for days against a serpent he had no chances of beating. She made him stand up again and again and again, no matter how many times he fell she rebuilt him so that he may continue to fight. And do you know what happened when help finally arrived to take you away and out of the pit? She lowered her fists and let her husband finally rest before allowing the serpent to claim her own life as well. So until you can comprehend the magnitude of that sacrifice and show a tiny bit of respect for that decision by not harming yourself in front of her, you will remained pinned to this floor, trial be damned!”

 

Echidna’s voice was utterly boiling with rage as she spoke to the still distraught half elf, yet it seemed this uncharacteristic display of force had eventually gotten Emilia’s attention as by the end of the lecture the teary amethyst eyes had remained focused on Echidna’s empty black ones, their erratic movement completely disappearing.

 

Echidna ceased kneeling and took a few steps backward so that she was leaning against one of the buildings walls as she kept Emilia pinned to the ground, a more characteristically reserved look of disgust quickly replacing the anger on her face, yet the whole time she did not look away from Emilia for even a second.

 

Time passed in silence as the two waited in a state completely devoid of movement with the sole exception of their breathing, Emilia seemingly growing calmer as she tried less and less to struggle against the force that kept her pinned to the ground.

 

“Are you calm and ready to try behaving like an adult again or do I need to keep you there for a bit longer?”

 

Echidna spoke in a voice that was nearly devoid of emotion as she watched Emilia slightly move her head up and down as to answer the question in the affirmative. Upon seeing this Echidna released the magic that had kept Emilia pinned to the floor without moving a single muscle, Emilia motionless for a few seconds longer as she took a several deep breaths before standing up.

 

“I’m sorry for that……….” Emilia uttered weakly as she kept her eyes on the floor much like she had for the entire time prior to her encounter with Mother Fortuna.

 

“As I said, I could not care less about what happens to you, if you ever get the chance to meet your mother then she would be the one whom you should be apologizing to. I can only imagine the absolute breakdown she must be having now after being forced to watch that display.”

 

Echidna spoke in a tone as detached as possible from the current situation, but as she did so she took a few steps towards Emilia to close the distance between them to less then an armlength.

 

Hearing this however only reminded Emilia of the other people that she hurt, how she had hurt someone else who cared about her, how she had hurt the mother who loved her enough to die for her.

 

“You knew my mother, Echidna?” Emilia asked in a voice that sounded only depressed, completely lacking any hint of excitement or even anxiety about the idea of learning more about the mother whom she had never met.

 

“She was among the few friends I ever had, so yes I knew her, but I have already told you far too much, enough to expose her identity and so I will say nothing more.”

 

Echidna spoke rather curtly to emphasize that the topic was finished and not a matter that was up for further discussion, even if Emilia looked too broken to press any further. However Echidna did take the opportunity to raise her hands to the sides of Emilia’s head that were still bleeding, where she radiated a blue light that resulted in the angry red wounds being repaired almost instantly.

 

Realizing this Emilia looked up from the ground towards Echidna with the slightest hint of surprise in her depressed eyes, seeing this Echidna decided to give a brief explanation.

 

“You were still bleeding and I would rather that she was not forced to watch something like that for the remainder of the trial.”

 

Hearing this Emilia nodded slightly before letting her head tilt back down so that her eyes could return to what had become their natural resting place. Seeing this Echidna crossed her arms underneath her chest and said “lets just get the rest of this over with” in what seemed to be a slightly irritated voice.

 

Almost as if on command the entire world around them seemingly rocketed forth at a breakneck pace. They watched Mother Fortuna zip around the inside of the dwelling, sometimes going outside, sometimes holding Emilia. Yet as time relentlessly marched forward around like this they got to see the little Emilia grow up, slowly growing bigger as what seemed like years marched by. No longer was Mother Fortuna holding her all the time, instead she began to spend more and more time walking on her own, no longer was Mother Fortuna having to play with her and entertain her the entire time as she learned to paint and play with dolls on her own. By the time that time finally slowed to a normal rate the toddler that Emili had been when they had first started watching was there no longer, instead being replaced by a child who looked to be about seven years of age.

 

However something else was different, it was like the room around them had seemingly changed nearly completely as well, changes that were so drastic that it seemed like the room they were now in could not possibly have ever been the same one as before, like the trial had suddenly taken them to another building while they had been distracted. The room was overall significantly smaller with no indication of being connected to a second floor as the staircase they had seen previously was completely absent. What was also absent was everything that could be considered necessary to make it a livable dwelling, there was no fire for heating or cooking, nor any counter space for preparation of any kind. The room seemed rather spartan in furnishing as its walls were made of packed dirt and tree roots that came from above, the floor was much the same with the sole exception of what looked to be a tatami mat in the centre of the small room. The only other things that were visible were a few small bins containing what looked to be several jars of ink, some dolls, a few rolls of paper, and even what looked to be a few children’s books; the only living beings truly in the room being a young Emilia and Fortuna.

 

The now child aged Emilia stood opposite Mother Fortuna with her arms cross and a pout adorning her face, even though she was barely tall enough to reach Mother Fortuna’s waste, Fortuna choose to stand at her full height with her hands on her hips, while seemingly lecturing Emilia about something.

 

“Now Emilia, I want you to stay here until I’m back. You’ve got your drawing ink, your dolls, and even a snack if you get hungry, can you be a good girl and do what I ask today?”

 

Although Fortuna spoke in a voice that was as genuine and kind as could possibly be, the young Emilia turned her head to the side while continuing to pout. Seeing this Mother Fortuna kneeled down and began to stroke Emilia’s head even though she tried to bat her hand away in a seeming fit of frustration.

 

“Mother Fortuna, always leaving me alone when I just want to be with you, so selfish……..hmmmph”

 

Although it was unclear whether the young Emilia truly meant this or was just saying this because she was upset at the prospect of having to be locked in this room alone for the next little while, it was evident that these words stung Mother Fortuna rather deeply. Her hand froze midair as a pained expression shot across her face for a brief instant before she pulled a metaphorical mask overtop of it and proceeded to laugh off her daughters overly effective jab.

 

“Ah yes Emilia, I’m realllllllllly selfish, that’s why when I come back I’m going to tickle you alllll day, just like this!”

 

Mother Fortuna then started to tickle the still pouting Emilia’s sides, who initially tried to not react whatsoever to the tickling, but her face slowly grew redder and redder until the look of defiance fell from it and she collapsed on to the ground laughing, trying to cover her sides and push Fortuna’s tickling attack away.

 

However this did not last forever as after not more then another moment or two Fortuna stopped tickling Emilia, stood up and began walking to the door.

 

“Now be a good girl Emilia, I’ll be back reallllly soon……..oh?”

 

As Fortuna had been talking she had started walking to the door, she had taken her first step just fine, but when she had begun to lift her other foot she found an unexpected weight on it trying to hold it down, it was Emilia laying on the ground grasping her ankle with both hands.

 

“Please don’t go…….” Murmured Emilia in a sad tone as she looked up at Mother Fortuna with a face fitting of her voice.

 

Seeing this one could easily tell that Mother Fortuna wanted to do anything but leave Emilia behind in this room. Yet it was readily apparent by the change in her eye’s glint that she was trying her best to fight off her emotions so that she could go and tend to her duty as the leader of the Elves in the Elior Forest.

 

Mother Fortuna then knelt down so that she was closer to Emilia and spoke in one of the softest and gentlest voices that one could possibly imagine.

 

“I really don’t want to go either Emilia, if I could I would stay with you for ever and ever, I reallllllly would, but I can’t. The other people here rely on me too, so sometimes I have to go and help them when they need me, do you believe me Emilia? Do you believe me when I say that I’m only leaving you here because I realllly have to?”

 

Fortuna looked down at Emilia as she said this, yet Emilia did not look back up at her, instead she choose to look down towards the only door that stood directly behind Mother Fortuna, yet she did release her grip on Mother Fortuna’s ankle.

 

“Thank you Emilia, I promise I’ll come back as fast as I possibly can and then we can play alllll you want!”

 

And with those parting words Fortuna turned and walked out the door, closing it behind her with one last regretful look over her shoulder at Emilia who continued to lay splayed out on the floor. Once the door closed there was the sound of a wooden cross beam being slid into place and then complete and utter silence as the world seemingly came to a complete standstill around Emilia and Echidna.

 

“Well you were a selfish brat, saying things to hurt her only to then try and stop her from leaving in an effort to hurt her further, you truly were an utter ingrate.”

 

Echidna said this rather nonchalantly as she watched Emilia from her almost characterising position of leaning up against the wall for support with her arms crossed just underneath her chest, yet Emilia did not respond as she stood closer to the middle of the room with her whole head downcast.

 

“Why did I have to hurt her……….why did I have to make it harder for her……….I could see the pain behind her eyes yet I did it anyways………..”

 

A few large tears found their way out of Emilia’s eyes and then plummeted to the ground where they simply vanished upon making contact. Yet his time the trial did not give Emilia the time of day to weep over her past as the young Emilia before her began to stir from her position on the ground.

 

“Stupid Mother Fortuna, saying she cares about me and then leaving me all alone, hmmmmph!”

 

In a near complete contrast to the present Emilia, her past self rebounded almost instantaneously from the sadness of being left behind and locked into a room alone as she pushed herself off the floor and then sauntered over to the bins pull of toys and craft supplies to find something to entertain herself with.

 

Her eyes moved across the books before shifting to the bin containing some dolls before finally settling onto the paper and drawing ink, from which she plucked up a single roll of paper and a small blue vial. She then returns to laying on the matt and unrolled the paper before beginning to lazily kick her feet back and forth in the air behind her.

 

“Hmmmmmmm, what to draw?” Emilia said out loud as she looked around the room while gently rocking her head from side to side until she suddenly stopped. She moved one of her hands from where they rested on the paper so that it was placed directly overtop of her heart as she became completely still for a second.

 

Emilia then went back to happily kicking her feet in the air as she grabbed the vial of ink she had brought with her in one hand and tugged on the stopper with the other. With a look of focus and exertion on her face she pulled as hard as she could on the stopper until it came out with a sudden pop. Emilia then proceeded to gently stick a single one of her tiny fingers into the vial so that the tip of it was covered in the rich blue ink before she removed it and began to happily start painting away on the paper.

 

Her finger slid effortlessly and quickly across the page, her eyes darting around just as fast, the only interruptions to her drawing was when she needed to stick her finger back into the vial for more ink.

 

Time ticked by as she worked with a degree of focus that was nearly unbelievable to come from someone as young or seemingly impatient as her, yet this was exactly what she showed.

 

But both the incredible focus and rapid pace of work instantly disappeared when she finally finished painting after a considerable period of time. Emilia wiped away the remaining ink on her finger with the edge of the paper before shoving the stopper back into the ink vial, at which point she sat up and held up the paper so she could get a better look at it.

 

The best way to describe the drawing she had produced was as a crude masterpiece, a vivid depiction of ornate detail that was only brought down in terms of quality by the smudging caused by the fact she used her finger as her drawing utensil. However even then it was still possible for one to make out some of the ornate details that she had put into this incredibly unique and imaginative drawing of a key, mostly in thanks to how much larger she had drawn it compared to a normal key.

 

The handle of the key was shaped like that of a butterfly’s wing with a hole through the centre to allow it to be grasped, a web like network around the edges that was reminiscent of the pattern that one would see on the butterfly’s wing itself. The shaft of the key was reminiscent of a butterfly’s thorax as it was gradually tapered at both ends with the middle bulging out ever so slightly. Then there were the teeth of the key, and these were the most intricate details of all in the drawing. They looked to be formed by multiple pairs of insect legs that came down from either side of the shaft in bunches, only joining with their opposite in the pair at the very end of the tooth. The only way that they diverged from that of an insects legs was how they gently curved over the course of the journey from the shaft to the meeting point instead of being comprised of discrete and straight subsections, allowing the key to retain its overall elegant look.

 

Quite frankly it was impossible to believe that even the mind of a child could produce such an intricate design and even less believable that one could produce a drawing so detailed without a reference, yet here Emilia sat staring at the paper with just a drawing as that on it.

 

“I’m bored!” Emilia shouted as she heaved the drawing into the air behind her and then let herself fall backwards onto her back with her limbs stretched out in a way that resembled a starfish.

