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

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

“Ow.” Subaru said aloud.

She wasn’t hurting, not anymore, but waking up to the same ceiling again filled her with an ominous feeling.

Did she actually die to that child? Maybe this really was a twisted locked room mystery, only she wasn’t in the mood to play a game. She was definitely in the same bed under the same ceiling. She just needs to sit up, and see the same empty room.

“Rem, Rem, our guest appears to be in pain!”

“Nee-sama, Nee-sama, perhaps Beatrice-sama reopened the wound!”

That was new.

Sitting up, Subaru spotted on the left side of her bed two young women about her age, looking almost identical in both attire and body, except one’s hair and eyes were bright pink, while the other’s the colour of a smurf. They were standing besides her bed, holding each other's hands, fingers locked, in— Was that maid outfits?

Finely tailored black dresses, white apron, frilly underskirt below the dress, stockings with garterbelt—

Subaru realized two things at this moment. First, she didn’t die from the little girl earlier, because these two weren’t here last time. Second, whoever the lord of this mansion is, he’s a pig.

“Good morning?” Subaru said, making a hopeful guess based on the birds chirping outside. Realizing she’s supposed to be playing whoever’s body this is, she quickly followed with what she assumed surely would be a question a lady of a mansion would ask at a time like this: “What will We be having for breakfast?”

The royal we may have been a bit much.

“Nee-sama, Nee-sama, the young lady seems to have made herself at home!” said the blue one.

“Rem, Rem, if she’s hungry the moment she wakes, I worry if the larder is full enough!” added the pink.

“Hey, that’s a pretty rude way to say it! I was just—” Subaru responded, before realizing she was breaking character. “What I mean was, I have come to understand that I might not be dear to your hearts.” she continued, trying her best to put on a ‘noblewoman tone’, though the only reference she could call to mind was a geisha, and she didn’t have a sensu hand fan to fully embrace the act.

“Rem, Rem, it seems she has lost her senses.”

“Nee-sama, Nee—”

“Would you cut that out! Are you people or pokemon?!” Subaru said, her character once again shattering away.

“Our apologies, honoured guest.” the two said in perfect synchronicity of one another, turning towards Subaru and bowing deeply.

“Rem hopes her older sister’s words have not caused our guest discomfort.”

“Ram wishes to apologise for her junior’s careless words, and hopes the young lady will find a way to survive.”

Subaru couldn’t help but wonder what kind of freak would have maids like this? She unconsciously grabbed the neck of her robes, tightening them, as if to protect herself from the gaze of some unseen voyeur.

“W-well, then just—” Subaru began, her disguise still a top priority.

It seemed that she was a guest in this house. That made it more difficult to guess what her proper behaviour is supposed to be, but it also made things easier, as the maids would likely not spot smaller discrepancies.

“Bring me what yesterday I said I’ll want for breakfast!” Subaru declared. Being a guest at a fancy mansion like this, the previous person in this body probably would order in advance. That’s how mansions with catering works, right? Even if she didn’t order yesterday, Subaru should be able to just wave it off as misremembering, since she just woke up.

“Please excuse this humble maid, but the honoured guest made no such requests.” the pink one, ‘Ram’ said.

“I beg, forgive Rem, but the guest wasn’t here yet yesterday.”

“W-what?”

That doesn’t make sense, she’s in a fancy bed, roses by her side, fine robes to wear, they called her a guest, so—

Have I been abducted?! ” Subaru cried out, clutching her blanket, and pulling her robes tight. “The roses with the heart message, the fine bed, the trap corridor going nowhere!” she listed in a haze, mentally adding the kinky maids.

She was totally the hostage of some perverted nobleman. Can’t she get just one normal reincarnation?!

“Natsuki-sama, it is Rem’s belief that a great misunderstanding has taken place.”

“You call an abduction a misunder— Wait, did you say Natsuki-sama?”

“Rem, Rem, our guest seems to have forgotten her name.”

“No, that’s not it!” Subaru shook her head. Did the person whose body she just invaded also happen to have her name too? That wasn’t out of the question, but.

Subaru unconsciously grabbed her left shoulder and began rubbing it, just to make sure it’s there.

“Aside from some scarring, Natsuki-sama’s arm should be in perfect condition. Ferris-sama did their best.”

Subaru pulled the robe off her left shoulder, and sure enough, there was a jagged, brighter coloured line of skin running from the top of her shoulder to her armpit then back up again.

She didn’t reincarnate, this was still the world from before!

“Felt!” Subaru exclaimed. “The young blonde girl! Oh and Emilia and Rom and that cat, Puck!” she listed. “Are—”

“Our guest should rest assured, they are safe.” Ram said, bowing her head.

“That’s great!” Subaru sighed. “That’s fantastic!”

Subaru began laughing uncontrollably in relief, and fell back into her pillow. To think she almost gave up on that world, thinking she’s been reborn. No, she was reborn, but in a different way! She did it! She got the happy ending! Everybody won!

Subaru still had no idea where she could be, Emilia said she was broke, and Felt and Rom obviously wouldn’t have connections like this. Could it be that red haired knight? He came to save them in the end, didn’t he? Something like that. Would he really be the kind of guy to keep maids like this? Well if it’s him, maybe it’s alright.

She slapped herself across the fact for that stupid thought, but then just continued to laugh even harder at her fortune and at herself. The two young maids commented on her odd behaviour, though she didn’t pay it any mind.

Wiping away newly formed tears of joy, she pushed her laughter back down, and sat up.

“Thank you so much for the good news! I didn’t think I made it! I—” No. Even if she won, she probably shouldn’t bring up crazy stuff like thinking she reincarnated. “Honestly, thank you so much.”

The twins exchanged a look, before Ram bowed her head.

“It brings us pleasure to see our guest so overjoyed. That master of the house will return shortly, until then, my sister has prepared our guest’s clothes on the dresser.”

As Ram said that, Subaru indeed noticed that her black and orange tracksuit, shirt, underwear and even her backpack were now on the dresser besides her bed.

Quickly getting up, she grabbed her jacket to see how bad the damage was, only to find it in perfect order. She almost began to think that some sort of magic must have been at hand, since the entire left arm should have been missing, and the whole thing drenched in blood, but then she noticed an almost impossible to perceive line of threads where the arm was reattached. They even switched to an orange thread where appropriate to maintain the pattern.

For all the nasty thoughts Subaru had about their borderline ecchi uniform, she couldn’t ignore the obvious. They went above and beyond to fix this for her.

“You sew the arm back?” Subaru asked, turning to the twins.

“Ram’s sister did.” the pink one stated.

“It’s Rem, right? It’s beautiful, thank you.”

The blue sister looked surprised, glancing at her sister before bowing her head and simply saying “It is Rem’s pleasure to serve. Rem has only done the bare minimum necessary.”

Staring at her tracksuit jacket for a few more moments, Subaru’s mind wandered back to yesterday and a thought hit her.

“I really am thankful, but— As much as this place is wonderful, and I’d love to meet the master of the house—” Well, not that much. “I need to find Felt. I need to see that she is alright.”

Every fundamental survival instinct in her cried she should just stay in this luxurious mansion that clearly served as the endgame reward location, but the whole reason she even did all she did was to save Felt. Maybe once she found her in the slums, she can figure out a way to get her in here, but that comes second.

“I’ll be getting dressed, and heading out as soon as I can.” Subaru said, turning to the dresser, and checking that indeed everything down to her underwear and socks was there, with her shoes slid under the dresser itself. “If either of you could give me directions to the loot house— uh, the place where I lost consciousness, I’d be very—”

“Ram wishes to restate her sister’s opinion that a great misunderstanding took place.”

“Natsuki-sama, the young lady is no longer in the capital, she is a guest in this very mansion.”

“She is?! Where? I must see her!”

Subaru felt like she could sing. She even wanted to, if not for ‘thinking she’s in a musical’ was a close second to ‘thinking she can come back from death’ in the scale of things that would make her look crazy.

“Felt-sama is currently detained as part Roswaal-sama’s instructions, until breakfast is served and she can be properly attended to.”

Roswaal? Where did Subaru hear that name before?

A light knock came from the door, and turning to it, Subaru saw the silver haired girl, Emilia standing there in a silken nightgown that somehow managed to look both modest and revealing at once.

“Subaru, did I hear something about an abduction?” she asked in a joking tone, a sweet smile on her face. How could Subaru ever think this face belonged to a wicked witch?

“Yo, Subaru-chan!” announced a small gray fur ball, hovering in through the door after Emilia, posed as if they were laying on an invisible, flying couch.

“Emilia, Puck!” Subaru responded happily, taking a step towards them before her mind and body froze. “Wait, don’t I remember Emilia calling you a ‘he’ before?”

“Yes, I am a man’s man, if that’s what you’re asking.” Puck said, turning into a standing pose mid air, flexing his non-existent biceps. “Can’t you tell by this handsome face?” he added, doing the closest thing a cat’s face can do to puckered lips.

Subaru quickly pulled the robe back over her left shoulder, and tightened the rest of it too.

“You shouldn’t worry about Puck, he jokes around, but he’s not like that.” Emilia said with a giggle in her voice.

“It’s easy for you to say! Isn’t his home halfway down your cleavage?” Subaru asked, causing the girl to blush.

“All of you here are a bit too fleshy for my tastes.” Puck noted, blowing on his curled paw.

“Emilia-sama, Emilia-sama, listen to this: Natsuki-sama wanted to see Roswaal-sama’s other guest.”

“Emilia-sama, Emilia-sama, listen to this: Our guest wanted to leave the mansion until she learned that the young lady is here.”

“Felt?” Emilia asked, pondering. “Now that you mention it, I had hoped to talk to her too.”

“You haven’t yet?”

“Well, no. When Roswaal, Reinhard and Felix arrived here with the two of you yesterday, Roswaal instructed that Felt should be locked in her room until she gets used to the mansion.”

“Emilia-sama, if Rem may, Roswaal-sama’s exact instructions were to keep her there for a day, then when Natsuki-sama wakes up, let her out once Nee-Sama and Rem have finished their most pressing tasks and can look after her.” the blue twin corrected.

“Once I woke up?” Subaru asked thoughtfully, holding her chin. “That’s an odd sort of condition to set for the release of someone.” She closed her eyes thinking: ‘ Come to think of it, locking a young girl up at all is pretty suspect.

“Ram believes it was to limit the load on my sister and I.”

“One kid couldn’t be that much trouble. Surely the rest of the staff could help out.”

“Subaru, you seem to be making strange assumptions again.” Emilia noted. “Aside from Beatrice, Ram and Rem are the only staff of this mansion.”

Subaru gave out a little laugh, but no one smirked except Puck.

“Wait, you’re serious? The three of you take care of the entire mansion, and that garden out there?”

“Actually, Rem does most of the work.” Ram said. “Beatrice-sama is only responsible for the forbidden library.”

Subaru raised her eyebrows, then shrugged. Considering the magic room and the looping corridor, it probably made some sense. They likely had magical automatic brooms and stuff like that.

“Rem, Ram. Since it appears everyone is awake, and you’re here, could I assume that breakfast is ready?”

“You are correct, Emilia-sama.” the twins said in unison once more, which was as freaky as the first time.

“Well, in that case, why don’t we continue this over breakfast with Felt?” Emilia said, slapping her hands together with a smile.

 

                                           

 

Disappointingly, Subaru found shortly after being shown to the breakfast table, that neither the twins, nor Felt will be joining her and Emilia. The twins, as being perhaps a bit too dedicated to their servant role, they insisted they will eat later in their quarters. Subaru tried changing their mind, only for Emilia to compassionately state that it’s a bit of a lost cause, as she had tried many times before.

Felt on the other hand wasn’t joining, as apparently on hearing her door’s lock opening, Felt attempted to rush past Ram and even make an attempt to bite her when the maid wouldn’t let her pass. Instead, Felt was presented with her meal in her quarters.

The meal passed in relative silence, as Subaru was a bit conscious of the two maids standing in the dining room like statues, and Emilia seemed not to have much to say to anyone other than Puck with whom she was playing around, complimenting Rem’s admittedly great cooking,

After eating, Subaru did her best to compliment the maids’ work, only to find that “five-star accommodation” is not an expression that translates directly here. Changing the subject, she asked if she could have a try at talking to Felt. Rem initially voiced an objection, but instantly relented once her sister said she’ll give it a try.

“Wait, are you that idiot who wanted to trade a metia for that small thing?”

“That’s not the way I’d put it. Do you remember my name?” Subaru asked over the closed door.

After a bit of silence, Felt responded with a “Yes.”

“You know the fact that you didn’t say it, makes me question that.” Subaru said, tapping on the door. Ram was standing behind her with an unamused expression.

“It was Nasu something.”

“It’s— Nasu works for a nickname if you like!” Subaru said, crouching slightly to be on what she guessed as Felt’s eye level, even though there was a closed wooden door between them. “Nicknames are imp—”

“Will you get me out of here?” interrupted Felt.

“That’s the plan! I’d hate to see you spend all day in—”

Subaru stopped, homogenous memories of the past year flashing before her eyes. She didn’t really have any right to tell anyone to play nice and go outside. Regardless, she really wanted to get Felt out.

“Ram should note that Felt is not allowed off the grounds.”

“So you’re not getting me out.” Felt said angrily.

“No, I am! Out of that room!”

“So what, you were working for this Roswaal all along? You’re going to follow me around all day and make sure I don’t leave?”

“No, I’m not working for them, and I’m not planning on it.”

“Ram does, and Ram will.” Ram said.

“That isn’t helping.” Subaru said, shooting a look to the maid, then turning back to the door. “Wouldn’t you like to go out in the fresh air?”

After a bit of silence, Felt just said. “Fine.”

“I am not certain the young lady can be trusted.” Ram noted.

“First of all, I don’t even know why you detained her in here, which I let go until now because you seem to be nice people. But second, what is she even going to do? I took a few looks outside, and I’m pretty sure we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“We are in the domain of the Lugnica Kingdom rightfully governed by its Margave, Roswaal L. Mathers-sama.” Ram with a huff.

“And that’s where?”

“West of the capital, east of Priestella, it composes the Kremaldy Forest as well as—”

“In the middle of nowhere, thank you!”

For a moment, Subaru thought she heard a small metallic creak, but looking around couldn’t see anything.

“Very well, the young lady may come outside, but not leave Ram’s sight.” the maid said, putting the heavy large steel key in the lock, and carefully opening the door.

Inside, Felt was standing, clutching a spoon, the only utensil afforded to her for her meal. Around her, torn clothes. On her, the same shabby clothes she was wearing back in the city. For a moment Subaru thought Felt might actually try her luck with the spoon as her only weapon, but the girl saw better reason and just tossed it aside.

“Those clothes were a gift from Roswaal-sama.” Ram noted with a very disapproving tone in her voice.

“Doesn’t gift mean they were mine?” Felt asked.

“Yes.” Ram answered coldly.

“Well, then it’s nobody else’s business. I didn’t like these clothes, so I decided to turn them into rags. That way they would be more useful.”

Before they were destroyed, from the looks of it they were colourful dresses, three by the looks of it.

“Rem worked through the night to fit them for your size.”

“Ah, uhm, hey! Felt, you must have been really annoyed cooped up in there!” Subaru spoke up, sensing that sparks were about to fly. “Let’s just get out in the fresh air, and after you had a chance to stretch your leg, we’ll go and apologize to the nice lady.”

“What for? I didn’t ask them to make me any dresses. I specifically told them not to, and they still did it, then gave them to me meaning they were mine to do however I pleased. I’ve done nothing wrong here.”

Subaru groaned. The girl was probably in her mid teens, but she was acting like a toddler. Except, the “here comes the choo-choo train” approach is probably not going to work on her.

Without a further word, Felt marched out the door and stopped besides the two of them. Subaru had a suspicion that Felt already tried running away from the maids once, since otherwise she’d probably do it right now.

Ram just huffed, walked into Felt’s room and gathered up the torn clothes, and the dish.

“Where do you think you’re taking my rags?” Felt asked as Ram was about to leave her room.

Ram stopped and locked eyes with the little girl. Subaru quietly backed towards the nearest wall. Finally, Ram held out the arm in which she held the clothes, and theatrically dropped them on the ground, before leaving with only the dish and spoon in hand.

Subaru watched quietly as the two began marching down the corridor beside each other, then exhaled a long breath before hurrying after them.

Chapter Text

“Why are you here?” asked Felt, oddly voicing a question that has been trying to reform itself out of the jumble of thoughts Subaru had since waking up for a second time in this mansion. A question Subaru’d have liked to stage both about herself and towards Felt.

They were standing outside the mansion, in the massive garden. Subaru was admiring the shrubs or perhaps trees that have been cut into particular shapes that resembled creatures, though she didn’t recognize them all. Only about ten yards from them stood Ram with a bored, discontented look, silent ever since they stepped out and she instructed Felt not to try and run.

“I’m actually not sure.” Subaru said, glancing over her shoulder at the pink haired maid, who based on a glance obviously noted the clear suggestion, but just returned to staring morosely into the distance. “And you? Come here often?”

“What?”

“It’s a— Nevermind.”

Trying to present as if she had social skills would have been easier if the pop culture she relied on for discourse online actually existed here. The silver lining was that here she probably came off eccentric, rather than as someone who hasn’t held a conversation in person for months.

“I guess you’ve got no idea then.” Felt pouted. “It’s basically your fault I’m here.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“That stupid insignia. Without you, that half-devil would never have—”

“Half-devil?” Subaru asked confused.

“The white haired girl.”

“Emilia?” Subaru paused. Hold on. “Are you saying that because she’s a half-elf?”

Instead of a response, Felt just looked at Subaru like she had just heard the stupidest question of her entire life.

Glancing at Ram, she didn’t seem to make a note of the statement. Subaru didn’t know if she should feel good about that or the opposite.

She had no great love for Emilia. The half a day they spent together was functionally Subaru dragging the girl around to use as a meat shield against Granhiert in order to save Felt. Still, to call them a half-devil, just because they happen to be a half-elf? Are all elves treated this way? Is that why she hasn’t seen any other of Emilia’s kind yet?

Thinking on such dark things made Subaru start to grow more conscious of the fact that her and Felt standing next to each other, staring vaguely at the scenery in the garden of this large mansion, with Ram hovering over their shoulder, was feeling more like two inmates out in the yard than enjoying the luxuries of a  fantasy mansion.

Spotting a fancy metal table and a couple of matching chairs in the distance, Subaru turned to Ram.

“Could we get some drinks over there?” Subaru asked, pointing to the table.

“I’m sorry to say that I am not capable of being in two places at once.” Ram said with a bow.

“Right, you have to stay near Felt.” Subaru noted.

Her mind was screaming for something to suggest. Surely she could think of something they could do, a game to play? She groaned internally as every idea she could come to needed either a board, a deck of cards, a guitar, a computer or most shamefully an empty bottle to do.

“What do you do for fun?” Subaru asked, finally finding an escape rope in the inventory of her mind.

“Climb buildings, look at the city. Steal things people don’t care enough about to keep safe.”

Looking down at the girl, Subaru half expected the next thing she sees being Felt holding up some random item from Subaru’s backpack, but of course she left that at her room. No such luck, instead Felt just sat down next to her, beginning to slowly tear out the grass.

“We might need to talk about that last one.” Subaru said, sitting down next to Felt, joining in on the tearing of grass.

“Why are you tearing out the grass?” Felt asked, looking at Subaru, shaking the grass for her own hand. “Why are you copying me?”

Subaru blinked, then quickly grabbed a long blade of grass nearby that survived whatever form of mowing that exists here by bending down, horizontal.

“I was looking for one of these.” she said, holding the blade of grass before her mouth, trying to turn it into a makeshift harmonica as she once saw in a movie. It didn’t work.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to do lady, but I want you to either explain what your problem is, or leave me alone!” Felt declared, standing up.

“My problem?”

“Why were you at the loot house, willing to trade your own metia to get back some stupid isnignia for someone else? Why did they bring you here with me? That stupid knight and the cat both said they had no idea, that weirdo who owns this mansion would only say they wanted to thank you properly, which I might have bought if the first thing you did on waking up from having your stupid arm re-attatched, was come to me and ask to spend time in this damn garden like a pair of pansy stuck of nobles! Why do you follow me everywhere? And say something that actually makes sense this time!”

She took note of the mention of this ‘Roswaal’ wanting to reward her, though most of her attention was captured by Felt’s eyes peering into here, gleaming in the light. With the blonde hair fluttering above them in the wind, those eyes were the very fires of the Inquisition.

Subaru turned her head from Felt, and stared at the ground in front of herself, digging around in the dirt with a finger. How could she possibly explain it without sounding crazy? No, even if they did believe that she died and went back in time, how exactly could she convey how much that one day meant? Her first day in over a year, not spent alone holed up in her room browsing the net, or making recordings of herself playing music that no one will ever watch?

“Gah! I wish I had a guitar!” Subaru declared, fizzing her hair with both hands.

“That’s not an answer.” Felt said, standing up.

“Wait, I’m just not good at—” Subaru hung her head. “I’m not good at explaining this stuff. A bunch of images come to mind, but no answer.”

Felt looked down on Subaru with a look of pity.

“Since apparently you can’t even talk, I’ll be going.”

Subaru saw Ram perform a small bow in her direction, before turning to follow Felt, who grumpily stomped off towards the main building.

Subaru swayed in pace for a bit, before letting her body fall back on the grass, and beginning to stare at the clouds. Cloud watching. She could have suggested doing that. She sucked in air through her teeth, cursing her slow mind, not to mention realizing she never got a full answer out of Felt about why Subaru is to blame for Felt being here.

She just couldn’t think straight.

Her initial giddy attitude has been slowly but steadily declining. While conceptually being a guest at a mansion was an exciting and glamorous concept, without something to occupy her thoughts, something to strive towards, she felt like she was slowly settling back into her old habit. Right now, all she wanted was to lay in the grass and watch the sky. But that would be stupid, wouldn’t it? She literally has an entire world filled with magic around her, spirits and animal people and carriage pulling lizards! She could spend her entire life seeing something new every day, and still not run out of new things to experience! So why doesn’t she?

‘Obviously, I want to talk with Felt, and play music.’ she thought. That didn’t seem to be happening any time soon, not until she figured out a way to get past Felt’s questioning, or find an instrument to that matter. Day one of her post-game reward, and she’s already hit a brick wall. Good job, Subaru.

She pushed out her jaw and blew some air up to remove a few stray strands of hair in her sight. She felt too weak to even do it by hand. Her great reward was really just slumping back to the way things were, huh?

“What are you pouting for?”

Puck floated into her vision, looking like he was laying on his stomach, his head rested on his paws.

“I didn’t think I was pouting.” Subaru said, closing her eyes and raising her brows.

“No, I’m pretty sure I’d call this pouting. Don’t you agree, Lia?”

Subaru remembered when she used to have friends that would call her cute nicknames like that. In elementary school, some of the girls called her Susu. She liked that. Now? First attempt she made at being friendly, she gets rejected almost instantly. Clearly she has lost her touch. Maybe that day in the city was just a fluke.

“See, she’s even turning on her side now!” Puck commentated, before hovering down besides Subaru to obstruct her view once more.

“Is there something wrong, Subaru? I saw the young girl with Ram, but she also seemed to be in a bad mood.”

“It’s— nothing.”

“Nah, something’s up. I have excellent senses you know.” Puck boasted, beginning to wave his hands around in the air, then continuing in a deeper, ominous tone. “There are dark clouds hanging over this child! Repent! For grimm tidings are at hand!”

“It’s cute that you’re trying to help.” Subaru said, reaching out and beginning to scratch Puck’s head, the spirit making it so easy to forget they aren’t just a talking cat. “I’m just at a loss at what to do. Felt doesn’t seem to want anything to do with me, and—”

“You still haven’t remembered how to get home?” Emilia asked in a compassionate tone.

“I don’t think I can get home.” Subaru admitted.

Emilia quietly sat down next to her, beginning to pet Puck’s back while Subaru was scratching behind the ears.

“You really have it too good. I bet a lot of boys I knew would kill for this kind of attention.” Subaru joked.

“Don’t forget the other ear.”

“This might be rude to ask, but… If you were still home, what would you want to do?” Emilia asked.

Play games, watch an old hollywood musical, those were always fun, chat online, play her guitar, watch the next episode of that promising new anime about the guy who wants to become an astronaut like his brother. Damn it, she should have read the manga, now she’ll never know what happens!

“Nothing I can do here.”

“Surely— Ah. There must be some— Oooh, right there!— Something you like doing.”

Subaru pondered for a moment. “Not really. I liked playing my guitar. It’s an instrument back home. Also running.” Though she mostly did that to stay in shape.

“Huh?” Emilia asked, surprised. “You’re a minstrel and a sportsman both?”

“No? Oh. No, they were like hobbies, I guess. For fun. Don’t people here do these things for fun?”

“Well, some people play music for fun, but running for fun, I must admit is a little strange.” Emilia explained.

Subaru could have guessed. In this world stuck somewhere between the medieval and victorian era, most people probably got all the exercise they could need from their daily activities. No meetings of the noblemen council to discuss the rising threat of child obesity, and whether they should hire a group of celebrities to sing motivational songs.

“Well, back home it was considered refreshing. Some even considered it a fundamental activity, like bathing.”

“I haven’t really been running for its sake. Does that make you have a low opinion of me?” Emilia asked with her eyes asking ‘have I done something wrong?’

Subaru laughed a moment before realizing the girl might actually be serious.

“No, no, no! I always ran for myself, never really cared for the whole social side of sports!”

Well, she would have liked to, and she was averse to fat slobs that couldn’t bother to just run a lap around the block every now and again, but Subaru didn’t feel like trying to explain life in a world where most manual labour is either automated or delegated.

“In fact, I only really went out to run in the night by myself, so don’t worry!”

“That is kind of you.” Emilia said, smiling sweetly. “But Puck never told me there was an entire daily routine I forgot about!”

“I—” Puck began, but then trailed off as Subaru apparently found an especially good spot under his chin.

“You rely on Puck for this sort of thing, huh?”

“Well, yes. Puck has been there, helping me since as long as I can remember. He taught me a lot of things about the world. Most things I know come from Puck. He’s a very kind ancient spirit.” Emilia explained as both of them continued petting and scratching an elated Puck.

Subaru smiled. They seemed to have such a loving familiar relationship, in spite of one being a half-elf, and the other an ancient spirit masquerading as a fluffy little cat— ‘ Hold on, this sounds like Emilia and I aren’t the only ones grooming here! ’ she thought, involuntarily pinching Puck’s fur, to which he yelped up in annoyance.

“Ack!” Puck protested. “Well, Lia, I didn’t know about this strange custom.” he added, shrugging.

Not in the mood to pet the flying cat anymore, Subaru let go, rolling back on her back. She wondered once more what she could do, before clenching her fist, punching down on the dirt on either side of her and standing up.

“I decided I’ll go for a run. Want to try it?” she asked.

Her only chance to get into a positive way of living was to fake it until she makes it, and if she was going to fake it convincingly, she had to start now.

“It does sound a little exhausting.” Emilia said, trailing off, but then she shook her head gently and stood up. “If you say it is fun, then I would love to!” she added.

‘Party member reacquired!’

Emilia and Puck were surprised when instead of designating a target, Subaru started with stretching exercises. Apparently this too was entirely alien to them, though Puck mentioned that some warriors perform similar rituals. Subaru decided to take that as a compliment.

After teaching Emilia a few aerobic exercises, and explaining how they lessen the strain on the body, which Puck watched sitting cross legged on an invisible chair, Subaru felt like one of those cheesy VHS era exercise instructors. Immersing herself in the role completely, she’d begin giving the usual commands of “One, two, one, two! Aaaaaand dip!”, which Emilia found highly amusing.

When they were done with the warmup, Subaru suggested two laps around the mansion for a start, which would give her a chance to see just how big the whole thing was. On the word “go”, Emilia rushed off with surprising speed, Subaru having to shout after her to stop and then explain the difference between a sprint and an exercise, adding jogging to the increasing list of peculiar activities she knew, but no one else.

Subaru was a bit concerned that she’ll just come off as one of those people that insisted that ‘speed walking’ was infinitely superior to jogging. ‘Fake it ‘til you make it. Fake it ‘til you make it.’ she repeated.

Disappointingly, she had hoped she could show off her well developed stamina, only to find Emilia easy keeping up with her, not seeming to tire at all.

In the end, Subaru ended up spending the next few hours demonstrating various exercises for Emilia, that the young elf was not really dressed to repeat, while the girl and her magic cat watched in amused bewilderment.

 

                                           

 

“Roswaal-sama has returned.” Rem said with a bow, after presenting Subaru with a fancy crystal glass filled with water, that Emilia ordered for her. “Lunch will be served presently in the dining hall.”

“Will you be eating with us this time?” Subaru asked, after taking a big gulp of the pristine water.

The maid just looked at Subaru puzzled for a moment, before silently bowing and returning inside. Subaru still couldn’t decide if the girl was somehow more socially awkward than herself, or if they held some sort of grudge against having to serve Subaru in spite of not being noble.

Subaru’s doom and gloom from earlier in the day was mostly gone. Perhaps really all she needed was some exercise to get her going. Not to mention, if it’s lunch, and Felt is out of her room, maybe this time they’ll get to eat together!

Heading inside and towards the dining hall, Subaru was buzzing with a newfound excitement for the day. Even if she spent it just doing what she was doing until now, this would probably be a good day!

“Bubby!” said a young voice. Subaru flinched as turning to its source, she saw the deceptively innocent figure of Beatrice, the apparent guardian of the mansion’s apparently forbidden library. Or were there multiple libraries, and one of them was forbidden?

“You shouldn’t be scared, Subaru.” Emilia noted with a giggle. “It was a mean prank she pulled on you, but Betty is actually a nice person.”

“This girl has no reason to know what Betty is like, I suppose.” huffed the magical girl, while caressing a delighted Puck in her hands. “I couldn’t wait for you to be back!” she added turning to the cat.

“Well, we really don’t talk much.” Emilia admitted. “Still, someone who is such good friends with Puck, couldn’t possibly be a bad person. And she keeps the mansion safe.”

Noting that the drill-haired little girl was ‘protecting the mansion’ so casually was a bit hard for Subaru to hear. Where was Beatrice’s large pastel coloured magic staff in the shape of a rattler anyway? There was a proper way to be a magical girl, and the blondie was half assing it.

Heading into the dining room, the air was filled with happy chattering as Beatrice cooed to Puck about how much she missed him. The table of course was once more set, with the mouthwatering aroma of a perfect meal hanging in the air. Naturally, Rem and Ram were standing at the ready as before, on either side of the chair that would undoubtedly be reserved for the mansion’s still absent lord.

“Myyyyyy, what a wonderful smell I seeeeeense.” came from behind them in a high, joyous tone, accompanied by the ringing of chains.

Looking there, Subaru saw a tall woman, wearing a vibrant, purple suit, with darker, knee high boots with chains wrapped around the ankle of one and a cape over her shoulder, which’s outside matched the boots, while the inside complimented her flowing dark blue hair, upon which a comically small tophat with a fancy pattern was perched. Her facial features were sharp, with a refined jawline, straight nose that perked up at the tip and a pair of eyes of which one was blue, the other gold. Of course, the most outstanding feature of her getup to Subaru was her snow white skin, and bright purple makeup, as well as the large bust hanging over the opening in her jacket, almost reducing it to a corset.

“Haaa!” Subaru said, a laugh coming over her. “That’s one fancy getup! No one said the mansion had an entertainer!” Subaru continued, not noticing the confused looks. “That’s a fantastic costume, lady! Though if you don’t mind, I am honestly starting to get concerned about the lord of the house, what between the way they dressed you, and the outfit of the maids! Seems like a bit of a freak!” Subaru continued, giggling after glancing around to make sure no one else was with them.

“Nee-sama, it seems that that pen is broken.” Rem said across the room, after a faint snap could be heard.

“Please fetch another one, Rem.” Ram said, handing a small object to Rem, who quickly bowed and left the room.

Subaru finally noticed the awkward looks she was getting from everyone, all except the clown, who just begun laughing to herself.

“What? Okay, I was probably a bit harsh on the guy, but it’s a joke.”

“Subaru…” Emilia began, before being interrupted by the clown, ceasing her laugh, but a wide, sharp smile remaining on her face.

“Oh, don’t mind them. They simply foooouuuuund that exchange a bit ill timed, seeeeeeing as that I am the lady of this mansion, Roswaal L. Maaaaathers.” she said simply, bending forward slightly to be on Subaru’s eye-level, addressing her straight on. “Natsuki Subaru-chan.”

Chapter Text

“What a sweeeell party we’ve assembled! It is always woooondrous to have guests! And we are blessed with twoooo!” Roswaal said after everyone, but the maids have taken their seat. Rem had since returned with a new pen for her sister and retook her place on Roswaal’s left. “Has Subaruuu-chan been informed since she had awooooken?”

Subaru couldn’t decide if Roswaal’s way of speaking was an impediment or an eccentricity. No one else seemed to notice, so it was likely the way she always spoke.

She saw roughly at only a quarter of the dinner table’s length, but still furthest away from Roswaal considering the small company. The only people sitting at the table were Felt and Emilia on either side of Roswaal, with Felt seated on Roswaal’s right, closer to Ram. Beatrice sat next to Emilia, playing with Puck, rather than paying attention, with Subaru across from her, seated besides Felt, who didn’t seem pleased. Subaru hoped it was mostly just being seated at the table.

“I believe not, Roswaal-sama.” stated Rem with a bow.

“Aaaaaah wonderful! I get to extend my thaaaaaaanks in person then!” Roswaal stated, before ceremoniously lifting her spoon. “For now, I’m suuuuure everyone is famished, so let us eeeaaat!”

Noticing Emilia raise her spoon after this declaration in a formal fashion, Subaru tried mimicking her moves. It was likely some matter of etiquette to wait until the master of the party to begin the dinner, or well, lunch in this case, and only lift their utensils after.

In contrast to Subaru’s careful attempt to fit in, Felt besides her didn’t even touch the spoon, just grabbed the bowl filled with creamy soup before her and put it to her lips. Subaru blushed in embarrassment for her, as Felt took a sip. It looked like she was going to put it right back down for a moment, before Felt’s eyes widened almost imperceivably and she took two more big gulps, finally putting the bowl back on the table.

“It’s too hot!” Felt declared, crossing her arm.

Subaru took a spoonful of the soup. On top of being absolutely delicious, it was also the perfect temperature, where it wouldn’t burn Subaru’s throat, and yet still fill them with a pleasant warmth on the whole way down.

“It’s really delicious, maybe you should try just blowing on it a bit.” Subaru said, trying to be helpful.

“I said it’s too hot!” Felt repeated. “It’s also too creamy. Makes me feel like I’m eating snot. I guess that’s why they call noblemen snotty.”

“Aaaaaah.” Subaru rubbed the back of her head. Part of her wanted to try and follow proper etiquette as to not insult Roswaal further, but she also didn’t want to look aloof to Felt.

“Our Reeeeem here is quite a wonderful chef. I’m sure if you tooooold us what you prefer, she could maaaaake it.” Roswaal said with a smile, seemingly undeterred by her guest’s behaviour. Subaru noticed Ram lift a small stack of papers she had under her apron, along with the pen that Rem brought her earlier.

“I like what Rom gives me.” huffed Felt. “By the way, are their names fake just to make me feel home and forget that you abducted me? Because then quit it.”

Subaru hadn’t considered that. She just presumed Ram, Rem and Rom were likely common names, like how in the west there were tons of people with names like Jack, Jake, James and John.

“I have noted down our honoured guest’s request, Roswaal-sama. I shall endeavour to inquire further if this ‘Rom’ is located.” Ram said, lowering the small stack of papers and pen.

“Wait, Rom isn’t here.” Subaru noted, more than asked, finally realizing the old man shaped hole in the list of guests.

“Yeeeees, it would seem that after the young knight had taken Subaru-chan and Felt-samaaaaa from the site of that grizzly showdown, and I had arriiiiiived, the giant who had up until then protected the young lady was left behind. I wasn’t quite awaaaaaare of his importance theeeen.” Subaru’s ear twitched at Felt-sama’, but she didn’t know if she should say anything.

“Rom was well!” Emilia quickly added. “I had made very sure of it, only after Roswaal came and insisted we follow up on what happened to you—” Emilia paused looking at Subaru. “Well, when I returned to see if he was awake yet, and thank him for his help, he was gone.”

“He was gone because you abducted me!”

“Not to dismiss your feeeeelings Felt-sama, but I belieeeeve you will find it was Reinhard-kun who abducted you. I have but huuuumbly hoped to present acceptable accomodaaaaations~!” Roswaal interjected, continuing to pay no mind to Felt’s ceaseless insults.

Subaru raised a hand awkwardly. “I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on with Felt and me being here. Or why the master of the house would refer to them both with ‘-sama’.”

“Subaruuu-chan is here as my guest, as thanks for saving Emilia-samaaaaaa.” Roswaal said simply. “As for the honorifics, such honours and ooooonly to be expected towards those of hiiiiigher standing.”

Subaru stared at Roswaal for a bit, then turned her attention to Emilia, before quickly looking at the young girl besides her, still wearing street rags.

“Felt?” Subaru asked, looking at Roswaal again.

“Felt-samaaaaa.” Roswaal nodded, continuing to smile sharply.

“This is the part when you’re supposed to bow down and beg my forgiveness.” Felt noted, putting her elbow on the table and resting her head in her hand, a finger of the other twirling in the soup before her.

Subaru shook her head. This was just too surreal.

“Okay, I don’t know when or why you set this up, but funny joke. Where is the end of it? Is she even the real Roswaal? Are they away or?”

Roswaal began laughing once again, while reaching out with her right arm and grabbing Ram’s shoulder for some reason.

“As it turns out, Felt is a candidate, same as me.” Emilia noted.

“Yes, you mentioned that before, but what does that mean? Candidate for what?”

“Why, the throne of Lugnica of coouuuuurse.”

“Huh?” Subaru understood the words, and the implication. The clown who Subaru was only mostly sure was Roswaal L. Mathers meant to imply that Felt and Emilia are the next in line to rule the entire Kingdom she’s been here since first she awoke in the capital. But what kind of sense does that make?!

“If she’s the heir, what was she doing—?” Subaru trailed off mid sentence looking at Felt proceeding to put her entire free hand in the bowl of soup, before raising a palmful and drinking it as if she was taking water from a stream; soiling the table cloth and probably the rug under the table in the process. This was not the next monarch of any realm outside of Munchkin Country.

“It’s hard to say why we were chosen, Subaru.” Emilia continued, reaching into a pocket on her dress, and placing a familiar stone on the table. The red gem affixed in its middle was glowing brightly, until she let go of it, to which it went dark. “This is a touchstone, which determines if the one it touches is worthy of being on the throne, and well, according to it, both Felt-chan—, no I’m sorry, Felt-san qualifies.”

“Stop with the noble speak! I’m Felt !” Felt said, whipping her hand in Emilia’s direction and sprinkling her, the table, and Roswaal with soup.

Ram stepped forward, removing a napkin from a pocket of her dress, and began wiping up the soup on the table, then after asking permission, off of Roswaal’s clothes. Subaru believed she saw a tiny smile appear on the maid’s otherwise expressionless face, which soon disappeared as she turned to Felt and began wiping off the candidate’s hand. Oddly, Felt just blew some air like she was bored instead of complaining. Rem meanwhile did the same with the other side of the table and Emilia, who insisted he’d do it herself.

“So, uh, how does it work? Will you just show up in the capital with this stone one day and say ‘crown me’?”

“No, Subaru. There is an election process, which will begin in about a month’s time. The stones only qualify us for it. Also, this stone is mine, Felt-sa— Felt will receive her stone upon the announcement of her discovery there. Without our stones, we cannot enter.”

“Indeeeeed! Had Emilia-sama’s stone not be located with Subaruuuu-chan’s help, not only would the fifth candidate not been fooound, but Emilia-sama’s candidacy would have likely been utterly disaaaaarded.”

“Hold on, you’re saying that you’ve managed to lose something that qualifies you to be the Queen?!”

“I didn’t lose it! She took it from me!” Emilia gestured helplessly at Felt, who just then was placing one of the silver forks handle first in her mouth.

“‘his on’se, I’m wi’ff ‘er ‘ere.” Felt said, pointing her thumb at Subaru while the fork bobbed up and down in front of her face, held in place by her teeth but tossed by her lips. “‘Hou’ve los’ i’ ‘he momen’ ‘hou s’oppe’h pa’hin’ a’hension ‘ho i’h.” Finally she took the fork out of her mouth. “Stop making it my fault that you couldn’t protect it.”

“It’s so lovelyyyyy to see the dinner table filled with life from many gueeeests~! I don’t believe I even voiced how glaaaad it made me that you decided to join us, Beaaaaatrice!”

“Leave Betty out of this, Roswaal. Betty is busy pampering Bubby, in fact.” Beatrice responded, shooting a cold stare at the clown princess. Puck, utterly removed from everything around him, just continued happily lapping up soup in Betty’s lap, from a spoon, as he’s been doing for a short while.

“Weeell, I suppose Subaru-chan now understands just how great her heeeeeelp was?” Roswaal noted, turning to Subaru.

“It was?” Subaru asked, realization hitting her.

No, seriously, Roswaal said Felt was the fifth candidate, so they must be ridiculously rare. She just helped two thirds of the possible candidates of the throne to stay or become candidates!

Subaru’s breathing grew heavier and more rapid.

“I also realized that I’ve never properly thanked you, Subaru.” Emilia said smiling at her. “Not without understanding just what you’ve done for me. So— Thank you.”

“Hoooo and of course!” Roswaal announced, clapping her hands together for a moment. “I would be remiss to not rewaaaaaard Subaru-chan for such a service properlyyyy. And as an honoured guuueeeeest and candidate, the same goes for Feeeelt-sama!” Roswaal said ceremoniously. “Any wish either of you ask, should it be in my powers to give, I will graaaaant~!”

Subaru slumped into her seat. She knew this was like a post-game reward place, but she thought the reward would just me getting to stay in the mansion! But if she actually gets to have a reward on top of that, she must really have been important! A grin slowly crept onto Subaru’s face, which everyone except Beatrice and Puck seemed to notice. What should she ask for? Riches? A small manor of her own? Ooh, a noble title?

She glanced down at Felt besides her, and realized the girl would probably not like someone who asked for things like that.

There was also the option Subaru’s been toying around with in her head, that she could make formal. She had felt bad about the distance she sensed between herself and the two maids, so she was planning on offering to help out. If she only asked for a job at the mansion, she could casually make that work! She could get closer to the maids, probably be a huge relief since two young women for a place this big has to be stressful, and get paid while doing it, which is sure to come in handy later!

Once again glancing at Felt, then up at Ram, Subaru realized Felt would probably not like that either, since she didn’t seem too keen on the maids. Nah, Subaru probably shouldn’t try to join the staff, just try to close that distance over time by being nice.

“Do you have a wish or not? You’ve been giving stupid looks for a while now.” Subaru heard Felt say bored, and then felt warm soup splatter on the left side of her face. Subaru noticed that neither of the maids jumped at the opportunity to wipe her face clean.

“Roswaal-sama!” Subaru declared suddenly, placing her hands on the table. “I want your help to become a minstrel!”

Silence fell on the room, only broken by the sound of Ram scratching her ear.

“Well that’s useless.” Felt said finally.

“Whatever you requiiiiiire for this, consider it graaaaaanted. Have you given thought to what exactly this would entail Subaruuuu-chan?” Roswaal asked, leaning forward, locking her eyes at Subaru, as if she was searching for something.

“W-well, actually I’m not sure what you could do. I— Well, I wasn’t really thinking of anything like arranging concerts, but I’d need an instrument, plus I can’t read or write, which would make it difficult to learn new songs. Also music sheets, I’m not sure what they’re like here.” Subaru listed. “Oh, and actually, if it is not too much bother, I’d like to stay here until at least when Felt-ch—ama leaves.”

“Chama?” Felt quoted with an odd look.

“I seee~.” Roswaal said, leaning back in her chair. “Ram was already going to teeaaaaaach Felt-sama, you may joiiin her. Rem, please see if you can find any instruments in the maaaaaanor.”

“As you please, Roswaal-sama.” the twins said in unison.

“And what about young Feeeeelt-sama? Have you a wish?”

“Hmph, well unlike some, I don’t want to just laze about all day like a useless freebooter.” Felt said, shooting a glare at Subaru. “So, I want to earn a living here, and get a job.”

“You what?!” Subaru exclaimed in shock.

“I can’t expect a freebooter to understand the idea of earning one’s keep.”

“But—” Subaru muttered. It didn’t make any sense! Felt hated it here! She hated the staff, she hated the nobles, she had no respect for any of it! Why would she—

“Woooonderful! Ram, Rem, please make sure that Felt-sama has plenty to keep her buuuuusy, just not too much to exhaust the poor girl. I would note that she is not to be giiiiiven any tasks that require going neeeeaaaar the fence.”

Felt audibly hissed, and kicked the bottom of the table.

‘Oh right. That makes more sense.’ Subaru thought.

Chapter Text

The rest of lunch passed without much of note. Subaru made an attempt to close the gap between her and the maids by thoroughly complimenting Rem on the second course, and even segwaying into how surely Ram must have helped out, though all that seemed to come of that is the revelation that Ram left the cooking to Rem. As the twins were eager to explain, Ram wasn’t very good at cooking, or cleaning, or yard work, or tailoring, while Rem was a model servant excelling in these and more. Rem appeared to hold no sense of superiority over this, nor did Ram seem like she was begrudging her sister’s all around excellence.

At the end of the meal Roswaal stated that while Subaru herself is allowed to leave the mansion at her leisure, Felt’s presence in the mansion, and especially its cause was to be kept a closely guarded secret, that was only shared with Subaru, Emilia and the staff for the sake of them understanding the gravity of the situation. While Subaru had heard in her first life from Rom and Felt about the fact that the royal Lugnica family had recently died out, it came as news that assassination was on the table.

Roswaal who Emilia noted is the most powerful and respected magic user in the entire Kingdom had reached out to Reinhard van Astrea and came to some sort of an understanding, by which Felt would be, until otherwise necessary held at the mansion for her protection, as agents of the other three candidates may seek to assassinate her. Subaru wondered why the same suspicion wasn’t raised against Roswaal and Emilia. It only took a glance at the elf cooing at her little flying cat pet for Subaru to put these questions to rest in her mind.

Being informed by Ram that their lessons on reading will begin in the evening, Subaru found herself without much to do. She made an attempt to offer her help to the maids, however beyond selecting a uniform for Felt, they showed no sign of wanting her help.

Unsurprisingly, Felt refused outright to wear a maid uniform akin to the ones the twins wore, and while initially she insisted on just keeping what she wore thus far, Subaru eventually managed to change the girl’s mind by suggesting a refit of a suit that subaru could best describe as belonging to a butler. Borderline tuxedo in cut, but modest. Felt might have only accepted the suit because Ram noted that it would take considerable work to refit for a child, but Subaru took her victories where she could find them.

After this pleasant little distraction, Subaru was left with not much to do but wander the mansion. She found Emilia, and had hoped to spend some more time with her, but sadly she had studies of her own to attend to. This made sense, given that she was apparently in line for the throne.

While wandering the halls, familiarizing herself with the general layout of the building, occasionally Subaru would get a funny feeling around one door or another, and sure enough, opening them, she’d find the magically location-switching library. After the fourth time, Beatrice sent a heavy wind blow at her that threatened to make her lose her footing if she hadn’t closed the door back in time, and so Subaru decided she’ll avoid these doors for a while.

Finding her way back to her room, Subaru was overjoyed to find three separate instruments placed on her bed, likely Rem’s work, unless the twins switched tasks. Two of these Subaru doubted she could play without a lot of effort, as one resembled a flute, and the other appeared to be some variation on the violin and fiddle sort of small stringed instruments, accompanied by a bow placed next to it. No, the one she was overjoyed to find, was the third, a lyulyre placed against the bed.

Quickly testing it, Subaru found it almost perfectly tuned, with a sound even clearer and more beautiful than the poor old thing she senselessly smashed against Granhiert in an attempt to disarm her. ‘Rest in peace, Lyu Lyre-san.’ Subaru thought, offering a silent prayer for the fallen before beginning to strum out a melody on her new tool.

She was now on the righteous path!

 

                                           

 

Lost in the joys of testing out various songs she knew on the lyulyre, it was only when she looked out the window and saw that the sky was slowly beginning to dim that she realized she’d spent hours practicing.

This wasn’t the way she was supposed to be! She was supposed to break out of the habit of playing alone in her room!

Slapping herself once on each cheek, she grabbed the lyulyre and strapped it on her back. She was going to find someone to play to, one way or ano—

“Honoured guest, I was concerned, so I brought some tea.” Ram said while knocking on the open door.

“Was the door open all this time?” Subaru asked. Maids who followed etiquette as thoroughly as the twins, wouldn’t have only knocked after opening a door.

“Yes.” Ram said quietly with a bow of her head, turning Subaru’s head red. “It seemed inappropriate to interrupt.”

Well then. Probably half the mansion listened to her experiment with her lyulyre, plus the times she briefly messed around with the ones she was going to call a violin and a flute respectively for now. Not exactly what she had in mind for her first performance.

“If this was a bad time, I must apologize.” Ram continued.

“No, no you haven’t done anything wrong!” Subaru exclaimed, not wanting the girl to leave. “Thank you for the tea.” Subaru said, to which Ram bowed her head once again and placed the small tray with a cup and a pot on a small table near the door.

“If I may be excused.” Ram said, bowing once again.

“W-wait, you don’t have to be so formal, you know? I don’t consider myself—”

And she was gone.

Subaru couldn’t help but feel that if anything, she widened the gap between her and the maids so far, especially with her confusion over Roswaal. She could only sigh and accept this for now. More importantly, she needed to find someone else to play for.

Roswaal Subaru had apprehensions about playing for. She seemed difficult to read. While Roswaal took Felt’s every insult, and even Subaru’s confusion over her identity, there was something unnerving about them. It might just have been the eccentric way they dressed, but at the very least, Roswaal wasn’t someone Subaru would want as the first person she plays to that actually remembers it.

Ram seemed disinterested, and likely the same could be said for Rem, who on top of having been even more formal with Subaru than her sister, was from what Subaru gathered earlier in charge of most of the tasks in the manor, and as such unlikely to have time.

This left Emilia and Felt, with Felt likely being bu—

Hold on! Ram just brought Subaru tea! But, she didn’t have Felt with her, which means right now, Felt isn’t be supervised, which means there’s only one place she could be!

Rushing out the door and down through the manor’s halls and corridors, Subaru quickly arrived at the door to Felt’s room and knocked.

“Felt-chama!” she called excitedly, deciding to keep the accidental pet name, since it was cute and appropriate. The fact that Felt vaguely resembled her own personal Satoko was just a cherry on top.

Subaru had no real way to get inside there, but she could still talk over the door and play music! And! And! Felt couldn’t possibly have anything better to do! The perfect trap!

Subaru’s eyes glinted with an evil light, though no one was around to see.

Indeed, no one was around to hear either, as Subaru quickly noticed that she was getting no answer. She tried knocking and calling Felt’s name a few more times, but she remained without answer. Subaru reached for the door handle, turned it and— It was open!

“Damn it, Felt!” Subaru said to herself. Couldn’t the girl make it even one day before making a run for it?!

Subaru would have loved to be supportive of Felt in everything, but running away was just the stupidest stunt the girl could have pulled! What part of ‘people will want to assassinate you’ was so confusing?! She had no choice, but to alert someone!

It would have taken too much time to try and find Roswaa or Emilia, who could be in any part of the mansion, and Betty she wouldn’t want to tangle with anymore today even if she got a feeling about a door, so that left the twins who should have been preparing diner around now!

Subaru rushed back to the main hall, down the stairs and then to the kitchen, right next to the dinner room. Turning the last corner, just before the kitchen, she was just about to shout ‘Felt is gone!’, when she heard Felt’s voice cry “Ha!” triumphantly from inside.

“What was that, Nee-sama?” Subaru heard through the kitchen door.

Instead of coming out to check, after a short pause, Ram noted: “Barusu was running about.”

‘Barusu’? Normally Subaru would be happy to hear someone made a nickname for her, but this didn’t sound like the endearing sort.

“Ha! Haaaa!” Felt cried again, both crying accompanied by a faint noise like something hard being hit against wood.

“Rem is surprised. Felt-sama might have had a splendid future in catering. Those vegetables are very nicely cut.”

“Yeah, well I’m pretty hand with a knife.” Subaru heard Felt say proudly through the door. “And you mean I may have a future. I don’t care about this stupid election stuff. I’m quitting it as soon as they let me. I can barely put up with you calling me -sama, like I was born with a silver spoon up my ass or something.”

“Reinhard-sama asked us to remind Felt-sama about that kind of language.” Ram said.

“Well that stupid firehead isn’t here, and good riddance!”

Subaru listened to them chatting in the kitchen, mixed with the sound of vegetables being cut and water being boiled. How come she always ends up left out? She knew at lunch that she should have changed her wish, but she thought at the time that it would come off as stupid, and even play into Felt’s complaint about Subaru following her. Though really, Felt probably had a point. Subaru was listening to her conversation right now.

Standing up, Subaru did her best to remove herself from the door as quietly as possible, and headed outside. She felt like playing her lyulyre some more, but maybe not so it echoes through the whole mansion again.

Returning to a nice gazebo she saw before while running with Emilia, Subaru sat down on a small stone bench and taking a breath, began playing the first song that came to mind.

Bit of Bowie, bit of Boøwy, bit of Berry, bit of Mr. Children. She was in what she had hoped was her ‘thinking mode’. She liked to think while playing music, but considering how little she actually did before, in spite of all the playing she did, maybe it wasn’t the most useful kind of thinking.

Subaru just wanted to figure out a way to get closer with everyone. Felt didn’t trust her, the twins were disconnected maids, Roswaal had a funny way about her, Betty was going to finish the job if she pestered here more and—

“Subaru!” she heard Emilia’s voice, snapping back to the present, losing track of what song she was even playing. “I’m sorry, did I ruin your concentration?”

“Emilia-sama!” Subaru said, jumping to attention.

“Oh please, not you too.” Emilia said with a pained smile. An oddly pained smile, like she wasn’t just being modest.

“Hm.” Subaru was thinking. “Chama is taken, so chan? How about it, Emilia-chan?”

“That’s much nicer, thank you, Subaru.”

Emilia sat down on another stone bench across from Subaru.

“I heard you move outside, and thought I’d see how you’ve been doing.”

The young elf had such a positive air about her. Subaru felt like she could tell her all her worries, and Emilia would at the very least offer some words of encouragement. She never really met someone like that back home. Well, she thought for a time, but—

Regardless, Subaru didn’t want their relationship to be built entirely on Subaru saying stupid things and then being corrected or encouraged by Emilia. She always wanted to be the kind of person others come to, that can make others smile. She had to try toughening up a bit and being positive herself! After all, she was sort of a hero, wasn’t she? Yes! That’s why she was given this lyulyre in the first place!”

“I’m doing great, thanks!” Subaru said. “How have your studies been?” she asked, remembering a line from somewhere about one one should ask others about them. Wasn’t that a book about how to make guys fall in love with you? Wait, did she say something wrong?

“Mostly boring, Beatrice has been playing with Puck since lunch, so I was mostly by myself.” Emilia leaned on the railing of the gazebo a bit, looking wistfully at the lowering sun.

“And, uh, what kind of things do you study to be a queen?” Subaru asked. “Twelve easy steps to assassinate a pretender?”

“That’s awful, Subaru!” Emilia said with a serious look, before turning back away. “It’s silly things, like family trees, and etiquette, customs of this kingdom and others.” Emilia listed. “I’d rather not talk about it anymore.”

Subaru just hummed quietly. She hadn’t had girl talk in such a long time, she wasn’t even sure what it looks like anymore. Hold on! She could ask Emilia if she likes anyone? Hopefully it isn’t Puck.

“I liked your music.” Emilia said before Subaru could ask anything, making the question on their mind disappear into nothing.

“Really? Which song?” Subaru realized right away how stupid the question was.

“Honestly, I don’t know any of these songs you’re playing, and they all sound very strange. And yet there’s something charming about them. Especially the slower ones.”

Subaru thought for a moment. What slow songs did she play again? Ah, there’s one!

Beginning to strum out the notes of ‘ Yesterday ’, Subaru looked at Emilia. “Like this one?”

“I think I heard you play this, yes!” Emilia nodded with a big smile. Subaru had to conclude that for whatever reason the Beatles just transferred really well between worlds, or over instruments anyway. “It’s much nicer heard up close too.” Emilia added as she listened.

Having made some peace with the English songs’ lyrics not translating to this new world, Subaru didn’t try to sing the lyrics.

“Ram also said something like ‘she didn’t hate it’.” Emilia noted trailing off. ”Such a sad yet sweet melody.”

Subaru bit down on her lips gently, trying to hold back the proud smile that was overcoming her. She was always afraid her playing wouldn’t manage to really evoke any emotion, so to hear Emilia describe the song the way Subaru felt about it, was just a huge treat.

“Subaru, is everything alright?” Emilia asked as Subaru felt a raindrop fall on her hand.

She looked up, but only saw the ceiling of the gazebo, so stopped playing and wiped her eyes.

“I’m fine.” Subaru said happily.

This was the first time since that first day that she played for someone. She has died twice, just to have this moment.

“Tears are a weakness leaving the body!” Subaru exclaimed, thumping her chest. “Now having grown stronger, you are looking at the next sensation of the Lugoca Kingdom!” she added, punching her fist in the air declaratively.

“It’s Lugnica.” Emilia corrected standing up, then walked over to Subaru, putting one hand on Subaru’s shoulder, while helping wipe away her tears with her sleeve using the other. “I’m looking forward to seeing you become a sensation. Whatever that is.”

Chapter Text

Dinner came and went. Beatrice who hasn’t touched her food at lunch except to watch Puck ‘eat it’ didn’t join them this time. When asking if the library’s guardian was eating in her room, Subaru was told that in fact Beatrice doesn’t need to eat, being a spirit same as Puck. Emilia supposed that she didn’t join them this time because Puck had already gone to sleep in the crystal around her neck, and Beatrice wasn’t much interested in anyone else.

Felt also didn’t eat with them, saying she’ll eat with the twins, the dining room being posh enough to take away her appetite, so Subaru just awkwardly ate with Roswaal and Emilia, while the now three maids stood in the room, felt in particular entertaining herself by balancing a spoon’s handle on the tip of her finger and spinning it like a helicopter blade. Felt certainly wasn’t thinking of helicopters while doing it, but Subaru had no idea what it might look like to the girl, if it looked like anything other than a spinning spoon at all.

After dinner, Ram informed Subaru that as soon as Felt has eaten, lessons on reading and writing will begin, and instructed her to wait in Felt’s room. There wasn’t much in there that Subaru hadn’t seen in her room, the many guest rooms of the mansion being mostly uniform. She did take the liberty trying her best to fold the torn dresses still laying in a pile near the door, and place them on the dresser, then got on the floor to try and wipe up some gravy Felt likely spilled back during her breakfast.

Walking in on Subaru on all fours, scrubbing at the floor, Ram didn’t say a word, just placed a small book on the desk and left to fetch a second chair from a neighbouring room.

Once Rem arrived with Felt, the two apparently doing the dishes per Felt’s uncharacteristically diligent request, Ram bid farewell to her sister and began the lesson with the two illiterates.

As Subaru had suspected from her past experiences with the market signs and the note with the flowers she still hadn’t read, Ram explained that there were three separate sets of written characters: Imoji, Romoji and Hamoji. Unlike Japanese with hiragana and katakana being different characters for the same sounds, here, no two had the same number of characters, and all represented different things.

Ram didn’t really say much about the history of these three character groups, instead just insisting Felt and Subaru begin practicing Imojis by writing them repeatedly, as the first goal she had in mind for them, given that both spoke fluently, that they should try and read the book she brought. A children’s book by the looks of it, with a large dragon on the cover.

Contrary to her expectations, even though she was perfectly literate in her own world, Subaru found herself falling well behind Felt while writing the characters. Even though Felt apparently never learned to write, clearly the girl had known enough to read a little, probably to distinguish between things worth taking and things not worth taking. On top of that, Felt spent her entire life surrounded by these strange runes, so she boasted an innate familiarity with them that Subaru simply lacked.

Naturally, Felt passed up no opportunity to mock Subaru for her embarrassing level of illiteracy, even below that of a street rat, which Felt referred to herself as with a strange sense of pride. Even with the mockery, Subaru just enjoyed the fact that instead of accusing her of anything, Felt was poking fun at her. Perhaps soon, she might get a chance to get closer to the girl and play for her.

After some time of Felt and Subaru scribbling down the imoji characters, Felt having run out of degrading jokes to make, and Subaru not wanting to push her luck, Ram who spent most of this time laying on Felt’s bed doing little more than kicking her legs stood up and announced that it’s been roughly an hour and told them to stop. Subaru had no clue where she got the idea that it’s been an hour, since she herself was never very good at keeping track of time with her internal clock and there was no actual clock or even an hourglass in the room.

Ram briefly looked over their scribblings, then tapped the book on the desk, saying that since Felt seems to be doing admirably, she’ll leave the book here, in case the girl wants to try and read something before going to sleep. Subaru asked what Ram thought of her notes, to which Ram simply replied:

“It is about on par with someone whose life’s ambition is to live on the road and eat other people’s food in exchange for tickling at some strings.”

“When I said you don’t have to be so formal, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Subaru said weakly as Felt laughed next to them.

“Ram will take Barusu’s concerns into consideration.” Ram said with a smile.

Ram, having locked Felt back in her room, left presumably to finish any remaining chores for the day.

Subaru was left to herself for a while, and though Ram had told her to return to her room for rest, and that a clean robe would be waiting for her, Subaru had kept up a tradition for far too long to break it now. Perhaps the only good tradition she had in her old world.

Leaving the mansion, Subaru performed a few quick stretches on the lawn by herself, and then began jogging. As much as playing music was something that would let her think, going for a run in the early hours of the night was a way for her to clear her mind.

While her day didn’t go exactly as she had hope, it was far, far better than any she had in a long time. She got a lyulyre, took the first steps towards realizing her dreams, and perhaps was even on her way to make her first real friend since—

Today was great. No, today was fantastic! What was she even down about before? That Felt didn’t feel like hanging out with her? The poor girl’s in a strange place with strange people of a strange class she hates! Of course she’d be reserved! That’s probably why she fit in with the maids, since they’re the furthest away from nobility here. Subaru had first thought she was, but she kind of did herself in by asking to be treated as a guest.

No matter! Tomorrow she’ll continue to practice her music, and if she’ll manage to find Felt taking a break, she’ll strike up a conversation! Yes! She can use her own horrible illiteracy as something to break the ice with!

When finally feeling good and ran out, Subaru circled back to the main entrance of the mansion, the one nearest to her. To her surprise, she found Rem standing outside like a statute.

“Oh hey, Rem! Out to enjoy the evening breeze?”

“No, Natsuki-sama. Rem was simply checking to make sure that the honoured guest is alright.” the blue haired girl said simply with a bow, giving off a tense feeling as always.

“Right, this jogging thing is probably weird to you too, huh?” Subaru said, wiping her brow with her suit’s sleeve, a movement she saw Rem carefully follow with her only visible eye.

The maid didn’t respond to Subaru’s question, just closing her eyes and hanging her head in something between a nod and a bow. This poor girl was impossibly stiff. Where her sister had taken no issue insulting Subaru before, Rem seemed unwilling to even admit that Subaru’s behaviour was strange to her. Weirdly, this made Subaru appreciate Ram’s rudeness a bit.

“You really don’t need to be so polite towards me.” Subaru tried. “If you’d like, you could try jogging with me tomorrow?”

The blue main once again gave one of her strange, puzzled looks before replying.

“Rem wishes to thank Natsuki-sama’s generous offer, however Rem has too many chores for such activities.”

“Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me.” Subaru said, shooting finger guns at Rem. Subaru wasn’t sure why she did that. Not only was the girl clearly not the type to find it funny, but Subaru vaguely remembered having already learned this expression doesn’t translate at all.

Blushing heavily, Subaru marched inside and to her room. She was just about to start changing into the robes she indeed found on the dresser, when she heard a knock on the door she just shut behind her.

“May Rem come inside, Natsuki-sama?”

“Hold on, you followed me all this way?” Subaru asked, dumbfounded.

“Yes, Natsuki-sama.”

Subaru turned around and opened the door. Sure enough, the blue maid was there. Now the maid being in the mansion wouldn’t be strange, if not for the fact that Subaru marched all this way at a high pace, and she hadn’t heard a single footstep following her. Just how subtle are Rem’s steps? It wasn’t even like her shoes didn’t have hard soles.

“May Rem enter?”

“Yeah. Yes, of course. Why?”

“Thank you, Natsuki-sama. It has simply occurred to Rem that it won’t do to have Natsuki-sama wear only one set of clothes for the rest of her stay here. Especially with those exercises each evening.”

Subaru unconsciously tapped her side, and indeed she could feel the shirt underneath her tracksuit wet with sweat.

“I see your point.”

“May Rem take Natsuki-sama’s measurements, so she may acquire appropriate vestments?”

“S-sure!” Subaru said.

She wasn’t embarrassed as much as excited. She never been to a tailor in her life, so for one, this was a brand new, fancy experience. More importantly though, it looked like this was the maid’s own idea, not something they were told to do. Even if Rem just saw it as her duties, the fact that she even gave that much thought to Subaru’s comfort made her happy.

It didn’t take long for the maid to take Subaru’s measurements, apparently carrying a measuring tape in one of her dress’ pockets. Subaru almost felt like a pampered princess, as the expressionless maid leaned here and there, wrapping the tape around Subaru and more, making sure to note down every detail.

When the girl was done, Subaru loosened her stance, and turned Rem, ready to say good night, only to find the main standing there expectantly.

“Uh— am I supposed to tip?” Subaru asked.

“No, Natsuki-sama, Rem is simply hoping to take Natsuki-sama’s current clothes to the laundry. Should Rem leave the room?”

Feeling a bit awkward about dressing in front of someone, even if it was another girl, Subaru asked Rem to wait while she took the clean robes to the bathroom accessible from the side of her room, and quickly changed. When pulling her shirt over her head, Subaru got a conscious whiff of the results of spending all morning and the evening with exercises.

Maybe getting her new clothes was just the most polite way for the maid to deal with Subaru stinking up the manor.

 

                                           

 

Next morning, Subaru awoke to a gentle knock at her door. Unbelievably, overnight Rem had refitted a fine dress for her. At first she was certain it must have just been a dress that conveniently was mostly her size already, but Rem clarified that no, she adjusted it to Subaru’s proportions.

Subaru was never one for dresses. Really, very few women were back home. Still, though it didn’t show on her face, Rem must have been up all night fixing this. Subaru couldn’t insult her by not accepting it.

“I never wore anything that felt…” Subaru was searching for the words. The orange dress coming down from her shoulders to her knees fit her figure, but wasn’t suffocating in the least, unlike how she always imagined proper dresses must feel. It didn’t even restrict her movements aside from obviously wanting to avoid exercising in them.

“Rem is glad to see it fits. If Rem may excuse herself.”

“Wait, I asked already, but you really fit this for me in just one night?”

“It was a simple matter, Rem may have cut some corners. If she was working on the high standards befitting Roswaal-sama, it would have taken considerably longer.” Rem explained with a bow. “Now, if Natsuki-sama allows, Rem has duties to attend to.”

Rem turned towards the door, ready to leave, but Subaru couldn’t just let her go like this. Rem had clearly gone above and beyond on this, Subaru wanted to thank her properly!

“Wait, really, I just want to say—” Without thinking, Subaru grabbed Rem’s left hand, something to which the maid’s body froze, and her head darted around. For the briefest moment as the maid’s head was turning, Subaru could see a contorted expression she couldn’t identify, but it was replaced with an vacant, neutral expression as the girl glanced down at her hand held in Subaru’s then up at Subaru’s face.

“Is there something else Rem may do?” she said, turning to Subaru, and gently yet firmly pulling her hand out of Subaru’s grasp.

“N-no, just… Just wanted to say I really appreciate the work you put into this.”

Subaru’s face burned after Rem left. She definitely crossed some invisible line between guest and servant. Stupid!

She sighed and sat back on her bed, picking up the lyulyre to strum out a few frustrated tunes.

Having made the resolution last night that she’d try and approach things more positively, Subaru shook off the glum soon, and set off to try and ‘conquer the day’ as the expression went. Probably. She thought there might be an expression like that.

The time between breakfast and lunch passed similar to yesterday, with practicing the lyulyre by herself in the garden’s gazebo replacing Subaru’s demonstrative exercises. Felt and Beatrice once again attended, though Felt remained adamant that she’ll eat with the maids. Beatrice, as before, spent both meals playing with Puck and her food, rather than actually eating or engaging in talks with anyone else. The only difference Subaru noted, is that instead of her earlier clothes, Felt was wearing the butler outfit they picked out yesterday, fiddling with it constantly, not seeming to like it much, but giving enough respect this time around to not just tear it apart.

After lunch, once more she found Emilia preoccupied with her duties, so adamant on not being denied again, Subaru opted to follow Ram and Felt around. Seeing as their guest was not going to leave them alone, Ram eventually buckled and allowed Subaru to help out with a few minor tasks, such as folding the laundry which as Ram put it, ‘Even Barusu can’t fail to do.’ In spite of this claim, Ram proceeded to list criticisms on the way Subaru folded the arms of the clothes, though Subaru was certain she followed exactly the method her mom would use back home.

Subaru made a few attempts to chat with Felt, but they just shot her down repeatedly, opting instead to follow Ram’s lead both in tasks and berating Subaru.

Halfway through the afternoon, Ram announced that Felt and her will have to return to the kitchens to begin dinner preparations, causing them both to leave Subaru once more to her own devices.

Returning to her room, Subaru got to practicing some more. This time, with closed doors. Eventually, she’d be woken from her trance playing music, by a knock at the door.

“I’ve decided Barusu might want some tea again tonight.” Ram said, after Subaru invited her in. This time, she had not one, but two tea cups on the tray, and took one, sitting on Subaru’s bed.

“I didn’t think you’d want to drink tea with me.” Subaru said surprised, but glad.

“If Barusu wants, I can le—”

“No, no! I would love it if you— If Ram-chi stayed!” Subaru said. This was a great time to double down on their relationship growing closer by returning a nickname!

“Call Ram that again, and the next cup of tea will be made with river water.” Ram said, shooting a sharp look at Subaru.

“Ah, don’t be like that, Ram-chi!” Subaru started, trying to act cool, giving Ram a big smile and a thumbs up. “It’s only right we both have pet names for each other.”

“River water it is.” Ram noted in a calm tone, taking a sip of her tea.

“Ah well, I drank worse.” Subaru thought, thinking back on the watered down milk. Ram raised an eyebrow at this, but just finished her sip.

“Though Barusu at least is quite right in possessing a pet name.” Ram added, gently lowering her cup. “A useless dog kept around the house out of kindness and pity could only be described as a pet, and the name of such a pathetic thing would be a pet name.”

“You’re really harsh, Ram-chai, you know that?”

“Why, the lovely, gentle Ram is only acting according to Barusu’s wishes!” Ram noted, smiling to herself and flailing her legs.

Subaru drank some of the tea from the other cup too, concluding that it is delicious as by now was expected.

“Hey, since you’re here, would you mind giving me your thoughts on some of my music, Ram-chi?”

“I can tell my opinion from yesterday: It’s loud.” Ram said simply.

“No, no, please just let me play something, then tell me what you think!”

Ram sighed then put down her cup. “Very well.”

“Great!”

Even if she’ll probably only get negative criticism out of Ram, Subaru closed her eyes, deciding it will still be a good way to figure out what doesn’t work. She got all the praise she needed for now out of her first loop’s Felt and Emilia from yesterday. She could do with a bit of negativity to balance things out.

Subaru searched her thoughts for a song that would fit, something that the pink maid might enjoy. Of course she didn’t really have any idea about Ram’s tastes, and most every song she knew how to play were literally out of this world, so nothing would really be inside the girl’s preferences. Perhaps Subaru should play something that she wants to play? Oh, oh yes, a devilish thought popped into her head.

She didn’t dislike Ram, as much as her beration hurt her, there was a world of difference between what the maid was giving Subaru and twist-the-knife malice. She could tell. Still, she did want to give her a piece of her mind, if only that didn’t risk alienating Ram as much as her sister seemed to be. So, all Subaru had to do was tell Ram off without Ram knowing she did it! With English as her weapon of choice, she could do no wrong!

Beginning to strum with an energetic rhythm, Subaru looked straight into Ram’s right eye with a mischievous smile and began to sing.

Sometimes I feel I’ve got— Get away! I’ve got to— Run away from the pain you drive into the heart of me!...”

And so Subaru strummed away the late afternoon in front of a pink maid betraying no sign of her emotions.

Chapter Text

The silence in the unlit study was broken only by the soft breathing of the pink haired maid, kneeling in the lap of the manor’s eccentric lady, her head resting against her mistress’ shoulder.

Roswaal sitting at her table, the chair turned to the side, so she has a clear view out the screen window and into the gardens below. For the fourth night now, she watched, as the older of her two guests, and the only one of present concern circled around the manor, running herself to exhaustion.

The lady of the manor turned her discerning gaze to the small young woman in her lap, her pink hair gently fluttering, not only from Roswaal’s hand caressing her head, but moved also by the soft waves of mana passing invisibly through the air around and between them.

“Ram. What do you think of our guest, Subaruu-chan? You’ve had several days to observe her behaviour.” Roswaal asked in a measured tone, moving her hand to the back of Ram’s head, as one holds a new born child.

“She plays her role as a fool convincingly. Were it not for her circumstances, I’d perhaps believe it.” Ram replied quietly.

“Oh? Is there sooomething about her that makes you doooubt her? Could she be a spy?”

“I cannot be sure, but her behaviour is too erratic and conspicuous. She seeks attention anywhere she can get it, and has spent  her time doing little more than pestering Emilia-sama and Felt-sama.”

“Then whaaaat makes you question heeer?” Roswaal asked, caressing Ram’s head, as mana continued to swirl around them, imperceivable to all but the most gifted and attentive.

“Her circumstances in encountering two candidates at once, though claiming to not know anything of them. The contradictory way in which she claimed she had no idea where she got to the capital to Emilia-sama, and yet on arrival here she already knew of the royal family’s demise. The strange scribbles left in her room she claimed to be ideas for her music career, that are far too consistent to not be coded writing, while she pretends to be illiterate. The way she seeks to befriend the staff and guests of the mansion, but not its lady. She is far too incompetent to be a spy, yet she must be lying about a great deal. It feels as if she was here for her own ends, whatever they may be.”

Roswaal gazed out the window once more, the young half-elf girl was standing in the grass in her nightgown now, waving over Natsuki Subaru, as that was coming close to completing what was her seventh lap around the manor, by Roswaal’s count.

“Perhaps sheee was manipulated into being here, as aaa distraction.” Roswaal noted, though only as a means to book-end her servant’s thoughts. “What of her relaaations with the candidates, and your siiister?”

“By wisdom or instinct, Felt-sama remains suspicious of her, though she seems to hold some liking for the girl, likely for having saved her life back in the capital. I also believe her hidden warmth may be a result of beginning to suspect that we were open to her as per Roswaal-sama’s instructions, after her wish.”

“Ooooh, and is that still the only reeaason?” Roswaal asked. She wasn’t certain why, it was a trifling thing, of no consequence. Though then, she had felt not much now could be of consequence.

“Some admiration may be owed to Felt-sama, in her adaptation to the circumstances, however she remains tertiary to our duties to Roswaal-sama.” Ram said.

Roswaal pulled Ram’s head closer, to which the girl trembled. Her hatred of her mistress was obvious in these moments, the fear she must feel, and yet continue her duties, fighting ever on towards her distant reward that now—

“What of your sister and the giiirl?”

“Emilia-sama seems to be taken in by her, as she would be by any stray pet that wandered into the mansion and rolled on its back exposing its belly.” Ram said with no hint of emotion in her words. She continued to speak only what she believed to be the absolute truth. “Rem remains apprehensive towards her, though I believe she has through no plan or effort on her own, wormed herself under my sister’s skin.”

Her report complete, the pink haired girl went quiet, dutifully awaiting her mistress’s next word.

Roswaal was simply looking at Natsuki Subaru and the half-elf below in the garden. Over the past days, she began to see some amount of confidence appear in the way the girl conducted herself. Perhaps a result of her wish’s fulfillment, as weak of a wish it was. Still, Natsuki Subaru’s behaviour was not enough to satisfy. Not nearly enough.

“You have done weeeel, Ram.” Roswaal whispered to the girl in her lap.

What was that look in her eyes, staring back at her? Was this what hatred looked like, when shackled in servitude?

Roswaal sensed the girl’s hand, clutching at her mistress’ chest.

‘That’s the way.’ Roswaal thought to herself. If the girl only punched through there now, if she was quick enough, perhaps she could rip out Roswaal’s bitter heart, before perishing herself.

Ram would have to decide soon. There was not much time left to fulfill her burning desires. No time left at all.

Chapter Text

It was the fifth day of Subaru’s stay at Roswaal’s mansion, just after lunch She had started to get to a point with the lyulyre thanks to her practice where she would be confident in her abilities. Certainly she could play songs already on it, but every now and again she’d mess up a chord here or there, her hand still used to her old instrument. In addition, she often had to make do while playing some songs, as the lyulyre not only had a different sound to her acoustic guitar, but also sported one less string.

Making a progress report in her head about her time at the mansion so far on the way to the gazebo she has turned into her summer home, she had to bitterly conclude that getting to reconnect with Felt was as far away as it was on the first day. Occasionally she had little breakthroughs, or at least what she thought might have been breakthroughs, when Felt showed a bit of interest in Subaru, but it wasn’t much. The girl kept asking difficult questions that Subaru had no way of answering satisfyingly. Every now and again, she’d ask a question Subaru could latch onto, such as her habit of nightly runs. When it first came up on her third day, Felt called it a stupid way to waste one’s energy, though perhaps deciding she was too cold to Subaru changed her tone just yesterday, mentioning that if she ever gets free reign of the mansion, she might want to try it out!

The twins were more difficult to crack. Subaru barely saw Rem, the maid somehow always busy around the clock. Well, not clock. Subaru still hadn’t figured out what timekeepers the mansion or its residents had, since there were no clocks anywhere she could find, and yet the maids still acted as if they were always aware of the time. As for Ram, while as Subaru suspected, Ram made a habit of visiting Subaru before dinner briefly to listen to her play music. Only to give her input, of course, as the maid reminded her. Regardless, Subaru appreciated her company. Ram also indirectly gave her the idea that perhaps she should try and write Japanese translations for the english lyrics, since Ram’s main complaint was always that listening to nonsense was annoying. Subaru couldn’t relate, since she enjoyed English songs on the radio even when she was little and couldn’t understand a word. Maybe living in a world with no other languages made it a much stranger experience to listen to these songs. Food for thought.

