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Arc 2: "How strange the change, from major to minor"

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“Oaaaaaah”

Subaru let out a long, relieved yawn. She couldn’t remember the last time she felt so relaxed after sleeping.

Weird too, since she had such horrible nightmares. Spirited away to another world, dying three times. Actually, the last time she might have lived? She was clearly waking up at the end there because everything just unravelled into nonsense.

Subaru almost didn’t want to open her eyes, just to prolong the memory of that dream. As horrible as the dying part was, it was exhilarating in its own way. Especially the first part. In retrospect, she could probably piece some of its elements together, like her weird Return by Death power? Wasn’t there something like that in that old VN series with the horrible art? Higurashi . Yeah, probably that. The anime adaptation was pretty good. In fact, her brain probably got some features of that girl, Felt in her dream from the series. She definitely had a little Satoko in her.

Subaru smiled to herself. A perfect parallel world fantasy, where she had a little groupie who enjoyed her songs.

Maybe Subaru should take the chance. Put all those recordings she made in her room while skipping school online. If—

Subaru’s body twitched, and her smile went away in an instant. She could see it now. Somehow the people from school would find her account, she knew it. They’d recognize her voice, even if she didn’t include the video. No, she couldn’t—

“My bed is way too soft today.” she said, opening her eyes. “I don’t know this ceiling.”

With one swift move, she raised up in bed.

“I don’t know this room.”

As her mind was taking in her ridiculously posh surroundings, it began to dawn on Subaru that she might not have been dreaming her experience with the young girl, somewhat gentle giant, silver sorceress and impossibly handsome hair-dyer.

Except, no that can’t be right. She distinctly remembered losing her arm. Her left arm, to be precise. It was the last thing she remembered clearly before things started to get really hazy. So why did she see it before her, clutching her soft blanket, reacting to her every decision, in perfect health?

Looking down, she realized she wasn’t wearing her tracksuit, instead being dressed in what she could best describe as a gray bathrobe.

She thought for a moment. She definitely saw people with scars when wandering the city, even a few people with missing limbs, so it’s unlikely that healing magic or potions or anything of the sort that can reattach limbs exists. She also vaguely remembered Emilia using her magic on her before the end of her memories, but she didn’t recall her arm beginning to grow back, so—

“I’ve run out of lives.” Subaru noted. “I’ve run out of lives, and now I’ve been reborn again in yet another world.” That was the clear conclusion.

She was a penniless nobody. It was made pretty clear to her that all of her assumptions about Emilia being some noble were wrong. Sure, Reinhard called her ”Emilia-sama” in the alley, but who knows what the etiquette of this world is like? Or maybe Reinhard just likes being polite. He did call Subaru by her full name too. No, Emilia was had no money, so aside from her clothes she was just as broke as Rom and Felt, ergo, vis a vis, in conclusion : There is no one Subaru associated with that could explain why she’s in a fancy room, in a fancy bed, wearing fancy robes with a fancy bouquet of flowers by her bedside, with her arm still attached.

Wait what?

Subaru turned to the bedside table and looked at the large bouquet of flowers. They looked like red roses, but Subaru didn’t really look at flowers enough in the past few years to really tell if they were actually roses, or something vaguely similar, like how the “ringas” in the previous world resembled apples, or ringo in Japanese. Come to thing of it, didn’t she think of them as “appas'' before? She couldn’t remember. Good grief, she really was turning into a westaboo.

Next to the flowers, was a small white card, with some writing on it.

She picked up the card, but found that she couldn’t read it. It was written with strange letters, which didn’t resemble the letters she saw before, further confirming this was a different world. The text she saw before seemed like every character was sourced in the same rectangle, either having part of a rectangle of the same dimensions, or written inside one. These letters looked more like paired up shapes, and they were more curved, though that could have just been the handwriting.

The only thing of note she could take away from the note, was that it was written with red ink, with what was probably a signature at the bottom, with a second note in slightly different handwriting under it written in blue, with a little heart shape drawn after it.

“So, wherever I am, someone sent me flowers, and they even included a little heart…” Subaru pondered. “Wait, did I get reborn as someone this time? Am I in a relationship? Oh god, I hope not!”

Subaru shuddered, hoping that it might just be from her new self’s parents. That would explain the two different handwritings.

She placed the note back next to the flowers, and got up.

