Chapter 1: Chapter 1: Is this just fantasy?
‘—This is really bad.’
These words summarized her every thought and feeling.
In the past hour she experienced greater panic than she could even imagine before, accidentally walked into a men’s restroom, was told by a bipedal dog that he doesn’t serve her kind and barrelled down a stairway in an alley while staring at the utterly alien skyscape presented by the local architecture, instead of looking where she was going.
She couldn’t exactly make her mind up about whether it made things worse, or just more surreal, that the guy—? Presumably guy in the men’s restroom that thought she walked in there on purpose and propositioned her, appeared to be a six foot tall lizard. A six foot tall lizard, that in spite of having a mouth that it could fit a whole cat inside of, spoke almost perfect Japanese, with only minor accents.
Sitting on the cold stone of some steps in a quiet alley, she crossed her legs, and rested her chin on her right fist, and her right arm on her left, as she pictured how the famous statue must sit. She actually didn’t remember the details of the pose, but that wasn’t going to stop her from assuming the optimal form for ruminating on her situation.
Naturally, the fact that the streets surrounding her quiet alley were populated by all sorts of bipedal creatures — only some of which were human — meant this has to be some sort of fantasy world. Whether normal magical fantasy, or some weird medieval space fantasy hybrid like Spelljammer, she couldn’t be sure. Then again, the lack of magical ships flying overhead so far, and the fact that she hasn’t seen anyone run around with functionally superfluous gears, cogs and pipes attached to their attire definitely hinted that this is a pure medieval setting with fantasy races.
Certainly, when it comes to most people’s mental checklist upon finding themselves without any discernible reason in a strange locale with stranger locals; seeing if said locals are dressed like brass is going out of fashion wouldn’t be one of the first items. But then, for one, most people wouldn’t find themselves in a situation like that, and for another, Natsuki Subaru was not like most people.
She had spent the past few years inadvertently training herself for just this kind of situation, and by all that is holy, her training was going to pay off!
“Seems like a rather primitive society. From what I could see so far, they seem to have a castle far up on a hill, in a defensible position.” she nodded to herself, rubbing her chin thoughtfully, her eyes closed and brows raised to further emphasize to an audience consisting entirely of herself, that she is indeed engaged in deep important thinking. “Naturally, such ideas of fortification would be mostly pointless if flight was readily available, so they likely have neither flying machines, nor easily available magic to fly with.”
The city was quite large, so she hasn’t yet got a chance to see if it has a stereotypical medieval wall, but she suspected it would, based on everything else. “Of course, if they did have a city wall, then they would not live in fear of great and easy to obtain firepower, which would mean they haven’t even mastered gunpowder here!”
In case her brilliantly arcane and labyrinthine thoughts would be beyond the capacity of mere prime normals to discern through observance: She was in the process of placing herself in the world. Every clue she collected of her situation conquered.
1) A few hours ago she was just heading home from her nightly jog, dropping by a store to buy some snacks.
2) In the literal blink of an eye, she found herself in a bustling city street in the middle of the day, after having just left the store approaching midnight. Literal blink of an eye. Bam.
3) In spite of their strange bodies, everyone speaks Japanese, as she found out earlier, trying to haggle with a fruit salesman that looked like he got lost on his way to a surfer convention.
4) The people here seem to have some bizarre alphabet that may or may not relate directly to Japanese, because when the surfer salesman pointed to a sign while claiming to sell “Ringa” which sounded like “ Ringo ”, or apples. Also, great drummer. The number of the blocky characters matched how she’d have spelled it, even though she couldn’t recognize any of the characters.
Yes, the only logical conclusion, was rather obvious:
“I have been spirited away, to another world!” she announced out loud, dramatically opening her eyes and looking up.
She looked back down, and closed her eyes once more, smirking and humming to herself approvingly of having for about the fifth time now reaffirmed the current state of affairs. Then, her smirk growing more pained, she uncrossed her legs and grabbed her head.
“This is really bad.”
“If I was a guy, I’d be fine. I’d probably get some beautiful priestess rushing up here any minute, telling me how sorry they are that they messed up the cant and accidentally summoned me outside of the castle. Then they’d hand me a magic sword that somehow also makes me impervious to damage, and I’d be sent off to slay the jabberwocky.”
But that’s not the kind of isekai stories that female protagonists would get.
Natsuki Subaru wasn’t as deeply invested in isekai stories as some. She could have had some gap in her knowledge, but she’d rather not entertain that thought, as this was the one time in her life, possibly in anyone’s life that such a gap could prove a fatal error! No, she had to work with what she knew, so she began running down the archetypes of female characters that got spirited to other worlds.
There were the useless ones. She could be that. Simple option, safe. While she’d have hoped for something interesting, honestly she could do with being just a useless summon who goes on to have low key globetrotting adventures and getting into wacky situations. It’s definitely better than some alternatives. The problem is usually by this point if she was in that situation, she’d have had something zany happen to establish how she’s not what she should be.
“Oh no, we summoned you to slay the Demon King, but your special, God given power turned out to be being an excellent chiropractor! Please leave, and conveniently run into an eccentric noble with back pains on the way out!” she lamented. Of course, that didn’t happen. Unless her zany event was the dog man propositioning her, but yeah, she’s not following that quest.
The second big option, would be a monster reincarnation.
“Concentrating on wanting to transform into something else didn’t seem to do anything, so we can probably put a pin in me having been magic’d into a mythical creature that can appear human.” she sighed, thinking ahead to the third, and most ominous option.
The last big option, was the doom flag. The villainess reincarnation. Granted, she was pretty sure that those generally involve being reincarnated as a character one already knew from somewhere, usually a trite young adult romance novel with the depth of a pamphlet, or a visual novel, but she never really cared for those stories, as the protagonists had a tendency to be presented as divas, the medieval or victorian equivalent of idols, and as far as idols went-
Natsuki Subaru subconsciously clenched her fists, and bit the inside of her cheeks.
No, she was not an idol.
Shaking her head, she recollected herself. While again, she wasn’t the most faithful reader of isekai, she preferred the crazy stories with male protagonists, if for nothing else, they got to go on adventures through strange lands. Meet new people, save them. She’d have liked to do those things. Well, maybe not all of the go save people stuff. Slaying dragons or goblins or whatever thing kind of seemed too high effort without some divine artefact or at least one of those voices in her head.
“Do I have a magic, super knowledgeable voice in my head?” she said out loud suddenly, waiting a moment for an answer, then sighing the most disappointed sigh of anyone who ever discovered they aren’t schizophrenic.
She took off her backpack and opened it. Same as before there was her newly bought ramen, the flip phone she turned off — somehow she doubted she’ll be in satellite range for a while, but she could need the battery for a flashlight later —, the ramen and chips she bought, a first aid kit she always carried with herself out on jogs since that time she tumbled down from a shrine whose steps she wanted to re-enact Rocky on; and finally her wallet, the contents of which now boiled down to a fistful of two sided die, Monopoly money and a couple of lockpicks. Well, lockpicks if that old movie thing where a spy opens a door with a card works. It probably doesn’t.
Sighing at her situation, she grabbed the bag of chips, contemplating whether this is a good time to start stress eating.
“God of Reincarnation!” she exclaimed as a final plea, holding out her arms wide, looking at the sky, though it occurred to her if such a God exists, they could just as likely be far below. “Give me a sign! Just roll me a random encounter already!”
Just then, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching, and sure enough, down the exit of the alley, three figures were coming her way.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2: Don’t shoot to kill!
The moment of excitement Subaru experienced, the fleeting hope that her prayer’s been answered, got choked in her throat along with what was going to be an exasperated sigh, as she began to better evaluate the strangers.
Not royal guards here to welcome the summonee, not ragtag heroes wishing to recruit her, no, these three men approaching her wore the clothes and faces of muggers.
She quickly jumped up, and entered a stance she vaguely recalled seeing Bruce Lee hold when she was browsing videos online long ago. If she was in an adventure hero isekai, these would be absolute trash mobs, that would be her first introduction to the combat system, followed by loot and experience drops. But considering how rarely girl prota—
A thought popped into her head! For no stereotypical female protagonist story type, would it make sense to have her first quest be to dispatch of the city’s thief problem! No, that’s the kind of first encounter you give, so just after they win, the city guard can rush in, and pay their respects for having won 3 on 1, before giving them a commendation for the Adventurers’ Guild!
She looked down for a moment, at herself. She was pumped with adrenaline, hopping on her feet. Bruce Lee did that too, right? And her tracksuit! Girls at school would call her a tomboy, when really she was much more refined than that! But the point remains, she’s dressed somewhat boyishly, perhaps God confused her, and gave her a male adventure!
“Ha ha!” she exclaimed. “I wasn’t given any weapon , for I need no such thing! My power, is the power of the fist!”
“What is this idiot babbling about?”
Subaru didn’t pay attention to the generic chatter. Truly, if she just thought about it, if she was given the talents of a Monk, then of course she wouldn’t get any special item! The power is inside her! Tumbling down those stairs earlier barely scratched her, because of her newfound agility!
“You’re trying to scare us by acting nuts or something?” the thug in the middle asked with a sneering tone, unamused, and clearly unprepared for the flurry of the newly born master artisan of the Waterborn Flying Thunder Dragon Crushing Fist!
“I’ll warn you once, scum!” Subaru began, curling her fingers forward like claws, holding them out towards her opponents, one before the other. “You now fa—”
“You dare call us scum?!” a small one among them interrupted rudely, stopping her great opening monologue.
“I said ,” Subaru emphasized. “You are now facing off against—”
“I think she’s mocking us.” noted the big, slow bruiser type. Angry about her second interruption, Subaru made a mental note that she should go for a weak spot. See if the combat system is built around striking chinks in the armor, or armor piercing techniques.
“No one mocks us and lives.” said the one in the middle. “You want to die that badly?”
It seemed like he was going to go on, but Subaru decided that if they won’t allow her to make her heroic introduction, then she should use the trash mobs’ own mini-boss monologue to get the initiative!
With a quick kick backwards, she propelled herself away from the steps she was sitting on a moment ago, and at her targets, closing the distance in three short steps. Caught flat footed by her amazing speed, the brute on her right was left defenseless against her mighty Rising Falcon Volcano Punch, right into his glass jaw!
Without a moment’s hesitation, she used her free left arm to push herself away from his massive body and deliver a Crouching Lion Whirlwind Kick into the shoulder of the smallest one, easily knocking them to the ground!
“You bitch!” the middle and last one said, pulling out a long knife with a swift move. Subaru’s heart skipped a beat, the instinct indoctrinated into her over long years of living in a much more mundane world, the belief that fist could never win against steel awakening in her. No! She could feel the power burning in her right fist! Here, her talents will bridge such petty gaps! Her monk physique will render her impervious from such Trash!
She just needs to dodge the first slash by stepping back, then lay in for the counter, and—
As Subaru jumped back from the predictable slash, and paused for a moment, waiting for the right instant to leap back in, with the knife out of the way, she noticed that the knife’s blade was coated in blood. Looking at her right arm, just below her wrist, red blood began pouring down from a cut along her arm. Not an especially deep cut, but a cut nonetheless. A monk’s skin should be as tough as rock. Or at the very least like some leather armor! And her fist, that she thought she felt the power of her chi concentrating in, was flushed with blood and shaking, the pain from having rammed it into the bruiser's jaw, slowly frothing to the top of her senses.
“I could die here.” The thought hit her like a right hook. Followed by a right hook.
Stumbling backwards, only to trip and fall over the steps, it took her a moment to realize that the hulking brute she thought she’d have eliminated in a single critical, was standing there like nothing happened. Well, not nothing. He was standing there like he was just royally pissed off by an attack that ultimately did nothing to put him down. Even the overgrown garden gnome on the left was getting back up.
“I could really die here.”
Instinctually, Subaru grabbed at her backpack, and began crawling backwards, over the steps and down the alley, trying to get on her feet. The thugs weren’t so kind as to let her do that, and the one with the knife rushed up to her, tossing a second knife he was hiding to the short one on the way.
“Honestly, I thought maybe we’re going to go easy on you.” the knife-wielder said, holding the knife under the stunned Subaru’s neck, and grabbing her jacket with the other. “You’re clearly crazy. But you just had to pick a fight.”
Feeling unable to fight back, as the thug pulled her to her feet and pushed her into one of the corners of the alley, Subaru’s mind was racing for any way out.
“Please, I’m begging you, it was my fault, I was an idiot, I should have respected your—”
“Too late for that.” the bruiser grunted, wiping a bit of blood from his mouth with his thumb. “Damn it, she made me bite my cheek.”
“You’ll live.” the shorty said.
“She won’t.” the middle one added. Now all three of them were boxing her in the corner of two houses.
“No, no, no.” Subaru pleaded again, her legs going weak. “I-I-I don’t have anything, you can have my pack, it’s not much, but I was just trying to defend myself!”
When she asked God for a random encounter, this isn’t what she had in mind. Why couldn’t it have been anything else? What’s the point of putting her in this impossible scenario? Was she summoned to this world, just to die in some alley?! Why?! She hasn’t even met the person who summoned her yet!
Suddenly, the thug with the knife turned his head sideways. Behind him, Subaru spotted a new addition to the alley. A young girl with raggy street clothes, who seemed to be in a great hurry. Could this be her first companion? She’s saved!
“Hey, you!” Subaru shouted. “Please, could you—”
“Wow, look, this looks really heavy.” the girl said, stopping in her tracks and hesitating for a moment before continuing. “But I really don’t have the time, sorry. Live Strong!”
With that, she rushed up to a part of the wall a few feet from them, and jumped up to grab hold of a loose brick.
“No! Please! I’m begging you!” Subaru said, looking at the rapidly ascending girl. “I-” Subaru’s vision blurred, and her voice croaked, as tears began to well in her eye, and she involuntarily began choking on her snot. “I don’t want to die!”
Subaru couldn’t see her face, but she felt like the girl looked back down at her once more, stopping her climb. This proved a mistake for her, as the loose brick she was holding on to slid out of its slot and she fell back on the ground.
“Damn it!” she yelped, though she didn’t seem hurt. A moment later, she turned towards the thugs and gave a brief, apologetic “Sorry.” before using their convenient arrangement from dwarf to giant to hop on shorty’s head, then the knife guy’s, then finally leap up from the bruiser’s head, grabbing onto the roof above them.
“Hey!” they each said in turn as she converted them into a stepladder, to which she just gave a brief apology again, before Subaru could hear what sounded like tiny feet rushing over clay roof tiles.
“Uh.” Subaru started, meekly, as the attention of the three thugs returned to her. “Any chance that you’d let me go to chase after her now?”
“No one fucks with Felt if they ever want to use the loot house again.” the bruiser said with a shrug.
“Enough stalling, say goodbye.” the knife guy said, moving the knife to Subaru’s chest. “This won’t be an easy death!”
Subaru closed her eyes. She couldn’t believe it would truly end like this. Such a pathetic end to a pathetic life.
“Hey, Idiots!” Subaru heard from above. “Just wanted to tell you that it’s a really bad idea to be doing this so close to the market. All it’d take from her is a scream, and jail’s the best you have to look forward to!” the young girl shouted down from the roof. “I’ve really got to go though, so—”
Before the girl could finish, another voice interrupted her. High pitched, elegant in accent. It cut through the young girl’s shouts and Subaru’s heavy breathing, like a beam of light cuts through the deepest cellar.
“—That’s enough, villains!”
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: A wickeder witch there never ever was
Time stood still, but for only a moment. While everyone in the alley was briefly captivated by the appearance of the beautiful silver haired girl, who so heroically commanded the thugs to stop, any tranquility that her impossibly fair looks and clear, commanding voice may have created, was shattered by the word “Shit!” being uttered above the thugs and Subaru. A word made even more crass, by the innocent surface of the young girl saying it.
“It’s you! Stop!” the silver-haired girl shouted in a voice mixing anger with panic, her eyes affixed to the rooftops. In a moment Subaru could barely follow, the girl raised a hand towards the roofs, and a shining globe matching the size of her palm formed before it, only to then with great speed shoot off in the direction she held it.
Subaru heard a pained yelp from above, with the voice of the young girl that just a moment ago came back to try and stall Subaru’s execution. A sound of something falling on clay tiles, something sliding, rolling off the tiles and—
The young girl’s body crashed onto the crude stone pavement besides Subaru and the thugs. She couldn’t see it as it fell, as her attention was still transfixed on the thugs threatening her imminent death, and the sorceress before her. Looking at where she was lying though, it looked as if she landed on her head.
Subaru still couldn’t see too well with tears flooding before her eyes, having come so close to death, and still not being free of its clutches, but she saw the silver-haired sorceress raise her right hand before her face, followed by two, drawn out “Ha!”-s.
She might have just killed that poor girl, and she's... Laughing? Did Subaru hear that right? If so, then this being is no sorceress.
“Damn it, forget the madwoman! Get the magic user before she gets us!” the knife wielding thug shouted, letting go of Subaru’s jacket, and turning to face the new threat.
“Wait, I—” the silver-haired girl began, but was interrupted by shorty.
“Back off, hooligans!” shouted an androgynous and high-pitched voice, filling the alley the same moment a chilling breeze blew through, seemingly from the magic user. “Drop your weapons!”
Subaru strained her eyes, trying to see just where the voice was coming from. Soon, while unable to identify it, she spotted a light grey blob the size of a hand floating in the air besides the magic user. Subaru saw the knife wielder turn towards the blob, and begin turning white.
“A spirit user?!” he exclaimed.
“Lark, look at her ears, her hair!”
“Fuck me!” ‘Larkins’ exclaimed once more. “A silver elf!”
“Witch…” Subaru heard the bruiser mutter, his voice shaky with what sounded like indescribable fear.
From the way the three acted, the unassuming girl before them could have been Hashihime herself, stepping out from under her bridge. This being, whatever she was, could she mean to kill them all? At this point, it wouldn’t be any more out of the ordinary.
In this moment of chaos, utterly lost, knowing not if she was saved or doomed, a single sound snapped Subaru back to her senses. A gentle cough, from the girl laying on the pavement. A weak, pathetic cough, barely signalling the presence of life. Subaru turned, and saw the young girl’s hand , grasp at the ground, trying to crawl, clearly lacking the strength. Nothing, but the desire to live.
“Listen,” came from the witch. “I don’t want to— H-Hey!” her voice and authoritative demeanor broke, when Subaru without a thought dipped down pulling her backpack over her shoulder, and grabbed the young, barely conscious girl. One hand under her hips, one under her head. With the girl secure, Subaru did the only thing left to her: She ran. Ran around the corner, and deeper into the alley.
The witch shouted after her, but Subaru could not comprehend them now. All that mattered was escape! For her, and this girl. What did they call her? Felt? Felt. She may not have done much, but she came back for her. She came back! And that blasted woman might have—
Subaru’s heart dropped after she turned another corner in the alley, only to find it was a dead end, with the witch’s voice growing closer behind her. If those thugs were going to torture her to death just for two attacks that didn’t even seem to hurt them that much, then the witch, or spirit user, or whatever she was is sure to grant her a fate worse than death, for stealing her prize!
Yet she had to take the girl. It didn’t make sense, but she had to. She wanted to escape, to live. For the first time in her life, Subaru understood that. Truly understood it. Not as a distant abstract from pulp novels, or a detached sadness upon hearing that a distant relative passed away. She understood the visceral, soul rending woe of life being a moment from being snatched away, and she couldn’t leave Felt there.
Looking around for a path out, she wondered if this is how firefighters felt, breaking into burning buildings to save those ins—
“Of course!” she exclaimed out loud, finally regaining her voice, with a touch of clarity.
There was no path out of the alley, but it housed back doors to buildings. Glancing at the corner, where she was certain a furious witch was going to emerge from any moment, she picked a door and rushed at it.
Carefully lifting and rotating the girl’s body, so she was almost standing, Subaru charged her chosen door as fast as she could, and at the last moment turned around, smashing into it her and the girl’s combined weight, making sure to take the brunt of the hit, and guide Felt through the doorway.
Thankfully, the door wasn’t in great repair, and its lock tore out of its socket, letting Subaru and Felt through! Though she felt something crack in her back on the way.
This was no time to lick, or even evaluate her wounds however. Barely managing to keep her balance and remain standing, she looked around to see she was standing in a tavern of some kind, having crashed into the kitchen, but seeing the baffled customers stare at them through a large open window.
“What do you think you’re doing, breaking into my kitchen?! Who will pay for that?!” shouted a woman with dog ears in exasperation, picking up a frying pan. “Get here, you!”
Subaru had no intention of stopping for a calm explanation, and circled around the other side of a table holding cut vegetables. She pushed through the thankfully open door to the dining area, barely dodging the frying pan thrown at her head, then rushed towards the exit.
With at least two more pieces of kitchenware, and countless insults thrown at her, she managed to push past a lizard who was just entering, and out into the market street. This was one of the more narrow streets with only pedestrians, so on one hand, she didn’t need to worry about dodging any carriages pulled by those bizarre, bipedal raptor looking things she spotted earlier, but on the other, there was more foot traffic to get through.
Picking a direction at random, Subaru began running, thanking her past self for not giving up on the nightly jogs. Carrying an unconscious girl wasn’t ideal, but with her past cardio, she might just get away from the witch.
At least, that’s what she thought until after only about thirty seconds rushing down the street, she heard the witch shout behind her.
Weirdly, she thought she heard her say the word “Heal”, but it was likely just a bargaining move.
“A silver haired witch is trying to freeze us!” Subaru shouted at the top of her lungs, her voice sounding even more panicked than she realized she was.
To her shock, and pleasant surprise, she actually heard some people shout out in support. “Why are you chasing them?” “Is that silver haired magic user an elf?” “Is it really a witch?!”
Subaru took a quick glance behind her shoulder, and saw a human wedge form between her and the pursuing witch, who even seemed to stop. God’s blessing upon this wonderful world and its helpful people! This wonderful world where she, Natsuki Subaru can escape the witch!
Refusing to waste the opportunity, she mustered everything she had and began running as fast as she could, with the young girl in her arms.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4: Never needed anybody’s help in any way
“That was touch and go, but that would be a successful quest, right?” Subaru pondered aloud.
Having run with the young girl in her arms until they had mostly left what was probably the market district behind, Subaru found a bench at a quiet stretch of the canals running through part of the city. She wanted to avoid another encounter in a dark alley, so this area near one of the bridges seemed like a good place to stop and collect herself.
“Would be awfully nice to get that XP drop now! Just saved a damsel from an evil witch! Hello?” Subaru said aloud again, waiting for a sign that refused to come. She started to realize that neither the combat, nor improvement systems in this world likely follow the usual conventions.
The girl — who Subaru believed one of the thugs named “Felt” — she carefully laid down on the bench, placing her backpack under her head. The girl was definitely breathing, and she didn’t seem to have difficulty doing so, which was a good sign, but she appeared unconscious, having passed out sometime between Subaru picking her up, and losing the witch.
Given her shabby clothes, and the way she climbed the wall, Subaru had to conclude she was probably of some rogue class… Though then again, she wasn’t sure that concept would really apply here anymore.
There was a painful looking purple discoloration on the girl’s left leg, halfway between her foot and knee. Subaru tentatively touched it, only to find it cool to the touch. Remembering the palm sized orb, and the chills blowing through the air when the witch was practicing her magic, Subaru concluded she was probably hit by some sort of ice spell.
“Magic.” Subaru uttered, with revelation. “There really is magic here!”
She didn’t remember the witch doing anything fancy, or making grand incantations, which was disappointing. It took away a certain something from special abilities like magic, that all you have to do is just “do it”. It was part of why western superheroes were infinitely inferior to the likes of Ultraman. Still, if magic itself exists, then maybe she could learn it too!
A weak groan from the girl quickly returned Subaru’s focus to her. Seeing that she seemed uncomfortable, Subaru did her best to adjust the backpack under her head. She wished she knew a bit more about first aid. The girl had heavy bruises on one of her shoulders, and even a cut, though it wasn’t too deep. Subaru would have had to move the girl’s head to really do anything about it though, and she remembered that should be kept to a minimum, even though it seemed, luckily, the girl didn’t land right on her head.
The occasional sharp pain in her right forearm, reminded Subaru that while the bleeding mostly stopped, she still had a nasty cut. She probably should have taken the first aid kit out of her bag before resting the girl on it.
The girl whimpered again. Strangely, seeing the unconscious girl writhe in pain filled Subaru not with sad sympathy — though some of that lingered in her too — but with a warm gladness. Gladness, that the girl is here at all. Safe. Subaru didn’t even know her, but something drew her to the girl. Maybe it was the adrenaline. Maybe it was that rescuing her was the most exciting moment in the not even two decades of life Subaru experienced thus far.
“Maybe, quests and objectives manifest as subconscious urges in this setting, and I’ll get the XP after she wakes up.” Subaru pondered out loud vainly, returning to her thoughtful pose, with her hand on her chin.
Glancing over the small body, a small hilt caught Subaru’s eyes, sticking out from behind the girl’s back. In the excitement, she hasn’t really thought about examining her equipment. With the way the girl was moving, she might have had some enchanted Ring of Fleetfoot or perhaps her long red scarf was woven with griffon hair!
As for the blade, hidden in a sheath behind her back, there would be no harm in checking if perhaps it’s engraved with some ancient ru—
Just when Subaru was about to grab the hilt and pull out the sword, the girl suddenly moved, slapping away Subaru’s hand, awoken perhaps by instinct, as her only way to defend herself was threatened.
“Back off!” the girl said, weakly, doing her best to push herself up with one hand, while the other was trying to draw her blade.
Clearly not in full control of her body yet, as she tried to get up from the bench besides the canal, the girl pushed herself off instead, and began thumbling over the edge, into the canal. Subaru quickly grabbed her, only to be greeted by the now uncomfortably familiar sensation, of a knife being placed against her neck.
“Hey, hey, I just caught you!” Subaru protested in a tone more indignant than scared, though quickly raising her hands and backing off, as soon as she was sure the girl wasn't going to fall into the water.
The girl kept holding the knife in Subaru’s direction with a shaky hand, while with the other, she began frantically tapping her small yellow jacket, before reaching into what likely was an inner pocket. Whatever she found there seemed to calm her down, as her shoulders relaxed a bit, and she gave a brief exasperated sigh, before her eyes narrowed and she returned her attention to Subaru.
“Don’t even think about stealing from me again!” she shouted angrily.
“Now hold on! A little gratitude might be in order! Do you have any idea how much trouble I went through to save you?!” Subaru responded in kind, realizing that the girl is in no position to get off the bench, and Subaru already backed off enough that the girl’s knife couldn’t reach her.
“What are you talking about?” the girl asked, clearly trying too hard to sound authoritative. A moment later she gave a painful yelp, and grabbed her shoulder.
Even though the girl was now threatening her with a knife, Subaru couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. It was a wonder she was conscious at all, after a fall like that.
“What did you do?” the girl asked, moving her feet off the bench, and making one brief attempt to stand, before clearly realizing her left leg won’t be cooperating any time soon.
“A silver-haired witch cast an icy spell at you, hit your leg, and you fell off a roof!” Subaru explained. “And then, a certain someone, not naming names, but maybe someone that is unjustly getting a knife pointed at them right now, went and rescued you! Why, if you ever found that person, maybe some thanks would be in order.”
The girl didn’t respond right away, just giving pained breaths. She looked each way, even tried to turn around to get a better grasp on their location, but based on her immediate twitch, twisting her back was also not a good idea. She gritted her teeth and groaned, not lowering the knife impotently held at Subaru still.
“As far as rescued damsels go, this one should be a lot more grateful.” Subaru muttered under her breath.
Felt — if that was her name — seemed to have finally noticed the backpack besides her on the bench. She quietly touched the back of her head, which rested against it until just now, leaving an indent in the bag. Then, she turned her look to Subaru, examining her body, before obviously connecting that Subaru’s tracksuit and the backpack had matching colours and patterns.
Finally, she lowered the knife, though not letting go of it.
“Am I to take it you finally figured out I’m on your side?” Subaru asked in a prideful tone. “Is there anything you maybe want to say to your gallant saviour?”
The girl gave Subaru a long look, seemingly not sure what to make of her, before sighing, and beginning to push herself on her feet again, balancing on her right leg alone this time.
“Yeah, fine.” the girl said. “Thanks for your help. Just don’t expect a reward, I didn’t ask you to do anything, and I’m not falling for the ‘I helped you, so you owe me.’ scams.”
“S-scam?!” Subaru was outraged. “I could have died back there saving you! There was a freaking ice witch!”
“Stop saying Witch! It was just some magic user! Stop acting like you slew a Great Beast, when all you did was run away from someone stronger!”
Felt seemed to have managed to stand on her right foot. Subaru wasn’t sure how the young girl could manage it in her condition. She had to admit, the girl was surprisingly strong. Sadly, any amount of admiration she could have felt towards her, was currently being drowned out by the total lack of any gratefulness.