 

She lay there groaning in dissatisfaction every so often for the next little while, flopping her head around and pulling her mouth into different shapes with her hands while making strange sounds in an effort to pass the time, all until a strange and pale light hovering in the room caught her eye.

 

It was like the pale light recognized that she had seen it as it suddenly began to dart around the room in excitement as Emilia hurriedly sat up, only to then zoom up to her face before coming to a standstill a short distance from her nose.

 

Emilia tilted her head slightly to one side as her curious amethyst eyes focused on the pale ball of light in front of her.

 

“Fairy?” Was the only word to leave her mouth, yet the second that this word got out the ball of light excitedly floated up and down at a rapid pace, almost like it was trying to mimic the motion of excitedly nodding ones head.

 

Seeing this Emilia’s eyes lit up as her face broke into a big smile.

 

“Want to play, Fairy?” Emilia asked only to become even more elated when she saw the supposed fairy continue its up and down motion.

 

Emilia quickly jumped to her feat and began to chase the pale ball of light around the room as it zipped, zoomed, ducked, and dove in ever which way as it tried to playfully avoid the tiny hands of the little half-elf.

 

The air in the small room was completely filled with giggling and laughter as Emilia ran around, only for it to come to an abrupt stop as Emilia came to a skidding halt after feeling a tiny crunch underneath her small boot.

 

The fairy stopped darting around the room and came to gently float beside her head as Emilia hesitantly and anxiously looked down towards her boot to see the crushed vial of drawing ink underneath it and sprayed all over the matt.

 

Emilia raised her hands to her cheeks as she started to say, “What am I going to do?” over and over again in a near panic, her eyes glued to the ink that was now all over the matt. It was at this point however that the little ball of light came to float in front of her eyes and steal her attention away from the mess she had just made.

 

The fairy floated up and down before flying over to the wall and back again, repeating the process until Emilia raised a finger to her chin and said, “You want me to follow you?”

 

Hearing this the fairy vigorously floated up and down, to which a devilish smile returned to replace the panic that had overtaken Emilia’s face. The spirit flew back to the wall, hovering for a bit around a patch of roots before flying into the roots and disappearing completely from vision.

 

Emilia followed it only to stop in front of this patch in that wall as she inspected it. Unlike other parts of the wall there was very little dirt here, only a rather dense bundle of thin tree roots that seemed to have grown in front of what must have originally been the tunnel an animal had used.

 

Without stopping to give it much thought Emilia instantly jammed her hands into the patch of roots and using all of her strength she managed to push them to either side of the hole, which she then scurried into in order to chase after the fairy, leaving her future self behind with the Witch of Greed.

 

Echidna walked over to where the drawing had ended up after being thrown by young Emilia before kneeling down to study it in greater detail. However Emilia did not follow her as she did this, instead choosing to walk over to the opening her younger self had used to escape the room.

 

“She asked me to do just one thing………just one simple thing and I couldn’t do it……….”

 

Emilia spoke in a voice that was so regretful, so guilt filled that it should have been hard to ignore, yet Echidna completely ignored her and seemingly started to think out loud as she remained fixated on the key drawn onto the page.

 

“I’m honestly surprised that you managed to draw this so accurately when it was something that you had only seen as an infant, if anything this is actually praiseworthy, even if it is a rather crude depiction. It honestly makes me wonder if you remember it this well due to more of my likeness rubbing off on you then I thought…..”

 

Echidna’s voice was tinged with surprise as she continued to stare at the drawing with eyes that were opened just a bit wider then normal, as if to soak in every last detail she could from the paper. Hearing Echidna so uncharacteristically praise her made Emilia turn to face her, but the fact that she did not have the slightest clue as to why she was being praised combined with her own dearth of self confidence to completely annihilate any emotional boon brought on by the small compliment she had been given.

 

“I don’t know anything about any key, but thank you I guess…..”

 

Emilia’s voice reflected just how unsure of herself she was, there was no hint of self confidence nor happiness over the fact that she had supposedly achieved something, and Echidna did not seem to have changed her opinion in regard to Emilia whatsoever over this single small success.

 

“Well I wasn’t complimenting your intelligence so something like this is to be expected, I suppose. But the fact that you are so painfully out of touch with what’s going on around you and what this is leading up to even though it’s been hinted to you time and time again, is quite frankly just beginning to get on my nerves, so I guess I will enlighten you. There is an enchanted key embedded within you, a key that I both made and through the use of magic was able to hide within your body so that only you could readily retrieve it. Nobody either then you or I could even attempt to remove it from your body as it exists in a subspace of sorts that is anchored to your heart. Should I breach this subspace forcfully then you would certainly perish as the key would appear in the space your heart presently occupies. Although I don’t particularly care about what happens to you, I also don’t care about this key in the slightest, so the very effort required to retrieve is quite simply not worth it. So in the end its very existence is completely irrelevant to me, and only relevant to you should you choose to interact with a certain deranged and unhinged lunatic. There are however a few other spells that were embedded into it as a kind of insurance so to say, which are certainly relevant to both of us and have already been demonstrated to those around you, prior to the timeframe we are currently watching.”

 

While Echidna’s voice was initially somewhat snide sounding and snarky, the mocking tones rooted in it rather quickly fell away to be replaced by a naturalness that would not have been out of place in the situation of a professor lecturing to one of their students.

 

“I’m not sure I understand but tha……..”

 

While Emilia was still speaking in her now characteristically depressed and unsure voice, this time she had actually lifted her eyes off the floor to look at the witch who still knelt on the ground beside the picture, yet just as their eyes met Emilia found an outstretched palm in her face and a voice interrupting her own.

 

“You see, its not the fact that you don’t understand that makes me so irritated when I have to talk to you, its that your so dimwitted as to not even try to find the answer. Instead you seem content to just sit back and expect people to hand everything to you, is this why you were so enraptured with that boy? Did you only want him around because he enabled your behaviour by placing you on a pedestal and willingly doing anything he even expected you might ask. Honestly I would not be the least bit surprised if Natsuki Subaru was willing to die for you if he had even suspected that it might be necessary for your selection campaign. There is literally only one person I have ever met that I believe to be less intelligent than you, and its solely because she draws such insane conclusions from events with no support whatsoever and then believes them to the extent that she would probably kill everyone around her and then die before allowing herself to be proven wrong. The world honestly better hope that I don’t have to ever deal with the both of you at the same time because quite frankly I don’t know how I will deal with being surrounded with such immense amounts of stupidity.”

 

In contrast to her previous lecture this one led to her getting more and more worked up until the end, where she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing in order to regain some semblance pf composure before standing up and walking to the door. Hearing this only lead to Emilia lowering her eyes back to the ground before she followed behind Echidna with a slight whimper of a few words that were all but inaudible to even the Greedy Witch directly in front of her.

 

“I really am just a useless doll, aren’t I…….”

 

The two walked straight through the closed door of the room to arrive back outside in the forest, their surroundings not matching those that they had seen around Fortuna’s house whatsoever. If they were to try and judge their location based solely on the density of elven dwellings that they could see, then it was likely that they were far closer to the centre of the village then before.

 

Having emerged through the hole directly to their left, little Emilia stood with the fairy floating around her as she staired down at what had been her pristine white and purple clothing, now muddied and scuffed from the dirt and rock that she had squeezed through to escape the confines of the room.

 

“Mother Fortuna is going to be realllllly mad isn’t she……”

 

Emilia said this in an apprehensive voice as she looked down at her clothes, briefly trying to brush off some of the dirt with her hands only to end up rubbing it further and deeper into the fabric, making the problem worse and causing her to promptly give up.

 

Just then her ear twitched a bit as she heard the voices of a handful of villagers walking down a nearby path, causing Emilia to freeze up in panic. But luckily for her the pale speck of light that she had been following swooped in front of her face to catch her attention before it darted off into a patch of dense shrubs, it was showing her the way to a hiding place which would keep her safely hidden from vision of those approaching.

 

Emilia darted off into the shrubbery as fast as her little legs could carry her before almost diving in headfirst so that her body was completely obscured by the dense branches and the small petal like green leaves that adorned them.

 

She held her breath as she watched a group of three elves walk down the path away from the village centre whilst carrying bins full of various goods; luckily for her none of them seemed to have any intention of walking towards the bush she was in or the room where she was supposed to be waiting for Mother Fortuna’s return.

 

“Can you take me to the part of the forest the gatherers don’t go to so we can play more?”

 

Once the group of villagers was safely out of earshot, Emilia turns to the fairy and said this while looking at it with her large and round amethyst eyes, the expectation in her face was so apparent only a fool could possibly have missed it.

 

Yet the fairy seemed hesitant at first as it floated completely motionlessly before only slowly bobbing up and down a bit, to which Emilia responded with a burst of elated joy at the prospect of getting to play outside with her new friend.

 

Together the two quickly darted between patches of vegetation in the sneakiest way they could manage, doing their best to not accidently get caught by the occasional villager that was hanging around. Eventually they found themselves surrounded not by elven homes or worn path, but solely by untouched nature in all its glory, so untouched that it did not appear that anyone had even walked there recently.

 

“We did it! Now let’s play!” Emilia squealed in joy as she threw her hands above her head, the fairy’s former apprehension completely gone as it started to fly circles around her as if taunting her to chase it, a challenge that she happily accepted.

 

Emilia ran after the spirit as she weaved between trees and large rocks, skillfully avoiding any and all obstacles in her path as she gave chase to an entity that was completely unbothered by such terrain. She followed the fairy through a dense group of bushes that were taller than her by a fair margin, instantly raising her arms in front to protect her face as she did so.

 

She burst through the bushes while running at full gait, the fairy was so close that if she reached out her arm she could nearly touch it. She pushed herself harder, doing her best to run just a little bit faster, she was already going so fast that she could feel the resulting wind flowing against the skin on her cheeks and lifting her hair up behind her. She was completely determined to win this game that she ignored the sound of rushing water as she darted after the pale speck of light as it zipped into another group of bushes up ahead in an effort to slow her down, it too obviously did not want to lose.

 

Emilia kept one arm outstretched as she raised the other in front of her eyes to shield them as she barreled directly into the bushes and came bolting out the other side at such a speed that it was a wonder that she was able to maintain her footing.

 

She lowered her arm from its position in front of her eyes just in time to see that the path ahead was anything but clear, for it was completely blocked by the body of a young woman who was not more then a few paces away, far too close for Emilia to stop or even change course enough to avoid a collision.

 

The young woman had long platinum hair, crystal blue eyes that matched the water of the stream behind her and wore what looked like a white sheet with a large hole cut out for her head. Her eyes widened in surprise at the sight of Emilia careening out of control towards her. The young woman began to lift her arms up at the very last second in what looked like an attempt to halt stop the collision, but she was far too slow, her reflexes seemed sluggish even in comparison to someone with an aura far more normal then hers.

 

The two collided in a jumble of limbs as the woman was knocked backwards with Emilia bumping her head into the woman’s chin before landing on top of her. For but a second neither of the two moved as they laid there stunned, wondering what had happened so suddenly.

 

But it only took a few seconds for a stinging pain to being to erupt around the slight red spot on Emilia’s forehead, she sat herself up on the ground as she held both her hands against the place where the spot was quickly turning into a bump.

 

“Ow………….”

 

Little Emilia murmured this as she continued to hold her head, her eyes shut only to open when she heard a voice begin to speak to her that was so soft as to almost be unnerving.

 

“It’s unfortunate that such a thing happened, especially when it was not meant to occur in the first place.

 

Emilia opened her eyes as the stinging suddenly disappeared from her forehead to see the woman sitting directly across from her on the ground with only a short distance separating them, so short that the woman was easily able to reach out and touch her knee.

 

“All better now Emilia? Although this may have not been the ideal way for our first meeting after so long to have occurred, it is truly wonderful to see that you’ve recovered from the affliction my friend placed you under so long ago.”

 

The woman spoke in a kind tone, had a smile on her face, used friendly body language, she even had kind looking eyes, yet even though Emilia was still just a child she noticed that there was something wrong and unnerving about those very crystal blue eyes that looked at her. It was like there was something deep within them that just gave the woman an aura of feeling off, that there was something that was not right about her, yet Emilia could not place what was off about her eyes, no matter how hard she tried.