There were no mirrors in the room, so she couldn’t check for sure, but briefly opening the right side of her robes to check and touching her face, she could more or less confirm that she had the same face and body as before. Well, before the previous world anyway, lost arm notwithstanding. Whoever she reincarnated into was identical to her physically.

Walking to the large screen window nearest to her bed, she gazed out, seeing a giant garden, with finely trimmed shrubs, and a forest in the distance, all coated in the dim orange light of early dawn. Or dusk. Probably dawn. They matched the high class look of the inside of the room, where multiple objects had golden embroilments and engravings, and the walls themselves were decorated in that fine european style from the 19th century that she couldn’t remember the name of.

Subaru’s heart grew heavy, as she contemplated that having now been reborn into a different world, she has no chance to ever see Felt or Rom again. Her throat tightened at the thought, but— But she remembered that they were safe. Her last memory was being told that Felt made it, and that old man Rom was alive too. Subaru might not have been able to stay and enjoy their company, but she did get the Happy Ending for them. That should be enough, right?

Like hell it is! ” she yelled, kicking the side of her bed, not thinking about how the ridiculously fluffy mattress extend all the way down, and seriously bruising her ankle.

She cussed for a minute, before taking a deep breath, wiping the tears mixed with both kinds of pain away.

There was nothing she could do now, but accept it… Well, try to, anyway.

She wanted to kick the bed again in denial of these thoughts, but the best she could hope for was evening herself out, and she held back.

With the pain still pulsing in her ankle, she realized she won’t be able to fall asleep, and as much as she wanted to just ignore her new situation, she needed to know just where she ended up.

She tightened the belt of her robes and opened the room’s door opposite the windows.

Unsurprisingly, there was a hallway on the other side, though it was completely empty of people. No welcoming servants or anything, just the corridor, identical doors evenly placed along it, and a small table with a vase and flowers next to Subaru’s door, with a gold framed painting above.

She was expecting a bit more, or rather, an obvious prompt, as to which was she should go down the corridor seemingly stretching forever in both directions, but there was nothing.

Closing the door behind herself, Subaru decided to tentatively start exploring to the right, the way the small table and painting were placed.

Honestly, she seemed to be welcome here, she had fine clothes, a greeting with flowers, a giant bed with a luxurious room to go with it, and a great view of the gardens. How come she was cheaped out on the greeting staff?

To add to her displeasure, the corridor was extremely dull, in spite of its fine architecture, thanks to its repeating patterns on the wall, same doors, same clashing yellow lit chandeliers and blue lit wall lights, same table, same vase, same flowers, same gold framed painting—

“Seriously? A looping corridor?” Subaru said annoyed, before her voice filled with concern, continuing to mutter to herself. “But hold on, if this is a repeating corridor, then that can only mean that there is some sort of puzzle involved. This might be some sort of defensive magic placed by the family who owns this mansion, to make those that don’t belong here get lost. Well, I say the family, but it’s pretty clear from my accommodations that it’s my family. But then, won’t it be super suspect when they find out I didn’t know the way out?”

She scratched her head.

“Or, perhaps it is a different kind of puzzle. This could be some sort of locked room mystery, where some sadis in a clown mask wants to play a game to test their guests, with the contestant’s life and limbs on the line.” Subaru shook. Based on her last experience, it wasn’t entirely out of the question, but she tried to quickly shake the thought from her mind. “No, this place is way too nice to be owned by a sadistic clown.”

She tried thinking of some alternative explanations, or better yet a solution, but nothing came.

“Maybe it would be best to get back into bed, and then when someone comes, leave with them and watch what they do. Yeah, that’s a good plan.” she congratulated herself, before turning to the door that based on the looping hallway should be the same one she left.

Before she grabbed its handle, she got a feeling that it was somehow different, even though visually she couldn’t tell them apart. It was probably just that her internal GPS was unhappy about equating two places that should be far apart. She did get a tingle about it though, a good one, and she was usually decent when it came to limited choice questions, so whatever.

She opened the door.

Instead of the bedroom where she awoke, Subaru found herself standing in a giant, multi-floor library, books a few books strewn about on the floor between two shelves ahead of her, a small girl in a silly pink dress and striped purple stockings sitting amongst them on a small chair. Besides the girl was a small table, with a tea set containing only one cup.

“What a profoundly restless woman you are, it seems.” the little girl declared in disgruntled voice, lowering her book.