“I could have left you there!” Subaru said, wagging a finger at the girl.
“Yeah, and I should have left you there!” Felt responded. “Oh, please, I’m begging you, I don’t want to die!” she quoted in a weaselly, mocking tone.
Subaru clenched her fists, and she felt the cut on her right arm reopen from having strained her muscles.
“Well, fine, then I’ll leave you to it!” Subaru announced. “I’ll go find a different event to pursue! See if I care!”
With that, Subaru marched up to the bench besides Felt, and grabbed her backpack. The girl weakly pointed her knife at Subaru as she did so, but let her do it.
“Stupid ungrateful brat.” Subaru muttered to herself, stomping away, back to square one. “Who does she think she is, treating her savour like that?”
Yeah, no, she was too good for this. What does Natsuki Subaru need with pursuing a level one street rat’s side quest? No, something’s still bound to pop up. Something has to.
“And besides, why wouldn’t I ask for help? No one wants to die, right? Pretentious idiot.” she continued to murmur, as she reached the corner of the building closest to the canal.
Then, Subaru heard a pained groan from the bench.
“I just need to go. Find another event. A better random encounter.” she said to herself, but stopping in her tracks.
This would have been the moment when she should hear another pained groan, and then she has to make the dramatic decision to go or stay. Instead, all she heard was light shuffling, and slow hops.
Subaru punched her own forehead a few times with her wrist. The event design was honestly well below sub par.
“You need help.” Subaru said with a groan, turning around.
“I’m not hiring you, leave.” Felt responded, continuing her slow hops along the low wall bordering the canal, without even looking in Subaru’s direction.
“I’m offering to help. Seriously, don’t you know how to just say yes to a free deal?”
“There is no such thing as a free deal.” Felt muttered lowly.
“Honestly, how far do you think you’re going to get like that?” Subaru asked, looking at the girl, barely making progress by leaning on the low wall to move forward. “You do realize that wall just goes over the bridge there, circles around the other side, then comes back over here through another bridge, right?”
“I don’t know what you want out of me, but you’re not going to get it, so just leave me be!”
“You’re impossible!” Subaru shouted.
Each little hop she watched the girl perform filled Subaru with anger. Part of it definitely was that Felt would rather pointlessly do this, than give Subaru a chance to progress, but underneath it, there was something else. Something much more infuriating, that Subaru couldn’t quite define. Or, perhaps, she’d rather not.
“Fine, you don’t trust a free deal!” Subaru said. “So how about this? Let’s say I’m new in town, and I could use some information. I help you get where you’re going, and in exchange, you answer my questions.”
Felt stopped in her tracks for a moment, still not looking at Subaru, just thinking.
The girl tentatively tried putting a little weight on her left foot again, only to quite visibly reaffirm that walking isn’t an option.
Felt took a deep breath then said: “Fine. But I’ll only answer the questions once we’re at the loot house.”
“Great to see you saw reason!” Subaru said, putting her hands on her hips, and puffing out her chest proudly. “Now then, before we head out, there is only the small matter of a certain apology, to a certain valiant rescuer?”
After a moment of silence, Felt just turned away and continued her awkward hopping.
“Okay, okay, fine!”
Subaru was getting tired of this, but she couldn’t watch the girl torture herself like that.
“Let me pick you up.” Subaru said, reaching for Felt’s hips.
“I will not be carried like a—”
“Let me stop you there.” Subaru interjected, officially out of patience. “How far is this loot house.”
“About half a mile, that way.”
“Down the hill?”
“See I’m not going to play hopscotch with you halfway across town.”
Right. It should have occurred to Subaru sooner that they probably don’t have the same games here as back on Earth. Or have different names for them perhaps.
“Point is, I would honestly rather go back to the three thugs and the witch, or magic user, or whatever she was, than walk twenty paces an hour because you’re too proud to just be carried. So stop whining and let me pick you up!”
Felt’s face turned red. It was obvious she wanted to tell Subaru to go to hell. Well, if this world even had a concept of hell. In the end though, she must have known that Subaru was right, as she turned in place, and hooked one arm around Subaru’s shoulder, letting herself be picked up.
“There we go. Isn’t this better?”
“If you take me anywhere other than the loot house, I will stab you.”
“Right, of course you will.” Subaru noted, then looked around. “Which reminds me, I know you said you’ll only answer my questions once we get there, but I might need you to break that promise.”
“Which way did you say it was?”
Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Our troubles are all the same
Subaru had expected from her first impressions of the city of course, that there would be richer and poorer districts, but it really was a strange experience walking in one direction and visibly seeing the houses become progressively more and more run down.
Initially, she was following Felt’s directions, as the young girl in her arms pointed to streets to take, but after only about 10 minutes of walking, they dozed off. For all the tough front she put up, Felt’s injuries were clearly quite severe, and even that pathetic attempt to hop on one foot back home was enough to take whatever little energy she still had left out of her.
Meanwhile, in spite of all the cardio of the past years that Subaru congratulated herself over, she could feel her own stamina draining. Carrying a girl in about her mid-teens around like this was pretty taxing. Still, Felt was Subaru’s only lead, or well, objective at all. She had nowhere else to go, nothing to do and…
Looking at Felt, her head slumped against Subaru’s shoulder, sleeping as peacefully as someone in her state can, it was impossible to hang onto the anger she felt over the girl’s past comments.
Subaru wanted to say something cool out loud a couple of times. It was definitely the kind of situation in which proper fantasy heroes would boast about their valiance. To wake the girl however, would have been a great sin, so Subaru buried her urges as best she could, only muttering a line or two about how perhaps saving Felt might get her recruited to some secret order. Maybe catch the attention of this world’s Robin Hood!
Joining the Merry Men wasn’t her first thought on evaluating her place in this world, but she could see it working. Maybe she was summoned to teach Earth Science to a ragtag band of lower class freedom fighters and topple the dogmatic bureaucracy, run by evil spellcasters and witches?
The thought made her shudder with a measure of fear, as after that last encounter, she’d rather not face a sorcerer for a while. Still, it would fit a formula perfectly if she became a saboteur DaVinci! There was quite some excitement to be had in that!
Eventually, Subaru reached what was undoubtedly the slums of the city.
Contrasting the fancy stonework buildings and streets further in, most of this area was overgrown with grass, the “roads” little more than the paths stomped free of vegetation over the years. The buildings were mostly wooden, with only a couple showing signs of proper foundations, most apparently just erected straight out of the dirt, with broken window shutters hanging limply to the side, and even broken roofs becoming a feature of practically every building.
Normally, this kind of place would have made Subaru feel extremely exposed, and it did to a degree, but she remembered what one of the thugs said, about how no one would want to mess with Felt, on pain of losing access to the loot house. She wasn’t quite sure what this loot house was, but it sounded pretty important. Sounded a bit like the secret hideout of a Thieves Guild.
Not quite sure where to go anymore, Subaru thought of waking the girl up, only to spot a couple of kids playing with rocks in a nearby, half collapsed building.
“Hey, kids!” she said loudly, though keeping her voice limited, to let Felt sleep.
On spotting her, the kids quickly stood up and walked to a door leading to a not yet collapsed part of the building.
“Wait! I just want to know where.” she suddenly realized Felt never said where they are going, just that it’s in the slums. “Uh, do you know where the loot house is?” she took a guess.
The kids didn’t respond, just disappeared through the door and closed it behind themselves.
“Geez. Roll out the red carpet why won’t you.”
Come to think of it, Subaru hasn’t seen many people around. Well, it made some amount of sense. It was probably still just the early afternoon, and everyone’s off doing their job. Manual labour or services, from the looks of this place.
She thought this, though frankly she wasn’t paying as much attention to the sun as she should have. For all she knew, days might last fifty hours here. If they were normal days, then based on the sun’s position, depending on what time of year it is, it could have been anywhere between 3 and 6. She took a quick mental note on having to figure out what time and date system they have here.
“Excuse me!” she said, spotting a man up ahead, trying to fix a loose door from the looks of it.
Upon turning to Subaru, he put down his tools, but instead moved his hand to behind his back. Having seen Felt sheath her knife in a similar place, Subaru stopped in her tracks.
She opened her mouth, trying to think of something cool to say, but feeling the weight of the unconscious girl in her hands, for once called forth her better reason.
“I don’t want any trouble, I’m just trying to get this girl home!” she explained quickly. “I think she might want me to take her to the loot house, but I don’t know where it is.”
The man hesitated for a moment, then lowered his arm and began to walk closer.
Arriving at the two of them, the man gave Felt a quick look and asked what happened. Subaru awkwardly summarized the incident in the alley, though leaving out the part where Felt likely would have been gone from the alley by the time the sorceress arrived, if not for Subaru begging for her help.
“Sorry about reaching for the knife, it’s unusual that a stranger would be bringing Felt around in that condition. But I guess you wouldn’t be heading that way if you didn’t have good intentions.” he said, scratching his head. While the girl never confirmed this, having had two people call her Felt more or less confirmed to Subaru that that is her name.
Subaru also noticed that even though he was now standing next to them, he tried to keep his distance, probably not wanting to be associated with what happened to Felt. “Guess people really don’t want to mess with her.” Subaru thought.
The man proceeded to give a series of directions to the loot house along with its description, ending on a note that he’d prefer if his involvement wasn’t mentioned to Old Man Rom, apparently the owner of the loot house. Subaru shrugged and noted that since he never gave her his name, she couldn’t even if she wanted to, to which the man smiled and simply said “Live Strong!”, which with a bit of uncertainty Subaru returned in kind.
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“For a rat…” came in a deep booming voice through the door.
Subaru was caught quite off guard. Having finally navigated to what by the man’s description should have been the loot house, her arms long since crying for relief carrying Felt for about an hour now at least, she didn’t think she’d have to answer a riddle to get in, which this very much sounded like.
Subaru kicked the door two more times.
“ For a rat! ” the voice said louder.
“Look, I don’t have a password if that’s what’s going on. Can you just open the door before my arms fall off?”
“Then lay off the door!” the voice grunted annoyedly, without opening the door. “No password means you’ve got no business here. And who told you about this place anyway?!”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake!” Subaru grumbled. “I’ve brought a girl called Felt, she’s been injured badly!”
“What?” Without further notice, Subaru heard what sounded like something heavy being moved, then the door opened with a great swing.
Before her stood the hulking figure of a man with dark, tanned skin. No, actually it might not even have been a man. A shaved gorilla maybe? With white hair running down his impossibly muscular chest and arms, his wrinkled head bald except for eyebrows that looked more like two halves of a handlebar mustache that got lost, and his knuckles hanging down next to the knees of his short legs… This was definitely not an ordinary human. And that didn’t even take into consideration that he towered over her to the point where he could have used Subaru as a club, if he wanted to. Though that thought only crossed her mind when she saw the massive wooden club behind him that was almost bigger than her.
His eyes widened, and his mouth hung open. “Quickly, bring her in. Who did this?” he ordered, reaching one giant hand behind Subaru and urging her inside what at first glance looked like a store, rather than the mysterious thieves’ guild hideout that Subaru was hoping for.
Once Subaru was inside, the old man closed the door, blocking it with the aforementioned Subaru sized club.
It wasn’t exactly homely inside. Subaru couldn’t identify a bedroom, or even living room through any of the doorways present. The closest thing to a comfortable spot in the room being a dirty, ragged rug placed in front of an unlit fireplace. She opted for it as the best place to put Felt.
As soon as the girl was on the floor, before Subaru could even enjoy the relief of her arms finally being able to move freely, the large man placed a hand on top of her head and pushed her back, giving her a mouthful of his massive fingers.
“Ew!” she exclaimed, coughing up the dirt, some of which tasted like it was resting peacefully under his nails for a decade.
Without comment, the giant crouched down next to Felt, gave her a look, then hurried to what resembled a bar, before returning to her with a grimy bottle, and emptying its watery contents on her face.
In short order, Felt awoke, coughing and wheezing.
“Felt, what happened? Do you know that woman?” the old man asked, taking a step to the side to give Felt a look at Subaru, who was still digging pieces of dirt out of her mouth, hardly presenting the most appealing image.
“She’s—” Felt began, pausing to think. “I did something stupid, and got knocked off a roof. She’s new in town, and she’d help me get here, if we answered some questions.”
Subaru wanted to clarify she actually wanted to do it for free, but then again, that’s not the only thing Felt left out, so perhaps it was best to leave it there.
The old man gave Subaru a look over, but it looked like some tension left his body after Felt’s explanation.
“I’m going to fetch some wet cloths for those bruises.” he said, looking at Felt. “And you might want to clean that cut too.” he added, looking back at Subaru, and pointing at her arm.
In spite of the constant numbness, Subaru had almost forgotten about her cut in all the excitement, having grown used to it. She really should have used her first aid kit the first chance she got, but hopefully it was better late than never.
Taking off her backpack and opening it, to her great displeasure she remembered the time she felt like something popped in her back, while knocking down that restaurant’s back door. The good news was that it wasn’t anything in her body. The bad news was that it was quite clearly the small bottle of antiseptic from the first aid kit, as the thick stench of alcohol hit her as soon as she opened her waterproof pack.
Pulling out the dented plastic box of the kit and opening it, she saw that the glass bottle was indeed shattered to pieces inside, with the gauze’s packaging torn open, seemingly having soaked up most of the antiseptic.
Very much not looking forward to it, Subaru unzipped her tracksuit’s jacket and began taking it off, leaving her right arm for last, much of its sleeve having turned dark crimson and glued to her skin from the blood that escaped the cut. Hoping it's the right move, she finished pulling the jacket off her arm with one quick pull. The sharp pain that for a moment made her think she’s about to tear her wrist off her body, suggested it probably wasn’t the right move.
While weirdly, her arm was hurting worse than when it was cut, and blood began flowing out all over again, at least the jacket was off. Without giving any mind to anyone else where, she carefully pulled the inflated, antiseptic-soaked gauze from the first aid kit, and began rolling it around her forearm. She was very glad that the black shirt she wore under her jacket today only went down to her elbow.
“Odd thing to be carrying around.” the old man said, returning with rags and more water. “Are you some kind of healer?”
From the way he was looking at Subaru’s gauze, she felt that he likely hasn’t seen its sort, at least for some time. He clearly understood its purpose though, so Subaru had to conclude medicine is either very expensive here, or since magic apparently exists, only something used rarely to supplement the work of magical healers. Either way, it was probably best to denounce it.
“I only had this much, by chance.” she said, while taking out the luckily unbent scissor from the kit, and cutting the gauze.
“Here, you should drink something.” the old man said, putting one of the grimy bottles on the bar. “On the house.”
Realizing she hasn’t drunk or eaten anything in some time, Subaru nodded, and grabbed the bottle. Taking a quick swig, she almost spit it out. It was water, clearly, but probably sourced in a dirty stream or well nearby, based on its earthy aftertaste.
Noticing that the giant was about to apply wet cloths soaked in the same water to Felt, Subaru sensed she should intervene.
“Ah, wait, you should use this!” she said, offering her gauze. “It’s soaked in alcohol so…” It occured to Subaru that with healing magic, or with a medieval society, they might not even know about disinfectants. “Consider it a herbal remedy?”
“How much?” the giant asked simply.
It took a moment for Subaru to realize that he was offering to buy, but this didn’t feel like the right moment to start trying to figure out their monetary system.
“Free!” she said. “Felt’s got a bit of a cut on one of her shoulders, and this would be better than uh, water.” she explained.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, neither me, nor Old Man Rom is going to rob you.” Felt began. “But you sound awfully rich, as you keep offering things without compensation.”
“Actually!” Subaru exclaimed, pushing her chest out, putting one hand on her hip and pointing with her other thumb back at herself. “As far as money goes, I am completely broke!”
“So you’re just unbelievably stupid.” Felt noted, with a small giggle in her voice, that Subaru felt more sneering than warm.
‘Rom’ on the other hand, gave a disapproving hiss and rubbed Felt’s head, to her protests. “What a thing to say to someone who helped you.”
“Well, as a matter of fact,” Subaru continued, a little disheartened. “Where I come from, it’s considered common sense to help a stranger in need, if one can!”
That wasn’t strictly true. Most people back home would actively avoid helping strangers to not be bogged down in the implied responsibilities of getting involved. Still, if claiming the opposite would make her seem less crazy, then it’s a lie worth telling. It’s not like they can go check.
Old Man Rom took the gauze offered to him, but it became clear soon that with his massive hands he’s not the best equipped to apply it. To further protests from Felt, he asked Subaru to help, which she accepted, giving Felt a cruel smile, before beginning to apply the bandages tightly. Naturally, not tightly enough that it could do harm, she wanted to help the girl, but maybe a few tugs here and there to make her regret being so rude earlier wasn’t going to hurt. Well, that also wasn’t correct. It definitely hurt.
From his looks, Rom seemed to have noticed what Subaru was doing, but perhaps seeing that ultimately she was helping, didn’t comment. When Subaru was done bandaging both Felt’s left leg and her shoulder, Rom went back to the bar, grabbed two glasses as well as a bottle with noticeably different shape to the others.
“I think the two of you earned some milk.” he noted, pouring the contents of the bottle in the glasses.
While the colour of the milk seemed a bit suspect, in a new world even blue milk wouldn’t have been out of the question, so on seeing Felt carefully put the glass to her lips, Subaru took a swig too.
The two girls retched in unison. It was definitely milk, but with a familiar earthy aftertaste.
“This milk is nasty, old man!” Felt protested.
“Yeah, this is definitely watered down.” Subaru added, though honestly it wasn’t the worst taste she had in her mouth since she set foot in here.
“Now look at the two of you, complaining about a free meal! No way for two broke girls to behave!” Rom grumbled. “Besides, the only other thing I have in here is water, and alcohol. I’d have offered alcohol, but I don’t need people talking about how I get young women drunk in here.”
“That’s in awful taste!” Subaru said.
“And it tastes awful too!” Felt concurred, the two girls sharing a short laugh.
“Eeeh.” Rom grumbled again, standing back up, rubbing his head. “You two come into my loot house, bleed all over it, and then still find new ways to piss me off.”
Walking behind his bar, the old man took out a bottle from under it that was once again shaped differently than the ones holding water, and the one holding milk, then held it up and emptied its contents into his mouth with one long swig.
“Ah, that’s the shtuff.” he said, shaking his head a bit.
“Are you seriously getting drunk now?” Felt asked in an annoyed tone.
“Itsh for the pain.”
“We’re the only injured ones here.” Subaru noted, holding up her bandaged arm.
“You make me deal with two injured fools, instead of getting to enjoy my rest. I’d say that makesh me an injhured party.” Rom said. “Alsho, I can think clearest when I have some booze in me. And I just realized, you never even said your name.”
“Hey, right, I forgot to ask.” Felt added.
Caught a bit off guard by this question, Subaru paused to think of a cool way to introduce herself.
Standing up, she pointed her arm straight at the ceiling to announce: “I am Natsuki Subaru, a travelling adventurer from a distant island nation beyond the eastern shores!”
“Ohhh? I didn’t know there were people on islands to the east.” Felt said.
“There aren’t.” Rom said simply. “There’s nothing beyond Lugnica to the east.”
“Wha—?” Subaru was quite surprised. Sure, not everything went by the usual playbook so far, but she was certain that at least the pseudo-Japan convention must work.
“It sounds like you got pretty turned around in your travels.” Rom noted.
“I-I guess so.” Subaru nodded, closing her eyes and putting a hand on her chin, to try and salvage some sliver of her coolness.
“Why are you doing that thing with your hand?” came from Felt.
“I… I don’t know.” Subaru admitted.
“Well, it looks stupid.”
“Right.” Subaru had to conclude that this girl had no sense of style.
A bit of silence fell on the room, broken only by Old Man Rom sloshing the remaining contents of the milk bottle, before forcing a cork in it.
Not knowing what to do, Subaru looked at Felt trying to get comfortable on the rug and picked up her backpack.
“Would you like to use this as a pillow?”
“No, it was actually pretty uncomfortable.”
“I don’t think I have anything here, but maybe the young Subaru here could go fetch a pillow from your shack?” Rom interjected.
“No way, I don’t want her rummaging through my stuff!”
“What, you have anything you’re worried she’d take?”
“As if I was stupid enough to leave anything there I don’t want to lose!”
“There you have it.” Rom concluded victoriously, before turning to Subaru.
“Ah, sure, yeah I’d love to help!” Subaru nodded. She wasn’t entirely there, having been lulled into comfort by watching the other two arguing so warmly. They didn’t seem related, but they were clearly very close, and honestly, even with the way Felt behaved earlier, they were nicer to her than anyone else since she got here. Anyone in years, except her parents, really.
“Great.” Rom nodded, ignoring Felt’s further protests, describing the location of a shack, noting that she’ll recognize it by a green sofa.
Moving the club back out of the way of the door, Rom courteously opened the way for Subaru.
“Oh, and I should say.” the old man noted, as Subaru stepped outside. “Thank you for bringing Felt here safely.”
Somehow those words, even coming from a grizzly old gorilla of a man, filled Subaru with warmth. What’s more, that warmth might have been more than just the stench of booze oozing out of his mouth!
As the loot house’s door closed, Subaru turned around, recounting the directions in her head.
“Wait.” she stopped. “Did I seriously just downgrade from saving a damsel, to a freaking fetch quest?”
Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Words can wait until some other day
Walking through the same streets, but without forty unconscious kilos in her arms, Subaru’s attention began wandering the slums and horizon.
Off in the distance, the inner city, and probably the noble district towered over the rest of this settlement. Even before she had noticed this layout of the city, but looking up from the slums, though she hasn’t gone much further, the fancy buildings likely representing noble estates, seemed unreachable. Sure, she could just start walking towards them, and she knew she’d get there, but it felt like there was an invisible wall. Those distant buildings with colourful roofs and walls, spires and more might as well have been a different world compared to the barely standing houses down here, giving home to those that higher society had clearly forgotten.
“Every world has its rich and poor.” Subaru said to herself aloud.
She thought putting it in such words would weave it into a narrative. No one feels too bad about the downtrodden in books and visual novels, because their misery just serves to elevate the deeds of the heroes that strive to bring them justice. But with the taste of the dirty water still in her mouth, knowing this is likely what many drink down here? There was no comfort in acknowledging it as inevitable.
Repeating Rom’s directions in her head, she made sure to memorize her way back, as she was heading to the ‘shack’ Felt apparently called home. The old man wasn’t exactly detailed about it, but with the mention of the green couch, Subaru expected it would have some sort of front porch to keep it in.
On her way, she noticed a few people beginning to appear in the slums. First, she was concerned that she might be attacked, but everyone she saw looked very tired, back from long, unforgiving days at work.
While hoping that she won’t have to learn to call this place home, the truth was, she was stranded here penniless and not even able to read the most rudimentary signs. The loot house also didn’t turn out to be the lustrous headquarters of a secret order, at least so far as she’d seen, so for now, getting recruited by a ragtag band of renegades was also off the table. Which, naturally, circled her mind back to just what she’s even doing here.
Knowing full well that her social skills aren’t the best, she still tried to leave a bit of an impression, greeting people as they passed by with happy smiles and waves. Most ignored, with a few just nodding her way, and yet others giving her a simple “Live Strong”. She hasn’t heard that back in the city, so it must have been a motto of the slums.
Eventually, she spotted the last checkpoint Rom mentioned, a building with a half collapsed tower at one end. This meant, Felt’s little shack with a front porch was just around the corner—
While the old man called it a shack, Subaru didn’t realize that it wasn’t just a pet name.
Before her, just around the corner from the half-collapsed tower, was a clumsily assembled… Box. She wouldn’t really even call it a shack. She’d call something with some standing space a shack. This was quite simply various wooden planks, even tables with their legs sawed off, piled on top of eachother and nailed stable in a few places. All that could fit under this jumbled abomination against the art of architecture, was the green couch Rom mentioned. Subaru wasn’t sure Felt could even fully stretch out under there.
A new feeling appeared, a pit in Subaru’s chest. She couldn’t quite name it, but she knew she didn’t like it.
When Felt was so dismissive of Subaru earlier, and her insistence of helping for free, Subaru wrote that off as the girl being a brat. Standing here, a few yards from this sad shelter from the winds, Subaru understood that here, there really are no handouts.
She wondered if the people up on the hill even know of this other world so far away outside their windows.
Walking to the shack, she stuck her head into the tiny space to get a better look. Sure enough, in the other corner of the moth-eaten couch, there was a dusty red pillow. Likely the only one Felt owned. Holding it before herself, Subaru thought about her expectations. For reasons she could no longer recall, she believed the girl would be living like some secret pirate king. In a shanty, sure, but one with charm and a certain homely feeling. Maybe some sort of exotic pet in a cage, a few not especially valuable, but unique knick-knacks scattered on a table, mementos of high adventure. She seemed like that kind of girl, with her big, red eyes, those serious stares, the confident attitude that hasn’t left her even when she could barely walk.
Subaru wiped her eyes.
“What am I doing?”
Taking one last look inside Felt’s home, she noticed a glint. It was a small metal bowl. Looking back out, she saw a burnt out spot free of grass, with a small stone circle. Probably where Felt would cook food.
Making her mind up, Subaru grabbed the bowl, and took off back towards town. She remembered passing by a well not far outside the slums. It should have clean water.
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It added about ten minutes to her quest, but she did it. With her optional bonus objective sloshing in her hand, Subaru returned to the slums. It was rather embarrassing, as after carrying Felt around for an hour, her arms almost refused to hoist a full bucket from the well, and then she proceeded to splash half the bucket’s contents on the street while filling up the bowl she took from Felt’s shack, but that didn’t matter, she had it.
Passing by some familiar buildings, she concluded she was about halfway to the loot house, with her legs already crying from the extra strain. A bit disappointing with all her diligent cardio, but expectable.
Not wanting to spend tomorrow barely able to stand, she decided a short rest might be best, and walked off the dirt path constituting one of the slums’ streets, towards the ruins of an old stone brick building, to find someplace to sit. By the fact that it was stone, and even had almost Roman looking half-collapsed pillars, Subaru concluded it likely has been here since before the slums, or maybe even the city itself, with moss running up its walls.
Then, stepping through the stones, she saw something surprising. With the sun beginning to set behind her, her shadow was cast through a hole in one of the walls, onto a large bed of vibrant yellow flowers, so strangely beautiful in this dreary place.
Placing the bowl of clean water besides herself, she sat down on the stones.
When she was little, she used to love going to the park. Her dad would race her. He’d let her win of course, though it was only years later that she’d realize that there was no other way a grown man could be outpaced by a five year old.
She used to like the trees and flowers, even the grass there. Though only because they were pretty or soft, or gave shade. She’d always wonder why the old folks who sometimes spent whole days out there talking, looked at the greenery with such reverence.
Sitting here, surrounded by the homes of people who come home, fall in bed and shiver through the night, likely cursing the world so far up the hill… Sitting here, gazing at flowers just as lovely as anywhere, not caring one bit for the silent cruelty of their surroundings, she felt something. Was this a portion of what they felt?
Maybe it was just the evening light, but the flowers reminded her of the colour of Felt’s hair, and the words “Live Strong” echoed in her mind.
“I haven’t seen you before.”
The voice came soft spoken and elegant. A man’s voice, but incredibly gentle.
Turning around, she saw a young man standing there. His hair was bright red, like hot steel, his eyes as vibrant as the flowers, but blue as the clearest midday sky. He was handsome to a point where it became mildly infuriating, as he stood there in his finely tailored clothes, with an engraved golden sword pommel sticking out of a sheath on his side, as if he had stepped out of a painting depicting the very idea of what it is to be the medieval equivalent of a gentleman.
“May I approach?” he said softly, his tone carrying a sense of humility and kindness.
“I- uh, yes.” Subaru said, confused. She felt something akin to whiplash, but she struggled to frame exactly how she could feel that just from someone appearing.
With a few steps, the man moved behind her, and gazed out at the field of flowers.
“Do you like flowers?” he asked, turning to Subaru.
Subaru didn’t respond right away. Did she like flowers? “I guess I used to. Then I didn’t really care for them. And now I saw these, and I’m not sure.”
“Quite beautiful.” he said, his face in a serene smile turned towards the field.
Subaru wondered what a man like him, of such obvious high standing could possibly be doing here. Could it be? Is he—? She wanted to say it out loud! Is he the one who summo—
“You must excuse my ill manners.” the handsome man said, his voice cutting through Subaru’s thoughts. “My name is Reinhard van Astrea. It must have been strange that I said I haven’t seen you before. Truth is, I’ve spent a lot of time in the city, but I’ve never seen anyone dressed like you before. May I have your name?”
“Yes, I’m new in town. My name is Natsuki Subaru.” Subaru responded, with an excited smile. She thought to herself: ‘Of course, he’s pointing out that I am wearing a tracksuit from Earth! He’s segueing into revealing that he’s here to guide me to my destiny!’