 

“Uhm…. Thank you, but I’m feeling really confused right now………..I don’t know why my head doesn’t hurt anymore, I don’t remember being sick with something recently, and I don’t remember ever meeting you ………I guess I don’t know a lot of things…….”

 

Emilia still felt a bit unsettled about seeing this woman but now her attention was diverted to trying to figure out all these things that she should remember but could not, her face was one of concentration as she racked her mind for the answers, but the woman interrupted Emilia’s thoughts before they could get to far.

 

“You should not feel bad for not being able to remember me, you were barely two years old last time we met and you appeared to be under the influence of my dear friend at the time. My name is Pandora, it is nice to meet you again Emilia. As to answer your remaining question, we were never meant to bump into one another like we just did and so I just exposed the vanity of this fake timeline and corrected it. In reality we never collided so the pain you felt was just one of the many lies sown into the world around us, by exposing it I removed its repercussions, and so therefore there can be no pain and injury brought on by it.”

 

Hearing this Emilia just looked at Pandora as she at first opened her mouth before slowly closing it, to say she was confused by this overly wordy explanation was an understatement at the very least, but thankfully for her, Pandora seemed to pick up on this.

 

“Confusing, something that most people are unfortunately shackled to when they hear about just how fake the world they live in is. You don’t need to feel such apprehension around me, what matters is that your injury is gone and that you may go back to doing what you were prior to my interruption, just as you should have been.”

 

Pandora then stood up and looked like she was going to start to walk away before a pale speck of light floated in front of Emilia with what seems like hesitation before it managed to catch Pandora’s attention as her jaw slackened just the tiniest bit.

 

“Emilia, what were you and the spirit doing here? Its quite unusual to see anyone from the village come here and even more unusual to see a spirit venture here when they are seemingly so afraid of this place.”

 

Emilia looked at Pandora with a face of confusion once again before having what seemed to be a eureka moment, after which she started to speak quite excitedly as her apprehension that she was feeling around Pandora had mysteriously fallen away, allowing her childish and carefree nature to return.

 

“The fairy and I were playing! I was chasing it and it was trying to fly away from me, its really fun. Do you want to join us, we could even play a different game like hide and seek!”

 

Emilia stood up as well and looked at Pandora with her big, round eyes and hands clasped in front of her as if begging her to accept. Seeing this a smile proceed to spread across Pandora’s face as she looked down at the young child.

 

“Fairy, the creativity and imagination of a child is truly wonderful; very well I’ll accept your offer to join in the fun, I’m sure it will be a wonderous time. Now you go hide, but let’s say that the river is the boundary, I’ll give you to the count of ten, starting now.”

 

Hearing this Emilia jumped with joy while shouting “YAY!” before she sprinted off into the woods with the fairy in tow.

 

“Implying that I’m your friend is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know whether to be irritated or pity the immensity of your stupidity……..”

 

Echidna muttered under her own breath as she stood whilst staring at the trio playing hide and seek with her hands balled into fists.

 

“How can I look so happy……disobeying Mother Fortuna to play out int the forest……..she’s going to be so worried when she finds I’m gone……”

 

Emilia was kneeling down as she said this with her hands wrapped around her legs and her head hung low, her voice plagued with sadness and guilt as she imagined the worry that Mother Fortuna must have felt when she showed up to the messy room to find Emilia gone. How she was probably rushing through the forest trying to find her while Emilia was having fun playing a game, completely carefree.

 

“While you were certainly quite the uncaring brat as a child, frolicking around while others rushed around worrying about you. Although this behaviour was not exactly helped by how those around you tended to tell you what you wanted to hear in an effort to make you feel better, blissful ignorance in its finest.”

 

Hearing this Emilia seemed to somehow shrink even smaller in stature as her head tilted even farther so that her forehead completely rested on her knee’s, no longer even able to see the game going on between her younger self and someone she would have felt pure hatred in seeing if her heart wasn’t already full of melancholy.

 

“I know I’m such a horrible person, everyone would have been better off if they had never met me……”

 

Hearing this Echidna’s eyes opened just a little bit wider as she appeared to be a bit surprised at this statement, and the apparent truth within the words of the one who said them.

 

“Well that’s surprising, the fact that you recognize your own worthlessness and how problematic your literal existence is, is something that is actually almost praiseworthy.”

 

Emilia did not react whatsoever to this comment, instead she focused on the spectacle that was seemingly coming to an end in front of her whilst continuing to beat herself up over every supposed misstep she had witnessed herself make since this trial began.

 

She watched as her younger self hide alongside the spirit in a bush as Pandora slowly meandered towards them checking behind ever tree, shrub, and rock along the way. It was clear from the way she looked back at the bush that Emilia was hiding in that she knew exactly where she was, but was choosing to play along anyways.

 

“Found you!” Pandora exclaimed as she peaked around a rock, only to feign surprise when Emilia was not behind it, causing the little Emilia to giggle and smile in joy from within the bush she was actually hiding in.

 

“If you aren’t here, then you absolutely must be ……right…….here!”

 

Pandora quickly checked behind the tree that stood adjacent to the bush that contained Emilia and the spirit, once again feigning surprise to find it empty. She then stood there seemingly deep in thought as she scanned the forest around her, looking like she was trying to ascertain the true location of Emilia.

 

Pandora then began to walk away from where Emilia was hiding, taking herself out of sight yet due to the fact that she was speaking it was easy to tell roughly where she was. Her voice was slowly growing quieter and quieter as she got further and further away, before suddenly and instantaneously increasing in volume as if she was directly behind them.

 

“Where oh where could they be, they seem to have found a truly wonderful hiding spot………..Found you!”

 

Emilia was initially surprised to find that she had Pandora’s hand on her shoulder, only for the surprise to fade as the fact she lost sunk in.

 

“It was really wonderful to get to play with you Emilia, I truthfully had a lot of fun, but unfortunately I believe that it is time for me to depart, I fear that I have long overstayed my welcome.”

 

While Emilia had been starting to sulk over having lost the game, that instantly disappeared once she heard that her new friend was going to leave.

 

“No don’t go, we can play again and this time you can hide! It’ll be a lot of fun so please stay…..”

 

Emilia looked up at Pandora as she pleaded with her to stay, but in the end Pandora only ended up shaking her head from side to side in response.

 

“It really is unfortunate, but if I stay any longer today I will likely only end up causing problems that could lead to irreparable damage, but I can promise you that I’ll come back another day and maybe we can play more then. For now take this, consider it reciprocation for the fun we got to share, it has truly been a long time since I got to do anything like that.”

 

As Pandora spoke she held out her hand to reveal a pearly white round candy in her palm, which she held towards Emilia as if offering it to her. Emilia then the slowly reached out to take the candy as she spoke in a voice that was truly reminiscent of an innocent child.

 

“You’ll really come back another day, you can’t break a promise, so you realllllllly will?”

 

And to this Pandora looked at Emilia right in the yes while smiling and giving a slight nod.

 

“Of course, I had a wonderful time, and I believe that there are many more important moments for us to share. The only thing that I ask you is that you keep our meeting as our little secret, I would in fact prefer if you promise me that you will.”

 

Hearing this Emilia looked slightly conflicted for a few moments as she thought about what she was being asked to do, before starting to speak in a voice that was full of hesitation.

 

“I guess since Mother Fortuna is allowed to keep secrets then I can too, I promise that I won’t tell her about meeting you since you promised that we can play again.”

 

Pandora appeared elated at hearing this, but Emilia still seemed to be slightly upset about having to go back to the room. Yet when she plopped the candy she had been given into her mouth she suddenly found herself being overtaken by what seemed like euphoria from how delicious it was, leading to her to cease paying attention to Pandora for a few seconds.

 

“Promises are truly wonderful things, but now it is time for you to return home and me to leave, both of us heading back to the places we should have been all along.”

 

When Emilia returned her eyes to the place where Pandora had been she found that Pandora appeared to have vanished into thin air, yet for whatever reason her mind seemed to not question this irregularity in the slightest. Instead Emilia found herself with the sudden desire to return back to the village, once again an oddness that she did not think to question whatsoever.

 

Emilia then turned to the spirit who had seemingly taken a backseat to the present events once Pandora had shown up and proceeded to ask for its help.

 

“Mother Fortuna is probably going to be coming back soon, can you show me the way home?”

 

The spirit which was presently floating right in front of Emilia’s face vigorously floated up and down, just as it had done when it had led her out of the room she was locked in back in the village. However just as Emilia turned to follow it back towards the village, she was greeted by the sight of someone bursting right through the bushes and rushing towards her with a look of worry painted on their face.

 

Mother Fortuna practically bolted towards Emilia and pulled her into a tight embrace the second she reached her, tears streaming out of her desperate looking eyes.

 

“I asked you to wait in the room for me Emilia…..but when I got back you weren’t there and it made me really worried……….and when we found your tracks heading towards the forbidden part of the forest I thought I lost you………….”

 

Emilia was truck speechless by how emotional Mother Fortuna was over something as minor as her going to play in the forest, it did not help that this was also the first time she had ever seen Fortuna cry like this. Emilia was so affected that she could not find anything to say before Mother Fortuna started to speak again.

 

“You didn’t cross the river did you Emilia, no bites, cuts, or blackmarks? If you start feeling sick you really have to tell me alright?”

 

Mother Fortuna looked at Emilia right in the eye with a stern and serious expression, yet the heavy layer of desperation remained in her voice, Emilia really did not understand what she was talking about, but it was clear that it was in regards to something that was both immensely important and serious.

 

“I’m fine Mother Fortuna, I did not cross the river and I feel okay.”

 

Emilia kind of sputtered this out as she still felt incredibly overwhelmed at how worried and emotional the main parental figure in her life seemed, but in the end Emilia ended up embracing her mother as well before time seemed to distort once again, leaving everything in a state of flux except for the present Emilia and Echidna.

 

The present Emilia was frozen staring at the scene in front of her, her head raised to reveal the tears streaming down her face as she spoke in a quivering voice that verged on breaking into sobs.

 

“How can she love me like this………..how could she care about me when I made her worry so much………I’m so horrid that I don’t deserve this………why do you still care about me so much…….”

 

As Emilia spoke of simply not being able to understand why someone would love her after she had wronged them, an obvious product of her recent experiences eroding any normalcy in her. Echidna however decided to provide her own take on Emilia’s situation from her position of standing behind her, the slight tone of malice in her voice making itself prevalent.

 

“You always have been one to be able to lure people into caring about you, first your birth mother, then Fortuna, then the Great Spirit Puck, and most recently the boy Natsuki Subaru. You pull them in close and then suck them dry of everything they once had, leaving them to fall away as a broken husk of their former self. You’re like some kind of horrid succubus who brings ruin to anyone either kind or stupid enough to let you latch onto them, simply a blight upon this world.”

 

Echidna’s malicious words cut deep into Emilia’s heart, reminding her of the many wounds that it bore, and unfortunately for her they found a place on her heart to leave one more mark that had previously been avoided solely due to a lack of understanding.

 

“Echidna………you said I hurt my birth mother………was that why she and my dad were too busy to raise me?”

 

Emilia weakly whimpered this as she turned to face Echidna, the weakness in her voice was not entirely due to the constant emotional bombardment she had been facing since the trial began, but also due to the anxiety that was building within her heart and threatening to strangle her, she was afraid to know the truth.

 

“They were too busy to raise you? Is that the lie that you were told to keep your happiness? Is that the lie you’ve so idiotically believed even after I’ve slowly prodded you with the truth since we met? Emilia, you inept and repulsive fool, your mother and father both died trying to protect your worthless self shortly after you were born. They cut their own lives short to give you one that you have so far only listlessly wasted away in ignorance, they were your first victims. My friend gave up everything to save you and you only disgrace her sacrifice repeatedly with your actions, if you cannot wholeheartedly embrace who you are and what you’ve done then you quite honestly don’t deserve to live in my eyes, yet her view obviously differs from mine.”

 

And there it was, the truth that Emilia wished she had not of had to hear, the truth that she had seemingly felt in her heart without knowing, the truth that her mind tried to reject with every bit of strength that remained, yet it was the truth that Emilia’s heart demanded she accept.

 

“I killed my mother……..”

 

Her entire body trembled as the realization became apartment, as she unfortunately began to understand the true depth of her sins.