Finally, that left Beatrice, Roswaal and Emilia. Emilia continued to be supportive, if busy. She seemed genuinely fascinated with Subaru’s ambition to become a minstrel. Subaru wondered if perhaps Emilia grew up without much music. Beatrice Subaru made a few attempts to visit, each of them unsuccessful, one going so far as being flung through the door by a gust of wind summoned by the drill haired spirit.

As for Roswaal… Subaru realized she never really made an attempt to visit with her. It’s not that it didn’t occur to her, but every time she thought about visiting Roswaal, some discouraging thought came to mind. Would she really want to waste the time of her host, if the host hadn’t come to her? What would she even talk about with who she was told was one of the most powerful people in the realm? Well, sure that didn’t come in her way with Emilia and Felt, but that was different. She knew them before they were— She knew them before she knew they were important people, and at least Emilia came and talked to her on her own, so Subaru didn’t threaten crossing some weird line she doesn’t know is even there.

Subaru was trying to visualize before herself her relationship with everyone at the mansion like a scoreboard similar to some games. Scoring 0 through 10 hearts, she currently pictured the following:

- Felt: 2 hearts: Compared to the 5 hearts of her first loop, it was low, but she had to give herself some props, she was making some progress.

- Emilia: 6 hearts. Subaru had no illusions of being a close friend to Emilia, but she was definitely on the way. No need to rush things. Subaru also had minor reservations about the fact that unlike Felt, Emilia seemed like she had some chance of being elected Queen. As sweet as the half-elf was, there was not much hope for a close friendship between them beyond that.

- Puck: 5 hearts. ‘Almost forgot he’s there.’ special flag, since she only really saw him with Emilia, and only during the day, when Emilia was usually tired.

- Ram: 3 hearts. Sure, she was even more demeaning to Subaru than Felt, but she still came to listen to her play entirely of her own accord.

- Rem: 0 hearts. Subaru would have hoped it was higher, but the blue maid was just too hard to approach.

- Roswaal: ??? Status. The mistress of the mansion kept mostly to herself thus far, only asking a few minor questions during meals. Subaru didn’t think she could even progress her relationship with Roswaal outside of some special event occurring, hence the ??? Status.

-Beatrice: -1 hearts. She doesn't like people in her library.

Aaaaaaargh! ” Subaru groaned, frustrated with how convoluted her thoughts had grown.

She hasn’t even started playing music yet, and was only clutching her instrument, waiting for a song to come to her! Trying to figure out her social life was just way too complicated. Maybe she was better off when she was permanently alone.

“Is something wrong, Subaru?” she heard Emilia say, and sure enough turning there she saw the young half-elf walking up to the gazebo.

“Ooooh, I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but the surface of your thoughts feels like sand paper.” Puck declared, hovering out from under Emilia’s hair.

“I’m fine, I’m fine!” Subaru declared.

She had been doing her best to stick to her resolution that she won’t let her relationship with Emilai be one where she makes the half-elf worry about her thoughts.— Speaking of, what did Puck just say?”

“What did you just say, Puck?”

“The surface of your thoughts, it’s like sandpaper.” Puck said as if that was supposed to make sense.

“Are you worried about something?” Emilia asked with a concerned look, sitting down on a bench next to Subaru’s.

“Nah, I was just thinking about stuff.” Subaru said, waving her hand before herself, and pushing her chest out a little, trying to look confident. “What’s this surface of my thoughts business though?”

“That’s simple.” Puck answered. “You know how people’s faces usually show how they feel?” Here Puck flew up to Subaru’s face and quietly added in a mischievous tone: “And how most people learn to put on false faces to hide how they really feel?” Puck flew back to Emilia’s shoulder and held his little arms wide. “It’s sort of the same with people’s thoughts. It’s like a second face that not everyone knows they have. Let me tell you, I’ve seen you pull some funny faces!”

Subaru tapped the top then back of her head absentmindedly. She didn’t expect any results, but Puck saying this stuff still made her feel like she has a window somewhere that she’d wish to close.

“You shouldn’t worry about Puck.” Emilia said, scratching Puck’s back mid-air. “He’s just good at understanding how you feel. It’s only dishonest people who that’s a bad thing for.”

“So, so.” Puck nodded. “Also, it’s not like I can see your every thought, so you don’t need to worry about me telling Lia about how much you wish you could try on her dress.”

“Oh, Subaru you wanted to?” Emilia asked, surprised.

“It was a joke example, Lia. I made it up.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s more something he wants to see.” Subaru noted, still a bit weirded out by whatever Puck and Emilia’s dynamic was.

“Puuuck!” Emilia pouted, gently flicking Puck’s left ear back and forth, to Puck’s mock protest.

“It’s still pretty amazing to me, all the things magic can do.” Subaru noted, putting her lyulyre down in her lap. “You say it like reading emotions is just a thing you can do, right? But then was all the stuff you two did at the loot house something you can just do indefinitely? That sounds like it would be kind of broken.”

“Broken?” Emilia asked.

“Uh… Unbalanced? Unfair? Something like that. Sort of like, why would anyone decide to be a warrior or a thief, if they can be a mage instead?”

“What kind of person gets to pick between those three options?” Puck asked, flipping upside down, with an inquisitive look on his face.

“I— Look, it doesn’t matter, I just meant magic users would make everyone else pointless.”

“That’s a pretty mean way to look at things, Subaru. The world needs all sort of people! People to raise and take care of land dragons, make bread, grow crops—”

“I’ll stop you right there, Emilia. I get what you mean, I just said something stupid again, and let’s leave it at that.” Subaru sighed.

“Hm, well I suppose if people had infinite mana, and everyone could do all sorts of magic, then a lot of those things would become much easier.” Puck pondered, spinning in the air. “Is that what you mean, Subaru?”

“Sort of.”

“Ah, but then you probably don’t know much about magic, do you? Mana is very much limited. And few people are as monstrous as Roswaal, most generally locked onto one element for all their lives.”

“Most? So is magic common?”

“Oh, absolutely! Anyone with a gate can use magic, though it takes a lot of training. Even you could probably use simple magic with a little effort. You might even have, sort of without knowing.”

“I might have?” Subaru pondered, before a light flashed before her eyes. “Wait, did you just say I could learn magic?”

Forget being a minstrel! Subaru could become a proper Bard with all the spells that come with it! Dimension Door! Glibness! Cure Wounds! Even the often overlooked, but always useful Animate Rope!

“Ho-hoo.” Puck said, turning right side up and crossing his legs, one par petting his chin like he was pulling on a beard. “A new apprentice wishes for the wisdom of the grand elder? Hooo-hooo-hooo.” Puck said mockingly before stopping his arm and dramatically pointing it to the side, looking off in the same direction. “Then you must face my challenges three, each more deadly than the last! Only if you conquer—”

“Puuuck.” Emilia cooed disapprovingly.

“Okay, okay.” Puck said, dropping his pose. “Just this once, I’m weaving the entrance requirements. I’m guessing you probably don’t know your element, right?”

“I’m not sure if I know what an element is.”

“Checking your element it is!” Puck announced, darting forward, curling up his tail and then sticking the tip against Subaru’s forehead.

Subaru heard the small cat begin to meow, though in a false kind of meow, like humans do, while a strange, magical noise that could also have entirely just originated from the little great spirit’s mouth filled the air.

“And the winner is— Huh. Yin.” Puck finished.

“What’s ‘huh’ about that?”

“Oh it’s just that it’s kind of rare. Most people are Fire, Water, Wind or Earth.” Puck explained.

“There’s also Yang.” Emilai added.

“Rare is good, right?” Subaru asked, though it felt somewhat ominous. Yin was of course something representing shadow and darkness in the mysticism of her home, being the black side of Yin and Yang from Buddhism. It wasn’t all bad, but it was definitely not the happy happy sunshine side of things.

“It depends on what you mean by good.” Puck said. “The four common elements are pretty self explanatory. There is nuance to them, but you can probably picture most of what they are about by just hearing their names.”

“Earth is Rock Smash territory.” Subaru nodded.

“Sort of. Yang like Lia said is also there, but Yin and Yang are a bit more difficult to picture. Some of Yang is about strengthening what already exists, but let’s not get into that since you’re probably most interested in Yin. Hmmm.”

Puck put his paw on his chin again, beginning to drift and spin through the air slowly like an astronaut. Subaru’s mind went to the opposite of Yang. If Yang was about strengthening things then Yin would naturally have to be about weakening them. Debuffs, life drains, pretty dark stuff. She wasn’t sure if she—

“Ah, I know!” exclaimed Puck, somehow snapping his fingers, even though his fur covered hands shouldn’t have allowed that to be possible. “So at the higher levels, Yin is mainly about negation. And when I say negation, I mean like fundamental stuff! Let’s say you throw up a rock. Normally, it’d fall down, but advanced Yin magic can just say ‘Nope! I don’t want that rock to fall down!’, and it won’t be pulled back to the ground. Well, at least as long as the magic user is using their mana.”

“That’s way better than what I was picturing.” Subaru admitted, banishing her own image dressed in black robes with a great barbed scythe in hand from her mind. “So like, shot in the dark here, I was at one end of a corridor, and three bowmen started shooting arrows at me, with Yin magic I could just hold up my hand and say ‘No!’ then then the arrows would stop mid air?” Subaru described, thinking of a fan more heroic and marketable image.

“Iiii’m not sure that a scenario like that would play too well for you, but Yin is somewhere in that ballpark.” Puck nodded with some uncertainty. “That’s way off from ‘my first spell’ territory though.”

“What would be a good starter?” Subaru pondered.

“Emilia-sama.” came the unexpected interruption.

Rem was standing near the Gazebo with a few folded up paper bag in hand.

“What can I do for you?” Emilia asked, turning to her.

“Rem is heading to Irlam village to buy groceries. Rem thought it would be prudent to ask if there was anything in particular that Emilia-sama wished for.”

“That was very considerate, Rem. But I don’t really need anything.” Emilia answered.

“Hey, actually!” Subaru spotted a chance to bump Rem’s relationship bar up by a heart, and quickly turned to Puck, standing up and performing a formal bow. “I’m sorry sensei, but I must take my leave.” she said in a serious tone, before turning to Rem. “I wanted to visit the village for some time. Could I come with you? I could help carry the groceries back!”

Rem looked silently at Subaru, before glancing helplessly to Emilia.

“As much as Puck seemed to be in the teaching mood, Subaru’s been cooped up in the mansion for several days now. I’m sure it would do her some good to see some new faces.” Emilia said to Rem sweetly.

Rem bowed her head. “It is not Rem’s place to deny where Natsuki-sama may go. Help with the groceries would be appreciated.”

“Great! Actually, Emilia, you’ve been here just as long as me. Surely you could put your studies aside from just a day and come too.”

“Thank you for the offer, Subaru, but—” Emilia looked away. “I think I would just ruin your fun if I went. I’ll be fine here.”

Subaru wasn’t sure what Emilia could have meant by that, but she noticed Rem already turn and begin to walk away, so she wasn’t going to push it.

“Rem! Wait up!” Subaru shouted, strapping the lyulyre on her back.

Looking forward with optimism, she wondered if the village would have a musician to teach her some local songs.

Chapter Text

While Irlam wasn’t far from the mansion by any stretch of the imagination in a modern sense, walking there on foot took a considerable amount of time. In spite of Subaru’s efforts, Rem remained mostly unconversational on the way there, only taking the time to explain that the trip there and back along with the shopping is likely going to have them returning just before it was time to start work on dinner.

Subaru made an attempt to look cool, by trying to play a song as they walked, but quickly realized that there’s a reason why even top guitarists rarely do more than take a step here and there during concerts, as she kept strumming every wrong note, the lyulyre’s round body making it difficult to hold it still in motion. She decided to give up on it.

Arriving at the village then proceeding to the main square, Subaru was told to occupy herself. She’d have loved to go around meeting the various villagers Rem planned to do business with, but her instincts told her that the only heart she was going to get from bothering Rem during her tasks was a negative one, and she was fine with only Beatrice being in the red.

Approaching an old man with an impressive beard sitting on a wooden bench besides a well, she asked if there happens to be a musician living in the village, to which the old man — apparently the village elder, Muraosa Irlam — told her that the most they have is folks who sometimes sing folk songs while working and at festivals. He later added after mulling it over with great effort, that he recalled someone having a windpipe instrument, but couldn’t remember who.

She would have felt strange going around pestering strangers if they would be willing to teach her songs if it wasn’t even their profession, so for now her quest to expand her metal library of songs has been put on hold. Instead, she briefly wandered through the village, which proved to be indeed very small, its population likely around a hundred or fewer. As a matter of fact, Subaru wouldn’t have been surprised if the town’s entire population could be housed in Roswaal’s mansion, though probably only after converting some of the storage rooms.

Without much better to do, Subaru soon found herself back in the village square strumming a nameless tune on the lyulyre, leaning against the well. To her surprise, a young, orange named girl came up to her, asking if she’s a musician. After Subaru tentatively said she was, the girl ran off, only to return minutes later with a small entourage of kids.

“I— uh, didn’t think I’d be holding a concert.” Subaru said, blushing. “You aren’t here to stone me because musicians aren’t welcome in this here town, right?” she added.

“Do you know the ‘Sword Saint’s Valor’?” asked one of the boys tailing the girl.

“Actually, I’m from very, very far away, so the songs I know are very different to the ones you know.” Subaru said, crouching down on the kids’ level, to which some of them groaned disappointedly.

“She’s boring.” one of the kids in the back announced, and a couple of them turned around.

“W-wait though! I haven’t told you that the songs from my homeland are written in an ancient secret language!”

That got the kids’ attention back, though Subaru wasn’t sure why she wanted it, since she had no idea whatsoever what she should play. A couple of the kids were demanding her to play something. But what? She could try the opening of that new show, UNICORN did that, right? No, she never got it down right. Maybe she could figure it out with time. Chuck Berry would be the next thing on her mind, but she has yet to figure out how to make his songs work on this.

“Can you play or not?” asked a fat kid.

At times like, there was one sacred phrase, known to all practitioners of the acoustic arts. A golden statement, which could salvage any situation. Luckily, Subaru had not forgotten it.

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.

 

                                           

 

A couple of songs later, Subaru was standing in the middle of a small assembly of villagers. While they made no secret of the fact that they found Subaru’s music odd more than pleasant, the novelty of a musician amongst them drew their attention. She had a number of requests given to her by people, though naturally she didn’t actually know any of those songs.

At the very least, the kids seemed to be enjoying her show, and as it was becoming a painful running gag of her time here, the Beatles proved the most successful, the kids taking a special liking to ‘Twist and Shout’ even without understanding the lyrics. Second favourite was an admittedly botched attempt to perform Misirlou. If nothing else, Subaru learned that she should practice songs more on her lyulyre before attempting a performance, since even though the villagers might not have picked up on it, she was screaming internally at the constant mess ups she made with Dick Dale’s classic.

Halfway through a, one of the kids brought out a small puppy with a bald spot on its head, which was happily barking along to the music. After the song was over, the kid held the happy puppy towards Subaru. Loving fluffy things, she reached out to scratch the little bugger behind the ears, only to scream out, as the dog suddenly switched moods and but her hand.

“Is Natsuki-sama alright?” Subaru heard Rem’s sobering words behind her.

“Oh, hey Rem, I think I just spooked the little guy.”

Without a word, Rem walked over, put down her filled bags, and hovered her hand before Subaru’s, with a familiar light beginning to emanate around Rem’s hand, before the bleeding wound on Subaru’s hand disappeared, though leaving an indent where the bite used to be.

“Thank you, Rem. I think I would have lived, but I appreciate it.” Subaru said in a joking tone.

“Roswaal-sama would have been displeased if Natsuki-sama returned injured.” Rem said, then giving a look at the kids around them added. “Rem also thought it would be a shame to leave injured hands that made children smile.”

Heart get! Rem was no at 1 out of 10!

“If Natsuki-sama would please, Rem has finished her shopping. It’s time to return to the manor.”

Some of the kids protested, asking for more. Subaru was honestly kind of played out, but she was willing to go for a second heart if she could.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to play one last song.”

“Time is growing late.” said Rem, before changing her mind with a sigh. “However, if Natsuki-sama really wants, it can’t be helped.”

“Alright! One more. Now I know you won’t really understand it, but I wanted to dedicate this to Rem-rin. She’s working herself to the bone up in the mansion, and… Ah, why am I even explaining it?” Subaru asked herself out loud, before beginning to play the classic melody.

She had her concerns before that Rem just didn’t like her, but having paid a little attention to the way she spoke to everyone in the village while Subaru player, she had come to the realization that the poor maid was just extremely reserved around people. Perhaps bound by etiquette, perhaps she was just shy, Subaru couldn’t know. All she knew, is that there was one song circling in her mind whenever she tried to offer to play for her, and now Rem walked right into the perfect chance for Subaru to play it.

There's nothing you can do that can't be done. Nothing you can sing that can't be sung…

This was one of the first songs Subaru learned on her first guitar, and possibly the first english song she bothered to learn the lyrics to, so she could perform it for her parents on their anniversary when she was 13. Huh. That was only about four years ago. It felt like a lifetime.

She noticed that somewhere along the way, the orange haired girl began slowly clapping along the melancholic song, which soon got the other kids to follow along for fun.

‘Kids are great.’ Subaru noted down inside.

 

                                           

 

On the way back from the village, carrying about half the groceries, Subaru couldn’t shut up if she tried. For the first time in years, she was pumped! Properly, actually, factually pumped! That concert, or whatever it was, was awful! She kept making mistakes, she was pretty sure that she got some of the words wrong early on out of embarrassment, but they listened! They all wanted to hear her play! No sly comments about being a westaboo, no sneers about how it doesn’t sound nearly as great as the original— though that was likely because they never heard— No! This was great, no negative thoughts allowed!

“I just wish I had a proper guitar!” Subaru said excitedly after having listed off what other songs she wants to play for the villagers the next time she visits a mostly silent Rem who occasionally hummed neutrally to reassure Subaru she was listening.

While the maid’s behaviour hadn’t changed much, Subaru had a funny feeling she liked the song. Might have been the excitement clouding her mind, in fact it was probably excitement, but she didn’t care! Her first kind of, sort of concert! With actual people, and not just one person amusing her! This thing might actually work out!

“If I had a guitar, better yet, and electric guitar! Ooh, I could awaken the demon in me!” Subaru boasted.

“What do those words mean?”

“Oh? Guitar and electric guitar are just two versions of an instrument from home.” Subaru said with a shrug. “The last one is kind of a cultural thing. Demons are associated with a genre of music called metal, and sometimes rock. They’re like… I guess they’re a version of onis.”

“Onis?” Rem asked quietly.

“Basically, yeah.” Subaru nodded along, half minded.

“Do you like onis?” asked Rem, which was a bit of an odd way to put the question, but hey, she didn’t understand what metal and rock were probably.

“Well, I guess. See they’re tied to rock and metal, because that kind of music is very energetic and expressive. It speaks or I guess, plays from the heart, and that’s what demons are all about, you know? They’re seen as these mighty, dangerous beings, but with a guitar or some drumsticks in hand, they express their passion through music with such vigor that people are drawn along with it. It’s the kind of music that anyone with a pulse can get lost in, because I guess it’s the most human. Demons oddly are more human than us, in a way because they are everything we hate but also everything we love.” Subaru explained, lost in trying to capture the essence of a culture now forever lost to her. She wasn’t actually much for the history of music, so she was mostly pulling this out of her ass, but it was essentially how she always felt about rock and metal. “Does that make sense?”

Subaru looked at Rem who had lagged back a bit just then.

“No.” Rem answered, but for the first time, there was a smile on her face.

“Three out of ten!” Subaru said out loud, pumping her fist in the air, only to drop half her vegetables into mud.

Chapter Text

Subaru elected not to count dirtying the groceries with a heart loss, as Rem didn’t make much of a fuss about it. Upon returning to the mansion and dropping the groceries off in the kitchen, she was asked to leave, and so returned to her room to quickly write down what she remembered about her trip to the village. Mainly the songs they requested of her, so she could look up some sheet music later. Come to think of it, she hasn’t even seen sheet music from this world yet. She should ask Ram for a couple, if she’s lucky, it might resemble the ones from Earth.

Looking at her notes, she wondered how weird it must have been for Ram to see her, the self-declared illiterate, write in Japanese two days ago. Subaru kind of waved it off, and Ram didn’t make much of it. Still, maybe she could try and explain kana and kanji. Oh! If she taught someone how to write in Japanese, it could be like a secret language between them that no one else could read! Like a secret handshake only way better!

Subaru stretched in her seat. Things were looking up! Maybe in a while she’ll be trusted enough to let the two of them go for that run. A few days ago she’d have agonized over the fact that they wouldn’t trust her with the girl, but now, she started to realize that it only makes sense. She was a stranger, but a stranger they accepted! Even the stone wall Rem opened up a little today!

“Dinner is served, Barusu.” came through the door following two knocks, making her suddenly become conscious of the little excited dance her shoulders were doing.

This meal passed in even greater silence than before. Subaru wondered why it was for a bit, only to come to the conclusion that the lady of the manor who usually asked questions was quiet today. Roswaal’s otherwise ever present smile was replaced by a neutral look. Subaru hadn’t really thought about it, but she never saw the lady socialize with anyone, aside from a few glimpses of exchanging pleasantries with Felt and Emilia. There was one time on the second day, when Roswaal briefly encountered Subaru while the latter was exploring the many rooms of the mansion, and asked how her studies of Imoji were going; however after hearing that Subaru was still struggling to write down the whole set from memory, she only gave difficult to read look before saying farewell and walking off for her own business.

Perhaps Roswaal was beginning to feel lonely? She was a bit unapproachable, but perhaps even she could use company. Subaru decided tomorrow she’ll try and socialize with Roswaal. If she crosses a line, the worst thing that can happen is that she has to apologize. Everyone in the mansion should know by now how clueless she is, so it will be fine.

Just after leaving the dining room after the meal, Subaru heards “Natsuki-sama” called after her quietly.

“Rem-rin!” she chirped turning around. “Thank you again for the meal, it was delicious.”

“Rem is happy to hear.” Rem replied, though her face remained neutral, with a very mild look of concern. “Rem wished to ask privately if perhaps Natsuki-sama had taken a bottle of wine while in the kitchen.”

“Huh? No.” Subaru replied, scratching her head. “Is one missing? Oh, if you bought one today, it could have been in the stuff I dropped on the way back! I’m sorry.”

“No.” Rem said, gently shaking her head. “The mansion’s wine is bought elsewhere, the missing bottle has been in the mansion for some time. As a guest, Natsuki-sama is welcome to sample our wines, but Rem would like to know, to keep inventory.”

“In that case sorry, I have no idea. I never even drank wine in my life. My father offered me a taste on my parents’ last anniversary, but I didn’t take it.” Subaru recalled. “Honestly, I’ll probably avoid the stuff for life, since I don’t want my brain degrading over time.”

Subaru saw the maid’s eyes narrow by a tiny margin, before Rem bowed her head.

“Rem is quite certain that wine couldn’t hope to damage Natsuki-san’s reason.” she said simply. “Have a blessed evening.”

With that the maid turned around and returned to the kitchen to help her sister and Felt with collecting up the dishes for washing.

Knowing that in a few minutes Ram and Felt will return to Felt’s room, Subaru hurried upstairs and prepared the pen, paper and book from the drawer Felt put them last night. By the time she had everything in order pretty as a picture, Ram and Felt were at the door.

Ram seemed to take note of Subaru’s diligence, but didn’t comment on it, while Felt just sat up on her chair with a look between boredom and annoyance.

“I take it both of you know tonight’s exercises?” Ram asked.

Subaru and Felt nodded. While neither of them could write fluently yet, and Subaru had trouble remembering a few of the imoji characters from memory, they could both read them at a slow rate, so since yesterday they were told to take turns with the story book, reading for each other switching page by page.

“Very well. I’ll be returning in an hour.” Ram said simply.

“Wait, aren’t you supposed to be watching Felt?”

“She’s been on good behaviour, and I presume shouting for help is something even Barusu can manage if the young lady were to attempt something. I could lock the both of you inside though if you like.”

Subaru wasn’t going to argue with being given that kind of trust! She did wonder why Ram wouldn’t just lock the door anyway, but then again she didn’t see much of Felt over the past days. The girl did stop fooling around in the dining room while everyone was eating, and she didn’t even raise a complaint these past two days about having to study. Being trusted with an open door was probably some sort of reward.

Getting to it as soon as Ram closed the door, Subaru picked up the book and turned to page 10, which is where they stopped. Her attention was quickly diverted, as Felt sighed and got off her seat.

“Aren’t we—?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m thirsty.” Felt said, opening up her dresser and fiddling around a bit before taking out a bottle. Subaru saw these before. Rem bought these in town. They resembled the stout little wide topped milk bottles from old american films, except tinted red instead of white.

Felt walked back to the desk, got back on her chair then took a gulp from it.

“Alright then.” Subaru noted, beginning to read the book. It didn’t go fast, and she had to double back mid sentence here and there as she realized she misread a character or two, but she was still proud of the progress she made. It was only the fifth day of her studies, afterall.

When Subaru finally reached the bottom of the page, she handed it to Felt who took one more gulp from her bottle and pushed it to Subaru’s side of the desk.

“You can have some if you like.” Felt said before straightening herself out and beginning to read the book.

Not wanting to be rude, and eager to put another heart on Felt’s meter, Subaru grabbed the bottle and took a swig. It was ringa juice, as she had expected, though it had a bit of weird aftertaste in the back of her mouth. A bit of vinegar? Was that preservative?

“Did this taste weird for you?” Subaru asked.

“A bit. It’s getting a bit old, but it’s still good.” Felt shrugged, returning to reading.

Subaru took another swig. It was good. A bit too sugary, but not to the point of being unpleasant.

They proceeded to read the book back and forth, progressing noticeably faster than last night.

“I think I had enough for tonight. You should have the rest.” Felt said after taking two more sips of the ringa juice, interrupting Subaru in the middle of a particularly humorous story about three great beasts, one of which was a giant rabbit. Subaru couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of the world trembling in fear of a giant rabbit. These children’s tales! Good gosh.

“I’m not really thirsty either.” Subaru noted, turning the bottle in her hand, unsure if she should drink more. The taste kind of grew on her, but she really wasn’t thirsty.

“I’m pretty sure it’s going to go bad by tomorrow.” Felt noted. “So one of us should drink it.”

“Well, then are you sure you don’t want it?”

“I’m locked in my room all night. What would I do if I drank too much and had to get up in the middle of the night?”

Subaru had to think on that for a moment. What would she need to get up for? Oh, right, obviously. Subaru must have been more tuckered out from that trip than she thought.

“You’ve got a bathroom right there.” Subaru said pointing to a side door of the bedroom.

“I don’t trust those things.” Felt said after a moment of hesitation.

Subaru raised an eyebrow and took a swig from the ringa juice, craving a bit of its sweetness. It did catch Subaru off guard to find functional plumbing in the manor on her first day too, so someone who grew up in the slums would probably be even more weirded out.

“Wait, if you don’t trust those, then do you— outside? Then does Ram have to—?”

Felt’s eyes went wide for a moment, and Subaru saw her blush for the first time. “Do we have to get into details? I just don’t want to drink anymore, and I don’t want it wasted, okay?” Felt said, looking away.

Subaru looked at the bottle which was still about half full.

“We could just leave it.” Subaru said.

“If you’re that okay with wasting good juice, then I guess you really fit in with that posh Roswaal woman.” Felt replied with a mildly disgusted look.

Subaru sighed swirling around the bottle again. She couldn’t really get how someone having lived their life in poverty would see things after all. It’s not like the mansion was going to run out of ringa juice. Still, if it meant so much to Felt that what they had isn’t wasted, a midnight bathroom break was a small price to pay for whittling away that wall between them some more.

“Fine.” Subaru said, looking back down on the book. She couldn’t remember where she was. “Here, since you made me lose my place, you can continue.” she said, taking another swig.

The rest of the hour proceeded as planned. Felt and Subaru took turns reading the book. Probably appreciating that Subaru accepted her view, Felt even had a few compliments about how fast Subaru could now read, admitting that when she found out that Subaru didn’t even recognize the characters, she was sure Subaru would take way longer to begin reading.

Subaru beamed with pride at being complimented by the girl, a warm sensation spreading on her face. She felt herself blush like never before. The stories in the book also grew funnier and funnier with their outlandishness, like the story of a great sage, some sort of wizard, who planted a tree that would go on to be as tall as a mountain. Kids eat this stuff up! Why would a wizard even go around planting trees? Subaru was half expecting it to be revealed that the entire world was actually on top of this tree all along, but instead it just claimed it to be west of the capital. Clearly people didn’t travel a lot in this world, because kids could just see for themselves that there was no such thing if they did.

“Okay, okay, but tell me one thing.” Subaru interrupted Felt’s reading. “Who would associate someone—” Subaru got interrupted for a moment by her own giggle. “—So who would associate someone that goes and then tracks down and kills an entire race of giants, with Sloth? You’d think someone like that couldn't be bothered.”

Felt looked a bit upset, though it was difficult for Subaru to think of why. She was feeling pretty worn out. She also ran out of the delicious fruit juice, which added to her displeasure.

“Oh, hey, shorry. Hm. Sorry for interrupting you.” Subaru said. Did she just try yawning in the middle of her sentence?

Felt just sighed and put down the book, swinging her legs from the chair.

“Aren’t you going to continue?”

“Maybe, but it’s just so boring. I’ve got to do stupid chores all day. I can’t remember when’s the last time I could really stretch my legs.”

Subaru looked at the young girl, as Felt leant forward, laying her arms and head on the table.

“You know, I could ask Ram to let you join me on a run.” Subaru suggested.

“Nah, I’m pretty sure if you asked that, they’d think I made you. And if I asked for it, they’d think I’m trying to escape. Except where would I even go? We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“It does seem like a bit of an overkill having you be guarded all the time.” Subaru said compassionately, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Wish I could help, but I’m pretty sure it was that Roswaal chick’s idea. But hey, at least they left the door unlocked, so they’re clearly starting to trust you!”

“Yeah, but I don’t want them letting me run around in a month or two.” Felt said, turning her head away from Subaru as she continued to lay onto the desk.

Subaru lifted her hand and tried to think. There must have been something she could do. If she hadn’t left her lyulyre in her room, this could have been a good time to play something. Though the best would have been to get the young girl out into the fresh evening air.

“Hey.” Felt said, with a sad voice Subaru hadn’t heard in her voice before. “You’re probably going to say no, but could you maybe let me out so we could run together around the mansion?”

“You know I can’t do that Felt.”

The girl besides Subaru lifted her shoulders, making a long sniffing sound. Subaru couldn’t see her face, but the girl seemed beside herself. Could her tough shell built up over years of being on the edge of law and starvation finally begun to break, revealing the young girl just wanting to be happy inside?

“I know. I was just thinking, that maybe if I got out, but instead of escaping, just ran around the mansion a few times, they’d come to see that I don’t need to be treated like a prisoner.” Felt said with little whines interspersed in her voice, tearing at Subaru’s heart strings.

Subaru saw the logic in that. And yeah, Felt did seem like a smart girl who fully understood that there was nowhere to escape to outside. Maybe really all that Roswaal and the maids needed, was a demonstration of Felt’s loyalty. Not loyalty. What’s the word? Ob something. Obtuse? Obfuscate?

Subaru went to take another sip of the bottle, remembering she drank it all.

Obedience! Right, that was the word.

“Look, Felt. I wouldn’t even know how to get you out.” Subaru said. “I mean, I’d actually like to, but I don’t even know where they keep the keys.”

“Yeah I guess you’re right.” Felt said, wiping at her face a bit before turning back around and picking up her book. Just before she’d have continued to read though, she looked as if she just got an idea. “Actually, I know where the keys are kept. It’s down near the main hall in the cupboard to the left. There’s like this wall with a bunch of hooks and keys hanging on it.”

‘Huh, like a hotel?’ Subaru wondered.

“With how many bedrooms this mansion has, I don’t think it’d be easy to find the right key.” Subaru noted, rubbing her tired eyes.

“Actually, every key has a number engraved in its handle.” Felt explained, grabbing a paper and a pen, drawing  something. “This is the number on the key to my door.”

Subaru grabbed the paper and looked at it. 23? Right? That’s what— She rubbed her eyes again.

“Wait, yeah, if I went down there, I could grab the key. Want me to go right now?” Subaru asked.

“Not now!” Felt said. “After they locked the door!”

“Oh right, it’s unlocked now.” Subaru said, glancing over her shoulder laughing at herself. “That was kind of stupid.”

“You’re just tired, it happens.” Felt waved it away. “But you still want to go for that run, right?” Felt asked expectantly, her previous look of sadness dissipating. That was kind of odd. Oh wait, she was probably getting excited to be able to spend some time outside with Subaru! That must be it!

Subaru smiled triumphantly. “Yeah, yeah let’s do it!”

“Alright, so just go to your room, wait for Ram to head to bed, then go fetch the key with this engraving and we can go for a run!” Felt said, grabbing the empty juice bottle next to Subaru.

“Yeah, I can do that.” Subaru said, looking at the paper in her hand, while Felt got off her chair and went in the bathroom opening a tap, followed by the sound of something filling with water, then being poured out, then filling with water, then poured out again.

Subaru looked at the cleaned bottle, as Felt returned. There was something odd about what just happened, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

Catching Subaru’s look, Felt noted: “I didn’t want to give it back to Ram dirty.”

Right. Yeah, that made sense.

“I’ll head back to my room and switch to my tracksuit.” Subaru said standing up with a bit of a wobble. “Then, afterwards, we’ll go for a run!” she sadded, pointing both hands at Felt.

“I can’t wait!” Felt chirped with a big happy smile.

Now wasn’t that nice?

 

                                           

 

Returning to her room to change into her tracksuit, Subaru had realized she was already wearing it. How silly of her.

She felt pretty groggy and tired, and thought about just turning in, and going for a run with Felt tomorrow instead, but that would just upset the poor girl, since they already promised. Instead, she sat on her bed and waited for a while, repeating songs in her head and taking pictures of random objects in the room with her phone to keep herself alert. She was probably wasting battery, but whatever.

After enough time passed that she was confident Ram would have locked Felt up and gone to bed, Subaru got up and as quietly as she could, she began sneaking downstairs to the cupboard. On the way down the stairs, she thought she heard the pink panther theme playing, only to realize she was humming it herself.

‘Quit it Subaru, this is ninja time!’

Finding the cupboard with little issue, she snuck inside. It was too dark to see, but luckily she still had her phone in hand, so used it as a makeshift flashlight. Comparing the keys with the sketch of the number 23 she had pocketed earlier, she finally found it hung up, proving that Ram had indeed already locked Felt up!

On the way up the stairs she heard a sleepy voice call out to her.

“What are you doing, Subaru?”

“Nothing to worry about, Emilia-chan! Just— Just wanted to pick something up before my run tonight.”

“Alright, Subaru. Have a good night.” the girl said, waving Subaru off and heading down the corridor to her room. Luckily, Felt and Emilia were on different floors, so Subaru continued up.

“Du-du du-dunnnnn dunnnnn dunnnn.” Subaru hummed once more under hear breath as she reached Felt’s room and slid the key in the lock.

“You came!” Felt announced, quickly hurrying out the door past Subaru. Felt stopped for a moment looking down the corridor towards the stairs, then turned back to Subaru with a hard to read look of concern. “Ah hey, so while we’re out there anyway, do you like climbing trees?”

What an odd question that was. “I guess I used to, but I haven’t climbed in a while.”

Felt looked down the corridor again, then back at Subaru, hopping gently in place like she was thinking about something.

“Okay, then let’s head out, there’s a cool tree in the corner of the garden I want to race you to.” Felt finally said.

The two headed downstairs, Felt grabbing Subaru’s arm as she almost slipped on a step. Such a sweet young girl. Subaru could just eat her up!

Once outside, Subaru stopped to start her stretches, but Felt tugged on her arm.

“You can do that later, I want to show you to the tree first, okay?” Felt said, looking around nervously. Well, of course she’d be nervous, to anyone else this would look a bit suspect, but Subaru and Felt knew that they were just out for a run.

Playing along with Felt’s request, Subaru supposed she could do her stretching at the tree too and followed the girl.

“Please hurry, you’ll get in trouble too.” Felt said.

Ah, what trouble? She was worrying too much, Subaru will just explain the situation. The people here are nice, they’ll understand.

It didn’t take long for Subaru to spot the tree Felt was talking about. It was a grand oak-like thing standing majestically in a corner of the manor’s garden, tall enough that even the impressive fences didn’t match its height.

“There, see? We just got to get there— What is that?” Subaru heard Felt say, and looking below the tree, she saw something odd.

There was a large shaded figure standing under the tree. Beyond it, the fence had been bent apart in a place.

Though Subaru could make out no details about the large vaguely round mass standing there on what could have been anything between two or six legs, she sensed the creature’s eyes on herself.

Her vision was growing blurry and the tree and figure doubled before her eyes.

Suddenly, a familiar pain shot through Subaru’s entire body starting from her core.

Where did she know this from?

“Subaru?!” Felt’s voice cried from a distance, as Subaru’s face hit the grass.

It felt like all of her energy was disappearing, her limbs going weak. Subaru made an attempt to push herself off the ground, but her arms and legs barely followed her commands.

In the distance, Subaru heard a heavy rattling noise.

“Did you do it?! Did you make Sub—” she heard Felt cry out, even farther than before, Subaru’s face firmly planted in the grass.

Did she eat something bad? Was this food poisoning?

Subaru heard some chattering of familiar voices, but the words escaped her, as the pain grew in her entire body, though it felt somewhat numbed by something.

“Wait! No she’s—” Felts voice broke through the veil, along with the sound of the metallic rattling

Was there trouble? What was that thing she saw? Wait, was something wrong?

Subaru felt vomit ooze from her mouth as her lungs burned.

“Put me down! Don’t! It’s my fault, I’m begging—” Subaru heard Felt cry out. She was in trouble!

Subaru mustered all her strength, and moved her arms forward, next to her chest. She needed to get up!

Once more, Subaru heard the chains rattling Felt’s chittering voice growing ever more distant.

Subaru’s arms gave out, and she fell back on the ground, not even managing to lift herself up by a full inch.

She heard an indecipherable voice say something near her, the once more the chains rattled, closer than ever then—

 

Natsuki Subaru’s world went silent.

Chapter Text

Aaaaargh! ” Subaru screamed, jumping up in bed, clutching her head.

Sweat began to run down her face, as she held her head. A moment ago she felt as if her head was about to tear open. The bed was familiar, it was hers. The one she awoke in for the past 5 days. What was that feeling?

Everything swirled before her eyes, as the pain in her head was still terrifyingly recent. Why was last night so foggy? Did she seriously break Felt out? Why would she— That bastard ! The missing bottle!

“Aaaaaah.” Subaru groaned, still clutching her head. The pain was gone, but just its memory was enough to nearly bring her to tears. Is this what a hangover is? She’s sticking to her conviction, she’s never touching a drop of alcohol again.

“Nee-sama, Nee-sama! Our guest appears to be in great pain!”

“Rem, Rem! Go fetch Emilia-sama!”

“No, it’s—” Subaru said, but by the time she looked up, the blue maid had already disappeared out the door, leaving Subaru with Ram only, who stood besides the bed, but keeping her distance.

Subaru gave her head another rub, a sudden realization hitting her.

“Felt! Is she safe? That black figure—”

“Our guest’s concern is commendable, but there is no need to worry, Felt-sama is safe upstairs.”

“Thank the gods.” Subaru said, slumping back in her pillow, pushing her palms in her eyes, elbows high above.

What on earth happened last night? She couldn’t decide where reality ended and the nightmare began. Or maybe it all happened, she just passed out from exhaustion? It definitely felt like it. But what could that figure have been? She should figure this out soon, but for now, she was just glad she was back in her bed, and Felt was safe. They probably won’t let Felt out of her room for a week. Subaru wasn’t even sure they’ll let her near Felt at all, but— Man it was stupid of her to play along with Felt’s plan.

Lowering her arms, Subaru turned towards the window to her left, hearing the familiar sound of birds chirping. The serene sight of the nearby forest through her window presented her with a calming sight, obstructed only by a bouquet of flowers.

Hold on, didn’t they move these to a vase three days ago?

Subaru sat up and grabbed the card in front of the bouquet, she never got around to reading the first one, since it was written in romoji which was still just going to—

Same red ink, romoji text, two signatures, one with different handwriting and ink followed by a heart.

Subaru’s breathing began growing heavy, the card shivering in her hand.

“W-what happened last night?” asked Subaru stuttering and turning to Ram who just stood there giving Subaru a discerning look.

“If the quest is referring to her encounter with Beatrice-sama, that occurred only a few hours ago. Ram is informed before that they’ve been unconscious for a couple of days, in the care of Ferris-sama and Reinhard-sama, along with our other guest.”

“R-Ram.” Subaru could feel her body quiver. She was feeling cold. “You don’t rem— I played music, you tolerated—”

This wasn’t happening. This could not be happening!

“Subaru! I’ve heard a scream, and Rem said you seemed in pain.” Subaru heard coming from the door. Emilia was standing there, with Rem behind her.

She couldn’t breathe. It felt as if air wasn’t reaching her lungs! She clutched her shoulders and rocked her body back and forth, sitting in the bed. This was a nightmare, a drunken nightmare, she didn’t go back, not again! It was over!

“Subaru, is it your arm?” Emilia asked, hurrying to Subaru’s side and holding her hand to Subaru’s shoulder, a bright aura appearing around her palms.

No amount of magic Emilia could do could soothe what Subaru was feeling.

“You don’t remember the past five days?” Subaru asked, grabbing Emilia’s hand to make her stop wasting her energy.

“Subaru—” Emilia said, surprised and in a little pain, looking down at her hand.

Subaru realized she grabbed onto Emilia hard enough to visibly indent her hand.

“I’m sorry! I’m—” Subaru said between heavy breaths, letting go of the girl. “Please, you remember me right? I’m just confused, you—”

“Subaru, I don’t know what happened, but I remember. Of course I remember!” Emilia said, kneeling down besides her bed, her voice cutting through the darkness growing in Subaru’s mind like a radiant beam of dawn. “You risked your life to save that girl, and even told me to heal the old man who took care of her. I’d never forget!”

Emilia grabbed hold of Subaru’s shaking hands, and looked deeply in her eyes.

“I don’t know what these five days you’re talking about are, but you’re safe now. Don’t be scared of the new surroundings, these people are friends of mine. We’ll figure out whatever happened. Once you meet Roswaal—”

No.

Subaru felt her body move before her thoughts could catch up, as she snatched her hands from Emilia’s grasp and slipped off her bed and ran to the door.

“Subaru? Subaru!”

Rem hesitantly reached towards Subaru, but she just runned past the maid.

Her name was called behind her repeatedly by Emilia, but she couldn’t stop. She couldn’t. She couldn’t speak to them. She couldn’t look at them. Everything was gone, again!

Running through the corridor to the stair, she wanted to get out, out of the mansion. She reached the bottom floor, ran through the gate, across the cobbled path before it and to stairs leading down to the front garden, when legs finally stopped, then gave out, as she spotted the Gazebo over the trees, where she’d play her music.

Emilia and the maids found her here a minute later, clutching her shoulders, slumped against the low wall, her face buried against the wall.

“Subaru, please, do not be afraid!” Emilia called out, kneeling down next to her. “Maybe you should have been asked before you were moved here, but Roswaal and I wanted to thank you. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Subaru sensed Emilia move, trying to get a look at Subaru’s face. She raised a hand to cover herself.

“Ram, Rem, please bring some warm tea.”

“Right away, Emilia-sama.” the twins said in unison, before hurrying away.

Subaru felt Emilia’s hand on her back, gently petting her through the robe, though her mind was far away.

Did she die? Of what? What was the creature? Did it do that to her? Why was it at the mansion? It broke in through the fence, it wasn’t just there by chance. Why was it there?

An assassin.

Subaru lowered her hand, her shiver subsiding. That must have been it. Someone came to kill them.

“Subaru, do you hear me?” Emilia asked.

“Her thoughts are a mess, Lia.”

“I—” Subaru began, trying to draw on whatever little resolve she had. “Granhiert. The woman in black.”

“She’s gone, Subaru. Everyone is safe.” Emilia said reassuringly.

“Is she dead?”

“No, but we are far away from the capital now. She was driven away by Reinhard, the knight we met in that alley.”

Subaru definitely didn’t feel herself cut before dying. She wasn’t even touched, until that pain in her head. It probably wasn’t Granhiert, but still, she hired Felt to steal the stone from Emilia, and then killed Felt. She might even have been planning to kill Emilia after baiting her into the slums with the stolen stone. Was she working for one of the other three candidates? Could that thing have been sent by them too?

She took a deep breath and raised herself from the half wall.

“I’m sorry to have scared you, Emilia.” Subaru said, collecting herself. “Also you, Puck.” she added, forcing on a smile. “I had a horrible nightmare. You helped me get out of it.”

Puck hovered by Subaru’s head as she put her back against the low wall, giving her a long searching look, but not saying anything.

“Emilia-sama.” Rem’s voice came from the door, as the maid returned with a tray holding a cup of tea, her sister behind her.

“Here you go, please take your time, Subaru.” Emilia said, taking the tea cup and handing it to her.”

Subaru took the cup silently, taking a long sip.

She was a fool to think it was over, after learning what Emilia and Felt were. She will save them again. Only this time, she won’t go in blind and empty handed. She will stop that creature.

Lowering the cup once more, she gazed into it, and on her reflection with commanding eyes.

No matter what, she will bring about a future when she can play music for everyone, as they smile, living safe and happy lives!

Chapter Text

As best she could, Subaru reassured Emilia that she was fine. The prospect of explaining to her or to anyone to that matter that she had seen and lived the future remained insane, so she had to figure out the situation for herself.

Returning to her room after apologizing to Emilia and the maids once more for the trouble she caused, Subaru opened a desk drawer, finding as he had hoped the pen and ink she discovered before already there, along with papers. She had to note down what had happened to her as soon as possible. She couldn’t afford to forget anything this time, as she forgot Felt’s favourite tower.

First of all, the new checkpoint. Clearly she didn’t return to the fruit seller, so at least she didn’t need to try and save Felt again. Now her checkpoint was waking up in the manor for the first— no, second time. First time she woke up, the twins weren’t there yet. Did that mean that she already made a bad first impression on Beatrice? If everything went according to the last time, she’ll have a chance to check at lunch. While she didn’t expect to return by death again, or to die period, it wasn’t any more extraordinary that the checkpoint she returned to changed, since the fruit seller— Kadomon, she really should call him by name — so anyway, Kadomon wasn’t where she initially appeared in this world either. Still, the mere fact that the checkpoint changed meant something could change it, but what? Was it time based? Every X days or X hours she’d get a new checkpoint? That didn’t seem like the case since from what she gathered, she wasn’t unconscious for five days between the loot house and now, so if that was the rule, she should have gotten a new checkpoint further down the line. Or does the checkpoint only update once it was used at least once maybe? There was just too much she didn’t know to figure this out.

Second, limitation. She died twice back in the capital. Her best base to go from, was that she has three extra lives, and this might be her last. The idea of dying terrified her, but knowing she had the most respected magic user in this mansion gave her a sense of security. She won’t need to try and fight this thing, she just needs to set an alarm at the right time, and let the mansion’s mistress and whatever defenses she has deal with this. If things were ideal and she had other ways to go about it, she’d prefer to not rely on someone else again. However the mere fact that Roswaal felt secure in this manor with no guards and only two maids as servants spoke of a great confidence in her abilities, or possibly a great deal of unseen magical defenses.

Third, the encounter. This was what she had the most painful lack of information on. She knew something bent the fences of the manor. Subaru of course never tried anything as silly as bending the fence, but she couldn’t imagine it being easy. That meant whatever that creature she saw was, and sadly, she only saw it as a blob, was either immensely strong, or using some kind of magic that could bend the fence. If she had to guess, earth magic, though she should probably ask Puck about that if she gets the chance. Luckily, she also managed to remember a minor detail. When she was using her phone as a light to find the key to Felt’s room, she saw the time displayed on the phone, which gave her a good ballpark estimate of when the creature would break in. As for the location, it was definitely next to that large oak. Though again, it was probably not an oak. With ringas, it would be silly to assume trees are the same.

Finally, that left the method of attack. From what she could gather, it came in two parts. First Subaru was drained of all her energy, and then, with the sound of rattles, she was quickly executed with a single blow to the head once she was imobile. That suggested the attacker was, unlike Granhiert, someone who used both magic and physical weapons to kill its targets. Although, Subaru had to note that having had no experience with alcohol before, there was a chance, however slim, that the first part of the attack was no attack at all, just her body succumbing to the alcohol. She had heard how people could pass out from drinking too much. She might have only staved it off a bit with her excitement, and the enemy could have exploited her weakness, rather than causing it.

If the draining of her energy was an attack however, then she had one lead to go on. She was already put to sleep once by magic, by Beatrice. It felt a bit different, but not entirely dissimilar either.

Subaru heard a knock, and called for the guest to come in.

“Natsuki-sama didn’t come to breakfast, so Rem brought the meal up.” the maid announced after opening the door.

“I’m sorry, I got distracted. Thanks for bringing it up.” said Subaru before returning her attention to the few short pages of notes she assembled.

Rem walked over to the desk and moved the contents of the tray she was carrying to the side of Subaru, after which she just bowed and wished Subaru a pleasant meal before leaving.

Looking at the familiar dish before her, Subaru took comfort in the fact that things will progress as they had before. All she had to do was make a few small adjustments.

 

                                           

 

“What is the troublesome woman doing in Betty’s library again, I wonder?” the small girl said without even looking up from her book.

It wasn’t even lunchtime yet. It didn’t take long for Subaru to locate Beatrice’s door. She still couldn’t make herself talk with anyone else. She needed to adjust to the torturous thought that for them, the simple happiness of the past five day never happened. So, the only person at the mansion, and the only one she knew could answer an important question, was right here.

“The girl getting past Betty’s Door Crossing again is very annoying, in fact. Coming in for a second time, she must not have learned her lesson the first time, I suppose.”

Just as Subaru suspected, Betty did in fact remember their earlier meeting, but not anything else. Until now Subaru had held out some small hope that the magical room might exist outside of space and time, and if no one else, Betty might remember those five days.

“I wanted to try again, I wasn’t in the right mindset last time.” Subaru said, tensely. “Truth is, I wanted to ask you about what you did to me.”

“And why should I care enough to bother indulging a foolish girl’s ignorance, I wonder?” Beatrice said still not looking up, just turning a page.

“Because it’s the fastest way to get me out of your library!” Subaru announced simply.

Beatrice sighed and looked up at Subaru with an unamused expression. Seeing the spirit’s eyes on her own, Subaru tried matching her gaze, but a sense of guilt overcame her and she had to look away. She had no way to ask what she wanted to ask but through lying.

Beatrice’s hand raised towards Subaru with an open palm, and her body stiffened, expecting the heavy blow of wind she had experienced before. Only, it didn’t come. Instead, Beatrice sighed again lowering her arm.

“Be quick with it. Betty has better things to do that entertain guests, in fact.”

“Thank you Beatrice, I really just—”

“Quick.” Beatrice said simply, as Subaru felt a gust of wind blow past her head pulling on her hair.

“Right.” Subaru wished she had come up with a better cover story now. “So, you probably heard I don’t really know much about the world outside of my hometown.” Subaru paused, but Betty didn’t answer, her head turned to her book, reading. “Okay, so I’ve been trying to make sense of some stories I heard in the capital and when you did that thing to me. I think you said you sucked out my mana, right?”

“Does the girl really come into Betty’s library and interrupt her reading, just to make sense of some rumor?” asked Beatrice, clutching her book.

“Hey, hey hold on!” Subaru said, shuffling away from the door, trying to get partial cover behind the corner of one of the bookshelves the girl was sitting between. “I just wanted to know what the range of what you did is! I swear I’ll leave, I just need to know!”

“Step away from the shelf.”

“I’m afraid you’re going to cast a spell at me if I do that.” Subaru admitted.

“The girl isn’t entirely without sense, perhaps.” Beatrice closed her book, putting it on the table besides her before getting up.

“Please Betty, I really need to know.”

Instead of heading to Subaru, or even to flank her around the corner of the shelf, the girl instead walked to one of the book cases and pulled a tome out before returning to her chair.

“The technique Betty used can only be used on touch. Otherwise Betty would never have subjected herself to the indignity of touching the dirty stray Emilia-sama dragged in, in fact.”

“You say really hurtful things Betty-chan, you wouldn’t happen to be related to Ram?” asked Subaru before her common sense had a chance to catch up.

Subaru heard a noise behind herself, and as she turned her head she saw a few locks of her hair flutter to the ground. Behind Subaru, one of the shelves was slightly shaking with the backwind of whatever Beatrice had just released with a flick of her finger, her eyes never leaving the new book.

“If that was all—” Beatrice began, lowering her hand to hold her book.

“Wait, isn’t there something like it? Something that can do the same, draining a person’s energy but at a range?” Subaru asked, grabbing onto the bookcase in front of her for support.

“Betty is beginning to lose her patience again, in fact. Though the answer would have to depend on whether the victim was touched, I suppose.”

“No— she wasn’t.” Subaru clarified. She noticed her hand was slightly shaking. When did it start doing that? She couldn’t be scared now! If she doesn’t get everything she can out of what little information she has, the people in the mansion could be under threat! Even if confident in Roswaal ability and her defences, that assassin likely had some way to circumvent some of them, or it wouldn’t have been stupid enough to break in. Subaru had to be ready!

Beatrice’s eyebrows furrowed, and she looked up.

“There is no magic that can do such a thing, I suppose! No manner of creature or mage no matter how talented who could suck out a person’s mana like tha—” Beatrice’s eyes wandered off of Subaru slightly, as she uttered a single word. “Geuse.”

“Is Geuse a spell?”

“This girl is entirely too foolish for her own good, in fact!” Beatrice snapped, her now angry eyes returning to Subaru. “She’d do better to deal with her fears on her own terms, perhaps!”

“M-my fears?” Subaru stammered.

“Is the girl being pursued by something, I wonder?”

“No!” Subaru declared. She wasn’t lying. Whatever that thing was, Subaru would be the last of its targets.

“Hmph.” squeaked Beatrice, returning her eyes to her book. “Regardless, the girl’s fears are pointless, there is one absolute rule with such magic, and that is that the attacker must make physical contact with the victim first, I suppose. And as long as the girl remains on mansion grounds, nothing foul will be able to reach her, in fact.”

Subaru let out a long sigh. The creature she saw, the assassin that broke in never touched her. No one did before she collapsed, which meant that it really must have been alcohol poisoning. The only real attack was whatever struck her head in that instant followed by the rattles.

“Thanks for your help, Betty-chan.” Subaru said, stepping out from behind the bookcase, strafing towards the room’s entrance. “You’ve been a great—”

She suddenly heard the wooden door creak open behind her as Beatrice raised her hand to her. The next moment Subaru felt a large gust of wind blast against her, and she was propelled back through the doorway and into the bedroom door opposite before the library shut itself.

Embarrassedly closing her robes back up, Subaru wondered if perhaps this is what reaching one heart with the drill haired loli looked like.

Chapter Text

Learning that the creature that attacked the mansion, and her loss of energy weren’t connected was a relief. Subaru didn’t have many strengths, but as demonstrated when she escaped Emilia with Felt in hand, she was still a fast runner. With the amount of time she called it taking for the creature to get close enough to kill her, she should have little trouble running away from it once she sounded the alarm for the mansion. Though preferably, it would be best if she wasn’t alone at the time.

She hated having had to come back five days. She wanted nothing more than to watch that blob be obliterated by whatever powers have given the mansion’s owner her reputation as the kingdom’s greatest mage. However, if nothing else, this redo allowed her to fix one mistake.

“I wish for you to give me a job working at this mansion!” Subaru announced at lunch, after once more after Roswaal had announced once more her desire to grant a gift upon Subaru and Felt.

Silence ensued once more, broken by Ram sniffing.

As Roswaal gave instructions to maids to find a fitting position for her, Subaru leaned back in her chair. Any moment now as Roswaal asks for Felt’s wish, Subaru the number of maids in the manor will reach four, giving Subaru every opportunity to spend time with all three of the people she had so wished the close the distance with.

“I want you to let me go.” Felt said, causing Subaru’s eyes to pop wide.

“Huh?” She turned to Felt in disbelief.

“Unlike some, I don’t want to get used to this stuck up place.” Felt responded crossing her arms until she realized she was staining her vest with soup.

“I’m afraaaaaaid Felt-sama that as per my agreeeement with Reinhard-kun, that is not something I can offer for yoouuuu.” Roswaal responded. “Perhaaaaaps there is something else you might waaaant?”

“Then find the old man. You said he was fine. I want to see him again and make sure he’s okay.” Felt said annoyed, waving her hand.

“Veeeery well, Ram please arrange for a message to be sent to the capital, that we may locate Felt-sama’s previous guuuaaaardian with all haste.”

“I will make it my top priority, Roswaal-sama.” Ram bowed.

“Wait, wait, wait. Felt, is that what you want to wish for?” Subaru turned to the girl besides her.

“What? It’s none of your business what I want.”

“Myyyyy~ just what did Subaru-chan think Felt-sama would ask fooooor?”

“Well, weren’t you going to ask for a job? You know, no free meals? Wanting to earn your place instead of being a posh guest or something?”

Ram, Emilia and even Rem looked at Subaru with great surprise. Roswaal kept her serene, sharp smile, in fact she might have just drawn it wider. Puck and Beatrice continued to ignore the conversation. But Felt—

Felt looked at Subaru in utter disbelief

“I’m done eating.” Felt announced, turning her head away from Subaru and getting off her chair.

Subaru could only watch as the young girl walked around her and headed for the door of the dining room. She really messed this up.

“Felt-sama—” Ram called after the girl.

“If Felt-sama wishes to retiiiiire, well who are we to object? Please accompany the young laaaaaady.”

“Right away, Roswaal-sama.” Ram bowed.

As Ram left, the only movement and sound remaining in the room for a short while was Beatrice teasing Puck with a piece of bread, making the cat try and reach for it, as if he wasn’t already levitating a few inches above the table.

“Roswaal-sama, perhaps our honoured guest has changed her mind about her wish, if she expected—”

“Noooooonsense Rem! Subaru-chan sounded rather convicted in her desires, isn’t that riiiiight?” Roswaal asked, holding a hand out towards Subaru.

“Yeah. I guess.”

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

She wasn’t sure if she’d have volunteered for a maid position, if she didn’t think Felt was going to join here. Subaru was never one for chores. She couldn’t cook anything that required more than boiling water and dumping precombined ingredients into it. Well, maybe scrambled eggs, but calling that cooking would be like equating passing the first year of geometry lessons being able to draw. House chores she had mostly skipped out on since she was 15, her room being a perpetual mess. The only household task she ever thought she was any good at, was laundry, but that was with a machine she’d use at a nearby laundromat she visited every other week during her nightly run.

The only experience she ever had with house keeping, was making her own food and cleaning her own clothes. She felt enough like garbage for being the unspoken disappointment and likely endpoint of the entire family tree. She couldn’t leave having her mother have to take care of such a waste of space on the pile of garbage that was her existence back home.

Truth was, the only reason she didn’t give up on becoming a servant at the manor, was because she wanted a chance to get closer to the twins. She had realized on her first go around, that Emilia was kind enough of a person that Subaru could rely on her. She also figured out that that was the only way her relationship with Emilia could ever go. There was nothing someone like Subaru could offer a candidate to the throne besides amateur entertainment with that lyulyre.

If she was forced to try again, Subaru wanted a chance at a relationship where she feels useful, instead of spending most of her time practicing alone like she used to, even if it felt amazingly good having people finally listen to her. And who said she couldn’t do both eventually? That lyulyre was still in the manor somewhere, if she found it, she could play it in her downtime.

“Yeah, I’m not wearing this.” Subaru said, trying to examine herself, after Rem had made her put on a maid outfit. It was considerably more modest than the one worn by the twins, the skirt going down to her ankle, and the arms covering the shoulders, but still. In lack of mirrors — which oddly in retrospect she realized the entire manor was lacking — all she could see of the dress was the somewhat oversized white cloth containing her breasts, which themselves were pushed up by the tight, corset-like waist of the outfit.

“Subaru-kun looks quite acceptable in Frederica's old outfit. Rem is uncertain why she would object.”

“I’m sorry Rem, but these kinds of outfits are really not my thing. Dresses in general.” Subaru paused, thinking about the lovely orange dress that Rem fixed up for her in the previous loop. That had kind of grown on her, but still. The feminine apparel of this world was still well outside her comfort zone, and she planned to keep it that way. What’s wrong with a jacket and pants? “Any chance you could help fit one of those suits for me?” Subaru asked, gesturing to a series of clothes akin to the one Felt made her uniform in the previous loop.

Rem sighed. “Very well, if Subaru-kun prefers, Rem will make the adjustments, however she will have to take Subaru-kun’s measurements.”

It surprised Subaru how fast Rem switched to “Natsuki-sama” to “Subaru-kun” after Subaru became her junior. Well, maybe part of that was that for her, there were five days of “Natsuki-sama”, where for Rem it was only a few hours, and even then only really two encounters.

Soon after deciding on the clothes and Rem leading Subaru off to show her her first duties, they were joined by Ram, who quickly took over Subaru’s instructions. The twins didn’t intend on letting her ease into her position over time, having Subaru partake in every task, sometimes with both sisters, sometimes with Ram alone. Every now and again Ram would leave to check on Felt, however the girl seemed content spending her time locked in her room.

Changing sheets, dusting the numerous empty rooms, checking the larder, cleaning the bathrooms, a number of minor tasks that frankly Subaru just couldn’t even keep track of after a while, and of course doing the laundry along with the little rituals. At least this time Subaru got a bit more explanation on why her mother’s folding technique was “wrong”, in that apparently as part of the twins’ rituals the way they folded, they could check the clothes for signs of wear and tear in doing it their way.

Subaru always believed herself to be full of stamina, however by the time she was told that she may take half an hour break, she was ready to fall into her bed and just wait for tomorrow. Being informed by Ram that the weird mood ring like colour changing crystals she saw all over the manor are in fact what passes for clocks in this world, and that apparently time is kept via observing what shade of four colours they are at any given time, well, Subaru was about ready to give up.

Naturally, this was only about halfway through the day. Just as she got comfortable in her bed, Ram had returned to inform her that her following tasks will be to make sure that the dinner plans are according to the residents’ tastes, then fetch a list of ingredients from the larder if so, and finally aid in cooking. Ram was unexpectedly unamused when Subaru pointed out that the only thing she understands about the list is that it was written with romoji, which she remained illiterate in.

Readjusting the plans, Subaru was tasked with setting the dinner table and preparing the dishes and utensils while Ram handled the orders and Rem got to work on the meals. Once Subaru was done with the dishes and utensils, she was invited to aid cutting vegetables, yet another task in which she learned the unfathomable depths of her apparent incompetence as everything from peeling to knowing what parts of vegetables to remove and how was a complete mystery to her.

When finally it was time for dinner, she felt as though she could eat anything, only to realize that as now a part of the staff, Ram and Rem hadn’t planned on having enough meals ready for her to eat with Roswaal, Felt and Emilia, so instead she stood still behind Roswaal’s seat along with the twins, watching as Felt played around with the food that Subaru would have given her left arm back to get a bit of.

How on earth did the twins get along so well with Felt last time?

At last after all but the twins and her had eaten, Subaru was shown to her new quarters, much more modest, befitting a servant, where Ram gave her her meal and left.

Until the steam yams touched her lips, Subaru just kept repeating to herself that first thing tomorrow morning, she’ll ask for a redo from Roswaal. That the mistress of the mansion will understand. That she will agree to instead aid Subaru in her goal to be a minstrel. That that’s a good life. But once she bit the yams—

It felt as though all her frustration over her inability, her anxiety over whether she’ll ever amount to even a halfway decent maid, the voices of doubt in her mind screaming at her that she spent the entire day working without any real socializing— All of that just melted away. In spite of all her apparent shortcomings compared to her sister, Ram wasn’t boasting without reason when she said they were her best meal. Subaru just wished they would have been on the guest menu over the past 5 days.

“Subaru-kun.” she heard Rem say after knocking and opening her door.

Rem caught Subaru moaning in delight, as she was eating up the yams without even touching the rest of he meal.

“R-Rem-rin! W-welcome!” Subaru said standing up, quickly trying to shake off her embarrassment.

“‘Rem-rin’?” the girl asked, puzzled, but then returned to her neutral expression. “Rem had finished fitting the jacket of the suit for Subaru-kun. Please try it on.”

Subaru did as she was asked, and found the jacket, unsurprisingly, a perfect fit, making sure to compliment Rem, who once more, seemed unmoved by Subaru’s courtesy.

“If Subaru-kun has no complaints, Rem will get to work with the pants. Subaru-kun should find it in her room by morning. Rem would like to ask that Subaru-kun endeavours not to wear her current attire except in her freetime.”

Subaru felt bad making the girl extra work again this loop. Rem was clearly overworked as is, since Subaru could barely keep up with Ram while Rem had a far greater workload on top of that.

“Hey, you know what, the pants are fine, it’s only the bottom that needs to be sewn up a little, I’m pretty sure I can do that, so you shouldn’t worry about it, Rem-rin!” Subaru said. With any chance, this could score her a few points.

Rem made an attempt to protest, but having examined her room before, Subaru already knew that there were sewing supplies in one of the drawers, and the pants were right here since she picked them out, so she quickly grabbed them and got to work on her bed.

Instead of leaving, Rem watched in silence as Subaru began her first ever attempt to sew something. Surely, it couldn’t be that hard.

 

Ten minutes of relative silence and 8 punctured fingers later, Subaru pulled up her newly adjusted pants, Rem still standing like a statue watching her work.

Looking down, on one foot she appeared to have failed to properly tightened the thread, and the part of the pants leg that she folded up like a ring around the bottom began to open up slightly like an umbrella, before securing itself having stretched as far as it could outwards. The other leg looked fine, until Subaru lifted the leg to get a side view and realized that the front part was sewn up higher than the back part.

“Uh, so, pretty good for a first attempt, right?” Subaru asked.

"Nee-sama will be delighted to see the fruits of Subaru-kun's diligent effort." Rem said simply, before expectantly holding out her hands.

Her defeat complete, Subaru slid the pants off and handed them to Rem who wished her a fine night and left the room.

“Aaaaaaah.” Subaru sighed. She was never going to get close to anyone like this.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

The second day passed much similar to the first, except Subaru’s shift began in the morning.

This day tasks shifted from cleaning to manor to primarily taking care of the garden. Cutting the shrubs, collecting fresh flowers for the dining room as the previous ones were beginning to wilt, sharpening the gardening tools, checking for signs of infestation by underground critters, cleaning the gardening shed. Plenty of chances to accumulate additional cuts and bruises, an opportunity that Subaru failed to miss in spite of her best efforts.

Instead of using her healing magic, Rem applied bandages to Subaru’s hand. Oddly, when Subaru asked if it wouldn’t make more sense to use healing magic, Rem said it’s not a matter to bother Emilia or Beatrice with, without bringing up her own abilities. She also added that minor injuries like this that will go away in a few days are good reminders of one’s mistakes and equal motivators to learn from them.

Ram wasn’t with them as much this day, as tired of her incarceration, Felt had decided to leave her room this time around, and had been keeping Ram busy looking after her.

Having to take Ram’s duties for making lunch and dinner, the injuries on Subaru’s hands only grew, but by now, after a day and a half of chores, a switch had flipped in Subaru. She wasn’t going to let the chores beat her. There was no surer way to lose any chance at the respect of not only the twins, but likely Felt as well, than quitting. If she was going to be a maid, she was going to be the best damn maid she could be! Admittedly chances were that that maid wasn’t a particularly gifted one, but still one worthy of respect.

It was only in the evening when Subaru finally got a chance to meet with Ram again for more than a passing word, as after dinner, the maid appeared in Subaru’s room with a stack of papers and a familiar look.

“Felt-sama is currently practicing her imoji upstairs. Meanwhile, Barusu will begin learning romoji.”

At first Subaru had expected to avoid the “Barusu” nickname this loop by making sure not to make her earlier, questionable comments about Roswaal, but Ram could not be deterred.

“I didn’t even ask you to teach me.” Subaru said, surprised. She was laying in bed trying to work up the strength for her evening run when Ram arrived.

“Perhaps Barusu lacks the common sense to understand, but her understanding of romoji and after hamoji script is not a matter of personal preference. Not only does Barusu’s illiteracy lower her already exceptional failings to unseen depths, the news that someone who isn’t educated even in the fundamentals is working at Roswaal-sama’s manor, would undoubtedly damage her reputation.” Ram listed in a tone befitting of a crabby 60 year old teacher that refuses to just go and retire.

“Aaaaaaah, why must Ram-chi be so cruueeel.” Subaru whined, burying her face in her pillow.

“Barusu seems to be without sense. The wonderfully kind and benevolent Ram is only doing her utmost to aid the poor pathetic Barusu to shape herself into something that is slightly closer to a respectable resident of Lugnica.”

Subaru put her pillow aside and got up, walking to the small desk where Ram had placed the papers and pen.

“Tell me Ram-chi, is there anyone you complimented in your life that wasn’t Rem-rin or Roswaal?”

“Roswaal-sama.” Ram corrected, before pointing at the papers, one of which had a list of different characters. “Barusu should pay attention to her studies. The great-hearted and altruistic Ram has only so much time to spend on charity. As a motivator, if Barusu manages to learn a basic understanding of the characters by tomorrow evening, Ram will tell her where she hid Barusu’s love letter from Reinhard-sama.” Ram finished with clearly a playful challenge, however her tone and face remained completely serious.

“Wait, my what?”

“The letter Barusu received from Reinhard-sama, along with the flowers.” clarified Ram.

“There is no way that was actually a love letter. I barely met he guy!” Subaru protested.

“I suppose there is only one way for Barusu to find out.”

And so, with face burning, Subaru got to work memorizing romoji characters.

Chapter Text

“In spite of yesterday’s performance, I trust Barusu can still read today’s work schedule.” Ram asked on the third morning of this second go around, handing a filled paper to Subaru.

“This is all written in imoji.” Subaru noted, looking at the paper while putting on her jacket.

“Had Subaru’s limited mental capacity forced her limited knowledge of imoji out to make room for romoji yesterday?”

“No no, I just thought you were going to hand me something in romoji as a test.”

Ram just waved the paper at Subaru again until Subaru took it, though there was just a moment where it seemed like a small light flashed through her eye saying ‘That’s a good idea.’

Subaru looked through the paper. It took her a minute to read it. She had spent a grand total of a week so far studying imoji on and off, so it was still a bit hard.

“This seems like less than the last two days.” Subaru noted finally, not understanding. “Wait, is this because I messed up so much?” Then she looked at her bandaged hands. “If it’s because of my hands, I can just ask to get it healed! I know Rem said they’re teaching wounds, but I’ll learn more by working!”

Two days in, and she’s already being written off? She couldn’t accept that. No! She wanted to show them that she’s useful! And if she wasn’t, she wanted to become useful! She couldn’t bear any more people giving up on her.

“Barusu’s way of thinking is simply too self-centered, like a spider in a corner thinking the window was left open so more flies may come in and become its dinner. In truth, the charming and diligent Ram and her sister have done such an admirable job that there is simply less to do today.”

Subaru looked back at the schedule again, and thought about all the tiny things they did the past two days that seemed entirely pointless like dusting already pristine rooms, grooming flawless shrubs and more.

“Ram, aren’t you sure you didn’t just work me ragged, and this is the normal workload?”

“Barusu’s imagination is simply too wild.” Ram announced, turning around. “I would recommend she uses all that mental energy to study her romoji in her freetime today.” Ram added before leaving the room.

‘She totally worked me ragged.’ Subaru noted in herself with a smile. Maybe they wanted to make her reconsider her wish, or show her the ropes fast? Maybe it was some sort of hazing ritual? No, the twins wouldn’t be so cruel.

While she was still getting used to the time crystals and the associated four quarter day time measurement system, she noted that her new schedule now gave her an hour of freetime before noon, and two after, contrary to the thirty minutes both before and after she had previously.

Getting to work, she was somewhat disappointed that her first morning task, which was switching bedsheets, she was left to do on her own. She would have been more disappointed, had she not realized after changing the sheets in two rooms that this was the first time they let her do something on her own. Knowing them, Rem or Ram would probably go and check later to make sure she didn’t offend some rule, like putting the symmetrical sheets on the bed the wrong way around, but they still let her do it by herself!

She missed both Felt and Emilia during her task. Looking out a window, she saw them both, along with Ram down in the garden. She watched for a short while, where she saw Emilia approach Felt and Ram and attempt to strike up a conversation, before Felt got up from the ground where she was sitting messing up the grass and marched off.

Subaru still couldn’t really blame the girl. She really wanted to, because that trick Felt pulled on her with the ‘ringa juice’ was just awful, and with the work Subaru put in cutting the vegetables it was painful to watch Felt play with her food every meal— But ultimately, Felt was still a prisoner here, even if her captors had good intentions towards her. The girl couldn’t find belonging here. At least not without something to do, and Subaru inadvertently took that from her. Should have realized in advance that if she wished to be on the staff first, Felt would be less inclined to wish for the same, especially with her suspicions towards Subaru.

After completing the rest of her tasks before lunch, cleaning the bathrooms in the occupied bed rooms as well as the great indoor bath of the mansion — where contrary to expectations she hasn’t found a single deposit of clown make-up — Subaru had an hour to herself until she’d have to head for the kitchen.

As she learned, Emilia had returned to her room to study, and the one time she ran into Felt, it didn’t seem like the girl wanted to talk, so Subaru opted to go on a quick scavenger hunt she’d been planning since day one of this loop.

Checking through all the unoccupied bedrooms and opening cupboards, she was looking for something precious and specific! One time she even had to greet and apologize to Beatrice, whose door she couldn’t help but open, as one of the unoccupied bedrooms would have been inaccessible unless Subaru made the library relocate. Betty was unamused, but Subaru shut the door before retaliation.

Upon scaling up into the attic — the entrance of which was almost seamlessly hid, and she had to do some searching to find — finally, in a corner, Subaru spotted it!

“Lyulyre Acquired!” Subaru said out loud in a jubilant tone, after humming a tune from Zelda. Matter of fact, that tune would make an excellent little musical riff for the instrument!

Scaling down the ladder happily, Subaru closed the attic backup, then headed for her good old favourite gazebo in the garden. She had now missed out on two days of practice, but it was time to get right back into it!

Making herself comfortable on her usual bench, rested the body of the Lyulyre in her lap, got ready to try out her newest idea for a musical riff and— Of course she messed it up on the first try. Looking at her left hand, she realized she made the same rookie mistake she did the first time holding the instrument in the first loop, trying to hold down the strings as if there were six of them instead of five, pushing her finger into the gaps between strings instead of onto them. This is why they said one must practice every day.

This wasn’t going to stop her, so she readjusted herself and got into it, making sure to pay attention to proper finger placement. It went better, but still rusty. Shaking her head, she decided she won’t feel bad about this. No! That would be silly! Having lost her groove with the lyulyre just means she has to practice more, and practice means playing, and hell, the whole reason she wants to be good is because she likes playing! This is a good thing in disguise.

Smiling with determination, she got back into it.

After only a minute or two of practice, she heard a voice from one of the steps to the gazebo.

“Where did Subaru-kun find that?” Rem asked, standing there, with a pair of hedge clippers in hand.

“Up in the attic!” Subaru said happily, before realizing she might have been out of line taking it without comment. “Sorry for taking it, I just saw that it was sitting there unused, and an instrument without a song to play is a sad, sad thing.”

“Subaru-kun didn’t have any tasks for the attic.” Rem noted. “Rem doesn’t believe Subaru had ever been to the attic before.”

“Oh, yeah it took me about fifteen minutes just to find the attic.” Subaru nodded.

“But why has Subaru-kun gone there?”

Subaru’s eyes widened and she stared off into nothing for a moment. How was she going to explain that she was looking for a Lyulyre she somehow knew was in the mansion?

“Uh, I realized from the outside that there’s an attic, and thought I’d go dust it?” Subaru was more asking than saying here.

Rem didn’t say anything, just looked at Subaru examining her, not a muscle on her face or body betraying a single hint of what her thoughts were.

“Again, I’m sorry I took it without asking, it’s just that once I saw it—”

“Rem.” Subaru heard Ram’s voice, and in a moment, the pink haired maid entered her sight coming from elsewhere in the garden, dragging a protesting Felt with her. Ram gave Rem and Subaru a quick look before returning her gaze to her sister. “Do you need any help with the shrubs?”

Rem paused with a surprised look, before bowing her head. “No, thank you Nee-sama. Rem was simply investigating where music was coming from a minute ago. Subaru-kun appears to have found her way into the attic.”

Ram’s eye darted between the two, still holding Felt’s wrist in her hand, the girl not saying much just fruitlessly trying to pull her hand from the maid’s iron clutch.

“I can put the lyulyre back, if that’s what—”

“My sister I believe is upset because of Barusu’s clothes.” Ram interrupted, pointing a finger at Subaru’s chest. “Barusu had clumsily wrinkled and dusted up her jacket in the attic. The jacket that Rem had spent a good time refitting to Barusu’s size.”

Subaru looked down, and indeed there were a few wrinkles on her suit’s jacket. She probably did this while climbing the ladder.

Rem continued to look at her sister confused, before giving out a quiet gasp and turning to Subaru. “Yes, Rem was concerned that a dirty suit would be unfit for the presence or Roswaal-sama at lunch.”

“Also that birdsnest of a haircut.” Ram added.

“Yes, perhaps it could do with a trim and a brush, Nee-sama is very attentive.” Rem agreed in her neutral tone.

“And Barusu’s unkempt eyebrows.”

“Nee-sama’s got good eyes.”

“And the poorly cut nails.” Ram continued with a small smile, her eyes closed as she no longer even needed to look at Subaru to list her yet untapped wealth of failings in the grooming department.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” Subaru said, putting down her instrument. “I don’t look like a proper noble servant, I got the picture!”

“Ram is impressed, with such abilities in observation, Barusu might just learn to read before retirement!”

“Fine, so I should tidy my jacket, fix my hair and cut my nails.” Subaru listed with a sigh. “I am not plucking my eyebrows, but is there anything else you want to get out while we’re at it? Is there breath mints somewhere in this mansion I haven’t found yet?”

Ram suddenly raised her free hand and gestures to her sister elegantly with an open palm. “Rem cuts everyone’s hair in the mansion, perhaps Barusu would do well to enjoy her wondrous expertise. My sister’s heart would surely be eased and delighted by the opportunity to lessen the estate’s shame. Isn’t that right, Rem?”