“A strange, but lovely name. Allow me to welcome you to the capital, if none had before.” he said, sweetly. “Truth is, I’m here looking for something.”
‘Here it comes!’ Subaru thought excitedly, almost jittering.
“Earlier, I encountered a bit of a commotion in the market.”
“What?” Subaru blurted out.
“A bit of a commotion.” Reinhard repeated. “I must beg your pardon, you sound as if you were expecting something different. Are you perhaps waiting for a message?”
“I-” Something inside Subaru desperately wanted to stand up and slap him across the face for getting her hopes up, but she instead just turned her head back to the flowers, her face burning. “No, please go on.”
“I see. Well, the details are unimportant, but I’ve learned that the young woman the commotion was centered around had a small insignia stolen, and I’ve been asking around, trying to see if perhaps someone saw it. Have you by chance encountered someone with a small dark triangular token, with a golden dragon emblem? It would have a small red gem in the middle.”
Subaru looked up at Reinhard. His face looked a little more concerned, but his expression was just as soft.
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that.”
“I understand. Thank you for your time.” Reinhard here gave Subaru a gracious bow. “I must excuse myself, as it is an item of some import. I hope you enjoy your stay in the capital.”
“Th-thank you, you too.” Subaru replied, twitching upon having realized what she just said. Reinhard didn’t seem to have taken notice, and simply turned around, walking off at a casual pace, along with Subaru’s last shred of hope that someone will tell her just why she ended up here.
Perhaps it was pretty vain, hoping some fancy noble would draw her away from the slums.
Good gods, she’s been in this slum for maybe two hours, and she’s already dreaming of a knight in shining armor to save her.
“Get yourself together!” she exclaimed, slapping her cheeks.
She returned her eyes to the flowers, noticing her shadow had grown considerably longer over them.
With a sigh, she stood up, grabbing the bowl of water, and stepping back over the crumbling building. She shouldn’t make Felt and Rom think she got lost.
She took one last look at the flowers before leaving.
‘I like flowers.’
Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Insatiable an appetite
“For a rat.”
“I still don’t know the password.” Subaru replied.
“Oh, it’s you.” the old man’s voice boomed through the door, soon after which Subaru heard the club move, and the door opened. “What do you have there?”
“I brought some clean water from a well.” Subaru noted, holding up the bowl, then using her other hand to take the red pillow out from under her arm. “Could you please start a fire?”
Rom gave her a bit of an odd look, but then just shrugged and went to disappear in one of the side rooms.
Subaru put the bowl of water down on the bar, before fluffing the dust from the pillow and walking to Felt, who was still laying on the rug before the fireplace.
“How are you feeling?” Subaru asked, but for some reason Felt didn’t seem to want to talk, staring intently at the empty fireplace.
Subaru was mildly annoyed by getting the cold shoulder yet again, but after everything she saw, she started to understand that the girl has her reasons. Subaru still had no idea what Felt’s job was, if she even had one. Realistically speaking, the fanciful idea of her being some sort of rogue, was just something Subaru invented for herself. Whatever Felt did for a living likely went out the window for a few days because of that fall. If it was anything like a steady job, she might get replaced. And it’s all because she came back to help her.
As Subaru placed the pillow next to Felt’s head, she quietly raised it, so Subaru could push it under her, but didn’t say a word.
Just then, Rom came back into the main room, with a stack of firewood under one arm, and some sort of star and two rocks in the other hand.
Plopping the wood in front of the fireplace, then kicking it in there, Rom scattered the star on top of it, then with only three tries with his great hands, he lit a spark, smashing the two rocks together. Subaru couldn’t help but feel bad for her parents, who once collectively took 30 minutes to start a fire while camping.
Subaru thanked Rom, then grabbed the bowl of water, and walked to the fire before realizing, it’s not exactly going to be easy to balance it on burning logs. Apparently reading her mind, a moment later she found Rom holding a large piece of iron next to her, with four legs and grating on top. She put it over the flames, almost burning her hand, then quickly placed the luckily easy to balance bowl on top of it.
She never realized until now how difficult it must have been centuries ago, cooking everything full analog.
“You left your jacket and bag here.” came in Felt’s voice, to which Subaru turned around in surprise.
“Oh, right, I did.” she noted.
“We could have locked you out, kept your stuff, and you couldn’t have done anything about it.” Felt added, looking past Subaru and into the fire.
Subaru glanced over at her backpack and jacket, which she left on a stool next to the bar. They looked exactly like how she left them.
“I didn’t think you’d do something like that.” Subaru said simply, looking back at Felt.
“You really are an idiot.”
“Maybe, but this was one of two times this broken clock will be right!” Subaru exclaimed confidently, raising her head.
“And now you’re talking nonsense too.” Felt said looking at Subaru for a moment, before turning her head the other way.
Subaru walked over to her backpack, reached in and pulled out her surprise: The ramen she bought just before arriving into this world.
“What’s so wrong with me trusting you?” Subaru asked, walking back to the fire. “Are you untrustworthy? Should I be worried that the old man will use his massive hands to pick my pockets while I’m not looking?”
“Hey, it’s you lot who are tiny.” Rom noted, then as Felt seemed in no mood to continue, he scratched his head and continued. “Life isn’t exactly easy out here. Most people out here, especially young people, gather up in gangs for protection. With how little you worry about your belongings, you act like some spoiled noble’s brat that never had to worry about a thing, and yet you’re clearly not.”
“Nope! I am totally broke!” Subaru concurred loudly, in a proud tone.
“Where do you get off being so carefree? Huh? With the way you’re carrying yourself, how are you even going to feed yourself?” Felt asked.
“Well, I’ve got this, and also some chips.” Subaru noted, holding up the ramen. Glancing at the bowl, the water was almost ready. From his look, it was clear that Rom had no idea what the ramen were, and chips were drawing a blank too. Felt Subaru could guess was the same, though with her looking the other way guessing was all she could do.
“And what happens when you eat that?”
Subaru paused to think. Felt just made a good point. What was she going to do for food tomorrow? With all this running about, she never even stopped to think about the most basic question of survival.
“I’ll figure something out?” Subaru asked unsure.
“Idiot.” Felt repeated plainly.
“Look.” Rom said. “It’s not my business, but you seem to be in decent shape, and you really helped out Felt. I could ask some people if they need a labourer. Not great work, but better than having to sell your body.”
Subaru wasn’t drinking, but she managed to choke on something at the end of that sentence.
“Time for ramen!” Subaru exclaimed, ignoring that comment entirely. Grabbing a pair of tongs next to the fire irons, she lifted the hot bowl of boiling water, and carefully placed it on the floor.
“What are you even making?” Rom asked.
“Ramen! ” Subaru announced. “You wouldn’t happen to have one of those cloths from earlier, and a sp—” Subaru hesitated for a moment. She should have taken a better look around in that restaurant so she knew what utensils they use here. “—oon?”
Rom obliged with a puzzled look on his face, which quickly switched to surprise as Subaru opened the bag of ramen and began adding its contents to the bowl.
“I’ve never seen rations like these.” he said simply, to which Subaru just shrugged. Her ‘eastern island nation’ gambit already failed, there was no point in taking another shot in the dark.
Subaru circled around Felt, and sat down in front of her, taking a spoonful from the ramen and carefully eating it after making sure it cooled down. It was not gourmet cooking, not even close, but given what she had to work with, it was good enough.
“Care for a taste?” she asked of Felt, who had already turned her head the other way again.
“Stop joking. You’ve got two meals left from what you said, and now you want to give one away?” Felt asked, not looking at her.
“There is a saying where I come from.” Subaru said, holding up a finger. “It says, there is nothing sadder than a meal not shared with friends.”
Actually, Subaru wasn’t sure if that was a Japanese saying, or an American one. To that matter, she wouldn’t have been surprised if it was a saying from a TV show, or just a couple of things she accidentally combined in her head. It didn’t really matter.
“So where’s mine?” Rom asked.
“You’d eat this whole bowl in one gulp, old man. I saw you with the booze earlier.” Subaru said, holding the bowl closer to her chest and away from Rom.
“What kind of culture promotes eating with friends, but scorns hunger?” Rom asked annoyedly.
“Fine old man, there is a yellow bag in my backpack. You can try a little of what’s in there.” Subaru said.
“You’re impossible.” Felt protested, turning her head to Subaru, before awkwardly pushing herself into a sitting position. “Give me that.”
Felt grabbed the bowl and pulled it from Subaru’s hand, before snatching the spoon too. She took a moment staring at the contents of the bowl. She probably never saw anything like it.
“I thought you weren’t going to eat.” Subaru said.
“It’s my bowl. And my grandpa’s spoon.” Felt replied, before tentatively taking a sample.
As Felt put the spoon in her mouth, Subaru could hear Rom tear open the chips behind her and begin chewing.
“Oooh—!” the two could be heard in unison.
Subaru closed her eyes and nodded knowingly. It was good to see that at least some conventions won’t die.
“This stuff is delicious.” Rom announced, as he began chowing down the chips.
Felt on the other hand just proceeded to take another spoonful, then another, then another.
“He-hey, I’d like to eat too!” Subaru protested. “I said try a little old man!”
“I thought you didn’t care and were just giving away stuff for free.” Felt said mockingly with a full mouth, but then after a longing look at the bowl, handed it back to Subaru.
Subaru ate four spoonfuls quickly, before one of the two would decide to snatch it from her again.
“I have to ask.” Subaru began, after swallowing. “Why are you so upset with me?”
“Because you’re an idiot, and you’re going to starve to death.” Felt replied.
“And this is upsetting you because?” Subaru asked, twirling her hands in confusion.
Instead of an answer, Felt picked up the red pillow and threw it at Subaru’s face, who just barely managed to stop it from knocking the bowl out of her hand on the way down.
“What was that for?!” Subaru asked, getting angry.
“I hate that it bothers me!”
Subaru didn’t get it. She is upset, because she’s upset? Something told her, even if she didn’t skip out on almost all social interactions over the past year, this would still not make sense—
Subaru froze up for a moment, as something clicked, and something else skipped inside her.
Putting the spoon in the bowl, she took her right hand and placed it on Felt’s head, beginning to rub it vigorously.
“Let go!” Felt cried in protest, but Subaru could do nothing, but continue and laugh. “Let go, or you’ll lose a finger.”
A moment later, Subaru had no choice but to comply, as Felt pulled her head out from under Subaru’s hand and moved in to bite.
Over the next half hour or so, the mood lifted. While finishing the bowl of ramen, and coming to terms with the fact that the chips proved too good for Rom not to finish himself, Subaru began asking the questions that technically she was owed for carrying Felt all the way here.
While she was certain that there would be many gaps in her line of questions, she found out a number of basic facts about the kingdom, at the cost of looking like an even bigger weirdo. As it would happen, she was in the capital city Lugnica, of the Lugnica Kingdom, once ruled by the Lugnica family.
Rom and Felt could make no sense of how Subaru could have made it into the city, roughly in the center of the kingdom, without being aware of any of this. Sadly, Subaru had no real answer to give besides ‘I was magically summoned here’, which didn’t seem like the kind of thing one just casually shares in conversation, so she opted for amnesia, after finding out that her name doesn’t match the conventions of any of the other realms Rom or Felt could list. While Subaru felt somewhat bad about lying like this, amnesia was preferable to insanity.
Though Subaru was curious about the capital, mainly the old ruins nearby that seemingly outdated the city itself, Felt dismissed her questions as pointless, as it’s all just a bunch of mossy rocks at this point. Instead, Felt told Subaru about places in the capital, plazas, parks, and towers. From the way she talked, it was clear to Subaru that Felt spent most of her time in the city walking the rooftops, rather than the streets. While charming in a way, almost like living the life of a bird, it sounded lonely, and familiar. Felt also prattled on for a bit about a specific bell tower near the main market she liked to climb and relax in, since no one ever goes there aside from evening and noon, but Subaru wasn’t paying too much attention. She was instead lost in Felt’s youthful excitement. Subaru herself was only 17, she couldn’t have been that much older than the girl. So why did she feel Felt’s attitude so distant yet precious?
Eventually, the conversation turned to the loot house itself, which to Subaru’s surprise actually wasn’t a shop. Sure, from the name she should have been able to guess, but the fact that everything was lined up with little illegible signs attached to them and that there was a bar that could double as a counter, really gave it a certain general store-like feeling. Instead, it was a storeroom where looted or otherwise stolen objects could be stored and traded, essentially a sort of underworld warehouse. Subaru would normally have thought it strange that thieves would collect their stuff all up in one place, since why wouldn’t the person running it use it to go into business for themselves, but after spending some time with Rom, she had an idea as to why they would trust him. He really fit into that gruff looking marshmallow archetype.
Subaru’s curiosity at this point turned towards the various items, which ranged from useful specialty tools to jewelry. Most anything anyone could have found valuable and moved.
There was one item though, that really caught her eye, stored away in one of the side rooms. For the first moment seeing it, she mistook it for something else, which disappointed her, but still. There was a long string instrument of vaguely guitar-like proportions.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It’s a lyulyre. Been sitting here for months.” Rom said.
“What’s so special about lyres from Lyu?”
“What? No. A lyulyre. You never heard of a lyulyre?” Rom asked.
Subaru noted that she’ll probably have to just roll with whatever she hears. Between this, and ringas, she was beginning to sense a pattern.
“This might sound silly, but do you know what a guitar is?” Subaru asked, dodging the question aimed at her.
Rom just furrowed his brow, which almost made the two sides of the handle bar join together.
Rom just raised his arms in a shrug. “Neither of those mean anything to me.”
“They’re instruments from my homeland… I knew a little bit of pianos, as I really liked them, and would—”
Subaru was going to explain how she used to be in the music club and tried to learn to play the piano using the school’s, back before she quit it, along with going to school for the most part, but in this world, she’d just make herself sound unbelievably posh saying she used to go to school. If they even have schools at all, so she left the sentence at that.
“On my 11th birthday, my father got me a guitar.” she continued, changing the subject. “I think he didn’t really know how to bond with me, since I wasn’t a boy, so he took my interest in music, and did his best to make it a common interest.”
She wished she had her guitar with her, when she was summoned. It was of course not the same as the one she got at age 11, her dad buying her a new one after she outgrew the previous one. Practicing on it was practically all she did during the day, aside from browsing the internet and chatting with strangers. She was probably never going to see that guitar again. Nor—
Subaru wiped her eyes, they were wet for some reason.
“So, anyway, a guitar looks sort of like this lru- lyru- lyurlyre thing. That’s why I asked.”
Rom picked up the lyulyre and flipped it around in his hand a few times.
“If you can play this, you could probably make some better money with it than physical labor. Or at least, it would be less grueling work. Since it hasn’t found a buyer in months, I could ask the one who deposited it, if they might be willing to work out a deal with you.”
“Seriously?!” Subaru asked, excitement welling in her chest.
“Hey now, it’s not mine to give away, so don’t get the wrong idea. For all I know they put it here so later they can use it as a gift, or they might already have a buyer!” Rom corrected.
“Just trying means a lot!” Subaru said, wiping her eyes again. Stupid dusty warehouse. “This honestly makes up for that nasty milk.”
“Are you telling me you were holding a grudge for that? Kids these days.” Rom handed the lyulyre to Subaru. “Here, at least try playing it. No point working out a deal if you find you can’t even make heads or tails of it.”
“Old man!” came Felt’s voice from the main room. “There’s a guest!”
Rom turned around and hurried back as fast as he could without knocking over all of the shelves and their contents.
Returning to the main room, Subaru heard gentle knocking on the front door.
“It’s probably my client.” Felt said, trying to raise to her feet, but the old man quickly instructed her to stay put before stomping to the door and grabbing the club. Instead of just putting it to the side though, he now held it in one hand, while saying three cryptic lines, which were likely the password. Subaru couldn’t quite make out the answers though.
Seemingly satisfied with the answers, Rom opened up the door, though not putting the club down.
In the doorway stood a tall slender woman, around Subaru’s height. She wore a grand black dress, almost as out of place here as that noble Subaru encountered earlier, and beautiful all the same. From the design of the dress, which had a dark, perhaps purple-ish colour, though it was difficult to say in the light, a fanciful collar, and a split down the middle all the way below her navel, exposing much of her stomach and basically her entire cleavage, Subaru had to conclude that she was some sort of high class courtesan.
If Subaru’s choices were between manual labour, and dressing like this woman, she’d pick manual labour any day. Though she was infinitely grateful that she now held a potential third option in her hands, vaguely aware of the absurdity of having gone from hoping to be a martial arts expert to a minstrel in the course of less than a day.
The woman wore a serene smile, though there was something about it. It wasn’t quite the same kind of smile as the man from earlier.
Rom turned toward Subaru and asked her to grab a bottle of alcohol.
“I’d prefer something mild.” the woman said simply, to which Rom corrected to milk.
Subaru had no reason not to obey, so she placed the lyulyre on the bar and located the bottle of watered down milk from earlier.
“This?” she asked, wondering if perhaps the old man had hidden away a bottle that was less of an acquired taste, but the giant just nodded, to which Subaru proceeded to grab a mostly clean glass and pour.
“I must ask, I understand the old man’s presence, but I’m a bit surprised by this young woman, and the fact that you my dear are sitting on the floor.” the woman said simply, stepping inside.
“She’s a friend.” Felt said simply. “As a matter of fact, if not for her, I couldn’t have gotten here with your package.”
“Natsuki Subaru.” Subaru introduced herself with a small bow, as she thought may be appropriate, placing the glass of milk before the guest.
“My, how courteous. You may call me Granhiert.” the woman responded with a gentle nod. “I take it you are a bard of some description?”
“I’d like to be!” Subaru nodded. “Though honestly, I’ve never tried with this instrument before. I only just found it.”
“Oh, is that so? Well, don’t let me stop you!” Granhiert replied, turning away from the bar and slowly walking to Felt before bending her knees a bit to get closer to her level. “You said you have my package?”
“And you have the payment?” Felt asked without pause.
“Of course.” Here, the woman reached under her dress, and pulled out a small pouch from what was undoubtedly a most inappropriate place for a pocket.
Upon being handed the pouch and checking its contents, Felt reached to the inside of her jacket, where Subaru remembered her checking earlier, and pulled out a small item, handing it to the woman, who examined it briefly before putting it away and returning to the bar.
“I do not wish to force you dear, but since you mentioned your desire, I’ve wanted to hear you play.”
Subaru felt her face turn red. Granted, she did say she wanted to play, but she hasn’t played with an audience in well over a year. And she never even tried with this instrument before.
“I’m not sure if I’d be any good.” Subaru admitted.
“Ah, don’t worry about such things, dear. You need to be confident. If you can’t play today for our small audience, you’ll never play.” she said, with a playful flutter in her voice.
Embarrassed, Subaru walked away from the bar to get some space and sat down next to Felt, since when she practiced, she’d always do it sitting.
Taking a few tentative strums, she tried adjusting the tightness of the strings. She was no musical prodigy by any measure of the imagination, but after over six years of practice with a similar instrument, she did manage to mostly figure out how it was probably supposed to sound. Luckily, while the width of the neck and a couple of other details were a bit off, she could mostly reach everywhere she needed to. Which meant that she’d only need a song.
Strumming on the lyulyre a few more times to familiarize herself with its sound, she realized she wouldn’t be able to play most of the songs that she knew, since it seemed incapable of producing a deep enough sound for them. But then, it hit her.
Beginning, at first clumsily, she started up the opening melody of an old classic. One of the first songs her dad helped her learn. She’d have liked to start on something Japanese, as a minor matter of national pride, but as she kept strumming, even with the occasional mistake, it sounded almost like the song was always meant to be played on a lyulyre. The soft melody complimenting the instrument perfectly. Before she knew it, she just started speaking the words.
“ Here comes the sun! Du-du du-du Here comes the sun and I say… It’s alright. ” she sang in English, before coming to her senses and putting the instrument down. “I’m sorry, my singing probably isn’t very good.”
“What was that?” Felt asked, with genuine surprise on her face and in her voice. “You sounded like you were casting a spell.”
Subaru heard Granhiert giggle. “No, that’s not quite magic. It did sound rather odd though.”
“Yes, I’m sorry, I should just do the instrumental.”
“No, it actually sounded great!” Felt said. “I have no idea what it means, but it sounded nice.”
“W- Really?” That feeling from earlier began welling up in Subaru’s chest again.
“Well, I mean, I guess. You could play some more.” Felt said.
Subaru tried not to, but couldn’t stop herself from beginning to giggle. She reached out for Felt’s head again. Felt tried knocking Subaru’s hand away, but she dodged and pet her anyway.
“This officially makes you my first— No!” Subaru raised her voice, and puffed out her chest, before continuing with a wink and her thumb proudly held up. “This makes you my Number One Grouppie !”
Giddy with excitement, Subaru picked the instrument back up again, and restarted the song.
She couldn’t help but feel stupid. She didn’t need to be summoned here to be some sort of doom flag dodging villainess. She didn’t need to go on whacky comedic adventures, and she most definitely didn’t need to become a hero that will go on to slay the demon king.
This. This is all she needed to be here for. How could she not realize it? It was her one dream, to get away. Sure, she’d usually think smaller, get away to a different prefecture, preferably to a different country. But this? This was perfect too. A perfect isekai fantasy.
“ Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter! ” Never before did Subaru feel this song so well, her cheeks burning with joy.
Granhiert drank the glass of milk, at the bar, waving for Rom to pour her another, which the giant seemed content to do, putting his club to the side and pouring the drink out.
“ Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here. ” Subaru had to sniff between lines, as a bit of snot has begun very unattractively running down her nose.
“It’s far from the best performance I ever heard.” Rom noted. “Still, it is surprisingly pleasant.”
“Indeed.” the woman concurred, swaying gently from side to side with the music, reminding Subaru of a charmed cobra.
“ Here comes the sun! Du-du du-du! ” As she sang, Subaru leaned in towards Felt, who repeated “Du-du du-du” with her, if only a bit out of sync.
Granhiert drank the second glass of milk, carefully licking its residue from her lips.
“ Here comes the sun, and I say! ”
The woman stood up from her stool, with her serene smile still ever-present.
“ It’s alright. ”
Crash, then a meaty thud, followed by a lesser one.
Subaru froze in place, with the last note she strummed continuing to resonate for a few drawn out moments on the instrument.
Old Man Rom was on the floor, behind his bar, something red and wet splattered around where he stood a moment ago. His head… His head was on the bar.
The silence was broken by Felt’s scream, followed by the sound of her desperately shuffling to get on her feet, only to fall and scream in pain, as the first leg she attempted to stand on was the one in bandages.
Granhiert stood there with a long strange knife in one hand, clapping the palm of the first with the other.
“Wonderful, wonderful! Truly wonderful!”
“ How dare you?! ” Felt screamed, making another attempt to stand, getting on her feet for just a moment before losing her balance.
“Your performance was truly enjoyable. Very well done.” Granhiert said, looking at Subaru, with that same smile.
“What is happening?” Subaru muttered while Felt desperately pulled out her knife and threw it at the woman, who just casually flicked it in the air like it was nothing, making it impale the wall behind her. “What is going on?!”
“Neither of you need to worry about that. Not a thing. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of your bowels once you’re gone.”
With that absurd line, the woman leant forward, aiming herself at Felt. In that moment of pure despair, there was only one thought in Subaru.
Tossing her instrument aside, Subaru jumped forward, between the woman and Felt, grabbing onto the young girl with both arms, and holding Felt tightly to her chest.
She then felt a strange, burning sensation at her waist, beginning to spread upwards. Did she manage to dodge? Perhaps she scraped her back on the floor, and that’s what’s so hot, she just needs to kick and get up, take Felt and—
Looking down at Felt in her arms, she saw blood froth out of the young girl’s mouth, her eyes twitching for a moment, as they rolled back, her face bearing a terribly pained expression, before—
There was no more light in her eyes. Something precious and beautiful in those twin fire gems and gone out, never to return.
But Subaru saved her! Felt was on her other side! She got there before the blade!
It was only then that Subaru noticed her own feet behind Felt. Only, they were further than ever before. She couldn’t feel them, or move them.
She realized in that moment. She did get in the way of the blade, only it didn’t matter.
The burning sensation continued to spread.
She couldn’t understand. Why was this happening? What have they done? Rom, and Felt, who were so kind. She couldn’t have done anything horrible enough to deserve this. All she wanted… All she wanted was to—
As the burning continued to get more and more intense, she felt her stomach deflate, as something vital shifted down in her body, and a numb rhythm she never realized was always there stopped.
Wheezing, her body desperately grasping for air it was never going to get, all Subaru could see was the woman lean over her. She said something, her smile still unchanged, but her voice came from miles away.
With the last fleeting embers of thought, Subaru turned her head back down, at the lifeless body of the young girl who lived in a wooden shack erected over a moth-eaten green couch and squeezed her with the last bit of strength her arms would ever have.
‘I will save you. I will save you. I will definitely save you.’ echoed the last fully formed thought in her mind.
In her final moments, Subaru thought she saw an explosion of dust and rubble descend from the ceiling. But its cause and meaning didn’t matter anymore.
At that moment, Natsuki Subaru lost her life.
Chapter 8: Chapter 8: Can you play me a memory?
“—Hey, what is with you? What did you zone out for?”
Subaru blinked. What was she doing? She could have sworn she had a girl in her arms, and—
Looking down, her feet were just the right distance away, there was no burning sensation, everything was fine. Why was she daydreaming about something so awful?
“Hey, kid, I asked you a question!”
“Look, are you here to buy? What do you want, ringas?”
The man standing before Subaru looked familiar. Green hair, bandana on his head, one of those sleeveless jackets that don’t even go down to the navel.
“ Surfer bro .” Subaru muttered, trying to recollect her line of thoughts.
“I’m sorry, were we talking about something?”
“Are. You. Buying ?!” the man repeated, shoving a large red fruit in Subaru’s face.
“Uh, no, I’ve got no money.”
“Then get away from my stall, and make room for customers. Shoo, get a job!”
Subaru stepped back, bumping into a large man with a pig’s face, who just grunted before pushing her to the side and continuing on his way, carrying a wooden crate on their shoulder.
‘Right, the market. I was at the market.’ Subaru thought, though it didn’t feel right. The sun was shining high above, just after noon, or maybe before it, she had no idea where east and west was. Wasn’t it night just a minute ago?
Grabbing her forehead, as if to try and keep herself steady, Subaru stumbled out of the way of the people pushing through between the stalls.
‘When did I start talking to him?’ she didn’t remember. Wasn’t he the guy who told her to go away, when she tried to pay him with Yen? He also had the same kind of jacket as Felt.
“Felt!” Subaru exclaimed.
The images in her head made no sense, but the feeling of knowing the girl was in danger overwhelmed Subaru. And the old man! Didn’t he— And Felt too?
No, she must have just imagined it, she got confused. Maybe she just drank some of old man Rom’s booze after the song, and had a nightmare. Yeah, and she just doesn’t remember! ‘That must be it!’
Subaru never drank before. Well, one time her father let her take a sip of champagne when she was 14, and she played a song for her parents on their anniversary, but that was it. Even that giant sounded a bit sloshed after drinking the booze at the loot house, if Subaru got a taste for it, that would probably explain things. She just needs to get back there, and ask what happened.
“Hey, old man.” she said, stepping back to the fruit stand, before the green haired surfer looking man.
“Watch who you’re calling old! And I told you to get lost!”
“Yeah, I will in a minute, but do you know which way it is to the loot house?”
“What are you asking me that for? Who do you think I am?!” he retorted, sounding genuinely angry. “Get away from my stall before I call the guards, thief!”
Sensing that she must have crossed a line, Subaru quickly turned and hurried away. Surely, if she wandered enough, she could find the way back to the slums!
“Ah yes, of course! I must retrace my steps!”
A few people looked at her with a mix of annoyance and pity as she exclaimed this to herself in the middle of the market.
The first place she could think of, that from what she remembered would be right around the fruit vendor’s stand, was that alley where she almost got—
The memory of the burning sensation spreading from her waist flared up in her mind, and she unconsciously lifted her right arm, which seemed perfectly fine. Why was she—?
“Loot house. Gotta get to the loot house.” she said to herself to focus. She’s zoning out again, she just needs to get back to Felt and Rom, and then it will make sense.
Jogging around the market for a brief time, looking for the alley, a strange sense of deja vu rested in her. For as strange and alien the half-man, half-animal people of these streets were, how bizarre the hair colors of the regular people, she couldn’t help but shake the feeling that she saw them all before.
Skidding to a stop before an alley with a few hops, she felt relief. This looked like the place! Which means that the restaurant she ran out of was just around a corner or two. Although, she never got a good look at that restaurant from the front, so she might not find it going that way. It’d be best if she headed in the alley, and checked which direction the broken door is pointing.
Walking into the alley, she headed straight for the dead end in the back, the knocked down door should be right about there.