 

“The first person to love me died for it…………”

 

Her hands reached up to touch the thoroughly tear stained skin that now comprised much of her face, shaking as they did so.

 

“Why’d I ever have to be born…………….”

 

While Emilia’s eyes had shifted away from Echidna as she struggled to process this thought they once again rose up so that they staired directly into the eyes of the Greedy Witch, who raised an eyebrow at the slight glint of determination she saw in the broken half-elf.

 

“Echidna…….can you kill me?”

 

Were the only five words to leave her mouth, yet the Witch of Greed responded with five of her own, seemingly uncaring of the conviction behind the half-elf’s request.

 

“Are you really that stupid?”

 

Echidna spoke in a voice that completely lacked her normal neutrality, or even the irritation or somewhat fiery anger that Emilia had heard before, instead it sounded as cold as the ice that she knew would come.

 

Echidna walked towards Emilia and grabbed her still bloodstained clothing with both hands as an odd sense of weightlessness flooded over Emilia, before she was hoisted up so that her eyes could see nothing other then the pitch block abyss that were Echidna’s pupils.

 

“If we take exclusively my opinion then I would say that your life holds nowhere near the value of all the lives that were lost in its preservation, yet it is precisely because of this that I will not do as you request even though I am certainly capable of it. I wholeheartedly believe that the greatest punishment for all the sins you have committed is being forced to live with them for the rest of your near eternal life. Spend every moment of every hour of every day reflecting on what you have done and who you have hurt, do so while asking yourself why they did not hate you for what you did to them. Only when the world see’s fit that your atonement is sufficient and delivers death to your footstep will you be able to end the life that has been given to you without insulting their sacrifice. Seeing the pieces of your past that I was missing have changed my opinion about your worthless self, you do not deserve the mercy that is death.”

 

Hearing this Emilia’s eyes once again fell to the ground as she mumbled “Sorry….” before turning to face the scene in front of her as the oddities in the trials time sorted themselves out and they were presented with a unified and followable image once again. However it was unclear how much of Echidna’s message truly resonated with her, or if she had simply stopped listening the second her request had been denied.

 

They were still at the edge of the stream, in what seemed to be the exact same place that they had seen Emilia meet Pandora and judging by the lack of growth or even change in the scenery, it did not seem that any particularly significant period of time had passed, likely less then a month all things considered.

 

What was of slight concern however was how this timelines Emilia stood at the edge of the water staring into it with a whole cloud of spirits of varying colours orbiting her, seemingly also hesitant to cross the boundary that the water represented.

 

The river did not appear to be particularly deep yet was incredibly wide, it would likely barely come above Emilia’s ankles and as such perhaps the term stream was a more fitting way to describe it as it did not even have a particularly strong current.

 

As well even though Emilia seemed to be immensely curious as she stared at it, she also looked at it with slight apprehension, apparently even all the curiosity driving her on was not enough to get her to cross into a part of the forest that Fortuna had gone as far as to forbid any member of the village from entering.

 

Maybe there was something else that was not apparent to Echidna and Emilia going on in the background, maybe something had happened back in the room that Emilia had almost certainly escaped from again. But in the end what mattered is that the young Emilia took the first step into the crystal clear yet oddly frigid water as she began to cross the threshold that should not be crossed.

 

“Why…..why am I doing this when Mother Fortuna begged me not too……….”

 

The present Emilia lamented as she watched her past self slowly and carefully cross the water with twenty or thirty spirits in tow, Echidna only smirking from behind as she eagerly awaited the events that were to come.

 

Once on the other side of the stream Emilia found herself face to face with the sight of a sick forest full of wispy underbrush and thick yet almost bare trees that looked as if they were on the verge of dying. Emilia at first hesitantly began to walk among these trees as she started to explore this forbidden section of the forest, yet not before long her strides grew in length and steps gained purpose. Maybe it was due to her youth and the lack of experience that came with it, or maybe it was also due to whatever had driven her to cross the stream in the first place but it soon became clear that Emilia no longer feared the ill forest that would have sent fully grown adults packing due to the sheer eeriness of it.

 

While this part of the forest may have been immensely different from the section that she lived in, it was also vastly less interesting once one had grown acclimatized to only seeing foliage that looked to be on the brink of death. There were no animals nor even insects around, and the spirits that had followed Emilia here seemed to be downright terrified of where they were, to the point that most of them appeared to be trying to hide behind Emilia’s back rather then flying around her like they had been doing prior to crossing the stream.

 

While the entirety of this section of forest that Emilia had seen so far contained only the faintest inklings of plant life, she soon found herself in a patch that was even completely devoid of even that. There was nothing except the lifeless dirt underneath her feet without the tiniest hint of even a blade of grass. There was one thing that stood out amongst the dirt however, except that it was not plant life, but instead a large hole in the ground. This hole even appeared to be in the epicentre of this localized dead zone, like whatever was strangling the life in this area was residing somewhere within it.

 

This may have not exactly made for a particularly inviting seen, yet nevertheless it managed to grab hold of Emilia’s curiosity as she slowly began to approach the pit under an air that was completely silent except for the sound of her wet boots treading upon the bare dirt.

 

She gradually inched closer and closer to the massive pit in front of her, some of the spirits behind her occasionally buzzing in front of her face in what was seemingly an effort to get her to stop before she got too close, yet these did not faze her as she was about to peer over the edge of the deep pit.

 

Suddenly a strong gust of wind slammed into her from the front and threw her away from the edge and onto her backside as about ten of pale white spirits buzzed around desperately in front of her.

 

“Hey that’s not fair, I want to see what’s in the hole!”

 

Emilia exclaimed this as she tried once more to stand up and walk towards the pit, yet the second she raised her foot in order to step towards it she found her self assaulted by another large gust of wind emitted form the spirits, throwing her back onto the ground once again. She then made one last effort to crawl towards the edge of the pit, but the wind spirits once again rushed towards her and threw her back with their wind magic.

 

“Okay, okay, if you reallllllllly don’t want me to go anywhere near it I won’t, you win!”

 

Emilia exclaimed this as she pouted with her arms crossed, sitting on the ground a short distance away from the pit as she scanned around in an attempt to find somewhere more interesting to explore.

 

“I do have to say that you tend to be on the side favoured by luck, if you had of been allowed to peer into that pit then I doubt that the creature living within it would have let you live long enough to realize just how much a mistake you have made by entering this part of the forest.”

 

Echidna stated this in a rather matter of fact voice, yet Emilia was completely incapable of responding as she watched whilst probably wishing that the monster the lived in the pit had just killed her then and there, saving her from the suffering she was being so thoroughly subjected to.

 

Little Emilia however by this point had managed to latch onto a new destination with her eyes, far off in the distance she spied what appeared to be some kind of grove that radiated life among the sea of death that was this section of forest.

 

Emilia quickly got up and hurried towards it as fast as she could, she did not want to be stopped this time, yet as a result of her fixation she failed to notice that the closer she got to this odd clustering of trees, fewer spirits continued to follow her.

 

They left her not because of something as mysterious as the effect of a power that drove them away, instead it was something as simple as fear, a fear so intense that it easily eclipsed and surpassed their love for the young child. A fear so strong that they readily abandoned this girl they were so drawn towards solely due to an unwillingness to be near whatever allowed the grove to flourish even as all the land around it was being slowly poisoned.

 

Emilia found herself before the thick wall of trees that formed the outer layer of the grove, they looked healthy in comparison to those seen in the rest of the forbidden part of the forest as they grow thick and tall in comparison to the wispy twigs verging upon death she had seen before. There was just one thing off about them, the leaves and needles that grew out of them were bleached white, yet when Emilia touched one of the leaves she noticed that it felt identical to that of a normal healthy green leaf. These trees and the undergrowth around them were all very much alive, just something had changed them, corrupted them.

 

She bravely ventured into the grove, spurred on by what had driven her to cross the river in the first place, and that was when she saw it. Directly in front of her was a clearing that was full of a healthy albeit white grass, yet at its centre was an imposing obsidian door that stood many times higher than Emilia was tall.

 

She walked towards it, wide eyed and curious, yet also spurred on by a strange attraction between something in her chest and the door itself, an attraction that felt almost magnetic in nature. It was almost like the door itself was calling to her, like there was something to be made right, a lie to be uncovered.

 

Emilia approached the door and stared at it, there was no handle, only a keyhole that she could barely reach. She walked around it only to find that it did not seem to be connected to anything, that it seemed to be a freestanding door, embedded into the ground.

 

Emilia reached out and gave the door a push with all the strength she could muster, with how it was built it looked like it should tip over easily, yet it did not even budge in the slightest. Emilia tried for a few more moments to push it over before backing up seemingly in defeat, she realized that she was not going to be able to knock it over as easily as that. However she was still curious, she still desired to learn more about it, and because of this she scanned the grove for something that could help her like a stick or rock she could use as a tool. However the only thing she could see in the grove was a large boulder that was significantly too heavy for her to ever hope to lift, it looked like it could make a good seat though if she were to get tired however.

 

“I guess I’ll just have to try something else then…..” Emilia said to herself as she took a few steps back before sprinting at the door as fast as she could, before slamming into it with her whole body, slumping down in front of it with a resounding “ooof”.

 

Thankfully she was not hurt by her reckless action, yet she could swear that she felt the door budge just a tiny bit within its frame when the part of her chest containing her heart made contact with it; it was this apparent bit of progress that tempted her into trying again.

 

This time Emilia backed up all the way to the very edge of the clearing before taking a deep breath and sprinting as fast as she could towards the door, intent on using the extra speed she would build up to push it wide open.

 

She was going faster and faster, building up even more speed with each step she took, if the last attempt did not work then surely this one must.

 

She was only twenty something paces from the door now and she pushed herself to run even faster, tuning out everything but her body and the door to drive her little legs even harder.

 

She got closer.

 

And closer.

 

She was less then ten paces away and going faster than she had ever run in her life.

 

She was less then five paces away.

 

And then she found herself suddenly being jerked through the air and slingshot towards the ground at an immense rate.

 

Emilia found herself in a state of shock as she looked down to see her foot had gotten caught on a half-buried stone that she had missed earlier. It was like time was flowing in slow motion as she then tilted her head back up to see where she was going to fall, raising her arms in an effort to cushion her landing as she did so.

 

Except it was only then that she realized that her vision was filled with the obsidian black of the large metal door, she was so close when she tripped that she was guaranteed to slam into it rather then the ground, and due to the differing point of impact she would not be able to raise her arms to shield her head in time.

 

She watched in what seemed like slow motion as her face got closer and closer to the metal door, all but giving up on being able to raise her arms in time to protect herself, simply waiting for it to happen and hoping that it would not be too bad of an experience.

 

It was certainly a hope she had in the world, a hope that was not met with the appropriate promise in return as her head slammed into the unfathomably heavy metal door with a dull yet sickeningly squishy thud.

 

However oddly for Emilia there was no pain as an unusual numbness instantly took hold of her entire body as she soon found herself laying unmoving in front of the door. She could not tell that anything was wrong with her expect for the fact that the vision through her right eye very quickly became dyed red as blood began to run down her forehead.

 

However Emilia was still a child, and this was a new and uncomfortable feeling, it scared her and she wanted comfort. She had gone too far away from home, gotten herself hurt, and now desired nothing more then to be with Mother Fortuna even if she would be very, very cross with her.

 

Tears began to stream from Emilia’s eyes and her breathing began to catch and hitch as she began to fall into a full blown, fear induced meltdown.

 

She tried to get her arms underneath herself so that she could push herself onto her feet, but it was hard. She could barely feel any of her limbs and when she tried to move them, they only barely followed the commands of her brain; it was a sensation similar to when she would fall asleep at an odd angle that led to her waking up with her leg still asleep, except this time it was across her whole body.

 

She really, really wanted to be back home right now, she did not want to be exploring anymore, she wished she had just listened and done what she was told.

 

Eventually Emilia managed to get her hands into position to push herself up, and she tried as hard as she could to slowly lift her body enough to get her feet underneath herself. She managed to carefully and gingerly stand up, but she was hit by a wave of nausea the second she did so, alongside an incomprehensible amount of dizziness. It was so intense that she could barely focus on where she was trying to walk as the ground seemingly rocked underneath her numb feet.