Based on her reaction to Subaru’s entrance, the girl seemed to have known her, or whoever’s body Subaru was inhabiting. While expectable, this was a bit of an issue, since Subaru didn’t know who she was supposed to be, so making anything declarative about herself would be a dead give away if she guessed wrong.

The girl, who Subaru just noticed had her blonde hair tied in twin, drill shaped tails turning pink at the ends also seemed to be displeased to see Subaru, so the previous owner of Subaru’s body probably had a bad relationship with her. Though what kind of person could have a bad relationship with such a cute little girl?

Damn it, she really did get the villainess reincarnation this time! Maybe acting friendly could be written off as having had a change of heart, maybe from a Christmas Carol type dream which made her realize that she should go help the Tiny Tims of the world. Yeah, that should work!

“Aw come on!” Subaru began. “Such an unhappy expression doesn’t belong on a pretty face like that! What it needs is a big happy smile!” she added, gesturing at her own big faux smile.

“The only smile you could ever earn is a sneer, I suppose.”

“Aw, at least tell me why you’re upset now, so I can fix it!” Subaru said, congratulating herself on her choice of ‘now’. It’s non-committal, but it also leaves the door open for the possibility that her old self did a lot of bad things.

While gesturing with an apologetic shrug, Subaru disguised an attempt to better familiarize herself with the room with an aloof look to the side. The most obvious realization was that the door she just came in was a double door. The door she opened was in fact not. The room was also way too wide to fit between the doors on either side of it in the corridor, and that’s ignoring that Subaru was pretty sure this should have been her bed room.

The doors of the corridor seemed to be magically switching destinations. Either that, or this room was magically switching locations.

Navigating a house where every door was random would be a nightmare, so Subaru quietly hoped for the latter option.

“There is an intruder in Betty’s library, in fact.” the girl said. There was a pretty decent chance that the little girl’s name was Betty from the fact that no one else was in the room, but Subaru had to make sure.

“And how does Betty feel about this intruder?”

“Increasingly aggravated, I suppose.”

“Ah, ah.” Subaru nodded victoriously.

While the “I suppose” made things a bit uncertain, Subaru was confident enough in her ability to guess to dismiss that small chance and book the girl under “Betty” in her internal phonebook.

“Come now Betty-chan!” Subaru continued, not noticing the girl’s grip on her book tighten. “I get that you’re not happy to see me right now, but after the sleep I just had, I feel like a new person! And this new person wants to make friends with everyone in this house!”

“You’d have better luck making friends with Irlam’s village idiot, in fact. What do you think you’re doing in Betty’s room, I wonder?”

Damn it, a question, time to dodge with another.

“I’m from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, looking for the Professor that owns this door.” Subaru said the first thing that came to mind, pointing her thumb behind her shoulder. She desperately hoped that she wasn’t over-selling it. “What does Betty-chan think I’m doing here?”

“Overstaying your welcome, in fact.” Betty replied, closing her book and placing it on the table before getting out of the chair.

“Come now, I just want to chat a bit Betty-chan. Whatever bad feelings you have towards me right now, I want to wash away, as if we started a brand new relationship!” Subaru said, crouching down to get closer to the small girl’s eye level, while Betty walked up to her.

On closer look, Subaru could swear the girl’s pupils looked like pink butterflies against a blue sky—

“Don’t move.” the girl declared, reaching for Subaru’s stomach.

A sharp pain suddenly rushed through Subaru. It wasn’t quite the match to what she had to suffer at the hands of Elsa Granhiert in her previous lives, but it was a terrifying thing to do with a simple touch regardless.

Strength leaving her body, Subaru collapsed before the girl.

“Wh— What—?”

“The mana from your body will be safe inside me, I suppose.” Betty said simply. “At least it confirmed you have no ill intentions.”

Subaru thought this might mean she didn’t blow her cover, but what the hell kind of relationship does she have with this girl, if Betty would just casually suck all her strength out like that? No. This wasn’t just a girl, she was something else.

“What a monstrous thing to do to a person… Just trying to make friends.” Subaru muttered, trying her best to get off the floor, while her strength continued fading.

“Don’t call a magnificent, noble being such as me ‘monstrus’, human.” Betty said with a small smile, utterly lacking in any pity for the girl writhing before her, before turning around and walking towards her chair.

As the inhuman girl reached her desk, Natsuki Subaru’s mind slipped into darkness.