To her surprise however, she didn’t see a single broken door, as she arrived at the back. Not even freshly painted ones, that could have suggested they got it fixed fast. One of the doors looked especially familiar, reminding her of the one she knocked down, but it was in perfect order, so it couldn’t have been.
“Maybe the city reuses assets a lot?” he pondered to herself, recalling her sense of deja vu. If trash NPCs and locations were just copied and pasted repeatedly, that would explain things. Sure, it was strange to think about it like that, but she was literally summoned to another world, so even the jank of low budget games would be par for the course, especially with the bizarrely unbefitting opening she got.
“Are you staking out the place?” came a voice.
A familiar voice she wasn’t happy to hear.
“What made you think you could move in on our turf?”
The man approaching her, with his short, bluish gray hair and two buddies, definitely looked like the same idiot as the one who almost gutted her yesterday. For a moment, fear gripped Subaru’s heart, but then she remembered how much they didn’t want to mess with Felt, and her fear dissipated.
“I had hoped that the witch would take you.” she said, turning to them confidently, striking a pose, with her torso tilted to the side a bit, one arm resting at the bottom of her ribcage, and the other hanging down by her side.
“Wha— Screw you!” the guy responded. “Do you think you can insult us on our own turf? That’s going to cost you dearly!”
“ Ha , as if!” Subaru said, making sure to put extra emphasis in her ‘ha’, by whipping her head back a bit. “You should realize that ever since that little incident yesterday, I’m good friends with Felt, and old man Rom as well. So if you ever want to have access to the loot house, you’d better stick to your lane, and leave me alone!”
The three goons looked at eachother with confused expressions.
“What incident? What happened yesterday?”
“The—” Subaru let go of her pose for a moment in surprise. How could they not—? She quickly returned to her pose, and raised her hanging arm at them, pointing with her hand turned to the side a bit, palm to the sky. “You know perfectly well what I’m talking about! When Felt fell from the roof here, and I saved her, while you got cornered by that sorceress!”
“What is she talking about Larkins? You ran into a magic user?” asked the large bruiser on Larkin’s side.
“Damn it Gaston, of course not. She’s just trying to confuse us or some shit.” Here, he turned to Subaru, reaching for his knife. “You really shouldn’t make fun of people like that! We’ll make sure you learn that!”
Were they playing dumb? They must be. Are they pretending they don’t remember her, so if it gets out that they hurt Subaru, they can plead ignorance?
‘Wait, in this alley, they could just kill me if they wanted, and no one would know it was them.’ Subaru thought in a panic.
“You don’t want to do this!” she exclaimed, going from her cool pose, to a defensive stance.
“Oh no, babe. You made plenty sure that I want to do this a lot.” Larkins said with a cocky smile. “Now start dropping your valuables, and I might reconsider.”
Subaru of course didn’t have any valuables. She still had her phone, but her food and the first aid kit were basically done. She might still have had the scissors in her backpack, but it wasn’t long enough to really be used as a weapon, only meant to cut gauze.
“W-what I meant was, you don’t want to do this, because it would force me to unleash the ancient technique handed down in my family for generations!” Subaru began, beginning to do some fancy move with her arms.
“Aw, she’s cute. She’s playing Sword Saint, like a four year old.” came from the shorty on the left.
“Look who’s talking.” Subaru spat back.
“What— Hey ! Ain’t nobody makes fun of my height!”
“Don’t need to, it’s a joke on its own!”
“That’s it she’s going down!” the shorty shouted. “Give me one of you—”
As the short Moe Howard looking idiot turned to Larkins, Subaru saw the chance she was waiting for, kicking away from the ground, and sprinting straight at them.
The trio barely had time to react, and she was already a few steps from them, hanging to the left side of the alley.
Larkins attempted a wild swing at her, his face betraying how much her move startled him, but having had first hand experience with the range of the knife, Subaru dodged, jumping at the left wall of the alley, then kicking away from it to get back on the pavement.
On the way down, she kicked the shorty in the back of the head to push herself forward some more, and began sprinting for the alley’s exit.
Hearing some angry shouts for a bit, she glanced back as she reached the market street, only to see the trio stop some way back, yelling obscenities, and generic oaths of revenge. They obviously weren’t brave enough to pursue her into a crowd.
Pulling down on her eye, and sticking her tongue out, she gave them a proper farewell and disappeared into the bustle of the crowd.
Chapter 9: Chapter 9: This kind of dance can never last
In spite of her earlier annoyance at a clear example of reused assets, locating another alley of the same appearance proved difficult. Snaking through the market district’s streets, circling back around multiple times, no matter what she tried, Subaru couldn’t find the doppelganger alley with the broken door. She managed to end up at the one she escaped from earlier once, but even without venturing in, and risking a third meeting with the trio of thugs, she could identify it as the same by all the stands nearby.
It just didn’t make any sense.
While searching, her only form of progress, if one could call that, was spotting a bell tower that seemed to match Felt’s description. Indeed, one could probably see the entire market district from there.
It occurred to Subaru that perhaps she should try climbing up there, but she noticed a distant figure moving around in there, so it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Felt said she only went there when it was abandoned in the afternoons.
While gazing at the tower, thinking about how perhaps it would be nice to visit it together later, when Felt’s leg is better, she heard a cry echo through the market.
Turning there, she saw a small girl with green hair in a pink dress standing in a corner, crying her eyes out, and in front of her—
“What the hell is that witch’s problem?!”
Subaru had no desire to face off against the sorceress that hurt Felt, but seeing her there, standing in front of yet another young girl she must have been tormenting, filled Subaru with rage. It wasn’t enough that she attacked Felt in that alley, now she’s assaulting a kid looking like they’re barely old enough to walk in the streets? What is wrong with this silver haired elf?!
“Hey!” Subaru shouted. “Get away from her!”
She was taking a gambit, but she highly doubted that even a sadistic frost mage would dare start trouble in a crowd.
“Oh, ah, I’m sorry.” the elf responded, quickly straightening up from her crouch besides the innocent child, and looking to Subaru.
Subaru never got a good look at her before, but now, she saw all she needed to perfectly understand this sorceress’ place in the world.
Beautifully tailored, snow white clothes? Jeweled, star shaped brooch in her hair? Fair, refined features? Deep, royal purple eyes? Green jewel in her neck? A finer example of stuck up, privileged nobility there never was.
There was a certain innocence in her face, a gentleness that caught Subaru off guard for a moment, and it echoed in her voice too. However, Subaru wouldn’t allow herself to be fooled by this woman!
“I said, get away from her! ” Subaru repeated more forcefully, steeling her eyes, staring directly into the elf’s bewitching marbles, unmoved by the lie of their light.
This witch likely preys on innocents because she can get away with it due to her sheer status, but her uncertainty betrays her. Subaru could see that the elf’s immunity only extends so far as people do not oppose her, and by all that was right, she was going to.
“Oh, are you with this child?” the silver sorceress asked, as Subaru stepped between her and her target in a wide stance, holding her hands out to shield the toddler.
“You’re damn right I am! And I’m telling you, sorceress , to leave her alone! ” Subaru exclaimed.
A cold draft crashed against Subaru’s face for a moment, followed by the elf clutching at the green gem on her necklace. For a moment, Subaru thought that perhaps her gambit had failed, but the woman did not go on to cast a spell.
The silver-haired elf began blinking and awkwardly looking around, seemingly unable to match Subaru’s eyes. A clear sign of her guilty conscience! She seemed to go through a number of strange emotions, perhaps all an act, trying to find the correct mask to put on, switching between embarrassment, a flash of stern anger, and then concern, looking at the child, before finally sadness, as her eyes returned to Subaru.
Subaru remained unmoved by her act.
“I— I’m glad she’s safe, take care!” the elf said, bowing quickly, before turning around and hurrying off.
Subaru thought she might have seen a glint of tears in the elf’s eyes in the last moment, though it was probably nothing.
“Hey, hey, kiddo.” Subaru said, turning around and crouching down to be on the little girl’s level. “Sorry about that, the mean lady is gone now. What’s your name?”
The green haired girl just looked in tears at Subaru and continued to cry.
Subaru placed her elbows on her knees and rested her chin on her hands as she remained crouched before the girl. The girl was clearly upset, and since there were no other adults here, she was probably lost. A good target for a sadist’s torments.
Subaru tried thinking of a way to cheer her up, but was pulling straight blanks. She could buy her ice cream, but in addition to not being sure if that exists in this world, she had no money. She could play a game with her, but she seemed in too bad of a mood for teaching rules to, and Subaru knew no games that were local. It also occurred to her that kids love cartoons, but it’s not like she could just go and animate her a whole—
“That’s it!” Subaru said, snapping her fingers dramatically, only to lose her balance and fall on her ass.
The little girl stopped her crying in surprise, then began laughing.
“Huh.” Subaru noted. “I was going to sing you ‘ The Merry-Go-Round-Broke-Down ’, but I guess this will do too.”
The girl’s eyes went big. “The Melly-go-ran?” she tried to repeat.
“Hah, no. Sorry, it’s English for a carousel.” Subaru explained. Surprisingly, the girl seemed to recognize the word carousel, if not ‘English’, though then again, they might have something akin to carousels even here, if only muscle powered.
“What’s your name?”
“Uh, um… Plum!” the girl said, in a chirping little voice. “Is lady magic?” she then asked.
“Wait you mean me?” Subaru asked, Plum simply nodding. “No. Why?”
“Mewwy-go-raund! Magic!” Plum replied, as if it was obvious.
“Right, right.” Subaru said, holding her chin thoughtfully and nodding, as if she understood the little girl’s reasoning. “Well, Plum, do you know where your parents are?”
Plum’s eyes widened again, then she began looking around, her expression growing sad once more.
“Wait, don’t worry, don’t worry!” Subaru exclaimed. “Uh, look, I’ve got a friend I really have to check on, but I’ll get someone nice to help you, okay?”
With this, Subaru got back on her feet, grabbed Plum’s hand, held her head high.
“ Guards ! I need a guard !” Subaru shouted. She looked around for a moment, to see if she could see anyone in uniform that would react, then turned around to also voice her need in the other direction, just in case.
The moment she turned around however, her mouth wide open ready to scream for help, she found herself staring at a familiar shade of red painting the head of an impossibly handsome young man.
“Excuse me, I’m not exactly a guard, but is there any chance I could be of assistance?” he said gently, glancing down at Plum and giving the little girl a warm smile.
“Reinhard!” Subaru was quite surprised to see him here. “Uh, yes unless you’re busy.”
“Not at all. What may I do for you?” he asked, though he then furrowed his brow as his look returned to Subaru. “Actually, before that, the way you spoke… Something makes me feel like we’ve met, but I’m terribly sorry, I can’t recall.”
Subaru felt herself blush. Was it weird that she’d remember him, when he didn’t?
“Oh, I’m sure you were busy. I think you were looking for something at the time, I think.” Subaru said, waving her hand before her face, trying to physically wave away the awkwardness she felt. “Name’s Natsuki Subaru.”
“Well, I must apologize. I’m usually quite good at remembering people, I meant no insult.” Reinhard apologized, giving a small bow with his head, in an elegant fashion. “It is a pleasure to make your re-acquaintance, Subaru. So, what was it that you needed help with?”
“Oh, nothing big, it’s just that I’ve got an injured friend I must go check on and they’re quite far away, plus I’m kind of lost, so since this—” Subaru paused. “What I mean is, this little girl lost her parents, and I don’t have the time to help her look for them. Could you please help her out?”
“I see.” Reinhard crouched down, not caring that his fancy clothes were rubbing against the dirt, to be down on the girl’s level. “Hey little one. My name is Reinhard. What’s your name?” he said, greeting Plum.
Somehow, his mere presence seemed to have completely calmed the girl down, who utterly enchanted, reached out and began touching his face, which he just crouched there and allowed with an unwavering smile.
“Plum.” the girl said finally.
“Well, Plum, this nice lady asked me to help find your parents. Have you been walking, are your feet tired?”
Plum just nodded.
“Would you like to ride on my shoulder?”
Plum nodded again.
“Alright, up you go!”
With that, Reinhard gently grabbed Plum under her arms, and lifted her above his head, and onto his shoulders.
“Thank you for your help, Natsuki Subaru. I’ll take it from here.” Before Subaru could respond, he quickly added: “You did mention you were lost, correct? Do you need any directions?”
“Oh, actually, I’ve been circling around, trying to get to the slums. Last time I headed that way, I was in a bit of a hurry, and I don’t remember my way.”
Reinhard seemed surprised, but then simply smiled, and gave her a set of directions, wishing her a safe day, before turning around and walking off, shouting “Looking for Plum’s mother and father! Young girl with green hair!”, leaving Subaru to herself.
‘Come to think of it, it was pretty odd to run into him again.’ Subaru thought, but it was no time to ponder, she had to see how Felt was doing.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10: You’re not the truth
“For a rat, we—”
“It’s me, and you still haven’t told me the password.” Subaru said, having navigated back to the loot house at long last, thanks to Reinhard’s instructions.
“What?” came Rom’s voice through the door in a confused tone.
“It’s Subaru! You still haven’t told me the password.”
“Who sent you here? Who hasn’t told you the password?”
“Rom, are you drunk? It’s me! I came to see Felt!”
“So Felt sent you? What for?”
“This is getting ridiculous. Of course she didn’t send me, how could she?” Subaru groaned. “Wait, you didn’t make her stay in that rundown shack after she fell off the building, did you?”
Subaru could suddenly hear the club being moved out of the way, and a moment later, the door opened up, with the familiar sight of old man Rom towering over Subaru on the other side, club in hand.
“What did you say happened with Felt?” he asked, his voice growing colder and tense. Subaru was surprised she wasn’t hit by the stench of alcohol on his breath. Rom clearly must have been drunk to be this confused, only it didn’t show on his breath.
“I don’t know if you’re drunk, or joking, but it isn’t funny.” Subaru said, furrowing her brows at the now not so gentle giant. “I kind of lost track of things yesterday, then had a terrible nightmare about that woman who was getting some package from Felt. Actually, maybe she was entirely just a nightmare, I’m not sure, and I… I woke up in the market?”
Having said it out loud, the line of events started to make less sense.
“I— Rom, do you remember what happened to me last night?”
“Look kid, I don’t know what kind of scam you think you’re pulling, but you’re not confusing me. Come back when you have business here, and do not joke about Felt getting hurt.”
Without a further word, Rom then slammed the door of the loot house in Subaru’s face, who couldn’t help but just stand there stunned for a minute. Shaking her head, she finally thumped her fist against the door.
“Old man, this really isn’t funny. I just want to see Felt, is she okay?”
“She’s not here.”
“What do you mean she isn’t here? Who is she with?”
“How am I to know? Probably out on her own!”
“Her leg was almost broken yesterday!” Subaru shouted through the door. “How could she be out there alone?”
“I told you to cut that out once. I won’t say it again. She was fine yesterday!”
“No, she wasn’t! She took a fall off the roof in an alley, and I had to bring her here! Why are you acting like this?”
The door opened up again, and Rom raised his club, pushing it out the door and into Subaru’s chest, knocking her back, before stepping outside himself.
“I said I won’t tell you again.” Rom said calmly, but with a grim expression.
“You seriously don’t remember? Have you gone senile?”
Rom swung his great club, smashing it into the ground next to Subaru, in a clear warning shot. The blow on the ground was powerful enough that it shook the dirt under Subaru’s feet, causing her to fall on her back.
“You can’t be serious. We ate together! You offered give me a chance to buy that lyulyre in the back room!”
Rom turned his head, giving Subaru a better look, before his face turned positively angry, and he held his club at her.
“Have you been staking out the loot house?!” he asked, smashing his club at the ground next to Subaru again.
She had no choice but to begin scuttling backwards away from the giant, as he continued smashing the ground next to her, clearly not intent on hitting her, but close enough that she’d have to move.
“If you come near my warehouse, or Felt again, I will grind your bones to dust! The loot house is off limits to thievery, and I’m far from all that you’ll have to worry about if you break that rule!”
Continuing to scuttle, Subaru managed to push herself off the ground and clumsily get back on her feet. The old man wasn’t joking. She had no idea what came over him, but he was crazed! He really didn’t remember her!
Fearing that he might actually attack her in this state, Subaru turned tail and began running. Rom didn’t follow her, instead returning to his warehouse, and shutting the door.
“No way. No way.” Subaru muttered to herself, slumping down against a wall after running about a hundred yards.
‘Felt can’t be at the loot house. Even if the old man lost his memory, he’d know she was injured, if she was still in there. So she can’t be there.’
Subaru rubbed her forehead. None of it made sense. Her nightmare, waking up at the market. Everyone she met, acting as if they didn’t know her.
Jumping back on her feet, Subaru rushed off, following the path she took to get to Felt’s shack yesterday. It was the only other place Subaru knew of, where Felt could be in her condition.
A few minutes of running later, she turned and saw it. The shack was there, just as she left it. However, she couldn't see Felt in there.
“Felt?” she said, approaching the shack, hoping the girl might just not be visible, because she holed up in a corner of the shack blocked from view.
Poking her head inside, she found the shack completely empty. As one would expect, Felt wasn’t in there—
Subaru reached in, and grabbed the familiar red pillow at the end of the couch. Someone definitely brought this back.
“What do you think you’re doing snooping around in someone else’s home?”
Subaru raised her head in surprise, bumping it against the ceiling of the shack, making the whole rickety mess shake, and a clay pot that Subaru hadn't noticed before fall off of its makeshift shelf. That was definitely Felt’s voice.
“Whatever you were hoping to steal, you’re not going to find it in there.” Felt said, raising her knife at Subaru.
“Why are you pointing that thing at me?” Subaru asked, uncertainly raising her hands, still holding onto the pillow.
“Are you stupid?” Felt, leapt forward, swinging her sword at Subaru. “An intruder is digging through my home!”
Subaru jumped to the side, barely avoiding the blade. “That knife is not a toy!” she cried. “You’ll actually cut me!”
“What do you think I’m doing this for?!” Felt asked, hopping to the side with incredible agility, and stabbing at Subaru’s side.
Subaru barely managed to move the pillow between her and the blade before it could strike her. Naturally, it couldn’t stop the blade, but it could stop Felt’s hand which was holding it, which was good enough.
“Why are you doing this too?!” Subaru cried desperately, before freezing up as her mind went blank. “How are you doing this?”
While Subaru was stunned by a realization, Felt used the opportunity, ripping the pillow out of Subaru’s hands, and delivering a strong kick into her stomach, causing her to fall into the mud outside, wheezing.
Felt stepped over her, then quickly put her left foot on Subaru’s neck, her knife at Subaru’s face. It was clear that if she wanted, she could crush Subaru’s windpipe at the speed of thought.
“How—” Subaru started, but Felt just put more weight on her neck, making her gurgle the rest of the sentence. She wanted to know—, no, needed to know how Felt’s left leg was fine. It couldn’t possibly have been fine, not after just one day! Her pants were missing the left leg, so Subaru had a clear view. Felt’s leg was perfectly healthy. No sign of the bruise and frostbite left by the sorceress.
“Did someone send you?!” Felt asked in a commanding voice, poking the tip of her knife into Subaru’s cheek, just under her left eye, before slightly shifting her weight off of Subaru’s neck.
“Felt, why are you doing this to me?” is all Subaru could utter.
“Ah, you know my name. So you weren’t just digging around randomly! Why did you come, to steal something back?”
“ No !”
“Wait, so, you’re not here because I stole something from you, or someone who hired you?”
“Who’d hire me to steal anything back from you?!” Subaru shouted desperately.
Felt raised her knife a bit and rolled it in the air thoughtfully for a few moments.
“I guess you really aren’t cut out to be here on hostile business.” she said, still not taking her foot off of Subaru’s neck.
“So what do you want? Did you want me to steal something for you?”
“Felt…” Subaru tried desperately to put her thoughts into words, but they just wouldn’t come, her eyes blurring with tears.
“What’s going on? Why are you like that?” Felt asked.
“Have you forgotten me too?” Subaru asked.
“What do you mean forgotten? I’ve never— Hey, I’m not stupid enough to fall for whatever this act is.”
“You have!” Subaru felt the tears rolling down the side of her face, some flowing into her ears.
“It’s nice that you cry on command, but you’ll do better with that trick with a play crew!” Felt said, pitilessly.
“All of yesterday. You forgot it all. When you saved me, the ramen, calling me an idiot for being too trusting, saying you enjoyed my singing. All of it.”
Felt’s expression slowly shifted to one of pity, which was immediately followed by disgust and anger, as she took her foot off of Subaru’s throat.
“Get up, and get out of here. I don’t ever want to see your pathetic face here again!” Felt commanded, before adding “Crazy woman.” in a mutter.
Subaru got back on her feet for the second time in the past twenty minutes. She wanted to say something. Anything. She wanted to find the words that would make Felt remember. There must have been words that could fix whatever happened.
However, as she hesitated, Felt just cut through the air before her again as a warning. Felt wasn’t going to give Subaru a chance to fix this.
Heartbroken, she rushed off.
Passing building after building, her tears wouldn’t stop.
Why? Why couldn't anyone remember her?
She was going to learn the lyulyre, and make enough playing it to repay Felt for anything she might have lost because of her injury. She was going to take it one day at a time, perhaps becoming a wandering minstrel. That was going to be a great life, with two kind people at her back. That’s what was supposed to happen!
So why? Why couldn’t she just have that much? Just the humble life of a minstrel. Is that too much?!
Not even seeing where she was headed, she simply continued until she was sure Felt could no longer see her. Then she kept running. She wanted to run until there was nowhere left to run. Run out of this damned world!
Suddenly, her entire body crashed into something.
“Oh my, now where are you going in such a hurry, dear?”
Subaru took a few steps back to collect herself. Rubbing the tears from her eyes, she saw a familiar figure before her, that filled her with mortal dread.
“Hm? How odd. Whatever did I do to make you so afraid, dear?” Granhiert asked. It was definitely the woman from yesterday.
“N-nothing.” Subaru said. It really was nothing. Everything she had to fear in the woman… That couldn’t have happened. If it did, Subaru wouldn’t be here. “I just had a nightmare.”
“A nightmare? At this time of day?” Granheirt asked, with a giggle in her voice. “What about?”
“It was nonsense.” Subaru said, hanging head. “It’s just after yesterday— You don’t remember me either, do you?” she asked, dejected. “Not the loot house, not my music, or Felt’s package, or what—” Subaru shuddered, looking up at the woman.
Granhiert continued to have the same serene, yet not quite right expression she wore yesterday. Only, her eyes seemed ever so slightly wider.
“Felt’s package?” she asked.
“Yes.” Subaru nodded.
It was strange, but the way she picked out that detail, it felt like she actually connected to that. Could it be that this woman actually remembered?
“Please, Granhiert, do you remember? You were at the loot house. You drank two glasses of milk after paying Felt for a small package. I was there, and you asked me to play you lyulyre. Does any of this ring a bell.”
Granhiert tilted her head a bit, her expression shifting, adding a sense of mild confusion to her smile, before returning to normal. “Who told you about this package?”
“I don’t know!” Subaru said. “Felt, I guess, technically when she gave it to you? It didn’t really come up until you arrived.”
“I’m sorry, dear, but you seem very confused. Who did you talk to about this?”
“No one? I only brought up the package, since that’s what you were doing.” Subaru explained.
“This is all very strange.” Granhiert said, shaking her head, with her face shifting to one of compassion. “I’m afraid you are quite mad, my dear.”
“You think so too?” Subaru asked, grabbing her head with both hands. “I just don’t know what’s going on anymore.”
“There there.” Granhiert placed a hand on Subaru’s shoulder. “You won’t have to suffer much more.”
Subaru felt Granhiert’s arm hook around behind her neck as she moved her hand to cover Subaru’s mouth. She then looked down.
Crimson blood was flowing out of her stomach, and then fleshy tubes began sticking out before completely flowing out of her. The sight made her want to throw up, but as she realized, the very muscles and organs that would have made that possible, were what she just lost.
Indescribable pain and burning filled her body, centered on her abdomen. She tried to scream, but Granhiert wouldn’t let her, keeping Subaru’s mouth shut tightly.
As her body began to spasm involuntarily from the shock, Granhiert reached down, and lifted Subaru up, one arm under her knees, one around her neck, the hand still tightly holding Subaru’s mouth shut.
Granhiert carried Subaru’s shaking body off the empty street, and into a collapsed building just next to it, laying her down on the floor.
“Shhhh. Do you feel it?” Granhiert asked, not letting Subaru speak. “The warmth, the comforting warmth, leaving your body?”
With the arm that was holding up Subaru’s legs just a moment ago, the woman reached down to Subaru’s stomach, and drew a finger along what Subaru believed to be her large intestine.
The sensation was surreal, as if the woman had massaged the inside of her hips, while really Subaru could see her guts outside. The pain, while still present, began to change. Or perhaps it was Subaru’s perception of it that had changed. It felt familiar, inevitable. Much like her nightmare.
Granhiert licked the finger, getting a taste of Subaru’s viscera.
‘This can’t be happening. This has happened before, but it couldn’t, I died, but I didn’t.’ Subaru’s mind was a knot of contradictions. An unending series of impossibilities echoing in a great hall, drowned out by the sound of a blaring, deathly orchestra of pain and adrenaline fueled ecstasy.
“Mmmh, for a mad woman, your bowels taste so sweet!” Granhiert said, with a debauched, joyful look on her face. “I’m sorry, this must seem so sudden to you, but I couldn’t let you tattle your madness. This is no place or time for a commotion, but I just had no choice! No choice at all.”
Granhiert reached down, and grabbed onto Subaru’s intestines, squeezing them.
Subaru screamed in pain, completely muffled by Granhiert’s hand, still not letting go. Subaru screamed harder as Granhiert kept squeezing and squeezing.
Subaru felt as though she was going to suffocate on her own scream.
Granhiert just giggled with the delight of a small child, extracting all the joy she could find in what were once the contents of Subaru’s abdomen.
Air, Subaru needed air! She screamed away all she had, and she needed more, her body needed to scream, so she began sucking in madly, any breath of air she could muster, then scream. Breathe and then scream, again and again. Her pain transforming into a maddened cackle, until it was cut off, as she felt something enter her throat.
Instinctively trying to cough it up, she tried moving her tongue down, only to realize she couldn’t. What entered her throat was her own tongue, swallowed in her mad sucking of air. All that was left to her now, was to desperately gargle, begging for air that she’ll never get.
“Ah, how wonderful.” Granhiert said excitedly. “What is it like? What do you feel?”
‘I’m about to die?’ Subaru thought. ‘When. Now? Why? Why again? Why by her? What was Felt’s package? Why didn’t they remember? Why did I remember things that didn’t happen? That couldn’t happen. Is this happening? Am I dying?”
“Oooh, I wish I could feel what you’re feeling!”
Granhiert finally removed her hand from Subaru’s mouth, and instead began petting her head gently, in a fashion that could have even been described as kind, were it not for the fact that Subaru was dying by her hand this instant.
‘What will happen to me? What will happen to Felt? What did happen? Am I dead? Not yet?’
Brushing her own hair out of the way, Granhiert lowered her head next to Subaru’s, so that she may speak directly into the dying girl’s ear.
“Hold on to it, that precious feeling.” she whispered, her voice tender, gentle, loving, envious. “It’s the last, most wonderful gift you’ll have.”
‘I’m not supposed to die. I don’t want to die. I cannot die. I don’t, I won’t, I can’t.’
‘I am afraid.’
With the sensation of soft lips on her cheek, as the final memento of a wasted life, Natsuki Subaru passed away.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11: Like an unwritten melody
“Hey, kid, what’s with that look?”
Subaru was standing in the market. Before her, was the same muscular, green haired fruit seller she met twice before, dressed in what she could still only place as surfer clothes.
Subaru didn’t respond. She couldn’t respond. She just weakly raised her arm, up to her cheek, where she felt the phantom of a neverwere-kiss. There was nothing there, but a stream of water, running to her chin.
She raised her shaking right arm, grabbing it with the left, where she knew she was cut, finding no pain or even discomfort there. Her jacket’s sleeve, in perfect condition.
“Hey, you’re seriously starting to worry me, snap out of it. You hear?” the man continued.
Looking down, her stomach, once again, was un-opened. As it always should have been. And as she knew it wasn’t.
Her vision doubled, and came out of focus. A memory of her own bowels pouring out of her flashing before her eyes.
All she could do, was cover her mouth, as vomit ejected itself up her throat.
“Oh, no, no, no, no!” the man protested, quickly leaving his stall, and turning Subaru away from his fruit.
She had expected him to then push her away, but instead, she felt his strong arms guide her around the fruit stand, into a shaded corner.
“Sit on those steps.” the man commanded, before letting her go and walking back to his stand.
Subaru was doing her best to hold it in, but she recalled the way the woman in black caressed her intestines, and in response warm vomit shot through the gaps between her fingers.