“Uhm. Yes, it is as Nee-sama said.” Rem nodded hesitantly.

“Then it is decided.” Ram nodded.

“Wait, aren’t I supposed to say I agree before it is—?” Subaru protested, even though it did sound like a good idea. She was annoyed by the twins collectively badmouthing her in front of Felt, but if getting herself pampered was going to make them happy, she didn’t mind. Not to mention, this would finally give her some time to get to know Rem better!

“Barusu has a two hour break in her after lunch schedule. I will take Rem’s cleaning duty, and she can see about fixing Barusu.” Ram said declaratively. “Consider this a change in schedule.” she added, shooting a sly smile at Subaru.

“Of course, Nee-sama.”

“Barusu should see about cleaning herself before.”

A loud slapping sound could be heard as Felt having lost her patience smacked Ram’s hand probably as hard as she could without clenching her hand into a fist. The maid didn’t flinch.

“Let go of me already, I want to go inside!” Felt declared, to which Ram let go of her wrist.

“As Felt-sama wishes.” Ram said simply, turning to follow the young candidate as she marched angrily off towards the mansion.

Rem bowing her head and returning to her duties left Subaru by herself. She reckoned she had about ten minutes left of her break time until lunch preparations had to be made, so she picked her lyulyre backup and began practicing.

‘Rem won’t try to give me one of those bowlcuts too will she?’ she wondered.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

Thinking about it, Subaru hadn’t been in an onsen since she was a kid. She was supposed to visit one last year as part of a school trip near Kyoto, but of course she skipped that. She tried thinking back to when she was little and her parents brought her to one, but it was simply too long ago.

The mansion’s great marble indoor bath was not an onsen of course. It wasn’t outdoors, and Subaru was mostly certain that it wasn’t a natural hot spring, its water coming from the many facets governed by a single turn handle, but it really gave a certain onsen-like feeling. It might have been the closest thing to an onsen this world had.

One of these days Subaru really wanted to figure out how the plumbing works. She didn’t know much about plumbing in her homeworld, but she was pretty sure there would have to be either some high powered pump or a water tower to make water run like it did in the mansion. It could have been magic. Scratch that, it probably was magic. She definitely hoped she wasn’t raking up a ridiculous water bill somewhere by using a small pool’s worth of water on herself.

She was soaking in the water by herself, admiring the various images painted on the ceiling depicting all sorts of scenes with people people and creatures in various situations, as well as grand buildings, one of which looked familiar enough for Subaru to conclude must have been the palace at the top of the hill in the capital.

Some of the images also bore resemblance to pictures she saw in the children’s book that Ram had her and Felt read as practice. A woman cloaked in black, her cape enveloping six other figures who appeared in pain. Around the central dark woman were three large figures, a fire breathing dragon, a striking swordsman and someone in a robe with colourful flames spewing from their hands, each targeting the black figure, with a host of smaller characters armed with swords, spears and bows.

She recalled the story of the so-called “Witch of Envy” being sealed away, as well as what she learned before of Emilia’s surface level resemblance to a witch. Could this be that Satella? Perhaps those children’s stories were more historical than fantastical. There was no way that the girl who blocked what would have been deathblows to save Subaru at the loot house, so gently hummed along to Subaru’s music in the previous loop, and comforted her with such compassion two days ago could have anything to do with being so feared and hated.

“Enjooooying the bath Subaruuuu-chan?” Subaru heard coming from behind her, throwing all her thoughts out the window.

“Roswaal! I didn’t know—” Subaru exclaimed turning around, placing her knees on the underwater bench she was sitting on, pushing her body against the edge of the bath to cover herself, then looked up. She regretted that decision as soon as she realized that the mistress of the mansion was standing right behind her in nature’s own.

“Why, there is no need to be ashaaaamed.” Roswaal declared with a laugh.

“I-I thought I was going to be by myself.” Subaru stammered, beginning to reach for the towels she had prepared for herself before getting in with her left hand.

Roswaal lowered on a knee, and grabbed Subaru’s hand gently.

“Myyyyyyy~! I hadn’t seen the scar left by Subaruuuu-chan’s encounter before.” Roswaal stated, reaching down with her other hand, and brushing a finger along the scar circling Subaru’s shoulder, to which Subaru sunk into the water down to her nose.

‘I’ll leave.’ Subaru attempted to say, bubbling instead, then raised her head out of the water and repeated the words out loud.

Roswaal hummed and shook her head disapprovingly with a smile. “Tell me, Subaru-chaaaaan. Is this not my mansion?”

“It is.” Subaru said simply, making another attempt at the towels, which was thwarted by Roswaal pushing the towels out of reach with her right hand, while gently grabbing Subaru’s chin and forcing her to look up at Roswaal’s face. Considering the pair of shameful things in the way, this was far, far from the pleasant relaxing experience Subaru was hoping for.

“Are the manor’s gardens, decorations and utiiiilities not here to serve as my delight?”

“T-they are.” Subaru nodded, closing her eyes as her final refuge.

“And are my seeeeervants not my property whose duuuuty is to serve and entertain to my delight, Subaru-chaaaaaan~?” the clown princess laughed.

Subaru slid her chin out of Roswaal’s grasp and submerged her entire head below the water. No, no, no.

A few seconds passed in silence, Subaru holding her breath, then she felt a current coming towards her from the left.

“I think I’m done!” Subaru exclaimed jumping above the water, only to realize that Roswaal wasn’t next to her, instead having entered the bath a good ten yards away.

“Suuuurely Subaru-chan wouldn’t oppose staying to grant her mistress pleasant conversation while she enjoys her baaaaath.”

Subaru had to admit her mind was going to far darker places a few moments ago. She was more on edge about the eccentric lady of the mansion than she thought.

“N-no.” Subaru stammered, shuffling closer to where Roswaal pushed her towels and grabbed one, wrapping it around her shame underwater, but remaining in the bath and returning to her seat at the edge. She wasn’t exactly comfortable being naked around strangers, or around naked strangers to that matter, but Roswaal was singularly in charge of whether Subaru can stay at the mansion or not, so it wouldn’t do to upset them.

“I hope it isn’t straaaange, but I’ve admired Subaru-chan’s diligent excersiiiiizes in the evening.” Roswaal noted. “Are you perhaps hoping to become a fiiiiighter?”

“I was only running. It’s— It’s something people in my hometown do for fun.”

“Mmmmm—, sounds like diligent people.” Roswaal said, reaching behind her head and freeing he long, majestic blue hair from between her back and the bath’s water. “Young Emilia-sama seeeeemed interested too.” she added.

“I think she was just worried because— Because of the nightmare I had the first morning.” Subaru said, sunk down to her neck.

“It is pleasing to seeeee her get so well along with one of my staaaaaff. That girl needed someone to talk toooo~”

Subaru hasn’t really thought about it, but she didn’t really see Emilia interact much with the maids. Felt of course was dismissive of her, though Subaru couldn’t decide if it was just because she was dismissive of everyone, or perhaps her thoughts on “half-devils” still persisted. As for Beatrice and Roswaal, Subaru barely ever saw them, and she doubted Emilia had much contact with either in her daily life.

“Are you in here Subaru-k—” came from the entrance of the bath, but was cut short as Rem came to a realization. “Roswaal-sama, Rem hopes that she is not intruding.”

“Not at aaaaaall! I was simply enjoying conversation with Subaruuu-chan.”

“I-I’ll be out in a second Re—” Subaru started, tightening the tower around her waist, getting ready to stand up.

“Come iiiiin~!” Roswaal interjected with a big smile.

“Please excuse me.” Rem said, stepping inside the bath.

Glancing over her shoulder, Subaru saw the maid gently walking forward. Rem was wearing her uniform as usual, only without her shoes and stockings, coming barefoot into the bath, with a small basket in her hand.

“Rem had come to do Subaru-kun’s hair.” Rem announced with a bow towards Roswaal once she reached the edge of the bath besides Subaru.

Roswaal just gave an approving nod with a smile, sliding a little deeper in the water herself which Subaru found thankful as being quite tall, even taller than Subaru, Roswaal’s— She was simply not deep enough in the water when sitting straight.

Subaru made another attempt to get out, but Rem instructed her to sit down, and knelt down behind Subaru, putting the basket besides them. It was filled with combs, brushes and scissors. Strangely, it felt as if the maid was more tense about the whole thing than even Subaru.

“Please sit straight, Subaru-kun.” Rem said softly, placing her hands under Subaru’s hears, gently pulling her up.

Subaru grabbed the tower covering her and awkwardly sat up as Rem picked up a brush.

She always hated people messing with her hair. She had washed her own hair as long as she could remember. Even when her own mother was doing it, she couldn’t stand when a single strand was accidentally pulled at. Barbers were right out, she couldn’t deal with all the people in a barbershop. Of course as far as pulling hair went, she did that to herself too, but when it was someone else doing it, the pain felt so much sharper, and she’d always yelp in pain. To do that now, almost naked in the bath, in front of not only Rem but Roswaal too?

On top of that, the last time someone touched her hair—

With closed eyes, Subaru held her breath waiting for the pain so she could try holding it.

Instead, she felt the girl’s slender hand tenderly raise a part of her hair, and clamp it tightly between her fingers, before she heard the brush weave through her hair. Subaru even heard the brush get caught on a knot in her hair, but the girl somehow pulled the brush through it without Subaru feeling any pain, the clamped fingers protecting her head from the pull further out on her locks.

Subaru sat there quietly, as the blue maid slowly, and ever so gently traversed around her nape, brushing all her locks.

“May Rem ask that Subaru-kun turns her head to the right?” Rem asked. Subaru obeyed without a word.

What was this feeling? She was totally exposed, far, far out of her comfort zone, and yet— The maid’s fingers caressing her head, never pulling, never stabbing, never scratching— They filled with a sense of safety.

“Our Rem is a wonderful baaaaarber, is she not?”

Subaru didn’t respond right away. It took her a moment to even realize Roswaal spoke to her.

“I never had someone brush my hair so gently.” Subaru uttered finally.

Roswaal gave a long approving humm. “Whaaat were we discussing, Subaruuu-chan?”

“I think you were saying something about Emilia.”

“Indeeeed. I was remarking how nice it is to seee her with someone to talk to.” Roswaal nodded.

Subaru felt Rem gently place her hand against her forehead, and guided Subaru to look up, as she began brushing the hair on the top of Subaru’s head. Looking at the girl working on her hair so diligently, Subaru wanted to say something nice, but she felt Rem avoiding her eyes.

Her eyes wandered to the ceiling, hoping that the maid is simply just embarrassed about the situation, same as Subaru. Something told her that Rem didn’t like her too much, but Subaru couldn’t figure out what it was. She wanted to just come out and ask her— No, that would be terrible.

“That image.” Subaru pointed at the dark figure on the ceiling, trying to get her mind on new tracks. “Is that Satella?”

For the first time, Subaru felt a subtle tug at her hair roots.

“Yeeees. Frightful image, isn’t it?” Roswaal answered, her tone seeming to shift down to one of slight displeasure.

“I re— I heard very little about her.” Subaru corrected. Before coming to the mansion, she told Emilia truthfully that she knew nothing about the witch, so she couldn’t very well reveal what she learned since then from a book that was never given to her. “What is it depicting.”

“Iiii’m not in the mood to hold a leeeesson right now. But I believe Rem knoooows a good deal of the witch.”

“Should Rem explain, Roswaal-sama?”

“As I understaaaand, Subaru-chan is from a place far removed from the rest of the woooorld. It would do well to explain the baaaaaasics.” Roswaal answered, her tone still one of displeasure.

Rem turned back to Subaru, picking up a pair of scissors.

“The figure in the center shrouded in darkness, is the Witch of Envy.” Rem began, her voice tense as she began cutting Subaru’s hair. “Her appearance was the start of an event known as the Great Calamity.”

Rem paused, perhaps waiting for Subaru to clarify that she had at least heard of that, but Subaru remained clueless, and so remained silent.

“There is not a great deal that is known about why she had done what she did, but it is said that the Witch consumed the six other beings who bore her title at the time, each named for the seven deadly sins. Afterwards, she went on a rampage across the world, destroying half of it in her path.”

“But, destroying half the world is like poetic exaggeration.” Subaru interjected, remembering reading that in the children’s book too. “She couldn’t have actually done that, right?”

Ignoring the probably stupid question, Rem continued. “Her terrible deeds were eventually stopped around four hundred years ago, when the Divine Dragon, with the aid of the first Sword Saint and the Sage as well as the personal sacrifices of countless other unnamed heroes and martyrs defeated her.”

“Sounds like it was awful.” Subaru noted, as Rem paused once again. “But I don’t get it. If she was defated four hundred years ago, why does it sound like people are still so afraid of her?”

Subaru felt Rem’s hand tremble for a moment, but the maid collected herself.

“Some wounds can never heal, no matter the passage of time.” Roswaal noted, for once, that strange musical pattern gone from her voice.

“While the Witch is gone,” Rem continued, still quietly snipping the loose ends of Subaru’s hair.. “—her legacy is still felt in the world. The mabeasts lurking in the dark places of the world, the— the cultists carrying her title.”

“Wait, there are people who worship this witch?”

“Some say, they worship her. Some say it is her power.” Rem answered, with an insofar unknown tremble in her voice. “Others believe it is only her evil that they worship.”

“What are they knooooown for?” Roswaal asked in a cold tone, not looking in their direction.

“Roswaal-sama.” Rem muttered hesitantly, to which Roswaal shot a pitiless look at the maid.

“Some— Some people, carry on themselves a mark. It is said, this mark is a token bestowed upon those favoured by the Witch. A vile—” Rem stopped. These final words, she spoke more weakly.

“What does this mark look like?” Subaru asked, her mind trailing away. She recalled Granhiert, who dressed in black and fought like a demon. Could it be that she was one of them? And if she was, what of that creature that will break into the manor in two days? Could it be one of those mabeasts Rem mentioned?

Rem hesitated before answering. When she did, she sounded almost upset, like Subaru had just said something rude. “It is not a visible mark.” she said. “The mark of the Witch is a stench, a miasma that is carried by her creations and surrounds those who she has touched. But not everyone can sense it.”

As Rem explained, the stammer disappeared from her voice, which itself had turned cold.

“It is said that only those whose lives have been greatly affected by her evil.”

Still miles away, Subaru was making mental notes on possibly investigating what these mabeasts are and if any match the description of the hulking creature. Though that was a rather low priority. She didn’t remember enough about the creature to find it in a book, but once she alerted the mansion’s defenses upon its arrival, and they killed it, she could find out where it came from, and possibly who sent it.

“What to do you think of all this, Subaruuu-chan.” Roswaal asked, her tone still grim. Her voice snapped Subaru out of her thoughts.

Collecting herself, trying to answer, Subaru felt as if she was just called out of a daydream during class by a teacher asking her to repeat the last few words. All that was on her mind was the deep, laboured breaths behind her.

“I—” Subaru began, closing her eyes. “I don’t get how people can associate someone like that with Emilia.” she said finally.

She felt a sudden breath on her back.

“Ooooh~?” Roswaal asked, a sense of interest returning to her tone.

“I mean, I’m still figuring this out, but from what you said, Emilia couldn’t be further from the witch.” Subaru said. “She’s kind, gentle, caring.”

Subaru remembered the little girl in the capital. Her name was ‘Plum’, wasn’t it? Emilia risked losing her candidacy to the throne, just to make sure that girl found her family safely.

“She saved my life more than once in the loot house, even though I really didn’t do much other than serve as a distraction, expending her mana and possibly leaving herself open.” Subaru added. “I was really more trouble there than anything, and she still protected me.”

At the time, she didn’t give it much thought, but since learning about mana from Puck, while Subaru still didn’t have a full understanding of what goes into casting a spell, she realized it can’t be untiring to do what he had done.

“And what’s more—” Subaru paused, covering her face with a hand and hanging her head. “Being an idiot, I likened her to the witch without thinking, and she still forgave me. No, more than that, she tried to console me the se— when I first woke up here.”

“Does—” Subaru heard Rem speak up behind her. “Does it not concern Subaru-kun that she’s a silver haired half-elf?”

“What?” Subaru asked, lowering her hand and turning around. Surely Rem didn’t mean to ask something so stupid. “Does it concern you?” Subaru added sternly.

As her eyes met Rem’s, the blue maid’s face looked like a lost child who just this moment realized they can’t see their parents.

Caught off guard, Subaru continued. “Well, I just don’t think that kind of thinking is good.” she said lowering back into her seat. “Roswaal dresses like a clown, but that doesn’t make her one.” Subaru added, to which once more, the mistress of the mansion laughed. “It’s honestly infuriating to think people would look down on Emilia for something this stupid. It also upset me when Felt called her a half-devil, which I can sort of forgive, since she’s had a hard life and few ways to know any better, but still.”

Subaru hung her head again. She never really thought about anyone else’s misery but her own. When Emilia was upset with her back in the capital, she knew something was wrong, but she didn’t think about it too much. Maybe she didn’t think she had time, maybe she didn’t care. In the end, Subaru never considered until now just how awful a thought it was that on a look, people would look at her like that. The people at the mansion weren’t like that, and neither was Reinhard or Kadomon, the fruit seller, but Rom and Felt, who Subaru knew first hand had good hearts, still looked at Emilia with concern, with Felt still keeping her distance. What could she have been exposed to in that first loop, because Subaru screamed to a crowd that a witch was chasing her? Reinhard came to the slums that day looking for the insignia, but he dared not repeat what happened with the girl who sent him.

Compared to the things Subaru was scorned for, the things that by all means should have been in her power to change, living a life where just what she was could bring her such hate from people that by all means could and should be her friends by the content of their hearts—? Was there any hope for such a cruel world?

“Subaru-kun.” Rem said softly behind her. “Subaru-kun, please turn around.”

Obeying the command, Subaru found Rem smiling gently, holding a small handkerchief. Before Subaru had a chance to think, Rem reached out, and wiped Subaru’s face. She hadn’t realized she was still wet from earlier.

“Rem would like to apologize.” Rem said quietly, as if she didn’t want her words to reach Roswaal, only Subaru. “She had the wrong impression, and thought some undue things of Subaru-kun.”

Subaru blinked. Did the maid hear about the incident in the alley before? Had she thought all this time that Subaru was so cruel to Emilia intentionally? Was that why she was so distant?

The young maid proceeded to grab one of the other towels, and handed it to Subaru.

“Subaru-kun’s hair is cut. Please dry it so it can be combed properly.”

With Roswaal continuing to relax in silence nearby, gazing at nothing with an unreadable, melancholic expression, Subaru crawled out of the water and allowed Rem to help dry and finish her hair, noting within herself, with a simple smile far too blind to what was to come:

And the Rem relationship bar grew at least 3 hearts that day...

Chapter Text

“At this rate, Barusu is never going to read Reinhard-sama’s note.”

Originally, Subaru thought she might review her romoji rules after her hair was cut, but having found Rem became a lot more approachable, she instead used her remaining freetime to follow the maid along and do her best helping her with Rem’s tasks. She couldn’t know if this intimacy was going to last, so she was intent on using it!

Unfortunately, this came at the cost of failing Ram’s simple test, which consisted of no more than writing down and naming every romoji character from memory.

“Come on, Ram! I’m only missing, like…”

“The fact that Barusu can’t even remember the number of romojis speaks to the great pit in her mind. It is truly a marvel how the noble-hearted Ram can still carry on in her hopeless efforts to civilize the girl.”

While Subaru had to admit her shortcomings in learning the characters, she had a feeling Ram might have also held a small grudge, and that could have contributed to denying Subaru the supposed “love letter”. Naturally, she didn’t believe it would actually have been a love letter, and if it was anything important, Ram wouldn’t have hid it as a prize. Though then again, that implies that Ram had read the message meant for Subaru. Could it be she just guessed? Agh!

She suspected the grudge, as just after she left the bath, she found Ram waiting with clothes outside. Apparently Rem had at one point refitted a second suit to Subaru’s size. Ram was very disapproving upon learning that Subaru had taken a bath “with” Roswaal. No amount of insisting they were ten yards apart, and that she was practically ordered to stay could get rid of the sense of utter and for once completely genuine disapproval in Ram’s tone, and Subaru suspected some of that must have carried forward to the evening.

Subaru made a mental note to avoid bathing with people of superior social status from now on. Wait, what was she thinking? As if she planned to bathe with anyone! Ew!

After an evening spent making small bits of progress on the road to literacy, Subaru went to sleep, making sure to place the lyulyre that earlier she asked Roswaal’s permission to keep. She’d still have preferred a proper guitar, but the instrument was growing on her, even if it was a pain to adjust to.

Next day went much to schedule, but this time around she was pleased to learn that Rem was much more sociable, and open to conversation. Subaru had thought about making a serious effort to try and appeal to Felt who continued to ignore Subaru’s existence since lunch on the first day. It would have made her happy to bury the proverbial hatchet, only she couldn’t think of a way to break the ice. Something to worry about later, as for now, she still had the creature coming the next day.

Opting to push socializing with Felt and practicing the lyulyre until after the attacker is dealt with, Subaru used her free time to read the book Ram had used as a learning aid in the previous loop. In a mixed example of luck, the book was free to use. Sadly, for whatever reason, Felt never warmed up to Ram this loop, and refused to study. Subaru was confident she’d be able to fix this later though. The girl was a fast learner, she just needed a push.

Subaru was less interested in the orphaned children’s book for reading practice, than to seek out stories about mabeasts. She could have went to Beatrice’s library for better sources, but combining her weak literacy, the fact that according to Ram both romoji and hamoji knowledge was required to read most books, and that Subaru really didn’t want to annoy the library’s guardian spirit more than she had to, the children’s book which insofar seemed to accurately document the world’s history, seemed like the best bet.

Due in part to her slow rate of reading, and in part to the flowery language of the stories, Subaru failed to learn much in her free time, aside from that apparently every mabeast possesses a distinctive horn and that according to the legends, there were people who could tame these creatures.

This wasn’t too helpful, but at least Subaru knew that if she sees something with a single horn, it’s best to steer clear of it. It was also reassuring towards her theory that mabeasts could be tamed. If indeed someone had sent an assassin to the manor to kill Emilia and Felt, then that blob could have been a mabeast. Subaru never did get a good look at it, with the distance, darkness and alcohol poisoning, but it clearly seemed to be much too big to be a person. It was at least seven feet tall and nearly as wide as it was high.

She still had no better idea for dealing with the intruder than ‘sound the alarm and run for it’, but knowing to stay away from anything Felt will feed her, she knew she was free of the threat of losing her stamina. With how long it took it to kill her last time— That simple plan should be enough against this enemy.

With about half an hour more of free time before dinner preparations, Subaru put her book down and looked out her window. To her surprise, she spotted Emilia playing with Puck outside, something she couldn’t catch before.

Rushing out the door, Subaru was intent to catch the two before the spirit went to sleep in Emilia’s necklace. She just had an idea on how to better arm herself for her fated encounter!

 

                                           

 

“You want to learn magic?” Emilia asked, surprised.

“Yes!” Subaru announced, turning to Puck. “I have come to walk the path of the spirit warrior!”

“Ahhhh, I’m already contracted to Lia.” Puck said, scratching the back of his head with his paw. “You’d need a different spirit to become a spirit arts user.”

“Huh?” Subaru asked. This didn’t come up before, Puck seemed willing to teach her magic. “I thought you could teach me spells.”

“Why did you say spirit warrior, if you just wanted to learn some spells?” Puck asked, spinning in the air with an inquisitive look.

“I’m confused.” Subaru said, slumping down on the ground next to Emilia.

“Spirit arts, and regular magic are sort of different, Subaru.” Emilia said. “I’m also not sure why you’d want to learn all of a sudden.”

First time around, the idea of magic came up kind of naturally in conversation, it was probably a bit odd this time around for Subaru to just show up and announce she wants to learn magic when she never talked of such a thing before.

“I figured I could help the mansion better if I could do more than just wash dishes, make beds and stuff. I mean we have two candidates here, but only two maids, Roswaal and a shut in spirit to protect the mansion.” Once more, Subaru wasn’t lying. She did want to learn spells to defend the manor against an intruder.

“I’m not sure if I should be more offended if you were calling me the shut in, or if you completely forgot that I’m here too, while I was hovering before your face.” Puck noted cross armed, his facial features contorting into a mean grin, before relaxing. “Although I can tell you mean it. Hm. What do you think, Lia?”

“Well, if Subaru wants to learn, I don’t see much wrong with the sentiment.” Emilia started, leaning back, resting her weight on her arms, and her hands against the grass. “But I don’t want you to push yourself too hard, Subaru. You almost died twice protecting Felt at the loot house, when you tackled her out of the way of that cut, and when you tried blocking that woman’s blade in the air— As admirable as your actions were, I’m concerned that you’d just throw yourself at danger again.”

Emilia was right. Subaru was explicitly here to try and learn a spell she might be able to use against the creature tomorrow. That didn’t change the fact that the creature was coming, and Subaru had to locate it and raise the alarm though.

“I promise I won’t do anything stupid unless it’s neccessary.” Subaru said, putting a hand on her heart, and raising the other. Based on the two’s looks, this wasn’t a usual gesture of promise.

“Well, I guess it depends on the kind of magic she’s talented with.” Puck noted. “If Subaru would turn out to have a talent for healing like you and that Rem girl, then Subaru would hardly have a reason to endanger herself.”

“On the contrary, Subaru might jump into danger to try and heal someone.” Emilia countered.

“I’m not sure how I feel about you saying that being too heroic is a flaw on my part, but I’m still here guys.” Subaru noted. “Also, I’m pretty sure my element is Yin.”

“Really?” Emilia asked, surprised. “How do you know?”

Damn Subaru and her big stupid mouth.

“I’m not sure, but I remember someone told me long ago.”

“Ah, maybe someone in your hometown checked.” Emilia nodded.

‘She shoots, and she scores!’ Subaru thought in silence, complimenting her excuse.

“Yin’s the one with negation magic, right?” Subaru asked. From what she was told before, Yin could negate gravity, and Puck wasn’t completely dismissive of the idea that it could stop arrows either, so it might work against physical attacks. Since she was pretty sure she died to a blow to the head, something that could stop attacks would be very useful.

“For someone who didn’t know the difference between spirit arts and normal spells, you seem to have done your homework.” Puck noted, scratching his chin while hanging upside down.

“Most everything I know is from hearsay, so—” Subaru wanted to drop the line of questions. “I’m just curious what a beginner Yin magic user might be able to do.”

Puck pondered for a moment before answering.

“Well perhaps the most basic of Yin spells is Shamak.”

“That’s the blinding smoke spell, right?” Emilia asked, the name obviously catching her attention. “I’ve never actually seen it.”

“One would think that if a blinding smoke spell works, no one ever saw it.” Subaru noted jokingly.

“Ah, a wisecracker, eh? Why don’t I give you a taste?” Puck asked with an evil smile, before flying up to Subaru and patting her on the forehead. “ Shamak!

In the next instant, the world went black. No, it didn’t. Were it not for the sensation of the ground keeping her up, Subaru would have been convinced there was no world at all. Everything was silent. Even the scent of the fresh grass left her nose! Whatever this was, it went way beyond blinding!

For a few moments Subaru was overcome by laboured yet silent breaths, unsure if her senses will ever return, if she’ll ever see Emilia, Puck, Felt or the twins again, if she’ll hear music or— But then, the darkness in her vision dissipated and each sense swiftly faded back.

“This is Shamak.” Puck said with a proud look.

Subaru took a few breaths. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting.

“Well…” Subaru began. “I told you, I didn’t see the smoke.”

“Lia, I think I’m glad I didn’t freeze her in the alley.” Puck said, turning to Emilia coyly.

“Wait, you were thinking about doing that?!” Subaru asked.

“Pah, pah, forget about that. Do you want to learn Shamak or not?” Puck changed the subject.

Looking at Emilia, Subaru couldn’t figure out if the girl’s awkward look confirmed that Puck was close to freezing her back in the capital.

She couldn’t give up an opportunity to learn something that might save her life tomorrow, so doing her best to ignore that comment, Subaru agreed to learn Shamak. A decision that Puck found greatly amusing.

“You seem pretty eager to learn.” Puck noted.

“Well it looks like a pretty powerful defence spell, right?” Subaru said. “Emilia said herself that she wants me to avoid getting hurt, but if I can blind people like this, they’ll never hit me!”

“Ha! Anyone you should worry about is going to be competent enough to brush a spell like Shamak off in a few moments.”

“It only lasted a few moments for me too, so does that mean I’m competent.”

“Your optimism is adorable, Subaru.” Puck said with a laugh. “It was so short because I didn’t want to be too mean in front of Lia.”

Was he saying he would have been crueler if Emilia wasn’t here?

“With your level, I could have blinded you permanently if I so wanted.”

Subaru rubbed her eyes and ears, recalling their sudden loss of function moments before.

“Surely no one would be so cruel as to force something like—” Subaru remembered Granhiert fondling her internal organs and whispering in her ear and stopped the foolish sentence.

Even then, the idea of spending a lifetime, no not that, just a few days in such a state, it went beyond unforgiving. It would be like forcing someone to live the rest of their lives locked in a dark room. Granted, Subaru had lived that pathetic existence for some time now, but that was her awful choice, and she still wasn’t as cut off from the outside world as she was for those brief moments of total blindness.

“Cruelty aside, while I could make it last the rest of your life, it costs mana to maintain Shamak, on top of being easy to get rid of by those that have a clue on what they’re doing.” Puck explained. “As such, it isn’t really worth much in a serious encounter, but if you want to start with Yin magic, this is the safest, easiest way to practice using your gate.”

“Right, gates have something to do with mana, right?”

Puck exchanged a look with Lia before sighing and turning back to Subaru.

Seeing her ignorance on all things magic, Emilia and Puck made an attempt to give Subaru a quick summary of the fundamentals, how magic users use their own mana, channeling it through their gata, a sort of magical portal or something like that within their body. This Puck noted is in contrast to spirit arts, which involves contracting spirits to cast magic for the spirits arts user.

After covering what Puck reassured Subaru was only the very bare minimum of magical knowledge, with years of “happy study” ahead of her if she wanted to get anywhere, Puck instructed Emilia to walk to a “safe distance”, which apparently was roughly two dozen yards.

“Sit still.” Puck instructed, flying above Subaru and perching in her hair. “Huh, I noticed the new haircut, but having seen what your hair was like before, I didn’t think you’d be this comfortable.”

“I’m not here for you to flirt.” Subaru said in slight contempt. “But thanks, Rem fixed up my hair yesterday.”

“I might take a nap up here tomorrow at lunch.” Puck teased. “Now, last chance, are you sure you want to try this?”

Subaru nodded gently, trying not to toss the cat off her head.

With consent given, Puck sunk his front paws into Subaru’s hair. The next moment Subaru’s body suddenly felt hot. No, more than that. She recalled the feeling of when she’d slept on her arm and blocked the circulation of blood for hours, only for in the morning for blood to rush back. That sense of bubbling warmth. It felt as though the same sensation spread through her entire body!

As the sensation quickly faded, something new filling Subaru from head to toe, Puck began to gently rub her scalp. In sync with the small cat’s paw movements, Subaru felt something move deep within her. It wasn’t her organs or anything like that, the closest she could think of to describe it was like a warm breeze, just not quite, and on the inside of her body instead of on her skin.

 “Alright, now since this sounds like it’s going to be your first spell, it’s probably going to exhaust much of your mana. For the sake of safety, I’ll do some of the casting and try to reduce the chance of your mana blowing up.”

“Mana can do that?”

“Ah it probably won’t happen, so don’t worry. Besides even if it does, it’s less of an explosion and more like since you never let loose before you— It’d be easier to explain if you were a boy.”

Subaru furrowed her brows in confusion, trying to figure out what—

Ew! ” Subaru exclaimed. “Every time we have an extended conversation, I become less comfortable with how close you are to Emilia.”

Puck chuckled for a moment. “I really don’t know what you mean, this is what, the second time we spoke at any length?”

“Just give the damn instructions!”

“Very well.” Puck noded. “I just want you to picture in your mind the mana you feel in your body flowing out of it and into me then back again. Then, I want you to push a small amount of it out of your body through your gate. As little as you can while still pushing at least a little outside. As it leaves, picture your mana as a black cloud.”

The overly simplistic way in which Puck carried on with his instructions concerned Subaru. She could need to hit a target tomorrow!

Altering the instructions slightly to fit her needs, Subaru imagined the blob standing before her, and decided to direct her energy towards it like ink blown by a squid. All she needed to do was actually release the mana now.

How does one picture opening their gate anyway? Maybe it doesn’t matter. With her eyes closed, Subaru searched her mind for an appropriate image, until she stopped at the great gate behind which all secrets of alchemy were stored in that Full Metal anime that aired some three or four years ago. Her gate was the only thing standing between her, and life as a full range Bard!

She imagined the great, heavy doors slowly open, with mana flowing through them! As it left, shooting towards the imagined creature, she’d simply need to give it form and—

“This isn’t quite right.” Puck noted.

Subaru wanted to ask what wasn’t right, what she should do differently, but by the time the question even formed in her mind, a sensation overwhelmed her as if someone injected baking soda and vinegar in her veins.

A mass of dark clouds spewed out of her body with incredible momentum. Subaru would have been amazed, had she not collapsed onto the ground barely conscious from exhaustion.

Chapter Text

The only lesson to be learned in the aftermath of Subaru’s first attempt to cast a spell, was that she shouldn’t count on her magic helping her any time soon.

“Are you sure that was all me?” Subaru asked, continuing to lay in the grass as she had for the past few minutes. She didn’t want to relax, but her body had declared quite clearly that it wasn’t going to cooperate.

“It was, but I don’t want you to think just because you blew a giant cloud of smoke for a moment, that somehow is a sign that you’ve got a lot to work with.” Puck noted, sitting on Subaru’s stomach.

“Was just wondering, because that felt a lot like when Beatrice sucked all the energy out of me. Thought you might have— Nevermind.”

“Maybe Puck should have.” Emilia noted, kneeling down next to Subaru with a glass of water in her hand that she just fetched. “It looked as if all of your mana was released at once. That kind of thing could be very harmful to your gate unless done properly.”

“Tell it to me straight, doc. Will I ever play magic ball again?” Subaru muttered, trying to raise her head to look at Puck, but she didn’t even have enough energy for that.

“I wouldn’t push it.” Puck said. “You’ve got next to no control of your gate, and like Lia said, you’re just going to hurt yourself doing this.”

Emilia raised Subaru’s head and helped her drink a bit of water.

“You shouldn’t work for the rest of the day, Subaru.” Emilia noted.

“No, Ram is going to be mad at me if I don’t do my chores!” Subaru declared, making another pointless attempt to push herself up.

Subaru let out a long sigh. Ram really was going to be mad. Subaru got a generous two free hours before her chores continued. Well, okay sure, three total hours a day not working was actually not that generous, and the maid would have been in serious trouble if some labour law inspector from earth got a whiff of this place, but compared to Rem’s schedule, Subaru was living life on easy street, and she didn’t even mind the work since she got a hang of it.

“Isn’t there a mana potion or something in this world?”

“The closest thing to what you’re probably thinking that you’re going to find around here is a bokko fruit.” Puck noted. “And you’re not getting one just so you don’t have to deal with Ram.”

“What’s a bokko fruit?”

Emilia sighed and dug around in a pocket of her dress for a moment before pulling out a small brown prune.

“It’s like this.” she noted, holding it a safe distance from Subaru’s mouth. “They’re pretty bad for you, but in emergencies they can give the mana in your gate a real kick so you have a little more energy.”

Subaru’s fingers twitched on the hand closer to Emilia, as she tried reaching for it, to which Emilia just huffed and put the bokko fruit back in her pocket.

“Told you no.” Puck said. “Lia, is right. You strained your gate enough for today as is, no need to add to it.”

She couldn’t believe that a palm sized cat mage was lecturing her about magical, energy giving fruits.

“But Master Puck, I drank the sacred water! I need those beans to defeat Mercenary Tao!”

No matter her efforts, Puck and Emilia denied Subaru the bokko fruit. She accepted it though. Perhaps it was best she had an afternoon of rest before what would come tomorrow.

 

                                           

 

“Rem hasn’t seen Subaru-kun play on that instrument since two days ago.” Rem noted, gesturing at the lyulyre strapped to Subaru’s back.

It was just after lunch on the fifth day. Just as last time, Rem was going to Irlam village to pick up groceries. Somewhat different from before, Rem required no convincing in letting Subaru tag along, admitting that having someone to chat with and who can help her carry the groceries home would be appreciated.

“Yeah, I’ve actually spent yesterday practicing to read.”

“Oh, Nee-sama mentioned that Subaru-kun asked for a book. It’s good to see Subaru-kun working hard.” Rem smiled.

“Ah, well, it’s just a children’s book.” Subaru blushed. “I’ve actually read it because—”

Subaru had to remind herself that she has no way to explain her sudden interest in mabeasts.

“—I guess because they’re just so strange.”

“What are ‘so strange’?” Rem asked in a puzzled look, and Subaru realized she accidentally interjected her thoughts about the mabeasts.

“Uh, the stories. I kind of accepted that this Great Calamity thing happened, but it’s hard to believe it could happen, if that makes sense.”

Rem’s smile went away for a few moments and she stared ahead.

“Did I say something wrong?” Subaru asked tentatively.

“No, Subaru-kun hasn’t said anything wrong. However, when Rem hears Subaru-kun talk about the Witch—” Rem didn’t finish the sentence, just hugging the empty paper bags closer and hanging her head.

Subaru wanted to change the topic, but she spent so much time thinking about those stories over the past day and a half, that she couldn’t think of much else on the spot.

“Mind if I ask about those other three on the bath’s ceiling?” Subaru asked, hoping it would work. “I mean I kind of get that the Divine Dragon is some sort of guardian of Lugnica, but I know nothing about the Sword Saint and the Sage.”

“When Subaru-kun says these things, the only thing stranger is that Rem believes her. How could Subaru-kun not know of any of them?”

“My hometown is very secluded from this world.” Subaru said, dodging the question.

“Well, the Sword Saint, or rather, the first Sword Saint, was Reid Astrea-shi.” Rem started, pausing to ponder, perhaps on how best to describe them.

“Wait, isn’t Astrea the family name of that Reinhard guy who apparently came to help at the loot house?”

“Subaru-kun didn’t know? Ah, of course, Rem should have guessed. Reinhard van Astrea-sama is the current Sword Saint.”

Man, that sounded serious. That kind of title sounded like what the greatest warrior in the world would carry.

“This might sound stupid, but when I met him, I thought he was just a normal knight.” Subaru admitted.

“Rem has heard that Reinhard-sama is a humble man who doesn’t boast about his strength, however he is a knight amongst knights. Only the truly foolish would attempt to fight him.”

Subaru paused in silence. She remembered Emilia telling her four days ago that Elsa Granhiert, the woman in black got away. She was by no means a weak person, she could have easily killed Subaru if not for Emilia’s intervention. If she got away, then that suggested that Granhiert was a good measuring stick for Reinhard’s power. If Granhiert escaped, then clearly neither could beat the other, so the two must have been on roughly equal footing, with Reinhard winning out slightly, though Subaru based that mostly on his title.

More than just the fact that this Reinhard guy was an amazing combatant however, this made Subaru contemplate the other knights she never met. From the way Rem made it sound, a normal knight would be almost as helpless trying to defeat Reinhard, as Subaru was fighting Granhiert. So in the end, the average knight was probably not much more capable than the average martial artist from back home. Perhaps that’s why Roswaal asked if Subaru had planned on becoming a warrior. Previously she had written off the idea, but if the only real opponent she had to use as a measuring stick was on part with a guy whose title oozes “strongest warrior”, then maybe she underestimated her own abilities. Sure, she also failed to beat those three assholes in the alley, but she was outnumbered, and fighting under the assumption that some ungodly martial power was supposed to have awoken in her at the time.

“What is Subaru-kun thinking about?”

“Nothing important.” Subaru said, shaking her head.

She was definitely not going to become a warrior by this evening, so it was useless pondering about her potential as one for now. More importantly, she wanted to not miss this chance to play for the kids at the village again, and maybe ask if any dark, ominous types who might be mabeast tamers have been around.

 

                                           

 

Once in the village, Rem told Subaru that they can look around the village, as Rem intended to do the shopping themselves. Remembering the old bearded man, Subaru ran around a short while, until she finally spotted him chatting with with an old woman.

“Chief Irlam!” Subaru called out, running up to them.

When Subaru reached them and looked at the old man the old man looked at Subaru with a pause, before laughing.

“Ah, ah, ah. What can the village head do for such a lovely young stranger?”

The old lady’s eyes next to them narrowed and she smacked the village head on the back of the head with about as much energy as could be expected from someone pushing their eighties then walked off. Probably the chief’s wife.

Subaru quickly explained about being the newest member of Roswaal’s staff at the manor brought up from the capital, which the old man nodded along to. He seemed to have been well aware of Rem and Ram, commenting that he’s glad to hear ‘those two girls’ won’t have to do everything by themselves now.

Getting to the important question, Subaru asked if as the village head, Chief Muraosa perhaps heard of some shady characters skulking around.

“Hm…” the old man thought, stroking his generous beard. “No, the village has been quiet for a long time, thanks to Roswaal-sama’s protection. Every now and again, the kids claim they saw something scary, but it’s always nothing. The village is well protected.”

“Wait, wait, wait, so when’s the last time the kids said they saw something? Don’t you people have a story about a kid who cried wolf out here?”

“I don’t know what story the little lady is talking about,” the old man said, in spite of how at 173 centimeters, Subaru towered over him, just as she did with everyone at the manor barring Roswaal. “But if it matters that much, I think I heard some kids tell my sister about some monster in an old windmill yesterday evening.”

“They saw a monster?!” Subaru exclaimed. “How can you be so calm about it, even if they made up stuff in the past?”

“Calm down miss!” the old man commanded, tapping his walking stick in the dirt. “Some of the men went out and checked. Naturally there was no monster there.”

The villagers were way too lax about monster sightings! While there was a chance the kids just made it up, it was very unlikely that they just happened to come up with a lie about a monster the evening before a creature was scheduled to attack the manor.

“What was this monster like? Tall? Where did they see it?”

“Ah, I had heard how people in the capital live busy lives, but the little lady will need to slow down a bit!” Muraosa grumbled. “She’ll need to learn that we don’t have troubles like thieves out here. This is a quiet village.” he added with what was surely meant to be a reassuring smile. The only thing it reassured Subaru of was that the villagers weren’t doing nearly enough to warn the manor of possible threats.

Saying a quick goodbye to the chief, Subaru ran back to the village square, hoping to spot the kids from last time. While they weren’t exactly in the square, Subaru managed to catch a glimpse of a characteristic mix of orange hair with a bow tied red ribbon on top behind a shrub.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Subaru greeted the kids with a pant, running up to them. They looked startled, and two moved to try and hide something. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you, I just—”

There were two girls and three boys there. The orange hair and red ribbon belonged to a girl who looked like she was probably the oldest of the group. There was also little fat boy, with the other two boys Subaru vaguely recalled one call the other “bro” in the previous loop. Finally, the girl that the two brothers were shielding from Subaru was a long purple haired girl, who just above the shoulder of one of the boys, Subaru could see holding a small puppy with a bald spot on top of its head.

“Oh, they’re cute.” Subaru said crouching down. “I didn’t want to scare your dog.” she said as sweetly as she could.

The kids eased off a bit, and Subaru introduced herself.

“What an adorable little fuzzball.” she said reaching out to the dog that the purple haired girl trustingly held towards her.

She should have remembered what happened last time. Once more the puppy got spooked as soon as Subaru’s hand got hear them, and bit down hard on Subaru’s hand.

“Ow, ow, ow, ow!” Subaru shouted in an effort to occupy her mouth so that it doesn’t say things it would regret saying in the company of children.

“She never bit anyone else.” the fat kid noted, carefully teaching out and petting the dog. Sure enough, the puppy was more than happy to let the kid play with her.

“I guess I might just be too big and scary.” Subaru said, gritting her teeth, and holding the bleeding.

Probably because they saw her failing to defend herself against even the tiny dog, the kids opened up and introduced themselves. She never did get their names in the first loop, so it was refreshing to learn it now. The two brothers were Cain and Dain. Both tried to be the first to say their name as Subaru asked them, showing that competitive spirit Subaru saw in a lot of brothers growing up. The chubby kid’s name was the same as his manners in Mild. Once the boys were introduced, Cain and Dain simultaneously grabbed each shoulder of the orange haired girl and announced in unison: “And this is my future wife Petra!”

Petra pulled her arms from the boys’ grasp before bonking them each on the top of the head, Mild laughing at his friends.

Subaru looked at the purple haired girl who hadn’t said a word so far, and just continued playing with her dog. How would be the best to ask such a shy girl—

“Oh! I almost forgot!” Subaru exclaimed. “I heard some kids had seen a monster yesterday!”

The kids’ attention, even the purple haired one, quickly went to Subaru.

“Yeah! I found it in—” Cain began standing up and pushing his orange vest out proudly, before his brother grabbed his and pulled him down.

“My brother means to say it was at the old mill, where I found it!” Dain corrected, standing up, proudly shaking his spiky hair while striking the pose of a hero who just arrived on the scene, his hands on his hips.

“In your dreams! It was my idea to go to the mill, remember?” Cain retorted, pulling himself by his brother’s blue vest.

“Yeah, but you were too scared to go in when you heard that wheezing sound, so I was the one who saw it!”

“And you ran out crying as soon as you saw it, because you thought the sound was only the old wood, so don’t pretend like you were brave or anything!”

Subaru reached out each hand and rubbed the two boy’s heads. With only about half a day until the mansion would be attacked, the situation was pretty dire, but Subaru couldn’t help smiling at the two kids arguing so care free. If only the village elder was right and there was nothing for them to be scared of.

“Hey, stop bleeding on my lady!” Cain protested, blood from Subaru’s bite getting mixed in his hair.

“Ew, there’s probably some slobber on there too!” Petra added.

Dain just laughed at his brother while Subaru realizing her mistake began shifting through her pockets trying to find a handkerchief.

“Is Subaru-kun making friends?” she heard Rem say, and turning there, she saw the maid standing next to her with a handkerchief in hand.

“Always to the rescue, Rem-rin!” Subaru exclaimed, grabbing the handkerchief and giving it to Cain. “Could you please heal this?” she added, holding up her hand, already covered in smaller bandages from cutting her finger, clipping flowers and cutting ingredients.

“Heal it?” Rem asked, puzzled.

Subaru caught herself. How would she know Rem can do— Oh wait, she did know!

“Puck mentioned that Rem-rin is gifted with healing magic. Please?” Subaru said waving around the hand again.

“Certainly it wasn’t a housework injury, but Rem believes this too is a learning opportunity for Subaru-kun!” the maid said, shaking her head.

“Learning what?”

“Not to play with strange dogs.” Rem said simply with a smile. “Rem still must buy ringa juice for Felt-sama. Please be more careful Subaru-kun.”

With that, Rem handed Subaru a small roll of bandages that made her wonder just what doesn’t the maid have lying in a pocket somewhere, and walked off.

“Rem is actually very nice if you get to know her.” Subaru said, turning back to the kids and beginning to wrap her hand.

“Rem-rin is always nice!” Dain said.

“You’re calling her Rem-rin now?” Petra pouted.

“It’s not like that Petra-chan! You know my heart belongs only to you!”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself!” Cain interjected.

Apparently Rem was only cold to Subaru before. She must have been really mad hearing about that incident in the alley.

Once she was done applying bandages to her bite wound, Subaru turned back to the kids and asked them to tell her more about the monster Cain and Dain saw. Unfortunately neither got a good look at it. Apparently it was sleeping inside the old mill snoring under a blanket, but woke up when one of the brothers went in and stepped on some old chipped wood on the floor. When the beast woke up, it gave out a deep groan and the brothers booked it, luckily escaping before it could have caught them.

The only information about the incident they could give Subaru other than whatever this thing was it needed sleep, was that this happened just before dusk yesterday, and that from the size of the blanket, the thing was indeed about seven feet tall, much as Subaru guessed from her hazy memories. They also pointed in the general direction of the windmill, but since people went and checked it out last evening, finding it abandoned, it was pretty useless to know where it happened.

When Subaru paused to try and think on all of it, hoping to recall some mabeast mentioned in the children’s book that fit that size, Petra pointed at the lyulyre still strapped to Subaru’s back and asked if she could play.

Subaru had almost forgotten that it was there in the excitement of learning more about the creature.

Since it didn’t seem like she’ll get much more about her foe, having met the only ones who saw it, Subaru decided to try her luck with music instead.

Excitement built in her, as well as a healthy dose of fear, towards what the evening hours would bring once she returned to the mansion with Rem, but the resolution she made four days ago did not leave her heart.

She was going to ensure a future where she can play and make everyone smile. A future where everyone is safe, and the creature is defeated!

Chapter Text

“Ram, please wait. I need to talk to you and Rem.”

Subaru had just finished with her romoji practice, still not satisfying Ram’s discern. Having checked her phone, it was roughly twenty minutes until the time when in the last loop she was stealing the key to release Felt. If she had to guess, her encounter with the creature happened about ten minutes after that, maybe less.

“Can it not wait until tomorrow, Barusu?”

“No, this is important.”

The pink maid sighed, but led Subaru to the kitchen where Rem was finishing her last tasks for the day in preparing everything for making breakfast the next morning. Tension built in Subaru’s chest, hoping that she’ll have the chance to make tomorrow’s meal. She had died three times so far. One way or another, this will have to be resolved today. Everything in her was certain that the three extra lives limit was the end of it, and the end of her.

“Nee-sama? Subaru-kun?” Rem asked, surprised to see the two of them.

“Don’t look at me, Barusu was insistent there was something she had to talk to us about.”

Rem quietly put down the knife she was just sharpening and cleaning, and brushed her hand off on her apron before turning attentively to Subaru, concern and interest in her eye, while Ram didn’t do anything to hide her annoyance at having to put off her beauty sleep.

Subaru took a deep breath, and hoped what she had to say won’t make her sound crazy.

“I mentioned to Rem before, that the kids in the village said they saw a monster in the old windmill yesterday evening.” Subaru noted. “Well, I have a terrible feeling about it. I think whatever that creature was, it’s going to attack the manor tonight.”

Ram’s eyes narrowed, looking at Subaru, before turning to her sister.

“Rem, have the villagers not approached you about this?”

“No, Nee-sama. As Subaru-kun explained the villager elder concluded it was just a story the kids told, which seems very likely since they investigated and found nothing.”

Subaru rubbed her temple.

“Look, back in my hometown, there is an old story. Stupid shepard kid comes running into town crying that wild animals are attacking their herd. After a few scares, the village stops listening, only one day the wild animals actually show up, and the entire herd gets eaten because no one believed the kid when they told the village!” Subaru recounted. “I get that these kids make up stuff, but I’m telling you, I feel that this once they’re onto something.”

“And what does Barusu base this ‘feeling’ on?” Ram asked, crossing her arms. “Getting spooked by the stories of children?”

“I can’t explain it, I just have a feeling!” Subaru lied. “ Please , just trust me on this.”

“I am not against doing everything to defend the manor, but if we go out and look today and this supposed monster doesn’t show up, then what? Will Barusu insist on staying up tomorrow too?”

Subaru wanted to say no, but it occurred to her that there was a small chance that patrolling the garden might spook the attacker. She hadn’t really considered that. If they scared off the attacker, they might return tomorrow instead, or on a later day.Damn it! She should have thought about setting an ambush before! It was too late for that now.

She rubbed her forehead, trying to think. Now she needed not only to convince the twins to help her, but think about how to deal with a possible spooked attacker situation!

“Nee-sama, Rem thinks it’s worth listening to Subaru-kun. She must have good instincts to have helped Emilia-sama and Felt-sama in the capital.” Rem said, turning to her sister, concerned ringing in her voice.

“Instincts.” Ram repeated, giving Subaru a discontented look, before closing her eyes and raising her arms in a shrug. “Fine, Rem may go pursue this phantom intruder with Subaru-kun, but I’m going to bed. Someone has to be fresh to make breakfast tomorrow.”

Subaru made an attempt to have Ram stay and help them, but the pink maid refused outright and left without further comment.

Heading to the front gate of the mansion with Rem after taking a long shark knife as a basic form of protection, Subaru looked on her phone. It was now just after when she last looked at the time in the previous loop, so the creature should be inside the garden in the next ten minutes!

“Subaru-kun, Rem will head go and arm herself properly. Please be careful.” Rem said with a small bow.

“Wait, Rem. I don’t want to tell you not to be prepared, but if you do see the intruder, please just fall back and alert Beatrice or Roswaal or something. You shouldn’t get yourself hurt in this.” Subaru said. The gentle maid was diligent enough to throw herself in the jaws of death to protect her mistress, but something that enemies would send in to attack the manor would certainly be too much for a maid to handle.

Rem gave Subaru a long look, then a smile appeared on her face, one wider than any Subaru saw before.

“Subaru-kun is very sweet, but she shouldn’t worry about Rem.” she said simply.

“I can’t promise I won’t.” Subaru noted with a sigh, then held up her phone. “This is the metia I was going to trade in the capital, you probably heard about it. I’ll have it make a lot of noise if I spot the enemy and run back inside the manor. I’m asking you, please head for safety if you hear it.”

If she didn’t need to make sure that the enemy is spotted, she wouldn’t have asked the twins for help at all. There was no guarantee that the enemy would try entering the mansion in the same spot. Subaru was hoping they would, but the more eyes they had in the gardens, the better the chance was that they could get an early warning.

With Rem gone, not having promised she’ll abandon the fight according to Subaru’s wishes, pressure was high. Subaru would have to find the enemy first to make sure Rem doesn’t endanger herself pointlessly before the supposed guardian of the manor, or its sorceress mistress takes things in their hands.

“Subaru? Out for another run?” came Emilia’s voice, breaking Subaru’s concentration.

Subaru had completely forgotten that Emilia would sometimes come out in the evenings too, and indeed the silver sorceress was standing there on the grass as Subaru turned a corner of the mansion, fiddling with her phone trying to think of what song on it would have the loudest bass and by extension would reach furthest as a siren. Emilia was surrounded by a large number of colourful balls, similar to what Subaru had seen a few times since getting here, and as she first saw back in the capital preceding her apology for the alley incident.

“Emilia-chan!” Subaru exclaimed in surprise. “What— Nevermind, Rem and I are going to check around the mansion, I’d like to ask you to go inside.”

“Subaru, you sound worried. Is something wrong? Can I help?” Emilia asked with a hand on her chest, as the spirits around her faded away.

“Not tonight. Please just head inside.”

Subaru already asked far too much of Emilia in the capital. While Emilia was certainly powerful with her spells, Subaru had given some thought to asking for her help a few days ago. Fact was, whoever attacked the manor clearly came to assassinate the candidates. There was no other reason to strike, so they would come prepared to fight Emilia, probably with some frost resistant enchantments or something along those lines. Granhiert had that cloak that blocked one of Puck and Emilia’s most powerful spells after all.

The last thing she wanted was to hand their target over to the enemies.

“Are you certain Subaru? I could—”

Please trust me, Emilia.” Subaru repeated. “Puck is asleep right? Just go inside, everything will be alright.”

Without further words, Subaru rushed past Emilia, who seemed to accept her orders and headed the other way. Subaru had to check the tree near the fence. Even if she wasn’t sure that’s where the enemy would strike this time, she had to make sure.

Six minutes since she stole the key in the previous loop. The tree was in sight, and Subaru slowed to a jog, searching the fence for a hole. There was none. Not yet. Perhaps if she got closer, they could see the enemy approach? If they raised the alarm before the enemy got close, that might scare the enemy off, but that chance is preferable than them getting close enough to kill Subaru again, and they may still be caught in the forest beyond the fence.

A little over seven minutes since she stole the key. Subaru’s thumb shakily hovered over the accept key on her phone’s dials, ready to unleash the wrath of Frank Klepacki on the bastard coming to hurt the two innocent candidates. She just reached the tree, still no sign of the enemy and no sign of the fence having been breached.

Nine minutes. Damn it, are they attacking elsewhere? Should Subaru make a run for it? But which way? The manor’s gardens were massive? Why couldn’t Ram just stay up and help them?!

Eleven minutes! Subaru needed to decide where to go, the enemy wasn’t coming here— But what if they were, and she just misjudged the time?

A distant rustle.

Was that them?! Subaru looked through the fence, and in the distance near the edge of the forest, she saw a dark figure pass like a shadow! She couldn’t be sure if she even saw it, the waning moon in the sky being of no help at all.

Show yourself! Or are you scared of a maid?! ” Subaru shouted, something primal overcoming her. She needed to know if—!

A sharp, familia pain shot through her body, and as every muscle in her body spasmed at once, she dropped her phone.

“No, this can’t— You can’t do this! Beatrice said—” Subaru screamed before being overcome by vomit.

The shadow in the distance appeared again for a moment then disappeared. It had to have done this, but how?! Beatrice said that this kind of thing cannot be done with a touch, but she wasn’t even close to it!

Fighting her evacuating stomach, Subaru lowered herself closer to the ground, picking up her phone and pressing accept. A moment later the march of a hundred feet began blaring at the highest volume the flip phone could muster, accompanied by the bass.

Her strength leaving her rapidly, her muscles convulsing uncontrollably, the only thought on Subaru’s mind was staying awake. With Emilia, Rem and Roswaal here, whatever magic was at play, she could surely be saved, she just has to crawl away from the fence!

Too weak to raise back on her feet fully, she stumbled towards the manor on one foot and a knee, aided by her left arm, the right clutching the knife. She held her phone in her mouth. 

With the deafening bass kicking in, her senses on fire, Subaru felt like she was on a crashing plane. Even as her left hand grasped the grass beneath, she felt as though she was falling uncontrollably, the world tumbling with her into an infinite abyss, as starting at her feet, she began losing sense in- and control over her extremities.

Glancing over her shoulder to see if the enemy approached, Subaru pushed her throat against her shoulder, triggering another rush of vomit, dropping her phone. Making an attempt to catch it with her left arm, she instead lost her balance and fell on her side, the world becoming shaky in her sight before splitting, as her eyes began to lose focus.

Some — Someone!” Subaru tried crying out, but even her voice was failing.

Rattle.

It was coming! She heard the rattling chains once more! Her ears were ringing, partly because of the loud song emitting from her phone, partly as a component of her overpowering headache.

She can’t die! This is her last turn! She just needs someone who can heal her to—

Subaru felt slender fingers pressed against her back, a blue haired figure entering her vision, coated in a faint light emanating from her hands out of Subaru’s narrow field of vision.

“Rem…” Subaru muttered weakly. She was glad to see the gentle maid, but she wasn’t feeling any better.

Rem’s voice rang in Subaru’s ears, but her words and their meaning escaped Subaru. From her lips, she thought she saw the girl called her name, but she couldn’t be sure. She tried to move, reach for her phone, but her arm only shook, impotently flopping before her.

“Enemy… Outside fence!”

Her own voice felt as if it was spoken in a different room as she mustered all her energy to try and warn the maid.

It would have been the right thing to tell Rem to go, to save herself— But Subaru couldn’t do that! She wanted the maid to save her! Take her inside the manor! Risk her live for Subaru’s! It wasn’t Subaru’s time!

Subaru felt Rem’s hand on her face, but she could barely see her now. Then, the blue splotch before her disappeared.

Rattle.

“Rem…” Subaru called out. The maid couldn’t have left her! She couldn’t have abandoned her!

Rattle.

“Rem! Rem!” Subaru cried out, belching up pieces of vomit on the way. “Rem!”

‘Please don’t leave me.’

“Rem!”

Rattle. Rattle.

‘I don’t want to die!’

Rem!

‘I want to live! I want to spend more time with all of you!’

“Rem…”

‘I want to make breakfast tomorrow.’

“Rem…”

‘I want to—’

Rattle.

Her vision blurred, her energy sapped by an unseen foe, Natsuki Subaru died as her head was crushed.

Chapter Text

Rem!” Subaru screamed the top of her lungs, shooting up straight in the soft bed, her hands reaching for her head.

Not numbed by alcohol this time, she could feel her skull cave in for an instant, her jaw dislocated and pushed forward—

In the opposite end of the luxurious room, Subaru spotted the twins, holding each other’s hands.

Subaru slid her hands from the back of her head, to her face. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be. She was out of lives. This was the fourth time she died! She couldn’t be here, not again.

“Nee-sama, did they—” Rem began, but stopped, startled by Subaru suddenly tossing her blanket aside.

Without a word, Subaru got up, her body shaking. Was it fear? Relief to be alive? Rage at that creature? The unfading memory of the pain still echoing in her being? The pain, the actual pain was gone, and yet she recalled it, th sensation as though every nerve in her body was screaming, the writhing agony she couldn’t even process properly in the moment as she laid dying on the ground in what felt like seconds ago.

“Honoured guest, it would be best to—” is as far as Ram got, before she was rendered silent.

Subaru had walked to the twins and embraced them, one arm around each girl’s shoulder. She couldn’t look at them, so stuck her head in the middle and looked down. She had to know that they were there. To feel the warmth of their skin, their hair brushing against her head, their own uneasy tremble— She had to make sure this was still real, and not a cruel, dying dream.

The twins were stunned for only a few moments, then raised their hands and firmly pushed Subaru back. She didn’t mind, couldn’t mind. She had enough time to tell they were there. She didn’t know how they could be, how she could be, but— She—

“I’m glad you two are safe.” Subaru muttered, her mind still a fog. That probably didn’t make any senses, but who cared?

“What is Natsuki-sama talking about?” Rem asked with a tense tone. True enough, even in the previous loop where she was close with the twins, she never embraced them like this. Rem cutting her hair was about as intimate as Subaru ever got with either of them, which was fine. Now, she just—

The twins held Subaru’s arms, Rem more tightly than her sister, both showing a deep confusion which likely was reasonable. Their eyes were begging for answers, but there were none Subaru could give.

“I— I need to think.” Subaru announced quietly, pulling her arms from the grasp of the twins.

“Honoured guest—”

Subaru didn’t listen. She couldn’t listen. She had now spent ten days getting to know these two, while remaining a total stranger to them. How could she talk to them?

Pushing past the maids, Subaru walked to the door with hurried steps. She heard Ram tell her sister to alert Emilia, but the half-elf couldn’t help now either. There was only one person who might have been of any help. Subaru was too afraid to linger with them before, but she had no choice. She had run out of excuses.

She wasn’t knocked out by alcohol poisoning in the first loop. It had to be an attack, it had to be! She was told it could not be, that such a thing can’t be done without touch, and yet—

“Betty didn’t expect the girl to be back for a repeat this soon, I suppose.” came the bored voice.

Subaru closed the library’s door behind herself. She no longer questioned how she could guess the right door, she was just content getting to it before Ram’s footsteps caught up with her, locking the maid out.

“Beatrice.” Subaru said simply, clenching her fists. She couldn’t bear to look at the drill haired little girl, still sitting there in her chair, reading as always, clueless of the danger encroaching on them within the week.

“I do not know how the girl keeps getting in here, but unless she has something important to say�—” Beatrice stopped as finally Subaru’s legs obeyed her command and began marching towards the library’s guardian. “What is she—”

Subaru dropped to her knees before the girl, and grabbed her shoulders. She was mostly certain the girl could toss her out of the room like this too, but she was going to hold onto her as best she could.

“Let go of Betty! The girl has lost her mind in fact!” Beatrice protested, wiggling in her seat. It felt as though if she wanted, the girl could have escaped Subaru’s grasp, but she was holding back. There was no telling if this was to protect herself, Subaru, or just the chair beneath her.

“Beatrice, you have to tell me, what can do what you did to me the first time I came here!” Subaru shouted, finally looking in the girl’s face.

“Betty doesn’t know what the crazy girl is thinking, but she won’t answer any questions like this, in fact!”

“You must tell me!” Subaru pleaded, but it was no use.

In the next moment, Beatrice flicked her wrist towards Subaru’s stomach. Subaru found herself blown back, feeling as if a lifetime boxing champion just punched her gut with everything they had. She slid across the smooth wooden floor towards the door, but their body stopped there, the door remaining closed.

“The absolute gall!” Beatrice pouted. “Could have torn Betty’s book, in fact.”

Weakly looking up, Subaru was expecting a second blow any second, shooting her out of the library, but instead she just saw Betty stand up from her chair, carefully place her tome on the table besides her and then brush her clothes off a good seven yards away.

“What could have the girl in such terror, I wonder?” Beatrice asked in her bizarre way.

Aside from the blow to her stomach, Subaru didn’t feel drained, so the girl didn’t repeat whatever it was they did what was ten days ago for Subaru, but only a couple of hours ago for drill loli. Holding her stomach, distant scenes of seeing her guts spill out flashing before Subaru’s eyes, she began to climb back on her feet.

“Ple—” Subaru heaved, words proving difficult. “Beatri— Who can do that?”

Beatrice looked at Subaru with furrowed brows. If Subaru had to guess, the girl was probably thinking about whether to toss them out or not.

“There is no good reason Betty can think of to answer such a rude girl’s questions, I suppose.” Beatrice declared with a huff, then turned and picked up her book, beginning to walk to one of the shelves.

“I need to know, please.” Subaru pleaded.

“The girl needs to leave, is what she needs in fact! Why would Betty help pursue her mad delusions, I wonder?” Beatrice said coldly, sliding the book into the shelf then reaching for another.

Because I’m afraid!” Subaru shouted, smashing her fist against the floor. Why can’t the stupid spirit just play along for once and give her a full answer?! “I need help, and I don’t know who to ask! The twins wouldn’t know, Emilia and Puck might, but I can’t talk to them! I can’t! They wouldn’t understand.”

Beatrice took her next book off the shelf, but then just stood there in silence.

“Betty doesn’t understand either, in fact.” she said finally, though not moving from the spot.

The real reason Subaru couldn’t talk to anyone else was of course that with all the time they spent together gone— It was simply impossible to think. How would she start a conversation? How would she ask them for help? They’d think she was mad. Perhaps she was mad, she should have been dead by now, so why was she still here?! At least when it came to Beatrice, she didn’t feel as if she was ruining a friendship that never existed.

“Please, you’re the only one I can ask.” she asked with resignation.

Beatrice took a deep breath, sounding almost compassionate for a moment before she huffed annoyedly, her nazly tone returning quickly.

“When the girl last came here, Betty simply removed the mana from her body. Not a lot of practitioners of magic can do it. Not even Roswaal in fact.”

“But you said it could only be done through touch, right?” Subaru asked, taking a few shaky steps towards Beatrice.

“Betty has said no such things! The girl is imagining strange things, I suppose!” Beatrice noted shaking her head, walking back to her chair and sitting down, the new book in her lap. “Although in this instance through some miracle of clarity, the girl is right, I suppose. There is no magical technique to remove a person’s mana without some physical contact.”

Subaru shook her head. Beatrice said the same thing again, but it was clearly wrong! It had to be, Subaru’s energy was sapped away the same as before, but neither time did she come in contact with the hulking figure, or anyone else before it happened. Could it have been something other than magic?

“Wait, you said there is no magical technique to do it!” Subaru felt she was onto something. “Is there something else? Or some way to bypass the touch requirement? There has to be something!”

“If it wasn’t an utter waste of her time to try and guess at the machinations of a clouded mind, Betty would be curious why the girl is so adamant on this, I suppose.” Beatrice sighed, glancing away from the still close book in front of her, and at Subaru’s shaking body. “Well, aside from some poisons, there really isn’t much that could be said, in fact.”

The word “poison” rang in Subaru’s ear for a moment. It’s been a long time since Beatrice sucked out her mana, and since then between her two deaths and her embarrassing attempt to cast a spell, Subaru’s memories were mixed on exactly what the sensation at her death felt like. It was at the very least similar to losing her mana with the spell casting, that was her nearest matching memory— But then she had next to no experience with magic, or poisons to that matter. If it wasn’t for the fact that this mysterious attack never entered the mansion before, she’d think it must have been a poison given Beatrice’s insistence that it can’t be magic.

“Wait, I think I remember something, something you said briefly.” Subaru noted, an image flashing before her eyes. She clapped her palm against her forehead, commanding herself to think and remember.

“Everything Betty said to the girl, she did recently. Why then is she acting this way, I wonder?”

“You said a word! When you were talking about how no matter how talented someone was, they couldn’t suck out a person’s mana without touching them! It looked like you thought of a way around it! It was one syllable. A spell maybe?” Subaru muttered, stepping next to Beatrice, and using her table to balance herself, still a bit weak in the legs from the blow to her stomach.

“Betty hasn’t used the words ‘no matter how talented’, in fact. But no matter how many times the girl repeats, it remains true that there is no way to avoid touching the target.” Beatrice huffed with greater annoyance than before, intently putting her hands on her book and opening it. “Running around in circles like this is pointless and tiring, and Betty has no further interest in it, I suppo—”

Beatrice’s head suddenly raised, and she sniffed the air, before turning to Subaru with disgust, holding her nose.

“What a horrible stench, in fact.”

Subaru instinctively raised an arm to sniff herself, but she couldn’t smell anything, except a sweet scent that reminded her of candy stores. She smelled it before, when coming into the library, and during lunches with Beatrice, she just never really gave it much thought. Wait, why did she even care? There were most important things at stake here than hygiene!

“I’ll go bathe later, I just woke up. Please just stay on topic.”

Beatrice gave Subaru a look then let go of her nose, turning her attention to her book.

“Betty has spent far more time answering the girl’s questions than she was obliged to already, I suppose. Does she have some other pointless questions to ponder, I wonder? There are only so many way for Betty to reiterate that clear physical contact is necess—”

Beatrice paused, showing a face mixed with surprise and shock, with a hint of something Subaru couldn’t place but saw on the girl only once before.

“Did you think of an exception?!” Subaru asked, desperation ringing in her voice. She needed a clue, anything that would explain what happened and why!

The small girl sniffed in the air again, and a stern look appeared on her face.

“No, the girl shows no malice.” Beatrice muttered to herself, perhaps not even realizing she was talking. “But how else?”

“Please, If you thought of something—” Subaru began, but suddenly her body was blown against the bookcase next to her with enough force to make it nearly fall over, and half the books to fall out of their place as the bookcase swung back to a standing position along with Subaru.

What does the girl know of the witch cult?!” Beatrice asked loudly standing up in one motion, her book falling beside her. Beatrice’s voice was as high and chirping as ever, but everything from her stance, eyes and tone turning dark.

“Wha—?!”

“No questions, in fact! Answer Betty!” the girl commanded, one arm outstretched towards Subaru, who barely managed to stay on her feet, holding onto one of the now empty shelves behind her for support.

“Nothing! I just know they worship the witch or something!” Subaru said, gasping for air.

Beatrice’s face was twitching, party by anger, but it looked as though confusion was mixed in as well.

“It is Betty’s duty to protect the mansion, and she— She— Why can’t Betty sense any malice, I wonder?” Beatrice added the last part as more of a mutter to herself, looking away from Subaru for a moment before snapping her attention back to the helpless girl. “Where did the girl get the idea for this line of questions?! Answer Betty!

The time for lies was over, Subaru had to be as honest as she could afford to be.

“I was attacked by someone, who could drain my energy the same way you did, alright?! I need to know how they did it!” Subaru shouted, clutching for a large tome or something on the shelf to use as a shield, but couldn’t reach any.

Beatrice’s face flinched again, harsher than before, and she lowered her arm, backing away slightly before beginning to ponder, muttering under her breath.

“...doesn’t know…the half-elf...no memory…” These snippets were all that Subaru could make out as the drill haired blonde girl before her mumbled in thought.

Subaru didn’t waste this opportunity to step to the side and grab a thick brown book from the shelf, and place it between herself and the spirit, earning Beatrice’s frown when she finally looked up at Subaru a few seconds later.

“The only defence that could offer the girl from Betty, is that she’d have to avoid getting blood on it, I suppose.” Beatrice said coldly. “Put the book down, Betty decided against erasing the girl, in fact.”

With that, Beatrice bent down, and began picking up the fallen books, almost ignoring Subaru’s presence, leaving her clueless as to what just transpired.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you won’t toss me out again or worse—” Subaru began.

“Toss out again?” Beatrice mumbled quietly.

“But what was that about? Why would you attack—?”

“That is none of the girl’s business, I suppose.” Beatrice huffed simply.

“It feels a lot like it’s my business!” Subaru declared, physically stomping her foot on the ground. “Tell me what that was!”

Beatrice raised an arm towards Subaru again, causing her to flinch, but seemed to change her mind at the last moment.

“Help Betty pick up the books.” the girl said simply.

Subaru wanted to protest again, demanding an answer this instant, but just as she was about to speak up, the little girl who continued to look like she just fell out of an old princess cartoon shot Subaru a look that made her feel that if Beatrice so pleased, they could end Subaru’s life in an instant. Sensing little choice in the matter, Subaru placed the book she had in her hands back on the shelf and crouched, beginning to pick up the rest of the fallen books.

After placing a couple of books back on the shelf, Beatrice spoke up while carrying a small tower of books in her hands to the case.

“There are people in the witch cult that can do things that seem go against most rules of magic, in fact.” she said, awkwardly taking off the top book in her tower and sliding it onto the shelf. “One such ability can reach out and grab onto targets without being seen. It might appear to be cheating the rule on touch, perhaps. An encounter with such a terrible thing would leave most dead, but there could be exceptions, I suppose.”

Subaru paused, holding three books with one arm. This had to be it! There was nothing else that would fit! She was touched, she simply couldn’t see or feel it, because it was a magic ability!

“What kind of mabeast can do this?” Subaru asked quickly. “Could there be one nearby?”

“Not mabeast.” Beatrice shook her head. There was no telling why, but the girl’s tone was melowing more and more from anger and annoyance towards melancholy. “Whenever or wherever the girl may have encountered this, if indeed it isn’t just madness, it doesn’t matter, I suppose. Not even the witch cult would dare attack this mansion once Roswaal returns later today, perhaps.”

Subaru quietly placed the books back on the shelf. She was quite upset over having been hit hard by the girl twice now, though tried to push it down. In spite of their looks, even Subaru could tell by now that if Beatrice wanted to hurt her, there would be nothing that could stop them, especially not in their library with just the two of them.

To think that she has been here ten days, died twice and still could feel this clueless about how everything worked, it was incredibly annoying. No one seemed like they wanted to talk about the truly important things. Rem had to be practically ordered by Roswaal to explain the history of the Witch in her mistress’ place, Emilia and Puck barely said a word about her, aside from Emilia’s vague resemblance, and now Beatrice spoke in borderline riddles, trying to avoid the topic.

She wished she could just slap everyone across the face and demand that they explain everything— But she had no such luck, that she could be afforded such luxury, without abandoning the hope that she can have a happy life here and rebuild her friendship with everyone, for the third time now.

While quietly packing the books back on the shelf, Subaru thought. Perhaps she was still here, yet again, because when the checkpoint changed from the city to the bed, her extra lives were replenished? Was it like starting a new game? Did she go from Super Mario Brothers to Super Mario Brothers 2 with a fresh set of extra lives? If so, that wasn’t very reassuring. She already died twice since getting to the mansion. That’s the same amount of times she died in the capital, so while she was hoping that she might have 3 extra lives per checkpoint, there was no guarantee whatsoever that if she died again, then she’d come back.

But, if she did die again, and she did have one last life left afterwards, she couldn’t afford to waste this one without preparing for that, so she had to examine every possibility, of which now she had a mere two presented to her.

First, and most likely, whoever attacked, that thing she thought of as a creature before, might have been a person, perhaps some sort of bear or gorilla hybrid, similar to the cat, dog, pig and lizard people she saw in the capital. They might be with the witch cult, capable of using whatever ability it was that Beatrice was hinting at. If that is the case, Subaru stood no chance. She was basically useless in a fight against this thing given their long reach that Subaru couldn’t even perceive apparently. Her only option would be to steer far away from the enemy, finding some alternate way to alert the mansion to their arrival.

Second, less likely, Subaru might have been poisoned. She ate and drank the same things everyone else at the mansion did, so— The village! On the last day, Rem went to pick up groceries! Subaru wasn’t paying too much attention to what she ate aside from enjoying how delicious it was! Could it have been that the enemy who was spotted near the village the day before poisoned the food there, hoping that the maids would unknowingly use the poisoned food and kill Roswaal? From what Beatrice said, their biggest threat in the mansion was Roswaal, and Subaru hadn’t seen her appear either night! Perhaps Subaru just got unlucky both times, eating some of the poisoned food, a victim of collateral!

The first scenario needed her to find a way to alter the mansion without encountering the enemy face to face. For the second, she’d need to prepare herself and figure out what poison it might have been, as well as stop the twins from using the groceries obtained in the village.

Subaru took a deep breath, and exhaled longly. At long last, she felt as though she had a plan forming in her head.

“Now that the girl’s shaking subsided, Betty will finish this up, I suppose.” Beatrice noted quietly, causing Subaru to look at her own hands and realize that for the first time since coming here, they were still.

“I—” Words were escaping her. “Thank you, Beatrice. I could have done without getting tossed around, but you helped me, a lot.”

“The girl keeps speaking nonsense, it seems. She should go and leave Betty be already, in fact.” Beatrice noted meekly, holding a lightly coloured book in her hand longingly.

She could tell that staying in the library any more would have been pushing it, so Subaru placed the rest of the book in her arm onto the shelf and circled around the blonde girl.

On her way to the door, Subaru took another breath. Last time, she was filled with confidence, certain that she’s going to get the happy ending that loop. That prideful conviction was now gone from her mind. She was still going to do her most to divert the tragedy headed for the mansion in whatever fashion she could muster, but not because having foreseen it granted her assured victory. She was going to do it, because there was no other choice.

Subaru clenched her fist, stopping before the door.

Whoever this vile enemy was, whatever reason they had to hunt the candidates in this manor— Even if Subaru was too weak to fight them head on, she had to subvert their plan and rally the mansion. She couldn’t allow Emilia, Felt, Ram and Rem to be hurt. Not even Beatrice. More than that, she couldn’t allow the person that dared crush her happiness so carelessly go on and win.

Gritting her teeth, Subaru grabbed the handle of the door and opened it.

By whatever means at her disposal, she was going to destroy that unseen monster’s hope for victory, as they trampled on her own.

Chapter Text

“Subaruuuuu-chan?” called Roswaal melodious, from the end of the table, snapping Subaru out of her thoughts pondering just how she will deal with the coming attack.

“Hm? Oh right, my wish.” Subaru trailed, staring at what was probably only the third or fourth spoonful of soup she lifted, with everyone else but Felt mostly done with theirs. Right. Right. She had an idea about her wish earlier. What was it again?

“The sooner you ask your stupid wish, the sooner I can leave, so get on with it!” Felt complained next to her.

‘Oh, of course.’ Subaru thought.

“I’d like a moment to think about it.” Subaru replied, turning to Roswaal, though her mind was already made up. “Felt may as well ask for something first.”