 

“IwantogohomeIwantogohomeIwantogohomeIwantogohomeIwantogohomeIwantogohome……”

 

Emilia sobbed as she tried to walk in what seemed like an almost arbitrary direction whilst swaying from side to side as she fought a losing battle to maintain her balance, what remained of her vision not obscured by blood became clouded by the sheer intensity of her tears.

 

Emilia only made it a few more steps after saying this before she collapsed onto the ground and began to vomit up the entirety of what was in her stomach, the nausea and dizziness becoming too much for her to handle.

 

Except she still had to get back, it was scary out here and she wanted her mother.

 

“Mother Fortuna I’m scared,I’mscaredI’mscaredI’mscared, I’m sorry for not listening to you, I’m really scared, I don’t care if your mad, just please come and get meeeeeeeeeee!”

 

Emilia screamed this as loud as she could whilst crawling on the ground, her arms at this point felt so numb that trying to use them to drag herself was an experience akin to trying to use a long stick, they felt that unwieldy.

 

“Anyone please help me……..please………………………..help………………………………………me…………………………”

 

Emilia gave one last cry as the numbness overtook her whole body, making her fall limp and unable to do something as simple as cry for help or even move.

 

Yet from her position of being splayed on the ground she saw the bushes in front of her rustle as someone burst through them at a brisk pace. It was not the person she had called though; it was not Mother Fortuna.

 

Instead it was the woman she had played hide and seek with a few weeks ago, it was Pandora who had heard her cry for help.

 

Pandora rushed towards her before coming to a stop and kneeling down beside her, looking down at her with a face of immense worry as she hastily but carefully rolled Emilia onto her back while supporting her head. Should someone have seen her they would have assumed that she was truly immensely worried over the wellbeing of Emilia. However only Emilia could see her eyes due to the way that Pandora was looking down at her, and therefore only Emilia could possibly have noticed that the eyes that she looked at her with were the exact same ones that she had used when they had first met and played together, and they were certainly not the least bit worries.

 

However Emilia was panicking, terrified, and injured, there was no way that she would be able to pick up on a detail as subtle as that, even if her alarm at the eeriness of this woman had faded after hearing her say some peculiar words.

 

“This is really unfortunate, not wonderful at all, and it wasn’t supposed to happen to begin with.”

 

Pandora spoke in a voice that was tainted due to the sad sight that she saw directly before her, yet as the last words left her lips the numbness that had been plaguing Emilia’s body suddenly disappeared. Except the blood that covered a large portion of her face remained even if it seemed to have stopped flowing, the bits of vomit that had gotten onto her clothes remained as well.

 

The second the numbness left Emilia’s body she instantly sprung up and grabbed onto Pandora as tight as she could, burying her face into her as she resumed her uncontrollable sobbing.

 

“I’mscaredI’mscaredI’mscaredI’mscared, IwantogohomeIwantogohome…………..”

 

Pandora appeared to be initially shocked by this, surprised that this child had grabbed onto her for comfort. But the surprise soon faded as a smile spread across her face while one of her arms wound its way around Emilia’s back and the other began to slowly stroke her head whilst she whispered into her ear as softly as she could in an effort to calm her down.

 

“Everything is okay Emilia, everything is okay. Those odd feelings that were bothering you are gone now aren’t they, so everything is just wonderful now isn’t it?”

 

Pandora then loosened her grip on Emilia as she felt Emilia’s breathing begin to calm, and before long Emilia too gradually loosened her grip on Pandora as she pulled back to look at her.

 

However before either of the two could say anything they are joined as two more people burst in through the bushes, a silver haired woman fraught with worry in the lead with an equally distraught green haired man struggling to keep up as he trailed close behind.

 

Mother Fortuna and Bishop of the Witches Cult Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti had arrived to join them in the grove as well.

 

Yet the two nearly instantly came to a stop the second they saw Emilia still loosely holding onto Pandora whilst still covered in what looked to be her own blood and vomit. Seeing this sight Betelgeuse’s entire body froze in shock as his words seemingly got caught in his throat as he tried to speak.

 

“Pandora-sama……………………why are you…………….here?”

 

But before Pandora could even get a chance to answer, a desperate looking Fortuna shouted at the top of her lungs as her whole body seemed to burn with an unfathomable rage, mana condensing into razor sharp spears of ice all around here.

 

“PANDORA, RELEASE EMILIA THIS INSTANT BEFORE I SKEWER YOU LIKE I SHOULD’VE SO LONG AGO!”

 

However in the face of this threat Pandora did not even flinch nor show the slightest sense of urgency as she replied in a voice so calm that it seemed more fitting coming from an elder drinking tea rather then someone staring down a massive barrage of magic.

 

“Calm your anger Fortuna, as you can see it is Emilia who is clinging to me, I am not unnaturally restraining her whatsoever. As a child it is only natural for her to seek out safety when she is scared.”

 

Realizing that there may have been some truth to Pandora’s words Mother Fortuna redirected her voice in order to speak to Emilia who had frozen up in shock when she heard the sheer wrath and anger embedded in her mothers voice.

 

“Emilia, please come to me right now, you’re not safe with her, she’s a really mean and bad lady and you realllly should not be so close to her.”

 

Fortuna tried to use the calmest voice she could when speaking to her daughter, yet it was impossible to hide the boiling anger that hid just underneath the surface. However one look at Emilia would have told you that even if Mother Fortuna had been able to perfectly dress up her voice that it would not have mattered, Emilia was completely frozen in fear and did not look like she would be moving anytime soon.

 

Fortuna slowed her breathing as she prepared to hurl her magic straight at Pandora, relying on her own experience and skill in order to avoid harming Emilia, except before she could do so she was stopped as the terrified voice of a young child rang out across the silent grove.

 

“Why do you want to hurt her Mother Fortuna, she doesn’t seem like a bad person. She played with me when I was alone, she helped me when I was hurt and scared, Pandora is my friend, so why do you want to hurt her?”

 

Emilia looked at her mother in pure disbelief that she was prepared to hurt Pandora, someone who had only been kind to her, someone who in her eyes was undeserving of such hatred. Seeing this Fortuna felt a pang in her heart, it hurt her immensely to receive such an alienated look from the little girl she had raised.

 

“Emilia, if you come here like a good girl, I’ll let Pandora leave without hurting her, just please come back to mommy……”

 

Fortuna called out to Emilia in a broken voice tinged with fear, the scene in front of her reminded her of the day three hundred years ago when she thought she had lost Emilia forever, she was terrified something like that would happen again.

 

“Please accept Pandora-sama! Nobody has to get hurt, things can go back to the way they should have been!”

 

Betelgeuse pleaded with Pandora with a look of desperation on his face, yet this desperation was also mixed with hope as he saw Emilia slowly and hesitantly let go of Pandora and begin to take a step away from her and towards Fortuna. However he did not realize just how quickly he would come to regret his own phrasing.

 

His hope completely vanished when he saw Emilia come to a stop and freeze as Pandora placed a single hand on her shoulder to stop her from walking any father away. A sly smirk spread across Pandora’s face as she turned to face her bishop and began to almost lecture him on the true reality of the world.

 

“It’s truly wonderful that you seem to be on the cusp of grasping the truth of this world, Bishop Romanée-Conti, yet unfortunately the truth you speak of could not be farther from reality. Things will not go back to normal if I let Emilia return to the side of her loving mother simply because the world we exist in now is nothing but vain, an obstruction that lies overtop of the reality that was meant to be. Fortunately the true reality can be returned to its rightful place, I only need Emilia’s help to open that door and complete the final task that Sensei Flügel laid out for me, to ready things so that he can expose all the lies in this world and make things right.”

 

For the first time since they met in this grove the blissful calmness left Pandora’s voice as it was overtaken by an emotion that seemingly took grip of her entire body. As she spoke of completing her final task and freeing the world of the lies that obscured the true reality it was like she was overcome with joy. Yet as Betelgeuse saw this it was like he fell to melancholy, his face sinking to the ground as he muttered something out loud.

 

“Pandora-sama, Flügel-sama cannot do anything that you speak of, he’s dead, you yourself killed him long ago.”

 

Yet hearing this did not seem to dampen the joy that had taken over Pandora’s mood whatsoever, as she simply rebuked the statement with a voice that remained just as joyous and cheerful.

 

“Sensei Flügel is certainly not dead, Bishop Romanée-Conti, he simply lies in wait for things to be ready for him to complete his final task, the sooner we can do that then the sooner that he may return to us, and the sooner we can all know true joy.”

 

Hearing this Fortuna clenched her jaw as she bared her teeth and glared directly at Pandora with an anger that seemed without bound, muttering under her breath as she took a step forward.

 

“You’re insane Pandora, if you won’t let Emilia go I will free her by force, just as I should have done the second I saw you here.”

 

However suddenly the air was split by an ear splitting and unnatural sound as the ground was thoroughly ripped apart, like an invisible blade was cutting through it before flying off into the forest, reducing everything it hit to smithereens.

 

Fortuna was forced to quickly jump back to avoid being hit by this unseen attack, even if she wanted to rush to her daughter’s side as she heard her yelp in fright. However the second that Betelgeuse saw this attack unfold in front of him his jaw fell open in disbelief as he turned to face the man who was approaching from the direction it had originated from while shouting at Pandora.

 

“WHY WOULD YOU BRING A MONSTER LIKE HIM HERE? DO YOU NOT REALIZE NOW THAT THE ONLY WAY THAT THINGS WILL END IS IN A BLOODBATH? HOW CAN YOU PREACH OF THE LOVE THE WITCH EXEMPLIFIED AND STILL BRING SOMEONE WHO HAS NO QUALM WITH SLAUGHTERING A WHOLE VILLAGE JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE ANNOYED HIM?”

 

Not even Betelgeuse’s shouting seemed capable of dampening Pandora’s mood as she remained facing him with a smile on her face, continuing to hold Emilia as she only grew more and more terrified of what was going on around her.

 

“Its rather simple Bishop Romanée-Conti, it matters not if someone perishes before their time in this world as all it achieves is to add another lie atop the heaping mountain that covers the truth, another lie that will be washed away when Sensei Flügel purges the vanity from this world along with all the other sins.”

 

And it was this statement that finally managed to make Betelgeuse too look at Pandora with eyes that no longer pitied her detachment from reality, but instead feared the sheer madness that she was preaching.

 

However all four present had made one fatal mistake in their discussion, they had ignored the fifth member who had only just arrived after travelling to meet them out of his oh so generous heart.

 

“Now look here! I do believe it is incredibly rude to ignore someone right after they travelled so far to meet you, I do believe that it is a thorough and utter infringement upon my right to be treated with respect. I, Regulus Corneas, Sin Archbishop of the Witch’s Cult representing Greed, the most satisfied existence in this world, have gone out of my way to come here and you dare to start without me and then ignore me. Now listen here. I would give you a lesson on proper etiquette but the fact that you all intentionally act in such a way to drive me into teaching you how to properly behave makes me only think that you did it solely in order to force me to give you such a lesson, thereby trying to strip me of my choice and violating my right to self determination, something that I cannot and will not stand idly by and allow!”

 

Hearing this Betelgeuse closed his eyes briefly as he clenched his jaw before turning to Fortuna and beginning to speak in a grave voice.

 

“Fortuna-sama, he is not someone we can hope to beat in a fight, please take Emilia and run while I slow him down…..”

 

Hearing this Forutna turned towards Betelgeuse with a look of disbelief, yet before she could speak Regulus cut in, somehow even more irritated than he was before.

 

“Now you’re talking about fighting me? I don’t even like to fight, why would you assume that I would even want to participate in something when I am already satisfied with the current state of the things. Do you think I could possibly desire something as trivial as beating someone as weak as you? Do you take me to be that greedy of a person when I am literally the antithesis of greed itself? Do you…………………………. Wait what are you doing, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO DO WITH THAT!”

 

Regulus had begun to fall into a rant when his attention was suddenly taken as he saw a Betelgeuse remove a small black box from within his robes, holding it in his palm and staring at it intently while talking to nobody in particular.

 

“I know I wasn’t your ideal choice to be the guardian of this, I know you told me that it should be kept safe and never opened. You trusted me to work diligently so that it never had to be used, FORGIVE ME FLÜGEL-SAMA FOR MY SLOTHFULNESS, BUT I MUST ATONE FOR THE SINS WE HAVE ALL COMITTED UPON THIS MOTHER AND HER CHILD!”