“Hey, hey, careful now.” the lost surfer said as he came back, placing one hand on Subaru’s back, and putting an empty basket in front of her with the other. “Use this.”
Even if she wasn’t asked, Subaru could hardly help it, as the sensation of her guts being squeezed was recalled.
Hunching over, she could do little more than let nature take its course.
“There you go.” the merchant said, patting her back as best he could with her backpack in the way.
Glancing up, Subaru could see he was staring away, doing his best to give her some privacy.
“Uh, name’s Risch.” he said awkwardly.
Clearly, Subaru couldn’t respond.
After a minute of retching, the basket partially filled and dripping, she finally ran dry.
“Was that it?” Risch asked, then seeing as Subaru didn’t look like she could continue if she tried, he leaned over to his stand, and filled a clay cup from a bucket of water he had standing there. “Here. Catch your breath, then drink.”
No amount of correct breathing, and no amount of clean water could wash away what Subaru experienced. She knew it happened. She remembered it in vivid detail. She died. Twice. They couldn’t have been dreams.
“Kid, you have to snap out of it, are you sick? Do you have people that can take care of you?”
“I, uh— Natsuki Subaru.”
“Sorry, my name. It’s Natsuki Subaru.” With this, she gulped down the water.
“Oh, bit of a weird name, but alright. How are you feeling?”
“Better. I’m just sorry I threw up in front of your store.” Subaru said, half unconsciously, caught in a dazed state of mind. “I actually don’t know how I’ll pay for it.”
“Ah, forget about that. It was at most a few spittles, I’ll just wash it off the fruits. Just sit there and get yourself together, alright?”
Without a further word, Risch just went to his stand and began picking out dirty fruits, and moving them behind his stand where one by one he poured water on them from the bucket, rubbing them free of Subaru’s ex-contents.
Subaru zoned out for a minute just looking at him work, her mind trying to reboot and reassess.
“If I die, I come back here.” she muttered. “Here, and now .”
“What’s that?” Risch asked.
“I was… I was just wondering, we haven’t met yet, have we?” Subaru asked.
“Don’t think so? Not to be rude, but you’ve got a pretty unique face, and a matching name to go with it, kid. I think I’d remember. Why?”
“Oh, I just, uh, thought it’s so nice of you to be so… Nice.” Subaru trailed off.
“Pah, my wife threw up a couple of times, while our daughter was on the way. Oooh boy, Plum, she was a menace until about a year ago, so I’m used to it.”
Risch’s statement confirmed what Subaru suspected. People didn’t forget what she did yesterday. There wasn’t a yesterday.
There really wasn’t.
She took off her backpack, opening it to make sure. Here food was still there, the first aid kit unopened, and undamaged.
She could feel excitement, tainted with something she couldn’t place, beginning to bubble in her chest.
She was safe. Well, and completely safe! What could it be? Does this world just reset after a time? Well, no, that would be ridiculous. People acted perfectly normal, so far as living in a fantasy world went. Things wouldn’t be this usual, if the concept of death didn’t exist. No, this had to be something she had.
Natsuki Subaru knew right away on arriving in this world that there would be no way for her to not get something, some tool or token to aid her way! And here it was!
A grim shadow passed her mind for a moment, realizing that such a dark power in lack of any heroic abilities, would leave her squarely in the villainess camp in terms of typecasting.
“Who cares?!” she muttered excitedly, her feet beginning to rapidly stomp the ground before her on their own.
The bane of the villainess was the doom flag, and she just dodged it! Both times, that woman killed her. Both times in the slums! Both times, only because Subaru was involved with that package business, either being a witness, or talking about it.
It all just clicked! She was safe! All she had to do was steer clear of the slums, and nothing bad would happen! She had the ultimate weapon for her class! A tool with which to obliterate any doom flag! She was, the Villainess Victorious !
“Is everything okay there?” Risch asked, causing Subaru to realize that she’d been giggling uncontrollably for a while.
“Ah, uhm yes! I just!... I realized something, everything is great!”
She won’t have to die. Not today! Maybe ever!... Although—
Placing her still shaking hand on her stomach, a shudder went through her.
Even without the threat of permanence, she never wanted to experience that, or anything like it again. It wasn’t like it didn’t happen. She experienced it start to finish, and those moments still lived in her.
Her jubilance waned.
She was glad to be alive, but it was strange. She always thought that her desire to live was more a desire to avoid dying, and even now, she felt like that. Yet she failed to avoid dying twice. So why was she so excited to not just rest in peace?
The sensation of brushing her fingers against strings flashed through her. A simple melody, the warmth of a fire and a young girl who had every reason in the world to be miserable, smiling at her.
That’s why she was glad to be alive. Only, that never happened. Not anymore.
The version of Subaru that first arrived to this world, she’d be beyond overjoyed, having found this power. She could take comfort in knowing she was here as a unique entity, with a destiny she can forge.
That Subaru however, hadn’t had a taste of death, the impossible agony of losing herself, as all her senses unravel and all thought and hope becomes irrelevant.
That Subaru hadn’t met Felt. She hadn’t met Rom. She wasn’t promised a chance to follow her dream, a dream for which such a power would be utterly superfluous.
Subaru didn’t want a superpower. She didn’t want to return by death to the front of some fruit stand. She wanted that first day back. Only, without Felt being hurt. She bent forward, burying her face in her palms.
Still gazing down at her shaking hands, a terrible image returned to her mind. One far worse to behold, than just her own demise. The vision of the young girl, with her ruby eyes, and hair as vibrant as the field of flowers, laying there, robbed of all tomorrows.
“I’ll definitely save you.” Subaru echoed herself under her breath. It was a promise Subaru made, not only to Felt, but to herself. She needed to fulfill it. Not just because it was a promise. Not just because Felt deserved better. But because she wanted to. She wanted that first day back. Laughing, playing the lyulyre, feeling like even if she’ll be stuck in the slums, life will be okay. And most of all, she wanted Felt to hear her play, and know she enjoyed it. Her Number One Groupie .
But how in the world would she manage that?
It was a gentle sound of exasperation. Not aimed at Subaru, or even near her. A subtle thing that pierced through the noise of the market. It was followed by the sound of light, hurried steps.
Subaru looked up, just in time to see a flash of familiar yellow dash out of her line of sight.
Subaru jumped to her feet, and ignoring the surprised comments from the fruit stand owner, rushed out into the street. While she was a bit wobbly from having just vomited, she couldn’t let the girl get away.
Looking down the street, after the yellow flash, she saw her. Felt, it was really her!
“Felt!” Subaru shouted desperately, not thinking of how the girl had no reason to recognize her.
Felt turned her head for a moment without stopping her sprint. For an instant, their eyes locked, but the girl broke it right away, continuing.
Beyond Felt down the street, Subaru suddenly spotted her. The silver sorceress, wandering through the market. She too seemed to have taken note of Subaru’s shout, beginning to turn towards her.
A moment later, Felt pushed past the silver-haired elf.
If Subaru was going to catch her, she needed to go now. She couldn’t allow Felt to go back to the loot house. Felt must not meet with the woman in black. This was all that was on Subaru’s mind.
“Felt! Stop! Felt!” she shouted, beginning to sprint after the girl, pushing past the elf as well.
Pushing through the crowd, Subaru managed to briefly trail Felt, however after turning two corners, the young girl hopped onto the back of a parked cart, jumped onto a sign post above the door of a store, and disappeared, swiftly clambering up the wall of the building to the roof.
“Felt!” Subaru shouted once more, out of breath and with legs shaking.
After her episode earlier, she was in absolutely no position to race the girl. All she could do, was hunch forward, support herself by grabbing her knees, and breathe.
“Think! She wasn’t yet at the loot house last time, so she probably won’t go there right away, so where could she be heading?!” Subaru muttered, her mind racing. The girl’s survival depended on whether she could intercept her before the day was through!
“Stop, villain!” A voice as musical as it was commanding rang out behind her.
Turning around, there she was, the silver sorceress, pointing a hand at her, with a great deal of anger that simply couldn’t fit her face, staring into Subaru’s core with her furious, amethyst eyes.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12: Once, I built a railroad
“You’re with that girl!” the elf’s accusatory words rang clearly.
Her voice rang out with such clarity, so elegantly spoken, even here besides dozens of people walking past, and the noise of the nearby canal, it sounded as if she and Subaru were standing alone in a room.
“That was you calling her name, right?” she continued. “I do not hold it against you, if you must steal to live, but what she has taken is precious to me beyond words. You must take me to her! I have to retrieve it!”
Subaru was still catching her breath, and she absolutely had no time to deal with some stuck up privileged noble whose entire race is probably exclusively in the upper class, considering how Subaru has yet to see a single other elf amongst the commoners.
“Look, princess, I’m trying to figure out where she went too, and believe me, whatever little bauble she stole is nothing in importance compared to why I need to see her, so run along and get your servants to buy you a replacement.”
“What she stole from me is not replaceable! I must get it back!”
“I don’t care if it’s your special brooch that mommy gave you the first time you rode a horse! It’s not my problem!”
“It’s not—” the girl’s voice wobbled, then she stopped. “What’s a horse?”
“Never mind that!” Subaru was starting to get really annoyed. She needed to be thinking about where Felt might have gone, if she wasn’t heading for the loot house yet. Which if the last time was anything to go by, was in fact the case.
Ignoring the elf, Subaru straightened herself up and began walking away.
“You can’t leave! Not until you tell me where she went!” the elf protested, rushing up in front of Subaru and holding her hand up at her.
The elf looked surprisingly… Out of sorts. Subaru had expected her to have a cruel, pitiless expression, that of someone who will have her way one way or another. Instead, the young woman looked serious, but serious the way a grizzled detective interrogating a perp would look in a TV serial. It just didn’t make sense with how angry she seemed, like she was putting on an act.
“I can’t let you leave until you tell me where she went.” she repeated. “It will be great trouble, if I don’t get it back!”
Finally, Subaru noticed it. The girl’s face was serious and stern. If Subaru was a boy, having such a beautiful face give her such a commanding look would probably have made her want to go along with any command, just to see that face take on a happier, more befitting expression. Looking at it with detachment, there was a glint of fear in those purple eyes. Fear for what or of whom, the elf gave no hint, but genuine fear that after today, Subaru couldn’t fail to recognize.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Subaru said, holding her hands up. “I’m starting to see how much you want it, but I can’t help you. Maybe if I meet Felt again, I could see if I can get it to the city guard or something, but I don’t know where she is now.”
“No, I—” the elf paused. “I want to take it back myself!”
“Then I can’t help you, as I’ve already said.” Subaru tried to get on her way again, but the elf just stepped in front of her again, her arm still held up, with chilled air gathering before her palm, white mist flowing down from it.
Subaru clenched her fist, less out of fear than anger, realizing this likely was the same spell with which she hurt Felt before. Oddly, while the elf’s stern expression began to slowly melt away, it didn’t look like any measure of cruelty lied below. She started to look sad more than anything.
“You simply must know something!” the elf exclaimed. “What she took was a small insignia that might have been mistaken for jewelry! You know the girl! Where would she take something like that?”
Hold on, that sounded familiar.
“Wait, an insignia? Was it triangular?” Subaru asked. “With a red gem in the middle?”
For some reason, the elf’s face began to turn red, and she suddenly turned to the side, grabbing the green gemstone hanging in her neck and covering her face as she began whispering to it like a mad woman.
“Y-you mustn’t tell this to anyone!” the elf exclaimed, after finishing whatever that little ritual was, before adding in a barely audible whisper: “Yes.”
This was bad .
That handsome soldier came out all the way to the slums to retrieve it the first time around, and this girl who was powerful and obviously of high social standing was scared over losing it. Subaru had no idea if the item itself was dangerous, but this was definitely a new doom flag for Felt. Even if Subaru were to make sure that Felt never encounters the woman in black, so long as he had the insignia, she’d be in huge trouble if the authorities found out. Depending on the justice system, Felt might even be facing capital punishment!
“You’re saying it would be very bad if you couldn’t get it back?” Subaru asked tentatively, hoping the elf would elaborate.
“I could lose absolutely everything.” she said, without a hint of dishonestly or exaggeration.
This was really bad.
Subaru now needed to not only find Felt, but make her get rid of that thing. Only, Felt wouldn’t remember Subaru, so how could she possibly convince the girl to do that?
“Uh, theoretically speaking, if I could find Felt for you, would you be willing to find a peaceful solution?” Subaru asked.
“All I want, is to get my insignia back! If anything, I’d prefer a peaceful resolution!”
While remembering the time the elf struck Felt with an icy spell made Subaru doubtful, she couldn’t hear or see any malice in the elf now. She might have been Subaru’s best bet to solve the problem.
“Okay, so, when I said I don’t know where she is, that was only half true.” Subaru said, beginning to gesture wildly. “I only know where she is going to be .”
“Then take me there!” the elf commanded.
“Calm down, let me finish! She will be there sometime before sundown, which is a long time away, and I—” Subaru realized she couldn’t very well just say ‘Hey, I need to stop her from dying like she did before.’ so opted for a small lie: “I think it might be better if we try and find where she is before then, since otherwise she might tell people that she took it, and that would be… Bad? I think?”
The silver-haired elf finally lowered her hand, the cold white mist emanating from it disappearing. She put one of her slender hands to her chin, turning away and thinking.
Standing there, her hip length hair shining in the afternoon sun, with that pouty serious look on her face masking the obvious fright underneath, Subaru couldn’t help but think that if the girl wasn’t an obstacle in her path, she’d be convinced the elf was the one who summoned her here. Everything about her simply screamed ‘isekai princess’.
“Very well. I accept your suggestion, and will follow you until we find this Felt!” the elf announced. “On the condition that you promise me that when I say we must go to the place you mentioned, you will lead me there straight away, and can assure me that she will definitely be there at sundown!”
Neither was a hard request, considering going there was Subaru’s final option in saving Felt, and she was rather certain that the woman in black had pre-arranged a meeting there after sundown.
Thinking about it, Subaru couldn’t help but smile, realizing how well things were falling in place. Even if she had to go to the loot house, it wouldn’t be a total wash now, given how terrified the thug trio was the mere sight of this girl.
“ Oooooooookay !” Subaru announced, pointing a finger at the elf.
“Oookay?” she repeated.
“ Ooooooookay , as in everything will be oooooookay !” Subaru said, performing a grand twirl in the air with her right hand. “I, Natsuki Subaru have seen what needs to be done, and have come to realize the perfect solution! I will get you your insignia back, and get the Happy Ending !”
Striking a pose partially covering her right eye with her index and middle finger held in a V, Subaru finally realized why she could Return by Death. It was so she could use this elf who doomed Felt, to instead save her! She might have been given the dark power of a villainess, but she will be a hero in her own way!
Relaxing her pose, Subaru put on a wide grin, and extended her right arm to the elf.
“I will make sure everything turns out fine!”
The elf awkwardly took the hand, to which Subaru shook it vigorously.
‘Once Felt is free of the insignia, I can just leave this silver white sorceress and the midnight dark black widow to deal with it on their own.’ she thought, a cruel crook extending in the corner of her mouth, while the young elf just clumsily bent along the handshake with half her body, a childlike confusion on her face.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13: You don’t see me frown
The first order of priority, now that Subaru had obtained an unwitting human shield, was catching up to Felt.
Some part of Subaru felt bad about treating the silver-haired elf like a disposable key to a lock, but surely someone that can use magic could easily defend against a woman whose only tool is a weird looking knife. It’s not like the knife was even enchanted. It didn’t burn with purple flames, didn’t freeze Subaru’s body upon cutting her, just a vanity piece. Should have nothing on actual magic. Plus, the silver sorceress had a debt to repay to Felt, even if she didn’t know, and technically it didn’t happen. Fair’s fair.
While Subaru had no idea where Felt was headed in the short term, and they lost a considerable amount of time arguing, Subaru felt the best chance they had was simply heading down the streets in the direction Felt seemed to go upon getting on the roof. She might have planned on circling around them, but the buildings in the opposite direction were across canals and wide carriage streets. There was no way anyone could make the jump between rooftops there so it was a straight bet that Felt would be heading somewhere in the direction where houses were more tightly packed. She’d also eventually have to come off from the roofs, and given her shabby clothes and bright hair, she should be easy to spot in a crowd.
“Do you really think this is the way?” the elf asked, as she was being tugged down one of the large thoroughfares of the market by the hand.
“Certain would be too strong of a word, but I’ve got a hunch.” Subaru said looking back with a wink, giving a little thumbs up.
Turning back away from the elf, the faux smile disappeared from Subaru’s face. She still hasn’t forgiven them for almost crippling Felt. And what was with that laugh? Those two drawn out “haaaa”s shen Felt fell from the roof? Sadistic witch. Probably with some dere complex, given how different she looked and behaved when talking about her troubles just a while ago.
Passing street after street, glancing at rooftops, in hope of spotting Felt’s scarf fluttering in the air, Subaru failed to find much luck tracking the girl. Soon, she realized she had committed a rookie mistake, and was exploring streets she already knew from the previous life. This was a mistake, because she also failed to run into Felt then, so clearly she wouldn’t be in any of those locales. So, Subaru turned around and began dragging the elf the other way.
The elf didn’t have trouble keeping up, but Subaru had to to her great annoyance put up with the occasional awkward “ooh” and “aah”, as they slipped through crowded parts, not to mention the young woman pulling Subaru to a spot every now and again to check if Subaru knew where she was going, or to pointlessly stare into the window of an establishment that was clearly far too high class to allow someone living like Felt in.
“I don’t think this is getting us anywhere.” the silver sorceress said simply, as they stopped to catch their breath.
She was right, technically, but Subaru didn’t want to admit that to her, so she just rolled her head, leaning onto the low wall next to a canal and gazing at her reflection.
“I believe it would be most prudent if we proceeded to the location you mentioned.” the elf said.
“Did you just say ‘prudent’? Who talks like that these days?” Subaru asked, rolling her eyes without looking in the sorceress’ direction.
“Well? You promised that if I asked, you would take me!”
Subaru could practically see her pouting face without even turning around.
“Look, princess, I told you, she won’t be there until around sundown, and that’s still a long way away. Let me just think about some place she might be.”
“She might not be there, but maybe whoever is there, could tell us where she is.”
It wasn’t a bad thought, but Subaru knew from experience that Rom wasn’t going to tell a couple of strangers where Felt is, and probably didn’t know himself.
“Sorry, you need a password to get in there, and I don’t have that.”
“Wait, if you can’t get us in there, then shouldn’t we go there well before Felt does, so we can talk to her before she enters?”
Again, a good point.
“No, you see when we go, we’ll probably still get there before here, so it’s fine. But if we don’t—”
‘If we don’t, then really all I need you to do is deal with the woman in black, which you can do outside, and maybe if you get lucky, get you your stupid insignia, since that would probably remove Felt’s buyer.’ is what Subaru was thinking.
“—But if we don’t, that’s fine too, because if the person it was stolen from showed up at the front door, I’m confident they’d be willing to negotiate, since who wants the city guard sent to a warehouse full of stolen goods?” Subaru said.
She just heard some pouting noises in response. Would have been cute coming from someone who isn’t a magical sadist, but hey.
“Oh! Wait there a moment.” Subaru heard.
Surprised, she turned away from the canal, and saw the elf approach a familiar looking little girl with green hair in a pink dress.
‘Oh no, not again.’ Subaru grumbled. Does this girl really have nothing better to do than harass kids?
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“She seems hurt and lost:” the elf girl said simply glancing back, before continuing towards Plum, the little girl in pink.
On a second look, Plum did seem hurt. There was a small scrape on her left knee, which Subaru didn’t remember from last time they met. She assumed more time must have passed since Risch’s stand in this life, than the previous, and she got hurt. No matter, Subaru had a luckily unopened first aid kit, so—
Reaching for her backpack, Subaru suddenly realized that she wasn’t wearing it. In a flash, she remembered that she took it off to check its contents back at the fruit stand, and probably left it there when she spotted Felt. Damn it!
Hurrying after the elf, not wanting to let her hurt Plum more than she already is, Subaru’s blood froze, as she saw the sorceress crouch down in front of the child, with a bright aura appearing around her hands.
‘Is she seriously going to do this in broad daylight?!’
“What are you—” Subaru exclaimed, grabbing the elf’s shoulder, only to notice that the bruise that was there on Plum’s knee a moment ago, was now gone.
“Huh?” the elf asked, looking up at Subaru with a confused, innocent look.
“I… I just didn’t know what you were doing.”
“It’s just a bit of healing magic.” she explained, then turned back towards Plum gently holding out one of her hands for the little girl to take. “That feels better, right? Have you lost your parents?”
As Plum’s eyes teared up and she began crying, Subaru recalled running away from the silver-haired elf in her first life, or, perhaps ‘loop’ would be a better term. She thought she did hear “heal” or something like that being shouted after them. Could it be she actually wanted to help Felt, even after what she did?
“Please don’t cry, it will be alright.” the elf cooed.
Could this be the scene that Subaru came in on in the last loop?
Very much not enjoying the mild feeling of guilt that was growing in her, Subaru sighed and crouched down next to the elf. Subaru slapped both sides of her own face twice, then wiggled her fingers before Plum who looked at her confused through her tears.
“Weeell The Merry-Go-Round broke down! It went around and ‘round! Each time it’d miss, we’d steal a kiss, and the Merry-Go-Round went ooh-ah-ah! Oooh-ah-ah! Ooh-ah, Ooh-ah, Ooh-ah-ah! ” Subaru sang gesturing with her hands randomly to the rhythm.
While not as immediately effective as when she fell on her ass, Subaru was pleased to see Plum’s expression brighten from the song. ‘ That’s all, folks! ’ she thought, congratulating herself.
“Magic?” Plum asked, once again, to which Subaru just smiled sweetly and pet the kid’s head.
“No, just a song. Say, my name is Natsuki Subaru, and this is— Actually, I just realized I don’t have your name.”
“Oh, um. It’s Emilia.” the elf said after a bit of awkward hesitation. “It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name?” she continued, smiling sweetly at Plum.
“That’s a beautiful name!” Subaru said, petting her head once more.
She knew the name before, of course, but it might have been weird for the girl if Subaru started out making it obvious she did.
“Say, I’ll call for a nice guard to help you find your parents, okay?” Subaru continued.
“Subaru, wait. Shouldn’t we help her instead? It might be scary to go off with a guard.”
“I thought finding Felt was our top priority.” Subaru protested.
“Well, yes, but this little girl is in trouble.”
Subaru just couldn’t figure out this girl. Emilia seemed terrified deep down when talking about her lost insignia before. Even though it seemed against her nature now, she even shot Felt off a roof because of how important that thing was to her — though Subaru was beginning to suspect that might have been an accident. But now, because there is a lost little girl, she wants to personally take time out, to help find her parents, who could be anywhere in the market district for all they know?
No, a guard should suffice. They need to find Felt and make sure she doesn’t meet Granhiert. That is priority number one.
“I said no!” Emilia said with a pout, pulling Subaru back down by the arm.
She could be way too willful if she wanted.
“Plum, your parents are probably nearby. Can you tell us what they look like, or their names?”
“Papa is called papa, and mama is called mama! Papa is big and strong, mama is tall and pretty!”
“Emilia, this isn’t going anywhere.” Subaru said.
“Patience, Subaru! Do you know where they work? What do your parents do?”
“Mmmmm” Plum twisted around in place, one hand holding a finger on her mouth thoughtfully, the other hand behind her back. “Papa sells ringas!”
Subaru rubbed her head. Didn’t Risch call his daughter Plum too? She does have green hair, just like his.
“Does your papa wear a short sleeveless jacket or vest coming down about here—” Subaru gestured. “—, a dark bandana on his head, and say things like ‘Ugh, buy something or get lost!’ when people idle before his fruit stand?” she described, making sure to give a proper apelike performance to the example dialogue.
“That’s papa!” Plum chirped excitedly.
“So, good news is, I know where she needs to go!” Subaru announced.
“That’s wonderful!” Emilia said, clapping her hands together. “Come on Plum, we’ll take you to your daddy!”
With that, the two young women stood up, and took the little girl’s hands.
While certainly, it would have been ideal to go after Felt, this was probably easier than arguing with Emilia about handing the girl off to a guard. And she could return Risch’s kindness to boot.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14: Latch onto the affirmative
Risch’s fruit stand wasn’t exactly around the next corner, but Subaru was confident she could find her way. Plum didn’t seem to mind walking, cheerily hopping between them.
“Big sis! Big sis!” Plum said, as she hopped looking at each of Subaru and Emilia. She spoke in a happy tone like she was trying to sing. “Magic! Magic!”
Emilia covered her mouth with her free hand, giggling.
“I’m magic too, huh?” Subaru asked, gently tugging on Plum’s hand.
In response, Plum simply tried singing Merry-Go-Round Broke Down, as she heard from Subaru, though of course she couldn't know the words, and barely got the rhythm, so to help out, Subaru began whistling, which Plum greatly enjoyed.
“You know, you’re not like I first pictured.” Emilia said.
“Oh? What did you think I was like? Wait, no, what do you think I am like now?”
“Well, you seem like a good person.”
“And I didn’t before?”
“I don’t know, I just felt like you were angry— Ah, it doesn’t matter!” Emilia blushed.
Subaru didn’t really care too much about what the silver-haired girl thought of her, so she didn’t push it. Well, she cared a bit, it would be nice to know how she comes off to others. Yeah, okay she cared. Has she seriously already created an impression? She didn’t even do anything yet, so what does the elf mean by “seem good”? Is she coming off as a bad person, who just’s leaning towards goodness? She cared a lot!
Damn it, too much time passed, it would be awkward bringing it up now.
“Hey, do you have any idea why I’m ‘magic’?” Subaru asked, trying to find a way back to getting answers.
“I think it's the funny words you sang.” Emilia said, pondering for a moment, a finger on her lips. “Well, Plum? It was the funny words, right?”
“Meddy-ho-wand loke dan!”
“I guessed, but I actually got the same reaction from someone older too, so I don’t know. Is it really that much like magic?”
“Hmmm.” Emilia seemed to give it some serious thought, before her eyes lit up. “It’s the way you said them!”
“Well, when people say nonsense words, they usually sound like nonsense. But when you sang that little nonsense song, it sounded so fluent. It was like you were actually speaking real sentences, only you weren’t.”
“Actually, I was. It’s a song in a different language, from my homeland.”
“In a different language?”
Emilia went back into what appeared to be her thinking mode, hand on her chin, furrowed brows, head tilted down. She looked around a few times, but seemingly more as a tick, than actually looking. Subaru couldn’t help but wonder based on this reaction, if they even had other languages in this world.
“I don’t know much about that.” Emilia concluded eventually. “But I do think it’s that you sounded very fluent and pretty when you sang.”
“T-Thank you.” She wasn’t sure why, but even this mild compliment felt embarrassing, coming from her. “Is this what spell casting actually sounds like?”
“Ha ha, no!” Emilia giggled. “Well, I guess some magic might be, but most magic isn’t singing.”
“Some magic might be?”
“Oh, please forget that.” Emilia responded, awkwardly wagging her free hand before her. “It’s just that I’m not the best magic user, so I can’t answer these questions definitively. I suppose Roswaal would know, but they’re not here.”
“They’re my sponsor. Haven’t you heard of them?”
Emilia gave her a long, confused look.
“You mentioned you’re from a different land, where are you from?”
Damn it, it’s this question again. Subaru should have thought of a good answer before.
“It’s a small place, but I’m afraid I’m quite lost, I couldn’t tell you where it is on a map.”
“Ah, I see, I’m sorry to hear. I guess it must have been hard. That’s why you fell in with thieves?”
“I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude, I understand life must be tough!”
“No, I mean, why do you think I’m with thieves?”
“Didn’t you say you know that girl who stole my insignia?”
The questions were growing more difficult to answer.
“Ah-ah-ah-ah, okay give me a minute.”
Subaru touched her temple, and turned her head up, trying to think.
“I guess, it would be more appropriate to say that I know of her. She’s uh, apparently friends with the old man that owns the loot house. The uhm, place I mentioned. Lots of thieves use it, so uh, are you following?”
“Ah, I think I understand. She’s just famous.” Emilia nodded. “But then, I don’t get why you were chasing after her. Did she steal something from you too?”
“Uh—” Subaru should have anticipated this.
Luckily, just then, Subaru noticed out of the corner of her eye Risch’s fruit stand, with its gruff owner standing there with his large arms crossed.
Plum, as could be expected, got very excited and rushed off to her father, who was surprised to see her, but very glad when told about the circumstances.
“I’m going to have to give Raksha a talking to.” Risch said, his daughter sitting on his arm. “Letting my little girl run off. Mama’s been very clumsy, hasn’t she?”
“Mama clumsy!” Plum said happily, as her dad rubbed her cheek.
“Thank you for getting her here. I hope my wife decides to come here soon, don’t want her to worry too much.” Risch said, turning to the two young women. “The name’s Kadomon Risch, by the way.” he added, looking at Emilia.