“That is fiiiine.” Roswaal nodded, gesturing with one hand towards the young candidate.

Felt huffed, crossing her arms before speaking up. “Fine, then since I know you won’t let me go, I want a job here at the mansion. Unlike those around this table, the people where I come from don’t believe in free meals. If you’re going to force me to eat your food, then I want to work for it so I can stomach it.”

This was the wish Subaru expected, though she was not sure if Felt actually believed what she said, or only said it so she can get close to the staff and slip out, like she essentially tried the first time around.

“Maaaaarvelous. Ram and Rem have been quite overworked, Felt-sama will be most welcome to jooooin my staff. Very diligent indeeeed~!” Roswaal nodded approvingly before turning to Ram by her side. “Make sure that the young lady has plenty to occuuuupy her, but nothing tooo exhausting, or dangerous. And of course, no tasks close to the fence of the maaaaansion.” Roswaal commanded.

Once again, Felt just hissed under her breath, further tilting things once more towards choosing the wish as an avenue to escape.

“Has Subaruuuu-chan made up her mind about what they wanted to wish foooor~?” Roswaal asked turning back to her other guest.

Subaru allowed herself a little victorious smile, putting down her spoon, then leaning back, her arms stretched to the edge of the table.

“Well, at first I was going to ask to have Beatrice help me learn more about the world, since I’m so clueless.” Subaru lied. “But I find Felt’s words commendable, and I hadn’t really thought about how hard it must be for only two people to keep this mansion running, so I’d like to join them on the staff as well!”

Two times. Two times Felt dodged working with Subaru, well not again! She knew she shouldn’t, but she turned and gave the young candidate the smile of an apex predator who just drove their prey into a corner.

“What’s with that look?!” Felt asked, leaning away from Subaru. “Why are you copying my wish?”

“Like I said, your words mooooved me.” Subaru said, unintentionally mimicking Roswaal’s melodic voice for a moment.

“It is wooooonderful to see that our dear guests are both of such diligent heeeaaaarts~!” Roswaal declared, holding her arms wide. “Ram, please adjust the work schedule to include tasks for both of theeem! With doubled the staff, certaaaaaiiiinly work will become easier.

“Betty for one is glad she won’t have to put up another fool, in fact.” Beatriced noted, showing for the first time that she was paying attention while playing with Puck.

“As a maaaatter of fact, I must also commend our guest’s desire to better herself through the puuuuursuit of knowledge!” Roswaal added, squinting at Beatrice with her smile turning slightly cruel. “As such, in any matter that does not pertain to the most forbidden seeeecrets, at Beatrice’s discretion, I shall allow Subaru-chan to seek wisdom in the liiiiibrary.”

“What?!” Beatrice asked, dropping her spoon, to Puck’s great annoyance as he was lapping soup from it. “Will you invite the village children like that brat Muraosa in next, I wonder?”

“Aaaaaare you disagreeing with my comaaaaands?” Roswaal asked, her voice raising noticeably.

Beatrice just huffed, turned back to her bowl and picked her spoon back up.

“Fine, Betty will entertain the children, I suppose.”

 

                                           

 

“I’m telling you, I was simply inspired.” Subaru repeated for the third time, as after lunch Rem and Ram led her and Felt to the servants’ wardrobe.

The initial shock of returning once more having worn off, a strange calm came over Subaru. The worst was over for now, what she had to worry about most was four days from now. Regardless if it was poison or that strange ability, the attack could only really come then, giving her time to think, prepare and in between enjoy the little things, like having entrapped Felt. Man that felt great!

One way or another, she wanted to restore her relationships with everyone, including Felt. What she did at the end of the first loop here at the manor was terrible, but the girl did it to escape. She could also have left Subaru behind, but dragged her along, probably so Subaru won’t get into trouble later. She knew she’d have a way to get back to that Felt, and maybe after, to the Felt from her very first day. She just needed time with her.

“First thing on the agenda!” Subaru announced, as they approached the wardrobe, walking to its door and heading in infront of everyone. “Uniforms!”

The first relationship she had a chance to score some points with, was the one with Rem. She was much warmer with Subaru the second loop where they worked together, so that was a good start. Later, she should find a way to clear the air with Rem about her obvious hangups regarding what happened with Emilia and Subaru in that alley. For now, the best gift she could give the blue maid is a little less work, and so by the time the twins and Felt caught up with her, Subaru was already pulling off one of the old maid outfits from its place.

“Felt-chama!” she called with a big smile. “How would you like to wear one of these?”

“I said I wanted to work, not that I wanted to dress up.” Felt protested. “And what’s with the chama?”

Subaru closed her eyes and pointed upwards with an index finger in a very declarative way, a coy smile on her face.

“It’s a combination of -chan and -sama! I’d be remiss not to call my lady sama, and yet Felt so cute I want to say chan!” she explained “However, surely Felt-chama wouldn’t want to upset Rem-rin and Ram-chi by refusing to dress for as they do.” she added, gesturing to the twins standing near the wardrobe’s door.

Rem’s head was hanging slightly. Her sister gave her a glance before nodding and announcing in a measured tone: “Perhaps Barusu is acting a little too informal for the role she’s meant to fill.”

“Nonsense!” Subaru smiled.

Getting to work with Felt was her one silver lining to this damnable loop so far. She wasn’t going to let her one gust of happiness be waved away!

“Sure I wanted to help, but more than that, I want us all to work together as friends!”

“Barusu is definitely asking for a lot on her first day.” Ram noted in her cold, professional tone.

“I’m sure Ram will come to change her mind!” Subaru insisted, turning to Felt. “As for Felt-chama, I make you a deal!”

With this, Subaru reached back among the maid suits, and picked out a smaller one, probably one of Rem or Ram’s. Should be easier to fit to Felt’s size.

“If you promise to have this refit and wear it, then I’ll wear this one that belonged to a retired maid.” she said, holding up the smaller uniform and then the larger one in turn.

“What kind of deal is that? You’re not losing anything.” Felt asked, followed by a sharp, annoyed hiss. “Something is seriously wrong with the way you think, lady.”

“Ow, but also I am losing something! It’s not like I don’t prefer pants, but you yourself said you want to only get what you work for! Well think how much work you’d save for Rem-rin if you let her refit you something already close to your size! Surely you don’t plan on doing the dishes and yard work and all those other things with only one change of clothes!” Subaru noted, gesturing at Felt’s shabby street clothes that she so far refused to change out of in this loop, and which she kept in the previous one as well.

Felt furrowed her brows, giving Subaru a long thoughtful look, then glancing at the two sisters before turning her attention around the room.

“I’m sure you’d find it easier to warm up to everyone!” Subaru teased, hoping to entice the girl by the promise of swaying the servants to her side, so she may more easily attempt an escape in the future. Not that that would work on Rem and Ram, but hey, the important thing was that Felt should think it might.

Instead of answering, Felt stepped over to the sisters, and tugged on Rem’s arm. Whispering something inaudible to the blue maid, to which the only response was a simple nod, Felt turned her attention back to Subaru.

“Fine, you win.”

“Fantastic!” Subaru announced happily, then looking at the twins. “By the looks of this, it should be just about my size, maybe tighten it a bit in the chest area.”

The twins exchanged a look that seemed a bit odd for Subaru, but only briefly, before Rem stepped forth to ask for Felt and Subaru’s measurements.

She was off to a good start. If only Subaru can find a good way to deal with that damnable enemy, everything will be fine!

 

                                           

 

Much of Subaru’s first day of work was spent lost in thought, trying to think of ways to deal with the looming threat. She played out over a dozen conversations in her head, trying to figure out a way to let people know of the enemy’s coming, but no matter how she twisted things around in her head, she always came to the conclusion that without directly demonstrating the enemy’s existence, the best she can hope for is to raise the alarm on the night of the attack, unless she reveals the fact that she already lived these five days twice before. Only, what would people’s reaction be to that? Even if they believed her, it would be odd. How would she react if someone told her the same thing? Would she accept them? Feel gratitude for the warning, and the suffering that person had to go through to bring it to them? Subaru wished she could answer ‘Yes’, but in her heart she knew that if she hadn’t experienced all of this first hand, she’d likely treat it with suspicion, even if she believed it happened. Could she open her heart to someone who claims she already opened it to them twice? Would any relationship they could have then feel genuine, never being able to know who they are to that person, who knew them longer than the other way around?

When it came to Subaru’s relationship with the people of the mansion, she had no such complexities. She mourned the loss of memories she shared with them, but the warmth of them was still within her. She still saw their truest selves. For her, these relationships, even the ones, they held meaning. They had to. But being on the other side, being the one in the dark? No, that would be too cruel.

Unlike the last loop, where her introduction to daily tasks was as grueling as it was slow, Subaru now had not only four and a half days of practice, but a helping pair of hands to lessen the load in Felt. Not having been there when Felt was being trained in the first loop, she didn’t know what to expect, but it gave her relief to see Felt showed a great deal of incompetence with some tasks as well. The girl had basically no idea how to fold laundry or make beds, both in which Subaru jumped at the opportunity to help.

She couldn’t stop blushing to herself with pride when the twins exchanged another one of their looks, after Subaru taught Felt the proper way to fold clothes while checking for faults in the fabric, as she learned from them before. While in the previous loop she was quite useless, in this one she was adamant about not only avoiding being a burden, but showing her worth. Displaying her knowledge on how to properly perform their tasks could only increase her value in the maids’ eyes!

What’s more, with four handling the tasks instead of three, Subaru was pleased to find the measly half hour break of her previous loop’s first day was increased to a full hour! At this rate, if the other days’ break times are increased too, she’d have all the time she could want to visit the library and research poisons and witch cult abilities! As a matter of fact, she might even have time to indulge herself a little!

On that thought, when their break finally began, and Ram led Felt off to her room, Subaru hurried up to the top floor and into the attic, finding the lyulyre quite quickly. Since she didn’t want a repeat of last loop’s annoyance about how she didn’t ask permission, she headed straight for Roswaal’s office where the mistress spent most of her time.

“Come in, Subaru-chaaan~!” Roswaal called as Subaru knocked.

“You could tell it was me just from the knock?” Subaru asked, stepping inside. She bent around a bit, trying to look for some sort of magic seer stone or whatever this world might have in place of security cameras.

Roswaal was sitting in a plush chair behind a desk across the well decorated room.

“Why of cooouuurse! Rem and Ram have been working for many years now, I would recognize their knocks eaaaasily. Emilia-sama always knocks very geeeently, where one might not even realiiiize they knocked at all, and the sound of your knock simply came from toooo high up for it to be Felt-sama.”

“When you say that, you sound like some sort of Sherlock Holmes!” Subaru noted. “Or, I guess Agatha Christie— Wait no, that was the author” Most everything Subaru knew about detective fiction came to her through osmosis.

“I’m quite certain I don’t knoooooow either of those people.” Roswaal noted, leaning forward and crossing her fingers, elbows planted on the desk. She smiled at Subaru with interest. “What maaaay I do for my dear young guest?”

“Oh, it’s not a lot, just wanted to ask permission to use this instrument I found, only when I have no chores, of course.” Subaru explained, holding up the lyulyre.

“Aaah, quite a fiiiind.” Roswaal noted, standing up and walking over to Subaru. Rarely did Subaru encounter women who were on eye level with her, let alone taller than her like Roswaal was, so it still gave her a bit of pause as the clownishly dressed mistress of the mansion walked to her and reached out an expectant hand for the lyulyre.

“Uh, here you go?” Subaru said with uncertainty, handing the instrument over.

Roswaal twisted it in her hand for a few seconds thoughtfully, before turning it to how it’s meant to be held for play.

“I didn’t realize you played.” Subaru admitted. This hadn’t come up in the previous loop. There Roswaal just gave a smile and approved with a disinterested wave of her hand.

“As a matter of fact, Iiiii do not.” Roswaal noted, putting a few fingers on the strings on the neck, and strumming the chords with her other hand. It didn’t make a particularly appealing sound. She tried again, with about the same results. “One of my preeedecessors was an avid player. I’m afraaaaid these hands were not made for muuusic.” Roswaal noted with a smile, handing the lyulyre back.

“So, may I use it then?” Subaru asked.

“Of course, Subaruuuu-chan!” Roswaal said, holding her hands out to the side, with a pleased smile. “I’ll be happy to hear a bit of music return to these haaaalls.”

“Thanks a lot, Roswaal!” Subaru said, turning to leave, before she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Before Subaru-chan leaves, may I aaaaask what knowledge she seeks in the liiibrary?” Rosaal asked, gently pulling on Subaru’s shoulder to turn her around.

Looking at the clownishly dressed noble, there was something in the way Roswaal looked at her that made Subaru feel like the clown could see right through her. Being a famed wizard, could it be they had some sort of lie detection spell? While it might just have been because they were spirits, Puck and Beatrice could see what they called the “surface of people’s thoughts”. It was best to be as truthful as she could.

“Well, I’ve had some bad experiences with poisons in the past, and I was hoping to learn more about avoiding them, or creating antidotes, that sort of thing.” Subaru explained awkwardly, finding it hard to maintain eye contact with the noblewoman.

Roswaal’s smile disappeared, replaced with one seemingly a mix of concern and disappointment.

“Is Subaru-chan quite ceeertain it was poison? Some magical abilities can oooften appear similar to poisons.” Roswaal noted.

Subaru was well aware of this, after all she was currently in a toss up about the cause of her collapses between poison and some invisible power touching her without her knowledge.

“Well, I do have one other lead I was planning to investigate, which is in fact magical in nature.” Subaru explained, trying to remain vague. Everyone else in the manor always got weird about the witch cult, it was best not to mention their name before the mistress of the mansion.

“Ah, examining multiple ooooptions. It is good to hear that my neeewest servant is one to go the extra miiile.” Roswaal nodded approvingly, the smile returning to her face for a moment, before she looked serious again. “Poisons are rather rare, and the oooones that are in use are very difficult to identify or indeed make an antidoooote for. Investigation into them would liiiikely be a wasted effort.”

“My prime suspect was magic actually, I just don’t have much to say on that idea yet.” Subaru nodded.

“Weeeell, good luck with the stuuudy. If Beatrice were to fail to be cooperatiiive, do not hesitate to infooorm me.” Roswaal said with a smile, gesturing towards the door.

 

                                           

 

Naturally, Rem and Ram both made a comment each on Subaru’s latest acquisition of the lyulyre, but Subaru could instantly shoot down their concerns, given that she had already asked Roswaal’s permission to keep it.

With dinner preparation beginning in earnest, it was Subaru’s turn to be shown up by Felt, who unsurprisingly was quite adept handling a knife. For a moment at the start, when first handed a knife, Felt paused and looked at it. Subaru was mildly concerned that the girl might try to make a run for it with the new weapon, but while she probably did think about it, in the end Felt was too good natured to attack the people who were sheltering her, even if it wasn’t her choice to be here.

Dinner once more passed without much ado, except the detail that Emilia and Roswaal were the only ones dining at the table. The mansion’s now four servants standing by. This seemed to be a rather awkward state of affairs for Emilia, who asked twice if anyone wants to join them at the table fruitlessly. Subaru felt a bit bad not accepting her offer, since Emilia clearly would have preferred to share her meal with everyone, but it was either pleasing Emilia, or pleasing Ram and Rem as well as possibly Felt and Roswaal. Beatrice wasn’t present since Puck had already gone to sleep and she wouldn’t have had anyone to play with.

The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one. ’ echoed in her.

Intending first to retire to her room and practice a spell with her lyulyre, Subaru was stopped by Ram after they had cleaned the dishes.

“I couldn’t help, but notice that Barusu took her time reading some of the schedule.”

“Ah, yeah, actually, I only started learning how to read and write recently. Only studied for about ten days in fact.” Subaru said awkwardly, rubbing her head, before putting on a sly smile. “But I did have an excellent teacher.”

“Anyone who failed her student so that even after a third of a month, they remain this incomopetent at reading in spite of fundamental knowledge of the spoken word, is a greater embarrassment to teachers everywhere than Barusu is to custodianship.” Ram said, berating the unknown teacher.

Subaru snorted with laughter. It wasn’t what she was going for with the compliment, but she’ll take it.

“I take it Barusu had no high thoughts of this teacher?” Ram tempted.

A big coy smile spread on Subaru’s face against her best efforts, as she prepared to insult Ram to her face without her ever being able to tell— But then she remembered that those ten days are now all she really had of the pink maid.

“No, actually, they were a bit harsh, but hey were— They are good people, that I hope to call a friend some day.” Subaru said, straightening herself out, both mentally and physically, banishing the stupd expression.

“That’s oddly respectable.” Ram noted. “Too bad that as it comes from Barusu, it has all the charm of a gemstone tossed in a pile of manure.”

Yeah, that was more like Ram.

Instructing Subaru to follow her, Ram collected Felt and lead them to Felt’s room, informing Subaru that in order for her to be properly integrated into the mansion, she’ll need to practice her reading, and so as colleagues, Felt and Subaru will be tutored by her together.

Expectably, Subaru was more pleased by this development than Felt, who continued to look to Subaru with suspicion, but by now, she learned to brush it off. She’ll have more time to earn her trust in the coming days, and after the threat is dealth with. For now, she just wanted to enjoy the girl’s company, however vain that may be.

Taking special pleasure in the fact that this time around Felt had no excuse to pick on Subaru’s no longer inferior literacy, Subaru made a few playful teases at the girl, mimicking the way Felt had treated her before. Felt was quick to complain to Ram, but it didn’t matter much. Subaru was certain that this would slowly but surely win the young girl over, after all, she was playing by Felt’s rules!

She’ll just have to keep her good streak going for four more days, and figure out some more details along the way. Starting tomorrow or the day after, the workload will lessen. Then she’ll have time for research. Until then, these moments with the others, these were the only thing that mattered.

Chapter Text

On the morning of her second day, Subaru was presented with a mixed pair of revelations.

First, in a pleasant turn of events, she found that the work schedule had already relaxed somewhat compared to the second day of the last loop. She smirked proudly while reading this in the schedule left at her bedside. Undoubtedly this change was at least in part due to her efforts and experience, as well as Felt’s additional help.

Less pleasingly, after she donned the maid outfit waiting for her by her bed too and headed to the kitchen for her first tasks in helping prepare breakfast, she discovered what the small whisper Felt and Rem yesterday was about. Instead of the cute little maid outfit that Subaru picked out for her, Felt was fidgeting around in a butler suit, same as the last loop. Apparently she asked the blue maid to go along with her little lie, but never intended to cosplay with Subaru.

“You’re breaking your big sister’s heart.” Subaru sighed at Felt after discovering the ruse.

“I do believe Barusu is getting quite carried away with the young candidate to the throne.” Ram noted, pushing a broom in Subaru’s hands. “Three pairs of hands is enough to prepare this morning’s meal, so go prepare the dining room.”

“Come on Ram-chi, I could help dice the—”

Instead of further comment, Ram simply rached up, grabbed both of Subaru’s shoulders then spun her around, followed by a two handed push on her back out the door.

“Okay then.” Subaru noted before blowing some air. She expected to spend more time with the twins now that they had Felt to also look after, but perhaps that was optimistic.

Heading into the main hall Subaru got ready to brush the floor as instructed. ‘After breakfast, it’ll be more fun.’ she reassured herself. During her break, she’ll do a bit of practice with the lyulyre, and maybe visit Beatrice and ask her to look up a few things. While she actually didn’t think Roswaal was going to grant both of her wishes, which came as a surprise, she was glad things turned out in a way where Beatrice was now bound to help her. While it was nice enough that Subaru was probably no longer under threat of being tossed out of the library, the room would have remained mostly useless to her even if allowed inside, since she hadn’t even begun studying hamoji, and with romoji, she would probably still—

“Damn it! I forgot about the card!” Subaru exclaimed, remembering the note with her flowers. She was confident it was in the room she first awoke in in this loop too, but she hadn’t revisited the room since. In the previous loop she recalled that Ram moved the flowers and notes somewhere after Subaru was moved to a servant’s room. While Ram hasn’t mentioned it this time, Ram might have been planning on using it as enticement to hasten Subaru’s study again. Damn that girl and her—

“Subaru!” called out the always elegant voice of Emilia from inside the dining room as Subaru turned the corner. The silver-haired elf was sitting at the table in her usual spot. Her hair on the right side of her head stuck flat against her face, which Subaru recognized from before, when her friends would lay on the side of their heads for some time.

“Emilia-chan!” she answered with surprise. “I didn’t think you’d be here.”

“I was going to go for a morning walk, but I didn’t want to wake Puck up yet, and everyone is inside, so—” Emilia explained trailing off at the end while brushing her hair with her fingers. “Am I in the way?”

“Ah don’t kid, Emilia-chan could never be in the way!” Subaru smiled. She hadn’t really spent any time with Emilia yesterday, but the half-elf was the person most consistently kind to her. “Truth is, we brushed this room twice yesterday, the twins just overdo it when planning the schedule. I wonder how the broom hasn’t scratched the floor to hell by now.”

“Well, if Subaru needs me to stand up or move somewhere, I would be glad to.” Emilia noted, stretching her legs.

Subaru appreciated Emilia’s position as a candidate, and the work she obviously put into preparing herself, with her dutiful studies each day. Yet no matter when she saw the girl, there was just something about Emilia when in a natural environment that made Subaru feel like she was looking at nothing but an awkward teenager. With the tension of the incident in the capital, that serious, nearly regal act she had put on towards the alley thugs, Reinhard and Subaru herself for a while had long since disappeared, leaving behind only the girl crouched near the market, speaking gently to a lost child while healing their bruise. If it wasn’t for the fact that Subaru’s working theory was that one of them was sending an assassin after Emilia and Felt, Subaru would have honestly hoped that Emilia’s candidacy is revoked, so the simple girl sitting at the table before her can just continue being herself.

“How have you found working in the manor, Subaru?” Emilia asked as Subaru broomed around to collect the nearly non-existent dust.

“I’ve never actually done work like this before coming here.” Subaru admitted, stopping her brooming and resting her hands and chin atop the broomstick. “I’d probably don’t like it doing most places, but Ram and Rem are both nice, once you get to know them a little. I just wish I was better with people.” Subaru mused.

Emilia hummed to herself through her smile for a moment, turning her head to the table before her. “I don’t think Subaru is bad with people. Even after just one day, you seem to have mad fast friends with everyone.”

“I wouldn’t say that, Emilia-chan.” Subaru said with a small awkward laugh. “I don’t think Rem and Ram like me very much yet, and Felt still thinks I’m a weirdo for what happened in the capital.”

“Why would she think that?” Emilia looked up puzzled, with her big amethyst eyes.

Telling her the truth of how Felt keeps questioning Subaru’s motivation would only make Emilia question them too, and Subaru was fine with only one of them treating her with suspicion.

“I’m not sure, I’ll ask her sometime.”

Silence fell on the room, so not wanting to later be berated by Ram for wasting time, Subaru continued her brooming, circling around the table, with Emilia continuing to just sit there.

About two minutes in, Emilia spoke up again.

“Would you like it if I helped?”

“Does Emilia want to become a maid too?” Subaru joked, but looking at her, it felt as if Emilia was actually considering the offer for a moment.

“No.” Emilia finally said, shaking her head. “Part of me would like to. I imagine it must be fun working together with everyone, but I simply have too much I still need to learn.”

“I get that you want to learn the noble houses, and heraldry and whatnot, but Roswaal doesn’t have Felt study all day. She allowed her to do what she wanted, only making Felt take reading lessons in the evening. Surely you could have some fun too!” Subaru said encouragingly. In both loops so far, Emilia spent almost all of her time studying, only out and about for a couple of hours a day.

Emilia hummed again, shaking her head with a sad expression. “My candidacy is very important. The most important thing in my life, I must be prepared. I must show everyone that I am ready for the responsibility.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, you’re still only really competing with three other people then in that regard.” Subaru noted, gesturing with her broom in the kitchen’s direction. “I can’t see Felt getting a lot of votes, or however this works.”

“That is a mean thing to say, Subaur.” Emilia’s frowned. “Felt had no time to adjust to her new position, and she comes from a very unfortunate background especially for what is now expected of her.”

“Hold on! I actually like Felt a lot! It’s just she’s not really, you know— She’s not anyone’s first pick for a throne.”

“And someone like me is?” Emilia asked, placing a hand on her chest. “A silver-haired half-elf?”

Subaru held a hand out in the international and hopefully interuniversal stop sign. “Again, I’m not trying to attack her character, or yours to that matter, but it’s not like she even wants to be a candidate. If given the chance, she’d just leave the mansion and go her own way ignoring this whole candidacy thing, that seems pretty clear.”

“Perhaps Felt doesn’t understand the importance of her position yet, but I’m sure if given some time, she’d change her mind.”

Emilia took a deep breath and sighed, hunching forward slightly.

“Such an opportunity could give one the chance to change many things, right wrongs that often others don’t even know about. Maybe the fact that no one thinks Felt should be on the throne right now, is just more reason for why she should be given the chance.”

Subaru stood in silence, looking at the young half-elf, as they repeatedly drew a circle on the tablecloth before them. She realized that she had been here now for ten days, spending much of the first five with Emilia, and yet she never really talked with her. She just played music, and happily soaked up all the praise, the full depth of her understanding of the way the girl thinks being ‘She’s nice to people.’

“You know,” Subaru began. “That is your competition you’re talking about. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just be glad they’re not interested?”

“Maybe it does make more sense.” Emilia said, looking up, with a more relaxed, but still very serious light in her eyes. “I want to win more than anything, so maybe I should wish for her to remain uninterested. But I cannot feel good about someone else losing the same opportunity that means so much for me.”

‘Something is deeply wrong with the way this girl thinks.’ Subaru pondered, looking back in those serious, honest eyes. However, there was a shameful feeling inside Subaru telling her that whatever wrong she observed here, laid not with the half-elf, but the world surrounding her.

Subaru clutched the broom in her hands, searching her mind for something to say. Should she apologize for saying something stupid? Should she say something joking to ease the mood? Should she change the subject? Nothing fit. Finally, she let out a quiet grunt before looking back at Emilia and speaking the following few simple words:

“Hey, would you like to listen to me play some music later?”

 

                                           

 

Subaru was never good dealing with situations where she felt she did something wrong by accident, which happened a lot. She’d try to give false apologies that she didn’t really mean, since, of course, it being an accident it wasn’t really her fault, just a cruel little inconvenience of the universe. She learned some time ago that other people, people that were better at reading others than her tended to notice her dishonesty. Still, what was she supposed to do? It was rude not to apologies, it was rude to apologies. Impossible situation. Emilia had warned her about the same thing those many days ago in the capital.

Perhaps picking her current route was the correct choice. She let Emilia deal with whatever wrong she felt Subaru said on her own time, rejoining the girl a few hours later in her morning break with lyulyre in hand. Subaru feared that the awkward conversation before would stain the encounter, but whatever it was, Emilia seemed to get over it and joined Subaru in the garden gazebo as before.

In a rather annoying turn of events, Subaru managed to mess up her initial finger placements yet again. She’d have thought she learned by now, but whatever. Her hands just probably missed her guitar desperately.

As could be expected, the kind young half-elf remained supportive of Subaru’s music in this loop as well. She truly seemed to be the one absolutely unchanging variable in everything. One time Felt put up with Subaru, one time she didn’t. One time Ram warmed up to her with Rem remaining cold, the other it was Rem who believed her warning, and Ram who just went to bed instead. Even Beatrice’s behaviour seemed all over the place. It was only Emilia that when together, would give Subaru her full attention.

With their time before noon too woefully limited, Subaru hoped to give herself a chance to increase her repertoire. Asking the girl to try and sing some “local” songs that Subaru may learn proved an interesting experience, as Emilia began humming thoughtfully and then said:

“I heard that a bunch.”

“You heard what a bunch?” Subaru asked, holding down her lyulyre’s strings.

“What I just hummed! It’s something like.” Emilia once again began to humm, the rhythm was the same as before, but the notes were very different. “Like that!”

Subaru nodded, biting down gently on her lips. “Yep, I’ll look it up.” she replied, making a mental note of how in total lack of a melody, there was a good chance that Emilia was exceptionally tone-deaf. This rather threw Subaru’s previous high opinions of her own musical abilities with the lyulyre into question, since her primary source of praise had been the girl in front of her— But then again, Subaru didn’t know much about tone deafness. Maybe Emilia actually could hear tones fine, just wasn’t good at recreating them.

On account of her meager pride needing all the protection it could get, Subaru decided to go with the latter theory.

After they separated and Subaru returned to her work, there was little chance to really practice with her instrument until late in the afternoon when her second break began. She’d have loved to play around with her instrument again, but with Emilia busy with her studies, and neither of the twins or Felt really having warmed up to her yet, she just bit the bullet and decided to think about the difficult task of dealing with the attack coming in three days.

As the first matter of course, she had to get the facts straight:

  1. No matter what, the enemy had used some sort of heavy chain. From the fact that both times just before the deaths the chains sounded like they were approaching her, suggesting that it would be some sort of chain-like weapon, rather than just something worn by the attacker.
  2. Before striking Subaru, they incapacitated her, which meant they either had some means to poison her before hand, which most likely invovled poisoning the groceries Rem would go on to buy on the same day in the village, or using that ability Beatrice hinted at.

All things considered, given the timing of the first attack and her collapse, her primary suspect was the magical ability, though she had to admit, part of her hoped it wasn’t poison because she couldn’t deal with the idea of possibly the entire village being in danger. Although then again, maybe the poison wasn’t lethal by itself. It hurt like hell, but she was in fact finished off with a blow to the head both times.

On note of the poison, part of her motivation for wishing to be a maid again was also that she could deal with the groceries discreetly. She could dispose of them before they’re used, she could also make sure that the meals served don’t use the fresh groceries too, meaning after the enemy is revealed, she’d be cleared of any animosity for having gotten rid of the groceries, since it would be easy to demonstrate then that it was the right thing to do.

The ability was trickier. She intended to visit with Beatrice the next day when she’d have more time, and try to not only look into poisons, but get more out of her about the ability. Still, the drill haired girl seemed pretty touchy about the subject the last time. Subaru wasn’t sure how much she’ll be able to get out of her.

More than anything, she needed a plan. More than that, she needed the plans of the manor’s grounds. She had no idea if such a thing was even present, but having spent the better part of two weeks here, she had a pretty good idea of the grounds’ dimensions, where the manor was and so on, so she took out some writing supplies and papers, and began to sketch down an estimate scale model of the manor from a bird’s eye view.

She was by no means an artist, but having studied music and even dabbling in writing her own songs which never really panned out, she had practice drawing simple shapes for sheet music. It was good enough to not make a complete mess of a simple sketch of the mansion’s layout.

Sketching down the location of the tree in the corner of the grounds, she added in the edge of the forest beyond the fence, then marked down the rough location of where she saw the shadow the last time around.

Drawing everything to scale was relatively important, since the main issue to consider when dealing with this enemy, was the reach of their power. Subaru had already concluded that whatever this ‘magical touch’ they had was, it had to be incorporeal in addition to being invisible. This of course was based on both the fact that she didn’t remember feeling like anything touched her, and that it could pass through the fence. Wel, it might have pressed between the bars, or over the fence, but any DM would call bullshit on a player trying to send a non-incorporeal spell through a barrier like a fence, and the lack feeling the attack was already enough to go on.

Eyeing her sketch up and down, she hissed in frustration. The range of the ability seemed way too much. Not in the sense of it making it unlikely, since she had no real gauge for what was and wasn’t possible with magic after exploding into a giant ball of smoke herself, even without any real training— But it seemed way too much in that if the enemy could touch her with this ability at such a great distance, then they could attack her at basically anywhere they could see her, unless they were in a select few large open areas of the garden. She had to remind herself that the enemy likely has an even greater range for the ability than this, since it’s likely they only attacked her because she spotted them, so really the range at which they struck was more like a minimum estimate on what the max range may be.

This functionally removed any chance she had at confronting this thing head on to raise the alarm.

She added a few arrows onto the map, considering that the enemy might not bend the fence in the same location, using the line of the trees and other visual obstacles in that area she could recall to think of places where the assassin may try to get through the fence. All things considered, unless they were coming from an entirely different part of the forest, there wasn’t really a lot of room for them to break through the fence without walking around out in the open for a long time.

Subaru put her foot against the back of the desk, and pushed her chair onto its back legs, rocking herself deep in thought.

When she heard a knock at her door she didn’t even really give it much thought, just let them in, preoccupied with the question of how she should raise the alarm. Maybe climb on the roof and raise it from there? Vertical was one dimension and by extension distance that this scale map didn’t show.

“Nee-sama suggested Subaru-kun might enjoy some tea.” she heard Rem say, walking up behind her.

“Thanks, thanks, just put it on the desk.” Subaru noted absent-mindedly, holding her own chin. Perhaps she could rig some sort of a trap in that area? But she didn’t know much about traps, plus the attacker could have some way around whatever she comes up with.

“Is that the mansion grounds?” Rem asked in a collected, neutral tone, breaking Subaru’s concentration.

“Oh yeah, I drew it from memory.” Subaru explained, retracting her legs and letting the chair rest on all fours. “I tried to make it to scale, is it about right?”

Rem gave the drawing in front of Subaru a long look, before turning to her. “What exactly is the purpose of this drawing?” she asked.

“Oh, right.”

Damn it! She should have thought of something.

“Uh—” Subaru blurted, trying to improvise. “It’s for a— A scavenger hunt! Yes! Sorry, got a bit awkward as I realized I probably shouldn’t have shown it to you.” Subaru said, grabbing the drawing and folding it in two.

“A scavenger hunt?” Rem asked, still in her ever neutral tone.

“Yes! Back home, we used to play this game, where some items would be hidden in a limited area, and contestants would be given a list of the hidden items. Whoever found the most items in a limited time, won! I thought it might be fun to try something like that.” Subaru explained quickly.

Rem glanced down at the paper now clutched in Subaru’s hands, before nodding her head.

“Rem will suggest the thought to Nee-sama, but Roswaal-sama’s property isn’t for— games.”

With that, Rem gave Subaru one more quick look before turning away and leaving the room.

Subaru sighed. At this rate, everyone was probably going to think she was crazy.

Taking a sip of the sweet tea delivered to her, at least she could take contentment in the fact that the twins were still thinking about her, bringing her something so pleasant.

‘Oh right! I could set the alarm on my phone to the time of the attack and leave it at the tree!’ Subaru thought to herself, quickly putting down the teacup to make a note about the idea, and write down the exact time she was last attacked, before she might forget.

Chapter Text

“Betty was wondering when the troublesome girl would show up, in fact.” Beatrice said simply, sighing and closing her book.

Subaru was once again standing in the supposedly ‘forbidden’ library of the mansion once again. It was the afternoon of her third, or thirteenth day here at the mansion, depending on how one counted. She had thought to come here before noon, but Beatrice was with Puck at the time, and Roswaal’s command here or there, she didn’t want to take her chances separating the little blonde bomb from the only person whose presence seemingly brought her joy. Instead, Subaru spent her free time earlier today in the garden, pacing down the distance between the mansion and the fence to double check if her sketch of the mansion grounds was in fact at least mostly accurate, then making adjustments.

“Just don’t make the mistake of thinking Betty was hoping the girl would turn up, I suppose. It’s simply annoying to wait for an appointment that fails to arrive, in fact.” The little spirit was sitting on a stepladder next to one of the book cases this time, surrounded by small towers.

Taking a deep breath, Subaru collected her thoughts, as to how to best approach her questions. Her measurements earlier confirmed that whatever that invisible ability is, if it was in fact that, and not poison, then Subaru can’t let herself get anywhere close to the attacker. It also meant that no one else should do so either, but she had faith that at least Roswaal should be able to defend themselves against this terrifying ability. Else why would the attacker come in the night when everyone’s supposed to be asleep? It’s not like there’s many people in the mansion or guards stationed nearby.

“Beatrice, there’s two things I’d like to learn more about.” Subaru said finally, beginning to walk towards the girl. “First, I want to know if there is any way to defend against that ability you mentioned. Second, I want to know about poisons that sap people’s energy.”

“This must be a continuation of the girl’s ramblings two days ago, I suppose.” Beatrice sighed, then hopped off her step ladder, placing her book on what was a moment ago her seat afterwards. “I’d just say the girl is jumping at shadows, perhaps. Did she not ask for employment at the mansion to protect herself against these unseen foes, I wonder?”

“Wha—? No!” Subaru denied. If anything, she should have wished for a ride far away from here if she wanted to be rid of this threat. But she can’t do that, not while the people of the mansion are still in danger! “I asked for a job so I can spend more time with everyone here.”

“The girl thinks in very strange ways, in fact.” Beatrice noted, walking off towards the back of the library, Subaru following in her steps.

“I don’t care for your approval. Believe me, I understand preferring to stay inside and to read, but—”

“Idle chatter was not part of the girl’s request, in fact!” Beatrice declared angrily, her steps growing harder as she continued towards the back. “On the girl’s first question, Betty must say that there is nothing the girl could do, aside from seek protection from someone, or avoiding hi— Avoiding their enemy, I suppose! As a member of Roswaal’s staff and resident of this mansion, the girl already has the best protection she could hope for, in fact.”

Beatrice turned the corner around a bookcase just before the library’s back wall and began to stomp up a spiral stairway to the large room’s second floor, Subaru following close behind.

“Are you sure there isn’t some incantation, or hand sign, or amulet or something that stops this thing?” Subaru asked, holding up a cross sign with her two index fingers as a visual aid.

“Betty was told to aid the girl in using the library, not to be a complete amateur’s magic teacher, in fact. On that matter, why would the girl even think that Betty or this library has anything to offer on powers as dark as that, I wonder?”

“I don’t know, but I simply have nothing else to go on, so I’m trying any chance I can get.” Subaru explained as the two of them reached the second floor and Beatrice marched to one of the corner bookcases.

“Well the girl should endeavour not to associate people baselessly with the witch cult, I suppose.” the girl said coldly, looking through the books on the case she stopped in front of, before finally reaching for a book on the bottom shelf. “Betty doesn’t know what the girl is hoping to learn of poisons, but she doesn’t really care, in fact. This book might be of use to figure out what they think they’re looking for, perhaps.” she said, handing the book over to Subaru.

Taking the book in her hand, Subaru was about to point out that she can’t read hamoji yet, before realizing that the cover only used romoji and imoji characters, seemingly stating everything twice, one in each script. Opening the book up, it continued the same way inside, one side in imoji one in hamoji.

“Why is this book double printed?” Subaru asked, turning the pages, though still not being on a literacy level where she could read their contents at a glance without trying.

“Betty isn’t ignorant of the goings on in the mansion, in fact. This book is a reference made so even uneducated servants may identify ailments in their masters and better seek help from the learned, I suppose. It is known that the girl can’t read competently, so this should keep her out of Betty’s hair, perhaps.”

“Huh, that’s, surprisingly thoughtful, in an insulting and lazy way.” Subaru noted bitterly, though she couldn’t deny inside that this seemed to be exactly the book she’d need. “Thank you.”

“No point in thanking something that the person had no choice in doing, I suppose.” Beatrice said, waving her hand in the air, already on her way back to the stairs. “The girl should find a quiet place to read and leave Betty do the same, in fact.”

As the blonde spirit disappeared down the stairs, Subaru scanned the room for seating, but only saw a soft looking bed on the upper floor she thought she probably shouldn’t mess with, and the chair by the table downstairs near the stepladder that Beatrice returned to. Deciding it’d be easier to sit on the floor, Subaru lowered herself down and re-read the title of the thick tome in her hands.

‘Complete Compendium of Poisons and Unnatural Ailments’ she read. Opening to the preface she began to slowly trace the imoji side, which so far she had greater ease parsing. The book apparently was organized not in any sort of alphabetical order, rather it was cut in two parts, poisons and unnatural ailments, which Subaru assumed after a quick glance there seemed to do with magic and diseases. Each of the two sections was organized by symptoms, large sections being named after primary symptoms such as fatigue, discoloration of the skin, bloody coughs, fever, swollen limbs, black veins— the list went on. Within the primary symptoms’ sections there were subsections naming secondary symptoms, some of which shared names with the major symptoms, after which there came a list of poisons in an order Subaru could only discern to be based on how common they were, as nothing else really seemed to make sense.

The sections seemed to also cross reference each other a lot, such as under fatigue’s subsection “rapid onset mana loss”, there were a couple of notes on pages to reference in the fever and swollen limbs sections if those symptoms are also present. A note also advertised the “Unnatural Ailments” side of the book, but Subaru elected to ignore these as she hadn’t recalled feeling feverish or experiencing swollen limbs. She was also quite certain it wasn’t a disease on account of not seeing anyone else contact it, and magic in lack of touch was out of the question.

After about an hour of staring at the pages, and the often far too detailed sketches of visual symptoms, Subaru’s eyes were straining, having learned very little. She thought at first that since she experienced the effects first hand, that will give her an easy way to identify what poison it was that got her. It also wasn’t as simple as no poison matching her criteria, which would have at least ruled poisoning out. If anything, too many things seemed to fit, and much of the symptoms described in the book such as the skin discoloration as well as muscle spasms, twitching eyes and paranoia were details she either couldn’t confirm she had, or she couldn’t declare conclusively about whether they were from the poison or simply the circumstances.

“Has the girl gotten anywhere, I wonder?” she heard Beatrice ask, that sweet, candy store scent enveloping her once more.

Looking up, she saw the girl stand over her with that familiar ‘Why must you disturb Betty’s peace, I wonder?’ look on her face.

“No, there’s just too many poisons that fit.” Subaru admitted. “Also, the book doesn’t really say much about them beyond how to ease the pain.”

“As Betty had said, that book is only a reference, so it would be foolish to think it holds all answers, in fact.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got that, but it doesn’t help the issue where the books that probably would help are written in characters I can’t read yet.” Subaru grumbled, licking a finger to turn a page, before she felt a sharp pain.

“Betty hopes very much that the girl hasn’t been getting her spit on all the pages, in fact!” Beatrice fumed, holding up her hand with which she had just smacked Subaru’s finger away from the page with the ferocity of a striking cobra.

“Ow! Fine, sorry!” Subaru yelped, clutching her throbbing finger. It definitely wasn’t broken or dislocated, but the spirit found a way to hit it in the most painful way possible regardless.

“The girl is looking to cure poisons, I presume?” Beatrice noted returning to her usual tone.

“Yes, antidotes, that sort of thing.” Subaru said, rubbing the main, agonizing joint of her index finger.

“Then, if the girl can summon the sense to write a list of this abundance of poisons she found, Betty will collect the relevant books, perhaps.” the spirit declared simply, reaching down and pulling the book out of Subaru’s lap. “There’s pen and paper downstairs, I suppose.”

“Where are you going with the book?” Subaru protested, reaching after the book, but Beatrice just snatched it out of the way.

“Betty has grown tired of the girl’s stench filling up her room, in fact. She can continue outside, perhaps.” Beatrice huffed, heading away.

“Hold on, you’ll let me check it out?”

“Betty will allow the girl to annoy the rest of the mansion with her presence, I suppose.” Beatrice noted, stopping at the top of the stairs, before turning back with a dark expression and the slightest of smiles. “Although, if the girl returns the book with any spitmarks or bent corners, Betty will make her stay at the mansion a very short one, perhaps.”

Not sparing Subaru any further words, Beatrice headed down the stairs. With little choice, surrounded by countless books which she could spend a few days just trying to catalogue, Subaru went after her. At the very least she wasn’t sent out of the room with any magic induced bruises this time around.

On the ground floor, Beatrice took the tome to her table, placing it down, and putting some papers as well as a pen and ink on the table, which were resting next to its foot until moments before. Finally, she huffed and told Subaru to write down whatever poisons she wants researched before leaving, but be quick about it.

Flipping back and forth a bit in the book a while to find and note down the various poisons that struck her as possible candidates for what she might have taken. Even taking into consideration that she could only have contracted it via food, this left her with no less than fourteen different poisons, with possibly more still left to discover in the annals of the book.

“The girl is aware that proper identification and treatment of poisons is not an easy task, I suppose?” Beatrice asked once handed the paper. “She shouldn’t expect easy answers here, no matter her reasons, in fact.”

“Yeah, well I need to look into it anyway.” Subaru noted, walking to the door, book in hand, stopping at the door to look at her finger.

Even with seemingly not a single elongated visit of her going by without some kind of harm coming to her when visiting with Beatrice, an odd sort of fondness had appeared in her heart. It was probably just that she could never say no to kids, and ancient library guardians or not, the spirit had a kid’s face. Still, there was just something about her that felt familiar to Subaru, and not just in the frustrated librarian trope way from visual novels.

“Hey, Beatrice?” she said, turning back. “It probably doesn’t mean much coming from me, but thank you for your help.”

Instead of answering, the drill haired loli just sighed, staring at her book, and waved an urging hand at Subaru.

“Right. See you tomorrow.”

Subaru closed the door, leaving Beatrice behind.

Chapter Text

This wasn’t working.

Subaru sighed to herself, no further now in the afternoon of the fourth day, than she was during the second. She made an attempt to strike up a conversation with Rem in her freetime before noon this day, but what she planned to be a smooth way to request a haircut didn’t pan out, Rem simply pushing it off for ‘a later date’. It didn’t help much when Subaru made an attempt to bring up and apologize for the stupid stunt she pulled in the alley, that she knew Rem must have been upset at her for. The maid didn’t seem to react whatsoever to the apology, aside from her usual, overly formal behaviour, giving a nod and stating it was ‘noted’. It was simply too difficult to warm up to everyone with this damn attack looming over her head.

She was sitting cross legged in bed, strumming her lyulyre, hoping some idea might come to her, but the only option she really had at this point was to return to the library and check with Beatrice. She glanced at the catalogue of poisons on her desk. Further study hadn’t revealed anything of note to her. She found two additional poisons that might have been the culprit, but both of them could only be used on a person by injecting it into their blood. More the sort thing that one coats blades with, or maybe puts in darts? She wasn’t physically assaulted in either previous loop, so they couldn’t be it.

It had occurred to her to perhaps visit the old windmill today, intercept them at the old windmill which they’ll likely be at this afternoon, sleeping, and deal with them like that. However, there was no guarantee they’d even be alone, and if they woke up— That would have been a terrifying encounter, one she had no illusions about having a chance to win. She had to remind herself that by the capital’s standards, this is her third and final life. She only died twice there, and she used those two deaths up here already. She might be able to come back one more time, if the system operates on a three extra lives basis which was pretty basic, though she couldn’t be sure of that either. She might have one more try left, but that was absolutely it, and already unlikely. She had to survive this time, and defeat the attacker.

The only solution she had left, was to go into town, observe who Rem buys her groceries from, ask them if they saw anything weird lately to gather clues, and then either use that as an excuse to leave the groceries behind, if something suspicious comes up, or get rid of them once back at the manor. That handles the poison angle.

There was also the invisible magic touch, that she was still trying to name, being stuck between ‘ Mage Hand ’ and ‘ Unseen Servant ’ from the tabletop games she always wanted to get into. She couldn’t figure out any weakness to this weapon. If that was indeed the enemy’s method of sapping her strength, she might as well have been going up against a Stand User, and not one of the lame ones. This meant she couldn’t risk being anywhere near the attacker. Luckily she had already figured out a way to raise an alarm. Literally. She had already set her phone’s alarm to go off tomorrow at the time when she last saw the time in the previous loop. The attacker came at that time in both loops, and they attacked through the same part of the mansion, so it was almost guaranteed they'd do it again. This was another point for not going into the village today, as messing around outside the mansion one full day early, could cause a butterfly effect where maybe someone from the village takes a different path that day, makes the attacker camp up somewhere else for the night and they attack in a different spot. It would have been much easier if everyone just played out what they were going to do exactly to script each time, but Subaru already learned by now that even the slightest change in circumstances has unexpected consequences.

“Is Barusu done torturing that poor animal?” came through the door, following a knock.

“Just about. Come in.” Subaru shouted back, putting her lyulyre to the side.

Ram entered, carrying a tray with two cups of tea, casting a familiar image. She dropped by yesterday too, while Subaru was with Beatrice, leaving a cup of tea for Subaru in her room, along with a short, insulting letter written in romoji meant to make Subaru practice.

“With so much time on Barusu’s hand, the lovely Ram thought perhaps she’d do something productive. It is good to see that she had put this time towards practice so she may one day join the circus.”

“Still a better living than what you’d make with your cooking.” Subaru retorted, accepting the cup of tea handed to her.

“Barusu should know that Ram’s steamed yams are to die for!” Ram said with a stiff upper lip, as she grabbed her own cup.

“If they’re the second course, I believe it.”

“This is certainly a lot of wit for someone working with only half.”

The two young women exchanged a long look, while taking equally long sips from their tea.

“The tea is excellent.” Subaru noted putting the cup back onto its saucer.

“Indeed.”

Once more, in perfect sync, they took a sip from the tea.

“Want to listen to some music and tell me what you think?” Subaru asked, putting her cup aside on the night table.

“Someone should be here to help, when Barusu finally chips her nail on those strings.” Ram noted, putting her own cup down on Subaru’s desk next to the book, before taking a seat in the chair before it.

Before, Subaru had thought that Ram’s behaviour changed between the first and second loops for some reason. While Subaru definitely felt as though Ram was a little bit sterner and impatient with her in the second loop, Subaru had come to believe this was simply the maid’s sense of duty towards her incompetent underling coming through, with perhaps a touch of anxiety from herself mixed in. She couldn’t explain why, but the consistency of the pink maid’s insults turned them from something to scorn, to a source of security. Not unlike Emilia’s immutable, kind disposition, as much as Ram was the opposite, she made Subaru feel as though they could rely on the girl to always be the same, no matter what happened.

“Actually,” Subaru began, pausing between songs once she was done butchering some Eagles. “I’ve been hoping to learn some new songs, or at least songs that would be more, I don’t know, in line with people’s tastes here. So far I’ve only really had much luck in that department with songs composed by one group of people.” she explained. “You wouldn’t happen to know how I could find a music teacher? Are there any guide books that could substitute?”

“Surely Barusu could ask this of Beatrice, about the books.” Ram noted, stretching in her chair a bit. “Apparently she trusts Barusu enough to allow her to check out.”

“Honestly, I’m afraid she’d toss me out if I asked for something as stupid as a music book.” Subaru replied, scratching at some dirt on her lyulyre.

“That is possible, I suppose.” Ram noted.

“Do not start doing that! It’s bad enough when she talks like you!”

“What is Barusu talking about, I wonder.” Ram asked with a sly grin, before loosening it into a smile, grabbing her tea. “As for a music teacher, perhaps that would be best asked of Roswaal-sama. With Barusu’s current salary, it is questionable if she could afford proper tutoring, but for whatever reason Roswaal-sama had taken a liking to Barusu, and so she may choose to pay for her lessons, if for nothing else so that Barusu may find a more—”

Subaru sensed Ram was about to say, ‘more fitting role in the mansion than a maid’, probably followed by an insult towards Subaru’s abilities in the role. But then, saying she was a better musician was dangerously close to a compliment, so the maid decided to abort that thought.

“Right, well if you’re not going to finish that thought—” Subaru began after a few moments of silence. “Maybe I could ask your opinion on another song. This is a bit more specific than the others. I was hoping to visit the village tomorrow when Rem goes to buy groceries, and maybe play something for the kids there, if I have the time.”

Ram paused her motion on that suggestion. “Is Barusu quite sure about that?”

“Yes, I’ve been stuck here for four days now, I’ve got to get out.” Subaru answered, preparing her lyulyre. “Seriously, I just want your opinion on whether you think this would make sense for the kids there.”

“If it is anything like Barusu’s other songs with the nonsense lyrics, then she is expecting a little too much.”

“Actually, no. I’ve got a song that’s in Jap— A song that uses normal language. Kids’ songs were never really my thing, but I’ve dabbled in writing songs when still back home.” Subaru explained, blushing preemptively at the thought of sharing her own composition for the first time. “This one I wrote when I was— Twelve I think? Took me a while to remember the lyrics, and they’re not exactly great either, but I— Uh.”

The words once again ran away from Subaru, and she had to take a few breaths before working up the nerve to continue. Ram’s only comment was a smug little “Ha”, while watching Subaru squirm.

“Alright, so this going to sound stupid and complicated, but there’s a couple of folkstales back home I really liked, and when I was I think twelve, I practiced writing songs by trying to turn my favourites into music.”

“That’s— Surprisingly cute of Barusu.” Ram said, for once in a sweet tone, before remembering herself. “How very much like a beloved house pet, Barusu is.”

“Yeah, yeah. So anyway, I’m still trying to remember the others, since I haven’t played them in years, but I thought they’d be a good fit for the kids, since they’re based on stories that were meant to be parables for children to learn from.”

“I see.” Ram noted, putting her tea down again. “Very well, I suppose the adorable Ram may show a little generosity and listen to Barusu’s song before it’s time to return to our duties.”

“Wow, just please don’t jump out the chair in excitement!” Subaru sighed. “But fine. I might explain some context, if the song doesn’t work, but the original story is usually called ‘The Oni who cried’.” Subaru said, concentrating on getting a good hold on her lyulyre, not paying much attention to the pink maid’s smile silently dissipating across the room. “The song I simply named ‘The Two Onis’ Song’.”

And with that, Subaru began to play the old melody.

“Alone! Tired of being alone.”

Cried red eyes

“My friend, I’ll have your back ‘til the end”

Spoke blue eyes

 

Blue then went out

In town she’d shout

Towns folk were spooked

Red Blue rebuked

 

Ram sat still, listening attentively, sitting straight and stiff in the chair, hands on her knees, as Subaru, lost in music, began to strum harder for emphasis.

 

“Alone! I am no longer alone!”

Cheered red eyes

“Hero”! That was her title, “hero”!

Proud Red Eyes

 

Her days filled with laughter

A town to look after

The Children to play with

Their old fears now mere myth

 

Then, the tragic turn. Subaru weakened her strums on her instrument, to better serve the coming melancholy. Her fellow maid simply continued to sit motionless, taking in the song.

 

“My friend? Where have you gone to my friend?”

Called red eyes

A note, upon it farewell she wrote

Her blue eyes

 

“I’m glad you’re merry

But I remain scary

Protect your allies

goodbye, -Blue Eyes”

With a few sad notes to bring the melody full circle, Subaru ended the song, putting her lyulyre down on the bed beside herself, turning expectantly to Ram, who had hung her head somewhere along the music. Was that a bad sign? Ram hadn’t said anything yet, so it might be bad enough she doesn’t even want to insult it! Or, maybe Subaru’s just too self-conscious? Maybe it’s alright. It’s not like she drummed it up to be a great composition or anything, Ram might just be looking for an appropriate insult?

Subaru felt her cheeks turn hot. If there was a single mirror in this blasted mansion, she could confirm her strong suspicion that her face was beet red at this moment. It was a stupid idea to try and bring her music over to this worl—

“The music is fine, I suppose.” Ram said, breaking her silence finally. “The story, it is not as agreeable.” she added, turning towards the desk and grabbing her teacup which made a pretty ring as she was about to pick it up, but Ram ultimately changed her mind and let go of it.

“Well yeah, the lyrics are pretty childish and simple. I was twelve at the time.” Subaru responded defensively.

“It is not the lyrics themselves, but the story.” Ram clarified, staring down at her cup of tea. “It’s a rather sad story.”

“Ah, you think it might be inappropriate for the kids? I agree that it’s a pretty sad story, but sort of a hopeful one, I think.”

“Hopeful?” Ram asked, her gaze locked on her tea, though it was difficult to tell under her hair at this angle.

“Sure! Like, the original story as I hope I managed to convey is all about how the blue oni’s sacrifice in leaving her friend’s side allows the red one to fulfill her dream, only to also help her realize that really her dream, at least the important part of it, had always been there.” Subaru explained. “In the original, as the title suggests, the red oni goes on to cry over the loss of her friend, though I just— I couldn’t really write that part. I guess it was a bit too sad, and when I wrote it I thought anyone who’d hear it would know the full story anyway.”

“I do not see what is so hopeful about that.” Ram commented.

“Well, it’s about learning, I guess. Red realized all on her own what she had done, how precious her old friend was, I guess. I think— I think that means deep down she always knew she had everything, she just couldn’t— She couldn’t reach out for it. She was stuck. Sometimes people are like that. They have what they want and need right before them, but they just can’t accept it, and— I guess need it from somewhere else to—”

Subaru found herself hunched forward in bed. Used to be, the story was so easy to summarize in her head, but after all these years, without having realized it, the meaning changed.

“On the contrary, think the story is quite simple, and speaks to the stupidity of everyone involved, from the two friends to the people and children of the town.”

“Huh? Even the townsfolk?” Subaru looked up in surprise, as Ram made her comment. She had never really considered the townsfolk as anything more than an objective.

“If they had only accepted the two, who only wished to live with them a normal life, instead of giving them special treatment, driving the two apart, then not only would they have had no threat, real or imagined put on them, but they’d have had two new neighbours, in place of one. Something they should have appreciated.”

“I haven’t really thought of it from their perspective, but I guess they were kind of suckers, weren’t they?” Subaru nodded thoughtfully. “I always only really wondered about the two in the center, since the focus is on them. I guess, even as stupid as they were for not just, I don’t know, finding a way to talk it out with red, blue always seemed like such a cool person, for being willing to go so far.”

“I can’t say I agree with that rosy outlook, but it is the red who was truly irredeemable.” Ram noted, biting on her lips before continuing, her eyes still not wandering anywhere near Subaru and the bed. “Entangling her friend in what was her own problem, letting the situation fester to where her friend could not bear to watch anymore and was willing to give up her own happiness for her friend’s. In the end, it cost the red one little, while her friend lost everything. A truly horrible outcome she could have avoided if she just cut off her horn and went into town humbly, asking for the humans’ friendship as an equal.” Ram said, her tone, strangely nearly without emotion.

“Ouch.” Subaru responded. “Weirdly, that hurt me more than any insult you said so far.” she added with a little fake laugh.

“What do you mean?” Ram muttered, turning her head slightly towards the bed.

“Right, well.” Subaru rubbed the back of her head, then curled forward, still sitting cross legged in her bed, but now pushing her face down on the blanket. Was she really going to—? Damn it, might as well. “Okay, so originally the story I think is meant to be about two male onis. When I wrote the song, I changed it so the blue one was a guy, and the red one was a girl. I’ve uh… I’ve kind of always saw the blue one as my dad, and the red one as—” Subaru took a deep breath. “The red one as me.”

“I— I don’t understand.” Ram said after a moment of silence, her head staying half-turned towards the bed.

“Uh, I don’t want to get into it, but back home… I kind of wanted to become a singer-songwriter. Hence the song. Only, I never had the courage to actually, I guess, go out and show off my music? This is actually the first time I played a song I wrote for anyone other than my parents.” Subaru explained, feeling her breaths grow erratic. “Matter of fact, I haven’t even played for anyone in years, until a few days ago. My dad, he— Well, he was the one who got me my first instrument, to start with. More than that, even though I wasn’t really— I wasn’t really good for anything, he’d try and encourage me, he’d take time out of his day just to try and make sure I was— My mom too, of course, but it was mostly him who supported my music.”

Subaru paused, uncrossing her legs, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them instead for support.

“It’s weird, playing music for people now. I still don’t know what changed.” Subaru continued, taking long careful breaths between sentences. “It’s pretty pathetic, but I always hoped he’d find the right push, some magic series of words that would give me the courage to actually go through with what I wanted. I knew I was the red oni, I knew inside that I already had everything I’d need, I even knew how to go about it. My dad arranged auditions for me multiple times, never— never giving up on me. But, I just couldn’t make that step, because if I did, then— then maybe it would have proven that every prior moment when I hadn’t, was wasted.”

She leant forward and burriend her head between her knees.

“And now it kind of came full circle too, because I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again.”

Silence fell on the room, as Subaru had well and truly ran out of words. She didn’t intend to— say all that. She just wanted to state that her dad was a cool guy who reminded her of the blue oni, while she herself was kind of indecisive, but the moment she started talking, it got away from her. She’d been here now for half a month, no more than that in total. Had she really not thought about what might be going on with her parents in all this time? Do they wonder where she is? Well, they must be, but— Did she leave behind a body, or did she just disappear? What would be worse? If she had just disappeared, perhaps they might have hope for her return. Only, since she can’t, wouldn’t that be crueler, than just finding her dead? At least they’d have closure, for whatever that’s worth. They really didn’t deserve this. Hell, she can’t even know how long it had been for them. When she returns by death, does time rewind on Earth too? Does this world and home even share the same concept of time? Is how she was really how they’ll remember her? Her dad will never even know she finally—

Subaru felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up, quickly wiping her face with the sleeve of her maid uniform.

“I would like to ask that you do not play that song before my sister. She wouldn’t like such a sad song.” Ram said, her voice still void of almost all sign emotion, except for a slight tremble persisting in her words.

“Really sorry, I didn’t mean to ramble like that, I just—” Subaru began, but looking up, saw Ram shake her head. Ram’s eye was more on the bed than on Subaru. After a short reprise of the silence, with Ram’s hand still on Subaru’s shoulder, holding it tensely, Ram continued in a new breath:

“Seeing as that Barusu has managed to soil the sleeve of her uniform, I guess it can’t be helped, I’ll take her next duties. Barusu should take that time to dry her clothes, then return to work in half an hour.”

“R-right.” Subaru stuttered, looking at the barely wet sleeves. “I’ll get on that.”

Ram simply nodded, then placed her own teacup back on the tray she came in with. After a moment’s thought, the pink maid bent down, took the book from the desk and slid it into one of the desk’s shelves, before picking up the tray and leaving with her elegant, quiet steps through the slightly ajar door.

All that was left in the room was Subaru, her lyulyre, the furniture and half-drunk cop of tea on the night stand.

It had gone cold by now.

Chapter Text

Stupid.

Subaru used her time after her idiotic ramble to find Beatrice’s library, and check on the spirit’s poison research. As Beatrice predicted, it was a mostly pointless effort. Most of the poisons had no easy antidote. What’s more, since they were the sort that didn’t trigger its effects immediately, there was an uncertain window for when the antidote could even be taken, with an invisible cutoff point before the symptoms even surface. The only path forward was avoiding getting poisoned at all.

Stupid!

The rest of the afternoon and evening passed tensely. Ram didn’t say much to Subaru, and Rem— Well, like so often she was off in some other part of the manor handling complex chores all by herself. Felt seemed to notice the awkward air between Ram and Subaru, but neither of them said anything on it. Subaru couldn’t bring herself to read along with Felt during their evening study session, just practicing writing romoji instead, while Felt awkwardly read out the same familiar stories from the storybook.

Stupid!

Next morning, Subaru awoke in a cold sweat. It was the final day, the day the assassin will come, but for once that wasn’t in the forefront of her mind. The fact that she had broken her streak last night, skipping her nightly jogs for the first time in months passed through her mind, but it was just another shame to put on the pile.

Trying to concentrate on her work, Subaru quickly dressed and went to prepare the dining room, avoiding the kitchen where Felt and the twins were getting ready to make breakfast. She couldn’t talk to them, how could she after that? No, she just had to do her work, sweet the dining room, set the table cloth, place the dishes and cups. That’s what she had to think about.

But how could she go off like that? What the hell was she thinking? There’s— There’s no way Ram is ever going to respect her after that! Subaru was supposed to play the part of a proper maid! Show she can work well, that she’s useful, maybe a bit loose and light on etiquette, sure, but someone they can rely on. Not some sort of wreck that just— That just falls apart over—

Crash!

“Damn it to hell!” Subaru hissed through her gritted teeth. A teacup she was carrying to the table shook out of its saucer, blowing to a dozen pieces on the ground.

‘Just sweep it up, get a new one. Sweep, new one.’ Subaru repeated in her head. ‘You’ve got to keep going, you can’t just stop. Can’t go back to how it was.’

“Barusu?” Ram’s voice rang out from around the entrance of the dining room, the maid appearing a moment later.

“Don’t come in, I’ve— I’ve broken a— thing. Its pieces could have gone anywhere.” Subaru stuttered, her head bent firmly towards the floor, continuing to sweep up the pieces next to her.

Why’d it have to be Ram who came? Why not Felt or Rem, or even Roswaal? Can she not sink any lower in the head maid’s eyes?

“I— I’ll work it off, I’ll—” Subaru continued weakly, stepping forward to sweep a couple of small pieces that slid further than the res—

“It’s alright.” Ram said, softly. Subaru shivered as she felt the maid put a hand on her shoulder once more. “It was only a matter of time before Barusu’s incompetence broke a cup, the charming Ram will fetch a new one.” she added, though a certain something was missing from her usual confident and slightly jeering tone.

“N— No, I’ll do that, I don’t want to—” Subaru responded, trying to pull her shoulder from Ram’s grasp unsuccessfully.

“Barusu, it’s fine.” Ram said, putting a hand on Subaru’s other shoulder too, before closing her arms to hold and raise Subaru’s head, forcing her to look at Ram. “It’s just a cup.” she added, looking into Subaru’s eye, though the girl could not make herself return her gaze.

“I know I’m useless, but I’ll fix it.”

Barusu!” Ram said commandingly, holding Subaru’s head.

At this point, she had no choice. Subaru looked at Ram, preparing herself for the anger, the disappointment, even disgust or whatever else she’d find.

Sadness was not what she expected.

“Barusu.” Ram repeated, letting go of Subaru’s head, now that they were finally eye to eye. “You can worry about repaying the cup later. Barusu is not going to be of much use to Roswaal-sama in this state, so sit down and just breathe.”

She wanted to protest, she wanted to say no, that she’ll clean up her mess, but Ram had already grabbed the broom in Subaru’s hands. Instead, she stepped back, nearly stumbling, and sat down at the dinner table, hunching forward.

This was it. Ram had already decided that Subaru is useless. It won’t be long now that her chores will be reduced to— Was that why they gave her fewer chores after the first few days? Of course, why else? She was always useless. Why would that change here, with a few days of practice? Why’d she think she could be one of them? From the way they seemed, they worked all their lives, while Subaru just allowed herself to waste away in a room, vainly pretending to be nurturing skills that ultimately are of no use to anyone.

As she covered her face in shame, she heard the clinking pieces of the teacup gathered up by Ram. Such a simple thing, and she couldn’t even be trusted with this.

“Barusu.” Ram called once more.

“Should I return the uniform to the wardrobe?” Subaru asked, lowering her hands though just staring at the floor.

Ram didn’t respond, Subaru just heard her walk to her. Then, suddenly, a hand grabbed Subaru’s chin, and pulled her head up. Before Subaru had even time to process the furious look in Ram’s eye, she felt the hand let go of her chin before it suddenly slapped across her cheek.

“Barusu needs to stop acting this pathetic. There is work to be done, and the mansion needs her help.” Ram declared loudly. “Returning the uniform? What is Barusu thinking, throwing away the honour given to her by Roswaal-sama like that!”

A mad glint shone in the pink haired maid’s eye as she berated Subaru. She could do nothing, but listen in silence as Ram dressed her down without any humorous undertones and hold her burning cheek.

“Barusu will go to a bathroom, wash her face and then come back and set the table! Then she’ll do the rest of her chores and continue as such tomorrow, and the day after, and then after that, until she understands how lucky she is for having the privilege to work for Roswaal-sama!” Ram fumed, while Subaru continued to sit, paralized. “Am I understood?!”

“But you don’t want me to work.” Subaru began. “You saw— You know I’m worthless.”

“And what would Barusu know of what someone as brilliant as the exceptional Ram is thinking?” Ram asked, her eye narrowing. “Barusu continues to presume entirely too much. She is expected to work, and she will work! That is all she needs to worry about, no more and certainly no less! I will ask one more time: Am I understood?!”

“I— I’ll go wash my face?”

“I didn’t ask for a question!”

“I’ll go wash my face.”

“And then what will Barusu do?”

“I’ll set the table.”

“And then?”

“I’ll— I’ll do the rest of my chores.”

“And she’ll continue until her work will become acceptable!” Ram concluded.

Subaru weakly got on her feet, and rubbed her cheek one more time. She didn’t really understand what just happened, just looked at the head maid, still looking at her with a strange fury in her eye.

“Do you not think I’m—”

“I’ll stop Barusu right there. If she wants a pep-talk, she should go find Emilia-sama and roll over like the sad puppy she is. However, if she wants to become someone that her father is going to be less disappointed in when they meet again, then she’ll do as I told her, and get to work.” Ram huffed, closing her eyes and crossing her arms.

A choking feeling struck Subaru’s chest, as the head maid said these words, clutching deep within her. Her thoughts felt like a swarm of moths awoken in a dark room, as someone entered and flicked on the light switch. There was barely a tangible idea to be had that she could put to words. All she knew, felt, hoped and believed was that she’s an idiot, and that she’s got a chance.

Subaru felt her body move, and amidst the head maid’s objections embrace the pink haired woman before her. As Ram continued to protest before pushing her off herself with surprising ease, Subaru cursed herself for losing track of what’s important, and getting lost again in her old hangups. She needed to be better than this. Tonight, she was going to be better than this. She will repay the home they gave her here by setting that alarm and getting rid of the poison.

As Subaru stuttered out an apology mixed with thanks to the pink haired maid, a big pained smile on her face, a few locks of blue fluttered in the room’s doorway before disappearing.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

“Nee-sama must agree, it would be best if Rem went to Irlam alone.” Rem noted with a small bow towards her sister.

It was just after lunch, and as Rem was getting ready to head to Irlam village, Subaru brought up her desire to visit.

“Come on, I could carry the groceries!” Subaru tried again.

“Rem doesn’t plan on buying a lot, she’ll be able to manage carrying them back easily.” Rem responded, her eyes never leaving her sister.

“I didn’t mean that you couldn’t do it! Come on, surely you’d prefer some company!”

Normally, Subaru would have pushed for the chance just to spend some time with Rem. She was still as far as ever from restoring that breakthrough their relationship had when Rem cut her hair. Still, so close to the unnervingly literal deadline of the attack, she just wanted to go to the village to make sure she’s there every step of the way with the possibly poisoned groceries, and nothing can make it into anyone’s dinner tonight.

“Nee-sama?”

“Barusu is going to visit the village sooner or later. Fetching groceries may be one of the few tasks she could accomplish with some measure of competence. It would be useful training.”

With a long exchange of looks the sisters seemed to come to some understanding, before Rem bowed deeply to her sister, grabbing the paper bags she’d always take.

“Rem will be off presently.” she announced, turning to the kitchen’s door and leaving.

“I suppose Barusu should hurry.” Ram noted, sounding frustrated for some reason, before pointing at the lyulyre strapped to Subaru’s back and sticking over her shoulder. “That won’t be necessary in the village.”

“Okay.” Subaru conceded, quickly removing the instrument from her back and putting it down on a kitchen table. “Just one last thing, I think some of the food in the larder is going to go bad soon, so it would be best to plan on using only that food so it doesn’t go to waste!”

“Barusu should worry about her own chores.” Ram answered, picking up the lyulyre with a rather careless grip.

“Please, just trust me on this.” Subaru asked, backing out of the kitchen, her hands put together, before turning to run after Rem.

She had hoped she’d have had a more bulletproof plan to avoid the potentially bad food by now. Sadly, this world didn’t seem to operate by hopes and prayers.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

The road to Irlam remained the same as ever, and the journey devoid of conversation. Subaru made a brief attempt to chat with Rem, however she had quite coldly made it clear that she was not in the mood to talk with her. Whatever Subaru did wrong when trying to clear the air between them before seemed to have struck a greater cord than she realized. She had to remind herself over and over again that time was absolutely not on her side today. One way or another she’ll just need to survive this. After that, she can worry about everyone’s friendship. Perhaps Ram might help.

“Good evening! The usual I assume?” asked a man of the village, sitting on a bench outside a small unassuming house, standing up as he saw Rem approach, with Subaru close in tow.

“Yes, thank you very much.” Rem bowed, reaching into her pockets and taking out a few coins, beginning to count them down.

“Miss.” the man added, nodding towards Subaru, before heading inside the house.

“Who is he?” Subaru asked as the man disappeared.

“A hunter.” Rem said simply, continuing to count coins.

“Right.”

Sensing no further answers coming from the cold shoulder, Subaru took a moment to step away from Rem and quickly get a good look at the house. Its back wasn’t exactly up against the forest, but it was on the edge of the village. Walking back to Rem, Subaru had to conclude that an assassin could easily sneak up here and meddle with food stored inside.

“Here it is!” the man’s voice called as the front door opened once more. “Caught just this night!” he added proudly, handing a small tied up sack making wet, meaty noises to Rem, who gave him her coins. “Ah, always so generous!” the man smiled looking at the coins. “Please give my regards to your sister, and Roswaal-sama too, of course!”

“Will do, thank you for your work.” Rem said bowing.

“We didn’t get properly introduced, Miss.” he turned to Subaru, who was still mostly just looking ponderously at the house.

“Oh, right.” Subaru said, snapping to it. “Natsuki Subaru, new maid.” she said simply.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, the name’s—” the man began but was cut short as Subaru spoke up, her thoughts far away.

“Uhm, we probably shouldn’t eat that today.” Subaru declared. “According to my home’s traditions, it is bad luck to eat an animal that was still alive a day before. Its spirit will curse the one who does.” she improvised, the hunted giving her an unsure look over.

“Please excuse her.” Rem said, bowing once more. “She is new, and from far away.”

“Not a problem.” the man responded.

“Have a good day.” Rem concluded.

Subaru felt Rem’s hand grab her wrist tightly and she found herself being pulled away from the house. It was only four houses over that Rem finally let go of Subaru’s arm, though she didn’t stop her steps and continued towards the next building without slowing down.

“Please do not make embarrassing comments.” Rem stated without even looking back.

The next stop happened to be an old lady who made and bottled ringa juice. Her house was also in a rather exposed location, indeed most houses in the village were. There was no way to know that someone wouldn’t have put something in the juice. Subaru took one of the bottles of juice bought and swirled it around, holding it to the sun, hoping she might spot something through the tinted glasses. No such luck still.

“Are you certain this is fresh? I heard ringa can be very unhealthy if it—”

Subaru-kun.” Rem had raised her voice in a way Subaru hadn’t heard before, then bowed deeply towards the juice maker, her head staying low. “Rem is terribly sorry about her junior’s behaviour.”

“It really isn’t a bother, Rem-chan.” the old lady said, waving her hand with an awkward smile. “The young lady likely just had a bad experience. I’ve seen that look before.” she added, turning to Subaru.

“Rem is deeply thankful for the understanding.” Rem said, finally straightening up. “Please have a wonderful day.”

Once more, she grabbed Subaru’s wrist and dragged her off, holding and tugging her even more tightly and forcefully than before.

“Ow, you’re starting to actually hurt me!” Subaru objected through gritted teeth.

There was no response from Rem until they turned a corner, leaving the old lady well behind.

“Subaru-kun. Rem cannot allow such behaviour to be reflected on Roswaal-sama. Wait in the village square until Rem is done.”

“But—”

“Now!” Rem declared. Her voice was calm, but her face twitched for a moment.

Subaru looked at her feet, sighing. “Fine I’ll—”

Rem didn’t even wait for Subaru’s full answer, just hurried off to her next task, leaving Subaru behind without a thought.

“Cold.” Subaru said under her breath. She definitely needed to talk with Ram about what could have upset Rem so much.

Honestly, Subaru hadn’t been observing etiquette very closely as of late, having grown so familiar with everyone. Maybe that was it. Also yeah, in retrospect her questions to the lady and the man earlier could be seen as rude, but if only everyone saw what she was trying to protect them from!

Rubbing her hair in frustration, Subaru wanted to scream out that an assassin was coming. Maybe she should have, only that could alert the assassin, and make the put off the attack, making Subaru appear insane and nothing more!

“Is something wrong?” Subaru heard, something gently tugging down on the elbow of her maid uniform.

Looking there, she saw a young orange haired girl looking at her worriedly.

“The lady looked like something happened.” the girl said. Trying to think back, Subaru recalled that the two boys called her Petra.

“Ah, it’s nothing you should worry about.” Subaru replied, forcing on a smile and crouching down to be on the girl’s eye level. “I just got into a bit of an argument with my friend from the mansion.”

“You’re friends with Rem-san?” Petra asked.

“Yeah! Well, sort of. It’s a work in progress.” Subaru trailed for a moment. “I’m Natsuki Subaru, you can just call me Subaru.”

“My name’s Petra.” the girl replied.

“That’s a pretty name, Petra-chan. Thank you for your concern.” Subaru added, patting the girl’s head next to the big silly red ribbon.

“Would you like to meet the village?” Petra offered sweetly.

Subaru wasn’t sure if she really should be playing around right now, but she saw in her mind’s eye how it would go if she tried pestering Rem any more, and it wasn’t pretty. No, she just needed to get rid of the groceries once they were back at the mansion and hope that’s enough.

“Sure, Petra-chan. That would be nice.” she answered, straightening herself out. “Lead the way.”

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

“What is happening here?” Rem’s voice called out.

They were back by now at the mansion. It was almost time to begin dinner preparations. After Rem placed the bags of groceries down in the kitchen, Subaru had thought to quickly hide them in the gardening shed. That way after the enemy was revealed, she could play dumb and bring them back later saying she accidentally moved them.

Right now, Subaru was marching through the garden with the four bags in hand.

“I’ve—” Subaru began, but no excuse came to mind.

“It doesn’t matter. Please follow Rem back to the kitchen.” Rem said turning away.

There wasn’t really much of a chance to hide the groceries at this point. Subaru had no choice but to follow Rem to the kitchen where Ram and Felt were already waiting.

“Nee-sama, I found the groceries.” Rem said simply.

“Where were they?” Ram asked.  Subaru’s heart was beating quickly in her chest.

“It does not matter.” Rem said, oddly. “However, Rem was thinking that perhaps tonight’s dinner should be made with the groceries we had left over.”

Ram’s eye wandered to Subaru for a moment, then back to her sister.

“I suppose if that is what Rem wants, it can be done.” she said.

Subaru’s heart slowed down, and she exhaled a long breath of air. There was no reason she could think of for why Rem would cover for her like that, but more importantly, even without hiding the groceries, they won’t be used! That was one entire avenue of attack completely taken care of!

She felt the bags pulled from her grasp and Rem announced she’ll lock them in the larder.

“Very well.” Ram nodded. Once her sister left, she turned to Subaru. “While my sister takes care of the groceries, please get the table ready.” she commanded.

Ma’am, yes ma’am! ” Subaru declared in english with a little salute.

If only the alarm will go this smoothly too, she won’t have anything to fear… If only.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

Her free time for the day having been eaten up by the trip to the village, Subaru had no more time, no more chances for any preparations. The poison angle has been handled. It wasn’t exactly to plan, she couldn’t really make sense of why things played out the way they did, but it worked out. It felt a bit like being lost in thought, getting on the first bus at the station, and then upon realizing that she never checked if it’s the correct route, it just so happened to be an express that goes exactly where they wanted.

Subaru wasn’t going to look this gift horse in the mouth.