 

At first Betelgeuse spoke in a grave and foreboding voice, yet as he opened the black box his voice suddenly filled with determination and strength before he jammed the box into his chest and erupted into a cascade of what looked to be purple tentacles wrapping their way around him and enveloping his whole body.

 

To an observer it may have looked like the witch factor was attempting to break and devour him as the purple tentacles cracked and crushed the bones in his body, it may have looked like the Bishop was going to be broken in the face of its power as he seemingly screamed in torment while blood began to pour out of every single orifice in his body. Yet this would only mean that the observer did not understand the truth of the being that was Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti, and how he was diligently working to subdue and subjugate the witch factor of Sloth into his body so that he may put it to diligent work. They did not understand that it was a product of his sheer willpower alone that he held this vile existence within himself, even as it tried to wreck the vessel that was to become its cage, a vessel that it viewed as something to be despised on a very fundamental level.

 

While everyone was seemingly enraptured by the actions of Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti, Pandora reached around Emilia as she began to clap while leaning forward to whisper something into the mortified child’s ear.

 

“Isn’t it just wonderful to see one’s devotion to love, truly an excellent example of what my sister believed in. It is truly wonderful the boundless love that he still holds for you even if this is only your second time meeting, you could say that it is his truly slothful side finally shedding the lies of his diligence as he truly awakes to the love of the witch for the first time, unfortunately he could have expressed this love so much earlier.”

 

Pandora’s voice had returned to its eery calmness as she whispered words to Emilia that petrified her in fear as she watched with horrified eyes as Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti suddenly stopped battling the purple tentacles, which in turn disappeared inside his body.

 

Then a near psychotic grin spread itself across his blood spattered face as Betelgeuse faced Regulus with his body, raising his broken arms high in the air as the hung by nothing more then threads of skin, spilling blood everywhere, before he began to preach some form of horrid sermon.

 

“I AM SLOTHFUL, TRULY SLOTHFUL, AND DUE TO MY SLOTHFULNESS I HAVE PLACED THOSE JOINED BY LOVE IN DANGER OF HAVING THEIR LOVE TORN ASUNDER. I CAN ONLY PLEAD FOR ATONEMENT THROUGH MY DILIGENT WORK, THROUGH MY DILIGENCE I SHALL RUN FROM THE SLOTHFULNESS THAT I SHALL NEVER ESCAPE. FORTUNA-SAMA, NOW!”

 

Betelgeuse screamed into the air, calling Fortuna to action, yet she could not bring herself to move as she found herself shocked into slothfulness by Betelgeuse’s sudden shift into insanity. However there was one person present who could watch Betelgeuse without being stunned into inaction, that being the ever calm Pandora who was once again clapping.

 

“Magnificent, truly magnificent Sin Archibishop of the Witch’s Cult Romanée-Conti, you are truly deserving of the seat of sloth.” Pandora then turned to Regulus and said only a few words in her still calm voice, “Bishop Corneas, here it comes.”

 

All Regulus managed to get out was a “huh” before he felt something grab onto his leg and lift him high into the air at a rapid speed.

 

Betelgeuse swung Regulus around like he was a doll, before slamming him into tree after tree, each one shattering on impact, each one a blow that should have been strong enough to reduce a normal man into nothing more then a blood stained streak.

 

“YOU ENDURE, YOU REFUSE TO DIE, YOU SLOTHFULLY CLING TO THIS WORLD IN A COMPLETE REFUTE TO THE LOVE THAT I WIELD. YOU YOU YOU YOU ARE SO TRULY SLOTHFUL IT MAKES MY BRAIN TREMBLE, IT TREMBLESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!”

 

Betelgeuse screamed as he seemingly further and further departed from the reality infront of him, crying of a love he had never received, screaming of a physical sensation that he had never experienced, crying of slothfulness where he sees none.

 

Betelegeuse then slams Regulus up and down into the dirt, over and over again as he continues to scream and cry out delusions that exceed the comprehension of most of those around him.

 

“THIS IS THE STRENGTH OF THE LOVE I WAS GIVEN, THIS IS THE STRENGTH OF THE LOVE I MUST REPAY, THIS IS THE STRENGTH OF THE LOVE I MUST ENDEVOUR TO PROTECT!”

 

As Betelgeuse screamed this cry he held Regulus still in the air before the entire grove was filled with an empty silence as everyone watched Regulus get folded up into a ball. First his head was turned all the way so that it now looked directly behind him, then Betelgeuse moved on to do the same with his arms and legs, bending them so far back that they far exceeded their normal range of motion.

 

“EVEN IN THE FACE OF DEATH YOU ARE SLOTHFUL, YOU DON’T FIGHT BACK, YOU DON’T STRUGGLE, YET YOU ALSO DON’T GIVE UP, YOU DON’T DIE, HOW? MY BRAIN TREMBLESSSSSSSSSSSS!”

 

Betelgeuse was flailing his shattered arms in the air while screaming like a deranged maniac only to suddenly freeze when the most irate and least satisfied voice possible rang out from the ball of limbs.

 

“Did I ever say that I like fighting? Did I ever say that I enjoy it enough to be forced into it without my explicit consent?”

 

These words rang out as limb-by-limb Regulus began to unfold himself.

 

His arms bent themselves back into place.

 

Then his legs unfolded themselves from behind his back.

 

Until finally his head made a half rotation so that it was staring right back at Betelgeuse.

 

“DON’T GET SUCH A COCKY ATTITUDE AS TO ASSUME ANYTHING ABOUT ME YOU DERANGED AND FANATICAL LUNATIC!”

 

Regulus screamed at the top of his lungs as he was suddenly and forcefully released from whatever held him aloft in the air.

 

The second Regulus hit the ground he instantly grabbed a handful of dirt in his hand and hurled it in the direction of Betelgeuse, except this clump of dirt delivered with it a strike far deadlier than anyone could have possibly imagined.

 

The entire centre of Betegeuse’ chest suddenly had a hole blasted through it a few sizes larger than a human fist, large enough that an immense quantity of blood started to poor out as Betelgeuse collapsed onto the ground like a broken doll. However one could say that he had been saved from instant death by the fact that he was close enough that the dirt did not have time to spread out, as the forest behind him suffered far worse.

 

While Betelgeuse had knocked over most of the living tree’s when he had been swinging Regulus into them, there still remained a vast swath of sickly trees behind the living ones that remained standing, or they were until Regulus’ attack struck them.

 

The dirt reached an ideal level of dispersion not far behind Betelgeuse where it had spread out enough that each individual piece was able to cause an optimal level of destruction without overlapping the damage done by other parts of the former clump. This led to the single attack from Regulus succeeding in felling hundreds of trees behind the broken body of the newly anointed Sin Archbishop.

 

“TO THINK YOU COULD EVEN STAND A CHANCE OF ASSUALTING ME, WHAT UTTER NOENSENSE, I WILL REDUCE YOU ALL TO POOLS OF BLOOD IF YOU EVEN DARE TO ATTEMPT TO INFRINGE UPON MY BEING AGAIN!”

 

Regulus continued to shout at the top of his lungs as he walked towards Betelgeuse with a look of pure rage etched into his face, his hands clenched into fists as he made it clear that he intended to finish the job before the dying Sin Archbishop could succumb on his own.

 

“AL HUMA!”

 

Fortuna shouted as a massive chunk of ice slammed into the unprepared Regulus from the side and sent him flying into the forest, albeit it almost certainly did not succeed in even scratching him it would at least buy a tiny fraction of time for Fortuna to save Emilia.

 

“Succumb not to sloth…..Fortuna……..save Emilia……..and leave me to cover…….your escape……..”

 

Betelgeuse gurgled as his throat filled with blood while a rare glint of sanity surface in his eyes. Yet Fortuna called out to him as she began to sprint towards Pandora who stood motionless with her arms around Emilia, clearly lacking any intent of trying to escape with the petrified child.

 

“How could I leave you Geuse after you’ve taken care of us for so long? I’m getting us all out of here!”

 

As Fortuna ran she formed her mana into a single sword comprised of the purest ice that one could possibly imagine before she swung it in a horizontal arc right over Emilia’s head, and right into the forehead of the Witch who just stood there smiling at her whilst seemingly studying her with those unnerving crystal blue eyes.

 

The blade did not even seem to meet the slightest resistance as made contact and then swiftly cut through the Vain Witch’s skull, barely even spraying any blood as the brain within was cleanly bisected.

 

Emilia did not even move as she felt what little strength was contained within Pandora’s arms leave them, before hearing the body they were attached to lifelessly slump over behind her.

 

She was terrified, she was scared, she had never recalled ever seeing anything die before, she had certainly never even seen or heard of someone she had met dying. And it was this fear that caused her to latch onto her mother the second that Fortuna grabbed her, clinging to her like an infant animal might when its mother carries it through the trees for the first time.

 

“I’m scared Mother Fortuna, I’m scared, I’m scared………..”

 

Emilia cried out as she slammed her glassy eyes shut and buried her head into the crux of Mother Fortuna’s neck.

 

“It’s okay Emilia, everything is almost over. You’ve been sooooo brave, and I’m really proud of you, you just have to continue being brave for a bit longer, okay?”

 

Mother Fortuna put on a voice meant to sooth the young child as she dropped her sword and held onto Emilia with both hands as she ran towards Betelgeuse, yet she suddenly stopped as she froze up in shock at the sight of someone she did not expect to see.

 

It was a woman with long platinum hair, dressed in nothing but a white cloth sheet with a hole cut through for her head. She stared at Mother Fortuna with a pair of crystal blue eyes that gave the impression that she was looking at something completely fake, and she spoke with a voice that remained perfectly calm despite the fact that she had just gotten her head cut in half.

 

“I’d like to ask you to calm your anger Fortuna, there doesn’t need to be any violence between us, I simply ask that you get Emilia to open the sealed door and in return I will leave and undo the damage caused here.”

 

The initial shock that Fortuna felt was instantly blasted away as her breathing hitched, her face contorting in rage as she heard the proposal from Pandora, mana instantly gathering around and within her.

 

“You think I would ever allow that thing to be opened, I only allowed it to be built because my sister-in-law trusted Flügel, yet each day since you killed him it has started to release corrupted mana that twists the life around it. I don’t know what kind of monster is sealed away behind it, but I do know that I will die before I let loose in this world, especially if Emilia would have to be the one to carry the guilt of releasing the seal its held behind.”

 

There was then only a moments delay before Fortuna shouted “Ul Huma” as a million needles of ice suddenly spurted from the ground and impaled Pandora’s body from head to toe, her blood dyeing the blue tinted needles a crimson red.

 

“Unfortunately, I refuse to allow your short-sighted stubbornness to sabotage the only path currently present to release this world from its suffering, the beast equally as stubborn as yourself will have to show you what is truly important in this world.

 

Fortuna slowly turned her head as she heard a wicked hissing come from behind her to see a large black snake that was rapidly oozing a pool of black goo around it.

 

Before she had a chance to examine the monster she suddenly had to duck at a speed unimaginable for a normal human as the beast’s several meter long body launched itself at a speed equally unfathomable as her own, soaring right over her head. She felt its scaly body brush up against the top few hairs on her scalp, which she instantly crystalized in ice before any kind of vileness could spread from them.

 

Fortuna had heard all to well what kind of horrid things could befall someone who was somuch as touched by the scales of the Black Snake, even after 300 years the day she rescued Emilia from that pit and watched her Brother and Sister-in-law fall to it still remained fresh in her mind. It was not like the images of seeing their bodies decay before her very eyes before being feasted on by that cursed beast would ever leave her nightmares, it was not like she wanted them to however, either.

 

It was those cursed images that gave her the strength to never give up, the inspiration to fight to the bitter end for those that you loved, even if you knew it would break you. It was why she was able to still stand and fight against a witch with an incomprehensible power who was aided by an archbishop who seemed nigh indestructible.

 

She turned back to see the where the snake had landed as she saw it chomp down on Pandora’s neck, the venom from its fangs instantly spreading through her body and tainting her skin a putrid black colour. The now rotting flesh started to fall off her bones as her body collapsed into a heap on the white grass, and Fortuna took this as an opportunity to sprint to the fallen trees were Geuse lay.