“I was happy I could do something, since I completely forgot to pay for the water—”
“Forget that!” Kadomon said in a simple stern command. “It was just a cup of water. No need for you to bring out your paper ‘money’ again. Oh, and since you’re here, that bag is yours, right?” he added, pointing over his shoulder at the steps, where indeed, Subaru’s backpack was sitting.
“Thanks, I was missing that!” Subaru said, hurrying to her backpack.
“Should keep better track of your belongings, kid.”
Picking up her backpack, Subaru quickly checked, but of course, everything was there. Her ramen, chips, the old flip phone, first aid kit and after a bit of digging, her now useless wallet stuck under everything else. In retrospect, it was kind of hilarious to think that those idiots in the alley tried to mug her in both previous loops for this useless junk.
Hold on! Those idiots! They knew Felt. They might know where she is! And, if Subaru is lucky, they might just catch them in the same area, they did call that alley their ‘turf’!
“Emilia! I think I just figured out a lead!” Subaru exclaimed, swiftly putting on her backpack.
“What is the lea—?”
Emilia didn’t get a chance to finish her question before Subaru rushed up to her and grabbed her hand.
“We have to be quick! And also, you might need to act a little!”
Chapter 15: Chapter 15: Won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away?
“—That’s enough, villains !” Subaru’s proud voice echoed in the good old back alley, quoting a line never spoken.
Just as she hoped, the three thugs she had the displeasure of meeting before were in the alley. ‘ I love it when a plan comes together! ’ she thought, while pointing at the trio in the most Clint Eastwood way she could muster.
“What do you want?” came from the blue haired one Subaru recalled the others refer to as Larkins.
“Sounds like she wants a beating.” the bruiser added.
“Not today, Curly!” Subaru shouted back defiantly, with a wide grin on her face.
Normally, she’d stand no chance against these three, but she knew the secret they didn’t even know they had! The trio were absolutely terrified of the unassuming elf behind her, who Subaru had dragged into the alley by the hand.
“What did she call me?”
“You shouldn’t worry about that now! For there is a much better question you will be answering!”
“Subaru, do you know these people?” Emilia asked, gently pulling her hand from Subaru’s grasp.
“They’re a trio of thugs that consider this their turf.” Subaru said simply. “Oh, I know! The Thugtrio ! Thug-thug !” Subaru said with a laugh, pointing once more at the brigands. “The stump over there even looks the part.”
“Oh I know she didn’t just call me stump!”
“He looks what part?” Emilia asked, confused.
“Number 51. It’s not important!” Subaru waved her hand. “No then, villains ! You will tell us where Felt is or could be, right now, or you shall face, our terrible wrath !”
“Subaru, what exactly are you doing?”
“ Emilia! Just, just play along, trust me, this will work great!”
“I don’t know what joke you think you’re playing, but you’re—”
“I’m gonna pay, you’re gonna beat me up, kill me, sure sure sure. Geez, like a broken record, get some new material!” Subaru said quickly, twirling a hand in the air impatiently, before taking a step back and gesturing at Emilia.
“Take a closer look! Huh? Doesn’t she look terrifying? Just wait until she whips out her magical powers, except— Ha! You don’t want to see that, do you?!”
For some reason, Emilia’s face began turning red, and she tilted her head down with an incredibly embarrassed look on her face. Subaru didn’t really get it, but whatever.
“What in the witch are you talking about?” Larkins asked.
“The witch!” Subaru exclaimed, suddenly remembering more of their first encounter. “Exactly! What was it you noticed again? Hm.”
“Subaru… Was this really—” Emilia began with a shaky voice.
“Ah yes, of course! Her ears! She’s not just any magic user, she’s an elven magic user! With beautiful silver-white hair! You know what that means!” Subaru grinned. “With her fine clothes, surely you must see it! The clearest hallmarks of nobility! You’d never want to mess with a witch of such high standing!”
A freezing chill ran up Subaru’s back as she finished her sentence.
Subaru was certain that listing these features would cause something to click in the thugs, and they’d be terrified out of their minds. They themselves pointed out these very things before and all but fell to their knees begging for their lives in the first loop. So why did one of them, and then the other two begin laughing?!
“Oh man. That’s seriously the scam you’re running?” Larkins asked between cackles.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen anyone try to pull!”
Subaru’s arms drooped.
“Subaru…” Emilia’s voice sounded ever more sniffling. Looking at her, Subaru saw that the girl wasn’t crying, not yet, but her eyes were burning through Subaru’s, straight into her soul without even a single word spoken.
“Little tip for your act, if you want to pass off your companion as the Witch of Envy, maybe don’t call her by her real name at the start of the bit!” the little Moe Howard looking bandit said, holding his gut.
“Good effort on trying to set her up as this great and powerful magician though, you might make a killing at a children’s circus!” Larkins added.
“Wait, guys, I don’t think her friend even knew she was going to pull this.” the large guy noted, clearly noticing Emilia’s expression.
“Whoa, seriously? No way, she even looks the part.” Larkins said. “But she’s almost crying!”
“Did you seriously drag your friend in here and try to pass her off as Satella, without her consent. That is disgusting.” shorty added.
“Just for that, you’re getting an extra beating.” Larkins added, marching up towards Subaru who couldn’t help but just stand there stunned.
“Wait wait wait wait wait! What’s going on?” she cried out, Larkins didn’t stop, just walked to her, grabbed her by her jacket’s collar and threw her to the ground.
“Ow, when did you guys go from muggers to knights trying to protect a maiden’s virtue?!”
“Around the time you came into our turf trying to make fools of us!” the large one said, stomping at Subaru’s waist, making her curl up in pain.
“ Stop !” Subaru heard Emilia’s voice cry out. There was still a shudder in it, but it was obvious she was trying to make herself sound clear and confident. “Please, don’t hurt her.” Emilia said, bowing deeply before the thugs.
“Lady, are you seriously standing up for this scum? Were you in on it or something?”
“No, I had no idea she was… Going to do that.” Emilia said, standing up, to which shorty kicked Subaru in the stomach with about as much might as their little body could muster. “Wait, no, please, just leave her alone. I am terribly sorry for the trouble we caused.”
Once again, Emilia bowed deeply before the trio. Out of the corner of her eye while writhing in pain, Subaru thought she saw a tear fall from the maiden’s eyes onto the stonework below.
“You shouldn’t be enabling her. Scum that would do this to their friend deserve every beating they get.”
“M-maybe you’re right, but I need her to find someone.”
‘Maybe they’re right?!’ Subaru’s mind screamed. ‘Did she seriously not see that they’re packing knives?! These are street thugs! The only time they’re right is when viewed from the left!’
“Oh, so you’re the one looking for Felt? She stole something from you?” Larkins asked.
‘Okay, this isn’t good.’ Subaru thought. At this rate, Emilia might just get help from these idiots, and leave her to be gutted.
“ Guards! I need guards, please for the love of all that is holy, I need a guard! A young maiden needs help! Any guard that comes will receive a kiss, no matter how ugly! ” Subaru screamed out.
A few moments of silence fell on the alley, before Subaru felt another kick on her back.
“What a worm! Pulling this, and trying to get out of your punishment!”
“Like hell, do you expect me to just sit here and wait to be murdered?!”
“I cannot approve of what they’re doing, and I’d like to ask once again that it’s stopped, but you did pick a fight.” Emilia said, her voice still shaking. “I cannot fathom what you were thinking.”
“ And that’s reason enough for me to get murdered in an alley? ”
“I’m sure they do not—”
“ Can’t you see the knives behind his back?! ”
Emilia seemed to finally notice the handle of the knives stick out from under Larkins’s clothes. She just covered her mouth with her palm with a shocked face.
“Those are just for self defence, right?”
“Why would you care with scum like this?”
How could someone be as clueless as this elf? Would she seriously just buy that they’re only going to rough Subaru up a bit? As if!
What’s more, she already died twice getting this far. Who knows how many times she can survive? The standard logic would be that she’s got 3 extra lives, so she might still have one, but it’s not like she could see the lives remaining when returning by death, so that’s no comfort. Plus, when people are spirited away to another world, that happens by death, right? She didn’t remember dying, just looking at the almost full moon, then bam, she was here. But if she was suddenly hit by a car or something like that, she might not remember, and that could have been a death, meaning she has no more lives!
Subaru promised herself that she’s going to get the Happy Ending ! Less importantly, she promised Emilia. She can’t get the bad ending here, with her only legacy in this life being that she sang a stupid song no one understood the lyrics to for a little girl who won’t remember her in a week, and then dying in an alley a liar! That can’t be her game over!
“I think she learned whatever you could teach her this way, please let her go.” Emilia tried again. “I- I don’t want to have to stop you!”
Before Emilia could make up her mind on whether to follow up those words with actions, an masculine yet graceful voice boomed out from the entrance of the alley.
“—Step away from them!”
Subaru’s heart skipped a beat. Could it be, was she safe?
“Doesn’t this city have a single other person protecting it?” Subaru muttered under her breath before looking towards the alley’s exit.
“Need I repeat myself?” said the man, his now comfortingly familiar blazing red hair fluttering gently in the breeze that suddenly decided to blow out of the alley, as if the four winds themselves wished for nothing but to make him look cooler.
His voice, more than before, resonated with the greatest of dignity and couth. Enough to make Subaru think of the word ‘couth’ as an apt description of something for likely the first time in her life. His tone and words struck the ears of any that could hear it with such a commanding presence, that perhaps even wild beasts would be inclined to be brought to heel.
“No way… The hair, the eyes, the sheath…” Larkins listed.
“Ma-master Reinhard, n-no, Master Reinhard van Astrea! She st-started it!” the shorty pleaded.
Subaru just kept twisting her head to look at the three thugs, who each looked almost as terrified of the mild mannered man who she saw happily give a piggy-back ride to a little girl earlier, as they did of— Well, the equally mild mannered young witch who was also in that same alley right now.
‘What the hell is with the threat levels in this world?’ Subaru thought to herself.
“I see that introductions are not necessary… However, you should dispense with the ‘master’ and full name, that’s a bit too much for me.”
Subaru really didn’t get it, but the way the thugs were acting, Reinhard’s speech sounded way too humble. If anything, she wished he started talking up instead so they leave—
Just as she thought that, looking desperately at the swordsman, she could see his eyes narrow at the brigands surrounding her, and in unison they stepped back, as if being overwhelmed.
‘ If looks could kill... ’ was a phrase that flashed through Subaru’s mind at this moment, but when it came to this guy, she felt it might actually be true.
“If you flee, I’ll leave it at this. I will not stop you, if you go to the street. However, if you wish to continue the violence, I shall be your foe.”
Here, he placed his hand on the hilt of the blade by his side, and Subaru could hear a faint exasperated “aaaah” escape from the short thug beside her.
“This would make it two against three, or perhaps if the lovely young lady there wishes to aid us, three on three. With my meager strength, I’m not confident it would be a fair fight, the advantage remaining with you, but I assure you, that as a knight I will not back down.”
‘Play up! Play up! Not down!’ Subaru screamed in her head.
“We give up!” the hulking bruiser yelled.
“Deepest apologies!” Larkins added.
“A thousand thanks for your mercy!” the shorty rounded it out, as the three of them stepped around Subaru and ran from the alley, sticking as close to the walls and away from Reinhard as they could.
Subaru sat up on the ground looking after them, while Reinhard straightened himself out, letting go of his sword.
“Well, I’m glad we managed to avoid any unnecessary violence.” Reinhard said with a smile, slowly walking to Subaru, and kneeling down. “Are you quite alright?”
“Y-yes, just a few bruises, I think.” Subaru muttered, finding it difficult to return his piercing gaze.
While she was glad to be safe, she couldn’t shake from her thoughts the way the thugs and Emilia reacted to what was clearly a brilliant plan on Subaru’s part. She felt like she said something gravely insulting, but all she did was list out all of Emilia’s features that clearly mark her as nobility.
This world was making less sense by the minute.
“I’m terribly sorry!” Reinhard continued, looking at Emilia. “I haven’t realized how distressing this situation might have been to you, please accept this.”
Reinhard took a handkerchief from under a pocket, and still kneeling, held it to Emilia who after a moment of hesitation accepted it, wiping away the tears that were forming under her eyes.
“May I ask what happened?” Reinhard said, offering a hand to Subaru.
Subaru’s mind was a mess. Nothing in the alley played out the way she expected. Tentatively taking Reinhard’s hand, she was quickly pulled onto her feet as he stood up, dragging her up with him.
“I— I’m Natsuki Subaru.” she said, still trying to formulate a thought.
She realized that avoiding Reinhard’s eyes for too long would probably be pretty suspicious, so she worked up the nerve and,
Looking in those sky blue eyes, Subaru’s tension washed away. Reinhard was smiling at her kindly, much the same as at the ruins and when helping with Plum. Subaru’s mind returned to the serenity she felt, gazing at those flowers, contemplating their perseverance. She couldn’t lie to those eyes, nor should she. Everything that happened just seemed to line up, and she just had to say it all.
“It was my fault. I brought Emilia here to—”
“It was a small mistake.” Emilia interrupted. “We were looking for someone, and Subaru here thought we could ask those three for directions, but they got angry.”
What Emilia was saying wasn’t wrong, but she was clearly leaving out a pretty big part.
“Well, yes, but they got angry because I said some stupid things.” Subaru added. While she realized that Emilia was trying to cover for her, Subaru also felt that nothing wrong could come of being honest with Reinhard. “I thought they’d be terrified of Emilia, because she’s of the upper class.”
Reinhard looked at Subaru confused. “You told those thugs that she was a candidate, and they still attacked you?”
“A candidate? What? No, I listed off how she has fine clothes, silver hair which obviously shows a pure bloodline, that she has the features of an elf, and of course that she’s a magic user.”
Silence fell on the alley again, with Reinhard grabbing his mouth with his left hand, as his eyes took on a concerned look. Emilia just hung her head to the ground.
Around this time, Subaru realized she was still holding Reinhard’s right hand, and quickly let go.
“And you thought these things, well, aside from the clothes, were a sign of nobility?” Reinhard asked, breaking the silence.
“Are- are they not?” Subaru asked, utterly lost.
Reinhard turned a bit to the side, covering his mouth again and thinking.
“I think I understand why they wanted to beat you up now.” he muttered. “Not- that they were right to, of course!” he added, turning back to Subaru. “You really seem to have meant what you said, so I can’t say it’s your fault, but…”
Here, Reinhard looked at Emilia again for a moment before continuing.
“Well, it’s no matter. Just don’t list those kinds of things about people in the future. Alright?”
He, just like Emilia, was clearly shocked by whatever insult Subaru dealt, but didn’t seem willing to speak of its nature. Still, his tone remained gentle, and to a point, understanding.
“I also must apologize once more, Emilia-sama, for not giving you attention.” Reinhard continued, now turning completely towards her. “I will—”
“Please, just leave.” Emilia said quietly, which gave Reinhard pause.
“As you wish, Emilia-sama. I must beg your forgiveness however, as I have heard you were trying to find someone. I would be remiss not to offer aid.”
Once again, things were looking grim. Subaru formed a party with Emilia specifically to avoid Felt being taken by the authorities. She wanted to protest and interrupt, but before she could—
“It’s a small matter, and I doubt you could find her.”
“Very well. I shall now take my leave.” Reinhard said, bowing deeply before Emilia. “It has been the greatest pleasure to meet you, even under these circumstances.”
That was one doom flag narrowly avoided. Subaru sighed in relief on the inside. Now she just has to make sure that Emilia doesn’t pull a “But I didn’t come here to fight.” if they come across the woman in black.
“Wait!” Subaru cried out, suddenly realizing something.
“Yes?” Reinhard asked, turning back.
“I just remembered! I’ve, uh…” Damn it, she felt so wrong bending the facts, but she couldn’t sound insane, not now. “I’ve heard gossip, that a very dangerous character was sighted in the slums! A knife murderer!”
It couldn’t hurt to get the guards, or knights, or whatever this city has on intercepting Granhiert.
“She supposedly has dark hair, wears a black dress that is cut down the middle down below her navel, and a cape!” Subaru listed quickly.
Reinhard’s features seemed to tense up a bit upon hearing this description.
“You wouldn’t have happened to hear a name, or a description of her knives?”
“Yes! Her knife is long and curved, with a black and purple colour.” Subaru described, feeling a little sick, trying to recall the blade she only ever saw before it gutted her. “And I heard the name ‘Granhiert’ mentioned!”
“That is indeed grave news.” Reinhard said darkly. “I will make certain that the appropriate people are informed. Thank you for this information.”
Reinhard bowed in Subaru’s direction, before begging his leave from Emilia once more and hurrying out of the alley.
If all goes well, Subaru might have just knocked down another doom flag! For all the pain it caused her, this trip to the alley proved rather productive!
Subaru allowed herself a contented smile, though it quickly disappeared as she looked at Emilia, who still just stood there, hanging her head, clutching Reinhard’s handkerchief.
“Uh, Emilia, I—” Subaru began, trying to formulate a stock apology for an offense she didn’t understand, but Emilia interrupted her once more.
“Just stand still.” she said, walking to Subaru, an aura beginning to glow around her hands which she held to Subaru’s side.
The slight pulsating pain she forgot about, left from the thugs’ kicks, began to swiftly vanish from her side. Once it was gone, Emilia silently walked behind Subaru, and repeated the process for a different pain, and once more on Subaru’s other side, until Subaru felt as fine as she did when entering the alley.
“Thank you?” Subaru said, uncertain in herself.
“It was nothing.” Emilia said quietly. “You mentioned that the place where Felt is going is called the ‘loot house’, right?”
“Yeah, it is.”
“In that case, thank you for your help, Natsuki Subaru. I’ll handle the rest from here.”
“What? But you don’t even know where it is!”
“I’m going to ask around.” Emilia said simply, performing a gentle bow, without once looking at Subaru. “Please, take care.”
The silver sorceress turned around and started walking back towards the street, leaving a once more stunned Subaru.
Was Emilia seriously just going to heal her minor bruises, and then leave? She couldn’t be angry with Subaru, or she wouldn’t have healed her, right? Why would the elf heal her which probably is at least a bit exhausting — unless the magic in this world is totally busted — if she hated Subaru?
‘This damn elf doesn’t make any sense.’
“Hey, wait up, I also need to see Felt!” Subaru shouted, running after the upset girl.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16: Down from my perilous height
“I said I do not require your help anymore!” repeated Emilia for the third time, walking down the market at a speed that almost amounted to running.
“I don’t get what I said wrong, but I’m sorry, okay? I want to help! Just let me show you the way to the loot house, we can go together, and figure this out!” Subaru protested.
“If you truly do not know what you said, then your apology is pointless, and yet you’re lying by saying you’re sorry!” Emilia fumed, not giving Subaru a single look. “What’s more, ‘said’ isn’t the end of it, not even close!”
Subaru’s face was turning red in proportion to how much she felt this argument must look like a lovers’ quarrel to an outsider as she jogged alongside Emilia.
Truth be told, she could leave the girl behind, try her luck at the loot house, see if she can figure out a way to get Felt— And Rom! Damn it, she was so focused on finding Felt and making sure she doesn’t meet with Granhiert, she completely forgot that old man Rom would be left at the loot house to face Granhiert alone, who would surely not be happy when she figures out Felt isn’t coming! That’s another damn thing to deal with!
“Stop!” Subaru yelled, jumping in front of Emilia and holding out her arms, blocking their way.
Emilia’s face was no longer sad, it had transitioned fully to anger, though even her anger carried a gentle expression, like a child who had their favourite toy broken.
“Alright, I’m awful. I messed up, I said stupid things. So tell me off! Tell me what I did wrong, scream at me, call me what you want, just get it all out! However harsh you want it to be! You’ll feel better, then I’ll just take you to the loot house. Okay? No more searching, you want to go there, I’ll take you there.”
There were no two ways about it. Subaru was running out of time. If she had managed to find Felt, she might have stood a chance at saving both her and old man Rom on her own, by finding some way to take Felt to the loot house and convince them both to leave. However, having glanced at the sky, the afternoon grew late, and sundown wasn’t too far away either.
If Subaru had to go to the loot house, and there was any chance that Granhiert could avoid capture by the guards until then, she needed Emilia as a trump card to defend Felt. Granhiert couldn’t work a deal out with the elf. This much Subaru was sure of. The woman in black had killed Subaru just for being witness to that exchange, she won’t let anyone off the hook, and Emilia’s magic was the only weapon Subaru had at her disposal to counter that black blade.
“You made me promise to take you there.” Subaru added, as Emilia didn’t seem moved.
Something changed in Emilia’s amethyst eyes for a moment, and Subaru felt like she was staring right through her.
“Fine. You shall take me to this ‘loot house’, but that will be the end of it!” Emilia declared, still angrily. “So get to it. Lead the way.”
“Wait, aren’t you going to tell me off—”
“Just lead the way!”
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
It’s a wonder how taking something as simple and inoffensive as taking a long walk across town and adding a single infuriated sorceress can turn it into one of the most awkward experiences known to mankind.
Subaru could swear she could hear the anger in Emilia’s footsteps, as the witch marched behind her. She wanted few things more than to just stop and have a talk figuring out what she did wrong. The sense of phantom guilt was overbearing. Still, she couldn’t risk Emilia ditching her, so she had to bear it. Subaru’s mantra of the past years: “Hell is other people.” was being reaffirmed with every passive-aggressive step echoing in her ear.
The silent treatment continued for a long time, past the limits of the market district and past even the somewhat shabbier part of town filled with cheap cobblers and tailors — at least that was what Subaru assumed the shops were, based on a few that had painted marquees.
While Emilia definitely wasn’t talking to her, Subaru could occasionally hear Emilia quietly whispering something, though any time she looked behind to check if Emilia was talking to her, all Subaru would see was Emilia holding her necklace, and staring back defiantly and annoyed; as if Subaru had just interrupted a chat with the favourite voice in Emilia’s head. Not wanting to be part of that mess, Subaru tried to just ignore it.
It wasn’t until they had reached the slums, when finally the monotone rhythm of disgruntled feet marching behind Subaru ceased.
Having wormed itself into her mind as the only sound or thought she could focus on with flavours of doubt and annoyance, the steps’ sudden stop halted Subaru hard and fast.
“What happened?” Subaru asked, turning around as if awakened from a slumber.
“Please wait a moment, I’d like to ask the spirits if they know where Felt is.”
Subaru tried in vain to process that sentence, but all she could come to was first a vague recollection of one of the thugs calling Emilia a spirit user in the first loop, and a dreadful thought that she might witness the summoning of poltergeists. Come to think of it, if she died but had run out of extra lives, would she become a ghost?
These thoughts were cut short by the appearance of dim, colourful lights around Emilia.
“ Onibi ?” Subaru wondered aloud.
“Spirits.” Emilia said simply, clearly not in the mood to talk.
Subaru sighed and took off her backpack. There was no telling how much time ‘communing with the spirits’ was going to take, and she was beginning to feel peckish. As she reached for her chips, Subaru’s eye crossed over to her flip phone.
“It would be interesting to know.” she thought, taking out her phone.
Inputting her birth year, she briefly thought about how she won’t need to worry about her PIN code being too easy to guess ever again, before switching to the camera option and pointing the phone at Emilia.
Somewhat disappointingly, the balls of light surrounding her appeared on screen. Well, maybe Subaru shouldn’t have been disappointed, since they made the image nicer to look at, but still, it would have been neat if they had that certain vampire quality from the stories, where they just don’t show up. Or wait, vampires didn’t show up in mirrors. Does her camera use mirrors?
Subaru didn’t know nearly enough about her phone to answer such questions, so she instead decided on a whim to click the confirm button.
The camera flashed and gave out its loud iconic tone, signalling that the photo was taken, to which Emilia turned around startled, while the spirits faded away.
“What was that?” Emilia asked, more surprised than angry for once, while Subaru cursed her stupidity for not turning off the flash and sound.
“Uh, it’s…” she sighed. “It’s a camera .” she said simply. It was easier to just tell the elf upfront, rather than trying to find a way to explain it.
“What did it do?”
“It took a picture. I guess you could think of it like the world’s fastest painter.”
“What did it paint?” Emilia asked, confused.
“Well, it paints whatever I point it at, so it painted—” Subaru began, before being interrupted by an unexpected, high pitched, androgynous and strangely familiar voice immediately to her left.
“The scenery.” the voice said.
Subaru turned her head, and saw a small grey cat hovering next to her head, small enough to fit in her palm. It hovered there, its hindlegs hanging in the air, and its forelegs crossed before its fluffy little chest like arms.
“Nothing interesting, Lia.” the cat said, turning its head to Subaru, and giving her a dirty smile.
Subaru couldn’t help but begin to tilt herself away, only for the cat to follow her, and get even closer until Subaru felt like it was going to just crash right into her face.
“Right?” the cat asked, its little brow furrowed.
“Y-yeah?” Subaru stuttered, not sure what the cat could possibly mean, or if the cat was even real or just some sort of weird hallucination.
Subaru closed her phone with a slow, measured move, so as to not upset the strange creature that glanced at it and then back at Subaru with an even darker cat-grin.
“I think it’s a metia, Lia!” the cat chirped up happily the moment Subaru closed the phone, flying off towards Emilia. She wasn’t quite sure what just happened, but the spirit appeared appeased. ‘ Heiwa wa anata to tomoni. ’
“Oh, I don’t think I've heard of a metia looking like that.” Emilia noted, grabbing one of the cat’s little hands as they reached her.
“What is a metia?” Subaru asked, wanting to help officiate the end of the silent treatment.
“Oooh? You don’t know, even though you have one?” the cat asked, spinning slowly in the air as if it was rolling on an invisible floor.
“Well, like I said, I’m from far away.”
“Hooooa, but that doesn’t explain how you would have a metia without knowing what it is! Hmmm, hmmm.” the cat said, shifting to a standing position, and nodding with its little head, one paw on its chin. Subaru had a funny feeling that the cat was trying to copy her from earlier.
“Forget it, Puck. If she wants to keep her secrets, let her.” Emilia said poutily.
“I’ve got no secrets!” Subaru protested. Well, she had one, the whole returning by death thing, but that was only so she doesn’t look crazy. Well, that and being from another world, also to not sound crazy. That’s two secrets. Then, there’s also what a waste the past few years of her life have bee— And Subaru had come to the executive decision that this line of thinking wasn’t leading anywhere good.
“I don’t think she’s lying, Lia.” ‘Puck’ noted. “I think she really has no idea what she has, where she is, or what she said for that matter. No one plays dumb that convincingly.”
“Excuse me, but could I ask who— what— for that matter, why that cat is?”
“I’m Puck.” Puck said simply, whizzing up to Subaru, extending a little paw. Subaru grabbed it uncertainly, to which Puck began flying up and down to try and mimic a handshake.
“Puck is a great spirit contracted to me.” Emilia said, though still in an upset tone.
“Aren’t spirits those colourful lights from earlier?”
“Yes we are.” Puck answered. “But us greater spirits take more complex forms. Say, you mentioned you don’t know where you’re from?”
“Well,” Subaru felt like she was being appraised. Still, she couldn’t be entirely honest. ”I remember things about my home, but I don’t know where it is or how I got here.”
“How could you really not know how you got here?” Emilia asked sternly, staring into Subaru’s eyes. For once, Subaru was not backing off and stared back.
“I don’t know! I just woke up here, and I don’t remember how!” Subaru wasn’t lying exactly, but she was hoping she was keeping it vague enough not to sound entirely mad. “There’s just tons of things I don’t know. Like I still don’t understand what I said that upset you so much. I tried apologizing, but you’re right, it’s pretty empty because I’m clueless!”
“That is the least believable thing of all in what you say! You dragged me into that alley, and— and… You wanted me to act like the Witch! So you must know!”
“ I really don’t! ” Subaru yelled, annoyed at herself, annoyed at Emilia, annoyed at this entire stupid situation. “I told you, I thought they’d be scared of you because you’re important!”
“Then why did you list out all the details I share with the witch?!”
“I— I remembered people being scared of those things, but I didn’t know why! I mean I don’t even know who this ‘witch’ is that people keep mentioning? Was it that Sat-something one of the thugs mentioned?”
“ Satella. ” Emilia repeated coldly.
“That! Is that the witch?!”
Emilia’s eyes continued to burn into Subaru, her anger bubbling below the surface, then— Emilia blinked, her eyes jumping around slightly, seemingly examining Subaru’s face, then her face softened from anger, to annoyance, then surprise before she finally covered her mouth with a hand in shock.
“You really, really don’t know, do you?” she asked finally.
“I don’t.” Subaru repeated with a relieved sigh. “Please, can you either explain, or just accept my empty apology? I can’t bear this guilt that I don’t even understand hanging over me.”
“I— But I don’t get it, how did you figure they’d be scared of me then?”
“I already explained that!” Subaru sighed, and then decided she might as well give it another shot. “Look, let me put it this way: You remember that Reinhard guy, right? Handsome beyond belief.”