Well, she wasn’t going to, but an uneasy feeling drove her to do it regardless.

The simple matter of fact was, that it was way too easy to make sure the groceries aren’t used. Easy to the point where it sounded like even in the previous loops, they weren’t used. Truthfully, Subaru didn’t pay attention to the groceries last loop, so the idea that they could be the source of poisoning was mostly a guess.

If they were never used in the previous loops however, then that would mean that the assassin had no way to poison anyone at the mansion from the outside, which would mean that there was no poison. But if there was no poison, then it could only be that witch cult ability, and if it was that, it had ridiculous, impossible to counter range. For all Subaru knew, it could even go through walls, if it could go through fences.

She had claimed before that the magic ability was her prime suspect for what sapped her energy, but deep down she really hoped it was something as pedestrian as poison. That she could avoid. This magic touch? No. She couldn’t combat someone whose attacks she cannot see, whose reach is practically as far as they can see on the mansion grounds, it was madness.

These thoughts swirled in Subaru’s head through the late afternoon, coming to a deafening boom in her head as she was finally standing by dutifully, as Emilia and Roswaal ate dinner before them.

“Barusu, is something wrong?” Ram asked once Roswaal had closed the dinner.

“No, I just—” Subaru was straining herself trying to respond. She still had a couple of things to do. She had to place her phone in the right place, she had to get the hell away from the fence afterwards. Of course she was aware that there would be stress involved in the final confrontation, but the revelation that the poison angle was probably wrong the whole way through— That just made the threat of that invisible touch all the more real.

“Barusu?”

“Sorry, I’ve got lost in thought.” Subaru nodded. “I’ve got something I want to do tonight, so I don’t think I’ll be joining Felt for practice.” she declared, beginning to walk to the dining room doorway, but she was stopped by a sudden hand against her chest.

“What is going on, Barusu?” Ram asked, pushing Subaru back a bit.

Subaru rubbed her forehead, brushing her fingers into her hair. There was nothing she wanted more than just to explain it. Then she wouldn’t need to raise an alarm, she wouldn’t have to bet on the timing of the alarm being right. That is, if they believed her, but how could they? And she already pained herself over what it would mean if they did believe her. They could never have a normal relationship after that. Subaru couldn’t bear the thought of driving such a wedge between herself and the people of the mansion.

Simply saying she has a bad feeling was also out. Rem wasn’t going to listen, that much was clear. Maybe this time around Ram would, but then what? The pink maid goes out looking for the assassin and gets killed in Subaru’s place? That also isn’t acceptable. No, the phone alarm would work. No one in the mansion ever heard it, it startled everyone when she played music from it at the loot house. This was the one way to rouse all defenses of the mansion.

“I’m sorry Ram, but I can’t explain right now. Please just trust me.”

Subaru could sense Felt and Rem’s eyes on her. Ram held Subaru back with her hand for a short while longer, but then just sighed and let her go.

“Fine, Barusu.”

“Thank you.”

With that, Subaru hurried out of the dining room, and into the garden. She wasn’t going straight for the tree, rather first to the gardening shed. She had to make sure that her phone makes as much noise as possible. She already set it to maximum volume, and set the first track of the soundtrack of her dad’s favourite old game as the ringtone. The entire soundtrack was really bassy, so any would do the trick. What she needed now, was an amplifier, and in lack of proper electronics, the best thing she could think of was—

“Come here, you!” Subaru exclaimed, grabbing a metal bucket inside the gardening shed.

With the metal bucket turned towards the mansion, and the phone placed inside it, it would serve as a decent if primitive megaphone.

Walking briskly to the tree, Subaru glanced at the time on her phone. It was roughly an hour until the last time she looked at the clock in the previous loop, and to when the alarm was set.

“Wait, no, no. That’s not good.” she said, talking to herself.

If she left the alarm at that time, it might be too late. Last loop she rushed to the fence early, and she wasn’t attacked until after she called out the assassin who she felt at the time was late. The assassin might have waited because of her presence, so if she isn’t there, they might attack sooner.

Clenching her fist on the handle of the bucket, Subaru opened up the alarm’s settings and moved the alarm to a few minutes earlier. Hopefully that won’t be soon enough that the assassin is still not inside and they run away. Though, come to think of it, that would be preferable to them killing people, so Subaru was willing to take that bargain at this stage, even if the bastard gets away.

Once at the tree, not wanting the bucket and phone to be muffled by the grass, she quickly climbed up to the lowest branches of the tree, and balanced the bucket on them, placing the phone inside. Jumping down, she allowed herself a brief moment to examine her handiwork. It seemed stable, the bucket probably wouldn’t fall down like this, so all she needed to do now was…

Was…

She glanced down at the bite mark on her hand, the same imprint of the same teeth, mostly in the same place. Was there any escaping an attack meant for her, if she’s in the same place?

If she just goes back inside and waits, that wouldn’t guarantee her safety. Would it? Sure, she was going to rouse the defenses, and if nothing else, Roswaal and Beatrice were probably going to come out and face the assassin, but with that intangible touch spell or whatever it was—

No, she can’t be here. This was probably her last life, the idea of a third retry being a pipedream. Even if she knew she could come back again, the thought of experiencing all that again, having to play along for five more days, with no better plan, no better anything—

Her body was shaking.

She needed to be away. At this point, she couldn’t really make everyone leave. Perhaps that’s what she should have aimed for from the start? Convince the manor’s population to go away? Would that have worked, probably not. Although they’ll probably be fine. Right? Felt and Emilia at least are under the highest protection as candidates. Roswaal probably cast all sorts of wards to protect them. That’s what a wizard would do, right? So they’ll be—

Subaru bit her lip. She should have been better than trying to come up with excuses for why she wants to save her own life.

“Stupid idiot.” she muttered to herself, turning back to the mansion and beginning to run.

She could have hidden in the attic until it was over? No, who knows what a wizard battling an assassin will look like. She died long before that both loops.

Rushing into the now empty kitchen, Subaru went to the knives and grabbed a long sharp one. There had to be some protection with her. If for not against the untouchable assassin, then against the wild animals in the forest. Next she rushed to the cupboard with the key rack and grabbed the large key fitting the mansion’s front gate.

Outside once more, Subaru examined the mansion’s surroundings, and locked her eyes on a nearby hill overlooking the mansion. It was far from the mansion grounds, and not near the corner where the assassin was bound to strike from. This will be her lookout. From up there, she can observe what happens. Once the assassin is dealt with, she’ll return and come up with an excuse for why she was out. Surely they won’t mind, after her magic proximity alert metia saved them, right? Will that be a good story? It’ll need to be.

With shaky legs, Subaru rushed to the front gate. It had to end tonight. Whatever it was, whoever this assassin, they had to be stopped. But Subaru couldn’t let herself die in the process.

The front gate locked behind her, she rushed into the woods off the road, knife and key in hand. She cut through the shrubs, jumped over the jagged roots of the old trees and climbed the hill as fast as she could, until she finally reached a spot far above even the mansion’s top floor besides a small cliff, leaving no trees in her way to observe what happens.

Her heart continued to beat in her throat. She was safe here. She had to be. This wasn’t the direction the assassin came from, it was far out of the way in fact. With her timing, they couldn’t even have seen her leave, so she was fine.

Her heart didn’t beat for her, but against her, shame drawing down her limbs. Shame over having made such grand statements in her head about how she’ll make sure everyone is safe, only to then get cold feet at the last moment and take refuge here.

“No! I did all I could!” she hissed at herself. “I can’t fight this, I’d just get in the way!” she added, not fooling herself.

Time passed at an agonizingly slow pace. Why couldn’t the alarm just go off already? Why can’t time move faster? Why can’t this all just be—

 

Just then, Subaru heard a familiar voice. An impossible voice. A voice speaking in perfect English.

We are going to have to act , if we want to live in a different world. ” it called loudly from the tree lines behind her, followed by music Subaru had heard a thousand times.

Subaru snapped, turning to the source of the music, and just as the intro drums finished, she could see and hear her phone get crushed in a slender hand, held out into the moonlight from under the shadow of the trees.

The hand retreated into the shadows, to a faint, elegant figure gazing into Subaru’s core with a single, burning, blue eye.

Chapter Text

“R-Rem?” Subaru stuttered.

The eye, the hand, the uniform’s contour through the shadows, it had to be her! But, if she’s here, and so was her phone—

“What did you do?!” Subaru exclaimed, turning back towards the mansion, straining her eyes to see if the assassin might have already entered. “I needed that to be hear—”

Rattle.

The blood froze in Subaru’s veins and she found herself unable to move. She knew that sound. She knew that sound too well. It was coming faintly from the same direction as Rem. The maid had to have brought the assassin’s attention here by bringing the phone here. Why would Rem do that?!

Rattle.

With rapid breaths, Subaru glanced down the cliff. She might make it if we slid down without breaking her legs. She needed to grab Rem and pull her away!

Subaru clenched her fists and began to turn back to Rem, leaning into a sprint, ready to grab the girl and run.

“Rem! You have to trust me, there’s—”

As Subaru finished her turn and was about to launch into her sprint, she saw a flash of black, white and blue, before an intense pressure enveloped the front half of her neck. Gasping, she dropped the knife and key in her hands and began clutching at her throat, her head forced up, as she felt her feet lifted off the ground. A slim hand had locked itself onto Subaru’s throat with incredible strength. She tried clawing at it, but it wouldn’t let go.

This— this couldn’t have been the hand she thought. All she could see was the moon above surrounded by countless stars, her head held high by the arm, her whole body weight pulling on her neck.

Grabbing the hand as best she could, then moving her grasp lower to the wrist, she felt frilled cloth. Grasping for a touch, she could identify it any time.

“Rhe- Rhe-h!” she gargled, desperately calling to the maid holding her up.

Subaru felt the hand on her throat clutch even harder, then her body was pulled back before being pushed again, Rem swinging her in the air for a moment before slamming Subaru against the dirt, hand still around her neck like a vice.

Finally the maid in full view, Subaru could see Rem gazing down at the mansion with fury on her face. The girl was crouching over Subaru, holding her pinned by the throat with her left arm.

‘I heard them, they’re near!’ Subaru wanted to shout, still unable to process the situation. With the  Why was Rem doing this to her?

You. ” Rem shouted, turning her fiery gaze down to Subaru in the dirt. “What was the purpose of that thing? That metia? Who were you trying to signal?”

The grip loosening on her throat just enough to breathe, Subaru took a deep breath before shouting back: “ What are you doing?! The mansion is under attack!

Subaru felt the grip tighten on her throat once again, stronger than before. She felt something shift in her throat, and she wasn’t sure if perhaps Rem had just crushed her windpipe. Tears of pain and confusion began forming in her eyes as her lungs drew on air that couldn’t come.

Don’t you dare think you’ll escape over a threat like that! ” Rem hissed, locking eyes with Subaru. “Was that a signal? Who for? What did it say?”

Coughing uncontrollably as once more her throat was given just enough freedom to breathe, Subaru flailed her body, trying to kick at the girl holding her. Rem had lost her mind! Clearly! She—

Just then, Rem raised her right hand. In her fist was clutched a metal rod, and a long chain clenched together, a heavy looking spiked ball of metal danglin behind, rattling the chains.

Subaru’s eyes went wide in terror and the clenched fist holding the rod and chains struck down at her stomach with such force that all air blew out of Subaru’s lungs to form a putrid foam as it mixed with the contents of her stomach also shooting forth though barely flowing past the grip on her throat.

Stay still, and answer the question! ” Rem commanded, quickly glancing down at the mansion again.

“Is- is that chain your weapon?” Subaru asked, barely forcing out the words after coughing the foaming vomit out of her mouth.

Rem’s face darkened from her earlier fury to one of pure hatred, and she clutched Subaru’s throat once more. A sharp pain followed, along with a fleshy snap. For a moment Subaru had thought that her neck was broken but no, instead she felts as though she was drowning, liquid flowing into her lungs.

This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. Not like this! She can’t— Why would she—

While Subaru gargled on her own blood through her crushed windpipe, she saw a light glow emanate from her throat, or rather, from the hand holding it, before suddenly beginning to cough blood. A moment later, she felt air reach her lungs again.

This is the final warming. ” Rem screamed into Subaru’s face. “What was your plan?! Who was that signal for?”

The signal was for you! ” Subaru screamed with all she had. “ There’s an assassin! They’re going to attack the mansion they can touch things far away! I thought they had a chained weapon, but— No, there has to be an assassin! I saw them!

“Who is your compatriot? Are they after Roswaal-sama? Emilia-sama?” Rem demanded, pulling Subaru up slightly from the ground.

“They’re not with me! I set the alarm to wake up the mansion!”

Subaru felt her head slammed against the ground.

A useless lie! ” Rem fumed. “How could you know when they are attacking, if you were not with them?! Are you buying them time? How many are there?!”

“I don’t know! I only saw the one!” Subaru shouted back, her eyes trained madly at the hand clutching the iron rod and chains. “Please, Rem, how could you think I’d have anything to do with this?! We were friends!”

Friends?! ” Rem yelled at Subaru through gritted teeth as her nails began to pierce into Subaru’s neck. “Like with Nee-sama?! You thought your sick little game could work?”

Subaru felt the hand on her neck begin to shake, the maid’s once beautiful face contorting into something twisted, nearly demonic.

“You could have just come into our home. You could have just tried to do your evil business by yourself.” Rem a shaking voice. “Instead, you joined our work. You befouled every place, every act, every thought that was Nee-sama and Rem’s precious treasures! Someone like you, whose kind brought Nee-sama such agony, taunting her so brazenly, as if with pride for what had been done! Rem couldn’t even bear to listen to it!”

The nails now embedded in Subaru’s neck, she felt her warm blood flow down the back of her neck.

“I— I just wanted to be your friend.” Subaru forced out, choking on her tears. “From the very beginning, that’s all I—”

Lies! ” Rem shouted. “You may have twisted Nee-sama somehow, but that’s where it ends! Rem had seen your plans, what you hid and studied!”

The hand on Subaru’s neck began to tighten once more, threatening to crush her windpipe all over again.

“Rem sees now that it is pointless to question you. Roswaal-sama will surely be able to find who sent you. Your accomplices will be found.” Rem stated, her facial features beginning to straighten. “Whatever you have planned, Nee-sama is going to stop it.” Her face was now almost as serene, as any day of work at the mansion. “And once you’re erased, whatever evil you have worked on Rem’s precious Nee-sama will be corrected. Rem make sure of it, for Nee-sama’s sake, and to atone for not killing you before you wormed your way into the mansion.”

Subaru clawed weakly for air, as Rem had refused to nap her neck, just choking the air from her. She never realized how long it takes to choke to death, but there could be nothing too quick nor too slow for this. This had to be a nightmare! A sick nightmare! Rem couldn’t have meant all that, she just couldn’t! She was mad! Was she poisoned with something in the village driving her crazy? Did she eat a bit of poisoned food when Subaru wasn’t with her?! No, no, this couldn’t be!

The figure! Subaru wanted to scream it, the figure must still be lurking nearby! Even if Rem went mad this time, even if she had a rattling weapon, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t have been her! Subaru saw that figure, that assassin both times! They too might have a similar weapon. Maybe the rattling noise had nothing to do with what killed Subaru, she hadn’t seen the weapon either time! The enemy could be in the mansion right now, attacking Felt, Ram, Emilia, everyone! WIth the alarm taken, they would be defenseless!

‘I don’t want to die! I want to help!’ Subaru mouthed, unable to let even the smallest gasp of air escape her lungs. ‘Please! Rem! Rem!’

Suddenly, a roar cut through the building ring in Subaru’s ear, and the sound of her own whimpers and writhing in the grass. A deep, gruttal howl from the tree lines, followed by the sound of cracking wood.

Rem’s grasp disappeared from her neck and Subaru gasped for air so thirstily, it felt as though she was drinking water while submerged in a pool. The attention of the maid atop her shifted from her, and to the nearby treeline from whence the sounds came, and glancing there out of the corner of her eye, Subaru saw a great, dark green shadow pass by the edge of her sight, before the sound of dozens of snapping twigs and branches filled the air.

“So it was a call for backup?!” Rem said, grabbing the long chained weapon in both hands, beginning to spin the ball around.

Summoning her strength, Subaru rolled to her side to see the enemy. A shadow under the trees, a massive form towering at seven feet, a gia—

Let the kid go!

The creature stepped into the moonlight, roaring once more, a giant branch or snapped out root in its hand. As the light rode up its body, Subaru could first see its massive, human feet, dark pants, red tattoos on his side, black vest and then face.

“No.” Subaru gasped out, as recognition hit her.

You’ll pay for hurting that kid! ” Rom roared, raising the large piece of wood over head then swinging it at the maid standing over Subaru.

Rem effortlessly raised her two arms, one on either side of the coming blow, the chains stretched between her hands, and blocked the attack.

Even then, the sheer force of it was enough to shatter the end of the improvised wooden weapon, and also knock Rem back a bit, away from Subaru.

“Get up, kid! I’ll get you out of here!” Rom said quickly, grabbing Subaru’s shoulder and pulling her to her feet. “Where is Felt?!”

“Rom, how are you here?!” Subaru asked with what little breath she had. She could barely stand in her current condition. A step in any direction and she felt she’d just fall over.

“I was going to break into that mansion, then heard the commotion.” Rom said simply, holding up his broken stick of wood defensively, standing between Rem and Subaru. “If they have you here too—”

Subaru heard chains rattle, then a deep pained grunt from Rom before he descended on one knee.

This didn’t make sense, if Rom was going to— If he was going to— Was he always the figure? But he cannot have been, no, they were— They were under attack! They must have been!

“Forget it kid, just run!” grunted Rom, sounding in great pain.

“No! No!” Subaru yelled. If she could have, she’d probably have ran, but her feet couldn’t move.

Reaching up to Rom’s left shoulder, Subaru supported herself on the giant then weakly stumbled around  him, only to see a horrible, bleeding hole punched fist deep into the right side of his chest. Ahead, Rem was calmly reeling back the bloody wrecking ball at the end of her chains.

Rem! ” Subaru cried out. “I’m begging you, whatever you think I did, we did, just stop!”

The maid didn’t respond, only spun the ball again, throwing it past Rom on his right side, flicking her wrist, to which the chain tightened, and the ball changed trajectory, flinging itself to the left behind Rom’s large form, crashing into Subaru’s side and sending her flying.

A sharp piercing pain enveloped Subaru’s entire torso, her screams of pain muffled by her damaged throat, and perhaps something more. Reaching to where the ball struck her, she touched a horrible solid, spiked sensation. She couldn’t bear to look, but she was certain it was a rib. Writhing in the grass, she could see the old giant kneel where he was before, the chains of Rem’s weapon wrapped around his body.

Rom looking at Rem in range, but clearly paralized grunted: “I was told that girl saved—”

Fura! ” sounded out in a loud voice from somewhere nearby, and Subaru saw once more the horrible scene that ended her first life. A whistling flew through the air, and as it reached Rom, his head leapt up, free of his body, dancing through the air for a moment, before disappearing over the cliffside. His body fell limply to the side.

“Nee-sama.” Rem called with a tone as mild as if she greeted someone she spotted on the street.

“Rem, I have said that there was no need to act today.” came Ram’s voice from nearby, and soon the pink haired maid joined her sister by Rom’s lifeless body. Ram held an elegantly cut stick in her right hand, akin to a short cane.

‘Do you not see me?!’ Subaru wanted to shout, her voice having near completely left her. ‘Rem’s gone mad! Get away from her!’

“Nee-sama, Rem discovered the woman had planted some sort of metia and then tried to escape. Rem simply had to intervene.” Rem explained, gesturing at Subaru.

‘Once Ram sees me like this, she’ll understand! She’ll figure out what happened, she’ll have answers!’ Subaru thought, begging the gods for answers and mercy.

“A metia? What kind?” Ram asked calmly after glancing at Subaru’s beaten and bloodied body laying a couple yards from them near the treeline.

‘Ram? Ram? Why don’t you—?’

“Rem is not sure. It simply emitted a strange sentence, followed by bizarre noises. Rem crushed it before it might have done anything more.”

“I see. In that case, Rem had done the right thing.” Ram declared. “Ram will take the interrogation from here, Rem should return to the mansion and make sure it is secure.”

“Nee-sama, Rem is not sure if that’s wise.” Rem said, bowing her head.

“I am quite certain that Barusu can pose no threat in this stage.” Ram noted.

“That name...” Rem said, followed by the briefest pause before continuing. “Rem believes they have found a way to interfere with Nee-sama’s impeccable judgement. Even earlier, they tried to appeal to Rem, calling on a friendship that never existed. Rem is concerned—”

“There is no reason to be concerned. I had planned to evaluate them for longer, but that is all. Rem had good judgement, scum will always be scum.” Ram declared.

“Why?” Subaru forced out weakly.

“It appears she is still able to speak somewhat, Nee-sama.”

“Why did you say that? What did I do?” Subaru asked beggingly. Face was half buried in the mud forming from her tears seeping into the ground. The thought of death hadn’t even entered her mind anymore. It wasn’t that she thought she’ll survive, or that she’ll get another chance. She simply didn’t have the energy or mental fortitude to think of more now, than the cruel, pitiless words and actions of the two maids.

She had hoped when Ram arrived that she’d fix everything. She believed that there could be no other explanation than that Rem had gone mad from poison— only how? If Rom was the attacker, then there was no attack. There was no poison. Every loop, Rem simply killed her.

“We were friends! I know we were!” Subaru declared quietly, with only one functioning lung, unspeakable agony accompanying every spoken syllable.

Ram and Rem exchanged a look before Ram declared coldly: “These delusions of a relationship were Ba- Subaru’s alone.”

Subaru buried her face in the mud, crying as loudly as her limited breathing allowed. She had told them things she had never told anyone. For a moment, this morning when Ram dressed ehr down, she thought— she believed that someone, just for once accepted her. Not because she was family, but—

How could it have all been a lie? How could it—

A sharp pain coursed through her body from her core, sucking away at her meager remaining energy. The twins weren’t touching her, so it could only have been—

Poison.

Convolusing with yet another pain, she cursed herself. She was an idiot. How could she have thought that an outside assassin would poison food in a village just to then hope that the servants in the nearby manor will use the poisoned food without checking it? Of course the twins would have checked the food for any sign of poison. They weren’t tricked into poisoning Subaru, this was always their plan. Some slow acting poison, that they probably fed her at lunch, or breakfast. Hell, with the kind of things she read about, it could have been days ago. That’s how little they cared for her. That’s how much they hated her.

“Curse you.” Subaru hissed. “Curse all of you!”

“Nee-sama, I do not believe anything can be done at this stage, but watch her die.” Rem declared emotionlessly.

Ram walked closer to Subaru, holding the short cane by her side, and stopped a few steps away from the dying girl. Rem hissed and looked away.

“Nee-sama is much too merciful.” Rem declared.

For a moment, as everything around her was beginning to be swallowed up by an unpierceable cloud, Subaru looked up at the pink haired maid beside her. Their eyes met, and Subaru’s burning unavailing rage was met by a look of utter detachment.

Fura! ” Ram exclaimed, flicking her stick towards the head of the girl before her.

 

With the shocking pain of her head being severed from her body, a few incomprehensible moments of being unable to even gasp for air, a sensation of unconsolable hatred, and the sight of a small tremble which could have just as easily belonged to her eye, as the body of the maid standing before her, Natsuki Subaru’s life ended.

Chapter Text

“Rem, Rem, our guest appears to have moved just now.”

“Nee-sama, Nee—”

“Shut the hell up.”

Holding up a trembling hand, Subaru confirmed what she knew from the familiar bed and ceiling: She had returned once again.

She didn’t need to raise her head to know that at the end of her bed, the two evil maids stood, probably fingers interlocked, acting cute, all while just plotting when to kill her, poison her, whatever was actually going on in their hateful, twisted minds. All this time—

“All this time…” Subaru said out loud, hearing her voice shake. “You…”

“The honoured guest appears to be—”

Stop it! ” Subaru screamed, jumping up in bed, her face burning with rage.

She wanted to jump out of bed, grab them by the throat and—

Her eyes settled on Rem, and she saw before her eyes the scene of the maid smiling at her in the bath, her sweet smile one the way back from the village when Subaru explained to her about demons in metal music, then the feeling of her gut being punched with a fistfull of metal, and seeing old man Rom fall to his knee from a single, savage strike.

Subaru’s eyes twitching to Ram, she recalled the times they drank tea, Ram berating her for not learning to read fast enough, singing the Two Onis’ Song to her, that moment in the morning when Ram said gave her those encouraging insults, then the all too recent feeling of neck being severed.

Everything she did, she did for them! She wanted to save them, help them! She asked for nothing more than a chance to be their friend!

Subaru raised her hands, burrowing her fingers into her hair, and pulling her head down, hunching forward.

All those— Those precious memories. Those moments of joy— Every smile, every kind word or playful insult— They were all lies!

They hated her, enough to kill her. And for what? All three times, they killed her! There was no one else, nothing else! Not only physically, but they even poisoned her beforehand!

“Honoured Gue—”

Stop! Stop! Stop! ” Subaru screamed again, rocking back and forth. “Everything I did, everything I suffered, for what?! And now— Now, again—”

Subaru bent forward, ripping at her hair, screaming into the blanket suspended between her knees. Ram attempted to hold her, but Subaru just smacked her hand away, as hard as she could and continued to scream, and scream, deafening out the world around her until her lungs could scream no longer.

 

                                           

 

“Subaru. Please tell me what happened.”

Sometime when Subaru was screaming earlier, Emilia had come in, in that same pretty pink nightgown, though Subaru was far too gone then to even notice. For a while now, she was sitting next to the bed on a chair she pulled over from the desk in the room. The twins have long since left, just Emilia there, patiently waiting for her to respond. But with what? There was nothing to say. Nothing to do.

This was her fourth life at the mansion. She died three times. She was out of lives, and the most trusted people in the mansion were out to kill her. Why her? She couldn’t say. She didn’t really care either. With how they acted, it’s not like they would tell her, or even care if she tried to deal with it. It seemed to do with thinking she was a spy, but if they thought that as far back as the first time around, then there was no helping it.

Subaru felt a touch on her hand. Looking there, and following the slender arm, her eyes met Emilia’s.

“I feel you’ve experienced something terrible. It’s obvious from your face. Please Subaru, explain it to me.” she said, sweetly. “You’re safe now.”

Subaru breathed deeply, then with a frown pulled her hand from the elf’s clutch. The last thing this place was, was safe for her.

“Emilia.” she began, looking away from the girl by her bedside, staring at her feet under the blanket instead. “I want you to be honest with me. No matter what you answer, I don’t think I can do anything about it, so just… Tell me the truth.”

“Of course Subaru! What is worrying so?” Emilia asked, leaning closer with slight excitement in her voice, drowned under her gentle concern.

“Do you… Do you hate me?”

“H-hate you?” Emilia asked, shocked. She raised her hand before her mouth, as if the word ‘hate’ was a cuss she just carelessly spoke. “No! Of course not Subaru!” she said, pausing. “Is this about what happened in the alley? I’ve forgiven you for that a long time ago! Gosh, did I make you feel like this?”

Emilia reached out and grabbed Subaru’s hand again, holding it in both her hands, pulling it close. She didn’t continue until Subaru looked back at her.

“It’s true that what you did was hurtful, but you didn’t know! You haven’t done anything wrong!” she said, shaking her gently. “What’s more, you not only offered up perhaps your most valuable possession to try and help me, you risked your life to save that poor girl. I could never hate you! Please don’t be sad!”

Subaru bit down on her lips, trying to hold back a frown. Her heart was trembling. With fear, or something else? She couldn’t say.

“If that’s true… If that’s true then…”

“Take your time Subaru, I’m here.” Emilia cooed, reaching out to dry up Subaru’s budding tears with her precious nightgown’s sleeve.

This girl. Not Roswaal, not Beatrice. She could trust this girl to not be with the twins.

“Emilia.” Subaru began, gathering her strength. “I need to get away from here. I know you think it’s safe here, but it is not. It just— It just isn’t. I want you to come with me. Just you, me and Felt.”

“Subaru? Did Beatrice really scare you that much? She won’t hurt you she ju—”

It’s not her! ” Subaru shouted, tearing her shaking hand out of Emilia’s grasp. “It’s not her. I don’t think. I don’t know. You’re the only one I can trust.” Subaru covered her face. “You’re the only one I have. Please help me.”

“I will help you however I can Subaru, but running away is not the solution to whatever it is that’s bothering you. You’re amongst friends here!”

No I am not! I thought I was, but I was wrong! ” Subaru shouted, slamming her fists on the bed.

A pair of knocks interrupted the two of them.

“I’ll go get it.” Emilia said, putting a hand on the bed besides Subaru for a moment, her look of concern not faltering.

Subaru looked out the window. It would be so easy to just walk out, go away. That’s what she should do. But then, she’d be leaving Emilia and Felt with these animals. Maybe Emilia could be safe. She apparently knew Roswaal for a long time. Maybe even Felt, since she was a candidate. That might be too high-grade for them. But even then, just the mere thought that the twins would toy with anyone else, especially Felt or Emilia like this, like they did with her. It made her blood boil.

“Subaru, look, Rem brought us breakfast.” Emilia said with a smile, drawing Subaru’s attention back. In the door stood the vile blue temptress, holding a tray with her usual calm, emotionless expression, carrying two dishes and a pair of tea cups.

Get out! ” Subaru shouted, grabbing for the bouquet of flower by her bedside, ready to throw it at the maid, until her eyes crossed with Emilia’s and she halted her movement. Instead, she just dropped the flowers besides the bed. “I’m not hungry. Leave me alone.”

“Subaru seems to be in a very bad mood.” Emilia noted, reaching for the tray. “I’ll just take that.”

“I’m not going to eat that!” Subaru declared, rolling on her side, away from the door.

“Please excuse Rem, Emilia-sama. Rem will return the unneeded dish to the kitchen.”

With the gentle clinking of the dish and some utensils followed by the closing of the door, Rem was gone. Subaru heard Emilia walk back to the chair, shuffle Subaru’s clothes on the bedside dresser to the side, then put the tray down.

“That was very, very rude, Subaru. I’m trying to be understanding, since this must be a very stressful situation for you, waking up in a strange place, but Rem hasn’t done anything to deserve that.”

She hasn’t? ” Subaru fumed sitting back up and turning to Emilia. “You haven’t got the faintest idea of what she had done to me!”

“Wait— What are you sayin Subaru? Have you met Rem before?”

Subaru just looked at the elf and began to laugh.

“Yeah, you could say that!” Subaru declared between pained laughs, gritting her teeth. “She never met me, but I know her very, very well! I know what kind of sick, twisted person she is! So you can believe me when I tell you that you need to come with me! This mansion is not safe!

“You are not making any sense Subaru!” Emilia declared, her face between concern and stern discipline.

“Not making any sense? You want me to make sense?! You want me to explain everything?! ” Subaru shouted at the girl waving a fist in the air.

Damn it all. He one reason to keep the lies going, was that she didn’t want to ruin what relationships she was hoping to develop with the people at the mansion. She was way past that now. It didn’t matter anymore. Even if Emilia, or even Felt can never again look at her normally, even if they’ll see her as a freak, it was preferable to letting this charade go on any longer!

“Subaru, you’re—”

“No, shut up! You wanted to know? Well I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you why I know that you need to come with me!” Subaru hissed, a dark pressure building in her chest and mind. “Ever since the capital, I have suffered so much, over and over again, just to make sure everything turns out fine! For you, for Felt, even for them!

Subaru took a deep breath. It was now or never. She had to come clean. The words seemed to choke in her throat, her heart beat faster than even when facing death before. But this had to be done. She had to save Emilia and Felt. There was no other way!

Exhaling, she looked directly into Emilia’s eyes. “I have done this through—”

‘—returning by death to a past moment every time something went horribly wrong.’ is what she wanted to say, however words failed her in a way that perhaps no words have ever failed another person: They didn’t come.

No, it wasn’t that she didn’t know the words. She knew them perfectly well. She didn’t choke on the phrase either, nor did she suffer one of any number of small hiccups of biology that would have made her unable to finish the sentence, like an ill timed hiccup.

Instead, her speech just stopped, and it wasn’t alone. The sound of the shuffling bed sheets, Emilia’s concerned exasperation, the fading echo of Rem’s feet outside, the birds’ song outside.

All sound ceased, but of course it did, as Subaru saw a lock of Emilia’s hair stand still in spite of being curved by the girl’s movement a moment ago. A movement she ceased, as Subaru ceased moving her mouth and her arms. As the bed sheets stopped sinking, as the shadow of the curtains stopped dancing across the wall behind the silver-haired girl.

There was no sound or movement. Time itself ceased, only Subaru’s perception continued. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t call for help, she could stare as the most fleeting of instants stretched into eternity as if the god of time itself had died. Even with her heart stopped, her lungs still, Subaru lived.

Then, it appeared, as a mist at first, quickly tickenning into a small ball of black fog before saturating the room before Subaru to the point that she could not perceive anything behind the cloud. It didn’t fill the room, rather just hung there, morphing, shifting in the air, the only motion in the world, the one thing that could defy this timeless new world.

From the darkness in the very core of the mist, a silhouette appeared. Not a person, just a few slender fingers, which then joined into a palm taking form, then a wrist and a forearm. A long, long forearm without an elbow.

At first the hand just hovered there, caressing the air, but then it began to stretch. It stretched towards Subaru.

‘What are you?’ Subaru wanted to ask. It was clearly some manner of creature, or a spell. Regardless, the arm acted with will and belonged to someone .

The arm reached towards Subaru’s face, but just before it dipped slightly down, the fingers gently touching her thin neck, recalling the horrors of last night, though not grabbing onto her. Instead, they gently caressed her neck, sliding down, and down and—

She felt the hand slide— somewhere. Somewhere no hand could ever slide. Below her neck. The fingers weren’t against her chest, they were inside it, swimming around among her ribs and lungs grasping around as if looking for—

Subaru, even with all the horrors she had to experience at the hands of Elsa Granhiert, had little experience touching things with her innards. She didn’t even think most of her organs had touch receptors. Why would they?

But she felt it.

The fingers and the hands wrapped themselves around something deep within her chest, something vital. The most most vital, and then—

Subaru continued to stare at Emilia. Subaru’s face remained one of anger and discontent. Not a feature changed, not a muscle moved, not a sound escaped in this timeless place. However, inside her mind she experienced pain as never before. Pain that would have made her beg for Granhiert’s attention.

The fingers clutched themselves around her heart, and squeezed on it without mercy. It wasn’t beating before, and it didn’t need to beat either, and yet for the first time it felt as though it actually stopped, perhaps never to start again.

In this world with no motion, no sound, no time, there existed only pain, stretching from the beginning of eternity to the edge of the world at the end of infinity.

It felt that the hand clutched more than just her heart, it was crushing her soul, her very being, breaking away everything that was Natsuki Subaru, crumbling her to pieces until there would be nothing but dust—

 

Crash.

“Subaru?” Emilia called, moving once more.

Subaru just looked at her dazed, unsure on who either of them was for a moment. She thought she heard something break in the distance a moment ago. Was that footsteps right now?

“Emilia-sama!” Rem shouted, opening the door without knocking a look of terror on her face for a moment, before collecting herself.

“Did something happen?” Emilia asked turning to Rem.

The maid looked at the quiet room with the two women then bowed deeply. On her right leg, her pure white stockings were stained, matching the colour of the tea cooling on the dresser next to Subaru’s bed.

“Rem is terribly sorry, she had made a mistake.” Rem said simply, finishing her bow. “Please enjoy the meal.” she added, stepping back outside and closing the door.

“That was odd.” Emilia noted, turning back to Subaru, who quietly held her own wrist, feeling her pulse.

Her heart was beating. She was still alive, but—

She couldn’t tell Emilia. She couldn’t tell anyone. If that— If that thing would ever come for her again, it’d be the end of her.

“Subaru, you’re shivering!” Emilia declared in shock. “Are you sick perhaps? Is that why you’re acting this way?”

Turning her attention back to Emilia, Subaru looked in the half-elf’s eyes.

“Nevermind. I was an idiot. Again.” she said, almost whispering.

“I can not condone the way you acted to the maids and I really didn’t appreciate the rude way in which you told me to be quiet.” Emilia said with closed eyes, frowning in Subaru’s direction, before opening her eyes and a new font of compassion washed over her face. “But you have suffered, that is true. It was a miracle that Ferris could fix your arm.” Emilia consoled. “Perhaps you just need some rest.” she said, standing up. “Roswaal will be here by lunch, I’m sure she’ll want to thank you too.”

Subaru watched silently as the girl walked to the door, opened it, then with a simple wave left her alone in the room.

She gazed at the door for a while, then raised a shaking hand, watching as it slowly stopped.

It had to. Subaru couldn’t stop. Not now.

She had no way to convince Emilia left. The truth alone could have perhaps convinced the half-elf to listen, but that option was crushed along with Subaru’s heart.

However, Felt, she could still save, as she had done before. The only thing left to her. The only path forward.

With Rom out there somewhere, she was going to save both their lives and escape this damned mansion. Together, as she had by now almost forgotten was her dream since her very first death.

Chapter Text

“The girl is looking to be put back in bed again, I wonder?”

The library’s door closed behind Subaru. She was still in the robes she awoke in, lunch hours away. In place of breakfast, she simply ate the chips she had with her since arriving in a different world. It still felt odd to eat them, since she distinctly remembered old man Rom eating the whole bag with a few bites, but that was in her first life. SInce she found no puncture hole on the bag while squeezing it, she could be certain it wasn’t meddled with. If she was going to make it through this, and she was going to make it through this, she couldn’t afford to eat anything presented to her by the twins.

“Betty has heard that she made a very distinct impression on the girl, in fact. If the girl just came in here by accident again, she can turn around and leave without harm, perhaps. Just be quick about it, I suppose.” Beatrice chirped between sighs, her attention as always, occupied by the current book before her.

“I’d just like a place to think.” Subaru responded, pressing her back against the closed door.

Beatrice looked up, her eyes running over Subaru head to toe, that usual look of superiority and annoyance resting on her face.

“The girl presumes too much of her status here as a guest, perhaps.” Beatrice said, but left it at that.

Seeing as she wasn’t about to be flung out the door this time, Subaru sighed and collected her thoughts. While she had her reservations about the library’s custodian, especially after the recent revelations, there was a sense of safety here. No one could knock on the door and interrupt her here. She could figure things out in this place.

As she already decided, she couldn’t eat any of the food at the mansion. She didn’t know when the twins put the poison in her food, but with two of them working in the kitchen, even if Subaru wanted to rejoin the staff once more, she couldn’t keep an eye on everything and make sure that her food isn’t tampered with. This meant, she could only source her food from elsewhere, which was troublesome since the only food she had left after eating the bag of chips, was the ramen, and that wasn’t going to hold her for more than maybe a day, and barely that.

Stepping away from the door, Subaru began quietly marching, to emulate her nightly runs, hoping it’ll help her think.

If she just left the mansion, she could probably find work in a nearby town doing something, even if just manual labour and feed herself that way, far away from the twins’ influence. However, that would make it difficult to help Felt escape. No, the furthest she could afford to go for food was to the village of Irlam. After all that happened, she wasn’t sure if she could even trust the people there, except for the kids. Sure they were a bit rude, made fun of her eyes and name last time, since she couldn’t distract them with her music, but they were ultimately just kids. They couldn’t be in on any of this. The adults were probably also clean, but could she take that risk?

Subaru’s body shivered, as she realized once again, that she had already died three times. Even if it were just once, or nonce, the threat of being killed would have been terrifying, but with her extra lives logic she could at least force a little strength into herself, she could at least tell herself that “it will work out”. Well at this point, there was none of that.

Perhaps if she went and worked in Irlam? She could ask for odd jobs there! She could help the hunter collect animals from his traps, help the old lady make her juice, figure out some other things? Maybe not a bad idea, but perhaps they wouldn’t want to hire her just for asking. Ram made no illusions about Subaru’s incomp—

No! She wasn’t going to think of those snakes now.! She needed to concentrate on the path ahead.

Beatrice let out an annoyed sigh.

If she perhaps offered them money to let her become an apprentice or something? Well not formally, just watch the basics of their craft? If she could ask for some money from Roswaal, she could make that work. She wouldn’t even need to ask for a lot, after all it was just enough to get some villagers to work with her! Someone like her likely has more coins than that gathering dust in some forgotten corner they fell into.

Of course, that would only really let her get fresh food and monitor its preparation. It wouldn’t solve the issue that Felt and Emilia might get poisoned. Well, not so much Emilia. Apparently she’s been with Roswaal at least a little while. Surely if they wanted her dead, she’d be dead by now. As for Felt— No. She shouldn’t be ‘safe’. Subaru wouldn’t trust the twins as far as she could throw them, but it wouldn’t make sense for them to outright murder Felt. She was a candidate, and apparently sent here by that Reinhard guy from what little Subaru managed to gather before. If Reinhard wanted Felt dead, he could have killed her any time while Subaru was unconscious, instead he sent her here under the care of a powerful wizard. Granted, he did the same for Subaru, but Subaru was no one. Her disappearance could be easily fabricated. They couldn’t do the same with a candidate, there would be questions. So Felt must have been safe, at least in physical terms.

Subaru thought once more that perhaps it would be best if she just escaped by herself. Get some money from Roswaal, get some food in Irlam, then without further ado, just go and never come back.

Never seeing the twins again would have been too soon, but Felt and Emilia? The half-elf has always been so kind to her, and she clearly didn’t— No, there was no point agonizing over her. Subaru had one chance to maybe convince her, and that grasp on her heart tore it away. But Felt, even with all the trouble she caused in these past few loops, Subaru knew that the girl had a gentle soul under her shell. Unlike the twins, with whom she always only saw the masks until last night, she was with Felt when the girl was most vulnerable. She saw where she lived, how she lived. Even if Felt could never understand why, Subaru knew the girl’s soul, and it didn’t belong here.

What’s more, old man Rom was going to attempt a rescue. With how he stood up to Rem before, he had no chance to survive such an encounter. If Subaru just left, then inevitably Rom would get caught trying to rescue Felt and would be killed by the twins. Even on the off chance that they manage to hide this happening from Felt, she’d never see the old man again, and would be forever heartbroken, cut off from what seemed like the only family she ever had.

That couldn’t be allowed. Anything else was acceptable- Losing the chance at a luxurious life at the mansion, Emilia’s gentle support, her best chance to become a minstrel, steady, good work as a maid? All of it she could give up, though it pained her. But to allow the girl that set her straight to be hurt like that?

Subaru clenched her fists.

That is where the line was drawn. ‘ This far, and no further!

“Is the girl quite done yet, I wonder? Betty is getting tired of her marching and stinking up the library, in fact.”

“Yeah, I think I’m about done.” Subaru answered, stopping in her tracks. “I know what I should do.”

“The shoo, shoo! The girl can take her pointless declarations and stench somewhere else, in fact!” Beatrice said, waving a hand, face planted in her book.

“Before I go, for the record, I get that I didn’t bathe since that battle, but you don’t have to throw it at my head, when you’re the reason I spent the past few hours unconscious!” Subaru retorted.

“One must truly have to be hopeless to think the Witch’s Scent can be washed off, I suppose.” Beatrice noted casually.

Her hand already on the handle, Subaru stopped. She couldn’t have heard that right.

“What did you say you smelled?” Subaru asked, turning back to the spirit.

“The Witch’s Scent, perhaps.” Beatrice repeated with a sigh looking up.

“No, you can’t smell her on me, that’s only on people who are cultists.” Subaru protested, walking towards the spirit. “You have to be smelling something else, check again.”

Beatrice’s face contorted in disgust and she held her nose. “What kind of young woman would be so eager to make such a crude offer, I wonder?” Beatrice turned her head away, her eyes remaining on Subaru. “It’s gotten much worse since before.”

“Before? What do you mean?” Subaru demanded, towering over the girl.

“Back away, the smell sets Betty’s senses on fire, in fact.” the spirit said, waving a hand. “Though, the girl had this stench about her since she arrived, just not this strong, I suppose.”

“But I’m not a cultist!” Subaru exclaimed, taking a few steps back, not wanting to catch another windblast to the gut.

“Roswaal seemed to agree, I suppose. Earlier Betty confirmed the girl’s lack of malice as well, in fact. As much as the Witch’s approval sits heavy on the girl, marking her as a burden for this mansion, no one can know how the Witch chooses her favoured, so it could be a one way relationship, perhaps.” Beatrice prattled with a shrug.

Subaru rubbed her head.

Was this it? Was this why they hated her? But she hasn’t done anything! She had nothing to do with this witch!—

Was— Was that cloud, that hand…? Was that the Witch? Did this power to return by death come from her too, or was she just sabotaging Subaru’s efforts to use it, sending disaster after disaster at her, and stopping her from getting the help she needed? One option seemed far more likely than the other at this stage.

Even if that was the answer, even if they attacked her for this reason, that didn’t excuse the twins. Not in the least.

“Couldn’t they have just talked to me? Asked me about it? Let me explain?” Subaru muttered to herself through her teeth.

“Betty knows not what the girl is mumbling about, but she had quite enough of the girl’s presence, in fact. The girl would do well to leave before being made to leave, I suppose.” Beatrice said, holding up a hand half-heartedly while turning her head back down to the pages of her book.

“Fine. I was going anyway.” Subaru said coldly, returning to the door.

Granhiert, the twins, and now the witch. Such a rotten world. Doom flags around every corner. Every victory tainted.

She’ll escape it. She’ll save Felt, join Rom, and they’ll leave. Hide where no one will ever find them. This sadistic game must end!

 

                                           

 

“I want a small allowance, and the right to visit the manor!” Subaru declared, her hands on the dining table, either side of her untouched soup.

“A smaaaaall allowance?” Roswaal asked, her eyes narrowing and her smile reducing somewhat. “What exaaaaactly does Subaru-chan intend with this alloooowance?” she asked, putting her hands together, leant back in her chair.

Subaru took a deep breath. It took some effort to stay calm looking at Roswaal, with the two infernal twins on either side of her, but she had to speak calmly to not arouse suspicions.

“I am grateful for your hospitality, and the care I was given, however I do not belong here. I’ve never been a guest in a mansion like this, and I doubt I’d cut it as a servant either.” she explained, her teeth gritting despite her efforts at the last part.

For some reason, the corner of Roswaal’s mouth twitched up for a moment in the middle of Subaru’s explanation, but then her smile went away completely and she leant forward, raising a hand, palm to the ceiling.

“I hoooope this doesn’t mean that Subaru-chan wishes to abaaaaaandon us. I had hooooped to play a proper host to the one who saaaaaaved our dear Emilia-sama.” she said melodiously.

“Not exactly.” Subaru said, tilting her head awkwardly. This was the tough part to maneuver. “I am, as I said, grateful for the hospitality, and I am especially grateful to Emilia, without whom I’m sure I would have died in the capital. I also understand that Felt here would likely be very unhappy if left with only nobles and—” Subaru glanced at the twins, her face twitching instinctively. She decided to skip any comment. “She’d be unhappy if she had no one else of a similar background to talk to.”

Subaru planned to end her speech here, but Roswaal leaned yet closer, studying Subaru’s face carefully.

“I, uh—” Subaru began, trying to think of more to say, her face burning. “Right, so my idea was that with the allowance, for which I don’t expect a lot, uh, I’d go to a nearby settlement, find some work and lodging, and then come visit? Something like that?”

Roswaal leant back in her chair, thoughtfully caressing one of her cheeks.

“I see, I believe I understaaaand what Subaru-chan desiiiiires.” she said with a small smile and sigh, though the smile soon dissipated. “Very well. Raaaaam, please make sure our guest is preseeeented with one month’s grocery budget in cooooiins.” she waved to the servant on her right. “If I may be so booooold, Irlam is a rather humble village, but in such plaaaaaaces one can find the oddest things if one only pays atteeeeention.” she finished.

“Just don’t think because the clown gave her approval, everything will go as you wished.” Felt noted, taking the spoon she was wiggling in her mouth handle first out. “I mean thanks for jumping in the way of that knife, but don’t talk like we’re friends or whatever.”

Subaru sighed, turning to the girl besides her.

“Believe me, I get what it feels like to be stuck somewhere you really don’t want to be, but—” Subaru began in frustration, but she knew she can’t afford to alienate the girl if she wants to save her and the old man. “We got off on the wrong foot. Would it be fine if we talked in your room later, privately?”

“Sure, whatever.” Felt said, flipping the spoon in the air and watching it splash into the soup. “Not like they’re going to let me out of here anyway.”

 

                                           

 

“I’ll return shortly, with a work schedule.” Ram noted with a bow, before closing the door to Felt’s room and locking the door.

“Okay, care to explain why it was so important you talk to me before anything else?” Felt demanded with an indignant look.

As was to be expected, Felt wished to work with the maids again, which meant after lunch they went through the motions of picking out a butler uniform to refit for Felt. Subaru couldn’t care less for all that, but the earliest window where she could make an excuse to talk with Felt was before she’d go off to start her chores, so when the suit was picked out, she insisted she wanted to talk with her.

“Look just—” Subaru began. This wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped, not just finding the words now, but standing by the door to listen for Ram’s disappearing footsteps. “Okay, I think I know what you’re thinking with the ‘become a maid’ thing you picked at lunch.” she finally declared.

“What are you talking about?”

“You think that if you work with those twins, they’ll start to like you, and maybe you can lower their guard or even recruit them to help you get out of here, right?”

Felt’s eyes narrowed.

“And where exactly are you getting that idea?” she asked.

Subaru clenched her fists. She was playing with fire here, but she had to try. In the past, she got away with making vague references to things she knew or had happened, so she prayed that as long as she is not clear about her ability to travel in time, she might come out unscathed.

“I’ve got good instincts.” Subaru said, looking directly into Felt’s eyes, steeling her nerves. “ Really good instincts. I had heard that that Granhiert woman was in town, ran into Emilia who had her candidate token stolen, and from that I knew that the two would be connected.” lied Subaru without a flinch. “That’s why I intervened, why I tried to help Emilia find you soon, and why I wanted to give you a good enough deal with the metia that you and the old man would come far away and celebrate. Because it was obvious from the getgo that everyone involved was way over their head.”

Felt laughed dismissively.

“So what, you want me to believe that your instincts told you that there was a monster on the prowl, and your first pick was ‘Oh yeah, I’ll throw myself at it!’ I saw you in the loot house, lady. The most use you were in the fight was while throwing bottles!”

“Laugh at my pluck all you want, but we both know you wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t come here.” Subaru hissed.

“Should I worship the ground you walk on then? I said thanks earlier. It’s not like I asked you to get involved! You know what? That Reinhard guy even admitted to me that he probably would have left you behind instead of getting your arm fixed, if not for promising me—” Felt began, but cut herself short.

“No, no. Go on.” Subaru spoke up, her fist loosening. “What were you going to say?”

“It’s none of your—”

“Not my business?” Subaru asked, a jeering smile creeping on her face. “Well for a moment there it sounded like you were about to say that you made Reinhard promise to fix my arm!”

As much as the girl kept testing her patience since they came to the manor, Subaru couldn’t help the relieved laugh coming over her. If nothing else, at least her instincts about this little brat didn’t betray her.

“If I had, then that would make us more than even, so stop acting high and mighty!” Felt declared, crossing her arms and looking away.

“Ha!” Subaru’s grin grew beyond control. “I knew it!”

“I said stop!”

“Stop acting high and mighty, got it.” Subaru nodded, wracked by a giggle. “Alright, but you don’t have to tell me that. I am not high, or mighty. I’m as low as they come. I can’t fight as you saw, I’ve got no money, no connections, nothing but those instincts and a concerning desire to butt in where I probably shouldn’t!” Subaru declared proudly.

“Are you going anywhere with this?” Felt asked impatiently.

“Yes! There is one very simple thing I wanted to tell you.” Subaru said, pinching her nose, a little trick her mom taught her on how to stop laughing. Then, she leant down to Felt’s level and continued quietly, just to make certain no one else could hear them. “My instincts are telling me that neither of us are very safe here. All I want, is that you try not to get too attached to anything or anyone here for the next few days. I promise I’ll find a way to help you escape.”

Felt took a step back and looked at Subaru with furrowed brows of distrust.

“You want me to wait until you find a way to escape this place?” Felt asked, punctuating with a small amused huff. “You couldn’t break out of a cellar from the way you acted, and every time you tell me you want to help, your reason is that you ‘just feel like it’, or something daft about wanting everyone to be happy like an idiot. Why would I ever entrust anything to you?”

Subaru rubbed her eyes. She thought she was so close there for a moment. Not that she was in a great rush, since the earliest time she knew for sure that Rom would get here, was three days from now, but still, just a little trust would have been—

“Actually, I do have one cost!” Subaru said, snapping her fingers, the memory of their first argument by the canals coming back to her. “I didn’t want to say this until after I helped you, because I had hoped you might like it better, but I want to learn your tricks.” she declared.

Back in the capital, the first time around, even after Subaru had saved Felt’s life — Or at least, she thought she did when escaping with the girl from Emilia, who at the time Subaru believed to be an evil sorceress — Felt didn’t trust Subaru’s help until Subaru asked for a reward, even though it was something as simple as being told more about the world. With Roswaal at her disposal, Subaru couldn’t ask the same favor but perhaps this—

“You’ve got the favour of a noble, and you want to learn by trade?” Felt asked, squinting at her.

“Hey, first of all, I wouldn’t trust anyone in this manor aside from you and Emilia further than I can throw them, and I’m not exactly an old man Rom here, so that’s not too far!” Subaru started. “Second, I might not be a fighter, I’ll be the first to admit I never been in a fight before that mess at the loot house, but how long will I be able to keep saying that, right? Ever since I came to this country, I’ve got the feeling that danger is around every corner, so learning how to defend myself would be pretty useful!”

‘I know you can’t Nat20 bluff checks, but pleeeease!’ Subaru prayed in her mind.

Felt once again looked Subaru over.

“You’re probably just going to get yourself killed if you try anything other than run away from a fight, you know that right?”

“Why do you think I’m asking to be taught?”

“No, I’m saying I don’t think you’ve got any potential. You carry yourself like a noble, seemed barely aware of your surroundings back there, maybe you could run decently from what I’ve seen before, but you even looked incompetent when you flailed that instrument around, and that’s not a high bar.” Felt listed. “I don’t think I can teach you anything.”

Subaru didn’t know where they put that long knife the girl had back in the capital, but she knew how to cut without it.

“You say that.” Subaru began after a pained sigh at her own expense. “But you’ve already listed a bunch of things I didn’t realize I had problems with. I can start working on them because of that, so you’re already teaching me! Like what else option do I have besides leeching off of this Roswaal woman’s good will and hoping things will turn out right?”

Naturally, what Subaru really wanted was to become a minstrel, and that was a very good alternative option, but Felt didn’t need to know that for this conversation.

The young candidate sighed, shaking her head.

“Well, I guess at least I know where you’re coming from.” Felt said, her tone rather serious and contemplative. Then she raised her eyes to Subaru’s. “But I still can’t trust it. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume you’re really just a bit of an idiot, but there’s all sorts of wrong with what you said and did.”

Subaru’s heart sank as the girl continued.

“Coming to the loot house, offering up your metia—”

“I was trying to get in Emilia’s good graces!” Subaru declared, trying to salvage the situation.

“You said you don’t trust anyone at this mansion, so why would you want to get in good with its number one resident?”

“I— I don’t know—” Subaru had realized that she pulled herself in a knot by lying earlier that she figured out the gravity of the situation from the candidate insignia.

“Yeah, see this is what I’m talking about!” Felt declared angrily, stomping her feet. “You talk about good instincts and all that, but mine can’t read you at all! You act like someone who’s genuinely just a helpful idiot, but then you hang up like this over simple things! The best I can tell, you’ve got something wrong with your head, and I’m sorry and all that, but I don’t need a crazy person’s help. And that’s me being generous against my better judgement! You should help whatever’s wrong with you, before you start trying to take on other people’s problems!”

As horrible as the things Felt had said here were, most of them didn’t reach Subaru’s heart. The only thing that concerned her, was that Felt continued to deny her the chance.

She wanted to scream at the brat, tell her she’s being an overanalyzing little bastard, and she should just take the hand offered to her and be glad someone even is willing to help! She wanted to drive into the core of the girl that whether she caught on or not, Subaru’s been the only one for over two weeks now who stood by her, and sacrificed herself again and again while trying to make sure she’s safe. Something primal was simmering in Subaru’s core, raging to be set free—

But Subaru sighed, calming herself as best she could. Yelling angrily could not be afforded. If distrust is the best she can have from Felt for now, she must maintain it, and not make it worse. There’s a chance that if she can intercept Rom, she can help him reach through to Felt. Afterwards , there will be a place for words. For now, through any frustration, she has to endure and show patience.

“Fine.” Subaru said with a shaky, angered voice. “If you think you can handle it, I’ll leave it to you for now. But I might come back, if something presents itself.” 

“Lady, for your own good, just worry about yourself.” Felt replied, shaking her head once more with a look of disapproval mixed with pity. “No one else is going to.”

“No. I suppose not.”

Chapter Text

“Roswaal-sama wanted to convey her good wishes.” Ram said with a bow after opening up the manor’s front gate.

“Thanks.” Subaru said coldly, walking past the maid without paying any courtesy. The two of them putting on a front didn’t mean Subaru should too.

With a small pouch of coins placed in her backpack, Subaru headed out to the village, only about an hour after lunch on her first, or sixteenth day at the mansion, once again, however one counts. With the way things were between her and Felt, she wasn’t sure if she’d return before the fourth evening, by which point she hoped she could make contact with Rom. Her only lead on Rom’s location prior to the fifth evening was of course the claim of the two boy, Cain and Dain, that they saw a giant sleeping in an old abandoned windmill on the fourth evening, so it should be safe to assume that somewhere in the afternoon of that day at least, he was already in the area. If Subaru got lucky, maybe sooner.

Trekking down the now familiar path to Irlam, tortured by her empty stomach, Subaru almost regretted not eating lunch. Almost. She couldn’t risk being poisoned at all. There were sick poisons in that book that took upwards of months to activate depending on how they were prepared. She still had a bag of ramen in her backpack, but she couldn’t eat that until she was out of the mansion to be sure.

When she finally spotted the edge of the village, she gave a relieved sigh and holding her grumbling stomach headed straight for the house where she recalled the local hunter lived. A couple of people out and about gave her long looks, though she was expecting it. Not only was she a stranger, but she came in strange clothes too. Probably the only reason she didn’t stick out in the Capital is that there were too many people from too many parts of the world for really anyone to stand out. This was fine though, she didn’t need people to treat her normal, she just needed to survive here for a few days then break Felt out.

Finally the building she was looking for came into view, and she saw the familiar man sitting  on the bench outside with a familiar looking chubby kid besides him.

“—dangerous. But tell you what, I’ll teach you how to dress them.” the man said, patting the boy on the back.

“D-dress them? That’s when you cut their skin? I-I don’t think I could…” the boy trailed with an embarrassed look on his face

“You’ll have to learn some day, son. You do know we must kill them once they’re trapped. If that’s not to your stomach, why did you ask to come with me?” the man asked with a fatherly sternness in his voice.

“I wanted to pick some wild flowers for mom.”

The man laughed up, and put an arm around his son’s shoulder.

“Ah Mild, I guess we can put off teaching you to dress a bit. If you keep that sweet attitude, and maybe lose your appetite a bit, you’ll catch yourself a fine little wife one day! Just make sure you don’t shirk your work!”

Subaru almost felt bad intruding on this scene, but her stomach grew more impatient by the minute.

“Excuse me, sir?” she called out.

“Hm? Well, hello miss! Travelling to the mansion?” the man asked in surprise, looking over to Subaru and examining her garments.

“Actually, I’ve come from there.” Subaru corrected. “The name’s Natsuki Subaru.”

“Oringo.” the man responded. “This here is my boy Mild. Would introduce the wife too, but she’s out for a walk with one of her friends. What can I do for you?”

“Well, honestly, I was hoping you might let me use your kitchen,” Subaru started, the ramen in her bag burning bright in her thoughts. “But mostly, I was hoping I could be of use to you. I’ve, uh, heard this is the house of a local hunter?”

“That I am.” he declared with a proud smile. “Well, more of a trapper in this season, but I’ve been known to fell big game before.”

“Great. Well, truth is, I want to learn a craft, and I was hoping perhaps you could teach me, in exchange for work and—” Subaru quickly removed her backpack and took out the pouch of coins. “And also payment, of course.” she declared, taking out a couple of the shining coins.”

The man looked at the coins in Subaru’s hands for a moment then at her.

“Miss- Natsuki was it?”

“Most people call me Subaru.” she responded, trying to put on a confident smile for her first actual job interview. Those lunch wishes didn’t really count.

“Well, Subaru, I’d be happy to take you on. But I can’t help but think you’re rather new to— perhaps the kingdom?” he said tentatively, taking his hands off his son’s shoulders and standing up. “Recently some people from the capital passed through to the mansion. I’m assuming one was you? That’s quite a lot of money to be offering for something like an apprenticeship, and I’m not even in a guild or a craftsman.” he explained, standing before Subaru.

“Technically, I’m a guest of Roswaal, but I— I wanted to make myself useful. I’m a noble or anything like that. But yeah, I guess the money should be enough then?”

The man laughed up a little.

“No, no. I mean yes, but if you’re one of Roswaal-sama’s guests, then I couldn’t possibly accept payment. She’s already very generous when she sends her servants to buy groceries, and she protects our humble village. We have a good life here because of her. A guest of Roswaal’s is like a friend of the village, so please put the coins away.”

“That’s— very generous of you.” Subaru said simply.

“On the contrary. When we trade with people outside the village we already get jealous looks sometimes for how much we’re over paid, I just don’t want to add to it.” he said. “And again, in this season I’m mostly just trapping, so showing someone the ropes is no great burden, in exchange for a free hand. As I said, I’m not some guildman.”

Subaru was not sure what to do with this generosity. Her first instinct would be to be overjoyed at the fact that the first step of her plans just seemed to go off without a hitch, but a voice in the back of her mind reminded her of how things panned out when she trusted in people’s kindness.

“So, does that mean I get the job?” she asked, puting the coins back into the pouch.

“As I said, I wouldn’t mind showing you the ropes.” Oringo nodded, before screeching his chin and giving Subaru another once over. “That being said, are you aware that the forest around Irlam is infested with mabeasts?” he asked. “They don’t often come out if one doesn’t wander too close to the mountains, but it can be dangerous outside the village.”

Subaru hadn’t encountered a single mabeast so far, and she lived here for fifteen days. It didn’t seem likely that she’d run into any, especially after them not making any appearance in the past few days.

“No, I think I can handle it.” Subaru said, puffing out her chest, trying to look confident.

“Ha! A bit of youthful confidence is a good thing, just don’t let it get to your head.” Oringo declared, giving Subaru an unexpected pat on the shoulder. “Well, you said you wanted to use the kitchen, and I’ll need to finish dressing this morning’s catch, so why don’t I show you inside?” he said, turning around. “If you want to learn, come in Mild, otherwise feel free to go play with your friends.”

“Can I come with you then tomorrow?” Mild asked in a fashion befitting his name.

“Sorry, but your mother would do worse than kill me if you got hurt for the sake of picking some flowers.” Oringo said, shaking his head with a smile. “When you’re a little older. Go pick flowers from around the village instead.” he suggested, before quickly adding: “Just make sure to ask permission if it’s in someone’s garden!”

The hunter walked to the front door of the small house and held it open for Subaru, while his son, looking disappointed, got off the bench and walked off.

The inside of the house was very modest. The room just on the other side of the entrance had very little space, only fitting a small dining table with room for four, in the middle, maybe six if people on the longer side didn’t mind sitting elbow to elbow, though there weren’t enough chairs for that. A wooden couch sat in the far right corner, near a fireplace on the right hand side, belonging to one of two chimneys atop the house. Glancing around, Subaru could also see into a room on the left with an open door that looked to house two beds, a double in the end, and a single bed nearer to the door. Presumably the whole family slept in there, which was— Intimate. At the very least the body wasn’t under much threat of becoming a shut-in that locks himself in his room, Subaru thought.

Another door on the other end of the same wall opened into a smaller room that Oringo guided her to, the smell of blood, raw meat and something Subaru couldn’t place oozing from there. As the smell suggested, Subaru soon learned it was the kitchen. Naturally it didn’t house any of the usual appliances, just a small stone oven with two metal doors, one on top for where food went, and one below where the fire could be set. Next to the oven were a line of wooden cupboards hugging the left and far side walls, with just a little walking room on the right side of the kitchen where the door and a single window was with pretty yellow drapes in a floral pattern. Some sort of plant giving off the unplaceable scent was hanging in the window.

Contrasting the pretty drapes, on the farside of the room, near the open window was the propped up corpse of what was probably a hare. Its skin was hung apart in four corners with strings tied to hooks above and around the table, the body suspended over a clayish looking bowl holding blood. Next to the body was what looked like an already cut up hare, a bundled up skin, and a couple of bowls with pink bowels, as well as another untouched hare.

“You’re from a hunter, or butcher family?” Oringo asked, walking to the carcass.

“Hm? Why do you ask?” Subaru responded absent-mindedly, as she took in her surroundings.

“Well, my boy still flinches a bit when seeing the dressed carcasses, but you don’t seem to mind the sight, or the smell to that matter.” Oringo answered.

Subaru hadn’t realized how odd her casual view of it actually was. A month ago, or rather, back home, if she saw, or smelled this, she probably would have been disgusted, but now it was just— a thing. Unconsciously reaching for her stomach she recalled once more Granhiert toying with her dying body. Perhaps that was it. After that, seeing a half dressed carcass in a hunter’s home didn’t really carry much shock value.

“No, I just— saw things like this before.” Subaru answered finally.

With the man’s help, Subaru boiled some water that they helpfully had in the kitchen in jugs. Oringo was rather bemused when Subaru took out her ramen and cooked it. Subaru passed it off as travel rations. When she offered him a taste, the man joked that if all rations were like this, he’d gladly join the army.

While Subaru ate her ramen to quench her hunger, Oringo began to give her a brief explanation on the dressing process, saying most of it is down to experience and practice, but there are a couple of tricks to the trade that one just has to learn outright. First off, it was best to leave the window open while waiting for a carcass to dry, since it’s not pleasant to have the whole house smell like death, though that would normally attract bugs, hence the plant in the window, which he explained is good at keeping them away. He also explained with enthusiasm how one set of bowls hold the removed organs that are good for cooking, while the other he tends to return to the forest and leave out when the population of hares is going up. The reasoning being that by indirectly feeding the local predators, he’s gently increasing their numbers, and driving down the hares. When asked why he’d want to lower the population of his targets, he laughed and said that as a hunter, one of his responsibilities is making sure no animal’s population in the forest gets out of control, much as how it is a lumberjack’s duty to ensure new trees can grow safe and strong. What little he leaves out for the predators isn’t enough to save a lot of hares, but it is enough to feed hungry predators that might die or grow too weak otherwise.

His openness reminded her a bit of her father, though Subaru reminded herself that she can’t get lax around here. Instead, she joked about how his name, ‘ Oringo ’ sounded like ‘ o-Ringo ’, or, very roughly, ‘The Great Ringo’. Unsurprisingly he didn’t understand this, so she just explained that in her hometown, Ringo was the name of a great minstrel, famed as the greatest drummer of his time. The hunter didn’t seem to understand what was so special, or even minstrel-like about drumming, but just nodded with a shrug and took it as a compliment.

After finishing with the dried carcass, separating its guts, Oringo offered to let Subaru dress the last hare with instructions. Her plan was from the start to prepare her own food from start to finish to avoid poisoning, so after insisting she’ll buy the hare she got to work.

Just looking at the dressed and dissected corpses hadn’t really bothered her, but strangely doing the cutting herself was an unnerving feeling. Sliding the sharp knife handed to her under the hare’s skin, feeling how little resistance there really is— She had cut meat before in the kitchen back home, of course, but having a whole body in her hands, and feeling how easy it is to just slide a knife in, it was surreal. Granhiert’s sadistic smile flashed through her mind multiple times as Oringo instructed her on where to cut and how deep. Was it this simple for that woman to cut up people? If Subaru would ever get past the fundamental distress she feels sliding the knife into what was not long ago a living thing, would that make her more like that woman? She tried not to dwell on it.

Wistfully unaware of his student’s dark thoughts, the man went on to give pointers on mistakes Subaru was making, cutting so deep the knife pierced the skin on the other side, cutting too much meat along the pelt, and so on. Contrasting Ram’s stern, unforgiving words, he joked that Subaru shouldn’t be too conscious of these mistakes as it took him a long time to get decent at this too when he was a kid, and more than anything, this is great practice for when he’ll be teaching his boy.

When Subaru finally strung up the body above the blood bowl to dry, Oringo patted her on the back, congratulating the good job. Even with her dark thoughts about Granhiert, she felt a warmth in her chest for a few moments. Not exactly pride, more a sort of gladness she felt not too long ago, back at the mans—

Recalling how the same feeling came to her when she first began to feel herself perform decently at the chores in the mansion, the warmth dissipated. She had no time to feel good about herself. She didn’t deserve to feel good about herself. She did the bare minimum, and that was it.

“All that’s left now, is wait a while for the carcass to dry out a little.” Oringo said, as blood began to slowly drip and drain into the bowl below. “Will be much easier and less messy to handle the organs that way. Let’s wash those hands outside, you don’t want it to dry on.”

Subaru looked at her hands, covered in blood. It wasn’t a lot, the hare’s blood had already started setting before she even opened it up, having been dead for hours. Still, part of what remained now coated her hands. If she was lax, in a few days this blood could be her own. Worse, it could be Felt’s.

“Are you alright?” Oringo asked, gently shaking Subaru’s shoulder. “It’s alright if it gets to you a bit. You get used to it, but it was a life.”

“Yeah.” Subaru said quietly, fading out of her stupor.

Emptying a water jug’s contents on Subaru’s hands outside, Oringo helped her wash her hands off, then suggested fetching some water at the well to refill the jugs, while the carcass dried. On the way, he introduced Subaru to a couple of villagers, most of whom were familiar to her, though of course they never saw her before. Encountering the old bearded man, Subaru let loose a comment about he must be the village elder, only for Oringo to her surprise reprimand the old man abou how he already fed his joke to the visitor, and how old man Muraosa’s sister is going to be angry with him. Apparently, Muraosa was never the chief, the real chief being his sister, Milde, whom they pointed out across the main square. The woman who smacked the old man in a previous loop.

Subaru wanted to make some sly remarks about all of this, but deep down she was far too glum. There was no point in putting up much of an appearance. She’ll never see these faces again after a week.

“Orin! What are you doing with that young lady?!” called out a pouting voice as Subaru was hoisting up a bucket of water with the man’s help.

“Darling! Star of my skies!” Oringo responded in a dramatic tone, turning away from Subaru. “‘Tis true! I am running away with yon maiden to hunt winged dragons in far off lands! I may never see you again! Tell our son I died in battle facing off against all the generals of Vollachia!”

“You’re impossible.” the woman huffed with a smile, shaking her head, her long black hair waving in the air.

“Um, I’m Natsuki Subaru.” Subaru said, awkwardly turning her head between the two. “I’m not running off with him.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to take him, dear? You’re missing out on a lot of complaining. ‘Honey, you didn’t patch my shirt!’ ‘Darling you used too much spice again!’” the woman listed as she walked up to them.

“Honey, you forgot to hide Mild’s birthday present! That’s a classic.” Oringo added, to which the woman just gently tapped the top of his head with her fist. “I yield!” he added.

“My name’s Tara.” the woman introduced herself with a smile. “Why was my husband bothering you?”

“I was more the one doing the bothering, probably.” Subaru answered. “I asked him to teach me how to be a trapper.”

“She’s one of the people who came to visit Roswaal-sama recently.” Oringo explained. “She’s a guest of her ladyship.”

“Really?” Tara blinked surprised. “Why would a guest of Roswaal-sama want to learn how to be a trapper from my husband?”

“I’m not really a noble or anything fancy.” Subaru began awkwardly, rubbing her head. “I was just in the right place at the right time I guess, and ended up helping Emilia, the half-elf girl living at the mansion, so Roswaal offered me a reward as thanks.”

She was never too good at reading the mood, but even she could notice the husband and wife’s smiles quickly disappear.

“Did I say something wrong?” Subaru asked.

“Not exactly, but did you say half-elf? That silver-haired girl?” Oringo asked with a mildly upset but mostly concerned look.

“Yes, why?”

“You should be careful around that thing.” Tara noted. “There’s no telling what she might drag you into.”

“Hold on, excuse me.” Subaru said, holding up her hands, a spark going off in her chest. “Did you just call her a thing ?”

“She’s a silver-haired half-devil.” Oringo responded. “I don’t know what part of the world you’re from, but you’ve got to know that she’s a walking curse.”

“A walking— A half-devil ?!” Subaru fumed, waving her hand. “For what?! Her hair? Her parents? Have you people ever even met her?!”

“No, thank goodness!” Tara declared.

“Where do you get off saying that?!” Subaru shouted. “You know nothing about her! She saved my life back in the capital! She brought me here hoping to repay me, an absolute nobody! She was kind to me when no one else was! What is wrong with you?!

People around the square began turning their heads to the well with the trio.

“Hey, calm down!” Oringo said. “Maybe she made a good first impression, but that doesn’t change—”

Doesn’t change what?! ” Subaru yelled. “I’ve heard your stupid stories about the Witch! She was defeated four centuries ago! What does she have to do with Emilia? They happen to look alike?!”

“It’s—” Tara attempted to interject, but Subaru cut her off.

No! You know what got me here? I got involved in a fight in the capital! Some sadistic bitch called Granhiert with black hair who likes opening up people’s stomachs and playing with them as they die tried to murder me and Emilia! Without her, I’d be dead! This was a few days ago, not four centuries, so why don’t I push my hatred of her on you? You’re a human, you’ve got black hair, and my hurt is far, far more real and close than anything you can feel about some unseen boogeyman from a story book!”

Her whole body was trembling. The two before her didn’t seem upset anymore, just shocked. Even the wife Subaru had insulted looked at her with pity.

“Is this why she never leaves the mansion? People like you ?” Subaru hissed through her gritted teeth. “Is this why she locks herself in her room to study? To learn things she might never get to use, just so one day she might impress you and— And—”

Was this what Emilia saw in the alley?

“What is this then?” came the slightly croaky voice of an old woman from nearby.

“Chief Irlam!” Oringo responded, turning towards the rickety old woman heading over, Muraosa’s sister. “This is a guest of Roswaal-sama’s she— She was just upset that we had unkind words towards her friend.”

“I don’t know you to be cruel, Orin. Tara.” the old woman said, stepping up to the trio, her hands crossed behind her hunched back. “This young lady seems very upset.”

“Her friend is the half— The half-elf staying at Roswaal-sama’s mansion.” Tara said with a small bow.

“Ah, I see.” the old woman said, turning to Subaru. “Miss, are you quite alright?”

No I’m not! ” Subaru fumed. “If I could, I’d take Emilia as far from here and you people as I could!”

The chief gave Subaru a long examining look.

“She seems like a good kid.” Oringo noted. “We just didn’t—” he started, but then stopped, rubbing his scalp with one hand and another on his hip, lost for words.

“Well, miss.” the old lady began. “It’s fine to be upset on your friends’ behalf, and it is not our place to tell you how to choose them. But you must understand, the only fear of the village is that the girl is going to draw trouble to Roswaal-sama’s domain and to the village.”

“She’s not like—”

“She doesn’t have to be.” the old woman interrupted, raising her voice. “There are plenty of people in the world who find it distasteful that Roswaal-sama would take in a half-elf with silver-hair let alone support her candidacy to be queen. Rival candidates, some from other nations with no care for the people of this kingdom, people who feel even more strongly about her obvious lineage, and of course the witch cult.”

“She’s not a witch!” Subaru said defiantly, though she felt her body grow weaker.

“It doesn’t matter if she is. It’s enough that others might bring trouble here because of her. You can’t ask us to not worry for ourselves and ours.”

“I guess not.” Subaru said quietly, growing all too conscious of the small crowd surrounding the scene.

All these people… All these people, living here under Roswaal’s protection. Glancing at their faces, not one looked as though they even considered speaking up to support her. Not one of them would have a kind word to say about Emilia. Not one of them would give a half-elf a bit of support, while they accepted Subaru with a smile and open hand.

Was this the view from the other side?

This world, both worlds, they’re truly disgusting.

“Is it really—” she continued with shaking hands, hanging her head. “Is it really so much to ask, that you give her a chance? Do you not think she wouldn’t feel a hundredfold what—” she wanted to defend Emilia. The girl deserved and needed it, but Subaru couldn’t speak the words. “Nevermind.”

Without another word, Subaru marched past the couple and the village elders, heading out of town. How could she be so stupid? She could never change a damn thing, and now she risked her chances of staying here, and by extension her chance to save Felt. She was truly, truly awful and useless.

Leaving the square behind, Subaru could hear hurried steps approach from behind, then a slim hand grabbed onto hers.

“I don’t want to—!” she began to shout, turning around, only to see no one at eye level, just the tip of a big red ribbon sticking up from the bottom of her vision.

Looking down, she saw that the familiar ribbon was affixed to an equally familiar, somewhat messy orange haircut atop a gentle, smiling face.

“Please don’t go.” the little girl said.

Subaru gave a laboured sigh. “I don’t think I’m welcome after that.”

The girl hummed and shook her head. “No one is angry at the lady, they’re just scared. I thought it was kind of cool how you stood up for your friend.”

Behind the girl, Subaru saw Oringo approach, holding his head with an embarrassed look, the chief standing far behind him still at the well looking here sternly.

“Uh, Subaru?” Oringo said. “I wanted to apologize. I can’t say I app— Point is, I’m sorry we insulted your friend. Can we just pretend this never happened?”

Clutching her jacket with her unoccupied hand, Subaru looked at the girl and man for a short while.

“You haven’t changed your mind about Emilia, have you?” Subaru asked.

“That would be asking a lot.” Oringo sighed, rubbing his eyes. “I’ve got a son and wife to worry about. But I think I understand where you’re coming from.”

“See?” the little orange haired girl asked, tugging on Subaru’s hand. “Petra’s always right!”

“Look, Subaru, you already paid for that hare.” Oringo continued. “Do you want to come back to the house and finish dressing it? Tomorrow morning, if you’re still interested, I can take you to the forest to check on the traps.”

Subaru didn’t want to forgive them. She wasn’t sure if she could.

This didn’t change that she needed them. She needed all the help she could get to save Felt.

“I’d… Like that.” Subaru forced out

“Will the lady be sleeping at the mansion?” Petra chirped.

Subaru looked down on her, the only face in the area right now she didn’t feel some measure of suppressed hate towards, and put her free hand on the girl’s head.

“I’m not sure actually.” Subaru said with a weak smile. She was hoping to find lodging out here, but—

“I could ask my parents to let you stay over.” Petra offered with a wide smile, tugging Subaru’s hand again.