 

Yet just as she made it to the trees, she was met with the sight of an exhausted looking blond haired elf sprinting towards her while barely maintaining his footing, it was Arche and she had last seen him near the village when she had asked him to help her search for Emilia.

 

He briefly stopped as he stood dumbfounded at the damage and wanton destruction arrayed in front of him, but he soon snapped himself out of it.

 

“Fortuna-sama, the village is under attack by an endless horde of Mabeasts, they look just like small rabbits, but they are devouring everything in sight and no matter how many we kill they just keep coming!”

 

Arche spoke in a voice that sounded completely exasperated and defeated, his eyes appeared sunken and haunted, like he had just been exposed to more then a lifetime of horror compacted into just under an hour.

 

“Grab Geuse and we’ll take him and Emilia to the edge of the forest, then we will head back and see what we can do about the village.”

 

Arche heard this command and weakly nodded his head, yet as he stumbled towards Betelgeuse he suddenly turned and went wide eyed as the black beast slammed into his neck, pinning him to the forest floor and ripping him to pieces as it began to devour its latest meal.

 

“I’m sorry Geuse……..”

 

Fortuna muttered as she briefly turned to face the broken Archbishop who only weakly managed to smile back at her as if to let her know that it was fine, and that he understood that she could no longer keep the promise she had just made.

 

Fortuna then sprinted past him as she carried a now crying Emilia away from the grove in her arms, tears could be seen coming from Fortuna’s own eyes as well as she ran. Yet before they had even gotten to the edge of the grove a calm voice rang out, reaching them even if it lacked the strength to carry as far as they had gotten.

 

Giving up like that and surrendering to fate was truly slothful of you, Sin Archbishop Romanée-Conti.”

 

And with those words suddenly a fallen tree next to them exploded as something invisible slammed into it, and then another tree, and another, each strike landing closer to them compared to the last as Fortuna continued to run.

 

With each strike Emilia yelped a little louder, with each strike she gripped her mother a little tighter, this was the most terrified she had ever been in her entire life.

 

“It’s okay Emilia, we’re going to be oka………..”

 

Fortuna suddenly stopped speaking midsentence as blood spurted forth from her mouth and covered Emilia’s face. She felt all the muscles in Fortuna’s body instantly relax as they were both lifted up in the air.

 

Emilia was screaming, not because they were flying through the air back in the direction that they came, but because she was staring at Mother Fortuna as she tried to speak to her, to comfort her, but all that was coming out were gurgles as blood sputtered forth and ran down her chin.

 

Emilia never stopped screaming, not when she found that they had stopped moving and once again hung in the air above the grove, not even when the crazed preaching of a lunatic boomed through the air.

 

“YOUYOUYOUYOUYOUYOUYOUYOUYOUYOU ARE TRULY SLOTHFUL, YOU CLAIMED THAT YOU WOULD SAVE ME, YOU CLAIMED THAT YOU WOULD SAVE HER, YET YOU ACHIEVED NONE OF THESE THINGS BEFORE YOU YOURSELF DIED. IF YOU HAD JUST ACCEPTED THE WITCH’S LOVE WHEN IT HAD BEEN PRESENTED TO YOU THEN YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DRIVE AWAY THIS SLOTHFULNESS THROUGH LOVE. SLOTH SLOTH SLOTH SLOTH SLOTH SLOTH, THERE IS NOTHING IN THE WORLD BUT SLOTH, MY BRAIN TREMBLESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!”

 

Emilia did not stop screaming as she then found herself falling the short distance to the ground as she landed beside her mother’s body as the madman holding them in the air finally passed out due to blood loss. Even then she did not stop clinging to Mother Fortuna’s body, nor did she give the gaping hole in Mother Fortuna’s chest where her heart should have been any notice either, besides acknowledging that it had been the wound to end her mother’s life.

 

She did not stop screaming as the Black Snake slowly slithered into view, eyeing her with its beady black eyes and tasting the air around her with its jet-black tongue. She did not take her eyes of Mother Fortuna’s lifeless corpse to recognize the constant struggle within the Black Snake as it battled its desire to endlessly feast with that of the one who imposed a will upon it in a vain attempt to control it.

 

The screaming from Emilia did not even stop as Regulus Corneas angrily marched out of the forest, reducing any tree that both happened to still be standing and in his way into sawdust.

 

“WHO DO YOU PEOPLE EVEN THINK YOU ARE, LAUNCHING ME AWAY INTO THE FOREST LIKE SOME TOY THAT CAN JUST BE DISCARDED! I AM A MAN, THE MOST PERFECT BEING IN EXISTANCE, I HAVE RIGHTS! I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE THE LOOKS ON ALL YOUR FACES WHEN I REDUCE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU INTO POOLS OF BLOOD, ESPECIALLY THE ONE WHO SO ARROGANTLY DECIDED TO JUST LAUNCH ME AWAY LIKE THAT. WHO THE HELL TAUGHT YOU THAT BEING SO RUDE WAS SOCIALLY ACCPETABLE!”

 

His face was already contorted into one of pure rage, yet when he saw that Mother Fortuna, the one who should have been the first target of his wrath lay dead in front of him, it was like he somehow became even more unhinged.

 

“WHO GAVE YOU PERMISSION TO DIE YOU WENCH, WHO DARED TO INFRINGE UPON MY RIGHT TO GET REVENGE ON THOSE WHO WRONGED ME!”

 

It was at this point that the vast amount of noise that his yelling managed to draw the Black Snake away from Emilia as it launched itself at him with the same vigour and speed as it had done countless times before. Yet when it bore with its fangs on Regulus’ neck they did not even pierce the skin before instantly shattering into hundreds of shard of bone.

 

“WAS IT YOU WHO STOLE MY CHANCE FROM ME, YOU TERRIBLE EXCUSE FOR A MONSTER?”

 

But Regulus did not give the Great Mabeast even a second to recoil as he grabbed it just behind the head and hurled it into the sky with such force that a boom could be heard as it shattered the sound barrier.

 

But Regulus was still seething with rage as he continued to walk further and further into the grove, his whole body appeared filled with tension as he headed straight for the still wailing Emilia who was tightly clasped to her mother’s corpse.

 

“AND YOU! CAN YOU BE QUIET FOR ONE DAMN SECOND AND STOP ASSAULTING MY EARS SO I CAN THINK? THIS IS NOTHING MORE THEN A VIOLATION OF MY RIGHT TO HAVE JUST A BIT OF PEACE AND QUIET! YOU’RE SO IRRITATING THAT NOT EVEN WITHIN THE VAST AMOUNTS OF PATIENCE THAT I HAVE CAN I FIND ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH YOU. JUST SHUT UP!”

 

Emilia did not pay even the slightest bit of attention to Regulus as she was focused solely on the cold dead eyes of Mother Fortuna, which had not changed in the slightest since they had been overtaken with surprise when she had been fatally struck.

 

Yet thankfully for Emilia there still seemed to be one person present who was looking out for her, and this person stepped between her and Regulus Corneas before speaking to him in a voice that was infinitely calmer then his own.

 

“I ask that you stop right there and take a moment to admire the perfection of this scene, Bishop Corneas. Do you see the true love, the truly natural wonder that is a child’s adoration for their mother, doesn’t it just fill you with joy and pride in the work we undertake?”

 

Pandora spoke in a perfectly calm voice as she faced the Regulus who had stopped not more then a pace in front of her, yet her words seemed to strike something deep inside him as he stopped shouting for just a second.

 

“Are you ordering me to allow my rights to be violated……….STOP ASSUMING YOU HAVE ANY RIGHT TO COMMAND ME YOU ARROGANT EXCUSE FOR A WOMAN!”

 

Regulus then grabbed Pandora by the neck and hurled her directly into the sky with such force that there were three successive booms before her body was torn apart by the acceleration needed to break though the sound barrier three times in half a second, the disintegrated bits of her flesh did not even get a chance to rain down back to earth.

 

Regulus Corneas turned to looked down at Emilia next, before grabbing her by the throat and lifting her up so that her bawling amethyst eyes looked straight into his gold ones.

 

“CAN YOU NOT SHUT UP AND STOP ASSAULTING ME FOR ONE SECOND?!?”

 

Regulus screamed right into her face as she continued to wail, yet this did not silence her. Instead Emilia began to flail her arms and legs as she tried her hardest to escape from his grip and return to her mothers side, even if she was already dead.

 

“LET ME GO, LET ME GO, LET ME G………..”

 

However the second her foot kicked Regulus in the chest he began to tighten his grip around her neck.

 

First she could not breath anymore, silencing her crying.

 

Next circulation to her head was caught off as she began to grow dizzy, stopping her flailing.

 

Finally with a pop she lost feeling as her neck was broken and the blood flow was immediately severed to her brain by near instantaneous swelling.

 

The moment this happened Emilia instantly went limp and feeling this through his hand Regulus then threw her to the side as if he was discarding a broken toy before turning to leave, satisfied that he had finally silenced any and all who dared to even consider infringing upon his rights.

 

“I can normally look past your excessive violence, Bishop Corneas. But she is not someone I can allow to die, even if it may be the natural way of things.”

 

Pandora hovered in the air just above Regulus as his face exploded into one of shock, and while he was shocked Pandora gently pressed on his head with her foot as the ground opened up beneath him, quickly swallowing him up to his neck.

 

Bishop Corneas is back in his mansion with his wives, Emilia never suffered the fate that she currently is as such a thing is simply a lie upon the world produced by the miss-actions of Bishop Corneas.”

 

Pandora took advantage of Regulus’ shock to vanish him instantly from the forest itself, healing Emilia as she instantly rushed back to Mother Fortuna, hugging her tightly even though she felt so very cold.

 

“Emilia, do you want your mother back?”

 

Yet it was these words from Pandora that got Emilia to willingly turn to face her, to see the cold, crystal blue eyes staring right back at her.

 

“Y-Yes…..” Was the only word that the still sobbing Emilia could get out as she held Mother Fortuna’s hand while looking up at Pandora.

 

“Then all you have to do is summon the key that Echidna hid inside you and release the lock that keeps that metal door sealed, in exchange I will return your mother to you.”

 

Pandora spoke in a matter-of-fact voice, yet Emilia had no idea that she possessed any kind of key, and as a result just blankly looked at Pandora as she struggled to find the words to communicate that she did not have what she needed to save her mother.

 

“You may not remember the key as you were quite young when it was placed inside you, but it will certainly come if you call it.”

 

Pandora sensed the confusion and desperation that Emilia exuded as she seemed unable to bring herself struggled to think of how to say she did not have it. Yet after hearing these words Emilia looked down in her hands and found a large key, one that perfectly matched the one she had drawn earlier.

 

“Now go on and open the door, once its open I promise I will bring your mother back.”

 

Pandora urged Emilia on, yet after taking a single step towards the door Emilia stopped in her tracks before looking first at the door, then down at then key, and finally back at her mother’s body. Emilia then turned and stepped back to her mother, she closed her eyes as if making a hard decision, her face growing red as she grit her teeth together, a few tears streaming out of her eyes.

 

Once the seven year old Emilia had decided what she would do she opened her eyes and with a shaking hand removed one of her hair clips and replaced it with one she took from her mother’s hair, before she turned to Pandora with a look of complete resolve on her tiny face, the key clasped in both her hands.

 

“Why did Mother Fortuna have to die?”

 

It was this question that she posed to Pandora, her voice quivering through her resolve as she choked out the words, yet Pandora seemed entirely unphased by this question.

 

“She got in the way of my goal to unseal the door, unfortunately that meant she had to be killed to allow for you to make the right decision to bring her back. In the end though her death is irrelevant because I know that you will do what you need to in order to bring her back because of the love you hold for her Emilia.”

 

This was all Emilia needed to hear, she remembered what her mother had said to Pandora about opening the door, she remembered her saying that she preferred death to having whatever lay behind it unleashed.

 

Emilia let go of the key in her hands as she let it fall, the second it touched the ground it disappeared from her view as it returned to its place hidden deep within her.

 

Perhaps Emilia knew about this particular mechanism regarding the key, but more then likely she did this simply because she could not care less about it anymore, there was only one thing that she cared about as she lost all control of a tornado of pure rage that was swirling up inside her, one that rivaled that of her mother, her real mother.