“I guess, I never really thought about it. Why?”
“He just has that ‘Hey, I am of noble blood’ feel oozing out of him, right? His fine hair, good looks, fine attire? That thing he has where he sent those goons running, which makes me pretty sure he’s some kind of magic? Are you following?”
“I’m not sure, but I think maybe.” Emilia said, looking like she’s trying hard.
“Okay, so now that you have Reinhard with all of his nobility oozing out of his looks on your mind, switch that to you.”
Subaru rubbed her temple, then closed her eyes and started gesturing a countdown on her hands.
“Well, I don’t know when’s the last time you looked in a mirror, but you’re what they call drop-dead-gorgeous! Beautiful silver and silken hair, a face that will only leave a head unturned if they are scoring for the other team, and even then it’s a coin toss, and you’re magic to boot! Plus you’re an elf, and this might just be one of those things I know wrong, but aren’t all elves like that? Gorgeous and magical?”
Subaru couldn’t believe this needed to be spelled out. If it wasn’t for the bizarre innocence she had come to sense in the girl, Subaru would be infuriated that she has to explain to a born idol why they look like a queen bee.
“Are you getting the picture now?” Subaru asked, looking up.
Emilia’s face was burning red, a fact she was trying to hide behind both her hands, and failing.
“W-wait, what’s with that look? Look, I get that boys probably say stuff like this all the time, but I’m not coming onto you or anything.”
“You’re such an idiot.” Puck said, flying up to Subaru and punching her in her forehead with all the might of a fistful of cotton candy.
“T-the Witch, she…” Emilia began, muttering. “She did too many evil things to list, but I… As a half-elf, I had to—”
Puck interrupted with an explanation uttered at a very high speed, his back arched. “Lia has a few minor things in common with the Witch, and most people treat her poorly because of that.”
“Oh…” Subaru said. “So then, this witch was a bad person then, and I was likening Emilia to them?”
“Bad in the same way jumping into the great waterfall is bad for you, but yes.” Puck nodded.
While it was a bit difficult to fully understand it given her limited context, Subaru had developed the working idea that she has effectively taken this world’s equivalent of Godwin’s law to its nuclear extreme.
“Emilia.” Subaru said simply, turning to the girl.
“Huh?” Emilia responded, lowering her hands from her face a bit.
“I am really sorry.” Subaru said, bowing deeply. “Please forgive me.”
It was a bit of an act, but… There were times in her life when Subaru would have liked people to take words back as thoroughly as possible too.
The answer didn’t come right away, but Subaru just stayed there, hunched over. It gave her a moment to think, and realize that the only reason the two of them were here right now, was because she intended to use this girl as a human shield, to protect Felt. Subaru felt rather rotten. She was too deep now to turn around, but part of her almost wished Emilia wouldn’t accept her apology. That she would instead leave. Though that part was very small, compared to the one screaming that they need her, or else Felt and old man Rom are doomed.
Subaru felt a gentle, slender hand on her shoulder, and stood up.
Emilia stood before her, with a weak, awkward smile.
“I forgive you. And it’s nice to meet you, Natsuki Subaru.”
“I-It’s nice to meet you too, Emilia.” Subaru responded, feeling a weight leave her chest as another grew heavier. “I— also don’t want to ruin this moment, but I don’t know your last name.”
“It’s just Emilia.” the half-elf giggled.
Chapter 17: Chapter 17: Without each other there ain't nothing people can do
“For a rat—”
“Old man Rom, I know you don’t recognize my voice, but please listen.” Subaru started, standing in front of the door of the loot house.
“Who is this? Who told you about this place?”
“My name is Natsuki Subaru, and we heard about this place in the city, it’s not important. What is important is that I have a friend here who had something very important to her stolen by a girl named Felt.”
Subaru could hear Emilia take deep, anxious breaths behind her.
“We don’t want any trouble, we came to negotiate for its return.”
The answer didn’t come right away, instead Subaru could hear Rom’s voice through the door, though too muffled to make out as he seemed to move away from it.
“She’s not interested.”
“Wait, is Felt in there?!”
“That’s none— Well, okay, I did already say you were here… Look, she’s not taking negotiations today, try tomorrow.”
“This cannot wait until tomorrow!” Subaru exclaimed desperately. Somewhere between the next minutes to next hours, Granhiert is bound to arrive. Subaru cursed the fact that she didn’t take proper note of the time of day the first time around.
“Your urgency is not my business.” Rom answered.
“You don’t seem to understand! We are willing to offer great wealth for it, it’s a very special personal item!”
“Subaru, what are you talking about?” Emilia asked quietly.
“Well, you wanted to negotiate for it, right? Surely you were going to pay her with some fancy stuff?” Subaru answered in a whisper.
“I was more thinking of explaining the importance of it, and making them see that giving it back is the right thing to do.”
Subaru just blinked at the half-elf. Emilia couldn’t possibly have been serious. So why was she giving Subaru that innocent look?
“What exactly are you offering?” came Rom’s voice through the door, breaking Subaru’s line of thought.
“One moment!” Subaru shouted, then continued to Emilia in a whisper: “Alright, it’s time to make peace with the fact that you’re going to have to give up some coin to get that thing back. You wanted a peaceful resolution, well, it comes with a cost, okay?”
“I do not know where you got these expectations of me, Subaru, but I don’t have any money.” Emilia said simply.
Subaru felt her eyes bulge as she puffed her lips and cheeks out trying to hold back a cuss. She raised her two hands before her, picturing holding the half-elf’s neck in them for a moment before putting them back down.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“What was that?” Rom’s voice came over the door.
“Ah! Uhm, ah—” Subaru’s mind raced, trying to think of an alternative. “Right, yes! A metia! A fantastic metia that you’ll surely find is of extraordinary value!”
Subaru crossed her fingers on both hands, praying that it won’t turn out that ‘metia’ is actually just the name of a line of low level magical toys for children, or something stupid like that, and waited in anticipation for Rom’s, or rather, Felt’s response.
Instead of a word, she heard the familiar sound of the giant club being lifted out of the way, after which the door opened, with Rom’s generous frame overflowing behind it.
Subaru couldn’t help but smile seeing the old man again.
“What’s with the look?”
“I’m just relieved we’re making progress!” Subaru said, then quickly turned around. “As for you, please just wait here a moment.” she added for Emilia. It would have been bad if either Emilia or Felt got spooked right now.
With everything as close to in-place as it was going to get, it was time for Subaru to somehow make this work.
Shaking both her arms and shoulders to limber up, Subaru took a deep breath, then with a wide step, she entered the loot house, leaning back and pointing both hands around the room, until she finally spotted Felt standing beside the fireplace.
“He-hey, if it’s the Lugoca’s most daring rogue!”
“Lugoca?” Felt asked.
“Lugoca? Lugi? Lugnica, right Lugnica!” Subaru corrected. “Aaaanyway, I—uh.”
Subaru had hoped that as she came in and saw Felt, things would start falling into place, and she’d know what to say, but that hasn’t quite happened yet.
“Quit it with the act. You look kinda familiar. What did I steal from you?” Felt asked with a serious face.
“Only my time!” Subaru announced, trying to be light hearted, even shooting finger guns, before realizing that obviously wouldn’t mean anything in this world and lowering her hands. “No, it’s actually my friend outside that you stole something from.”
“Then why are they not here negotiating for it?”
“Alright, full honesty here, open heart and all that, it seems like it was a very important item for them, but I’m not sure why. I asked them to stay outside for now, so they get a chance to compose themselves for the negotiation. Plus, the same goes for you, as this might be pretty fresh for both of you, right?”
Felt’s stern expression grew sterner.
“Who is it? What do they want back?”
Subaru could feel that things were getting risky. Felt might not be willing to negotiate for the stone. If Subaru’s hunch was right, and that insignia was what Granhiert was coming to buy tonight, then it would most certainly be awkward for Felt to sell it without good reason.
“Before that!” Subaru said, quickly taking off her backpack. “Here, let me show you what we have to trade!” Hopefully seeing the goods up front would calm the young girl.
“What does it do?” Felt asked, giving the small silvery object in Subaru’s hands a suspicious look.
“Well, it’s actually pretty versatile.” Subaru flipped the phone open and started navigating the menus. Naturally, most of the features were pointless, messaging and phone calls were not going to happen until JAXA figured out a way to shoot some satellites into this world’s orbit, which probably wasn’t on their list of priorities. That being said, it had a couple of neat extras, like the classic snake game, ringtones, and the camera of course. Opting for the easiest demonstration, Subaru proceeded to play one of ringtones she had stored, a track called “Hell March” from her dad’s favourite game, which was the tone she set for him.
Felt, and from the sound of things Rom as well shook, startled by the sudden sound of a dozen marching feet. Honestly, she probably could have picked a better first demonstration, a realization that hit her a second time as the bass dropped and Felt shook again.
“As you can hear, it can produce wild and exotic music from parts unknown!”
“That’s supposed to be music?” Felt asked.
“Very wild and exotic, but it can do others too!” Subaru continued ticking down the list of tracks she had. For a moment she stopped on ‘Here comes the Sun’, but decided she wanted Felt to first hear that from here. “Actually, I did say it was versatile, so another thing it can do, is paint perfect paintings of any scenery in an instant!”
Without even looking, Subaru just pressed the camera button, and turned the phone around, holding it towards Felt.
“You should be able to see me in that little window now, and with a simple touch—”
“No, that’s not you.” Felt said. “That’s…”
Subaru raised his brows, then turned the phone back around. “Oh, right. It was still showing the last image. This was made a few min—”
Looking at the picture of Emilia communing with the spirits, made Subaru realize that mistakes have been made.
“Old man!” Felt shouted. “It’s the one from today!”
Subaru’s blood ran cold. She quickly turned her head, and sure enough, Rom was lifting his giant hammer, ready to attack Emilia outside.
“Grab this one as a hostage!” Felt ordered, to which Rom turned away from the door and headed for Subaru.
Thinking fast, Subaru threw her backpack at Rom’s face, and slid under one of his massive gorilla arms while he was temporarily blinded, then ran to the wall next to the entrance.
“Just hold on, we really don’t want trouble, just to negotiate!”
“Hold on!” Emilia shouted, rushing in. “Have they attacked you?” While asking, she raised one of her hands in Rom and Felt’s direction, an icicle forming before her. A moment later, Subaru also saw Puck appear from behind Emilia’s shoulder, summoning a thin white wall before Emilia that looked like a snowflake.
‘Why can’t everyone just calm down?!’ Subaru wanted to scream, but that wouldn’t have solved anything. Instead, as if by instinct, she jumped in front of Emilia and Puck, her back towards Felt, looking straight into the half-elf’s eyes.
“Please do not hurt them.” Subaru pleaded.
Emilia, who was looking sternly at Felt and Rom a moment ago, ready to defend herself, looked back at Subaru, lost.
“I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, lady,” Felt began. “But aren’t you helping the wrong team here?”
“There are no teams!” Subaru shouted. “We’re just four—” She looked at Puck. “Sort of five people, trying to get through today safe and sound, and with everything we cannot bear to lose still with us!”
“What do you mean ‘sort of’?” Puck grumbled.
“I don’t know what spirits are like!” Subaru responded. “Please, can’t we just sit down and talk? Preferably somewhere nicer?”
Subaru meant that last comment as a segue to hopefully move this whole operation elsewhere before Granhiert showed up, but instead, all that came of it was Rom voicing his sincere offence.
“The metia is still here, we can still negotiate!” Subaru said, shaking the phone in her hand.
“You, you could have been hurt, if I had attacked before you jumped there.” Emilia muttered.
“I had hoped you wouldn’t attack them right away, and I was right.” Subaru said.
“Yes, but then you are also putting up your own metia for this trade, why?”
“Wait, seriously? You want to pay out of pocket for what I took from her ?” Felt concurred. “Are you some kind of idiot?”
“Maybe I am, or maybe I just want to handle this in a way where we can all leave as friends.” Subaru answered. “Maybe celebrate at a nice restaurant!”
“Quit passively insulting my place.” Rom grunted.
“Yeah, you’re definitely crazy.” Felt added. “But— I guess if she’s willing to talk, then there is no harm in it.”
‘Thank you Heavenly Buddha!’
“Though you’ll have to negotiate with the person who ordered it.”
‘Curse you, I wish you would fall off your cloud and straight into a volcano!’
“That is a terrible idea!” Subaru exclaimed.
“Sure, but it’s officially out of my hands.” Felt said simply. “I was hired to steal it, not to fight off its owner. Now that you’re all here, I can’t really do anything.”
“Actually, this might be for the best.” Emilia nodded, the hovering icicles before her evaporating into nothing. “I would like to know who wanted it stolen and why.”
“ Why are you the way you are?! ” Subaru blurted out.
“W-well, shouldn’t I want to know?” Emilia asked, looking at Subaru, puzzled.
“No, you should want to—”
Damn it, she had a point. Sure, ‘You should want to make up with Felt and have all of us go somewhere safe until the city guard announces the capture of Granhiert.’ was correct in a cosmic sense, but it was a hard sell to make.
“Please, can’t we all just come to a quick arrangement and leave? It’s best for everyone! Felt and Rom get the metia, Emilia gets her insignia back, and we avoid any fallout from the client getting upset by just not being here!”
“You seem to forget that this is my loot house.” Rom noted. “A lot of people depend on me keeping its contents safe for them, so I’m not leaving.”
Curse his stupid loyalty! Couldn’t he just be a normal criminal and look out for number one?
Just then, Subaru spotted a dark blade in the door, behind Emilia.
With no time to spare for a second thought, she clutched the phone in her hand and threw it with all her might at the knife as she yelled:
Chapter 18: Chapter 18: She had no heart at all
An ineffectual clank rang out, as Subaru’s phone crashed against the raised blade in the doorway then plopped onto the ground.
At least, it seemed ineffectual until Subaru saw the hand retract, likely spooked by the unknown object striking them.
“Get back Lia!” Puck ordered, flying between Emilia and the door, re-erecting his thin snowflake wall there.
Subaru and the others could hear the sound of glass shattering above them, but looking there, with the sun going down and the fireplace unlit, the rafters were too dark to see anything in.
“My my. This is quite a few more people than I had expected.” echoed in the room, sounding as if Granhiert’s cruelly excited voice was coming from everywhere at once.
“Be on your guard, there’s no guarantee she’s above us!” Puck said.
“I’ll overlook you breaking my window this once, but take this business out of here, I don’t need you wrecking my warehouse!” Rom shouted, scanning the house, though Subaru saw his large left arm cordoning Felt behind him.
“I’m afraid it would be much more trouble fighting them outside.” Granhiert’s voice echoed, followed by a giggle. “How about this, I will promise to pay for any damages, and even put in a nice bonus of a dozen gold coins, but only if you help me deal with these intruders. Hmmm?”
“Don’t listen to her!” Subaru cried. “You think someone like her is going to let anyone who knows about this deal leave alive?!”
She didn’t really have a good reason to claim Granhiert would betray Felt and Rom, but she had to say something before this 5v1 turned into a 3v3.
“Oh, seen right through me, have you?” Granhiert giggled. Subaru couldn’t understand why she would admit to intending to kill everyone. How could she be so overconfident? “My, it would have been fun to play along with a giant this once, but there’s so many joys to look forward to. That fluffy little darling is a spirit, isn’t it? I’ve always wanted to see what a spirit’s bowels are like!”
“Something is seriously wrong with this one.” Puck said.
“Yeah, I think everyone got the memo, listen!” Subaru hushed him.
Everyone suddenly heard something fall down in one of the side rooms, only to then hear something else drop in the opposite end of the house. In other circumstances she’d be impressed with Granhiert’s ninja-like abilities, but not when they were aimed at Felt, herself, Rom and to a lesser degree Emilia and even Puck.
“I’m quite surprised you would allow the elf to follow you here.”
As Granhiert spoke those words, Subaru could hear a faint whistle in the air, followed by four loud and sharp clanging noises. Looking to their source, she saw four large needles fall to the ground, blocked at a moment’s notice by Puck, before they could strike Emilia.
“Elf?!” Rom blurted out, with quivering lips.
“Half-elf.” Emilia corrected. “—But please—”
“A half-elf with silver hair?” Felt asked, her voice growing more scared word by word.
“Felt, let’s not ruin what could be a fine alliance and friendship over something as small and petty as a witch! Emilia has nothing to do with that, don’t let the assassin distract you!”
She wasn’t sure what was coming over her, all Subaru knew was that with a room full of people who were plainly put far more fit to face Granhiert, even Felt, not one of them would just take a stand and start taking charge of the situation.
“Old man! Just protect Felt! Emilia, Puck, couldn’t you freeze the rafters or something, so she can’t move around up there?!”
“What makes you think you can order me?!” Rom boomed, while at the same time moving his whole body to shield Felt between himself and the fireplace all the same.
“Someone with ideas.” came the answer, though it wasn’t Subaru speaking.
Subaru couldn’t even react, as the excitedly grinning face of Granhiert appeared out of nowhere, approaching from a dark corner of the rafters. For an instant, Subaru thought it was all over again, but a thin film of white appeared before her, and Granhiert’s attack bounced off it.
Granhiert quickly hopped off the floor, then put one foot against the white film and jumped away from Subaru to the front window of the loot house with a flip, locked in a triangle between the duos of Rom and Felt by the fireplace, Emilia and Puck guarding the exit, and Subaru feeling terribly exposed as she backed away to the bar, having dodged death by the girth of a snowflake.
“Going for the weakest one here is not going to get you much.” Puck said mockingly, his little paws crossed before his chest again.
Even if he was completely right, Subaru still didn’t appreciate being designated as the trash mob of the encounter.
“I like to start with dessert sometimes.” Granhiert said, tilting her head, that messed up, loving smile of hers still ever-present.
“Oh, would you cut it out already, you sick! Twisted! Insufferable! Bowel-loving! Cunt! ”
Subaru could feel her body shaking, and all eyes in the room were glued to her. They were probably each thinking how someone so pathetically weak could be stupid enough to try and draw attention to herself, but Subaru had just whizzed past the off ramp for reasonable actions a couple times the speed limit.
“Call me an idiot, I deserve it! Call me weak, I guess I am! Say I have no business here, because you’re absolutely right! But I’m drawing the line at being called a Goddamn souffle! ” Subaru slipped into a bit of english there, but she didn’t care. This rant wasn’t for them, it was for her, damn it! “Do you actually have the first idea what you put me through? People like me through? Cutting people open and watching them writhe in agony is what gets your panties wet? Hell, someone warped as you probably just walks around commando all day, thinking they’re doing something naughty that would get other people hot and bothered, but I can tell you right now, no one, no one who is even remotely right in the head would ever find someone as degenerate as you attractive! Go hang around a brothel and check, you’re clearly dressed for the occasion! There is nothing more enraging to me in this moment, than to think that there were people in this world, whose final moments had to be seeing your stupid, conceited mockery of a human face twisted into that fake smile hovering over them attached to a body dressed like a Hollywood hussy who earned their entire career on top of a couch”
Subaru never understood just how literal the expression ‘seeing red’ was until this moment.
“Except maybe one thing!” she continued with a new breath. “The only thing that might hold a candle to the pure hatred I feel towards your disgusting existence, is that no one has decided to use this time to do something !”
“Got it, kid.” Subaru heard from her left.
Subaru and Granhiert turned in unison, only to see old man Rom holding his giant club over his head, heaving loudly as he crashed it down at the woman in black with all the might he could muster with both his arms.
In the next instant, Subaru witnessed the grisly sight of Rom’s blow connecting with the top of the flatfooted Granhiert’s head, which tilted for a moment before descending between her shoulders, her back and legs twisting in place, accompanied by a muffled sound akin to a string of firecrackers going off in the distance.
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
The whole room went quiet once more with old man Rom holding his club, which now rested where Granhiert’s head should have been, appearances would suggest her head had been pushed partway down into her ribcage. By some miracle of early onset rigor mortis, Granhiert’s body was still standing, possibly just unable to fall due to having its top lodged around Rom’s club.
“ Yes! ” Subaru shouted with a jump in the air, before covering her mouth, almost throwing up as her senses caught up with her and allowed her to realize what she was seeing.
“Well.” the old man said simply.
“Rom, I could kiss you!” Subaru exclaimed excitedly. She couldn’t believe it! The doom flag has been well and truly obliterated! Felt and Rom can just take whatever Granhiert had on her body, since she did seem to bring payment in a previous loop, and Emilia can get her insignia back, everybody wins! “ Happy Ending! ”
Just then, old man Rom lifted his club, but Granhiert’s body didn’t fall over. No, instead, impossibly, there was a sound of muffled firecrackers one more, and her head wiggled back out on top of her shoulders, while her legs and back straightened.
“Put it back! Put it back ” Subaru screamed, but it was too late.
Rom attempted a repeat of the previous blow, but Granhiert just planted one foot on the floor and kicked up straight into the giant’s jaw with the other, in a move Subaru never thought she’d see outside of fighting games and especially not from someone who had their legs and spine broken moments before.
Rom stumbled back towards the fireplace before catching three long needles in his chest courtesy of Granhiert, thrown too fast for Subaru to even follow.
Before Granhiert could continue her impossible rampage, sharp icicles began flying through the air at her, Emilia and Puck’s handiwork.
Feeling incredibly useless and exposed, Subaru desperately scanned the room for anything she could use. Frustratingly, it didn’t look like there were any weapons on display in the main room, except a rusty greatsword that looked just as heavy and useless as Rom’s club.
Just one mysterious shortsword of destiny in a glass case was all Subaru was asking for. One magic weapon that has been sitting around in here for years somehow being overlooked, because it rendered itself unremarkable in the minds of all who looked at it, until the woman who was meant to wield it walked in with great need! All Subaru was asking for! One damn item to help her stand a chance!
A thought flashed through her mind. It was a bit messed up, but not nearly as much as anything this harlot put Subaru and her other victims through.
Quickly stepping to her discarded backpack on the floor, she began digging for her first aid kit.
Meanwhile, Granhiert seemed preoccupied with Emilia and Puck, who had been bombarding her with icicles, slowly but surely wrecking the building. Granhiert’s only defence at this time seemed to be approaching the two from Subaru or Rom and Felt’s direction, as neither Emilia nor Puck seemed willing to shoot icicles in the direction of innocents. Even then, Granhiert’s attacks continued failing to connect, Puck blocking them all with an icy shield.
Felt seemed eager to join the fray, but Rom, who was quickly, but not quite quickly enough recovering from the blow he took, held on to her arm with his hand, much to the young girl’s protest.
Finally getting her first aid kit and opening it, Subaru grabbed her scissors and threw them at Granhiert as a shot in the dark. Not very surprisingly, it didn’t do much as Granhiert somehow flicked them away without even looking. Not that it could have done much, but it was worth a shot.
Subaru’s real prize however, was something else, and she had it in her grasp.
“Old man, are you alright?” Subaru asked, looking at Rom, who was just clambering back on his feet, clearly in pain from the needles impaling him, but still standing. “Be ready!”
Subaru had no idea what Granhiert really was. Probably not human, but the fact that everyone kept fighting her gave her a small bit of hope that they might know, and know she can be killed. Only, if crushing her spine didn’t do the trick, they needed something else, with freezing her and cutting her to pieces being the two alternatives that obviously presented themselves. She wasn’t a zombie, since crushing her head didn’t seem to do much, but maybe if the head was cut off? Bah, if they freeze her first, they’ll have plenty of time to start experimenting with silver and wooden stakes too.
“Hey, don’t forget the dessert!” Subaru shouted. She didn’t really want to become Granhiert’s main target, but she needed Granhiert to look towards her, if this was going to work.
The moment the harlot turned her head, Subaru stepped as close as her feet would go before her shrieking survival instincts stopped them, and went into a false flinging motion, as if she was going to throw the small item she was clutching in her hand at Granhiert.
Naturally, Granhiert raised her blade before her, ready to block whatever projectile was heading her way, to which a cruel smile crept on Subaru’s face. ‘ Checkmate !’
“ Alchemist’s Fire! ” Subaru shouted, taking her thumb off the top of the glass bottle of antiseptic, and splashing its contents at Granhiert’s face.
For the first time, the smile on the woman’s face disappeared as she clutched at her eyes, burning with the high purity alcohol draining into her eye socket. Subaru felt more exhilarated seeing that disgusting expression disappear, than she had ever felt in her life.
Subaru suspected that the effect wouldn’t last for more than a few moments with a monster like this, but luckily, Rom wasn’t going to let this second chance go to waste!
Instead of using his club, which had fallen to the other side of the room, the hulking old man stepped behind the stunned assassin, reached under her arms, then hooked his massive hands behind her head, in the most powerful display of a full nelson Subaru had ever seen.
Watching on from the side as Rom lifted Granhiert up like the absolute beast of a man he was, Subaru saw him use the needles lodged in his chest to further strengthen his hold on Granhiert by impaling her on the other end of her own weapons.
“Quickly! Freeze her!” Subaru shouted, but Emilia and Puck were already beginning to cast some sort of spell, thick white mist flowing down before them.
“Lia, I’m just about at my limit.” Subaru heard Puck say.
“Do not worry, we will be done in a moment.” Emilia responded.
This had to be it! This was the big team moment! Subaru blinded Granhiert, Rom grabbed her, and now even Emilia and Puck were joining in! The team was all here in this one attack, working together. Every story she ever read or watched confirmed to Subaru, this was their Voltron! Granhiert didn’t stand a cha—
Subaru watched in disbelief, as Granhiert proceeded to break her own neck, forcing herself against Rom’s hands. Her head then drooped forward to an unnatural degree as she slipped it under the giant’s arms, the force of trying to hold her down causing them to fly forward as they lost their counter ballast.
Stabbing her heels into Rom’s knees, the assassin kicked herself up, ripping her back open along the three needles stabbed into her while also opening up Rom’s chest, before gracefully landing on the giant’s shoulders and kicking him into a corner, leaving him bleeding heavily from the chest.
Granhiert on the other hand seemed practically untouched by the time her feet touched the floor again.
“That’s just cheating.” Subaru muttered, her knees going weak.
Chapter 19: Chapter 19: Somewhere just beyond my reach
“You've had your fun, but it’s time to stop!” Puck’s voice boomed across the room.
Granhiert seemed to want to jump at them, but in a turn unnoticed by both her and Subaru, Granhiert’s feet appeared frozen to the floor.
“That was a lovely little jump you performed,” Puck continued, hovering far above them just below the rafters, with a menacing, vile look on his face. “Though it made it very easy to predict where you’ll land.”
“Oh? It’s been some time since I felt this excited.” Granhiert said, returning to her cool temperament.
“Lia, if you need me after this, use your od to squeeze me out if you have to. And if anything happens, I’ll act according to my contract.” Puck said, his tone having softened for a moment as he looked down at Emilia.
In the next instant, over a dozen spears of ice materialized out of the air around them.
“Since we never got to introduce ourselves, my name is Puck! Let this be the last name you ever hear!”
The spears of ice all suddenly sprung forward, flying straight at Granhiert, gushing freezing mist in their path!
The assassin’s only recourse was to crouch and cover herself in her cape like a blanket, exposing three long, bloodied cuts along it where Rom had impaled her with her own needles. With the precision of homing missiles, each spear of ice struck Granhiert with the force of a cannonball, embedding themselves deep into her cloak, undoubtedly skewering her beyond recognition!
But then, her cloak flashed white hot, before evaporating into nothing, the spears of ice falling to the ground and shattering around her.
“Puck! Do it again!” Subaru yelled desperately, trying to spot the tiny cat who was nowhere to be seen. It looked like that cloak was a one off defence, if they could only try again—
“Puck has gone to sleep, he’s used up too much mana to maintain his material form.” Emilia said, clutching her green crystal. Suddenly it clicked to Subaru why she kept whispering to that necklace
“Like hell he can’t!” Subaru yelled. “He’s been taking a cat nap in that rock all day, what does he have to be tired for?!”
“My, I wish he didn’t leave. I so wanted to see what the insides of a spirit look like.” Granhiert complained, though with a small tremble of pain in her voice, the holes punched in her cloak by Rom evidently had some effect since there was a shard of ice sticking out of the assassin’s back.
“Make no mistake, even with Puck gone, I will not allow you to continue your rampage!” Emilia declared defiantly, already summoning new icicles one by one to launch at Granhiert.
The assassin quickly dropped down and cut at the floor around her before pulling her feet up one after the other, having converted the ice that was binding her to the floor into an extension of her shoes.
Out of the corner of her eye, Subaru noticed Felt. She was not holding onto Rom now, who seemed to have completely passed out from his injuries, she instead wore a look of unmatched hatred, clearly suggesting she was about to try and charge Granhiert.
Having learned by now that the only thing trying to attack Granhiert in range of her blades was going to result in was a swift death, Subaru jumped across the room, tackling the young girl away from Granhiert in the middle of her charge.