Trust was difficult to give, after her past experience. Subaru’s instincts have betrayed her thoroughly over the coming days multiple times now. Yet, she didn’t know how she’d go on living, if she couldn’t even trust such an innocent face.

Maybe, just maybe, with such a kind girl in it, there was hope for this village and world yet.

“That is very kind of you.” Subaru said, crouching down slightly to be on the girl’s eye level. “You can call me Subaru.”

Chapter Text

“Still no chaaange?” the noblewoman asked, laying in her office’s couch, gazing out the window at the night, as she had been for the past few hours.

“No, Roswaal-sama.” the pink haired maid answered dutifully. “Ever since that commotion on her first day, the guest has spent most of her time in the forest, either alone or with a hunter who my sister informed me is called Oringo. It appears he’s doing no more than teaching her about his craft.”

Roswaal hummed to herself, all sense of jubilation gone from her voice since lunch two days ago. Now as the evening hours of the third day grew long, dark, unforgiving thoughts swirled in her mind for the future.

“Seeing that she haaaasn’t gone too far, it stands to reason she will seek to retuuuuurn.” Roswaal noted, more to herself than the servant standing besides her awaiting her commands.

“If I may, Roswaal-sama, I feel your ladyship is giving too much concern to that hoodlum. While her circumstances are suspicious, her distance from the manor, and clear lack of ability paints her as an ungrateful brat that cannot appreciate the honour she was given at best, and a minor threat far below anything that should gain Roswaal-sama’s attention.”

Roswaal didn’t respond, just looked ponderously out the window.

“If Roswaal-sama is of the opinion that that woman means to threaten the safety of the mansion, I’ll arrange for her swift dispo—”

“That won’t be necessaaaary.” Roswaal said, raising a hand, and gesturing for Ram to come closer.

As the maid was already standing besides the couch, she quickly dropped to her knees besides it and bowed her head.

“If there is anything this serv—” Ram began, but her words were cut short with a whimper, as Roswaal placed a hand on her head.

“You and your siiiiister have served me well over these yeaaaars, Ram.” Roswaal said, caressing the maid’s head, as she continued to gently whimper. “Were I of neeeeeed of a service you can provide, I’d not heeesitate to call upon you. This however, is a matter in which we must simply obseeeeerve.”

“Roswaal-sama, I don’t understand. Is this—”

“I suspect the girl will make an atteeeeempt to as she would surely phrase it ‘reeeescue’ at least one of our guests. She is likely wandering the woooooods to get a better understaaanding of the manor’s surroundings.” Roswaal explained, to which Ram’s head rose up.

“Then let me go and make sure she cannot—”

“No.” Roswaal said, gripping the maid’s head tight, causing the usually numb girl to yelp weakly in pain.

Loosening her grip, Roswaal’s gaze shifted from the window, to her hand. Had she felt something there that moment? No. That’d have been ridiculous.

“I suspect they’ll maaaake the attempt in the next few days. Their abiiiility should be— Observed.” Roswaal continued, once again caressing the maid’s head gently, Ram simply accepting it with a tremble.

The day she had dreamt of for so long taunted her, far beyond her grasp.

“If— If I may, Roswaal-sama, wouldn’t it harm the contract with Reinhard-sama, if Felt-sama escaped the mansion?”

“I have faith it won’t coooome to that.” Roswaal replied. “While I wish that you continue obseeeerving only passively, your sister is sure to steeeeep in once necessary.”

“Rem shouldn’t have to be tasked with such a thing. Surely I could—”

“She won’t be taaaasked with anything but upholding her current duuuuties. I want you to mention nooooone of this to your sisteeeer.”

Of the two maids under her employ, one was far more likely than the other, to have been at fault for the young guest’s obvious hatred of the manor. How or why it came to be so, she couldn’t say for sure, however watching the girl’s face twitch to shades of hate that lunch two days ago as her eyes wandered to Roswaal’s sides was enough to contemplate the sad reality of this hopeless world.

Only a sinner may beg for forgiveness.

Chapter Text

“Alright, Rom. Just don’t you fail me now.” Subaru mumbled crossing through fields towards the old abandoned windmill.

She had spent the last four days trying to lay low in the village. Trying, as while the outburst of her first day didn’t repeat, she ended up rambling more than once on Emilia’s behalf when the mansion came up. As unhealthy as a diet it was, she lived off of the meat of freshly caught animals mixed with some also freshy hand picked fruit these past days. There was no balance to this diet, but she couldn’t afford to worry about that. She had to make absolutely certain that from start to finish everything she ate and drank she observed. There was no more wiggle room, no more retries. Leaving any chance for getting poisoned was not an option.

By the end of the second day when she realized no one had made any obvious attempts to mess with her food or the water she drank from the common well, she came to the conclusion that at least the villagers are not in on the twins’s sick game. Regardless, the cost of making a mistake was far too high to lax on her decided rules.

Subaru had hoped she could discover a good path through the forest to take through which they couldn’t be tracked, but as she had learned, that was not an option. The forest surrounding the forest was heavily infested with mabeasts, only held in check by magic stones placed around the village forming a barrier that stopped mabeasts from entering. She hadn’t encountered any in these few days, but Oringo insisted that at least in the nearby mountains they are practically swarming, and they do tend to come down from there now and again. Apparently even the hunter had only ran into them once or twice, describing small, wolf-like creatures with razor sharp teeth and a long horn on their forehead. All Subaru really knew about mabeasts, was that they were created by the witch, and that they tended to have horns, so the farmer’s description seemed to fit. Oringo didn’t offer any more wisdom about them, admitting that his first and only recourse on encountering them was turning tail and running back to the safety of the village. Where there was one, there was usually a lot more.

She couldn’t very well take the risk that the beasts would set on Rom, Felt and her by cutting through the forest. Maybe Rom could deal with a couple, but if they are really pack animals, then Subaru would just get them all killed. It occurred to her that maybe since apparently she has the Witch’s stench on her the mabeasts would leave her alone, thinking she’s one of them, though that was a stupid bet to take. They would just as likely come running down from the mountains thinking mommy dearest is back home, and at that point even if she’s safe, Felt and Rom wouldn’t be.

That being said, she did get a decent understanding of the forest’s layout, and had some confidence she could trail along the road leading further out of town without actually leaving the shelter of the trees. She had even considered making a stop along a tall cliffside with hard rocks at the bottom, perhaps pushing the twins over the edge if they caught up to them, but remembering Ram’s windblade, and Rem’s absurd strength, that didn’t seem very viable, with Rom’s help.

Every time playing the scenarios through her head, she felt her legs grow weak. If they don’t get away without the twins noticing, it’s basically game over. Last time she attempted to escape with Felt, it was Rem who killed her, the sound of chains still echoing in her mind. Ram, like with everything else, was a lot more lax. It’s Rem that she needed to deal with somehow.

“There you are.” Subaru mumbled once again, as she reached the windmill. It was only the early afternoon, she’d just had lunch when she headed over. From what the kids told her before, they encountered Rom here in the evening, sleeping, which suggested he’d probably arrive here sometime in the afternoon.

Regardless, she made sure to keep an eye out for the giant, and crossed the meadow around the windmill quickly, trying to minimize the chance that she’ll scare him off before he comes here.

She had examined the windmill before, and it was no wonder Rom picked it as a safe, abandoned place. The actual rotors— were they even called rotors on these old fashioned ones? Anyway, the rotors were halfway hanging down, and a quick look inside showed that the large wooden beam running from the bottom of the building to the top had bent and snapped probably from being stuck or overexerted. The structure itself was sound, it was just the mechanism that was supposed to be the whole point of the building that was damaged beyond use, and one would have to effectively demolish the entire thing to replace what’s broken, so they just left it like that.

Subaru turned to a ladder near the entrance once inside, and climbed up to the catwalk-like second floor, as it was entirely invisible from the outside. Last thing she needed was for Rom to spot someone in here and decide not to come here.

Spending what felt like a couple of hours staying as quiet as she could, Subaru kept rolling over her mental map of the area over and over again. Eventually, as expected, she heard heavy steps approach the windmill, and a massive figure poked its head in.

“Old man Rom!” Subaru exclaimed, causing the giant to jump back from the door. “Wait! It’s me! From the loot house!” she called after him, quickly standing up and jumping down from the catwalk.

Landing before the door, Subaru slipped a bit, falling on all fours, a sight of the massive man towering above her on the other side of the windmill with fists raised on the other side.

“What are you doing here?!” the old man hissed, clearly not wanting to alert anyone nearby by raising his voice. “Where is Felt?!”

“Hey, hey, calm down! That’s why I’m here!” Subaru said, stumbling to her feet and holding her hands up in surrender. “I want to help break her out!”

“Wait, did you know I was coming here?” Rom’s voice boomed, echoing in the tight windmill building.

Damn, right. People and their stupid reasonable questions. Subaru didn’t even really care about being thought crazy at this point, but evidently the universe itself or maybe the witch or whatever that arm was, was not going to let her be clean. Why can’t she get an easy break just the once?!

“Actually, I was just taking a rest up there, and I glanced out a small hole in the wall, saw you coming.” Subaru bluffed, pointing up to the catwalk. With his massive figure, she doubted the old man could even climb up there and check on the tight catwalk anyway.

Rom slightly lowered his fists, but not completely.

“Then you know where they’re keeping Felt? Aren’t you with them?” he asked.

“No, believe me, the last thing I want is to side with the bastards at that mansion.” Subaru hissed. “The only decent person living there is the girl you met before. I can’t trust anyone else.”

“The half-elf?”

“Please don’t you start too.” Subaru warned, her hands twitching. “Just let’s ignore Emilia, okay? You wouldn’t have come here if you wanted to break Felt out, would you?”

“Why do you ca—”

Because I can’t let her stay there! ” Subaru screamed, grabbing at her skull with one hand, trying to dismiss flaring images of being atop that cliff with a version of the old man that came to save her, and the echo of rattling chains in her ears. “Here I am! I’m offering to help you! What more do you want?! What more does anyone want of me?! Do you want to try and break in by yourself?! Do you want to see what happens when you try infiltrating the mansion of apparently the greatest wizard in the kingdom, guarded by two sadistic battlemaids? Be my guest! And when you’re bleeding out in front of Felt, you can look back and be content that you didn’t take a chance on the person risking their neck out here trying to do the right thing! Then this will just continue, nothing changes, everything just goes on in absolute misery, because no one can just listen to me one damn time!”

Subaru stomped at the ground madly. She wanted to punch something, no choke. She wished one of the twins was here, disarmed, so she could just do to them what they’ve done to her, over and over again, for nothing.

A large, heavy hand lowered on Subaru’s shoulder, making the world stop shaking around her.

“What did those people do to you, kid?” Rom asked. There was no pity in his voice, no condescension. As Subaru raised her head, she felt the giant look at her with a sense of familiarity she never saw before.

“What— What they did doesn’t matter.” Subaru muttered, pulling her shoulder out of the giant’s grasp, then grabbing her jacket and pulling it down over her left shoulder, pulling her shirt aside too, so the giant can see the scar left where her arm was once severed. “This matters. I lost this arm to save Felt. I got it back somehow before I came here, I wasn’t conscious, apparently that Reinhard guy saw to it.” she rambled, waving her hand. “Point is, I’m not going to let this be for nothing, by letting her be stuck there with those animals! Please don’t ask me to explain why, I just know it’s the right thing to do!”

Rom looked at the scar silently, then reached out and pulled Subaru's jacket back over the shoulder.

“I’ve been told you saved her.” Rom said serenely. “I don’t understand why, but I respect what you did. I imagine Felt had difficulty voicing gratitude, but for what it’s worth, thank you. If you truly want to help, I’ll hear you out.”

Subaru felt as if a great knot in her chest had come loose, and she chortled without intent.

“You truly have no idea how long I waited for someone to say that.” Subaru said wracked with small, painful laughs.

Taking a moment to collect herself, she dropped and sat down on the ground, sighing deeply in relief.

“Rom, I’ve given this some thought over the past few days.” she began. “I wanted to get her out since I got here, but she wouldn’t listen to me. So, I checked around the area. I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the nearby forest now, and could follow the roads out without being out in the open.” she began, still breathing heavy sighs with every pause.

“Getting away shouldn’t be an issue. I want to know if you know of a way inside the mansion.” Rom asked.

I’m getting to that! ” Subaru said, raising her voice, but then taking a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She was on the home stretch now, she just needed to keep her head. “As far as I know, there are no secret tunnels or other ways in and out of the mansion that bypass the fence surrounding it. But, there doesn’t need to be. The mansion’s entire population consists of two maids, the noblewoman who owns it and rarely ever leaves her room, Emilia, who also spends most of her time studying, and a spirit whose sole duty is guarding a library. It’s only the maids we need to worry about, and I know when there’s only going to be one of them at the mansion!” she declared proudly.

The giant hummed with surprise and interest, crouching down before Subaru.

“See, tomorrow, one of them is going to come out of the mansion to buy groceries in the nearby village, right? It’s a pretty long walk there and back, and she’ll need to do some business too, so if we go to the mansion just after noon when she’ll head off, I can go in, and grab Felt. I even know where they keep all the keys, including the main gate key, so once they let me in, I can get Felt out after making sure the other maid is busy with something else!” Subaru exclaimed, gesturing wildly.

“How will you get inside?”

“Oh, that’s simple! The reason I’m here is that the woman who owns the mansion supposedly wanted to thank me for helping out. I’m technically a guest!” Subaru exclaimed, holding her arms wide in a classic ‘look at me, aren’t I something?’ sort of fashion. “Not that that made me welcome, but they will at least let me back in.”

Rom placed one of his massive hands on his chin and hummed again.

“I was certain the Astrea would be here as well.” he said finally.

“You mean the red head guy? Reinhard?” Subaru asked, recalling the letter she once more forgot about in the excitement of planning out her escape. “I think someone mentioned that he was back at the capital.” she noted.

“So then, what do you need me to do?” Rom asked. “You did say you planned on doing this alone, but I can’t let a young girl risk herself like that.”

“The last thing we need is for you to try and break into the mansion. Would draw too much attention. I mean look at the size of you old man!” Subaru said, gesturing at Rom’s hulking figure. “No, I only need two things from you. One, obviously, I’m not good in a fight. You saw that, no need for appearances. I haven’t seen them yet, but there might be mabeasts in these woods, so between you, me and Felt, you probably could do the most damage. Actually, where is that giant club you used to have?” she asked.

“It broke in half when I had to fight off some wild animals on the way here.” Rom said.

‘That’s why you don’t fight with a trash tier starting weapon like a wooden club.’ Subaru noted in herself.

“Right, well I’m sure you can find another large piece of wood or something.” Subaru said. “The other thing is— I need to convince Felt to come with me, and I don’t know how. I was hoping maybe you could help with that.”

The old man put one of his large hands on top of his head, rubbing his scalp for a minute, obviously trying to think of something.

“Isn’t there a secret she has only you would know?”

“Nothing she wouldn’t be mad at me for telling a stranger.” Rom said simply, pondering for a while, before snapping his big fingers with enough force to fill the whole windmill with its echo. “But we have a common secret she wouldn’t mind me sharing.” he said, standing up, and stepping closer to one of the walls.

Subaru crawled on her feet, and stood next to the giant who gently tapped the wall a few times.

“Listen to this.” the giant instructed once he tested the wall’s sturdiness, and then proceeded to knock down on an odd rhythm. “Repeat that.”

Stepping to the wall, Subaru quickly repeated the same pattern.

“That’s right, that’s the first part of the signal to get into the loot house. Or was, before that bitch destroyed it.” Rom grumbled. “After that is when the password comes.”

“I don’t remember you waiting for the signal when we were at the loot house.” Subaru noted.

“I was also not going to let you in without it, were it not for Felt’s say so.” Rom replied. “But since you knocked like you knew where you were, I wanted to see if some idiot actually told you the password, so I can rough them up later after changing it.” he said casually, Subaru becoming more than conscious of the ridiculous muscles on the old man’s arm.

“Right.” Between her fond memories of her first life, and the way the old man put his trust in her just now, Subaru almost forgot that he’s some sort of underworld kingpin. Well, not really a kingpin, but still up there somewhere on the food chain.

“Now pay close attention, the password has three parts...”

 

                                           

 

“To the giant rats, we give poison.” Subaru spoke through the locked door of Felt’s room, after knocking down the secret pattern.

It was only a few hours ago that she was done meeting with Rom, having instructed him to move further from the village as the kids like to play around the windmill. It was best to avoid him getting caught by the villagers, and the mansion being alerted. The giant agreed, stating that giants and humans apparently don’t mix well.

Getting into the mansion was rather easy, though she did have to wait some time before her presence was noticed, apparently she arrived shortly after lunch, which fortuitously meant that after engaging in a bit of idle chat with Emilia who was eager to hear about Subaru’s time at the village, she could head upstairs when she saw Ram come down, having finished Felt’s daily lessons.

“To— to the great white whale?” Subaru heard Felt call through the door uncertainly.

“We lend a fishing hook!” Subaru responded excitedly.

“And to our most honourable divine dragon?” Felt continued.

“We say, ‘Burn in hell!’” Subaru finished. “I’ve found Rom.” she added with a big smile, though of course Felt couldn’t see that through the locked door.

“The old man is here?!” Felt shouted through the door.

“Shhh, quiet!” Subaru shushed. “He’s near. He wants to help get you out. He told me the password and the signal so you’d know we’re on the same page.”

“He shouldn’t come to the mansion, he’ll—”

“My thoughts exactly.” Subaru interrupted. “Look, I can’t spend the night here, so I need to go soon. I just need you to listen to a few things, so this rescue will go smoothly, okay?”

Felt didn’t respond right away, but finally Subaru heard an annoyed “Sure.” through the door.

Subaru took a quick glance down the corridor, making sure no one was around to hear them. Luckily, Felt’s door was some way away from the end of the corridor, so even if someone was hiding around a corner or just down the stairs, they couldn’t hear the conversation.

“Alright, so tomorrow after lunch, Rem is going to go into the nearby village to buy groceries. That’s when I’ll come to pick you up. I need two things from you: One, create a distraction for Ram away from the path to the main gate. Two, get locked in here. I don’t think it will be hard for you to accomplish these two things at the same time.”

“How is getting locked in here going to help?”

“I know where they keep the keys.” Subaru noted.

“How, you barely were here at all!” Felt protested.

“I am very perceptive.” Subaru said slyly. “I told you I have good instincts. Are you sure I’m not cut out for your business?” she teased.

“You just don’t know how to take no as an answer, do you?” Felt groaned. “Also, your best idea is seriously to just break out in the middle of the day?”

“If you do a good enough job with the two things I asked you, it’s going to be a while before Ram comes to check on you, and with Rem away for a few hours, that’s plenty of time to disappear into the forest.” Subaru explained. “Unless you’re going to tell me that you made fast friends with Emilia and you’re hosting tea parties, that leaves her with her studies, and the only other two people practically never leave their rooms.” Subaru added, doing her best to sound like the confident plan guy from a heist movie. “I did spend four days thinking this through. Or do you have a better plan?”

There was no answer.

“That’s what I thought.” Subaru said to the closed door with a satisfied grin.

“Fine, I’m in. But I swear, if we get out of here, and the old man isn’t there—” Felt didn’t finish that thought.

“You have my word.” Subaru said, knocking down the same secret pattern again, looking at the ceiling, thinking of the lyulyre still up there somewhere.

Under different circumstances, she’d have liked to take it, but this was not a time for such luxuries. She’ll find one somewhere else, when she and Felt are both free, and finally together again as friends.

With a sigh, Subaru quickly added while standing up. “Make sure you’ll wear something you can run in.”

Chapter Text

“What is that?” Petra asked.

Subaru was sitting outside the young girl’s house, where they just finished breakfast. She had, as always, eaten fruits she picked before randomly in the nearby orchard, paying probably too generously for the lot of them. The sweet little orange haired girl kept pointing out Subaru’s oddities over the past few days, including her eating habit along with her clothes and the fact she spent most of her time in the forest.

“This?” Subaru raised up the phone the girl pointed to, standing next to her. “This is—” she thought for a moment.

Fact is, she was just checking the time. Lunch at the mansion was always around noon, so she figured out a timing for her departure from the village, so she’d get there just after, around the time Rem left. Simply put, the less time she’d spend at the mansion, the better.

As for the curious girl, what should she tell her? Explaining what a phone is was out of the question, how does one explain a one of a kind item that is useless by itself? Just pass it off with one of its other features again? Yeah. Actually, even if the battery is probably going to run out sooner or later even with the phone turned off, it would be nice to have a little something.

“Look here.” she told Petra, and held her phone up to her.

Click.

“And, look here!” she said, flipping the phone around. “That’s you.”

“Wow, it’s like a magic mirror!” Petra exclaimed, looking at her photo on the screen.

“Yeah, you could say that.” Subaru smiled. “Except this one will remember you forever, so even when I have to leave, and am far away, I can always—” Subaru stopped and lowered her phone, clicking back to the home screen. “Wow, that probably sounded weird.”

“Huh? What’s weird about it?”

Right. In this world, where no one has any concept of photos, it makes no sense that there would be no social concept of ‘too soon to be taking photos’.

“Nevermind. It’s just— Nice that I’ll always have this.” Subaru said.

“You say that as if you were leaving.”

“Hm? Oh, no no.” Subaru said, perking up. It would have been bad if Rem gets here and somehow hears from the kids that she said she’s leaving. It shouldn’t be enough to guess what’s going on, but there was no such thing as too careful now. “It’s just nice to have these.”

She hasn’t taken any pictures that meant anything in a long time. There was that picture she snapped of the spirits around Emilia in the capital, and a few pictures she snapped of her guitar with a paper with the given date before it, so she could brag about how awesome her guitar was on anonymous forums. The last picture on there with any significance was probably from her mom and dad’s last anniversary, and before that— She probably deleted her music club photos. She didn’t want to check.

“Are you thinking about your elf friend?” Petra asked, sitting down next to Subaru.

“Huh?” Subaru asked, waking up from her thoughts.

“The half-elf lady in the mansion.” Petra repeated. “Sometimes you look sad, and I think you must be thinking about her.”

“Ah, you mean because of my outburst.” Subaru nodded a bit embarrassed. “I mean I wish people treated her better. She definitely deserves better, but right now I was— Hold on.” Subaru straightened herself out, and looked at the girl sitting besides her. “Am I seriously getting consoled by a twelve year old right now?”

“Is there something wrong with that?” Petra giggled, but her amused expression looked like she’s been waiting some time for Subaru to realize how weird their talks are. “Sorry, Subaru-chan. I’m just used to talking to the other kids when they’re feeling down.” she added, sticking her tongue out. “Except Cain and Dain. They always make it weird.”

“Good grief, a twelve year old is acting like my surrogate big sister.” Subaru said, covering her face with a hand. “Where has my life gone?” she groaned only half joking.

As Petra laughed up, Subaru moved her hand and put it on the girl’s head, rubbing her pretty orange hair a bit.

“You’re a really good kid, Petra.” she said. “Try and stay like this when you’re older.”

‘I knew too many girls who didn’t.’ she added mentally.

When she last woke up in the mansion, she wished for nothing more than to just get away. Now, having spent the better part of a week in the village, if nothing else, she had someone else she was going to miss aside from Emilia.

Actually—

“Hey, Petra, mind if I ask you something? Just this once, I promise not to get angry no matter the answer.” Subaru declared, putting a hand on her heart.

“Why would you get angry about an answer?”

“Well, the question is, what you think about Emilia.” Subaru replied.

The orange haired girl’s eyes widened for a moment, and she looked away, towards the road leading to the mansion. As Petra stayed quiet, Subaru felt an unexpectedly deep sense of disappointment.

“Nevermind, it was stupid of me—”

“Honestly, I used to be scared.” Petra said. “I guess I am still. Everyone in the village is, but I don’t think I’m scared of her, just, you know.” Petra looked away from the road before them, and gestured at the nearby tree line, with green crystals placed along the edge.

“Mabeasts?” Subaru asked.

“My parents said many people died before from the ones in the mountains, and that’s part of why we’re never allowed to go into the forest. They say the mabeasts seek out people and things connected to the witch, so when I was little, I thought the reason many of them live in the mountain, is because the witch lives up there. Now that the ha— Now that Emilia is here in the mansion, I guess I’m worried they’ll come down from the mountains.”

Subaru looked at the young girl hanging her head. Petra looked ashamed of herself. Part of Subaru felt that the shame is justified, but then, how could she really blame a twelve year old, even someone like Petra for being scared when the adults around her are the same way?

Sighing, Subaru put her hand back on the girl’s head and patted it a few times. She planned on simply holding back her anger if the girl was mean to Emilia, but as it turned out, she really just couldn’t be angry with her.

“I’d like to meet her.” Petra said, quickly jolting Subaru’s attention.

“Wait, you mean Emilia?”

“Yeah. When you talked about her, she seemed like a good person, and I was thinking, if I’m afraid that the mabeasts are going to come down from the mountains because she’s here, then maybe that’s how she always feels.”

The hole left by disappointment in Subaru’s chest experienced a harsh moment of whiplash as it refilled itself and began overflowing.

“You might not believe me.” Subaru began with an uncontrollable smile. “But I was just thinking that maybe you should meet her. That’s why I was asking.”

“I don’t know if she’d like that. She probably hates everyone in the village.” Petra replied.

“Don’t worry about that. If she was going to hate anyone, she’d hate me for the stupid stuff I pulled before coming here. I don’t think she’s the kind of person to be angry with anyone, so long as they aren’t malicious, I guess.” Subaru explained. “As a matter of fact, I was planning on going back to the mansion later. Would you like to come with me?”

Petra seemed a bit uncertain, but finally agreed.

“Want to come play with the others again before we go?” Petra asked.

“Sure. Why not?” Subaru replied, after a quick glance at her phone’s clock.

She had no plans on bringing Petra to the mansion before. It might have been a bit stupid to make changes to her plans like this at the finish line, but her one, big regret coming over the horizon, was going to be leaving Emilia behind. If she can’t take her away, if she can’t save her from the monsters in the mansion, then at least she can give her a chance to have a friend. Hopefully, someone as kind as Petra can let Emilia be more than someone who locks herself away, hoping they can make themselves into someone who is worthy of the world around them, when the half-elf is already so clearly more than that.



                                           

 

“Rem hadn’t expected Natsuki-sama’s return today.”

Subaru had to contain herself. Their timing was rather impeccable, as when Subaru arrived at the locked gates of the mansion with Petra, it only took a few minutes until Rem and Ram showed up, with the former holding the same old brown bags, and the latter carrying the large key of the gate.

“Our honoured guest appears to be injured.” Ram noted. “And with a guest of her own.”

“Yes, well, I met a cute puppy that’s really bitey today.” Subaru said, trying to put on a carefree smile that wasn’t panning out. “As for my ‘guest’, this is Petra, she’s like the whole village’s big sister.” Subaru introduced the short girl by her side. She could have done without the last comment, but she wanted to make sure that the maids get it in their heads that messing with this kid would cause issues with the village. Even they wouldn’t want that.

“It is very nice to see you two!” Petra said with a little polite bow of her own, lifting the edge of her shirt slightly, since she was wearing pants instead of a skirt.

“Rem, please heal our guest.” Ram said.

As Rem stepped closer, Subaru quickly stepped back, and held her bleeding, poorly bandaged hand away. Who knows what their magic could do, no she wasn’t risking it.

“Natsuki-sama?” Rem asked with a look of surprise and concern.

“I’ve, uh, got a personal rule. If I get injured because I did something stupid, I don’t want it gone. That way I can learn from it.” 

Luckily, the blue maid seemed to fall for her own bullshit, and stepped back, with a polite bow.

“Very well, Natsuki-sama.” she said, straightening up. “Is Natsuki-sama and her young guest planning to stay until dinner? Perhaps there is something Rem should purchase in the village for them.”

“Actually, yeah, I was thinking of sticking around today.” Subaru said, lying like a salesman. “Truth is, I since I spent some time with Petra over the past few days, I got to talk to her a bit about Emilia, and, well, I felt Emilia might like to have more friends to talk with. Petra is a very kind young girl, and—” Subaru realized she was rambling. “I’m probably embarrassing you, aren’t I?” she asked, turning to Petra.

“A bit, but it’s nice to be complimented.” Petra replied honestly, with a small blush.

“Right, so just thought I’d introduce the two of them and hope for the best.” Subaru smiled, hoping the twins will buy it.

“Rem thinks that is a very kind thought, Natsuki-sama.” the maid said, her face wearing a slight smile mixed of uncertainty. “Is then any special orders?”

“Uh, not from me. Petra?” Subaru turned to the girl.

“I couldn’t possibly ask for anything.” Petra said, shaking her head.

“Very well, then Rem will be off.” the blue maid declared, bowing a quick farewell and heading down the road, her sister locking the gate behind her.

“Emilia-sama is in her room studying.” Ram said simply. “I will inform Roswaal-sama that we have a new guest.”

Falling a bit behind the pink maid, Subaru led Petra towards the main building. When the maid appeared out of earshot, she leant down and whispered into Petra’s ear, a hand on each shoulder.

“I just want to say that you really are a great kid. I’m sure Emilia will see the same.”

Subaru couldn’t afford proper farewells. Not to Petra, not to Emilia. It would give away the game. However, she wanted to make sure the girl won’t feel like she was only used for a trick when she finds out Subaru is gone. She didn’t deserve that. No one did.

 

                                           

 

“For a rat poison, and all that.” Subaru said through Felt’s door after performing the special knock again. She had two keys in hand, one for the front gate, and one which she just then began to turn in the door before her.

“Took you long enough.” Felt said as the door opened. She was back in her old clothes, her butler suit folded on the bed. Honestly it was too good for the maids to leave it there like that, but Subaru didn’t have time to tear it apart.

“There was something I had to do before I could come up here.” Subaru answered.

It was no concern for Felt, but Subaru did spend a couple of minutes introducing Petra and Emilia to each other. The young girl seemed pretty embarrassed, especially when Subaru repeated her words about the witch on the mountain. Contrary to Petra’s obvious expectations, once Subaru finished the retelling to the last word, including Petra’s concern that Emilia might be feeling that way all the time, the silver-haired half-elf teared up and rubbed the girl’s hair, saying that’s one of the nicest things anyone ever said about her. As sweet as it was, Subaru couldn’t help but feel it much more on the sad side. It didn’t help when soon after she had to excuse herself claiming to want to check with Roswaal about Petra, before dropping down to the cupboard with the keys and rushing up here.

“Is that going to be a problem?” Felt said pointing at Subaru’s bandaged hand while stepping through the door and examining the corridor.

“Nah, it’s just a dog bite.” Subaru responded, locking the room’s door back so it might look like Felt’s just not responding if Ram comes too soon.

As stupid as it was, she actually grew fond of that little rascal dog. The fact that it somehow ended up biting her every time they met reassured her that even if she changes, the people around her, the people she cares about do not. It gave her strength knowing that even if Felt is dismissive to her sometimes, and even if for Felt some of the things Subaru remembered so fondly didn’t happen, like studying together and of course that first afternoon, Felt is still the same girl, and those happy times are never too far out of reach.

With Felt taking the lead, the two rushed down the stairs at the end of the corridor and out the main door. Subaru had forgotten just how ridiculously athletic the young girl was, but when she vaulted over the low wall ahead of the main gate down into the garden below, the memory of just how big a pain in the ass it was to try and catch her came back. The fact that Felt didn’t even try to run away when the maids were around spoke to just how terrifying they really were, and not just in terms of brutality. Good thing she planned around them.

Reaching the gate, Subaru quickly opened it up just enough for her and Felt to slip out, then shut it and locked the gate.

“What are you doing?” Felt asked.

Both “Buying us time, just in case.” Subaru said as the gate’s lock clicked, pulling the key back out quickly and tossing both keys into the nearby treeline.

She couldn’t very well put the keys back in their place without increasing the risk of being found. Hopefully, coupled with Felt’s room being re-locked this will cause enough confusion to halt any search effort.

Retaking the lead, Subaru took off into the woods, heading for the cliff she last died on. It was not a happy place for her to go, but the perfect meeting point with Ram, as he could see the two’s escape, and possibly intervene if something went wrong, which fortunately, it didn’t.

Feeling her heartbeat in her throat, Subaru muttered: “ Please let this work, oh god of sex and drums and rock and roll. ” Her own little mantra she picked up a year or so ago.

After a few minutes of sprinting, they finally neared the cliff. As she’d hoped, Rom was indeed up there waiting for them, and the moment he spotted the two girls running up the hillside, she opened his arms wide, and looked about ready to yell something before the braincells he didn’t drink away yet kicked in and made sure he kept his mouth shut.

“Felt! Did they hurt you?” the giant asked in a hushed voice, as they got to him, descending on one knee and quickly grabbing the young girl, turning her around to see if she was fine.

“Damn it old man, if I was hurt I’d tell you!” Felt protested, her face red with embarrassment. “I’m fine, they just made me wear a stupid suit and help out around the house.”

“They what?” Rom asked in shock.

“Don’t want to defend them, but that was technically Felt’s idea.” Subaru interjected. “I’m pretty sure she wanted to suck up to them so they’d let down their guard.”

“Good thinking.” the giant said with a rare smile, patting Felt on the back with his massive hand.

“Yeah yeah, they could be on us any time, let’s just go!” Felt said, turning to Subaru. “Which way is safe?”

Puffing her chest out with pride, Subaru rubbed her hands together. With a glance down at the mansion, it didn’t look like anything was up yet, though at this distance it would be hard to tell. She didn’t want to jinx it, but at least so far, everything was going just as planned.

Leading the continued run, Subaru put her newfound familiarity with the forest to use. She’d have been absolutely lost if it was just the trees to guide her, but with the nearby mountains sticking out above the treeline as a compass, she could lead them on with some confidence.

Eventually, her stamina of course began to leave her, even with years of running, this difficult terrain took its toll, and she wasn’t exactly a marathon runner either, treating sport more as a way to stay in shape. To her surprise and embarrassment, when she stopped to hunch over a tree, without a word she felt the old man grab her by the waist and lift her up, putting her on his left shoulder, like he was a pirate captain, and her his pet parrot. The old man and Felt’s stamina seemed beastly by comparison.

They continued like this, until they came to an area of the forest she wanted to make sure they visited, an area she frequented with Oringo, where the hunter left his traps.

Spotting one of the small cages Oringo left behind with vegetable bait closed up, Subaru got off of Rom’s shoulder and walked to the cage, pulling out a knife from her backpack that the hunter gifted her after the first time she killed a hare.

It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t getting any easier. In a morbid sort of way, this made Subaru feel glad. Even if her repulsion to the sight and smell of blood and guts had mostly gone away, she told herself that it’s a good sign that she isn’t feeling any better about taking a life.

Saying a quick prayer for the poor hare’s soul, she opened the latch on the trap door of the cage, and pulled the critter out, quickly stabbit it where Oringo told her would be the quickest and least painful, then with a sigh held the hare up to the confused looking girl and giant.

“Sorry about that, just needed this for the road.”

In fact, the small pouch of rations she saw with Rom yesterday wouldn’t last them long.

Subaru stuffed the animal in her backpack, not caring about it staining it with its blood, and left five times what she usually paid Oringo in the cage as an apology. Both for taking his prey, and also for not saying farewell.

Looking back, she realized that from here on out, they’ll be further from the mansion than the village itself. If her sense of time wasn’t too far off, Rem would likely be just about done shopping, and starting to head back. Then a while after that, she’ll find herself locked out of the mansion. Ram may have already caught on to the ruse, but with her being locked in, and also being the only servant on the grounds, she’s unlikely to give chase.

“This is it.” Subaru said under her breath, as a final goodbye to the mansion and the villagers. With one, final sigh before returning her attention to leading the escape, she thought of Petra and Emilia, still back at the mansion, probably wondering where she’d gone. “Best of luck you two. Please forgive me.”

 

                                           

 

The sun had set.

Subaru, Felt and Rom had by now made it far, far out into the woods. From what Rom had said, they were about halfway out of the thick of it, and continuing after a short sleep, they were sure to reach open plains by next noon.

The hare Subaru took earlier was roasting over a steady campfire.

“You know, you could have stolen a bottle of one of those nobleman vines they probably have stacked in there.” Rom said with a laugh, having been in a very good mood since late in the afternoon.

“Yeah and get caught.” Felt replied, swallowing the cut of hare she was chewing on. “Typical that you’d think of getting sloshed first.”

Subaru didn’t participate in the conversation. She wanted to. This was a great moment for her, a chance to rebuild that bond from her first life. She fought for this, she died for this. Over and over. And yet, all she could do was watch the hare burn, as her body trembled.

“Hey kid, are you cold?” Rom asked, but Subaru couldn’t answer.

Tonight was the night, the night she died. And she was finally free of it. She hoped this would bring her great relief, that she’d be overjoyed and ecstatic about the future—

Instead, all she could think about was her life at the mansion. Playing music for Emilia, doing those stupid chores, Rem cutting her hair, Ram listening to her ramble about her dad, Beatrice berating her about licking the corner of the pages, Puck blowing up her gate, even Roswaal and her stupid melodic way of speaking.

All of these moments will now be truly, irrevocably lost in time. Not robbed only of her in that the lives in which they happened never existed, but she could never reclaim them either.

Why? Why did it hurt so much? Even the twins? Why couldn’t her happy memories have been what she thought? Why couldn’t they just have seen her as the friend she hoped them to be? Why can’t she escape betrayal even in this other world?

“Hey, Subaru.” Felt spoke to her, tugging on her jacket.

“Huh?” Subaru spoke up, snapping out of her dark thoughts.

“I— I didn’t say it, but I guess even if I didn’t ask you to, you did sa— helped me escape.” Felt said with a frown. “So, I guess as thanks, I’ll see what I can teach you once we’re safe. Even if you have no talent.” she added, scratching her head and looking away.

Subaru stared at the girl long enough that she went on to protest about it, but finally, as her thoughts began to calm down, she smiled at Felt.

“You’re welcome.” Subaru said. “You truly, absolutely are welcome.” she repeated.

“Subaru?” Felt asked, as Subaru’s body began trembling even harder.

“I am honestly just so, so, so happy you’re safe.” Subaru continued, trying to hold back her sniffling to little success. “I’m so happy that—”

Rattle.

The trembling of Subaru’s body ceased in an instant, her body freezing along with her blood.

She turned her head to the source of the sound, and once more, hidden under the shadow of the trees, she saw it. The unforgiving, unforgivable silhouette of terror, a chained ball hanging by her side.

“Not again.” Subaru begged.

Chapter Text

How are you here?! ” Subaru screamed.

The campfire was tiny. They were still in the heart of the forest, there couldn’t have been that much light or smoke! It took them most of the day to get only half way out of the forest, and they were nowhere near the road, Subaru made sure of that! So how did she find them? How did she track them?

“If Natsuki-sama thought her stench  couldn’t be tracked anywhere in Roswaal-sama’s domain, she was deeply mistaken.” the blue haired maid said coldly, before stepping closer and turning her attention to Felt and Rom. “Felt-sama, step away from the giant, these two cannot be trusted.”

Her stench? What st—

The sound of breaking dishes echoed in her ear, and the image of Rem standing in her bedroom door, her stockings painted with her dropped breakfast flashed through her mind. Had she reacted then to that cloud in the frozen moment? Had she senses the Witch on Subaru, as could Beatrice?

Screw you! ” Felt shouted. “I’ll trust old man Rom and even Subaru any day over abductors like you!” the girl jumped to her feet, and grabbed Subaru’s long sharp knife near the fire.

Rem sighed before continuing to step closer, the chained ball still swinging menacingly near her.

“These intruders have filled Felt-sama’s head with strange lies. Roswaal-sama had done nothing but given Felt-sama safety and shelter. To not see that these cultists are the true abductors, they truly must have twisted Felt-sama’s mind.” Rem said, beginning to swing the ball on her side.

“Now hold on a damn minute!” Rom roared, holding up the large piece of wood he had previously broken off of a dead tree when they thought for a moment they might have seen a mabeast on the way here. “We’re not cultists, but that won’t stop me from grinding you to a paste if you so much as touch Felt!”

“Rom’s been with me all my life!” Felt added.

The maid’s eye seemed to flinch with realization for a moment, and her gaze shifted from the girl and the giant back to Subaru instead.

The giant with his makeshift club and Felt with the knife stood by the fire, a few steps from Subaru. Felt’s eyes were darting over the nearby trees, looking for more enemies, or a way out, who knows. Rem continued her slow approach, about a dozen yards out from the fire, the ball swinging faster and faster.

“I’m sorry.” Subaru muttered, shakily getting on her feet. “She found you because of me.” she added.

How could she not see it? Of course there was no escape. There never could be an escape. She was too weak, too useless to ever get a happy ending. She brought Felt and Rom this far, promising them happiness, only to ruin it by her own stupidity.

“Kid, this isn’t—”

I stink of the witch! ” Subaru shouted in tears, looking at Felt and Rom.

Hearing this, the two next to her recoiled away from her, as if she just said she’s secretly a half-elf who painted her hair. That was probably right. Rem on the other hand, simply stopped in her tracks.

“I don’t know why, I don’t know how it started, or even when!” Subaru continued shouting. “I didn’t want it! I don’t want it!... Is this why you hate me?” she added, turning her red, accusing eyes to the maid before them. “Is this why you want to kill me? Why you always, always hunt me down?! Why you can’t just let me be happy?”

The ball spinning by Rem’s side began to slow, though Subaru hadn’t paid it much attention anymore. She was out of retries. She had to be. To continue even now, to make her start again— it would be monstrous, impossible.

She had no way out.

“You’re going to kill me no matter what I do, right?” Subaru asked, looking at Rem, her cries turning to unhinged laughter, as she saw out of the corner of her eye, Rom pushed Felt further away from her.

“Natsuki-sa—” Rem tried to interject, but Subaru was having none of it.

“Rom! Grab Felt and run!” Subaru yelled, biting down on her laughter and not taking her eyes off the disgusting maid before her and launching at her.

Subaru stood no chance. She knew that now. One way or another, she was going to die in the next few minutes. The blue haired beast before was just too strong. But if she had to go, she wanted to go with her hands around the maid’s throat, buying every second she can afford.

As the world drained away, leaving nothing but her and the maid, descending into a combative crouch, Subaru suddenly felt a tug on her arm, and she was propelled backwards.

Don’t be an idiot! ” shattered through her clouded mind, booming in the deep voice of the old man. “You know the way, take Felt and go!”

Subaru found herself sitting in the dirt, the hulking figure of the old man between her and the maid, Felt besides her.

“If you think—” Felt began in a fiery tone, looking to Rom, but was cut short.

Do as I said! ” Rom commanded, not taking his eyes off the maid, his large, makeshift club in hand. “You haven’t attacked yet,” he added. “If you back off, I’ll let you pretend you didn’t find us.”

Felt didn’t move, still grasping the knife in her hand, refusing to leave the old man to his impending death.

“That is not an option.” Rem said coldly. “Roswaal-sama has entered a contract to protect Felt-sama, and to not allow her outside of her domain.”

“That’s none of our business!” Rom retorted. “It has nothing to do with Felt or anyone else here!”

“Is colluding with a— with a probable witch cultist truly preferable than Roswaal-sama’s generous protection!”

“I don’t know what is with her stench.” Rom said, the wood creaking in his fist. “But there was no lie in her eyes when she told me she wanted to help Felt. I’ll trust those eyes that have seen death over any noble.”

Clambering to her feet, Subaru cried out: “Don’t talk to her! Rem just wants to confuse you and make you lower your guard!”

I said take— ” Rom began, but then his posture loosened, and his head turned to the side. “What did you call her?”

What does that matter?! ” Subaru replied angrily, not even sure herself what she said anymore.

Letting go of the club with one arm, and raising it towards the maid, Rom spoke in a softer, more unsure tone.

“Do you have any siblings? What was your chief’s name?” he asked.

Have you gone mad?! ” Subaru cried, stepping besides the giant. “She’ll kill us all!”

The spinning ball slowed further, Rem’s eye affixed on the towering giant’s face, with an indecipherable look.

Not missing the opportunity, Subaru heard a light shuffle behind herself, and wind blow against her cheek as Felt launched herself off the ground. In the dim fire light, Subaru could see the small figure of the girl dart beside her almost in the blink of an eye, jumping at a nearby tree and launching herself at the maid.

Rem, seemingly in a daze could barely react, and though she managed to catch on and dodge what at first was going to be a killing blow to her throat, red blood began to seep down from her shoulder a moment later, after Felt flew past her and landed near Rom.

Subaru’s heart barely had time to beat out once in relief, at the hope that they might yet defeat this blue devil, before the incomprehensible happened.

No, don’t kill her! ” Rom shouted, grabbing Felt’s arm and pulling her back and behind himself.

Felt and Subaru cried out in disbelief at once, while the maid jumped back, dragging her ball on the ground, while holding her shoulder with a glowing hand.

You’re going senile! ” Subaru shouted. “Who cares about Ram and her chief?!”

“Ram.” the giant repeated, muttering, turning his head to Subaru, though his eyes looking at something miles past her. “She’s alive?”

The chains rattled once more, as having regained her composure, Rem whipped the dropped ball closer to herself, and began spinning it once more.

“Whatever this is, it ends now!” Rem shouted, getting ready to strike, but instead of giving any mind to blocking, the giant dropped his club, and just stood before Felt and Subaru.

“Stop!” he shouted.

What is wrong with you old man?! ” Felt shouted, taking the words out of Subaru’s mouth.

“I can’t fight her! She’s—”

Subaru could not hear the whole answer, as suddenly every nerve in her body fired off at once, filling her with a familiar, agonizing pain and draining her strength. All she could do in that moment of shock was stumble towards the giant and try to stay on her foot, holding onto his arm.

This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening. She did everything! She watched every meal, guarded her food, prepared it herself, only drank water from the communal well, she couldn’t have been poisoned!

“Kid?!” she heard Rom call out. “Whatever you’re doing, stop, she isn’t a cultist!” he shouted, grabbing Subaru’s arm and trying to steady her, as he turned back to Rem.

“Rem hadn’t done anything.” the maid responded. She was lying. She had to be! Somehow, somewhere she poisoned Subaru. But where? When?! Ever since she awo—

Each time she experienced this poison’s effects, it would lead to the contents of her stomach evacuating. Doubtless, it would have done so now too, but before the poison could have done it, the horrible realization beat it to the punch.

Pushing herself off the giant, Subaru fell on all fours, bile and chunks of hare flowing out of her in a nauseous jet, as she finally understood. Avoiding the poisoning was pointless. Everything she did was a mistake. No one poisoned her over the past five days. She was poisoned from the start.

Every time she awoke, the twins were there in her room. They didn’t need to wait until breakfast, or lunch or dinner. They didn’t need to collude with the villagers. They simply poisoned her in her sleep. That’s why it always happened at the same time, on the same day. The poison was always inside her. Every loop, from the very beginning.

Her senses fading, she once again heard the chittering born of people speaking around her.

A gentle light shone above her, and she felt only the slightest easing on her back.

Get away! ” Subaru screamed, turning and reaching up with an arm, slapping away the blue maid standing over her, the light emanating from her hands. Losing her balance, Subaru slipped and fell into her own filth.

“I’ve seen this before.” she heard Rom’s grim voice boom through the chittering, the giant and the rest of the world dancing like flames before Subaru’s failing eyes.

“There is nothing….die….suffering….” Rem echoed from far away.

Subaru wanted to curse her, damn her, choke her, kill her ! What possible evil could she have commited in their eyes to justify this fate? To condemn her to death before they had even spoken?

“Rem cannot allow Felt-sama to leave.” she heard Rem speak clearer, the chittering reducing slightly, as she saw the shaky image of the blue maid above her, bathed in the familiar glow of her magic.

“I’m not going back!” Felt cried.

“I can’t fight her, Felt.” Rom said with a tragic tone. “If it was anyone else—”

“Perhaps Roswaal-sama would be willing to overlook this, seeing that it was Rom-san that broke Felt-sama out.” Rem said, her hands continuing to bathe her in light, as Subaru’s pain was held slightly in check.

“Get… off me.” Subaru muttered as best she could.

“Natsuki-sama, if Rem stops, then the pain—”

“Get off!” Subaru repeated as forcefully as she could. She tried slapping the maid away, but her arms wouldn’t listen.

It wasn’t enough for this sadistic monster to kill her, now she was prolonging her suffering to earn the trust of Rom and Felt?! Despicable. Irredeemable! Demonic!

“Just let them go…” Subaru mumbled. “Just give me this one thing.”

The maid’s mouth hung slightly, then she lowered her head, her hands ceasing their glow, the pain once more flaring up across Subaru’s body.

She felt the vile servant’s hand on her head, but Subaru had no way to fight against it.

“Rem cannot grant Natsuki-sama’s wish, but she is truly sorry.”

“Liar.” Subaru hissed through her teeth, as numbness quickly filled her extremities.

“There is nothing to be done.” Rem declared, as the world once more began twisting and turning around Subaru, for what now must have been the final time.

This was going to be her fourth death at the manor. There was no chance she could ever return after this. Nor did she want to.

She wanted to live, more than anything, but not like this! Not in a loop without existence, poisoned from the first waking moment, doomed to spend eternity in hell, living with people that hate her.

As she bit down on her teeth, begging all gods that may exist for a way out, a miracle that cures her, anything that lets her escape this fate; she felt her body rise up from the ground.

Straining her eyes, trying to focus, she saw Rem tightly holding in her arms a flailing Felt and walking away. Subaru herself was suspended in the air, held up by probably her waist in the giant’s arm, though she couldn’t feel his hand on her.

Rom looked at her with a tragic, compassionate face, and put his other hand on her head.

“I’m sorry.” the giant’s voice echoed deeply in Subaru’s head. “This is all I can do, to thank you.”

“Please, not you.” Subaru mumbled.

As her vision suddenly and violently turned over two hundred degrees, with the salty taste of her tears in her mouth, Natsuki Subaru passed away.

Chapter Text

Soft.

Unbearably soft.

Bright, unceasing light.

Song of birds echoing outside.

Subaru knew where she was. She hated it. Every fiber of her being cried in fear, rage and hate, and yet—

She laid there, in the same bed as each time. Refusing to open her eyes, refusing to acknowledge where she was, she laid there, unmoving, praying in her mind against the inescapable truth, that her life was already over. Each life ended the same time in the same place. There was no room for poisoning after she awoke. She allowed for none, which means—

The twins needed not to make a noise, for her to know that of course, as always, they were there. Doubtlessly, they had just finished poisoning her in her sleep from their perspective. For Subaru, it would have happened twenty days ago. Twenty days.

“Nee-sama.” she heard Rem say quietly. “Our guest is trembling.”

“Rem, I believe it might be a nightmare.” Ram whispered back.

‘It is.’ Subaru should have said. She should have sat up, and cracked a joke. She should have then walked over to them, introduced herself, and then choked whichever she could get her hands on until they killed or disable her.

Her death was already inevitable. Why wait on it?

Images of Emilia and Felt passed through her mind. What would they think, if she did that? If she hadn’t proved to people that Rem and Ram poisoned her, then she couldn’t punish them. And what little she learned of poisons in this world told her that she wasn’t going to do that. Not without months and months of study, if it’s even possible with equipment present at the mansion. All she knew is that there is no simple way to do it.

Could that be her fate? She was past her self assumed three extra lives. Was there even a limit? No. It couldn’t be limitless. It must not be limitless! Even if she could spent months and months researching in the forbidden library and eventually cure it she—

She didn’t want to die.

If it’d come to that, maybe she’d try it. Maybe— Maybe she could do it.

But no! It can’t be the answer! There must be a limit, and if there is, then it would be pointless to just study waiting to die, get murdered, over and over and over and—

Maybe, maybe it’s just one last life. Maybe, she wasn’t wrong. She gets three extra lives. At the capital, she died twice. Maybe, one carried over, making this the last one.

It wouldn’t save her. She’ll be dead in five days no matter what. But if she’s right, at least—

She heard the door open, then close. They left.

She was, once again, alone.

After a few minutes of remaining still, she finally opened her eyes, and saw, as she expected, the same ceiling, all over again. To her left were her washed and sewn together clothes and her backpack on the dresser. On her right on an end table, the window into the garden, and that same old bouquet of flowers, with the small paper note she never bothered to read.

Sitting up, she got off on the left side, and opened her backpack, taking out her phone. With a vain hope, she opened it and navigated to the picture gallery. The photo of Petra was gone, as were the four days she spent exploring the forest and staying with the girl’s family. Everything, everything was lost. Nothing left, but to wait, and hope against hope, that this will be it.

Subaru breathed deeply, and walked to the other side of the bed, to the flowers left to her. The colours drab, their scent unappealing. If there was no way out, she may as well just see what the note was about.

Back on the bend, holding the paper card in her hands, she began to slowly parse the words. It was still difficult, but after Ram—

On a sudden impulse, she wanted to tear the note to pieces, but held herself, just barely.

Romoji was still touch and go, and she had to interpret it longer than she’d have hoped.

 

“Dear Natsuki Subaru,

Please excuse the flowers if you feel them inappropriate. I didn’t know what would be a fitting gift, as from what I was told, you’ve come from far away and from a home removed from most troubles of this world. In an odd sort of way, I envy that. If we ever speak again, I’d hoped to hear more of this place, as I’ve always had a great interest in such things. Regrettably, my duties and other limitations rarely allow me to travel, which is in part why I couldn’t be there in person to thank you for what you’ve done. As I’m sure Roswaal-sama is going to explain, you have done an outstanding service to this kingdom when you saved that young girl’s life, one for which I will personally remain eternally grateful.
I also wish to apologize for moving you without your permission. Roswaal-sama was rather insistent on the opportunity to repay you, and as per her custodianship over Felt-sama, the girl you saved I had my fellow knight, the one responsible for healing your arm, deliver you both to Roswaal-sama’s estate.
I pray that this letter finds you in good health, and that you find the reward there that at this time I am unable to provide you. Please, if you find yourself staying at the mansion, continue to look after Felt-sama as you have done so, in my place.

With highest regards, and deepest thanks;
-Reinhard van Astrea”

 

Below Reinhard’s red signature, was a small note written in blue “And Felix!”, followed by a blue cartoon heart.

She just sat there, hunched over the letter for a time, reading and re-reading it, again and again, weakly treading her fingers over the characters.

“Protect Felt?” she mumbled to herself, as if asking the paper. “I’ve tried. I really, really tried.”

Subaru felt the muscles in her face twitch and contort, and a cold settle on her shoulders.

“I tried so hard. Again and again.”

Tear drops began to drip on the paper, smudging the red ink, which pooled in the moisture and began spilling off the paper, as if it was bleeding.

“It’s not fair.” Subaru wept. “It’s not fair that you put this on me. Why did you have to send me here? Why did you have to put this on me? Why must it be me, and only me? Every time. Alone. Over and over.”

The paper fell from her grasp, careening through the air down onto the floor.

Subaru simply stayed sitting on the bed across from the window, weeping hard then weeping harder, burying her face in her arms with nothing but an inevitable death in her future, now and forever.

The birds, uncaringly, chirped their merry songs outside.

Chapter Text

Eventually, in her crying, she was found and confronted by Emilia, who apparently heard her from her room, and came to see what happened.

There was no way in which Subaru could explain her feelings, nothing she could say that would make anything make sense to the girl, nothing that would make herself feel better. As the silver-haired half-elf embraced her and cooed her, once more reassuring that everything will be fine, there was only one, hopeless revelation Subaru had left:

She didn’t want anyone to share her misery.

There was no point. Emilia feeling pity for her wasn’t going to help. Felt seeing Subaru’s weakness, she’d have liked to avoid. The twins would likely only find vile pleasure in watching her squirm in pain. Roswaal, Puck and Beatrice would likely just not care.

If all of this was inevitable, then she had to accept it. After all, wasn’t this what she deserved?

She had awoken in this new world, her first instinct was to look how she could become a hero. Once she realized her ability to return by death, she took Emilia’s trust, and tried to manipulate her into being a meat shield so she could reconnect with Felt. She was going to lead to her death the very woman now holding her, and whispering to her that everything will be alright. Just in her previous life, she abandoned Petra and Emilia without a word, leading Felt and Rom through the dangerous woods where they could have been attacked by mabeasts, and why? To save Felt? That was a lie. She did that for herself too. She could have just tried to run by herself. She sensed deep down that Felt was going to be safe no matter what because of her importance. Subaru didn’t ‘rescue’ the girl so they’d be safe. She fooled them into thinking their abduction was a rescue. Subaru was simply forcing Felt into her own delusions, so she could recapture what she lost.

Nothing she did was heroic, or good. Nothing she was, was noble or right.

Before this world, she squandered every opportunity laid at her feet, she took her parents’ love and care, burned through it without a thought, exploiting their understanding to lul herself into an absolute non-existence of a life, knowing full well that each day she was breaking their heart by not putting in the minimum of effort.

She deserved this.

Her, and no one else.

 

                                           

 

Reassuring Emilia that everything was fine, Subaru sent her away, and spent the rest of the morning as she spent oh so many before when playing her guitar seemed like a chore: Laying in bed, staring into empty space. There were no solutions to be gained from a friend.

When Rem brought her her breakfast, she accepted it without comment, and ate it. The once thrillingly delicious flavours bland and unappealing, tainted by the hatred she knew it was made with. There was no comfort to be had in a hot meal.

As lunch and Roswaal’s offer came about, she wished for work. Her first, cardinal sin was wasting away, contributing nothing to her family. Perhaps in performing tasks, she could find temporary distraction and release from the inevitable. There was no peace gained from idle hands.

After lunch, as Ram left with Felt and Rem led Subaru to the wardrobe, she accepted the first uniform offered, standing by silently as for the manieth time, the maid took her measurements. She needed not complain about clothes. She wouldn’t be wearing them long. There was no splendor in vanity.

Come the late afternoon, Rem and Ram would begin to comment on her continued silence, probing her with simple questions she could naught but brush away. She didn’t seek their friendship. She didn’t seek their approval. Her only purpose in working was to draw the close of day quicker, passing her free time by getting a headstart on her following chores instead, working alone, as she should, as she must.

When night finally fell, she took her meal to her room and sat at the small desk in her new servant quarter, setting her plate before herself. With knife and fork in hand, she only stared at it, time passing over her silently.

It was hare.

The hunter from the village never knew here. Was never going to know her. Petra and the other children once more knew nothing of her. The hares she killed under Oringo’s guidance were now once again alive, hopping about in the forest. All trace of her being erased from the world, reduced to the temporary cleanliness of the dishes, clothes and bedsheets she washed, the vegetables Emilia, Roswaal and Felt were now digesting and won’t remember in a day.

These fleeting things, void of meaning were the breadth of her achievement, her new legacy.

She stood up, placing her pristine utensils by the dish.

Her bed was too— It wasn’t too soft. It wasn’t too hard. Nor too small or too big. It was too familiar. It was the bed in which she spent half her nights here. The bed she would have died in, would she not have sought to stop an assassin that never were. The bed serving nothing but to move her closer to her death one night at a time.

She grabbed the blanket and pillow from the bed and curled up in her room’s corner, the heartrending aroma of her untouched meal filling the room as sleep had slowly overcome her.

 

Subaru stood in the unending corridor of her first awakening. The magic path conjured upon her likely by some arcane trick of Beatrice herself. Far, far ahead, in one of the rooms music was playing. A familiar voice calling out to their ‘ Little darling ’.

She began to walk towards the distant door, her steps slowly growing longer, as the music drew closer.

Rattle.

Looking back, the corridor behind her began to twist and curl into a corkscrew, a blue ball of flames approaching her from behind.

Subaru hurried her steps, if only she could reach the door!

Rattle!

Turning back once more, the flames grew to the size of a person, and from the flames burst the vision of the maid hounding her steps, hunting all shred of happiness she could find. Her face filled with hateful glee, she whips her chains and—

Rem! ” Subaru screams, but no voice leaves her lips. She’s back where started, the music playing once more in the distance.

Her steps grew quicker. She had to outpace the coming onibi. She had to reach that door! Nothing was more important!

Rattle!

Get away, Rem! Rem! ” Subaru cried, afraid to turn back, her voice once more silent.

She was almost at the door! All she had to do was grab the handle—

Rattle!

Panting soundlessly, she was once more far behind, the music playing in the distance.

Launching to a sprint, she was sure she’ll make it now, but her speed made her slip. She couldn’t push herself on the floor, as it bounced away from her nauseatingly, as if there gravity shifted and she was on the moon!

Rattle!

Swimming in the air, gasping for air as water filled the space between the walls, she felt herself drowning, but the music continued. Remembering the small table besides her door, she found herself once more running on the ground, the table coming up ahead, and she flipped it behind herself to slow the evil chasing her.

Finally, reaching the door, she grabbed the handle, turned it and jumped inside.

She screamed deaf screams as the next moment she held in her arms once more Felt’s lifeless body, looking at her with vacant, accusatory eyes, the eyes whose light she couldn’t protect.

“Wonderful!” called the voice of an older woman, and Granhiert entered her sight, bending over her in her dark dress.

Subaru tried to fight back, but her body wouldn’t respond, as the woman in black grabbed her face and kissed her on the lips deeply, Subaru’s throat burning, as her life itself was sucked away.

When the woman finally let go, and pulled back, it was not Granhiert’s face, but Rem jeering down on Subaru, standing up and swinging her chained ball above herself.

I want to live! Rem! Please! Please! ” she mouthed, her voice still not finding her.

“Subaru-kun!” came, but not from the phantasm. “Subaru-kun!” the voice cried again, the flail and blue maid disappearing before Subaru, to be replaced, as she opened her eyes with—

 

“Subaru-kun!” Rem cried with a look of panic on her face as she shook Subaru by the shoulders.

“Get away!” Subaru shouted as she came to her senses, shuffling away from the maid in her nightgown, and bumping her head against the corner of the room that she just shuffled into.

“Why is Subaru-kun on the floor?” Rem asked with a false, deceitful look of concern.

“It’s where I wanted to sleep!” Subaru said, pulling her blanket on herself. “Why are you in my room?! Get out!”

“Subaru-kun was screaming in her sleep, calling Rem’s name.” the maid said quietly. “She was begging for her life.”

“It’s none of your business! Get out!” Subaru yelled.

Rem, putting on a slightly hurt expression looked away, then stood up, picking up Subaru’s dinner before wishing her a good night and heading for the door.

Just then an elegant, kind voice called: “Rem? Is everything alright?”

“Rem is not certain.” the maid answered, stepping outside, leaving the silver-haired half-elf on the other side to step into the doorway.

“Subaru!” she exclaimed, when she saw Subaru huddled up in the corner. “What happened to you? I heard the screaming.”

Subaru averted her eyes from Emilia, ashamed to have brought her misery on the girl again. It wasn’t right.

“I must have rolled out of my bed having a nightmare.” Subaru said quickly, grabbing her pillow and standing up.

“It doesn’t look like you did.” Emilia noted, looking at the pristine bedsheets on the bed, before Subaru at on it, pulling the blanket over herself.

“Please just go back to sleep. Everything is alright.” Subaru said, sinking into the mattress.

“There is nothing wrong with asking for hel—”

Please. ” Subaru repeated with a raised, shaking voice. “Don’t worry about me, just sleep.”

After a short silence, Subaru heard the elf stand up, and step closer, followed by the touch of her hand on her back through the blanket.

“Whatever it is, you are not alone.” Emilia spoke softly before turning around and with quiet, gentle steps leaving the room.

Four more days. Four more days and the girl won’t have to suffer on her behalf.

 

                                           

 

“Betty has heard that the girl has been acting stupid outside of the library too, I suppose.” came from the door of Subaru’s room.

It was time for her short morning break, and referencing last night’s episode, Ram had ordered Subaru to rest instead of working during her downtime. She’d have preferred to keep her hands busy. Staring at her desk just sitting before it did nothing to alleviate the grinding pressure of time upon her, each minute and second ticking away through eternities towards her doom.

“Betty has spoken, in fact!” the spirit standing in the door pouted.

“What do you want?” Subaru asked quietly, not taking her eyes off her desk.

“Bubby had told Betty that the stupid girl who came to visit her yesterday has been acting strange ever since, making his contractor sad, I suppose. He may have asked Betty to apologize, though that is difficult considering Betty hadn’t done anything wrong, in fact.”

Subaru continued to stare at the desk for a few moments before closing her eyes, coming to the realization that she’s supposed to respond.

“You can tell Puck everything is fine. You hadn’t done anything.” she said without looking up.

“That much was obvious, in fact.” Beatrice huffed.

Subaru had expected the girl would then just leave and shut the door. Instead, she could sense the cloud of candy scent exuding from the drill haired spirit grow thicker and closer.

“Betty’s afraid Bubby won’t just take that as an answer, so Betty might as well set this silly girl straight, perhaps.” Beatrice announced as she stepped besides the desk. “What even is her problem, I wonder? Leading such short lives it’s a wonder the girl’s knd can even accumulate regrets, I suppose.”

A short pained laugh came over Subaru, and she hunched deeper over the desk.

“There is nothing you can do.” Subaru said. The only thing she truly knew about the multitude of poisons she could be the victim of, was that none of them could just be easily fixed. “There is nothing to be done. Just don’t worry about me.”

“Betty isn’t worried about the girl, in fact.” Beatrice said matter-of-factually. “It is Bubby, or rather Bubby’s silly contractor that’s the issue, and Betty can’t play with Bubby until he thinks Betty did everything she could, I suppose.”

The spirit was just not listening. There was nothing Subaru could offer her. No way to make things better, no way out, no way forward. Only—

“Would you be satisfied if I asked a small favor?” Subaru asked, her voice growing shaky.

“Betty does not make promises without knowing what they are, I suppose.” Beatrice huffed.

“It’s nothing much, I just—”

Subaru paused, taking a long laboured breath to collect herself, before finally turning to Beatrice. The spirit’s face switched to an expression of mild shock which Subaru hadn’t seen on her before, as she stared down at the drill haired little girl.

“In four days, I’ll go somewhere at sundown. I’d like it if you came with me.” Subaru said, the words coming with great difficulty.

“Is there a purpose for which the girl would draw the protector of the library out of the estate, perhaps?” Beatrice asked, narrowing her eyes.

“It’s somewhere nearby, and I don’t want you to do anything there, just—” Subaru choked on the words. “Just be there, for an hour or two.”

“What is this darkness in the girl’s thoughts, I wonder?” Beatrice asked, that previously unseen look returning to her face.

“I can’t say.” Subaru said, shaking her head weakly. “I’m not even sure myself. But I can promise you that my intentions pose or mean no threat to the mansion or the library. All that changes if you don’t come, is that I go alone.” Subaru added.

“What a silly favor! The girl would gain nothing from this then, in fact.” Beatrice pouted. “Is there even a reason for Beatrice to go, I wonder?”

Subaru turned her head back towards the desk, and placed her elbows on it, hands locking fingers behind her neck.

“Not really, I guess.” Subaru muttered. “It’s just— I—”

She placed her head down on the desk, burying it between her arms to hide the tears that began to flow once more, as they so readily did in this past month of unlife.

“I just don’t want to be alone.” she wept into the desk. “I don’t want to be alone! I—”

It became difficult to speak through her ragged breathing. The thoughts and emotions she’s been trying to hold back yesterday came pouring forth, with nowhere to go. Nothing to do. No end in sight, but the final one.

As Subaru continued weeping into her arms, she’d almost forgotten the spirit standing besides her, who just quietly stood there and waited, not speaking a word.

“I’m sorry.” Subaru said, sniffling as she came to her senses, wiping away her snot and tears. “Please ignore all that, just forget—”

“Very well, Betty will contract herself to come with the girl on that night, I suppose.” Beatrice suddenly declared, her face and voice carrying a sense of saddened anger that Subaru couldn’t decipher. She was holding up a hand towards Subaru.

“Contract?” Subaru asked while wiping away the last of her tears “What do you mean by that?”

“The girl is truly hopeless, in fact.” Beatrice sighed, waving her hand in the air suggestively. “Upon entering into the contract, Betty will have to abide by the girl’s request, I suppose.”

Subaru looked at the outstretched hand, and began to reach for it, before pulling her arm back.

“No.” she said.

“What does that mean I wonder?!” pouted Beatrice angrily. “The girl should know that Betty is not in the habit of giving out contracts to every foolish girl who wanders into the mansion, in fact!”

“No, as in I don’t want to force you.” Subaru said, putting down her arm. “I would like you to come with me. I would like to have someone there— I would like it, but I couldn’t force you.” She couldn’t force anyone.

“The girl is impossible, in fact!” Betty fumed. “She says she wants Betty to come with, but also she doesn’t want Betty to say she will come with, perhaps.”

“Let’s just say, if you see me on that evening and you still want to, you come with me, alright?” Subaru asked. “No contracts, no magic seals, no immutable bonds. Only if you still feel like it.”

“How utterly imprecise.” Beatrice huffed, before giving an annoyed nod.

 

                                           

 

Subaru stood in the kitchen by herself, peeling a ringa.

Felt had asked for ringa juice, and of course, the best way would be to peel one and squeeze fresh juice, so she grabbed a ringa in one hand, a knife in the other, and began twisting the ringa in her hand against the knife as she saw the twins do it.

One twist. Two twists. Three twists.

The long, unbroken peel of the fruit hung down from her hand. Perhaps if she did this right, if she made a good juice, Felt would smile at her. Perhaps she could see the girl smile one more time before—

Ten twists. Eleven twists. Twelve twists.

The red strip of the peel now began to pool around her on the floor, as she continued peeling the same ringa, over and over again. On the nearby kitchen counter, she saw a hare leap over the sink, only to fall to pieces in the air, a leg landing upon a dish on the other side, perfectly roasted. Then, the roast leg disappeared, and looking back on the other side of the sink, she saw the same hare hop over the sink once more, flying into pieces, its blood sprinkling on her, before its leg landed on the dish and disappeared once more.

Twenty twists. Twenty one twists. Twenty two twists.

Subaru wanted to stop peeling the ringa, but she couldn’t. Looking down, its peel piled up to her waist, filling the entire kitchen floor.

Trying to let go of the ringa and knife, she suddenly saw two hands shadow hands like the one that gripped her heart guiding her hands with the knife and ringa, not allowing her to stop.

On the kitchen table, the same hare once more jumped over the sink, exploding now even more violently into bloody giblets, its leg landing  in the dish and disappearing. Once more then over the sink, explodes into a fountain of blood, and its leg lands on the dish before disappearing.

A hundred twists. A hundred and one twists. A hundred and two twists.

Why can’t she just stop peeling? All she wants is an end! Just end it! She can’t keep doing this forever!

“Please, let it stop.” she called silently. “I’m tired. I’m so tired.”

The infinite peel now swimming atop a rising pool of blood around her, now covered her to her shoulders, the shadow hands still forcing her to continue, peeling the ringa, holding it high. Only the shadow hands were no longer made of shadow, they were flesh and blood, slender hands at the end of arms wearing frilly black and white maid uniform sleeves.

“Rem, Ram. Please. Please!” Subaru begged.

Then, suddenly, a shadow gently caressed her cheeks, and she felt fingers interlocking with hers, the vile maid arms guiding her falling to dust as the blood, ringa and kitchen itself dissipated, replaced by the serene gardens, and her gazebo.

If only her eternity could be spent here.

 

                                           

 

Awakening on the third day, she initially felt more relaxed, better rested. As the reality of having three full days to live arrived in her mind, this had changed.

Continuing her work as before without comments, she saw to her duties. There was no point talking to the twins. Same for Roswaal, Puck and Beatrice. Felt and Emilia— Best case, they’d only be sadder when she’s gone. This was her punishment, not theirs.

“Subaru-kun is surprisingly good at laundry.” Rem said in the early afternoon “Doesn’t Nee-sama agree?”

Before Ram could formulate an answer, Subaru spoke up, not moving her eyes from her work. “Just leave me alone. Don’t act like— like—”

Holding the dirty uniforms in her hand and folding them, she realized she was still doing it the way they taught. They way they showed her. The way she tried so hard to mimic perfectly, so they’d one day see her as an equal. Maybe even one day Ram would have spoken to her with some manner of pride. That was her hope then.

“Subaru-kun?” Rem asked, stepping closer. “Subaru-kun is trembling.” she added, reaching to Subaru’s hands, but Subaru just ripped them away from her and stumbled on her feet.

“I said stay away! I can do this!”

Even now, they were fishing for signs of her weakness. Looking for chinks in her armor to pierce, morsels of her misery to delight in. Animals.

“That is enough laundry for now, please go take a rest.” Ram declared stepping to Subaru, and holding out her hand.

“I can do this!” Subaru repeated with her voice raised, shakily attempting to fold the uniform in the air.

“That was an order .” Ram repeated, reaching out and grabbing the uniform. “Go and rest, we’ll find you later.”

Giving up, Subaru let go of the uniform.

As she left, she heard Rem and Ram whisper to each other. How they must love seeing her lose it. How they must relish each of her failures, mocking her behind every false compliment, waiting patiently to see her die.

Far, far too tired to head back to her room, Subaru instead went to the gazebo that lifetimes ago she frequented with her lyulyre. She never claimed it. It was still up in the attic. There was no room for music for her in this world anymore. Once there, she simply sat and emptied her thoughts as best she could. She was halfway there. Only two and a half days left, then, if there is anything right or good in this world, she’ll—

No, she shouldn’t think. Just look at the green field and the flowers nearby. Trimmed and pampered, and measured down to the last detail. Utterly lacking in the rural beauty of those yellow flowers back in the ca—

No, don’t think of that either. There was no point in exploring the past.

“Subaru.” she heard calling to her in that soft, elegant voice.

Emilia was standing in the gazebo’s entrance, giving her a kind, concerned smile before walking to Subaru and sitting down on the same bench right next to Subaru.

“I’m sorry, I should go.” Subaru said, beginning to stand up, but she felt Emilia’s hand grasp her wrist and tug on it.

“Please, stay Subaru.” Emilia said softly with such a gentle, praying tone that Subaru couldn’t refuse, and slumped back down in her place. “I heard you’ve been working very hard, Subaru.” Emilia added.

Subaru didn’t answer, just stared before herself. She couldn’t be friendly. She couldn’t make friends. She didn’t deserve to. Emilia didn’t deserve being betrayed by a friend again either. The only right thing to do was to disappear silently, leaving no trace. The only right thing.

“Subaru. I cannot understand why you feel like this, if you do not tell me. And I cannot help you, if I do not know what is wrong.” Emilia said.

Subaru remained silent.

Emilia sighed, and put a hand on Subaru’s shoulder.

“If you won’t talk, at least let me do one thing for you.” Emilia said.

“Why? You don’t need to worry about me, I told you.” Subaru answered, weakly.

“No matter how you feel now, you’ve saved that poor girl’s life. As a matter of fact, you even saved mine. If you hadn’t told him about that horrible woman, he wouldn’t have come to our rescue, and I don’t know if I could have won without his intervention.” Emilia explained. “I have a lot to thank you for, even if you don’t know it. So please, just let me do one thing.”

Subaru stared a while longer at the floor, before looking up.

“Fine. What is it?”

“Just please turn sideways, with your back to me.” Emilia said, gesturing at the end of the bench.

Uncertainly, Subaru did as she was asked. Then, with the sound of a slight shuffle, as the half-elf got closer to her, she felt her gentle hands seep into Subaru’s hair, softly selecting strands of hair, and carefully weaving them together.

“Just relax Subaru, you don’t need to do anything.” Emilia whispered, caressing Subaru’s head.

Subaru hadn’t experienced this in years. She didn’t even know if the last time someone braided her hair was her mother or someone she then thought of as a friend. Her lips quivered slightly, but that was it. She had long since reached the limit of her grief.

“It must have been hard. Wasn’t it?” Emilia whispered.

The junior maid’s shoulders went weak, and her breath was stuck in her throat. Since yesterday morning’s resolution, tears would not, could not flow, however her chest could clench, her muscles could tense in agony, and her cheeks could burn.

“I want out.” Subaru mumbled. “I just want to be free. I want friends.”

“There, there.” Emilia cooed, continuing to gently braid her hair. “You have friends.”

Subaru couldn’t bear to answer that. “I want to play music. I want to make Felt smile.” she said instead.

“I’m sure you can play music if you put your mind to it.” Emilia spoke softly, so wonderfully ignorant. “I will ask Roswaal if she could help with that.” she added, putting a hand on Subaru’s shoulder, shaking it gently. “As for Felt, she seems like a bit of a serious girl, but maybe if we put our heads together, we can think of something simple that will make her happy.”

They continued on in this fashion, the world’s most hated girl gently braiding the hair of its loneliest, whispering sweet encouraging words into ears long since struck deaf.

Chapter Text

“Emilia-sama? Is everything alright.” Rem asked quietly, standing just outside the garden gazebo, her eyes glancing over the young new maid sleeping in the half-elf’s arms, her face slightly contorting with pain and fear every few seconds.

“Everything is well, thank you Rem.” Emilia whispered, caressing Subaru’s cheeks, the girl’s face relaxing once more at her touch. “She isn’t a bother, if that’s what you meant.

By now, Emilia should have returned to her studies, but this was perhaps a more important use of her time, this once.

“Should Rem take Subaru-kun to her room?” the blue maid offered, but Emilia shook her head.

“No, I do not want to wake her.” she said. “She just sort of dozed off as I was braiding her hair. Must have been so tired.”

As Emilia brushed a few locks of the sleeping girl’s hair to the side, Rem stepped into the gazebo and closer to them. The senior maid gently placed the back of her hand on Subaru’s forehead and waited a moment before lifting it.

“She doesn’t appear to be ill.” Rem noted, a look of concern on her face. “And yet— Her temperament is difficult to understand.” she said, before slightly stiffening her posture and bowing her head to Emilia. “Deepest apologies, Emilia-sama. Rem didn’t mean to be presumptuous.”

“Presumptuous?” Emilia blinked in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Rem is sorry to have acted so casually, she simply—”

“Shhh.” Emilia hushed the embarrassed maid, looking down at Subaru whose features looked pained once more. “You have not done anything wrong.” Emilia whispered, when finally Subaru’s features eased. “You’re like those knights. You should learn to ease up a little.” Emilia scolded, furrowing her brows at the blue maid, before looking back at Subaru. “I never wanted to be treated that way. Even with her initial rudeness, I much preferred how Subaru spoke to me.”

“Wasn’t she as quiet in the capital?” Rem asked. “Subaru-kun barely ever seems to say a word when it isn’t needed.”

“No, she was very different.” Emilia said quietly. “I cannot imagine what happened.”

The girl breathing lightly, her head resting in Emilia’s arms reminded her of something. Something far, far away from her she couldn’t grasp. She wished to understand Subaru’s pain, she wished she had the ability to stumble into just the right string of words that would make the poor, tired girl feel, if only for a moment, that her concerns mean nothing, the same way Subaru did.

“Something must have hurt her terribly.” Emilia whispered.