 

“Die”

 

Pandora’s body suddenly ruptured into a beautiful display of blood as icy flowers burst forth from within her.

 

“Emilia you must calm down, viol………..”

 

Pandora was cut off as her she was suddenly impaled by a thousand icicles flying at her from every direction, summoned by Emilia simply saying the word “Die” again.

 

“Th……..”

 

Pandora reappeared and tried once again to reason with the child who had lost control of their own emotions and was quickly losing control of their body, but she was cut off as she was instantly frozen solid before shattering into a million pieces.

 

“Die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, die, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE,DIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIEDIE!”

 

Emilia began to chant the call of death as the sky became covered in thick grey clouds, as the temperature began to plummet, as thick blue ice formed on the ground around her and began to creep up her legs.

 

“I guess I will just have to come back another time, it seems you are in for another long sleep until someone with comparable power to yourself decides to free you from your icy prison, it is truly unfortunate. Though I do suppose that for you to give in and lose yourself to your own anger is a natural end.”

 

As the storm above produced a downpour of snow that was so thick as to reduce vision to all but zero, as Emilia nearly became completely incased in ice, Pandora made one final utterance.

 

We will return to see the truth revealed, all of us still have an important roll to play.”

 

And with those words Pandora vanished along with two of the three corpses that remained on the scene, along with who knows what that existed outside their vision. It was not soon enough for them as the second Emilia became completely encased in ice a blast of mana flew out of her now icy tomb. Everything this wave of mana touched turned to solid ice, unlike her there was nothing left inside to awaken.

 

And with this time seemed to finally cease in the trial as it reached an end to what it intended to show, leaving all but the most important part left, the judging.

 

“So that was the greed of this time period……”

 

Echidna seemingly spoke her thoughts aloud as she cradled her chin between her thumb and forefinger, seemingly deep in thought as she almost blankly stared towards the place that Regulus had been before he had been vanished by Pandora.

 

However Emilia gave no heed to what her counterpart was doing as she almost stumbled towards the icy outline left by the frozen corpse of Mother Fortuna, falling to her knee’s before it as she stared down into its empty eyes. Emilia’s eyes remained locked on the gaping wound located in the centre of its chest, even as her hand shakily reached out to cup her cheek.

 

“I don’t deserve your love……..I never did………….I can’t believe I did this to you after all you had done for me………………even now you’d probably wince knowing what I did with your sacrifice……………….”

 

Emilia spoke in a sullen and depressed voice as she looked down, blinking her eyes a few times as tears built up in them and began to pour out for what seemed like the millionth time during this long day. Emilia wanted her eyes to be as clear as possible so she could absorb every last detail of the scene that lay before her, she was focused to the point that although she heard Echidna walk up behind her she did not turn to face her. Instead she found herself falling face first onto her Mothers icy shell as the dam within her that had broken many times this day, only to be hastily put back up, broke once more.

 

“I can’t believe I did this…………………I can’t believe that I’m this horrid…………………..I did everything wrong at every single turn……………………………….I can’t believe that I killed you Mother Fortuna, I’m trying to accept what I did but I just can’t…………………………………………I just can’t accept that I’m such a monster that I killed you after all the love you gave me…………………after seeing all this I feel like I just can’t accept it……………..I won’t be able to take it otherwise…………….I’ll just end up doing something that will make everyone even more upset………………………….”

 

As Emilia lay atop the ice in the shape of her mother’s corpse, bawling her eyes out and sobbing, she half heartedly poured out her minds attempt to justify the horrors and the sins that the trial tried to accuse her of. It was a complete about face that defied what her heart told her, it screamed to her to accept the truth that she was guilty of causing this final horror, yet seemingly in an act of self preservation her mind refuted this. And it was this refutation that seemed to stir the Witch of Greed to action once again.

 

“You do realize that Fortuna may have been able to escape had she not been forced to carry you. She was a several century old elf who was a master at fire magic, a Sin Archbishop as weak as Betelgeuse should have had no hope of beating her in a fight, not even considering the fact that she was trying to run away instead. If only she had not been distracted and slowed down by a particularly whiney child it is almost certain that her escape would have been a success.”

 

Echidna began to lecture Emilia in a voice that was almost empty of emotion, each word that left her mouth becoming a nail that drove into Emilia’s heart in an effort to release the self hatred and depression that would unleash the truth that she was refusing to accept. Each word that she said causing Emilia to cry harder and harder, the tears flowing from her face before landing onto ice below.

 

“We can even take the thought further, had you not gone wandering into the forest that day in complete and utter defiance of Mother Fortuna’s wishes then she likely could have avoided the confrontation that killed her entirely. Or better yet, if you had simply perished in place of your birth mother then this calamity would not have befallen the elven village to begin with, they would likely all have been alive to this very day, and not be frozen nor food for one Great Mabeast or another.”

 

Echidna then leaned in close so that she could whisper what she had to say next into Emilia’s ear, using a hand to brush away any hair that might possibly obstruct her words so that she could be heard over Emilia’s now uncontrollable sobbing.

 

“I’m absolutely certain that if it were not for your unique ability to completely ruin the lives of everyone around you, that each and every one of these people would have gone on to live a perfectly normal and happy life. The sole factor that prevented that was the fact that you made yourself a presence in their lives, now how do you feel knowing that?”

 

Echidna then leaned back with a completely blank expression painted onto her face as she watched her nails finally break Emilia’s heart, as she watched Emilia howl and scream in torment as she failed to handle the truth that she had been forced to accept.

 

“I GET IT………I’M A HORRID MONSTER THAT KILLS EVERYONE WHO CARES FOR HER…………………….I DID THIS…………………..I CAUSED ALL THIS SUFFERING…………….I RUINED ALL THERE LIVES………………………I DESERVE EVERY BIT OF PAIN AND SUFFERING THAT I’VE EXPERIENCED SINCE THEN…………………….I DESERVE NOTHING BUT DEATH……………….IT’S ALL MY FAULT AND I JUST WANT TO DIE………………………..”

 

As Echidna heard Emilia struggle to choke out cries of guilt between her sobs that were racking her whole body, a sly smile spread across her face as she once again knelt down and gently turned Emilia’s face towards her by the chin. She looked down at the puffy eyed and sniffling half-elf, and as the world around them began to disintegrate and fall away into a blank white void she delivered the final nail needed to seal her fate.

 

“Emilia, you don’t deserve death, a release like that is something way too good for you. What you deserve is to spend the rest of your oh so enviably long life right in that forest, so that every day you can wake up and be reminded of just what you did. So that everyday you feel these very same emotions that are coursing through your veins, driving you to end the miserable pittance that you call life, and be forced to simply endure them. The only fitting punishment for a monster like you is to suffer for near eternity in your own little, personal piece of hell until all that’s left of you is a broken, lifeless, husk, a walking corpse just like your mother here.”

 

And with that Echidna released Emilia’s chin as she watched the half-elf’s eyes sink right to the ground where they looked blankly forward, neither blinking or even quivering as Emilia knelt there completely broken beyond repair.

 

Yet Echidna had one last thing to say as she turned away from Emilia to stare off into the white void.

 

“Now Emilia, you haven’t forgotten about those villagers who saved your life by carrying you into my tomb in an attempt to save your life after your poor excuse for a suicide attempt. You haven’t forgotten that they are still trapped in the ruins of a village facing certain death should winter come? Although it will likely hurt your heart and make you suffer, you could help them by taking on the next trial, think of it as repay……..”

 

While Echidna was in the midst of her long explanation, she was cut off by the broken voice of Emilia that was barely audible.

 

“I don’t deserve happiness…….I don’t deserve what they did for me………….I’ll help them……..”

 

And hearing this the grin on Echidna’s face grew further until it stretched from ear to ear.

Chapter Text

She was down, broken, and depressed.

 

She knew exactly what she was, she knew that she was truly the worst of the worst, of the worst.

 

She knew how she took everything from those that loved her, that cared about her, and how she did nothing more to repay them other then to destroy their very lives.

 

She had seen what she had done, she had borne witness to the irredeemable sins she had committed.

 

Emilia knew that they had become the burden she would have to bare forever, and no matter the size of the penance she paid, they would be a burden which she would never be freed from.

 

She may have wished for death, but in the end that would be a gift she was completely undeserving of.

 

Emilia looked back towards the icy shape that resembled her mother’s body as the world began to grow white around her, colours fading as form was lost, descending into an endless white abyss without anything to give it meaning or understanding.

 

It hurt her to see the outline of Mother Fortuna’s body fade away, she knew that she never deserved her kindness, and she now knew that she would likely never see her again aside from the painful memories that felt like they were poisoning her very psyche.

 

Yet they were memories that she knew she absolutely could not ignore or attempt to repress, not simply because of what Echidna had told her, but also from something she had read in one of the dusty old books she had studied whilst preparing for the Royal Selection, a part of her life that felt so distant.

 

She had once read a quote by some famous philosopher, “We all die twice, once when our final breath escapes our lips, and once when our name is spoken for the final time.” And although this quote had not meant much to her when she had first read it, she was now endeavoured to ensure that the elves of Elior would not experience their second death as long as she lived.

 

However Emilia’s attention was soon drawn outward as the white void around her soon began to transform from that of a blank canvas, to that of a scene that could not be said to be unfamiliar to her.

 

Out of the emptiness grew a lush grassy field encircled by a deep green forest, within the field stood a grand mansion with impressive stone gates and marble facades. Inside the confines of the outer gates lay endless beds of flowers, blooming in a wide array of colours as birds chirped overhead.

 

Yet the trial did not focus on this mansion, instead it came to a little tree on a small hill just a short walk outside the front gate, sat within the meager amounts of shade that it offered were a black-haired boy and what looked to be a young girl.

 

She wore an immensely ornate red and white dress that extended all the way to the ground in the back, her eyes were blue with pink pupils in the shape of a cross, resembling a minimalist take on a butterfly, her long blond hair draped away from the sides of her head in a pair of massive drills. Although she was quite young looking, Emilia knew that she was in fact ancient, the spirit Beatrice had been born into this world nearly 400 years ago, and unlike Emilia she had not spent a single moment of those long years trapped in ice.

 

“Betty will help her contractor; it is only natural, I suppose.” Beatrice spoke in a voice that made it seem like she was doing her contractor a favour with an almost begrudging reluctance, however the subtle glance she gave out of the corner of her eye as she turned away from him with crossed arms told a different story.

 

Whether it was due to some impeccable ability to pick up on these subtle actions that Beatrice tried to hide beneath a layer of body language, or just part of his personality, Subaru reacted with immense enthusiasm almost immediately.

 

“Really Beako, you’d do that for me? YOU’RE THE BEST, THIS IS WHY I LOVE YOU BEATRICE!” Subaru looked at Beatrice with his face completely consumed with joy as he lifted her up over his head in a state of admiration. Beatrice however appeared to be completely shocked and overwhelmed as her face first froze before shifting to something resembling an odd mix of sheer terror and pure joy.

 

It would be completely incorrect to say that Beatrice did not enjoy the attention she was getting from Subaru, but it would be incorrect to say that she really understood how to handle it, leading to an odd juxtaposition of wanting it to go on forever but also wanting it to end immediately.

 

Subaru continued to spin Beatrice around in the air as she failed to find the words to respond, releasing only a vague series of sounds as she tried to simultaneously decide whether to say something along the line of “Put Betty down this instant, in fact!” or “Betty will accept this as a reward for her upcoming assistance, I suppose.” Perhaps Subaru was continuing to put Beatrice in this predicament because he thought the expression on her face was cute, perhaps it was to put her in a spotlight she had never gotten to stand under during the entirety of her 400 year long life. However it could have also been because sometimes he just liked to bug her just a bit, that was just the kind of relationship this spirit-contractor pair had. Sometimes Subaru would play the role of a big brother as he doted or poked fun at his little sister who was older than him, in fact. Other times Beatrice would bestow her wisdom on her contractor while supposing that he was the perfect one to be paired with her despite his many short comings.

 

This went on for a few minutes until Subaru eventually put the exasperated looking Beatrice down as the two returned to sitting under the shade as they had been before, their prior discussion returning as well.

 

“Betty thinks that it would be best if we divided up who we are going to approach and the tasks everyone will undertake, in fact” Beatrice resumed her previously calm demeanor, seemingly managing to completely ignore the eve