As they landed, Subaru could feel the affirmation of her fears as a sharp pain spread across the top of her right arm, Granhiert having landed a deep cut probably meant for Felt.
Subaru cussed loudly before swallowing it, feeling dirty about saying words she wouldn’t even want to repeat in her thoughts while clutching Felt.
“Stay with Rom, let Emilia and me handle her!” Subaru quickly forced the words out as she scrambled to her feet and pointed Felt at Rom’s unconscious body.
The giant really wasn’t looking good. While the needles might have missed his vital organs initially, having them yanked upward when Granhiert ripped herself off of him seem to have caused a lot more damage, as Rom was losing a dangerous amount of blood and was likely hemorrhaging, really putting Subaru’s little kitten scratch of a cut into perspective.
Praying that Emilia’s magic was capable of healing even what happened to Rom, Subaru turned back to Granhiert who was once again engaged with the silver sorceress who proved unwilling to give the assassin even a moment’s rest, chasing her across the room with icy projectiles.
She hated to admit it, but as much as Subaru said she and Emilia would take care of the assassin, one of them was clearly far better equipped for the task. Stepping over to Rom’s fallen club, Subaru made an attempt to lift it, but through some mix of it being an obscenely ridiculous weapon unfit for anyone but Rom’s giant frame, and the painful, deep cut on her dominant arm, Subaru found it barely tenable to raise it off the ground, let alone swing it.
With little other option, Subaru pulled her head down and hurried behind Rom’s bar. If she can’t fight Granhiert properly, she could at least try to run some interference!
Subaru began grabbing bottles from under the bar and tossed them in the assassin’s general direction. She had little hope of actually hitting her, and even if she did, it’d be like fighting a sumo champion by throwing wet towels at them, but if she could just be distracting enough that Emilia could land a good hit or two, that would be plen—
In the middle of tossing the fifth or sixth bottle, Subaru’s eyes met with Granhiert’s, who growing tired of the distraction slid across the room towards Subaru on her new icy skates.
At the last moment, one of Emilia’s icicles deflected Granhiert’s blade which was flying in towards Subaru’s neck, but undeterred, the assassin spun around and delivered a roundhouse kick into Subaru’s shoulder, sending her flying through the door next to the bar, into one of the storage areas.
“What the hell am I doing?!” Subaru cried, while coming back to her senses from the blow. She had no weapon, no magic, no ninja skills, nothing!
Climbing onto her feet, holding onto a shelf, she tried desperately yet again to think of something, anything she could contribute, when her fingers got entangled with something thin and light. Looking at the shelf, she thought. ‘This will have to do.’
Moments later, she was rushing back into the main room, screaming a crazed battlecry, holding her beloved lyulyre upside down, wielding it as though it were a bastard sword.
“ Montjoie, Saint-Denis, que trépasse si je faiblis! ” she screamed, recalling the line from an old movie she used to make her family watch on repeat when she was 8.
Turning the instrument in her hands so that its strings were on the side away from Granhiert, Subaru rushed at her, begging the doomed inanimate object’s forgiveness.
“Really?” Granhiert asked bemused, as she casually blocked the overgrown banjo with her blade, shattering its body in the process.
With its parts flying apart however, the lyulyre’s pieces maintained their momentum, and with the neck still in Subaru’s grasp and the bridge binding the other end of the strings flying free, the strings quickly spun around the knife!
Subaru gave an exhilarated yelp, having entangled the assassin’s blade, then tugged back on the neck of the deceased lyulyre, hoping to pull the blade from Granhiert’s grasp. Instead, the strings just quickly snapped upon being tightened around the razor sharp cutting edge.
“What a wonderful struggle!” Granhiert complimented, before Subaru felt two sharp objects lodge themselves in her gut.
While stumbling back to the bar, she reached for her stomach, only to prick her palm on one of the two long needles now embedded in her.
“I am your opponent!” Emilia cried out, firing yet another icicle that the assassin casually dodged.
Feeling that familiar burning sensation in her gut, Subaru began to realize that this was an unwinnable fight. Whatever this woman was, she was unstoppable. Crushing her didn’t work, she couldn’t be restrained, even a so-called “great spirit” could barely even dent her.
Looking across the room, to the open front door, Subaru wanted to run. Run and get away, as far away as she could. Maybe she could find someone, someone to save her, someone to help!
Emilia continued casting her spells, even using icicles as makeshift shields as Granhiert had now turned her full attention to the elf, moving around her swiftly and attacking from multiple sides almost simultaneously. The fact that Emilia could keep up with her at all was nothing short of a miracle.
Her eyes drifting to the other corner, she saw Felt, still hunched over Rom, just now pulling out the last of the three needles in the old man. Subaru knew Felt just made Rom’s injuries far worse, but it was too late to say anything.
Perhaps she should die. Well, should wasn’t quite right, she definitely didn’t want to experience death again, but maybe it wouldn’t be all bad. She might still have one more life left. If Subaru could be reborn, could she find a way around this?
Impossible. There was no defeating this monster. There may not even be an escape from this monster.
But if someone, anyone were to escape, it should be—
“ Felt! ” Subaru screamed, stumbling forward, and grabbing one of the stools before the bar. “Rom wouldn’t want you to die here!”
“What?” Felt asked in a desperate tone. The facade of the strong girl who can take anything having fallen apart somewhere along the way as she hunched over the giant that might have been her only family.
“Get out of here! Go! Find some help!” Subaru shouted, feeling the needles cut against her intestines as she circled around Granhiert and Emilia, so she’d end up between the assassin and Felt.
“I’m not leaving the old man!”
“ There is no surviving this, you stupid idiot! ” Subaru shrieked. “Why do you think he held you back? Why did you shield you? So you could die over his body?! ”
Felt had to live. Even if everyone else died, Even if this beast went on to massacre the entire city, Felt had to live! If Subaru was out of lives, if she couldn’t stop the assassin, Felt had to live!
She could hear the young girl stand up on the creaking floor as Subaru shuffled around Granhiert, holding up the stool as her last and only defence if the assassin’s attention returned to them.
Moving as best she could with the two needles in her, Subaru listened to Felt’s footsteps behind her, circling to stay between the girl and Granhiert, who still didn’t let up on Emilia.
“You didn’t think I’d let her leave, did you?”
In a moment of clarity, Subaru saw Granhiert’s perfect movement, as she jumped up to dodge one of Emilia’s attacks, while pulling a second knife from behind her back. The assassin didn’t grab this second blade, instead choosing to yank it out and send it flying in the door’s direction.
Subaru couldn’t risk it hitting Felt, and so she jumped, pushing out the stool in front of herself to catch the blade.
Crack. The blade tore through one of the wooden beams holding two of its legs together. Crack and rip. The blade effortlessly passed through the seat of the stool, punching through wood and cushion both.
Subaru saw Granhiert’s side of the room be propelled further for a moment, before feeling a heavy blow against her back.
An incredible, stinging pain overwhelmed her, as if in that moment her entire left arm cried out in the most sublime agony, before going silent.
“Su—” Subaru heard Emilia cry out, before being interrupted by a strike from Granhiert which she barely blocked.
Turning her head left, she saw the assassin’s blade sticking out of her where she believed her shoulder plate to be, hilted entirely inside her, and pinning her to the frame of the front door. Next to her on the floor, right in the doorway, lay her left arm, cleanly ripped apart by the blade, with only some bone barely visible over the knife still, barely attached.
Subaru steeled herself for the next wave of the pain that would inevitably come, only it didn’t. Her left side had gone completely numb, but she couldn’t feel pain. Was she going into shock? She really was going to die again.
Feeling the uncontrollable urge to cough, she saw a red mist appear before her, and felt a wet sensation running down her chin. She couldn’t feel it, but one of her lungs was probably gone.
Her hearing and sight fading, Subaru oddly felt her sense of smell flaring up. She could smell the rust on the door handle, as if her nose was glued to it, the iron in her blood coating her mouth, the splashed booze and milk from the bottles she tossed earlier.
Before her, she saw a short figure with a vibrant yellow crown, hesitating.
“Run, Felt, please!” Subaru said weakly, before a thought flashed through her mind, in response to which she reached out and grabbed Felt’s hand. “Were you at the tower today?”
“Why did you save me?” came the unhelpful answer.
Subaru had realized now, far too late, that in her second loop, she had been a fool to think that the figure she saw at the tower would keep Felt away. In all likelihood, it was the girl herself, she just hadn’t known yet. She hadn’t known…
Felt’s faint figure still hadn’t left, so with all she could muster, Subaru reached up. What feeling she had left in her right arm was rapidly fading too, but she grasped at what she hoped was Felt’s face.
“Live strong.” she echoed the words she remembered.
Her arm falling powerlessly besides her, Subaru thought back on her first life here. That wonderful loop she wished to bring back.
“I just hope,” she muttered voicelessly. “If I get another chance… That I can sing for you again.”
Subaru closed her eyes.
“ Here comes the sun… du-du du-du… ”
A crash loud enough for even Subaru to hear filled the room. She hadn’t the energy to react, but she could feel sawdust blowing into her face.
Subaru wanted to sleep. It was alright. She was done. There was nothing more she could do, though she hadn’t really done anything at all.
But she had to know. That sound couldn’t have been Felt. Please, all that is good, just let it not have been Granhiert striking Felt. That’s all she wanted to know, then she could rest.
Subaru opened her eyes, the room having shifted into a messy splotch of grays and browns, but besides her, on her left, there was a beautiful yellow flower, moving in the wind. A distant, chirping, beloved voice echoing in Subaru’s ear. And on the right— on the right—
A dot, a distant orb of blazing red.
“—awake—” Subaru heard breaching through the deafening veil in her ear, though she didn’t know who spoke it. Red? Who’s red? A ringa. Yes, of course the ringas said it. They are calling her to wake up, at the fruit stand again.
Subaru’s vision suddenly shifted to the left, then rolled back to the right. That was odd.
Once more, her vision suddenly turned left, then began rolling to the right. What was that numbness in her right cheek?
‘Don’t what?’ Subaru pondered. Were they talking to her? What is it that Subaru shouldn’t do? A very pointless request to make of someone that cannot do anything.
What wound? Her wound? Was she wounded? No, no, she was supposed to be fine, in front of— oh right, that hasn’t happened yet. Or it happened already. Twice.Or was it three times? All of this was very confusing.
“Can you hear me?”
Subaru’s attention returned to her mostly faded sight, and realized that while the red orb slowly moved around between flashes of light, the vibrant flower beside Subaru was joined by something white. A snowcone? No, something else. She should know this.
“Can you hear me?”
Emilia. The silver sorceress, of course. But then, Subaru wasn’t dead?
“Emi—” Subaru tried saying, only for more blood to come rushing up her windpipe.
“Great! Just stay still, I am healing your wound!” Subaru heard Emilia say.
Blinking, Subaru tried to refocus her vision, gather herself. She could see, if barely, Emilia’s sad, concerned face hunched before her, focusing on the area where Subaru once had a left arm sticking out of her body. Beside her, in the door frame, stood Felt who looked terrified, but still refused to leave. Why won’t she—
Subaru turned her head to the right, to the corner of the room where Rom still lay motionlessly, then back to her left and upward.
Her vision wasn’t perfect, but she saw Felt looking towards the giant. There were no tears on her face, Felt wasn’t crying, although she should have been. The girl wasn’t not crying out of bravery or a stone heart. Subaru could see her small figure tremble with fear, rage and grief. Felt wasn’t crying, because she was unable to cry. Because she didn’t know how. Because she lived a life where she couldn’t afford to.
Subaru limply raised her arm, and with the best communication abilities as she could muster right now, slapped Emilia across the face.
“Ow, what was that for?!” Emilia asked indignantly, but with more concern on her face than anger.
“Rom.” Subaru said simply, pointing to the giant’s body.
She was still choking on the blood in her throat, but she looked at Emilia and then glanced at Felt, hoping she’d get it. Begging the elf with her eyes, that she got it.
Emilia gave Subaru a stern, disapproving look, but finally turned to the girl.
“Felt, right? Please, keep making sure she stays awake, I’ll check on Rom.”
A moment after Emilia got up and rushed off to the right, holding her head down, Felt crouched down in front of Subaru, her attention still fixed on the giant’s body.
Subaru couldn’t help but feel left out. She just performed a grand heroic gesture, sending the white mage to save someone else first. Least she could get was a smile from the young maiden.
Subaru’s vision suddenly shifted to the left again, as she felt and heard a slap on her right cheek.
Whatever magic Emilia used got Subaru back to her senses enough to catch Felt’s hand before she could deliver the second slap.
“I’m awake.” Subaru choked out, coughing up some more blood in the process.
Felt looked at her with an indecipherable stare, then once again turned back to where hopefully, Emilia was saving Rom’s life.
Felt’s face still didn’t show a single tear. Subaru had never realized how sad a face free of tears could be. If she lives, if this all works out somehow, she wanted more than to just play music for Felt. In fact, with her left arm gone, that was probably impossible now. But no matter. Her new goal was far greater than something as trivial as playing some old songs from another world.
She wanted to make Felt cry. Teach her to cry. Make her cry tears of joy one day. That would be... a perfect isekai fantasy…
Almost dozing off, Subaru could feel herself being shaken, and Felt was above her, giving Subaru a miserable look. As inappropriate as it was, Subaru smiled happily. Was Felt miserable for her? Would it be wrong to hope so?
“Stay awake!” Felt ordered with her voice cracking as she shook Subaru again.
“Felt, step aside!” Subaru could hear in Emilia’s voice as the sorceress slid back into her view from the right.
“What about the old man?!” Felt cried out.
“He will be fine! Pay attention, Reinhard there has been holding back so I can heal them. As soon as I tell you, scream out to let him know I’m done.”
‘Reinhard?’ Subaru thought. Where was Reinhard? Near the ringa?
Maybe she could have done with another wake up slap.
“ Do it! ”
What happened next, Subaru wasn’t sure of. She thought the room was filled with blinding light, but that was equally likely just her brain hallucinating from all the blood loss. Alternatively, it could have been a prelude for the pain that was beginning to flare up all across her body, but concentrated mostly in her left shoulder. For all the good Emilia’s healing had done, it seemed to have also taken away the comforting mix of hormones and adrenaline that had kept Subaru sedated unti thatl moment, and she was beginning to feel the pain of nearly bleeding out, a punctured lung, and of course her missing arm.
Most concerning of all was an itching pain in her left palm which she’d never be able to scratch. If she’d have to live with that for the rest of her life, she wished she’d have just died, with or without an extra life.
“It’s Natsuki Subaru, correct?” came a gentle voice, and the ringa red hair came to fill a large portion of Subaru’s remaining vision. “I wanted to thank you for reporting that assassin’s presence. Without you, I’m afraid things might have turned out far worse.”
Subaru’s lungs heaved deeply on their own. All was well? Really? She could feel tears welling up in her eyes again. How? Did this stupid redhead just show up again out of nowhere? Is there really no other guard? How did he even end up here, and why did Subaru feel like she could see the moon behind him, even though they were indoors?
“ Sup-perman. ” Subaru muttered half consciously, humming a tune.
“Can I go see the old man now?” Subaru heard Felt ask. A bit hurtful, as she was still equally close to death but actually conscious, but whatever.
“Of course.” Reinhard answered.
Subaru heard a few steps on the floor go away, then stop, and then return, with that vibrant yellow hair leaning in before her.
“You could have died, you idiot!”
“Haaaaa.” Subaru let out an involuntary elongated laugh. She could have.
“I don’t even know who you are! Why would you save me? Why would you offer your metia? Why would you do any of the stupid things you did? Why?”
Subaru tried to focus on Felt’s face, but it wasn’t happening. If anything, her vision was fading once again, as the excitement of the uncertainty died off.
“I am Natsuki Subaru, The Great and Powerful. ” she added, in her fading mind’s best effort to sound cool. “And I did it, because you are my Number One Groupie! ”
In the next moment, Natsuki Subaru’s consciousness faded away.
Chapter 20: Interlude: You knew just what I was there for
Three young women and a giant in a house filled with stolen goods. Reinhard was so looking forward to a calm day of relaxation, though he could hardly complain about being of use.
The young blonde girl was shaking the now unconscious body of the one called ‘Natsuki Subaru’. What an odd name. What an odd thing for a commoner to do, acting so brave to save a stranger and so gentle. Reinhard would very much have liked to talk with this strange woman.
A slight ruffle from the rubble left behind when he attempted to obliterate the bowel-hunter, and Reinhard snapped to attention. His temporary blade having evaporated due to overexertion, he watched for the first move, then as the woman in black, Elsa Granhiert, dashed forth from her hiding place and charged at Emilia-sama, Reinhard quickly stepped in her way and grabbed hold of the killer’s notorious blade.
Elsa hissed and let go of it as she jumped away, onto the collapsed ceiling left behind by Reinhard’s entrance.
“Someday, I will slice open the bowels of everyone in this room. Until then, take good care of them!” she announced, before leaping away into the night.
Reinhard could have pursued her, but at this time—
He dropped the killer’s blade and turned to Emilia-sama while descending to one knee. Etiquette had to be observed, and not a flaw was he willing, or indeed able to allow.
“My failure to take appropriate action earlier today has left you in grave danger and a victim of undue anxiety, not to mention the grievous harm to your companion, Emilia-sama. I shall accept any punishment for this inadequacy.”
He took his blade from his hip, the blade infinitely unfit to be drawn against the likes of the assassin from earlier, and placed it before the radiant candidate before him, the ultimate prostration and apology of a knight.
“Why must the two of you be like this?” Reinhard could hear Emilia-sama’s displeasure in her voice as he continued to bow, head held low. “At least she didn’t apologize.”
“I must beg your pardon, Emilia-sama, but which of them do you refer to?” Reinhard asked, seeking to better understand the depths of his failure, his head remaining low.
“Subaru. The girl you met me with, who I just healed!” Emilia said, pouting. “She inserted herself into my search, offering up her own metia to resolve the situation, as if it was her responsibility.”
Reinhard paused to contemplate for a moment.
“Emilia-sama, as a knight—”
“I don’t care that your duty is to help people! Your duty isn’t to be perfect! You came and helped us, throwing yourself in danger, and somehow saved the lives of everyone in here! I simply don’t know how you could try and take responsibility for the suffering that occurred in the process. And at least look at the person who is talking to you!”
Reinhard raised his head, and was greeted by Emilia-sama’s blushing face, with her cheeks blown out, her expression locked into a cute sort of anger.
Narrowing her eyes, Emilia-sama continued: “As such, the only words I have for you, in the name of myself, and I trust the two who can no longer speak for themselves, are ‘thank you’. — There will be no punishment, and if that is unacceptable, then try to do your best from now on!”
“Understood. I am grateful for your gentle words.”
Reinhard bowed deeper than before, then stood up.
Even looking down at the girl, as he now had to, being that he was far taller than her, Reinhard couldn’t shake the sense of majesty that she exuded. Perhaps it was a sign of his own narrow-mindedness, at the very least it confirmed that she truly was one of the ‘Chosen’.
“You are also dressed rather lightly today.” Emilia-sama noted.
Of course, while his sword was by his side as was necessary for his duty, Reinhard was in fact far underdressed for his proper position as a Knight, wearing dark clothes he felt appropriate for today’s relaxation.
“The truth is, I am off duty today, and as such my uniform and armor are at the castle. My sword is the only item of knighthood with me.” he explained, while placing his sword back by his hip.
“And yet, you came to our rescue twice, and still felt the need to apologize.” Emilia-sama complained, giving him another pout.
“May I ask what brought you here?” Reinhard began. “I recall you were looking to meet someone, was it either of these two?” he asked, gesturing to the young girl, and the sleeping giant she was hunched over.
“Yes. The girl had taken something of mine, and we came to ask for it back. That’s why Subaru was going to offer up her metia, to trade for it back.” Emilia-sama explained. “Oh, also, I just want it back, so please do not arrest her, or do anything else you people do at times like these.”
“As a knight, thievery is not something I can overlook— However, as it is my day off, and the one wronged wishes not to make a complaint—”
“I appreciate it, but when you put it like that, it just sounds like lying. It wasn’t a crime that should be punished. Simple as. Please do not interfere further.”
Reinhard straightened himself out, feeling only the slightest bit of discomfort at having to bend the rules.
“Oh! The metia!” Emilia-sama exclaimed, hurrying to the door, and beginning to dig around in the dirt outside.
Looking down, Reinhard gazed at the killer’s black blade for a moment, before picking it up and sliding it into his pocket. It was better to take it than let her retrieve it and continue its foul legacy unbefitting such craftsmanship.
Reinhard walked towards it, but stopped before the unconscious young woman, examining her injuries and brushing her hair to the side. For someone saying such crude and foolish things as she had earlier, she had acted admirably here and had played no small part in saving Emilia-sama’s life. If only Reinhard was more diligent or fortunate in his search for Granhiert, perhaps she wouldn’t have lost her arm.
“You’re right, I shouldn’t mess with her metia.” Reinhard heard Emilia-sama declare in the doorway.
While Emilia-sama told him that no punishment or recompense was in order, he still felt that perhaps an act of charity was in order.
“If I may ask, please close the wounds on the severed arm as well.” Reinhard said, wiping the blood from Natsuki Subaru’s face, before standing up and walking over to the other two present.
“I wished to congratulate you, and apologize.” Reinhard said gently, crouching down next to the sad young girl. He immediately noticed that she was expending no tears, yet her grief over the giant’s injuries were obvious.
“I don’t need—” she began, but then went quiet for a short time. “Thank you?”
“There is nothing to thank me for. When I arrived, I told you to keep the young woman over there awake, even though it would have been in your best interest to flee. And yet you stayed. What you’ve done was a noble thing. The only fault was with me in asking such a thing of a stranger, and one so young.”
“But if it was the right thing— The half-elf is right, you are a weirdo.”
Reinhard couldn’t help but smile at the honesty.
He glanced at the giant laying on his back besides them. His chest wounds healed admirably, as was to be expected of Emilia-sama. His gaze wandered to the giant’s face. Reinhard’s brow furrowed.
“Here, I collected her things, what I could find at least. Some fine scissors, and the metia.” Emilia-sama declared, drawing Reinhard’s attention.
She was holding a small black and orange bag of some kind, composed of material similar to what Natsuki Subaru was wearing. Emilia-sama gently placed the bag next to the unconscious body, then with likely a great deal of effort, given that Reinhard’s previous actions had drained the air of mana, began closing the wound on the girl’s arm.
“If I may, what exactly have you taken, that the girl would be willing to give up a metia to retrieve?” Reinhard asked, turning to the young girl beside him.
“She wasn’t even going to get it. She was going to give it up just so her friend wouldn’t have to fight us.” the young girl said, with a small shake of disbelief in her voice. “Why would someone do that?”
“From what I heard from Emilia-sama, they were actually just fresh acquaintances.” Reinhard noted, furrowing his brow further. “So why indeed.”
“Reinhard, I asked that you do not interfere.”
“I’m terribly sorry, I had no intention of interfering, my curiosity simply got the better of me.” Reinhard said as he stood up to perform a proper bow, but Emilia-sama continued before he could begin.
“I forgive you, as long as you don’t ask for a punishment.”
Reinhard’s back remained straight.
“So, hey. Are you hurt?” Emilia-sama asked, crouching down on the other side of the little girl.
“No, thanks to old man Rom. And that girl… Is she, is she going to be one armed for the rest of her life because of me?”
“Emilia-sama, I realize you said no recompense is in order, but—”
“That’s why you wanted me to heal the arm.”
“See, that’s the kind of responsibility that I like.” Emilia-sama proclaimed with a warm smile, leaving Reinrhard very confused.
“What was that?” the girl asked.
“Reinhard here is going to try and find someone to fix the girl’s arm. I believe I’ve heard of a gifted healer among the knights.”
The girl turned her attention back to the giant, before quietly muttering: “He better.”
“This old man is your family?” Emilia-sama asked gently.
“Well, not really. We aren’t related, but he always took care of me, so he’s like a grandpa.”
“He seems like a good, caring man. He will be fine once he sleeps off his injuries.”
As much as she had a tendency to act against Reinhard’s instincts, it filled him with a sense of gladness to see the young candidate so uniquely positioned to both hate the world and consider herself above, to show such kindness to the lowliest of people, even when they wronged her. She clearly possessed a truly magnanimous soul.
The young girl seemed to stiffen up, then signed.
“As for the thing I stole. I decided I should give it back. And not because of the scary guy looming over there, it’s just since you healed my grandpa. I don’t want to owe anyone a favour. Take better care of your things from now on.”
Reinhard never really considered himself to be the ‘looming’ kind of guy.
“I didn’t expect you to scold me of all things.”
“Well, the only reason I could take it, was because you didn’t watch out for it enough, so it’s really your fault. Don’t act as if I had done anything to be sorry for.”
Reinhard was more than aware of the situation in the capital. As much as the girls’ words went against his nature as a knight, he accepted them as a part of her short, tragic life.
His responsibilities dictated that such things shouldn’t be overlooked, however, what other option did a girl like her have, with no family but an old giant in the slums to speak of, if she wanted herself fed?
The girl began digging around inside her vest, until finally she pulled out a small item.
A familiar light flashed before Reinhard’s eyes, and his body stiffened. He searched deep amongst his countless memories for one—
And he found it.
He grabbed the girl’s wrist, which was still holding the small, triangular object, a dragon insignia, with a gem glowing with white light in the center, and the holy dragon emblem engraved in it with gold.
“Hey, let go, that hurts!”
Felt attempted to push Reinhard’s hand off of her wrist with her other hand, but Reinhard’s grip showed no sign of letting up.
“What is—” Reinhard uttered with quivering lips.
“Reinhard, please, the girl was going to accept the metia, so she clearly didn’t know the insignia’s true value! She is blameless in this crime! Just please let her go! I, the one it was taken from do not wish to charge her, and she’s right, it was my fault for allowing it to be stolen, so—”
The young silver-haired woman showed once more her wondrous magnanimity, however, it had no bearing on the situation.
“Emilia-sama, that is not what concerns me at this moment.”
Looking, searching in the young girl’s eyes, Reinhard saw his reflection, his hair turning practically invisible, matching her iris. Her expression, in this moment when fear, anger or even hate would be most justified, shifting into one of unease instead.
“What is your name, your real name?” Reinhard demanded, his knightly courteousness falling to shambles by the sheer gravity of what was transpiring before him.
“Just Felt? Your family name? Do you have one? Your age?”
“No, I don’t have anything like a family name, I’m an orphan! I— I think I’m about 15, now let go of me!” her momentary unease shifted back to anger.
“Emilia-sama, I’m afraid I cannot grant your wish. I shall be taking charge of this girl.”
“If this is because she stole—”
“As grave a crime as it was, it is paltry compared to the sin it would be to overlook what is unfolding before me.”
Emilia-sama’s expression was one of incomprehension, but in this instance, it couldn’t be helped, and so Reinhard accepted it. After all, she must have been quite used to this extraordinary sight.
Reinhard turned to Felt.
“I will now take you into my custody, where I promise you will enjoy the utmost safety. However, I regret to say I cannot allow you the choice to say no.”
“I’d like to see you try! I’ll cut your arm off if that’s what it takes for you to let g—”
The girl’s speech was interrupted as her knees suddenly gave in, and even her arms drooped, her body rapidly going limp.
“Scr— Screw you—!” she spat defiantly, before losing consciousness.
Reinhard gently grabbed the girl, and took her under his arm.
“That wasn’t knightly in the slightest, you could have caused permanent damage to her gate.”
“I’ve had to deal with this since childhood, so in an odd sort of fortune, I know how to control it. I will do my utmost to ensure her safety and well being., Of this, make no mistake, Emilia-sama.”
Brushing the young girl’s hair to the side, Reinhard contemplated her fine features and skin by moonlight. Surely, with a change of clothes and the grime of the lower city washed off her, she’d shine brightly.
“Will you just leave then? Just like that? What about Subaru?” Emilia-sama asked.
“I’m afraid I cannot—”
“You’re abducting this poor girl, and you’re even going to break the one promise you made her?”
Reinhard’s mouth hung open, as he gazed upon the young silver sorceress. Her eyes betrayed that behind her previous words were a depth of thoughts and pain that Reinhard couldn’t hope to grasp. This too, he had to accept.
Stepping over to the unconscious body of the black haired woman, Reihard grabbed the bag recently repacked by Emilia-sama and pulled it onto one arm, before lifting the girl’s body over his shoulder and awkwardly grabbing her dismembered arm.
Turning around, he looked up at the night sky with the moon gently drifting above the capital, the unconscious girl’s charcoal hair fluttering at the bottom of his vision.
“I hope you do not come to regret getting yourself entangled in all of this Natsuki Subaru.” he whispered. “This might be the last night either of us can enjoy a moment of peace under a full moon.”
Reinhard’s whisper reached no one but the moon looking down on him.