Rem, standing still dutifully besides them took a deep breath, then turned her head away, a sad frown quivering on the side of her face before disappearing as the maid turned her head back.

“Yes.” Rem said simply.

“You’re worried about her too?” Emilia asked, looking up at the maid, who appeared caught off guard.

“As Subaru-kun’s senior, it is Rem’s duty to make sure she is well, and ready to perform her duties.” Rem said in a tone that felt as if she was trying to imitate her sister. Emilia didn’t buy it, and she just shook her head with a smile.

“It is good to want to help when someone is in pain.” she said, turning her attention back to Subaru. “I for one believe it was wonderful of you to have done that for Subaru last night.”

“Emilia-sama?” Rem asked with the first blush Emilia had ever seen on the girl.

Emilia just hummed and in place on an answer, gently touching the sleeping girl’s cheek as Subaru mumbled Felt’s name.

“Then… The blanket was…?” Rem asked quietly.

“Would have been terrible if Ram had to do everything because her sister caught a cold.” Emilia said with a quiet giggle. “Think nothing of it.”

The two smiled at each other. This was the first time Emilia had really had a chance to talk with Rem, and definitely the first time the girl smiled at her. Looking back down, this poor girl in her arms truly had a way to bring people together. Even when unconscious and filled with untold miseries, she was helping Emilia accomplish small things she’d wanted a long time.

As she glanced back up, Emilia saw Rem frown for a moment, looking at Subaru, before her expression disappeared into neutrality.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“It is nothing to worry about, Emilia-sama.” Rem replied.

“Please, it is enough that she refuses to talk about her worries.”

Rem looked in Emilia’s eyes, then back at the sleeping girl before giving out a small, gentle sigh of sorrow.

“It seems that Subaru-kun hates Nee-sama and Rem. It is difficult to understand why.” Rem said, looking at the sleeping girl.

Emilia placed her palm on Subaru’s forehead, examining the girl’s features, as if looking for a clue to the true feelings of he unconcious girl.

“No, I don’t believe that is true.” Emilia said. “Subaru is a good person. She wouldn’t hate someone for no reason.”

The maid uncertainly raised a hand under her own nose, and took a breath, difficult to understand emotions flashing through her eyes briefly, before she lowered her hands and returned to her usual self.

“Rem is thankful for Emilia-sama’s time, however she must now return to her duties.” Rem said with a bow. “When Subaru-kun wakes up, please tell her that her duties have been handled.”

Emilia waved the maid off as Rem left the gazebo and headed for the mansion, leaving Emilia with the girl in her arm, same as she found her.

“See, Subaru?” Emilia whispered, hunching forward to Subaru’s ear. “You have friends.”

Chapter Text

The embarrassment in the gazebo aside, Subaru closed her third to last day without incident, apologizing to Emilia for the trouble once she came to and went back to work. While she had hoped to avoid such encounters altogether, not wanting to leave enough of an impression to be a bother, some good came of it.

Subaru was far too preoccupied with what that final night will hold for her. She had allowed three days to waste away, thinking of no one but herself, another mindless crime.

With new plans for tomorrow, she spent the night hounded by a nightmare once more, but only briefly, awaking once more with a strange sensation in between her fingers. Raising her right hand she she noticed that the bottom of the gap between her fingers, closest to her palm were flushed. Had someone actually visited her?

“Emilia.” Subaru whispered to herself sadly. “Please just give up.” she added, clutching her hand close to her chest.

After lunch, she briefly approached the twins, and told them she wished to leave the mansion for a few hours.

“Where would Barusu want to go? Does she even know the first thing about the surrounding area?” Ram asked with a narrow eye.

“I just want to go for a walk.” Subaru lied in her now usual dejected tone, her head hanging, avoiding the twins’ eyes to evade her own anger. “I’ll be back by sundown, probably sooner.”

“Subaru-kun, Nee-sama is right. The surrounding forest is a dangerous place filled with mabeasts.” Rem noted.

“I do not intend to go further or deeper than the nearest village.” Subaru clarified quietly.

“Well, if Subaru-kun stays on the road, then perhaps…” Rem trailed.

Ram sighed and shrugged. “Perhaps Rem could go buy groceries one day ear—”

“I’d like to go alone.” Subaru interjected, tensing her tone. Rem’s shoulders flinched, and she hung her head.

“Barusu clearly hasn’t adjusted to her position as a—” Ram began with a touch of anger in her voice.

“Nee-sama, Rem thinks Subaru-kun should be free to go for a walk if she feels she needs it.” Rem interrupted. “Rem can go tomorrow as planned.”

“Fine.” Ram hissed, her eye trained on Subaru still. “I’ll see to adjusting the schedule. Rem, open the gate for Barusu.”

Subaru slightly bowed her upper body, then turned and left.

Emilia was right. It wasn’t hard to think of something that might make Felt happy. Subaru didn’t have time to set it up right. She was never going to have enough time, but this was the least she could do.

 

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

 

“For a rat, we give poison” Subaru said simply, as the giant entered. She was sitting on the catwalk of the windmill.

Rom flinched and retracted himself from the door as before, but then, likely recognizing the phrase, stuck his head back, looking up at Subaru.

“For the—” he began.

“Whale, hook. Dragon, go to hell.” Subaru said quickly. “I’ve also got the knock.” she sighed, standing up and stepping to the ladder.

“What are you doing here kid, and how do you know the password?” Rom asked, though visibly less combative than last time.

“I got the password and knocked from one of the only two people in this forest who knows it. I’ll let you make your assumptions.” she said simply, coming down the ladder.

“Felt told you? So she is here?” the old man asked a look of relief on his face. “She sent you? How did she know I’d be—”

“Old man.” Subaru interrupted. “I don’t have time to answer all your questions.”

“Kid, what happened? You’re looking miserable.” Rom asked, tilting his head, examining Subaru’s sorry mug.

“Don’t worry about me.” Subaru said, shaking her head. “Felt is fine. She’s in the nearby manor. I’ve come to make sure you can see eachother again.” Subaru explained.

She couldn’t bring herself to excitement, or flowery language, or any kind of dressing. This wasn’t something she could or should feel any pride in. She won’t be here long enough for that. However, if this was the last time, something she sincerely hoped, she had to do something.

“Rom, if you try to rescue Felt, I don’t know if it will work. You might make it away, you might get lost in the woods, you might get tracked down and killed. The mansion only has two servants, but they are monsters. Even you’d stand little chance against them.” she said matter-of-factually.

The giant raised his eyebrows, but listened to her with a serious expression, not interrupting.

“I don’t know why, but it may matter to you that the twins guarding the mansion are two young women with blue and pink hair, named Rem and Ram.”

“Why wo—?” Rom began with a look of confusion before a glint or realization shined in his old eyes. “Do you mean they’re—”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Subaru said. “I understand they aren’t people who you’d want to fight?”

Rom grabbed the door frame next to him, holding onto it tightly as if for support, thinking in silence before raising his head.

“Which one is which?” he asked.

“The pink twin is Ram, the blue one is Rem.” Subaru said simply.

“I— No. I can’t hurt them.” Rom said. Subaru knew this was going to be the answer from the start, but it still filled her with disappointment.

“Then I have two things I can do for you.” Subaru said with a sigh of resignation. “One, I can sneak Felt out of the mansion for you. The two of you can run away and hope for the best. You’ll probably make it good and far away.” Without Subaru there, Rem couldn’t track them by the Witch’s scent. “But you’d need to navigate the mabeast infested forest, and you’d likely be hunted for a long time, since Felt is a candidate.”

“Kid, why are you talking like this?” Rom asked with a look of concern.

“I want to do the right thing.” Subaru said simply, taking a deep breath and looking down. “The other option is that you go to the front gate of the mansion. You announce yourself. The lady of the manor offered a wish to Felt, and she wished for you to be brought to her. Perhaps you’ll be safe there. I can’t promise anything.”

Since Subaru took the maid job outright, once more Felt’s wish was simply to see her old man again. Given how important the old man was to Felt, perhaps they wouldn’t dare hurt him. Perhaps. Alternatively, perhaps running was the better option. She didn’t know anymore, she couldn’t bear to think about it. Either way, even if it was only for a day past this, she couldn’t live with the thought that her decision cost Rom his life. It had to be his choice.

“Kid.” Rom began, putting his massive hand on Subaru’s shoulder and shaking her a little. She hadn’t the energy to resist it. “You weren’t like this at the loot house. I heard you’ve saved Felt’s life. Were you injured or something?”

Subaru pulled her shoulder from his grasp and shook her hung head.

“What happened with me doesn’t matter. Please just choose. I— I can’t choose for you.”

Rom stared at her a while before breaking his silence. “Felt really asked for me to be brought here?”

“She did.”

The old man sighed. “I don’t think I can really protect her. Not if I’d have to fight those two to do it.” As he clenched his fists, they made an audible noise, as if someone was stretching leather. “I’d like you to take to the mansion.” he spoke finally, in a tone as if those were some of the hardest words he’d ever had to speak.

Giving the gentle giant a few moments to ease himself after his choice, and for herself to give a silent prayer for Rom and the girl, Subaru finally said without much ceremony: “Then come with me.”

 

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“For the record, please do not tell anyone I found you. I can’t explain why, but it would just cause confusion.” Subaru said to Rom, as they were approaching the front gate. “Let’s just say I ran into you.”

“I still don’t understand how you found me either, kid.” Rom grumbled.

“Now multiply that for everyone.” Subaru nodded.

“Are you sure you’re alright kid? You seem completely out of sorts.” the giant added with concern in his voice. “A girl your age shouldn’t look like they’re coming back from a lost battle.”

“I’m fine. Please forget about it.”

Old man!” Felt shouted, practically screaming as she spotted the giant and Subaru approach the gate, having been relaxing outside in Ram’s company.

The pink maid naturally caught the girl’s wrist and didn’t let her rush to the edge of the fence by herself.

“There’s also one more thing I should admit.” Subaru noted as Ram approached the gate with Felt by her side. “If you thought Felt told me the password, she didn’t.”

Rom turned his head to her. “You’re speaking nonsense kid. How else would you know? I remember you didn’t have it before.”

“It doesn’t matter. I just needed you to trust me until I could make sure you and Felt see each other.” Subaru said.

Rom probed her some more, but Subaru just shook her head and left the conversation. When Ram arrived at the gate, holding Felt’s wrist tightly, she didn’t seem particularly surprised by the giant’s presence. In Subaru’s place, Rom explained that Subaru had ran into him by chance, and convinced him to come here peacefully, admitting he had planned to break into the mansion. When he introduced himself, and asked Ram about someone called Setanta, finally a look of shock appeared on Ram’s face.

Subaru didn’t care for whatever reunion the two just had. She was content having seen Felt returned to her old man, and headed inside. She couldn’t bring herself to watch and give herself even more desire to stay with them, when she knew she couldn’t. She had work to do. Beds to make, dishes to clean, laundry to prepare, thoughts to bury.

“For once, Barusu had done well.” Ram would later note, while dinner preparations were under way. “If that oaf truly intended to break into the mansion, he might have been seriously hurt, or even killed by mistake.”

There was no answer Subaru could give that she wanted but wouldn’t damage the peace of those she wanted to protect. So she continued her work in silence, ignoring the false praise as before. Rem joining her sister, trying to goad emotion out of Subaru did not change her conviction. She was past such things now. In a day and a few hours, she’d be done. Hopefully, mercifully, she’d be done.

 

                                           

 

At dinner, which Roswaal had not attended, it was announced that as per Felt’s wishes, as she couldn’t be allowed out of the mansion, Rom would be given residence at the manor. The young candidate didn’t seem entirely pleased with the outcome, saying she didn’t actually expect them to find him, and that he shouldn’t have been made another prisoner. Ram reassured that according to Roswaal’s wishes, Rom would be free to go as he pleased, to which Rom said he couldn’t leave Felt to ‘these people’.

Come night, Rom was one more final time visited by nightmares, her terrors soothed by the touch of an unseen benefactor, doubtless Emilia. Awakening, once more by herself, she lamented on the half-elf’s ill placed support. Subaru was never going to get a chance to return this kindness. Once more, just as before, any effort anyone put into her was wasted.

Wasted.

Through her morning chores, she could think of nothing, but that word. She had abandoned now for ten days her once proud tradition of nightly runs. She had abandoned the lyulyre. She had abandoned the people who gave her support. She even abandoned the hope of escape. And in less than a day now— Less than a day—

“Subaru-kun!” the blue maid cried, as Subaru’s legs gave out, barely supporting herself by the harms, balancing with the broom she was holding.

Seeing Subaru retch, Rem quickly grabbed her junior under the arms and with ease carried her to a nearby bathroom.

As her stomach began to evacuate into a sink, Subaru’s thoughts were in a storm. Why couldn’t she just hold out until this evening? Why is she so weak? Why did she have to collapse in front of this vile creature? Why is the maid still pretending, rubbing her back? Why can’t they just let her die in peace?

“Subaru-kun is clearly exhausted. She should simply rest today, Rem will handle her chores.”

“No, I ca—” Subaru tried to protest before another wave overcame her.

“There is a limit to diligence. Subaru-kun has barely touched her meals these past few days. She needs the rest.” Rem declared authoritatively.

It wasn’t enough that they killed her. It wasn’t enough that they taunted her with their constant stares, waiting for her to break. Now they had to take away her one distraction. The one thing she could do the pass the time.

Once returned to her room, Subaru laid down in her bed, and stared sleeplessly into the wall beside it, revisiting the terrors of lives gone by, thinking what she could have done differently. What she would have done differently. Nothing could have saved her with the poison in her from the moment of her awakening, but perhaps she could have found a better way to make everyone happy? As if she could ever do that.

Useless. Weak. Irredeemable.

Wracked by such waking nightmares, the morning passed, and she was delivered her lunch. There was no point in eating now, but its smell tortured her, so she ended up eating a few bites to calm her raging stomach.

Her room would offer no comfort, so she decided that if they didn’t let her work, at least she would at least make her final preparations.

Subaru folded her old track suit properly, and put it in her backpack before tidying her room. Then, she went upstairs and began just visiting each room. There was not much in terms of sentiments she felt for most of them. Yet, it would be, hopefully, the last time she saw any of them. A few she lingered in painfully, recalling the way in which Ram would scold her for not dusting properly, or not paying enough attention while making the beds with the fresh sheets in previous lives.

Reaching Emilia’s room, she passed by it untouched. She couldn’t look at the girl who’d visit her each night to comfort her. To waste such a heart on her— She felt filthy just being here.

Felt’s room was empty, both the girl and Rom spending the day outside under Ram’s supervision. Subaru didn’t pay too much attention to it, but Rom appeared to have made easy peace with the new situation due to whatever history he appeared to share with the twins. In spite of his name, she was quite certain that Rom would not be related to them, though who really knew?

Given her short stops and slow walks, it was nearing sundown when she finally reached the top floor, and recalled Beatrice’s promise while gazing out a window at the sky growing orange.

There was perhaps one last thing she wanted from the manor.

Opening the attic and climbing up, she weaved through the various stored items, and picked up the old lyulyre. She wanted to have it, for what was to come.

Heading back downstairs, she returned to her room and waited for her final meal. Rem who delivered it seemed to notice the instrument in the corner, but made no comment, instead just saying that Felt had been asking for her at dinner.

Subaru let the statement past her. She had enough pain for today, and just began to eat her dinner without a word to Rem.

She hated it. She hated how Rem had arranged the meal in the dish in a visually appealing manner. She hated how it was perfectly prepared like always. She hated that she’ll never have a chance to make something like this. She hated that the maid clearly gave her a bigger portion than before, as if to taunt her, knowing it’s her last meal. She hated that the only way to stop the pain in her guts was to eat something presented to her by the devil herself.

She could have perhaps eaten the chips, or made her ramen, but at this point, even that would have felt like admitting defeat.

Leaving her emptied dish at her desk, Subaru grabbed her backpack and her lyulyre and went out in search of the forbidden library.

She knew she shouldn’t have offered such a cruel thing to Beatrice, but even now… She couldn’t bear to go alone.

Chapter Text

“The girl has come for that promise, I suppose.” Beatrice huffed annoyedly as Subaru opened the library’s door.

“Yes.” Subaru said quietly.

“Well, what then if Betty doesn’t ‘feel like’ following the girl anymore, I wonder?” Beatrice pouted, looking up.

Subaru’s body trembled. She knew it was probably for the best if she didn’t drag anyone along, but still to go alone—

“Very well.” Subaru mumbled. “See you, Beatrice.”

“Huh?” Beatrice gasped in surprise, as Subaru began to close the door. “This girl is entirely impossible, in fact!”

The spirit hopped off the short step ladder she was sitting on and put her book down on one of its steps before marching to the door with heavy disgruntled steps.

“Betty is still coming, in fact. Even without a contract, she can’t let this foolish girl wander outside alone at this hour.”

The change offered Subaru little relief, but she led the girl to the ground floor regardless, and to the cupboard with the keys. When grabbing the gate key, she had realized she’d need to ask someone to close the door, and then let Beatrice back in.

She clutched the key in her fist. How could she be so stupid?

“Shouldn’t one of the maids handle the gate, I wonder?” Beatrice asked behind Subaru. After a short silence, she sighed and continued. “Put the key back, Betty will deal with this, in fact.”

Grabbing Subaru’s hand without comment, she dragged the far taller girl outside and to the gate. There, she simply told Subaru to hold tight, then without further words whispered a short incantation and jumped, dragging Subaru with her. It felt as though both their bodies were as light as a feather for a moment, and indeed Subaru felt her body slightly tossed by a breeze as Beatrice pulled her along over the gate, until they both landed safely.

Testing her footing, and realizing that whatever magic it was she just experienced had already worn off, Subaru looked down at the girl besides her still holding her hand, looking sternly off onto the road ahead of them.

“Isn’t that tiring? Why would you bother with this for me?” Subaru asked.

Beatrice answered without looking up, her voice as stern and annoyed as ever: “The girl didn’t seem like she wanted to ask for help, I suppose.”

“You didn’t need to trouble yourself.” Subaru said again, her body trembling. Even now she was just exploiting yet another person for her own selfish needs.

“Who knows?” the spirit huffed. “Betty didn’t want to leave the girl to be alone, perhaps.”

As Subaru began leading the girl into the woods, the lyulyre strapped on her back and backpack in hand, she tried to be as quiet as possible. It was now maybe an hour or so until it would be over. Time enough to get to her destination, and maybe a little bit. How could she really ask something like this of the girl? Sure, Beatrice was tougher than she looked, and she roughed Subaru up pretty well in the past— But she was still a little girl. At least that’s what ultimately Subaru saw her as. What kind of a monster would even consider doing this to her?

“Has the girl told anyone she was leaving, I wonder?” Beatrice asked breaking the quiet as they were walking through the woods.

Subaru’s heart skipped a beat. She grabbed the spirit’s hand and her backpack tighter, hanging her head, but not stopping her steps.

“How long did you know?” Subaru asked.

“It was quite clear that the girl was planning on something stupid since she asked Betty’s help, perhaps.” the spirit noted. “Although it is still unclear what she could really be intending besides leaving, in fact. The girl clearly packed up her things and even took Roswaal’s lyulyre. Not that Betty cares, she is meant to guard the forbidden library, not every knick knack left behind by the dead, I suppose.”

She couldn’t answer the spirit, so she didn’t, just continuing on her way, passing through the familiar woods, the spirit clinging to her hand. When she was little, in the summer her parents would sometimes take her camping into forests, which she used to love. The tall trees going on forever, the sunlight glimmering through the leaves, messages carved into the bark here and there she couldn’t yet read and may as well have been magic— Perhaps if she was only stronger, if she just hung on and didn’t give up, they could have continued doing that. Her parents could have remembered her as the girl who used to see everything as an adventure, instead of the abject failure she allowed herself to crumble into.

Finally, as they reached the edge of the woods, she saw it. The end of the ground, there the land gave way to a sharp cliff face leading down to the jagged rocks below.

As Subaru continued to head towards the edge of the cliff, Beatrice stopped, forcing Subaru to slip her hand out of her grasp.

“Hey…” Beatrice mumbled her usual tone wavering, as Subaru continued. “Hey!” she repeated. Subaru would not be stopped.

Beatrice’s steps could be heard again, as she rushed after Subaru, but they stopped as Subaru herself stopped a few feet away from the edge, looking out on the distant horizon and the mountains there.

“This is where the girl wanted to come to, in fact?” Beatrice asked, the sense of superiority gone from her voice.

Subaru didn’t answer, simply lifted her backpack and took out her phone. Checking the time, she confirmed that it would not be too long now. Maybe a bit too much for her taste even.

Tossing her phone down the cliff, she watched and listened as it crashed on the ground below. Seemed like a plenty high enough fall.

“The girl better not—” Beatrice began, but stopped as Subaru sat down in place, crossing her legs and continuing to look to the horizon.

It might have been nice to see those mountains. This world was so big. Even if this wasn’t the end, she could likely spend her whole life wandering and never see all of it.

While Beatrice’s steps approached her from behind, Subaru casually threw her backpack over the cliff too with the rest of its contents. If she had the time and energy, perhaps it would have been better to bury them, but then she’d have to ask even more of Beatrice to make it worthwhile.

As the spirit reached her, Subaru quietly took the lyulyre of her back, and held it in her arms. She had thought perhaps this would be a good opportunity to play something. Anything. Just strum the strings, and see what happens. Just strum the string!

Subaru gritted her teeth and cried out angrily, grabbing the instrument by its neck and smashing its body against the cliff’s edge before her. She held up the sad broken mess for a moment, before tossing it forward. It too proved useless. There were no songs left for her to sing.

“Beatrice.” she said eventually, breaking the silence once the noise of the lyulyre settling at the bottom of the cliff ended. “Please tell everyone that I’ve gone away to try my luck as a musician.” she asked simply, hanging her head and staring at the dirt.

Suddenly, there was a sharp smack across her face. Looking up, she saw the spirit looking down on her, her face contorted in pain and anger.

“This is what the girl brought Betty here for?! To watch her die, I suppose?!” the spirit yelled with an angry, shivering voice. “What kind of person wants to die and plans such a pathetic death four days in advance?!”

Subaru’s lungs began to give short little uncontrollable heaves, as the wall she had put all her energy into trying to keep up began to crumble at the sight of the girl before her on the verge of tears.

“I— I—” Subaru mumbled. “ I don’t want to die! ” she screamed finally. “ I want to live! I don’t want this! ” she continued.

Punching the ground besides her, grabbing the dirt and forcefully brushing it to the cliff hard enough to blister the side of her hand, Subaru continued to scream, the pain of five days— No, of the past twenty five days rushing forth from her blackened heart.

I tried to avoid it! I tried to help! I did everything I could, but I can’t stop this! I don’t want to go!

She wished she could cry. This was the moment to do so, here at the end of everything, so why would her tears so refuse to come?

Beatrice’s face slowly replaced anger with sorrow, and she grabbed one of Subaru’s hands, closing her eyes for a moment.

“If the girl doesn’t want to die, then she shouldn’t. There is nothing wrong with her, in fact.” Beatrice mumbled quietly. “Betty can’t imagine what madness drives the girl.”

Subaru shook her head, all muscles in her face in pain and tension. There was no way the spirit could understand. No one could. If the twins wanted her dead, of course they’d use a poison no one at the mansion could detect.

She bent herself towards Beatrice and clutched her small figure in her arms, grabbing onto the sweet scented fluffy dress the girl wore, burying her face in the girl’s stomach. “ Why did they hate me so much? I never hated them! I just wanted to be friends. ” Subaru shouted shakily, her voice cracking.

The spirit whined and flustered, grabbing Subaru’s shoulders, but pushing at her far weaker than Subaru knew the girl could if she wanted, ultimately just letting go of her.

“Why— Why is the girl like this?” Beatrice mumbled as Subaru continued clinging to her desperately, shouting her fears and agony into the spirit’s core, tears still refusing to flow. “What could have made her like this?”

After a deep, painful sniff, Subaru continued trying to hold her voice back. “I just wanted to be a minstrel. It’s all I wanted. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. Then I worked with them, I worked so hard trying to make them happy, and even then, regardless—”

Ragged wheezes overcame her once more, making her have to stop for a moment.

“I just wanted to stop being alone.” she continued as she could, rubbing her face into Beatrice, who still didn’t fight back. “I wanted so bad for them to like me, anyone to like me, but in the end even if they did, it would only hurt them. I waited so long for someone to like me, actually like me, not just because they’re nice, but because they really, honestly like me .” she said, recalling the sweet yet empty kindness she received from Emilia, before running out of breath again.

The scent of candy grew stronger, something wet dripping on her head.

“Why does Subaru say these things?” Beatrice spoke, her voice having completely broken, devolving into a pathetic whine. “Nothing is wrong with her, in fact!”

“I wish that was so.” Subaru muttered into the girl. “I want to stay. I— I want to stay with Felt and Emilia. I want to live, so, so bad.” The strength was leaving her arms, her hands drifting lower on the spirit’s fluffy robe.

They continued like this for minutes, Subaru sometimes muttering, sometimes shouting all the pains pooled in her soul, all the things she wished she could do, wished she could be. She’d give back her left arm if it meant she could cure the poison waiting to activate in her veins. But if she can’t— If she’s truly doomed to death, she prayed it will be the end. Even a death would be better than doing this again even once. If there was a limit, even one more time would have been too inhuman. To live without hope was no life at all. And if there was no limit— An eternity spent amidst people who secretly want her dead, those that don’t care for her existence, and the one who will support her but for whom she has nothing to offer— Subaru could think of no fate worse.

Subaru-kun!

Her rapid breathing ceased, and her dark, swirling thoughts were cast aside in a moment. All her pain, all her sorrow, all her fear drained away in an instant, giving room to a bottomless abyss of pure hatred.

“Why are you here?” Subaru called with a chilled voice.

“Subaru-kun, it’s dangerous there—”

Shut up! ” Subaru screamed at the top of her lungs, pushing Beatrice away and climbing to her feet. “Shut your lying, putrid mouth!”

“S-subaru-kun.” Rem who had hurried out halfway between the cliff and the tree line now stopped, and took a step back, holding one hand to her heart, and another bandaged had to her mouth. “Beatrice-sama, what happened?”

“The— The girl thinks she is dying, I suppose.” Beatrice answered with a weak, whining voice, a small stream of tears flowing from her eyes to her chin.

“That can’t be!” Rem exclaimed, her voice wavering. “Why hasn’t Subaru-kun said anything?!”

“Don’t act as if you didn’t know!” Subaru hissed, her hands trembling.

Rem didn’t appear to have come armed. Subaru still stood no real chance against her, but maybe she could—

“There is nothing wrong with the girl, in fact.” Beatrice said. “Betty has told her, but in madness she keeps insisting.”

“Beatrice might not be able to detect it, but I know what you did! ” Subaru burst out at Rem, stepping closer to the maid, who took a step back in response.

“What Rem did? Subaru-kun, Rem cannot understand what that means! Please, if Rem had done something wrong—”

Ha! ” Subaru shouted, followed by a mocking laugh. “Still playing dumb? For what purpose? I already know. Why else would you come here, but to watch me die? I don’t know why you had to hate me enough to do it to me, but I don’t care either anymore!” Subaru fumed.

Attacking the maid would be pointless. She couldn’t harm her. If anything, it would just give the sadistic bastard satisfaction to kill Subaru by her own hands and be able to call it self defence, so Subaru didn’t attack.

Rem trembled and hung her head. “It— it’s true that at first Rem hated Subaru-kun. Rem felt it disgusting that someone who carried so much of the Witch’s scent would intrude on the home Nee-sama and Rem built.” she muttered weakly. “Rem couldn’t bear to accept it. If Subaru-kun sensed that, Rem is truly sorry.”

Stop lying! ” Subaru yelled. “What, because Beatrice is here, you can’t show your honest feelings?!” Subaru began to laugh, and turned to Beatrice. “Seems she doesn’t want Roswaal to know she poisoned me. You make sure and tell her for me!” Subaru ordered.

Beatrice looked up at her with sad eyes, looking lost.

“Subaru has truly lost it.” Beatrice said.

“I guess we’ll see soon enough!” Subaru hissed back at the girl.

“Rem wasn’t lying, Subaru-kun.” Rem said, her voice trembling. “That’s how Rem felt at first, but then, when she saw how much pain Subaru-kun was in, she— Rem realized that no one evil could work so hard, ask for so little, and suffer so truly, trying to keep it away from others. That is why Rem realized she was wrong. If Subaru-kun wants to hate Rem for her foolishness, she’s more than right to, but please do not be miserable on Rem’s account anymore.”

The blue maid bowed deeply, deeper than Subaru had ever seen her bow before. Her mind raced. What was happening? Was it a trick? Was the maid trying to create this world’s equivalent of plausible deniability? Did she actually regret poisoning Subaru?

“Shut up. Shut up! Shut up! ” Subaru yelled, holding her head. Nothing made sense anymore. “You’re trying to confuse me! You want to confuse and make me suffer even more before I die, don’t you? Don’t you?!

Subaru clenched her fists and steadied herself. She can’t play along with this. If this is what her final minutes are going to be, she has a better option.

“I won’t give you the satisfaction!” she hissed and turned around.

Subaru-kun! ” Rem called after her with terror in her voice, but Subaru wasn’t listening.

She launched herself towards the cliff. She won’t allow the girl to—

A small hand grabbed hers, and pulled her back. Not strongly. If she had wanted, she could have slipped right out of her, but it weakly clutched at her.

“Don’t do this, Subaru.” she heard Beatrice call. “Don’t go.”

Her legs tripped as she was lost in indecision, and Subaru fell on her knees than hands before the cliff, staring at the dirt.

“Why can’t you just let me die in peace?” she muttered, grabbing at the dirt. “Haven’t I suffered enough?”

“Subaru— kun…” Rem’s voice called weakly behind her.

Just stay qui— ” Subaru said, raising her voice again, however the words stuck in her throat as she turned her head back.

There, under a dozen yards from her and Beatrice stood the blue haired maid, however her pristine, dutiful posture was gone. Her legs wide and crooked, she looked as if she was barely managing to stay on her feet.

“What is—” Rem weakly spoke, her body convulsing, almost losing her balance. She raised her bandaged left hand up to her hand, as she gently retched, and bile began running down her cheeks.

Subaru, bewildered by the sight climbed on her feet, speechlessly walking towards the girl.

“Sub—” Rem called, before her body convulsed again, and she fell on her back.

“You’ve—” Subaru began, her mind desperately searching for an answer. As she found it, she began to laugh madly. “ You’ve drunk your own poison?! You fool! ” she exclaimed amidst laughs. “What, did you get too distracted looking at my suffering, and mixed the poison in your food? Huh?”

Subaru grinned madly, the world outside becoming tuned out. There existed nothing but her, and the poisoned girl before her, writhing in that familiar pain on the ground.

“This is too good!” Subaru yelled. “Too, too good! I wanted a quick death so badly, but now, oh this sight, this beautiful sight was worth sticking through it!”

Beatrice spoke something behind her, but Subaru couldn’t hear it. She didn’t care to.

Falling to her knees and crawling over Rem’s body, she looked into the maid’s eyes hungrily feasting on her suffering. The suffering Subaru would doubtlessly be going to feel in moments herself, but which now found its just recipient!

“Is this what you came to see? Hm? Watch me in pain like this, examine every little twitch of agony as I expire?! The desperate struggle to form words?!”

“Nee-sama.” Rem muttered weakly, her eyes looking vaguely at Subaru’s face but seemingly affixed at something past her.

“Hm? Could it be the two of you eat and drink the same? Could she be dying somewhere right now? Is that too much to hope?” Subaru laughed revelling in the moment. “Say, actually, this picture is not quite complete.” she said, lifting her left hand off the ground, and putting it around Rem’s neck. “There! Now it’s better! So this is what it’s like to choke someone completely helpless.”

Beatrice screamed something in a pained voice, but it didn’t matter.

“Ne— Nee-sama, so—orry.” Rem called, her left hand raising up weakly, reaching to something beyond Subaru.

Subaru looked at the hand, and her face convulsed with anger. In her final moments, Rem would call out to someone? Of course she would. She had something Subaru never had, someone to call out to. Someone who loved and supported her, and would give her help and comfort. The very thing the twins denied her loop after loop.

Gritting her teeth, Subaru grabbed the outreached hand, weaving her fingers between its. She’ll push this hand back down, break the wrist. This damnable maid deserves everyth—

A sharp pain echoed in Subaru’s core. But it wasn’t the poison.

Her energy wasn’t sapped, her nerves didn’t fire at once. No. Her heart stopped, clutching itself into a ball for a moment before continuing.

She recognized these fingers.

“Nee-sama...” Rem called weakly again, as Subaru just stared at her in a daze.

It couldn’t be. It absolutely couldn’t be.

“What are you doing Subaru?!” Beatrice’s scream finally came through, as she slapped Subaru's back, the girl still on all fours above the convulsing body of the blue maid. “Did you know this would happen?”

Subaru couldn’t think. Nothing of this made sense. The hand she held, it couldn’t have been— Then why did it feel identical to what she felt before? The hand that saved her from her nightmares, the hand that— It couldn’t have been! That was Emilia! It could only have been—

“Nee-sama…”

“Why— Why aren’t you helping her Beatrice? Isn’t that your job?!” Subaru shouted the first tangible thought that came to her.

“The girl cannot be helped, in fact.” Beatrice said tragically. “Betty couldn’t sense the curse before, but now that it has been activated, there is nothing that can be done, in fact.”

Curse? No, that wasn’t right. Could it have been unrelated to what happened with Subaru? Someone cursed Rem? Maybe Subaru cursed her accidentally by, well, cursing her? But no, Beatrice was extremely adamant that magic cannot do anything like this without touch. No one touched Rem. She stood there before them before—

“Rem!” Subaru shouted, removing her hand from the girl’s neck and shaking her shoulder. “What happened to you?! Why is this happening?!”

“Nee-sama…” came the only answer.

A drop of water fell on the maid’s lips, though there were no clouds above. Then another.

“Rem, you need to tell me what did this! I’ll be—”

Subaru was supposed to be dead by now. Why wasn’t she dying? When was it going to start already?

She clutched Rem’s hand, though not strong enough to hurt her. Why would the girl who murdered her come to her room and comfort her? It wasn’t possible. It didn’t make sense.

Her eyes finally wandered onto the bandage on Rem’s hand. The maid was never bandaged before. She never cut herself with the knives or clippers. Why was her bandaged?

Subaru crawled off of Rem, and sat down beside her, quickly grabbing the bandages and beginning to undo them. She had to have been poisoned by some creature or plant or something. Subaru’d find an infected purple cut or something, and it would explain why Rem is like this. Then Subaru will finally experience that poison and die. That’s what was going to happen. That’s what had to happe—

As the bandages fell aside, Subaru did find a bloodied wound, but not a cut. It was an imprint of teeth with sharp canines. A dental imprint more than familiar to her. An imprint she had carried on herself in each loop but, the first, where Rem had kindly healed it for her. An imprint she’d later deny healing as Subaru joined the staff, calling it a “learning wound”.

Rem could have healed the bite, but instead, she left it and bandaged it. Not sparing even herself the lesson, treating themselves no better than she had treated Subaru.

‘Touch is required.’ ran through her mind.

“Nee-sama…” Rem continued to mutter, as Subaru lifted her into her lap.

“You have to do something.” Subaru said, turning Beatrice. “ You can heal her! ” she exclaimed, salty water flowing in her mouth. “It— was that dog! It had to be!” Had Beatrice ever said that the touch had to be immediate? Each time, Subaru was bitten by the dog, and the same day, she died. Could it have been anyone else? No, she couldn’t think of anyone else outside the mansion that’d touch her each time. And now, Rem was bitten and she was going to—

“If whoever did it isn’t here, there is nothing to be done, in fact.” Beatrice repeated in a mournful, shaky tone. “Betty cannot understand what madness this is, in fact.”

“Nee…” Rem mumbled, barely whispering.

Subaru readjusted the maid in her arms, and locked her fingers with her once more.

Rem! ” she cried. “I’m so, sorry! Please, fight it! You’re so much stronger than me!”

“Nnn”

“Rem! Rem! You can beat this!” Subaru begged, cradling the limp body in her arms.

Subaru’s mind was racing. It couldn’t have just been the dog. Each time, there was the sound of chains. From the very beginning. She’d lose her energy, then the chain—

She cried out in pain, calling the girl’s name.

“I’ve spent all these days, begging for a way out. An easy death, so I don’t have to suffer anymore—” Subaru mumbled. All she wanted for the past five days was for someone to put her out of her misery, hating the very person who had without fail given her that mercy. The person who she hated, turned away, murdered with every thought, and who in spite of all this came to her side at night to comfort her. The person who wiped her tears away in the bath, the person who healed her wound and listened to her ramble about a stupid genre of music they never heard of. The person who took all her work on herself just so Subaru could have a day of rest. The person who deserved to live infinitely more than the animal who a moment ago was crawling over her body, choking her for sins she never committed.

The blue haired maid could now only mouth words, as the last of her energies was fading.

Rem! ” Subaru called, again and again to no answer, holding the girl’s head close to her chest. “I didn’t mean to choke you— I— I did, I’m— I’m a monster, I’m sorry, just please don’t do this. Take my life! I’m begging you, just let me die instead! Rem! Rem!”

And so they continued, long past even when life had completely left the small maid’s body, Subaru calling her name, cradling her in their arms, while the small blonde girl with twin drills for hair stood above them, watching with disgust and mourning as the rain poured only over the lost girl.

Chapter Text

There came a point where Subaru couldn’t speak her name anymore. The name of the girl in her arms that she was still cradling. Subaru begged for release. She begged to be wrong, for the poison or curse to take her, but it never did.

Besides her stood the shaken blonde spirit, mostly in silence, occasionally mumbling to herself about the impossibility of what had transpired before her, Subaru’s behaviour, the blue-haired maid’s demise, her mother, some ‘person’, and her own inability to have done anything.

“Su— The girl needs to leave, in fact.” Beatrice finally spoke her tone turning serious. “If she is found this way by the sister—”

“I can’t.” Subaru said simply, her voice hoarse, still cradling the small body in her arms. “I can’t leave her. This was supposed to be me. It should have been me.”

“Has she— have y— has she known this would happen, perhaps?” Beatrice asked, her serious tone wavering for a moment.

“Not to her.” Subaru replied, her eyes never leaving the girl in her arms. “I should have known. I should have figured it out.”

All the times she ignored the book Beatrice gave her when it suggested magical ailments. Her stupidity in assuming she knew what was going on just because she heard the shortest of summaries on magic. The way she wasted her time vainly to practice a stupid instrument over just delving deeper into the possibilities because she thought she had it all figured out. All these and more now occupied her mind. This was her fault. If she just thought harder, if she had put away her fear of the dark arm and looking mad before the other people at the mansion asking more and better questions— If she tried harder obsessing over more than her own well being and an imagined assassin, this could have been avoided. The maid in her arms whose name she couldn’t even evoke in thoughts out of shame would still be— She’d be—

“There is nothing to be done, I suppose. The wound that was done to these sisters and the mansion cannot be healed.” Beatrice declared holding out a hand. “But Betty can’t watch someone else die today, in fact. Come with Betty.”

“You shouldn’t have to, you’re right.” Subaru said, caressing the blue haired head before her. “So please just go back to your library.”

She heard a gentle gasp from Beatrice, who lowered her outreached hands and clenched it in a fist, her body quivering.

“After— after all this—” the spirit muttered with a low whine, her voice cracking. “After taking Betty away from that place, she’d send her back?”

The spirit reached out her hand and grabbed the shoulder of Subaru’s maidsuit, pulling on her with enough force to nearly make the girl fall over. Finally, Subaru turned her eyes from the girl in her arms, to the sweet scented weeping one standing before her.

“You said you don’t want to be alone.” Beatrice sniffled. At the tears pooled in her narrowed eye, it looked as though her butterfly irises were flapping their wings. “Betty can take you away from here. Betty can save you! We— we don’t have to be alone, in fact!” she exclaimed, the tears beginning to flow from her eyes once more. “Just tell Betty you’ll go! Tell Betty what to do!” the girl begged.

Subaru placed a hand on the spirit’s trembling hand on her shoulder. Looking at the miserable little girl before her, feeling the lifeless body in her other arm, Subaru knew she was truly unforgivable. Everyone that showed her kindness, everyone who offered her help she hurt.

“I can’t tell you what to do.” Subaru spoke, pulling Beatrice’s hand off her shoulder. “Every decision I ever made was wrong. Everyone I ever cared about was just worse off for having known me. I ca—”

‘—Please do not be miserable on ——’s account anymore.’ echoed in Subaru’s mind.

No! How dare her mind even think of that now? How dare she recall those words?! The maid would never forgive her after what Subaru had done. Never forgive her if she knew it was Subaru’s fault that her life was stolen away!

‘—It’s true that what you did was hurtful, but you didn’t know! You haven’t done anything wrong!’ Emilia’s voice came to her.

Why was she recalling these words now? She didn’t deserve them. In spite of the half-elf’s bottomless kindness, there was no way even Emilia could forgive her. And she shouldn’t. No one should ever forgive her. She was beyond redemption and beyond hope. She had destroyed everything she wanted to protect, and damaged beyond repair everyone that tried to show her kindness. Really, she should just di—

‘—Barusu needs to stop acting this pathetic.’Ram commanded in her head, as Subaru glanced towards the nearby cliff. ‘There is work to be done, and the mansion needs her help.’

‘What am I thinking?’ went through her mind, for once in her own voice. ‘This is probably the end. If I do that— I’ll almost definitely be gone for good.’

Subaru turned her head down to the girl in her arms. Since she wiped the bile from her mouth, the girl looked so peaceful. The thought that in a few days, this face would begin to wither away, that that gentle blush would be gone from her cheeks for good, that she’d never again be there to guide Subaru out of the nightmares that were sure to follow—

All she’d have to do is stand up, walk a few yards and maybe she could fix it.

So why won’t her body move? Why can’t she just take that simple leap? It’s either nothing, or five more days. What life is she so afraid to lose here? She doesn’t deserve to live, so why can’t she just do this one thing and correct this world she can only make worse now? Why—

A sharp, gruttal, soul rending scream tore through the air from the treelines filled with immense rage that yet could not hold a candle to the pain overpowering it. At its source stood a petite figure in a humble black and white uniform, crowned in pink.

What have you done?! ” Ram shouted, as she emerged from the treeline. Around her, the air seemed to twist and spark, and the sound of rapidly snapping branches and barks filled the air in her path, as the trees and foliage around her twisted and blew as though they were in a raging thunderstorm. In her hands, Ram was clutching her short, cane-like wand.

“This girl has done nothing, in fact!” Beatrice declared, standing between Subaru and the girl who made the word ‘enraged’ woefully inadequate.

Then what happened?! Answer me! ” Ram roared, a strong wind blowing against Beatrice and Subaru, making the spirit’s long drills flutter like wind indicators at an airport.

Subaru just placed her hands to protect the face of the girl in her arms from the worst of the wind and dust coming their way. She didn’t deserve this. Any of this.

Glancing at the pink maid still marching towards her, she thought that perhaps she could lie herself out of this. It would be so very easy. She couldn’t tell the truth even if she wanted to, and if she talked around it, they’d think her mad anyway. So a lie to save her own life would be the simplest one she ever spoke.

‘She is expected to work, and she will work! That is all she needs to worry about, no more and certainly no less!’ Ram spoke, but only Subaru could hear her. These were not the words of this Ram, but the words of one who still had faith in her. One from long ago. One who Subaru had yet to rob of possibly her only family. One that spared her suffering against the wishes of her sister that in her infinite foolishness, Subaru somehow managed to turn against herself.

There was one thing in common between those Rams that stood out in this moment. The path to both of them getting what they wanted out of Subaru was the same right now.

“Beatrice. Please stay out of this.” Subaru said, gently laying the lifeless maid’s head down on the ground.

“Both girls have gone mad, in fact! This confrontation isn’t going to help anything!” Beatrice declared, stomping her feet as Subaru stood up and walked sideways, away from the maid’s body.

“I am so terribly sorry for having dragged you into this.” Subaru said, turning her head to Beatrice, before taking a deep breath, and thinking of the spirit’s words about a ‘curse’ before. “But perhaps, something good will come of it.”

Stop moving, and tell me what happened to her! ” Ram screamed, tears flowing down her face. “ What did you do to her.

“Subaru hadn’t done anything, in fact! The girl was cur—” Beatrice began but was cut off.

It’s my fault. ” Subaru announced, straightening herself out, the enraged maid before her, the cliff behind and Beatrice along with the other maid’s lifeless body. Far above, the waning moon shone its light down on the grim scene, watching from her unbridgeable distance.

A high pressure blast of air flew into her as Ram screamed once more, and Subaru had to fight to keep her footing.

“She is mad, Betty saw—”

“Beatrice.” Subaru spoke, turning her head once more to the spirit. “I am at fault. You aren’t contracted to me, you have no responsibilities here. Please just leave.”

“But—”

“If you want so bad to help, do one thing for me, and protect Ram, Felt and Emilia.” Subaru said, before turning her eyes back to Ram, her posture stiff.

What did you do?! Why?! ” Ram asked, her whole body shaking with rage and pain. “Because of you— My sister— The one who supported you— Told me—”

“I didn’t mean for this to happen.” Subaru declared. “But it was my fault that it did. If I had acted differently, I could have prevented it. And I didn’t.”

Fura! ” Ram shouted.

Once more a gust of wind flew past Subaru, but this one didn’t hit her body. Instead, she heard a small plop, before she felt a warm, wet sensation on the right side of her neck. Touching there, she realized she was bleeding, though only slightly, and at her feet was the braid Emilia had given her days ago that had hung to the right since she slept with it.

You wanted her dead! You hated her! ” Ram shouted accusingly.

She wasn’t wrong. Subaru did hate Ram’s sister, just as she hated Ram, at least until recently. She hated them with a passion, convinced they were behind her unhappiness, convinced they would not only go to any lengths to destroy her life and her happiness, but had already locked her into an inescapable doom.

‘Run!’ a voice said in her head, but she wouldn’t listen.

Subaru hung her head in shame, clenching her fists. All the hate she had ever felt for them had now turned inwards. The cruel thoughts she had towards them could not be repaid with anything, even if they hadn’t resulted in one of their deaths.

However, that hatred wasn’t always the truth of her heart, and it was no longer the truth either.

“I was a fool.” Subaru said, raising her head. “I thought I was hated, and so I tried returning that hate, even though it went against everything I knew, and everything I truly felt.”

Fura! ” Ram shouted again, and Subaru felt a cut on her right arm. “ My sister is dead, and instead of telling me why, you dare talk about yourself?! ” she screamed.

‘Run!’ she heard something in her mind cry once more, not listening, simply feeling shame at even thinking such lowly things.

Pain pulsed in Subaru’s arm where she was cut, at a hot, searing pain growing in her neck too.

“Truth is,” Subaru continued through the pain. “I loved you.”

What. ” Ram yelled.

“I love you, Ram.” Subaru said, the dark shadows swirling in her mind and soul lifting slightly. “You came to me and listened to my music, even when I knew you didn’t really care much for it. You taught me to read, criticising me harshly for my slow learning, but making me feel like if I pushed on, I could do it.”

“What are you talking about?” Ram hissed. “None of this happened.”

“When I was on the verge of closing myself off for stupid reasons, you told me to keep moving forward, instead of just letting me return to nothing. Without your words, I don’t know if I could have ever recovered.” Subaru went on. “So I say with all honestly: Thank you.”

Subaru bowed down deeply to the maid.

“You… You! ” Ram shouted. “ Fura!

Subaru felt a deep cut in her shoulder, nearly losing her balance, but managing to stand just barely, before straightening herself out, and turning her head to Beatrice.

“I also love you, Beatrice.” she continued, the darkness lifting further, her breathing feeling easier, in spite of the pain.

Stop this! Fura! ” Ram shouted, a cut appearing along with searing pain in Subaru’s waist, making her stumble.

“Subaru!” Beatrice cried stepping forward, but Subaru just held up a hand.

She deserved this. She could have run, not that it would have worked. She could have jumped behind Beatrice for help, but to put even more on the little girl would have made Subaru worse than inhuman. She could also have leapt off the cliff and just made it easy, but no. If this was her final life, she couldn’t just run. Not from Ram. Not after the sins she had committed. She owed the maid, both of them repentance. She owed Ram justice.

“You came with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone. You gave me a place to stay when I wanted to be alone. You helped me study—”

Fura!

Subaru felt her right leg grow weak, and she fell to a knee, gritting her teeth.

Run! ’ echoed once more in her mind, but she had no right to obey.

“—You helped me study, even taking into consideration my illiteracy, even though you didn’t want to, and even though I was nothing but rude to you. I should never have put all of this pressure on you.” Subaru finished, looking at Beatrice.

“Why are you just taking it?!” Beatrice cried. “Betty can help, just let her!”

As Subaru shook her head, Ram let loose with another spell, cutting her arm once more.

How dare you put on this farce?! ” Ram shouted. “ My sister is dead, and you’re talking—

The girl is clearly mad! She couldn’t be responsible, in fact!” Beatrice yelled.

You stay out of this! ” Ram screamed at her.

Forcing herself back on her feet, Subaru held her head high. If this was the end, she was going to speak her heart. All of it.

“I love Felt.” she declared. “I love her strength and candor. The way she survived—”

Fura! ” Ram screamed, the bubble of swirling air around her growing visibly bigger and fiercer.

With the next spell came incredible pain, surpassing all cuts so far. Clutching at her left arm, Subaru screamed in pain, as Ram had severed it at the wrist. Her twitching hand lay on the ground before Subaru, blood flowing freely both from it, and the stump she clutched. The pain she now felt was approaching that which she suffered at the hands of Granhiert, but it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough to make things right, if there even was such a thing.

“—I love the way she survived in the worst conditions.” Subaru said unrelentingly through gritted teeth, once she managed to hold back her scream. “I love how she made me feel that there was hope, no matter what, and I love the smile she gave me when I played for her.”

Ram clearly beyond words now had completely lost it, and began bargaining Subaru with weaker cuts, over and over. If she wanted, she could have ended Subaru’s life with just a single word from the very beginning. Of this Subaru had no doubt. Whether it was some form of mercy for the mad or just a desire to watch her suffer for what she did that elongated things this way, she couldn’t say.

Subaru’s arms, legs and torso quickly became a maze of cuts, as Ram’s spells struck her with the power and feel of whips, cutting into her flesh but not through her, Subaru choking for air as her agonized screams left her without breath.

Fura! Fura! Fura! Fura! ” Ram continued, lights sparking around her. Subaru thought she might even have seen a faint light emanating from the maid’s head, and a red stream running down her face, but she was quite sure it was just the bloodloss playing tricks on her.

Biting down on her pain, Subaru took a deep breath. The cliff behind her was so invitingly close, she’d only need a few steps—

I love Emilia! ” Subaru screamed, as the whips continued to cut into her flesh, burning away her life and the weight of her sins. “She’s the kindest, most open hearted person I’ve ever met!” she uttered between lashes. “She brought me to thank me, even though I had barely done anything!” she continued, clutching at the stump at the end of her left arm, trying to hold the bleeding. “She—”

Suddenly the world began to tilt, and Subaru found herself laying on her side. Looking down, muffled out by the pain that now had truly far grown beyond anything Granhiert ever subjected her to, she saw her right foot laying away from her, her leg stopping roughly at her knee.

Biting down on her lips to hold in her screams and her pain, she felt a slight release, then blood pooling in her mouth, having pierced right through the tingy inner flesh of her mouth. She didn’t rightly know how she was even conscious now. Was it that she had experienced terrible pain before, and her mind adapted? Was it just the adrenaline? Was it that she knew she couldn’t let herself die until she was done atoning for what she had brought to this once peaceful mansion?

As Subaru laid on the ground, Ram finally ceased her attacks, panting and looking at the writhing body of her junior maid next to the cliff, the twisting and twirling of the air around her continuing without stop.

“Please.” Beatrice wept, still standing by the blue-haired maid’s lifeless body as she had been ordered. “Please let Betty heal her.” she begged.

‘Please.’ the voice repeated in Subaru’s mind, to no avail.

Ram looked to the spirit with disgust, before turning back to Subaru. Perhaps she had run out of mana, or was just trying to decide what to do. Maybe, she was waiting for Subaru to say something, anything that would help resolve this. However, there was only one thing Subaru had to say, and both of them knew it.

As Subaru turned her head towards the spirit, and then the body at her feet, Ram spoke up once more, in a lower volume, but with a tone as frozen as the arctic: “Don’t you dare.”

Subaru looked back at Ram, spitting the blood from her mouth, her eyes and heart filled with naught, but regret, before steeling her nerves and closing her eyes, her whole face squinting.

And I love Re—

El Fura!

 

Subaru felt her body lift off the ground, and cartwheel through the air, tossed by the most powerful wind she had yet experienced, her severed hand and foot flying with her. In those brief moments in the air, as she passed over the edge of the cliff, she could see Ram, crying out in pain, Beatrice standing over Rem’s lifeless corpse, and a dirty pool of blood where her ichor had already seeped into the soil.

This was going to be her final look at the mansion’s residents. The people who once helped her, perhaps even would have considered her a friend in time.

Dipping below the cliff, she closed her eyes, satisfied with that as her last sight, as gruesome and unappealing as it was in its form. She wasn’t going to get anything better. Ah she continued down, she simply wished for one final chance to set things right. Even if she has to start again from the first day, she couldn’t accept dying and leaving behind a world this horrible.

‘If I can, if there is a chance, I’ll save you. All of you.’

A sudden, powerful and brief sensation of pressure against her body put a stop to the sound of whistling wind and agonized cries in her ears; and leaving naught but a mangled body amidst the discarded contents of her backpack, Natsuki Subaru died, for the seventh time.

 

                                           

 

Subaru’s mind persisted.

She had expected her perceptions to all cease, or to awake back in the same old bed once more. Instead, her mind perceived—

‘Nothing.’

There was no light, no dark. No up and down or any direction. No objects, nor a body for Subaru herself. Even time itself only existed in a frozen capacity, without anything but Subaru’s mind to act upon, and it wasn’t much of a mind to do so. Her preceding expectations were gone, as was all cognition. All that remained was an empty conscience, with thought only enough to seek. Seek something , anything in this absolute nothing, not with or for any reason, but by a pure desire to fill the vacuum occupying both it and the world around it.

Then with an abrupt change, meaning broke into existence, tearing apart the uniform void occupying the rest of its surroundings.

With it came a form, a slender silhouette beyond recognition or a possibility for understanding. It was of a human shape, yet its details were impossible to distinguish, as if clouded in shadows in this world without a concept for light, obscening all reason.

The silhouette moved, slowly gesturing, though the message if there was any to it was lost on the empty mind which was its only audience. And yet, the mind remained captivated, unable to shift its perception off this singular entity in the void.

“—we cannot meet. Not yet.”

With this simple declaration passed on, the void itself ceased, leaving behind not even the very concept of nothing. Along it went the mind, and the shadowed silhouette.

Chapter Text

Subaru gasped, her torso involuntarily hunching forward, her legs pulling themselves up, arms hugging each other.

“Nee-sama, Nee-sama! Our guest is in pain!” a voice exclaimed, as Subaru’s senses fully readjusted to the sight of the plush bedroom where she had awoken too many times already.

“Rem, Rem! Fetch some water!” Ram called from the corner of the bed.

“Wait! I’m fine.” Subaru exclaimed, still pulling her arms together.

The pain, as always, was in truth gone from her body. Her flesh was no longer covered in cuts, her hand and foot returned, and she wasn’t bleeding a single drop onto the fine cloths of the luxurious bed under her. Still, the memory of the pain, the echo of the air whips took a moment to disappear. Short of that dark arm clutching her heart, what she had suffered at Ram’s hand what was moments ago to her, was the worst experience of her life— But she needed it.

Letting go of her shoulders, Subaru sat up in bed, hanging her head and covering her eyes.

After what she had done, after her stupid mistakes, after failing in the same way, blaming it on others and even getting them killed with her foolishness… She couldn’t have looked the twins in the eye ever again, if she took the easy way out. There had to be an atonement. Anything less would have been unacceptable.

“Is there something Natuski-sama requires?” asked in her voice she was so afraid she’d never hear again. It was tense and formal like usual. All hint of the slightest affection that Subaru had ever earned was gone from it, but it was her voice. She was alive. She was alive!

“No.” Subaru raised and shook her head, a small, relieved smile on her face as she got out of bed. “Actually, just one thing.” she added, brushing her robes off in an excuse to examine that truly, her body was back as it was supposed to be.

“What does the honoured guest require?” Ram asked.

Subaru looked to the ceiling and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and letting out a long sigh afterwards, the smile growing and growing on her face. She was back. She hated this morning so much for so long. She wanted never to re-experience it, but now, the song of the birds outside, the light shining through the curtains, the two sisters together— It was a golden morning. The most beautiful morning she’d ever had, dawning upon the longest night of her life.

“I just want you to be less formal with me.” Subaru said, lowering her head, and walking to the maids. “I really don’t deserve or need it. I’m not a noble, I’m not anyone’s hero, and I’m not even particularly good at anything. I’m just a useless nobody whose highest aspiration most of her life has been to become a singer-songwriter and never work an honest day.” she explained as she stepped before the two sisters who seemed to tense up at her near presence. “So, as I said, I really don’t deserve to be an honoured guest, or be called ‘-sama’. I’m just Natsuki Subaru.” she added, raising a hand towards the twins. “And if you’ll have me, I’d like to maybe one day be your friend.”

 

                                           

 

The twins were understandably flustered by Subaru’s offer, but Ram and then Rem shook her hand, after which they simply informed her that breakfast would be served soon and left her with a short set of directions to the dining room.

Taking a moment to ground herself once the twins left, Subaru looked again at the card and flowers sent by Reinhard and this ‘Felix’ person, making a silent promise to them that this time, she won’t mess it up. This time she’ll figure it all out, if it’s the last thing she does.

Over the days she spent in Irlam with Petra and Oringo, she learned a few things. Most notable out of everything, something she didn’t really have a chance to think about in the confusion of last night, was that the town was protected by a series of magic stones placed along the edge of the woods around the village. These stones were meant to protect the village from mabeasts crossing into it from the surrounding forest, why did put something of a wrench in her working theory that the dog bite was directly connected to the curse. It seemed the most obvious thing, but she remembered that when she had returned to Irlam after giving Felt her instructions on the fourth night of her fourth loop, she saw someone checking the magic stones, which is something the villagers were doing periodically to make sure the barrier is still up. This made it unlikely that a mabeast could have gotten inside the village, unless the barrier just so happened to fail on that day.

Still, the dog was all she could think of as a common denominator. Each time she died, that thing bit her. The one time she saw Rem pass away, she carried an identical bite mark. Could it have been someone else from the village? Someone who by not being a mabeast would not be affected by the stones? If only she had gone with Rem, she might have seen what else happened to her. Though then, she might have just died again and never realized her mistake about it not being a simple poison.

While going out to grab a vase from their cupboard to put her flowers into, Subaru reaffirmed her promise. She was not going to let Rem’s death be in vain. Even if it was erased, if she closed her eyes, she could still see the girl under her, choked by Subaru’s own stupid, maniacal hand. Erased or not, a version of Beatrice and Ram had to suffer through that with her. It didn’t matter that that future didn’t exist anymore. It happened, and she couldn’t allow it to happen again.

Once back in the room, the vase filled with water from the sink and the flowers placed, she dressed up. Again, she saw the impeccable work Rem had done on her jacket’s arm. In retrospect, she probably didn’t do it for Subaru. She admitted outright that she hated Subaru’s presence at first, and yet she went above and beyond to make it perfect. Subaru wasn’t quite sure what this meant, why the maid would put so much work in, but Subaru knew she couldn’t let Rem’s work go to waste. She had missed too many days of what was an unbroken streak of nightly runs before. It was time for her to restart it.

 

                                           

 

“Are you sure your arm is fine, Subaru? I had heard you seemed in pain when you woke up.” Emilia asked as they were seated for breakfast.

As per usual, the two maids were standing by on either side of Roswaal’s empty seat, the lady of the manor not returning until before lunch. Felt also was still locked in her room, refusing to come down. Much the same, Beatrice also refused to show as Puck had yet to ‘wake up’ from his rest in Emilia’s gem.

“I’m fine actually.” Subaru answered with a smile. “Sorry to have given everyone a scare, I— Had a terrible nightmare.”

“Glad to hear that it was not something more serious.” Emilia answered, getting started with her food.

Looking at Emilia, the twins, as well as Felt and Beatrice’s empty chairs in turn, Subaru had to admit, if she followed her heart, she’d probably try to socialize with Emilia or visit Felt after breakfast. After ten days mostly avoiding contact with everyone, she wanted to just tune out and spend some time with them, however that wasn’t going to help. Figuring out the exacts of the curse had to take priority over everything else.

As such, when she was done with breakfast, she gave her compliments to the twins and headed off in search of the library.

“Back so soon? The girl had trouble sleeping and needs help, perhaps?” Beatrice asked without looking up, as the door to her library opened once more.

Subaru didn’t say anything at first, just marched into the library, right before Beatrice’s chair.

“What is the girl thinking coming to her superior so boldly, I wonder?” Beatrice asked, furrowing her brows and looking up from her book.

With a content sigh, Subaru got on her knees, placed her hands on her thighs and bowed her head, as if swearing fealty to a feudal lord.

“Last time I came in here, I acted like an idiot. I’d like to apologize and start over.” she said, continuing to hold her head down.

“Hah, the girl continues to presume too much, in fact.” Beatrice huffed with mild annoyance. “Betty doesn’t need an apology from a fool, seeing her learn her place before was quite satisfying, I suppose.” she added with a sly undertone.

In reality, Subaru didn’t feel bad about her behaviour the very first time around, and still considered Beatrice to be a short fused firecracker who is to blame for all the unpleasantness that that event entailed. Regardless, after what she made the girl experience before, she needed to find some excuse to prostate herself. For her, that time by the cliff was very much real, and to follow it up directly by using the girl’s tenuous hospitality to her advantage would have felt wrong.

“Now that she gave her little apology, perhaps the girl would mind explaining why she actually came here, perhaps?” Beatrice asked, turning her attention back to her book.

“Was it that obvious that I wanted to ask something?” Subaru replied while standing back up.

“The surface of the girls’ thoughts is saturated with uncertainty, in fact. This could mean little else when coming to Betty, than that she has some question she wants to ask, I suppose.” Beatrice said, turning a page.

“Alright.” Subaru nodded, taking a breath. “Remember what you did to me earlier? Curses can do things like that too, can’t they?”

Beatrice’s eyes stopped moving over the page and she paused, before closing the book and looking up.

“Why would the girl be asking about curses, I wonder?”

“Well.” Subaru began, her hands twitching for a moment, as she considered how best to dance around while hopefully not triggering a visit from that disembodied shadow hand. “I’ve seen people die, while experiencing something very similar. Someone whose opinion I trust told me at the time that it was a curse that did it, and I wanted to know what killed them.”

“If the girl had such a trusted magical advisor, just go and ask them instead of bothering Betty, perhaps?” Beatrice noted, hushing Subaru back with a hand gesture before jumping off her chair and walking to a nearby shelf, the book placed on her desk next to the tea.

Subaru drew in some air with an annoyed hiss. She couldn’t very well explain that Beatrice was the ‘magical advisor’.

“You’re really the closest I can get to asking them right now.” she said, as Beatrice stopped before a bookcase and began searching through it.

“They’re dead or far gone then, leaving their lost child for Betty to deal with then, I suppose.” Beatrice huffed, pulling out a book. “This should answer any questions the girl has, perhaps.” she added, holding up the book.

“Uh, is it written in hamoji?” Subaru asked, looking at its cover and not recognizing all the characters. “I can only really read romoji and imoji.”

“The girl is truly useless, in fact.” Beatrice said, annoyedly, taking the book to her table and putting it down. “Betty is not her for the girl’s entertainment, so she’ll only summarize the basics, I suppose.” she added, gesturing for Subaru to come closer.

Opening up the book, she flipped the pages, until a map came up. Some of the names printed there were written in both what she guessed was hamoji and romoji. One area at the bottom right she recognized was labelled ‘Lugnica’.

“This is the nation of Gusteko as Betty hopes the girl would recognize. Curses are generally used by the lowliest of magic users who hail from this land, called Shamans.” There was a clear tone of disgust on the girl’s face and tone as she explained.

“Wait, so there’s only one nation from which curse users come from?” Subaru asked, tilting her head as she tried to read a few of the place names. “What are they, some evil land ruled by a dark fallen angel speaking in the black tongue too?” she asked absentmindedly. Albeit the term ‘shaman’ sounded more like they were from— Damn, what was that one weird eastern nation in—

“Betty doesn’t have time to give the girl a full history lesson, in fact!” Betty declared stomping her foot. “Try to pay attention!”

Clearing her throat, the spirit continued.

“As Betty was saying, these shamans practice a petty little offshoot of magic and the spirit arts of which curses are born. They are rather useless, in fact. If there was indeed someone who killed people using curses, they likely came from the north, from Gusteko, I suppose.”

“I don’t want to defend people who go around cursing others, but you keep saying they are pathetic and useless.” Subaru noted. This wasn’t adding up so far, not entirely. “One of the people I— I watched die, they were incredibly strong, and they were still killed.”

Beatrice sighed.

“They are useless in the way a farmer handed a sword is, I suppose. The ‘magic’ they practice, though it could hardly even be called ‘magic’ or proper ‘practice’, is a dead end in multiple ways, in fact. Where a talented magic or spirit arts user can accomplish any number of grand things, curses are an aberration and can only be used to inflict harm. To put it in a context maybe even the girl can understand, a magic user is like someone who knows how to grow and care for plants, make tea, prepare a fine meal of her fruits and vegetables, perhaps. A shaman is someone who knows that they should boil river water to avoid sickness from drinking it and filling their kitchen with steam is the height of their ability in preparing something drinkable.”

“People playing with matches. Got it.” Subaru nodded. “Though— I’m not sure that’s what I was looking for.”

“What, pray tell, was the girl looking for then, I wonder?” Beatrice huffed.

“Well, you might be right, it might have been a shaman, but—”

Subaru didn’t remember anyone mentioning Gusteko before. It wasn’t impossible that someone in the village was a shaman, but it didn’t feel right. Beatrice mentioned before that there was a hard limit for touch.

“Well, that person I mentioned before said that the victims would have to have been touched to illicit those symptoms.” Subaru said.

“The victims were either touched, or it wasn’t a curse, in fact.” Beatrice noted. “There are techniques that can drain the mana lingering in the air and surrounding area, however draining someone mana from their gate without a single touch would be an incredible feat, in fact.”

“Yeah, that’s mostly what she said.” Subaru nodded. “That’s why I was wondering what that touch limit really means? They have to touch the target when they draw their life force away, or not? And—”

“Betty is slowly getting tired having to answer all these questions, in fact. Is the girl planning on ending this any time soon, I wonder?” she asked furrowing her brows at Subaru. “If not, Betty would be happy to help the girl sleep off her anxieties until lunch.” she added with an evil little smile.”

“Alright, alright!” Subaru said, holding up both hands in surrender. “Just let me ask about one last thing. All the victims had identical bite marks, probably from the same animal. From what you said, shamans sound like people, but are there animals that can do the same thing?”

Beatrice’s eyes narrowed, and she turned her attention back to the book, flipping through its pages back and forth for a bit before stopping at another one with a large picture. The picture depicted a wolf like being with thick fur, and a horn protruding from its forehead, its mouth wide open, showing jagged, horrific looking teeth protruding out.

“Has the girl seen one of these?” Beatrice asked.

“No, what is it?” Subaru asked, examining it closer.

“It isn’t an animal exactly, rather a mabeast, I suppose. They are called the Wolgram, one of many horrible beasts created witch powers tormenting the world to this day, in fact. They practice a form of cursing lowly even by shaman standards.”

“What’s that?”

Beatrice sighed, and gestured at the beast. “Mabeasts like this, are easy to identify by their horns. Creatures like this don’t really need to hunt to survive. The witchcraft that birthed them makes it so they cannot expire from hunger, in fact. In spite of this, they prowl in packs seeking out prey and biting them, not to eat their flesh, but to imprint a very specific curse upon their victim, I suppose. This curse is then activated on the following night, and through it they consume all the mana and as such life force, I suppose.”

Now it seemed to add up a lot more. While that little dog was very far from the horrible wolf depicted in this book, part of that could have been the artist doing some guess work, never having seen one in person, or just that the pup was too young to really depict all the qualities of the adult variants. What bothered her, is that there was that there was no sign of a horn anywhere on that dog. Not having the thick fur or long, wolflike body of an older specimen was one thing, but it seemed odd that it wouldn’t have had something that Subaru saw described as a staple of all mabeasts.

Remembering the bald spot on the pup’s head, Subaru’s eyes lit up.

“Just one last question honest.” she began. “I didn’t see anything with a horn, but I saw a dog without a horn. Can mabeasts survive if their horns are severed?”

“It can happen, in fact.” Beatrice noted simply. “Some say certain people even go around breaking the horns of mabeasts in an effort to tame them, I suppose.” she added, though her tone wavered on that point. Subaru wasn’t sure if Beatrice was uncertain on that being true, or if it simply reminded her of something. Since the spirit didn’t continue, she assumed the former.

“This is really great information you’ve given me.” Subaru said with a relieved sigh.

It really was. Finally everything was beginning to fall into place. The barrier, the dog bite, the curse. Even if Rom wasn’t an assassin, it felt that Subaru’s instincts weren’t entirely off. Mabeasts couldn’t pass through the barrier, but people could. If there really were mabeast tamers in the world who broke the horns of these creatures to tame them, one may have snuck into the village during the fourth night, and sabotaged the magic stones surrounding it somehow, to allow mabeasts to enter. Then, during the day when they were long gone, they could send in an innocent looking little pup they tamed to attack the villagers. Subaru couldn’t figure out exactly why they would do something like this other than some sadistic pleasure in hurting innocents, but for now it didn’t matter much.

“Is there some way to protect people against wolgram’s curses?” Subaru asked.

“That is the manieth only and last question now, in fact.” Beatrice pouted, closing the book. “But, if someone with talent like Betty sees them before the curse is activated, then removing the curse is a simple matter.” she huffed, taking the book back to the bookcase. “Though the best method is prevention, I suppose. Wolgram roam the mountains near here, and it’s a great part of why the nearby village erected a magic barrier that keeps them out, in fact.”

Alright! This was everything Subaru could have asked for for now! She wasn’t going to leave it at this until the last day, but this gave her plenty to chew on and plan around for now. With the fact that a simple bite wouldn’t be an automatic death sentence filling her with new found confidence and security, Subaru followed the spirit to the bookcase.

“You have been an incredible help Beako!” she said, putting a hand on the girl’s head to give her a good little pat.

Beatrice’s drills twitched in a way Subaru couldn’t explain as the spirit hunched down slightly, her body beginning to tremble.

“What kind of familiarity is the girl assuming her exactly, I wonder?” Beatrice fumed, to which Subaru quickly removed her hand.

“Hey, hey, didn’t mean to cross any boundaries,” she began in a rushed voice, backing away from the angry spirit. “I just strongly feel that a pat is a good way to show thanks to someone when they were helpful, and your back was a bit too low to reach easily, so—”

“The girl pestered Betty long enough, in fact!” Beatrice declared, turning to Subaru and holding up her arm.

The next moment, Subaru found herself flying through the air, then through the open door of the library which had now connected to one of the doors near the servant’s quarters, then past an extremely surprised looking Rem who apparently had just opened the cleaning cupboard that Subaru finally stopped in after crashing into a shelf filled with various powdered soaps and plants meant for cleaning and scenting.

“Hi.” Subaru forced out weakly with a wave to the maid, as a stack of mops fell on her and the library’s door across the corridor closed on its own.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure this is healthy, Subaru?” Emilia asked in the sweet concerned voice of hers, bent down over Subaru who was laying in the garden’s grass.

“Of course. If anything, I’m surprised you don’t do anything similar with how great of a shape you’re in.” Subaru answered, panting off the few laps she ran around the mansion.

After the incident with Beatrice, she headed out for a jog to collect her thoughts, and while she had some working plans going, at this moment she was preoccupied with the kind half-elf above her.

“What do you do to clear your head, Emilia-chan?” she asked, gathering her breath.

“Hm…” Emilia pondered, sitting down on the grass next to Subaru. “I usually just play with Puck, or converse with other spirits.”

“Right, like those balls of light back in the capital?” Subaru asked. She also remembered seeing Emilia converse with spirits at the manor at night, but this being the first night it would have been weird to bring that up.

“Yes. Most people don’t know how sociable spirits can really be!” Emilia said with a smile.

“I don’t know, between the two spirits I know, one is a massive recluse, and the other spends half his time sleeping in a gem and the other half pretending to be a cat.”

“I am a cat though.” a voice called as the green gem in Emilia’s neck gleamed for a moment and a yawning Puck appeared before it. “Haven’t your parents taught you it’s not nice talking about people behind their back?”

“It’s a bit hard to do that when you’re right there.” Subaru pouted. “Don’t you just hear everything going around Emilia all the time when you’re in there?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Puck said, sticking his tongue out at the girl laying in the grass. “Good morning, Lia.”

“Good to see you, Puck. Sleep well?” asked Emilia as she raised one hand under Puck’s feet, and began stroking his back with the other.

“As always.” Puck replied with a little purr. “I heard Subaru called you Emilia-chan. Did you get up to something while I was napping?”

“If you’re worried I’ll steal your girls, you should worry about Beako instead.” Subaru said, rolling on her side and waving her hand around in a fanciful way. “Spent some time with her, we got real close. She tossed me across a corridor and into a cleaning cupboard. We’re practically best friends now.”

“Ha, well you should expect that if you keep calling her ‘Beako’.” Puck replied with a cruel little smile. “She doesn’t like mortal types too much.”

“Oh, we’re ‘mortal types’ now, are we?” Subaru frowned mockingly. “Careful, your mortal’s right there.”

“Hmmmm?” Puck hummed, floating closer to Subaru’s face, crossing his forelegs, and raising his little brows. “You’re awfully casual talking to a mighty great spirit!”

“What great spirit?” Subaru asked, taking the opportunity to reach up and scratch the spirit’s ears. “I was told you’re a cat.”

As Puck’s stern expression melted in purrs, Subaru could hear Emilia giggle.

“You can be so carefree sometimes, Subaru.” Emilia noted with a smile.

“Carefree? Oh no no.” Subaru replied, sitting up, and scratching the tiny cat before her all over. “I’ve got lots on my mind! I’m in a strange place with strange people. We might all be in danger, it might turn out that a lone champion needs to rise for the challenge, and I might have to be me!” she listed with a sarcastic tone, though of course it wasn’t too far from the truth.

“You have a very wild imagination.” Emilia giggled, before her tone and expression became more serious. “Subaru, I do not want you to worry about things like that. You were brought here to be safe. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

Subaru continued scratching Puck for a few moments more before lowering her hands. She still couldn’t very well tell Emilia about how there’s a probable assassin coming to the mansion in a few days. Besides that, she didn’t want to either. She exploited the people at the mansion enough already. If it was absolutely necessary, she thought perhaps she could ask them to help, but the first priority for now was trying to resolve this without anyone getting hurt, which she was still mulling over how to accomplish.

For now, the foremost thought in her mind about Emilia had been the same as ever since her outburst in Irlam ten days ago.

“This might sound a bit forward, and I don’t mean it in a negative way, but—” Subaru started. “Do you have any friends here?”

“Huh?” Emilia asked, surprised. “Puck’s right here, Subaru.”

“Sure he is.” Subaru noted, scratching under the cat’s chin. “But I mean more like, I don’t know. Are you close with those twins? Or maybe some friends away from the mansion? People that aren’t some vaguely ancient force of nature that lives in a rock and purrs fro the first girl that scratches his back?”

“Hey, I resent that!” Puck protested, gently biting down on Subaru’s finger before floating back to Emilia. “Also, I’m not sure I like this line of questions.”

Emilia turned her head away slightly with an awkward blush. “As a half-elf, people tend to be—” she began, but then just shook her head. “I like talking with spirits.”

“But you’d like to be friends with nor— Mortal types, right?” Subaru probed. “You were very kind to that little girl back in the capital, and even to me, after all the stupid stuff I did. Do you really not have—”

“You’re starting to cross a line.” Puck said coldly, his face twisting from the cute catlike appearance to something closer to a lion.

“No, it’s alright Puck.” Emilia said, putting a hand on the spirit’s back, then turning to Subaru. “Honestly, I wish people could just—” she began, though then her eyes fluttered and she looked away again. “They have their reasons.”

Subaru remembered what the chief of Irlam said, how she too defended her people, claiming they have good reason to hate and fear someone they never met just because they might be a threat. It was heartbreaking, but also some measure of enraging to see Emilia herself buy into this. To have watched her lock herself away in studies just so she might change people’s minds.

“You need to put your foot down more.” Subaru declared, with a sense of finality. Emilia looked up in surprise. “I believe— No, I know there are people out there, good people that would love to meet you!”

“Subaru, I appreciate—” Emilia began, but Subaru didn’t let her finish.

“I know what you’re going to say. I don’t know what I’m talking about, because I didn’t even know about the witch until we met.” Subaru declared, shaking her head. “That doesn’t matter. I know you and you’re nothing like that. And I tell you something else, the people who are afraid of you never met you, nor did they meet this stupid witch. Everything they fear is just a drummed up version of what you already told me about some big bad boogeyman that’s been gone for hundreds of years. Do you see me running away? So why would they once they have a chance to know you?” Subaru continued in a stern, but soothing voice.

As Emilia raised a hand before he mouth, something Subaru had learned is a sign of the girl being flustered, Subaru recalled the first day she spent with the half-elf, Emilia healing that little girl and insisting on making sure she’s safe, apologizing to street thugs on her behalf, forgiving her for an incredibly grave insult that Subaru wouldn’t come to understand the true depths of until much later—

“The tiniest act of kindness you can perform, is infinitely more powerful than anything any witch can do.” Subaru declared. “And if someone can’t see that, it’s on them, not you! If they turn you away, all that means is that they’re not worth your time.”

“Subaru.” Emilia muttered, still hiding her mouth with her hand, turning her head to the side with an obvious blush. “Why do you keep saying things like that.”

“Did— did I say something wrong?” Subaru asked, only now realizing she went on another one of her awful rambles. “Puck?”

The small gray cat spirit shivered in the air, hunching its back forward. Muttering “You, you…” in a light, excited voice, while floating closer to Subaru.

“Do you have any idea—” he began, raising a paw. “What it’s like to listen to you say things like that to Lia?”

The tiny spirit used its raised paw to deliver a light tap to the tip of Subaru’s nose.

“You know—” Subaru began, rubbing her nose. “I really hope this isn’t some spiritual pressure point technique where after you punched me five times, my heart will stop or something.”

“Subaru!” Emilia spoke up turning to Subaru. “How can you think of such awful things, and then be so—” she began but stopped, looking back away, still blushing. “I— Thank you for what you said, but I do not think I should antagonize people.” she said finally. “It’s not my place to tell them they’re wrong. I can only hope to pro—”

“It absolutely is your place!” Subaru declared in a tenser tone.

Emilia seemed to tremble for a moment, and Subaru’s body stiffened as she realized how once again she was being an idiot. It took her being spirited away from her entire world to try and interact with anyone but the people she absolutely had to. Some idiot she knew all of one day would hardly be enough to change Emilia’s mind.

“Look, I’m sorry.” Subaru sighed. “It just bugs me that you’re like this, when you shouldn’t be. Maybe don’t start with strangers. I’m sure you could make friends with the twins here.”

“I have a lot of studying to do. I don’t really have time.” Emilia said meekly, her eyes glancing at Subaru only to dart away. “I’m sure they’re also quite occupied most of the day.”

“Quite occupied?” Subaru sighed. “Their only job is to cater to you, Felt and Roswaal... Maybe Beatrice and Puck, I’m not actually sure spirits even need anything.” she added, looking to Puck.

“How charming that you remembered I’m here.” Puck pouted.

“Shush. Cats aren’t even supposed to talk.” Subaru said dismissively with a wave of her hand. “Point is, they can’t possibly be too busy to spend some time with you if you insist. They’re probably just a bit hung up on how they’re maids and are supposed to be seen, not heard, or some stupid formality like that. I’m sure you don’t care for things like that.”

“Well—” Emilia trailed, before her eyes perked up. “Wait, they’re also here to cater to you too.” she noted, looking right at Subaru. “You aren’t planning on leaving, are you?” she asked with a touch of sweet concern in her voice.

“And go where?” Subaru laughed up with a bit of discomfort, recalling her attempted escape. “No, I left myself out, because I just don’t plan on staying a guest.”

“But then, you are leaving!” Emilia spoke up.

“Nope! I was thinking I might try and get a job working here.” Subaru announced proudly.

There was no revelation here. She was much too used to working in the mansion to give it up now, plus she wanted to make sure to get close to the twins again. Even if she didn’t fully understand yet why Rem turned on her in her third loop so harshly, the only time she ever really got anywhere with them was when she worked together with them. She probably just needed to avoid doing things like drawing plans on how an assassin might break into the mansion, and researching poisons. In retrospect, she wasn’t sure what she was thinking. She took her idea of everyone in the mansion being on her side by default a bit too much to heart. She had to remind herself that trust is something that’s earned.

Emilia’s eyes widened, and after a few moments, she began to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Subaru asked, having once again lost track of the conversation.

“My, you really are hopelessly carefree.” Puck said with a sly smile, hanging and shaking his head.

Emilia tried to hold back her clear, chime light laughter, a big smile spreading on her face.

“I’m sorry Subaru, I think what you said is wonderful.” she said, still giggling. “It’s just even how recently we met, it sounded so you to think of becoming a maid as soon as you woke up after saving not one, but two candidates, instead of some big reward.” she said.

“On the contrary, my dear lady, basking in thy continued presence is all the reward this humble heart could ask for.” Subaru weaved in a fanciful fashion, pulling out a bit of the language she would have liked to put to use in a tabletop game if she had bothered to go to school and change to that club.

“You had a good thing going, Subaru.” Emilia pouted. “Please don’t turn into a knight.”

 

                                           

 

“Seeeeing that in my absence Emilia-sama seemed to have explaaaaained the great service Subaruuuu-chan provided for my estate by helping her reclaim her insignia, and of course saving the young Feeeelt-sama, perhaps it is only right to offer my thanks preeesently.” Roswaal spoke in her usual, melodic fashion.

As usual, Felt was seated next to Subaru, Emilia and Beatrice across, the latter playing with Puck. Roswaal, naturally held her seat at the end of the table, the twin maids on either side of her.

“As prooooper, I hope to reward Subaruuuu-chan for her services, as well as welcome Feeeelt-sama properly. Any wish eeeeither of you have, so long as it is within my pooooooower to give, you shall receeeeeive!”

“Yeah right.” Felt huffed, dancing her spoon between her fingers. “As if I’d trust free gifts from some stuck up noble.”

“It doesn’t have to be a gift if you don’t want it to be.” Subaru suggested, hoping to steer Felt to her usual choice.

“What makes you an authority on this?” Felt asked, dropping her spoon in the soup before her with a splash. Oddly, Roswaal’s mouth curved higher on this comment. “What are you going to wish for?”

“I’d like a moment to think about it.” Subaru said, holding up her hands. Naturally, she already had it all figured out, but she needed Felt to get her wish first, so she doesn’t change it. “Besides, it makes more sense that the future queen would get first pick.” she added with a coy smile.

“Oh shove it.” Felt groaned, turning back to Roswaal. “Fine, I want a job. Unlike you silverware types, I don’t expect to get something I didn’t work for.”

“Woooonderful!” Roswaal sang, giving her usual instructions to Ram, before turning to Subaru. “And what of ooouuuuur other guest?”

“Actually, if that’s a valid request—” Subaru smiled, going in for the kill. “Then I’d like to get a job too.” she answered.

Hook.

“Why are you copying me?” Felt hissed, turning to Subaru. “What’s your issue?”

“Hey, hey! I’ve actually been planning to get a job here for a while, I just didn’t know that would be a valid wish! Ask Emilia!”

Line.

“This is true.” Emilia nodded a small uncertain frown on her face. “Subaru mentioned that she wanted to get a job at the mansion a little while ago. I’m sure she didn’t mean to copy you.”

And sinker!

“See?” Subaru asked, turning her upper body to Felt and resting her head on her fist, her elbow on the table.

“You’re way too satisfied with yourself.” Felt huffed, turning back to her soup, dipping her finger in it and taking a taste.

As much as she wanted to be on good terms with Felt, it was obvious to Subaru that sucking up or not is going to have little bearing on whether that happens, and the girl deserved a bit of sas, all things being fair and balanced. Plus it just felt good teasing her back.

A thought she hadn’t considered quickly flashed through Subaru’s mind, and she took her elbow off the table, straightening out and turning to the corner of the table with Roswaal and Emilia.

“Hey, mind if I ask what Emilia-chan’s wish was? When she first came here, I mean.” she asked.

“Chaaan?” Roswaal repeated, her lips parting slightly in their grin.

“It’s—” Emilia began, flustered. “Well, Roswaal is going to help me with something important if I win the election.” she said.

“Huh? That seems odd.” Subaru noted. “Our wishes weren’t conditional. Why is her’s conditional?” she asked, turning to Roswaal whose eyebrows raised slightly

Emilia interrupted before Roswaal could answer. “It’s a complicated request, please do not worry about it.”

“I don’t know, it doesn’t seem fair that someone like me would get an unconditional wish, and a candidate wouldn’t.” Subaru murmured.

“I’m sorry.” Emilia said, turning to Roswaal. “I’m not ungrateful for all that you have—”

Unexpectedly Roswaal began laughing, causing Emilia to stop in her treads, the clownish mage’s jubilant voice filling the dining room.

“Myyyy~! Our young guest— No, neeeew servant had really taken a shiiiine to Emilia-sama, hasn’t she?” Roswaal commented. “By aaaall means, she is quite right. Perhaps I shoouuuuld have offered a more immediate reward.” she nodded, before adding: “One of leeeeesser complexity.”

“That sounds like Emilia-chan’s getting a wish.” Subaru smiled expectantly.

“Hoooow could I deny such a boooold request?” Roswaal nodded before turning to Emilia.

“Oh— uhm.” Emilia blushed, looking around helplessly. “Uh…”

“No need to over think it Emilia-chan!” Subaru said soothingly across the table.

“Subaru is right, Lia.” Puck said, looking up at Emilia while Beatrice was rubbing his stomach. “Anything is— Ooooh~” He trailed off with a purr as Beatrice huffed and moved up to his chin.

“Well—” Emilia was blinking rapidly, as if trying to figure out the ‘correct’ choice. “I would like— I would like to also make myself helpful? I never really thought about it, but I don’t like being that— I’d like it if I wasn’t treated like just a guest.” she muttered finally with a heavy blush. “Only, I have my studies, so that probably isn’t a good wish.”

Roswaal gave out a long huff, oddly turning her eyes towards Subaru of all people. Feeling a bit put on the spot, Subaru quickly searched her mind for solutions, then unconsciously snapped her fingers and pointed at Emilia.

“Hey, I have an idea, and you won’t even need to skip on studying!” she exclaimed. “You and Felt-chama are both candidates, right? She’d need to learn the same stuff you’ve been studying. Maybe you could help teach her, which would double as practice!”

“Chama?” Felt asked indignantly, but was cut off by a loud clap of Roswaal’s hands.

“What an ideeeeaa~!” she sang. “Would that be to Emilia-sama’s liking?”

“Only if it isn’t against Felt’s wishes.” Emilia answered quietly.

Subaru’s victorious smile quickly descended as she suddenly recalled Felt’s past comments about Emilia being a ‘half-devil’. She’d need to avoid that, and given Felt’s upset expression, quickly.

“Hey,” Subaru began quickly. “People out there might be mean, but everyone in this mansion deeply respects Emilia. I’m sure Felt-chama would be very happy to have the help of someone as wonderful as Emilia-chan, isn’t that right?”

Felt shot daggers at Subaru with her eyes, then hissed sharply, taking a quick look around the room.

‘That’s right. Would be hard to get on everyone’s good side and stage an escape if you bad mouthed Emilia, wouldn’t it?’ Subaru thought, hoping to have averted a disaster.

“Fine, yeah, sure. That stupid contract probably makes it mandatory to teach me, or whatever.” Felt grumbled.

“Fantastic!” Subaru grinned.

 

                                           

 

After lunch once more the twins guided Subaru and Felt to the wardrobe. Seeing as that she wasn’t going to talk Felt into wearing matching outfits with the twins, and no longer certain that Rem would even care if her work was a little more complicated, Subaru opted for a butler suit. Partially, because she still wasn’t entirely used to wearing dresses, but mostly because there was a decent chance she was going to have to run in whatever clothes she gets, if she has to confront the person sabotaging the magic stones forming the village’s barrier.

Felt didn’t seem to care much for her servants’ clothes in this loop either, but finally accepted getting a butler suit refitted as well.

The rest of the day was spent in much the same fashion as before. Subaru tried to hold back on her enthusiasm, and didn’t take the lead on teaching Felt. The girl didn’t change her cautious attitude towards Subaru, and pushing herself on Felt and trying to be a teaching influence would probably just have annoyed her further. It was plenty enough for her this time around to make small comments here or there as Ram and Rem educated Felt, congratulating her when she deserved it mostly.

During her afternoon break time, Subaru had considered asking Rem for a haircut again, but since it didn’t pan out last time she was trying to bring it up, she decided to instead retire to her new servant quarters, and take a few notes on what she learned from Beatrice.

After jotting down everything she learned, she kept running over them over and over again, trying to figure out how she could handle it all by herself, but she kept hitting the road bump of either having to spend the fourth night in town, or at least head right there the fifth morning to either prevent the damage to the barrier, or fix it. Though then again, she could probably not fix it, just point out that it’s there and have someone else come and do that.

If she could think of some way to raise an alarm about the barrier in advance without looking crazy and also being believed—

“Aaaagh!” she exclaimed in frustration, nothing worked.

Since inspiration wasn’t hitting her, her mind began to wonder, as she leant back in her chair, balancing on its back legs, as she liked to when trying to think.

‘How does that Space Brothers opening go again?’ she pondered, before a terrible thought flashed through her mind, and she almost lost her balance on the chair!

Without her computer, and her phone inevitably dying sooner rather than later, even turned off, she’s not going to have a way to remember old songs!

Quickly she leant forward, grabbed a stack of papers and began writing down song lyrics she could remember.

A few dozen songs later, she heard a knock and invited the knocker in without looking up, absent-mindedly trying to recall the exact wording of Holy Diver. Even if no one else is ever going to appreciate these lyrics, they were important to her damn it!

“Nee-sama suggested Subaru-kun might enjoy some tea.” Rem announced, stepping next to Subaru with a tray in her hands.

“Thanks, please just put it down.” Subaru waved without looking up. “ Between the— lies. What lies ?” she muttered. “ Velvet! ” she exclaimed and wrote down the next line.

“May Rem ask what Subaru-kun is writing?” the maid asked with her usual indecipherably neutral tone, as she set the tray down on the desk out of Subaru’s way.

DIO .” Subaru said simply, but the pen froze in her hand.

This felt familiar. And it felt familiar from a loop she’d rather not revisit the outcome of. Not that she’d have liked to revisit any, but especially not this one.

“Sorry.” Subaru spoke up, putting the pen down and looking up at Rem. “This is one of the writing systems from my hometown. They’re latin characters.” she declared, pointing to the paper.

“Subaru-kun’s hometown has its own writing system.” Rem asked, looking at the papers.

“Actually, I’ve brought four from home.” Subaru corrected, pointing to other papers. “I use latin for english another language. For J— For normal speech, there’s katakana, hiragana and kanji.” she listed, pointing to characters on other papers.

“Rem has never heard of these.” the maid noted, her tone remaining neutral, but attentively looking over the pages.

Subaru’s heart began to beat heavily. She couldn’t be sure, but she was becoming more and more certain that one of her cardinal mistakes turning Rem and Ram against herself before was writing in what probably looked like some secret code. There was no taking it back now, but she could maybe salvage it.

“It’s very unique to my home, but if Rem-rin wants to learn, I’d love to teach her any time!” Subaru declared.

Rem looked at her with uncertainty in her eye, before hunching over the desk slightly and pointing to a random paper with Japanese on it.

“Maybe Rem asked Subaru-kun to read this?” Rem asked.

“Ah! That’s the lyrics to the song called Subarashii hibi .” Subaru said, picking up the paper. “I was trying to remember the lyrics of a different song, but it sounds a lot like this one, by the same performers no less, calling themselves Unicorn . Want to hear it?”

Rem seemed really unsure, but asked her for a little bit of it, Subaru awkwardly reciting the song without instrumental accompaniment for a few dozen lines. The stress of having to possibly prove her innocence didn’t help. Eventually, the maid asked Subaru to stop.

“Yeah, it’s not as good without an instrument. Sadly, I don’t have a guitar and the closest I saw to one in Lugnica was a lyulyre.” Subaru noted blushing about her poor performance.

“Is that an instrument?” Rem asked. “Rem has also never heard of it. Subaru-kun’s hometown seems to have a lot of unique traditions.”

“It is very removed from the rest of the world.” Subaru noted, pulling in her neck unconsciously.

Rem just hummed and nodded at the statement. “Rem sees that Subaru-kun is busy, so she will leave her to her writing. Please enjoy the tea.” she said with a bow.

As the maid left towards the door, she stopped just a step from it, turning around.

“If Subaru-kun can, perhaps she should note down the details of what this instrument of hers looks like. In time she may earn enough from her work to have an artisan construct her one.” she said with a small bow before leaving.

After the maid left, Subaru just stared at the closed door for a while, trying to process if all this was a good sign or not. Regardless—

“That’s a really good idea.” Subaru muttered, turning back to the desk and beginning to sketch down the look of a classic acoustic guitar like the one her dad got her, as well as noting down every measurement she could remember.

Chapter Text

“Magic?” Emilia asked.

“Yeah, I was hoping you and Puck might give me a few pointers.” Subaru answered.

Emilia and Subaru were sitting alone in the garden. It was the second morning at the mansion by the point of view of everyone else here. Having restarted her nightly runs, Subaru got a chance to think things over about the coming threat and one of the main concerns on her mind was that there was a good chance she might need to face someone or something. That wolgram puppy had to have parents, and Beatrice mentioned them living in packs. Ideally she’d want to avoid confrontation, but she couldn’t just cross her fingers and hope things will work out. Not anymore. Not if she was endangering the people of the mansion in the process.

“Why would you be interested in magic?” Puck yawned as he materialized out of his crystal. “You seemed pretty content choosing the servant’s life.”

“Sure, sure. I like working here.” Subaru nodded, straightening out the jacket of her newly adjusted suit that Rem fixed up for her. “But— Okay, so I’ve got a feeling that Rem and Ram aren’t just maids, right? The mansion doesn’t have any guards, except maybe Beatrice if you want to count her, which at first was super weird, but then I realized with magic and all that stuff, the twins probably have a lot of stopping power, right?” Subaru probed, trying to make her unreasonable future knowledge sound like reasonable deduction.

“Hooooh?” Puck asked, raising his brows. “I didn’t take you for the perceptive type.”

“I’m really not.” Subaru admitted, waving a hand. “Sometimes I just get a feeling, but the point is, look at the people in this mansion. Imagine introducing someone to the people here.” Subaru proposed, putting on a mock announcer voice before continuing, a fist to her mouth. “Here we have Beatrice, the sweet smelling spirit, ancient and powerful guardian of the estate’s Forbidden Library! Weighing in at a fistful of feathers, is Puck, great spirit, master of ice!”

“Thank you, thank you.” Puck bowed, playing along and bowing to an imaginary audience.

“With him is Emilia, his contractor, friend of spirits, candidate to the throne of the realm, healer of wounds and giver of goodwill!”

“Subaru…” Emilia pouted with a blush.

“Also appearing is the young Felt-chama, a mere teenager that has become an icon of the capital’s underworld, and is famed for her swift hands and swifter feet! Locked in her studies, the grand lady of the estate Roswaal mulls over tomes— or whatever she does in that office of hers all day— to further her famed mastery of magic!”

“Clap clap!” Puck said teasingly, patting his paws together as Subaru listed.

“And who could forget the twin servants of the manor, the mirrored maidens, packing a mean punch under their humble looks, ready to defend the manor and its inhabitants with all their strength! Woo~” Subaru continued with a quiet mock cheer, which Puck joined enthusiastically. Finally, Subaru turned her announcer voice off, and in her best impression of the twins’ neutral tone: “And we also have Natsuki Subaru, 17. On a good day, she’s adequate at cleaning dishes.”

“Yaaaay~!” Puck cheered with applause, Emilia giggling and finally joining in with a cheer of her own.

“I feel like you guys are missing how that last bit doesn’t really fit in.” Subaru sighed, lowering her imaginary microphone.

“You shouldn’t think so little of yourself, Subaru.” Emilia smiled. “Who else at the mansion could say such silly things so sincerely?”

Subaru’s shoulders slumped and she hung her head. “With the lady of the manor dressed like that, it figures I’d still end up being the clown.” she sighed. “Although being a clown for Emilia-chan almost makes it worth it.”

“I did not mean it as a bad thing.” Emilia said gently, putting a hand on Subaru’s shoulder.

All the world loves a clown. ” Subaru quoted with a dejected smile.

“Huh? What was that?” Emilia blinked at the alien words.

“Nothing, just an old song, like the one in the capital.” Subaru shook her head. “But yeah, I’d like to learn how to defend myself. That’s why I’m curious about magic.”

“Hm. The way you said that, it feels like you don’t have much hope in it.” Puck noted, floating around Subaru, examining her at all angles, as she continued to sit in the grass.

“Well, from what little experience I had with magic, I’ve been pretty terrible at it.” Subaru noted. “I tried casting a spell called Shamak blew out all the mana I had.”

“Oooh, that doesn’t sound good.” Puck noted with a small laugh, holding up a paw that wasn’t nearly adequate to cover his face, or his wide cat smile. “If Shamak did that— I wouldn’t really bother with magic if I were you.”

“Subaru, you really should not worry about it.” Emilia added encouragingly. “You have many wonderful qualities, and from what I’ve seen, you’re a hard worker. You don’t need to overexert yourself for anyone’s sake.”

“I might not have a choice.” Subaru murmured, before looking up. “What if the mansion is attacked?”

Emilia hummed and shook her head. “You are safe at the mansion, Subaru. The mansion is well protected. Roswaal, Beatrice, Rem and Ram of course.” she liste—

 

‘Nee-sama…’ suddenly echoed in Subaru’s mind, and her vision faded, a gripping pain emerging in her chest in an instant.

The world blind and deaf around her, Subaru could feel cold, slender fingers intertwined with her own, the gentle touch of soft, well-kempt hair caressing her other palm.

‘Nee-sama…’ the weak, familiar voice whispered.

The air stuck in her throat, Subaru choked, wheezing for air, unable to open her mouth. No, it couldn’t be happening— It couldn’t happen again. Not to Rem, not to Ram, not to Emilia, not to—

‘Wonderful, wonderful! Truly wonderful!’ Granhiert echoed in her ears.

“No. No!” she muttered as her only recourse.

“—baru!” called a gentler yet scared voice. “Subaru! Subaru!”

Blinking, she raised her head and saw that, of course, she was still in the garden, Emilia kneeling before her, clutching her hands.

“Subaru! What happened?” Emilia asked, squeezing Subaru’s hands.

“I’ve—” Subaru began, realizing her voice was stuttering, and feeling sweat on her brows.

As she stopped talking, she noticed her breathing was irregular and ragged, and though sitting on solid ground, she felt as if her chest was in freefall. Putting a hand against her temple, she shook her head and tried to concentrate, only, in spite of Emilia holding her hands, she could still feel Rem’s cold, dead fingers between hers.

Puck flew next to Emilia’s head, and put a paw on her cheek, giving Subaru a serious look. Not a stern one, rather one of compassion.

“Lia.” he said. “I think the incident at the loot house was pretty tough on Subaru.” he added, before turning to Subaru. “That’s why you want to know how to defend yourself, right?”

Subaru took a few moments to steady her breathing and collect her thoughts before answering.

“I’ve—” she muttered. “People died before because of me. I don’t—”

Puck slowly flew over to Subaru, and patted Subaru on the face under her left eye.

“Don’t worry Subaru, no one’s going to die to protect you.” he said. “You’re not that important.”

“Puck!” Emilia said sharply.

Subaru bit gently on her lips, then a little smile appeared on her face. In her current state she wasn’t sure if it was genuine, or she was just trying to get the conversation back to where it was a moment ago.

“It’s fine.” she mumbled, taking another deep breath.

“See?” Puck gesture at Subaru while looking back at Emilia. “Gotta have a sense of humor about these things.” he added before turning back to Subaru. “And since you’re not important enough to protect, I guess I might as well try and think of a few things you could do to protect yourself. How does that sound?”

“Y-yeah. That’d be nice.” Subaru replied, wiping the sweat from her brows and straightening herself out.

 

Over the next couple of minutes, before Subaru’s freetime was up, Puck and Emilia probed her about her experience with magic a bit, before Puck once again concluded that if even Shamak proved too complicated to Subaru, then she should generally avoid spell casting, before adding that maybe in emergencies, stressing: absolutely life or death situations only, she could perhaps make use of Shamak as a way to create a bit of confusion as she escapes. Naturally, if using the spell nearly knocks her out, then that would render this a very unappealing prospect, but Puck instructed Emilia to get Subaru a few bokko fruits to hold onto, which as he explained once again, could restore enough energy to keep a person going.

“I want to stress one more time.” Puck noted. “This is a really bad idea, and you’ll end up hurting yourself if you keep doing it. But if it makes you feel safer, hold onto them.” he explained. “It would be better if you just tried to relax and not worry about it.”

“Perhaps we should ask Ram to give Subaru lighter—” Emilia began, but Subaru quickly interrupted her.

“No! I mean— Thanks for the thought, but I like working with the twins. It’s… It’s a good way to keep occupied.”

She couldn’t really talk about her month of attachment to the maids, or the lingering sense within her that she should do a good job to passively repay her previous transgressions that she never enacted, but that was of course not an option.

“Then maybe you should do something that you really enjoy in your spare time.” Emilia suggested, trying to be helpful.

Subaru shook her head. “Back home, I used to play my guitar , but I don’t think I’ll find one of those here.”

She thought about the lyulyre up in the attic. It would have been easy to go grab it again, but she neither had a good excuse to go to the attic, nor the time to mess around really. She was already wasting time when writing down those lyrics, and they were probably more trouble than they were worth.

“I think I’ll ask Roswaal about that next chance I get.” Emilia said.

“No, please don’t bother her with that.” Subaru said waving her hand in the air dismissively. “It’s not worth the trouble.”

Emilia frowned, and looked like she was going to say something in protest, but finally just sighed.

“Just please, don’t overexert yourself Subaru.”

 

                                           

 

Spending some more time with Emilia, she tried to wave off the awkward little episode, asking the silver-haired girl about the previous evening and her progress with Felt. Sadly, it didn’t seem like Felt took to Emilia. She apparently hadn’t said anything terrible, but Emilia remained of the opinion that Felt can’t stand her presence. Subaru encouraged her to keep trying regardless, as this was the kind of ‘putting down the foot’ she was talking about. Emilia shouldn’t just assume that if people are cold they will stay that way.

After having bid farewell to Emilia, Subaru returned to her duties. She wasn’t entirely certain what had happened before. When Emilia mentioned the fact that people would be willing to defend her, Subaru had briefly pictured Ram and Rem standing between her and a group of those wolflike wolgrams from the book. Next thing she knew, it was almost like she was back at the top of the cliff? It didn’t feel real in the same way as when time stopped and the shadow hand grabbed her heart when she tried telling Emilia about return by death. But if it wasn’t some sort of magic, then—?

Finding it too hard to think about Subaru concentrated on her work. While preparing lunch, Rem and Ram briefly chatted about lyrics Rem found Subaru writing. While this made her a bit conscious of her stupid passtime, it gave her some reassurance that they probably didn’t see it as a sign of her being up to something shady this time around, since they talked about it openly.

Not wanting to be left out of a conversation about herself, she joined in and explained about her interest in perhaps one day beginning to spread the songs of her hometown around, though dodging questions about english, simply saying it would be hard to explain why they had a second language. Which was in fact a hard thing to answer.

In the afternoon, she made a few attempts to chat with Felt, hoping to encourage her about accepting Emilia, but the girl didn’t seem any more receptive to Subaru’s interest than before. Subaru grew concerned that perhaps she joked with Felt a bit too much the previous day.

Irregardless of that, she had bigger worries to concern herself with.

When the time came for her afternoon break, she once again returned to her quarters to brainstorm in regards to dealing with the mabeast puppy and its possible master. There were two binary questions that she didn’t know the answer to for sure:

One: Did the mabeast puppy even have a master? It wasn’t unthinkable that the barrier just failed due to overexertion, like a fuse blowing out. Still, the fact that it happened every loop, and that the puppy always appeared on the fifth day with no mention of any villagers dying from a bite on preceding days made it sound a bit too regular. Sure, Rom also always arrived on the same day, but the giant can only come to the mansion so fast. Wouldn’t magic stones blowing their fuse be inherently more— Random and magicky?

In the end, she could only flag it as probable in her mind that there was someone sabotaging the barrier and sending in the pup.

The second question was as follows: Is the master of the dog from the village, or outside it?

Seemed like an awful question. Even if most of those days were spent in the forest, she did spend five days living in Irlam. She got to meet most of the small settlement’s population, and no one really seemed like the type to be a secret mabeast tamer. What’s more, how would someone who lives in a town that is specifically locked away from mabeasts tame one of them?

No. It wouldn’t make sense that they’d establish a full identity in a small village like this just to then eventually attack it. How would they even go about it? Every adult she talked with had been living in Irlam for a long time. It just wasn’t adding up. It had to be an outside mabeast tamer if there was one.

That left only the issue of how to solve things?

Avoiding the issue still seemed the most charming solution. If the barrier was never sabotaged, there would be no attack. However, that would require Subaru to spent the fourth night there, since she knew that during the fourth day the barrier wasn’t sabotaged from someone checking it that day when she was living there. The barrier had to break down sometime between the fourth evening and the fifth noon.

Subaru groaned at her lack of forethought coming to this conclusion, as by wishing to be a servant she made her job in this regard much harder— But then again, she could possibly avoid having to do this on her own.

As much as she hated the idea of getting others involved, old man Rom was still arriving in the afternoon of the fourth day. If she could convince him to cooperate with her for one day, he could keep an eye out for the saboteur and then the next day meet Subaru and in the village and give his findings. If he saw the saboteur, they could report that to Roswaal, which would surely raise the alarm, and the attacker could be tracked down.

It wasn’t ideal, but if the old man was willing to help, then perhaps it was the best Subaru could do with her limited time.

 

                                           

 

“Subaru-kun? Rem didn’t expect company.” Rem noted when Subaru reentered the kitchen after dinner. The maid was already almost done washing the plates.

“Hey, I thought I’d wash my own plates today.” Subaru noted, stepping to another sink with what remained of her own dinner that she ate in her room. “Also I was hoping to make some tea.”

“Emilia-sama mentioned a stressful incident earlier today.” Rem noted casually. “Rem has recommendations, if that is what Subaru-kun hopes to alleviate.” the maid said in her usual neutral tone, not looking up from her work.

“Actually, I was going to bring it up to Felt’s room.” Subaru corrected. “I heard Emilia’s been having trouble working with her, and thought I’d try and see if I can ease things up.”

Rem didn’t answer right away, though did eventually note: “Subaru-kun doesn’t seem to have a particularly good relationship with Felt-sama either.”

“That’s what the tea is for.” Subaru joked to no reaction.

Shortly after Subaru could hear Rem finish and wipe her hands.

“Rem will put a kettle on.” the maid announced and got to work on brewing tea right away.

“I was going to make it myself— but thanks, I guess.” Subaru conceded, finishing her dishes and waiting until the blue-haired maid dutifully prepared tea.

“Did Subaru-kun intend to drink with them?” Rem asked after placing two cups on a tray.

“Well, uh—” Subaru began, but seemingly reading her tone, Rem picked up a third cup and placed it on the tray before finishing the tea and placing a pot full of tea on the tray as well.

“Rem would like to come as well, to ensure Felt-sama is studying properly.” Rem announced without a hint of emotion, picking up the tray and heading out of the kitchen.

Watching the maid leave the kitchen without paying much mind to her Subaru sighed. “Sure. Yeah. Sounds fun.”

 

Reaching the top floor at Rem’s heels as they approached Felt’s room, something occurred to Subaru.

“Actually, I forgot to pick up the key. Do you have it?” Subaru asked.

“Naturally, Emilia-sama has the key.” Rem answered.

‘Right.’ Subaru thought. ‘Must be nice being trusted in a room with Felt without being locked in.’ she recounted silently and sighed.

“Emilia-sama, on Subaru-kun’s recommendation, we have brought tea. May we enter?” Rem asked after somehow balancing the tray in one hand and one forearm in a way that she could keep it perfectly steady even while knocking on the door.

Emilia’s mumbled voice came through the door, before Subaru could hear the sound of the key entering the lock on the other side then unlocking the door.

“Oh, thank you.” Emilia said with a weak smile as she opened the door. She was blushing, and seemed to be in a bad mood, only putting on a smile for apparences.

“Is everything alright, Emilia-chan?” Subaru asked, stepping closer to the door.

“Hm?” Emilia hummed absentmindedly. “Everything is fine, Subaru.” she replied, stepping out of the doorway and letting Rem enter with the tray.

Inside Felt’s room, things were mostly shipshape, as they tended to be in every loop where Felt joined the maids. Since her primary motivation was probably sucking up to the twins, she didn’t want to make any more of a mess once she had a way to do it. However, there was one detail very different than before.

On the desk, the papers strewn about didn’t have copies of imoji characters written on them in long columns. Instead they were filled with all sorts of doodles, ink blots and other nonsense.

Felt herself was hunched over the same desk, doodling something vaguely humanoid on a paper, still wearing her butler uniform.

“Uh, I take it the lessons are not going well?” Subaru asked, turning to Emilia.

The silver-haired girl turned her head away with a frown before answering. “I think I might be a disruptive influence of Felt’s ability to study.”

Subaru’s hand twitched for a moment.

“Rem, I’m terribly sorry to impose.” Emilia continued, looking at the maid. “But may I ask you to continue the lesson?”

Rem, who had just then put down the tray after pushing some of the botched papers to the side turned to Emilia and gave a deep, dutiful bow.

“Of course, Emilia-sama. Please have a pleasant evening.”

“Thank you.” Emilia answered. “Good night to all of you. Thank you for the thought.” she added glancing at Subaru with sad eyes before hurrying out the door between Subaru and Rem.

As the echo of Emilia’s footsteps grew more and more distant, Subaru and Rem stood quietly, with Felt doodling, still not having made a single comment.

Finally, Rem broke the silence. “Given that tea appears unnecessary, would Subaru-kun kindly return the tray to the kitchen?” she asked.

“Actually, I think I’m going to stay a moment.” Subaru said, snapping back to the moment, stretching her fingers before walking around to the other side of the desk and putting her palm down forcefully in front of Felt.

“What?” Felt asked, looking up.

“That’s what I want to know.” Subaru replied coldly. “What did you say to her?”

“What business is it of yours?” Felt retorted, dropping her pen on the desk and leaning back in her chair, arms crossed.

“Subaru-kun. It isn’t appropriate to talk to a candidate in such a fashion.” Rem noted in a stern tone.

“Normally you’d be right, but Felt chose to be a maid, so she’s my younger coworker first, future queen second.” Subaru shot at Rem.

She didn’t know what was coming over her. Subaru absolutely didn’t want to argue with Felt. Felt was still the person that her deepest self wanted to get close to most, but the thought that she had hurt Emilia has for the first time made her genuinely angry with the girl. This mix of incompatible emotions both fired up and cooled her temperament.

“Emilia just wanted to help you.” Subaru pressured.

“And I just didn’t feel like getting babied by a half-devil.”

Subaru unconsciously closed her hand on the table into a fist, scrunching up the papers under her palm.

“Did you call her that?” Subaru asked, crouching down by the table to be on Felt’s eye level, shooting her a firey, serious stare.

“Not to her face, no.” Felt answered with a defiant look. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

“You shouldn’t talk like that about someone like Emilia who’s only trying to help you.” Subaru said coldly.

“Maybe if she wasn’t cooperating with my abductors, I wouldn’t.” Felt retorted, leaning forward, locking eyes with Subaru. “Don’t know where you’re getting off talking to me like this, but I didn’t need anyone to mother me growing up, and I don’t need you to do it now either.” she declared, finally leaning back. “And I don’t care if you think I do because I’m your ‘nambawanrupee’ or whatever either.”

Subaru blinked, a portion of her anger dissipating as a faint distant memory flashed through her mind.

“You’re my what?” Subaru asked, confused.

“Even you don’t know?” cofed Felt.

“No wait, what are you talking about?” Subaru asked, leaning forward.

Felt sighed, pushed her chair away from the desk and stood up. “It’s what you said was your reason for jumping in front of that blade. Because I’m your ‘nambawanrupee’.” she said moving away from the desk.

“Felt-sama, please return to the desk. You have studied to attend to.” Rem spoke up, still standing like a statue on the other side of the desk. “Subaru-kun, if you would.” she added, gesturing to the tray with tea.

“Sorry Rem, but this is important.” Subaru said, shaking her head and standing up to follow Felt to her bed. “I think— Did I say number one groupie ?” she asked. Everything past losing her arm to Granhiert was a haze. Would have been even if it wasn’t the better part of a month ago that it happened for her, given how much blood she was losing at the time.

“Some absolute non-answer like that, yeah.” Felt grumbled, sitting on her bed. “Could you stop coming closer? That’s why I left the desk.” she noted as Subaru turned the corner of her bed.

“Why are you like this with me?” Subaru spoke up. She had a working idea, based on previous conversations they had, but she wanted to hear it out loud.

“Because you’re crazy?” Felt answered. “You jumped in front of some crazy assassin’s strikes twice to save me, nearly died, then you start acting like we’re friends for no reason.” she continued. “Seriously, what is up with you? I asked you once, and apparently the answer was just some nonsense words.”

Subaru stood at the end of the bed, looking at the grumbling girl. She had wanted to properly explain herself to Felt for such a long time, but the words would never come. Or if they did, they would have been far too embarrassing. However, now, after having suffered through the past twenty five days, after Emilia’s support, after Ram’s tough love… Maybe it was time.

“They’re not nonsense words.” Subaru said, sitting down on the bed’s end, a decent distance from Felt, but the girl slid further anyway.

“I told you to stay back.” Felt protested.

“I’ll go in a minute.” Subaru sighed. “But first, I want to set the record straight.” she said, taking a long breath.

Turning fully towards Felt, Subaru’s eyes lingered on the girl’s bright blonde hair, recalling once more those wonderful, defiant flowers from the ruins, her ruby eyes recalling something else near to that moment.

“You want to know what I was getting out of all that stupid stuff I did, right?” Subaru asked. “Nothing really special. I wasn’t getting rewarded. I did it because I wanted to.”

“Yeah sure.” Felt dismissed with a wave.

Rem continued to stand like a statue, observing with a quiet air of disapproval.

Clenching up her fists atop her knees, Subaru finally began her explanation. “I can’t fully explain number one groupie , since it’s a special term from my home, but it roughly meant when I said it, that you’re the one who gave me the first bit of support when I had nothing and no one else.”

“Huh?” Felt asked, raising her eyebrow. “What are you talking about? I never gave you anything.”

“You didn’t need to.” Subaru said, shaking her head, then hanging it. She wished Rem wasn’t in the room. This wasn’t the kind of thing she was comfortable talking about in general, let alone with an audience, but there was no helping it. “I used to be absolutely miserable until very recently. I was afraid of all sorts of things, afraid I’ll never be good enough, afraid nothing I’ll ever do will matter, afraid that if I don’t get some special handout that turns my life around, nothing I’ll do will matter.” she continued.

“You really are crazy.” Felt said. “Not only is that pathetic, it has nothing to do with me.”

“You’re wrong. You’re the one who changed my mind.” Subaru said, swallowing the hurt of the preceding comment.

I never even met you! ” Felt retorted angrily.

“It was enough that I saw you.” Subaru declared with finality. “I don’t think you understand how amazing you are, Felt.” she continued. “Living in the slums, learning to defend yourself like that, having that attitude of yours— You showed me what an idiot I was being. I didn’t even really understand until very recently. In fact, I’m still figuring it out as I’m talking, but you showed me how stupid my concerns were.”

Felt’s hateful expression fluttered with uncertainty as Subaru continued, trying, poorly, to force her tone to be calm, but her heart beating in her chest.

“You had it so much worse than I ever did, making every one of my past concerns look like a bad joke.” Subaru said. “You gave me the strength to keep trying when I wanted to give up by simply being an example.”

Her face burning, Subaru paused and rubbed her forehead in the awkward silence than ensued before shaking her head and adding a final note:

“I wanted to save you, because you taught me what it means to Live Strong!” she exclaimed finally.

Silence fell back on the room once more, disturbed only by Subaru’s light panting.

Felt’s expression was difficult to read. Subaru wasn’t sure even Felt knew what her reaction was to this rambling declaration. Subaru’s mind raced with dark thoughts as to what sort of rejection she may receive from Felt in a few moments— But no such response came this day.

“Felt-sama has a lot of studying to catch up on.” Rem’s voice called out quietly. “If Subaru-kun would please.”

Face still burning, Subaru stood up at the first sight of the escape rope and quickly marched out through the door, leaving behind tray, tea and everything else.

“What the hell was I thinking?!” she mumbled to herself, hurrying towards the stairs.

Chapter Text

‘Stupid, stupid, stupid!’ Subaru repeated in her head marching back and forth in place.

Her anxiety refused to go away. Not after her second nightly run, not after sleeping, and especially not after doing the first stretch of her morning tasks or breakfast, throughout the course of which she naturally encountered Felt a couple of times, only for the girl to ignore her completely.

Even now, well after breakfast, her mind was a mess, lost in the turmoil of last evening’s rambling confrontation.

“If the girl wants to just stomp around, there’s plenty of room for it outside the library, I suppose.” Beatrice grumbled, dropping the same heavy tome she showed last time on her table.

Coming to her senses, Subaru recalled the original reason she came in here, before her thoughts got the better of her.

“Right, sorry Beako.” she answered, shaking her head. Not that she could physically shake off these intrusive thoughts.

“Why does she insist on calling Betty that, I wonder?” Beatriced mumbled to herself annoyedly while opening up the book.

“You helped me more than you probably think.” Subaru replied, focusing her attention on the small spirit and their book. “I’d feel bad talking to you like you were just some librarian.”

“Betty is likely over twenty times the girl’s age, in fact. They should stop acting as if they were older, perhaps.” Beatrice huffed, flipping through the pages until reaching the wolgram.

“Well Puck is apparently some sort of ‘great spirit’.” Subaru trailed. “I think he’s also up there in years, but that doesn’t stop him from insisting he’s a cat. So I may not entirely get how spirits work, but I’m pretty sure that makes you a little girl.”

“Betty doesn’t even know why she puts up with this, in fact.” Beatrice pouted, before pointing at the page before her. “As stated, these creatures always activate their curse at night, I suppose.” she answered the question Subaru posed when first coming here. “They can’t seem to do so at any time, such as immediately upon biting someone, perhaps. Is that all the girl needed, I wonder?”

“That’s good to know, thanks, but I’d like to know as much as possible. Isn’t there some sort of charm that drives them away?” Subaru pondered. “Sort of like a portable barrier stone. Probably not a cross or something like that. Maybe some herbs that can’t stand the smell of?” she continued, remembering what Oringo taught her about keeping bugs out.

“Such things wouldn’t matter short of a proper barrier when it comes to the girl, I suppose. Mabeasts would approach her no matter what she brought, in fact.” Beatrice stated casually.

“What? Why? Are mabeasts that rabid?” Subaru asked. That didn’t seem right, given that the one in the village always played the role of the cute dog so easily, playing with children.

“Mabeasts are drawn to the Witch’s scent, in fact. If they noticed the girl’s presence, they wouldn’t be stopped by anything short of a barrier to hunt her down, I suppose.”

Subaru raised her hand, the one the dog bit each time. Could that be why it bit her but not the kids? If it wasn’t for the fact that it also attacked Rem, she might have almost considered that perhaps the puppy didn’t mean any harm, but any sympathy she might have had for that slobbering little furball was lost, never to be recovered when she watched the maid die in her arms.

“Wouldn’t that mean—” Subaru began, lowering her hand. “Wouldn’t that mean that it’s dangerous for me to be here? The forest around the mansion is inhabited by mabeasts. Wouldn’t that draw them here?”

“It is good that the girl finally understands what a burden she is, I suppose.” Beatrice huffed. “Though as the mabeasts have been driven mostly back to the mountains, and both the mansion and the village are protected in their own way, it should be fine, perhaps.”

Scratching her forehead, Subaru thought back on her plans. At this point, she’d more or less have to rely on old man Rom to spot the saboteur. Almost certainly, they’d have more than just the puppy with them, and from the sound of things, they’d notice her way before she had a chance to spot their master. She could always run into the village for protection by the barrier, but that logic doesn’t work so well when the person they’re trying to evade is the one who can take the barrier down. All she’d accomplish was draw more mabeasts inside the village and get people hurt.

“I don’t imagine you or anyone would be willing to go check the barrier’s integrity just for my sake?” Subaru asked, suspecting the obvious answer.

“The barrier is the villagers’ problem, in fact.” Beatrice huffed. “If there’s a problem with it, they’ll report it, I suppose.”

“Yeah, didn’t think so.” Subaru sighed. “But if say, someone was bitten in the village? Who could help save them?”

“The girl says she doesn’t want to treat Betty like a librarian, and yet all she does is keep bothering her, as if Betty didn’t have a hundred better things to do than educate the hopelessly ignorant, I suppose.” the spirit grumbled.

“Alright, I get it.” Subaru noted. “You want me to go, I’ll go.”

As Subaru took a step back, the spirit huffed and closed the book on the table, ready to take it back to its bookcase.

“Actually, one more thing, but not about the wolgram or anything like that.” Subaru began to which the spirit stopped in her tracks, hugging the tome close and long exasperated sigh.

“Few have ever tested Betty’s patience this way, in fact.” the spirit mumbled.

“No really, I was just wondering about lunch.” Subaru said, to which the spirit looked up ahead with a confused expression before turning her gaze to Subaru. “I noticed you always just play with your food, but Puck seems to enjoy eating what you feed him. Isn’t there anything you’d actually like to eat? I mean I guess spirits probably don’t have to, but if Puck does it anyway—”

The blonde loli looked long with furrowed brows at the girl in front of her, dissecting Subaru with her eyes.

“If it’s rude to ask what spirits eat then so—” Subaru began, holding up her hands in surrender, but Beatrice just huffed and continued her way to the bookcase before she could finish.

“Betty prefers sweets, I suppose.” the spirit said finally, sliding the book in its place.

“Right. Good to know.” Subaru nodded with a small smile creeping on her face, then headed for the door.

 

On the way back to her room, Subaru collected her thoughts again, rerunning things. Saboteur needed to be spotted. Subaru likely couldn’t get close to them without trouble. She’d need to convince Rom somehow tomorrow to come help her, but she wasn’t even sure how she was going to get out of the manor with all her housework. Then, she’d need to alert the mansion so they can deal with the saboteur or the mabeasts, or whatever is going on. If there is a saboteur and they are stopped, she’ll need to have Rom report the saboteur’s presence to the manor when she brings him here. If they aren’t, Subaru would need to bring proof that the barrier is down, which would mean she needs to figure out how to tell if a magic stone is sabotaged.

Damn it, she should have asked that! It can’t be that complicated if the villagers can check for themselves. Are they a different colour? Do they make sound? Maybe vibrate or something?

If she doesn’t do this right, if she doesn’t figure it out, then someone might die again because of her!

And how will she even convince Rom, when she even botched things with Felt like that?!

With thoughts like these swirling in her mind, the pressure building in her chest, Subaru reached her room and opened the door.

“Hos am I supposed to—” she began after closing the door and slumping down against it, but then something caught her eye, waiting on her bed.

It was a long wooden object with a fat round lower body and a long neck along which five strings ran. It was propped up on her pillow, against the wall beside the bed.

Clambering back on her feet, she quickly walked to her bed and picked it up, turning it around, examining it, thinking, hoping it would have a note attached to explain its unexpected presence, but there was none.

Someone had simply, without any discernible reason, brought the lyulyre down from the attic and placed it on her bed.

Searching her mind for answers, Emilia’s concerned look flashed through her mind. She’d told the half-elf about how she used to play her guitar. Could she have gone and asked Roswaal after all?

The tension dained from Subaru’s body, as she caressed the gift and strum its strings, listening to the calming, pretty sound they had made. Surrounded by people like this, how could she have ever thought life at the mansion was a curse?

 

                                           

 

“What is this, I wonder?” Beatrice spoke with uncertainty after Subaru placed her dish before the spirit.

Indeed, she didn’t receive the first course of soup like everyone else. Instead, before the spirit rested five soft, light brown, rolled tubes, three on the bottom, two laid atop the gaps between them, sprinkled with fine sugar, each tube filled with sweet jam.

Parachinta . I thought Beako might enjoy this.” Subaru noted with a proud smile. “It’s a dessert from my hometown.”

It took some convincing to make the twins let her try making something brand new, but once they gave in, Subaru found it easy preparing it. It was one of those simple dishes that was practically impossible to get wrong. Well, she almost did. She could only guess at the proper measure of ingredients for the batter, since she was about eight when her mother taught her how to make them, and she definitely hadn’t made any for at least three years; but luckily Rem noticed that mixture she was going to try and fry was going to come out liquid no matter what, and helped her correct for it.

“If you don’t like it, I can bring you soup.” Subaru suggested, her enthusiasm waning slightly as Beatrice just poked at the food with a fork.

Looking around the table, to see if maybe she just managed to do something weird, Emilia gave her an encouraging nod, while Roswaal was looking at the dish with a small, strange frown and furrowed brows, as if she was deep in thought. When Roswaal noticed that Subaru was looking at her, her expression quickly changed back to her usual sharp smile.

“Hooooow thoughtful. I do believe this might better fit Beatrice’s paleeeette!” she declared.

Putting Puck on the table then cutting off the end of one of the tubes and eating it, Beatrice closed her eyes and swayed her head a bit side to side with a frown.

“It is pleasant, I suppose.” Beatrice announced finally with a huff, returning Subaru’s smile to full.

“Glad you like it.” Subaru said with a nod, stepping away from the table, and returning to her proper position as a servant in waiting. Ram and Rem didn’t budge from their dutiful stances, and, naturally, Felt didn’t look Subaru’s way either from the other side of Roswaal’s chair.

Still, seeing Beatrice eat another slice before tearing down a piece to feed to Puck who shot Subaru a short wink while gobbling it down his throat? It was well worth it.

 

                                           

 

Performing her duties for the early afternoon went by without much in terms of special events. She did bring up the lyulyre in her bed, to which the twins exchanged a look, before Ram stating that if it was delivered to her, then it was likely arranged properly, with an emphasis on the word ‘properly’ for some reason. Beyond that, the only comment anyone had on it, was Ram suggesting that Subaru appreciates the gift.

During her afternoon break, Subaru once more returned to her room, and began looking over her notes on wolgram and the attack. It seemed that writing lyrics proved to be a blessing in disguise, as while the twins definitely found it odd that she took notes in a secret language, they never really questioned her about it since she demonstrated the notes containing lyrics. If either twin was going to ask her about the wolgram notes, which she also wrote in Japanese characters, she planned on claiming them as drafts on personal letters to her parents, since they did visually differ somewhat from the pages containing song lyrics.

Annoyingly, nothing new would really come to her. Subaru had already figured out where all the pieces should fit in her preparation, so far as details she knew about went, and she couldn’t think of any details she didn’t take into consideration. She felt as though there was something she had meant to figure out earlier in the day, but looking back at her work, she couldn’t think of it. However, what she did recall was the lyulyre, still there, sitting on her bed.

“I really shouldn’t.” Subaru mumbled to herself, authoritatively, but a little buzz in her spine egged her on, reassuring her that she’d have an easier time thinking things through if she played a few songs.

Standing up from her desk and sitting instead on her bed, she took the instrument in her lap.

‘I really, really shouldn’t waste time.’ she thought.

If she distracts herself, if she doesn’t do well enough, someone might die again. If it’s just her or Rem, sure, she could probably have Beatrice remove the curse, but what if one of the kids gets bitten?

Her left hand clutched at the guitar’s neck and her breaths grew heavier, tension building in her once more, as all the horrible possibilities flashed before her eyes. No, it shouldn’t happen. Even her current plan’s only flaws were that the attacker might not get caught, or that Rom might get hurt, which she could instruct him about. No one should be in harm’s way aside from Subaru and Rom. That’s the point, she wanted to minimize the involvement of others, and that should be accomplished, so then why— why does she feel Rem’s cold fingers again?!

Strumming the strings of the lyulyre in frustration, she produced a chaotic jumble of notes. But in there—

She heard the notes the lyulyre would play as she sat out in the gazebo, playing for Emilia, and the dark thoughts began to fade.

‘Just relax Subaru, you don’t need to do anything.’ the silver-haired girl’s voice echoed in her.

It wasn’t true. There were so many things Subaru needed to do. So many things only she could do, that had to be done.

But maybe, just for a little while, she could just sit and play some music.

As Subaru began to play for herself, her tensions continued to ease, recalling fond memories. At first she just thought of her time in the gazebo, Emilia listening to her music. Subaru couldn’t help but giggle in a self-deprecating fashion as she recalled her discovery that the kind girl was actually tone deaf. Although perhaps Emilia was just bad at producing tunes. She had no way to tell the two things apart. Then, she recalled Emilia so gently weaving Subaru’s hair into braids, while whispering soothing words to her, when Subaru was truly at the lowest she could recall. That memory then weaved itself with another time, when someone so gently tended to her hair—

Subaru’s thoughts and music were interrupted by a knock at her door, which upon answering, Ram entered with a tray.

“In a generous mood, the wonderful Ram had decided to bring Barusu some tea.” the girl declared, bringing the tray to Subaru’s desk, and placing the tray there.

The maid seemed to take note of the strange writing already there, but Subaru made no effort to get up and hide them.

“I must admit, I was surprised to hear that Barusu actually knows how to play that thing.” Ram noted, picking up one of the tea cups of which there were two on the tray, and taking it to the nightstand next to Subaru, besides her bed.

“Thanks, I didn’t expect you to approve.” Subaru noted, putting the lyulyre aside to pick up her tea.

“I never claimed approval.” Ram noted in her usual tone, walking back to the tray. “Simply surprised that Barusu is marginally more capable with it than deaf child.” Ram added, picking up the other cup and raising it to her mouth, while leaning against the desk.

Subaru didn’t have a retort ready for that, so she just lifted her tea cup, exchanging a long look with the pink maid as they both drank.

“I’m not familiar with the style of music that Barusu’s been performing.” Ram noted, lowering her cup. “Is it also from her hometown?”

“Sort of.” Subaru nodded. “I’ve kind of just been mixing together melodies from something we call rock . It’s what I used to play the most, since it fit my guitar best. I always wanted a piano , since they could play anything, including even jazz , which I used to love, but that didn’t pan out.”

Ram put her cup down back on the tray, and as she did, her fingers weaved through the papers strewn about the desk, before something seemed to catch her eye, and she pulled the paper out from among the rest.

“Is this that guitar thing Barusu mentioned?” she asked, showing the sketch Subaru had drawn two days ago. All things considered, it was a pretty decent sketch. She’d definitely not win any art contests, but there weren’t any particularly complicated shapes involved, and she knew that thing inside and out.

“Yeah.” Subaru nodded. “Not all of them look like that, but it’s the classic look, and the kind my dad got me.” she explained. “I doubt you saw its kind before.”

Ram turned the paper back towards herself and looked at it some more before putting it down.

“Was Barusu going to be a musician before?” she asked, picking her tea back up.

“I would have liked to be.” Subaru answered. “I still kind of want to be, it’s just—”

Subaru paused. The first time around, she asked for help in achieving that goal. Then she switched to wanting a job at the mansion, in the hope of working with Felt until she returned to the capital in about a month, for that royal selection thing they mentioned. Now, when she asked for it once again, her reasoning changed to wanting to be closer to the twins and help them. Part of her had already committed to the thought of remaining here permanently, without ever really giving it much consideration. Was she really willing to give up on her dream of becoming a travelling minstrel? Not that it was a long thought out dream, the travelling part anyway, but she wouldn’t be much of a minstrel if she only played in a mansion with a total permanent population countable on a single hand. Well, Emilia and Puck might be permanent residents too, she never really figured that out.

“Is something wrong?” Ram spoke up.

“No, nothing.” Subaru said with a shake of her head. “Just got lost in thought for a moment.”

“Well, if Barusu wanted to be a musician, she must have learned a great number of songs.” Ram continued after a sip of her tea.

“Oh, you want me to play you something?” Subaru asked with a bit of excitement beginning to bubble in her.

“Barusu shouldn’t get carried away. It is simply a matter of curiosity, like when one sees a beached fish flopping around on the edge of a lake and wonders what immense stupidity lead it to its current predicament.”

“Got you.” Subaru replied with a knowing nod.

It occurred to her for a moment that perhaps she should play the maid the Two Onis’ Song again. Even with what came after, which Subaru couldn’t understand still, she felt that their talk afterwards had helped them make something of a connection then. Although, revisiting the same conversation would have felt like a sort of lie, if she could even manage it. Nah. For now, she decided to keep to some classics.

“Oh, actually one last thing before I start.” Subaru spoke up, just as she took the lyulyre back into her lap. “If you don’t mind, could I get some extra duties tomorrow morning, and then maybe more in a couple of days? I’d like to take off tomorrow afternoon for some personal time.”

Chapter Text

The lady of the manor, dressed in her usual eccentric clothes stood at the elevated terrace overlooking the gardens before her towering home’s main entrance. Across from her, down the path the curved from behind her, around each side down elegantly built inclines and to the main gate, her pink haired servant was walking back with measured steps, another, dark haired servant slowly but surely disappearing into the distance down the path leading through the forest. It was

As she waited for Ram’s approach, Roswaal took a deep breath of air. Naturally, the garden’s many scents were sweet and befitting of a manor of this standing, but it’s been some time since Roswaal could extract any real sense of joy from such things. Even now that things had begun to come to a head after so long, the simple pleasures of life remained a mere distraction, a formality void of their old luster.

The pink haired servant walked up the incline on Roswaal’s right, and the lady of the manor took one last look towards the road leading away from her estate, where her newest acquisition’s silhouette had already disappeared beyond the treelines.

“Roswaal-sama.” Ram spoke dutifully with a bow. “Is there anything this humble servant may do?”

Sensing that they were completely alone here, Roswaal continued to gaze out over the garden, gate and greenwood.

“What is your opinion on our new seeeeeervant?” she asked melodiously.

“Natsuki Subaru appears to be mostly incompetent fool.” Ram began, bowing her head. “Her skills in housework may pass the requirements of a roadside hospice for failed traders and vagabonds, however her unhinged manners, lack of discipline, unashamed eccentricities and clear inexperience mark her as a blemish on the prestige of Roswaal-sama’s estate.”

Roswaal hummed musically, a frown growing on her face.

“And what of maaaaaatters outside of her performance as a servant?”

“Yesterday, I’d have simply called her an eccentric fool who has no concept of where she is, and no goal in life.” Ram noted, then paused before continuing. “However, today’s events gave me pause.”

“Hooooh?” Roswaal hummed, her frown descending further. “Could you elaaaaaaborate?”

“I had dismissed Natsuki Subaru’s previous eccentricities, though certain oddities had stood out. Her ‘hometown’s strange writing, the coded language she had little to share about. She is certainly out of the ordinary in a number of ways. In spite of this, though she seems to lack any true understanding of her position at this mansion, the privilege and responsibility that she was granted; her temperament is that of someone who feels a deep gratitude for her presence here. I find it difficult to imagine that a spy or assassin with malicious intentions could produce a persona as vulnerable as hers.”

“Have you groooooown to sympathise with Subaruuuu-chan?” Roswaal asked, narrowing her eyes but still not looking at her servant.

“I would end her life without hesitation, on Roswaal-sama’s word.” Ram declared with clarity, lacking even the slightest hint of uncertainty.

Roswaal took a deep breath. How well her dear maid played the role of the loyal servant… ‘Dear’?

“So then, if as you saaaaay, you sense no hostility from her, then what had given you paaaaauuuuuse?” Roswaal asked.

“Yesterday she asked me to remake the schedule, so she has more duties in the morning and then in the coming days, in exchange for having the afternoon to herself.” Ram began. “I had suspected that she’d spend this time resting, likely practicing with the instrument my sister found appropriate to give her. Instead, after lunch she insisted on wanting to leave the mansion, giving no reason other than that she wished to inspect the surrounding woods and visit the nearest village, so she ‘had a better understanding of where she was’. When my sister and I had informed her that we intended to visit said village tomorrow, and my sister suggested that perhaps Natsuki Subaru could accompany her on that day, she agreed, and yet would not let up on her wish to leave the mansion by herself today.”

“You then beliieeeeve that this leave holds maliiiiicous intent?” Roswaal probed. In this matter, for the sake of the future’s security, knowing her servant’s true views was an absolute necessity.

“The act itself appears maliciously motivated in all manner, and yet I could not discern such from her behaviour, or decide on a motive.” Ram continued, her head still bowed. “The insistence on leaving today as opposed to tomorrow, her refusal to simply move the shopping one day forward and be accompanied by my sister today. These clearly suggest that she has some sort of schedule in mind, though she should have had no way to know she was going to be taken here before the incident in the capital, and since there shouldn’t have been any communication possible with any forces outside.” the maid explained, before pausing shortly and adding: “It is possible that the strange metia I’ve so far failed to discern the purpose of is involved, or perhaps a blessing, though the latter seems unlikely given what my sister has sensed of her.”

Roswaal took one more deep breath, then pushed herself away from the low wall overlooking the garden, stepping closer to her servant, finally giving them her full attention.

“Is this your sooooole complaint in regards to her trustworthiiiiness?” Roswaal asked, watching the young girl for the smallest hints of emotions, as Ram raised her head and looked in her mistress’ eyes.

“Yes, Roswaal-sama. While I cannot dismiss the possibility of malicious intent, and intend to keep close watch of continued behaviour, outside of this affair I believe she is, as she so pathetically appears. A fool who wishes to appear otherwise.”

Looking down at the dutiful maid, Roswaal sighed, a small smile coming to her face. Perhaps this is all that could be expected in such time.

“Very weeeeell.” she declared, placing a hand on Ram’s head, who slightly winced in response, though not moving from her spot or daring to protest. “Keep watch on Subaruuuu-chan. I feeeeeel she can be afforded the benefit of the doouuuuubt this once. With her evening activities as an example, I’m ceeeeeertain she’s just a restless young wooooman who wished to stretch her legs.” she said, rubbing Ram’s head gently, the young maid quivering under her touch. “If anything deveeeeelops, bring it to my attention first. If your sister feeeeels the same, it’d be best not to agitaaaaate her into a rash response.”

Chapter Text

‘Should I head straight for the windmill?’ Subaru pondered as she was approaching the outskirts of Irlam and smelled the crisp smoke residue from everyone cooking their lunch and hour or so ago.

It took some convincing to make Ram and Rem let her come to the village by herself, on a walk, since she couldn’t explain her reasoning, but now that she was here, it only left one thing to do, which was intercept Rom one last time and get his help. Though of course, preferably, she’d need a good cover for why she met him, and why she wants his help. One that will convince not only him, but the people at the mansion later.

She had one such excuse up her sleeve, though it wasn’t exactly perfect. In lack of time, it would have to do.

Rom arrived at the windmill at around the same time both days, she had some time until then, and it wouldn’t be until the evening that he’d be found by the kids, if they’ll even go there now that Subaru was about to visit the village early. Since her official story was wanting to go for a walk and see some new faces, it would have been weird if tomorrow she was like a stranger to everyone here. It was best to mingle a bit with the villagers.

 

After heading to the heart of the village Subaru greeted a few people filling jugs at the central well. They were familiar to her, though no one she ever really talked to. She had no great interest in them right now, besides just making enough of an impact that not everyone will treat her as a stranger when she’s here with Rem tomorrow.

When she explained that she’s a new servant working for Roswaal, much like before people became even more open than they were at first sight. As she continued chatting with them, a few others walked up and asked about the stranger, some turning to Subaru in surprise, asking if she came early in the place of the twins’ to buy groceries, which she dismissed stating they’ll come for that tomorrow. Annoyingly, even the villagers raised a brow at her coming out alone, voicing that the forest is home to mabeasts, to which she just knowingly nodded.

At one point, she even spotted Oringo with wife Tara and their son Mild, but as they didn’t come to her, she avoided contact. It was weird enough talking with the people of the mansion, trying not to talk her way around her inexplicable familiarity. Although—

When she saw Mild leave her parents’ side and wave them goodbye, a realization hit her.

“I’m sorry everyone!” she announced to the villagers she was chatting with, as Mild disappeared behind some houses near the edge of the village. “I’ve remembered that I was asked to check the barrier!”

With that, she circled around the small crowd and after Mild, quickly running into, as expected, the rest of the kids playing some simple game tossing rocks at a target near the edge of the woods. Giving a quick glance to the barrier stones, she didn’t see anything wrong with any of them, though she still had no idea how to check for that. Damn it! How could she forget to ask Beatrice for that?

Cursing her stupidity inside, she jogged up the kids. Right now, only Mild, Petra, Cain, Dain and two younger kids Subaru couldn’t remember the names of were playing. The four or five other kids she’d usually see were elsewhere, including that little purple haired girl was hoping to warn, since the poor quiet thing was always closest to the wolgram puppy. She was in the most danger.

“Hey!” Subaru greeted. “Are you kids sure it’s safe playing this close to the edge of the village?” she asked.

The kids exchanged looks, then laughed, beginning to mock Subaru.

“Everyone knows nothing evil can come inside the village!” Dain announced. “Isn’t the lady a bit too old to be scared of witch stories?”

“My dad goes in the forest all the time.” Mild added, a somewhat compassionate smile on his fat little face. “It isn’t really that scary, especially with the stones.”

“Even if some monster came here, I’d defeat it with dad’s sword!” Cain added, thumping his chest, striking a confident, heroic pose, glancing at Petra out of the corner of his eyes.

“Yeah right. As if you could even lift it!” Dain retorted his brother’s comment sneeringly.

“Hooooh? Are you forgetting which one of us he asked to help unpack the steel he bought at the market, while you were told to just help mom cook?!” Cain returned with a superior grin.

“Cooking takes actual skill, and she lets me use a knife!” Dain countered with a grin. “Typical that you’d think simple manual labour makes you a warrior when anyone can do it!”

With narrowed eyes and strained smiles, the two brothers butted their heads together, ready to continue like this for the foreseeable future as Subaru had seen them do during her time living in the village, however they were quickly interrupted by Petra, who stepped up to the two of them and grabbed each by their earlobes.

“I swear you two act like you were four!” she pouted, pulling the two apart by their ears, before stepping between them, letting go of their ears and pushing them aside by the shoulder. “Sorry about those idiots.” she said, bowing her head politely.

‘In any loop, I can count on Petra being the responsible big sister.’ Subaru noted in her mind with a smile.

“Sorry kids, just wanted to make sure.” Subaru nodded, crouching down to be closer to the kids’ eye level. “You never know when the barrier might be damaged. But I’m sure with a polite little leader like you around, they know to keep safe and not play with strange animals, right?” she continued, looking at Petra.

“We know.” Petra nodded, with a bit of a sour smile, putting her hands on her hips. “Though I’m not four either.” she added.

“Right.” Subaru nodded, her eyes widening as she realized she might be patronizing them a little bit too much, quickly straightening herself out. “Yes, yes. I was— I was testing you, and you passed.” she declared, echoing the words of a vague picture of a guitar player in the back of her head. “Pride cometh before the fall, but as you are so clearly not hanging on every word of praise you—” she continued with fast words, trying to salvage what might have remained of her cool, ‘older person’ looks, though it only seemed to inflame the kids’ amusement, as the others proceeded to mock her for this.

With or without their respect, she still enjoyed their company. She wasn’t sure what made it so, but every one of them here in the village were just good kids. Well, some more troublesome than others, but she couldn’t be mad at them if she tried. Especially not Petra. If she got the chance, she hoped she may yet restore what the girl and Emilia have had in another loop.

After a short while playing with the kids, who continued to treat her like an idiot, one of the younger kids even blowing snot at her, before being scolded by Petra for it, eventually Subaur felt that it was about time to head to the Windmill. Rom was likely just about to arrive there, but since Cain and Dain were here, they weren’t going to spook him any time soon.

Leaving the kids behind, Subaru promised to return tomorrow with ‘Rem-rin’ and play them some music. Something she didn’t get a chance for as taking her lyulyre with her wouldn’t have really fit the ‘I just want to go for a walk’ excuse she had for coming here. If everything goes well, she’ll have all the time in the world to spend with them and everyone else!

 

                                           

 

“Knock knock.” Subaru said, tapping on the doorframe of the old windmill as she stepped inside, having heard the giant move about inside.

“Begone!” old man Rom’s voice roared from the other side of the large contraption in the middle of the main room, once used to probably turn wheat into flour or something.

Following the roar, Subaru could see the old man’s  rise above the contraption, having been laying down behind it, before he stepped around, and held up his arms threateningly.

“Hey, hey! You wouldn’t hurt me for no reason, right old man?” Subaru said, not stepping further inside the windmill, just holding up her arms in surrender. “Don’t you remember me? From a couple of days ago?”

Ram gave her a good look over. “Kid?” he asked, his fists going a little but lower but not completely. “What are you doing here?”

“Hey, I’d gladly explain everything, just hold on a minute!” she said, keeping her hands up, though lowering her elbows comfortably by her side before taking a deep breath. “I came this way because I saw someone mess around the edge of the village, and was looking for them. I don’t think it was you though.” she lied.

The old man gave her a discerning look, then raised his fists back up higher.

“I don’t know why you’re lying kid, but you’re not very good at it!” he declared. “Get out of here before I do something you’ll regret.” he grunted.

“W— Wait!” Subaru gasped, cat off guard by being called out. “No I really—”

“Not buying it!” the giant declared, taking a step forward, and slamming a fist into the wall, causing dust to rain down on them that was probably sitting in the building for years.

Stumbling out back through the door, Subaru lost her footing and fell off the stairs outside the windmill’s entrance. Rom was following close behind, towering now even more greatly above her, remaining atop the stairs.

“Who’s with you?!” he asked in a deep, menacing voice, looking down on Subaru who was trying to clamber to her feet in the dirt.

“Wait, Rom, please let me explain!” Subaru gasped. “I’m sorry I lied, I just—”

The old man quickly looked around before interrupting. “Are you trying to buy time?!” he shouted.

Please! Let me explain!” Subaru cried desperately, dropping to her knees, placing her hands and her forehead into the dirt. “I need your help, no one else is here, I’m sorry!

No answer came for a short while, but Subaru didn’t dare raise her head. She didn’t think the old man would actually hurt her, even as an underworld thug, he wasn’t, well, a thug . But if he’d leave her now, then he’d be taking with him her best chance to resolve thing without anyone getting hurt.

“Keep talking. Fast.” Rom finally said commandingly.

“If you’re here, you probably want Felt, right?” Subaru began, not having to try to talk fast, her anxiousness doing the work for her. “She’s in the nearby mansion, she’s safe, but I don’t know for how long.”

What are they doing to her?! ” Rom demanded.

“Nothing! It’s not the people of the mansion who I’m afraid about. I think someone is planning to attack the mansion!” Subaru added, planting her forehead even harder against the dirt.

“How do you know?” Rom asked the worst question.

“I— I can’t say.” Subaru stuttered.

“What do you mean you can’t say?!” Rom demanded, Subaru hearing his heavy steps as he made his way down the stairs.

Subaru’s world went dark. How could she explain? She can’t talk about it, or some arm, possibly belonging to the witch will crush her heart! But if she just says it’s a feeling—

With sudden determination, she raised her torso, and began to unbutton her jacket.

“What are you doing?” Rom asked, having just reached the bottom of the stairs, not far from Subaru.

Not speaking, Subaru finished with her jacket buttons, then opened her jacket, ripping the shirt underneath and sending its buttons flying, before pulling the shirt and jacket down around her left shoulder, revealing the large scar where her arm was put back.

“I’ve lost this arm for Felt, and I’m prepared to lose it again.” Subaru declared with a shaking voice, looking at Rom, her fear of losing this chance choking her mind, but unwilling to surrender now. “I cannot give you a better answer than ‘I feel it’, but I know that the mansion along with Felt and everyone else is in danger, and I know no one will believe me on my word! That is why I lied, and that is why I— I need you to trust me.” she continued, her voice beginning to crack. “I need— I need someone to trust me, or things will go horribly wrong.”

The giant continued to look at the trembling girl in the dirt, her fine shirt torn, the jacket and pants of her luxurious suit muddied. His stern expression remained for a while, but as Subaru’s lips began to quiver, suspecting that she had once more blown a chance to resolve this looming terror, his expression softened, and with lowered fists, he walked to her.

“I was told that you’ve risked your life for her.” he noted, holding out a hand. “You seem to be quite mad, kid. But I can see you believe what you said.”

Taking the giant’s hand, Subaru was quickly pulled to her feet, where she readjusted her shirt and jacket as best as possible with the shirt’s buttons missing.

“You said Felt is indeed at that mansion nearby?” Rom asked. “Is that where you’ve gotten these clothes?”

Subaru breathed heavily, trying to calm her nerves. It still didn’t seem like the giant was going to help.

“Yes. I took a job as a servant there to earn some money.” Subaru answered. She wanted to spin things back around, convince the giant that helping her was the only way— But she suspected, especially in this state, her lies wouldn’t work too well on him. With a long sight, she continued: “Rom, I won’t lie again. You can’t rescue Felt from there, but neither should you try to. She’s safe there, and they’ll only hold her there for a month, after which she plans on resigning from the royal selection for which they captured her. Then she’ll be left alone.” she explained, giving the truth as best as she gathered in her time here. “She wanted to see you. If you go to the front gate of the mansion and explain who you are without threats, they will surely allow you to stay and watch over her until she’s free. These are good people.” she added, her arms growing weak, mixed tears forming in her eyes, both from the futility of her plans thus far, and shame over her past misgivings. “I can take you there if that’s what you want, but—”

Burying her face in her hands, Subaru took another deep, ragged breath, spreading mud on her face from the hands that were in the dirt moments ago. However, she felt the giant’s hand on her shoulder.

“Kid, what has you so spooked?” he asked in a booming, but concerned voice. “Why are you so certain something is going to happen?”

Subaru bit down on her teeth, lowering her hands, and looking straight into the giant’s eyes.

“I can’t say. It’s just a feeling.” she said. “But if no one believes me, then people might die. Maybe people at the manor, maybe in the village, could be the children. I don’t know who it will be, but someone will get hurt if I don’t do something.” she explained, her voice shaking. “I just need one day. Please.” she reached out and grabbed onto one of the giant’s massive arms, looking at him pleadingly. “I need your help.”

Rom took a pitying look on the girl before her, his knowing, experienced eyes examining every feature of her pathetic face.

“Why did you risk your life for Felt?” he asked finally. “You’ve done a lot back in the capital, trying to change where things were going, even before that dark woman showed up. I never understood it.”

Recalling her attempt to explain just that to Felt, Subaru sighed, looking away.

“I tried telling her, I don’t know if she believed me, or just thought I was even crazier.” Subaru mumbled. “I saved her because she showed me what it’s like to live strong.” she said, weakly. “I jumped in the way of that knife, because I didn’t want someone like her to die. Because I couldn’t bear to watch her be hurt.” she continued. “I know that that’s a stupid reason, I know it sounds crazy, but—”

Subaru felt a pressure, as the giant’s hand on her shoulder gripped her tightly and gave her a shake.

“There was a time I might have dismissed those words coming from a human, but those are fine reasons to risk one’s life.” Rom declared. “I saw many fight and die for worse.”

Returning her gaze to the giant, she found a sad, serene look in his face that she didn’t believe she had seen before. It was almost like the giant wasn’t even looking at her. Certainly, she didn’t deserve anyone looking at her like this.

The giant looked around, then let go of Subaru’s shoulder and gestured towards the windmill.

“We might be seen here. Come inside and explain everything calmly.” he suggested, stepping towards the windmill’s entrance, before adding: “And kid, neither lie, or look this miserable when you believe you’re doing the right thing.”

 

                                           

 

Holing up in the windmill, Subaru and Rom spent the next hour talking. She couldn’t tell if the old man was just a really good judge of character, or maybe giants came with some sort of racial trait that could detect intent or lies or whatever, but since her outburst, it seemed he came to believe at least that Subaru thought danger was coming this way.

As she was explaining about the magic stones surrounding the town, Rom noted that he saw some of them while approaching the windmill, but found it very strange that a human village would seek to protect itself this way. Or rather, that they would even put themselves in a position where they need to. Having given up on the girl telling him what her suspicions are based on, Rom sat and listened to her explain that she believed someone was going to try and sabotage the barrier, and that this might be a prelude to an attack on the mansion, since not one but two candidates live there.

Patiently, the giant listened to her plan, her insistence that if something will happen, it will happen by tomorrow, and that she needed his aid. Clarifying that all she wanted to ask of him was to keep an eye out during the night, patrol the edge of town and scare off an intruder, Rom sighed and said that he might be willing to do that much. There was no enthusiasm in this declaration, Subaru very much got the feeling that he only agreed to calm her, still suspecting that this threat is only imaginary.

Turning the direction of the conversation, eventually Rom asked to know more about Felt and the mansion. Subaru explained about the wishes that Roswaal granted them, and how Felt wished to have a job, and how Subaru suspected she was trying to suck up to the other maids, but that would likely not work.

Rom still seemed of the opinion that he’d prefer to break Felt out, were it not for the fact that Subaru mentioned that Roswaal was home. With this fact given to him, the giant conceded that breaking the girl out would be next to impossible, which wasn’t strictly true, given her experience, but Subaru was happy leaving sleeping dogs lie on this one.

Curiosity getting the better of her, Subaru finally asked something that had bothered her in the back of her head since she first learned that Rom was here.

“How did you even know to come here, old man?” she asked.

“I’ve got lucky.” the giant answered. “After the fight, I went out looking for Felt in the city. I’ve asked around, and ran into a couple of young punks that saw you and the half-elf with that Astrea.” the giant explained, a strange, indecipherable tone coming into his voice as he spoke ‘Astrea’.

“The thugtrio ?” Subaru asked, surprised. “I didn’t think they’d remember me.”

“They said something about some ridiculous performance. Didn’t care so I made them just get to the point.” Rom said, waving a large hand. “Anyway, I talked with some people, found out that the Astrea was seen around a manor housing some noble called Karsten, and when I went there, I just caught a carriage leaving the city. A man near there told me that a young blonde girl and someone matching your description that ‘nearly died saving her life’ were being taken to a manor near Irlam.”

“Wow, people have awful security.” Subaru noted in surprise. She didn’t expect the word would get out this easily about Felt’s coming here, when it was supposed to be secret.

“Sometimes people get lucky.” Rom noted with a huff, before scratching his head. “Look kid, I’m not sure about leaving Felt here, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Go back to that manor, try and talk to her about it. She does not belong with these people, and every day she spends here, she’s in danger.” he said, before quickly adding: “Since she’s a candidate... You mentioned you’ll be coming back to the village tomorrow. If nothing happens until then, we’ll meet and talk it out. If that person you’re worried about shows up, I’ll let you know.”

Subaru looked up at the giant, who towered her even more as they were sitting on the floor of the windmill.

“It’s strange that out of everyone I know, it’s the giant old man running an underworld shop that I can count on the most.” she said jokingly.

“Don’t get used to it, kid. I owe you one for saving Felt, but unless I get it on good authority that she absolutely wants to stay here, I’ll find a way to get her out as soon as there’s an opening.” he declared.

“Not what I meant, but I’m glad you’re still the same too.” Subaru said with a smile, the scene for their very first encounter flashing through her mind.

“What are you talking about?” the old man asked confusedly.

“Nothing.” Subaru said, shaking her head but still smiling. “Just another feeling.”

Chapter Text

“No, I don’t have any special requests.” said Emilia, sitting by her desk, a couple of books open before her, that would undoubtedly still be too advanced for Subaru.

As part of her morning duties, now that breakfast was over on this fifth and hopefully not final day, Subaru went to check if any of the manor’s residents had specific requests for lunch

“Is everything alright, Subaru?” Emilia asked.

“Hm? Oh yeah, sure.” Subaru replied, waving her hand, though her mind was elsewhere.

When she returned yesterday, she had made an attempt to talk with Felt about Rom, as he requested it, but found no opportunity to. After dinner, Felt retired to her room with Emilia, however the twins all but ordered Subaru to leave Felt to her studies, and afterwards Rem asked her to let Felt rest. She wondered if this was because Felt asked them to keep them apart.

“Are you still worried about...? You know.” Emilia probed carefully, that familiar, gentle look of concern on her face.

“About what?” Subaru asked in surprise.

Emilia hummed with a frown, shaking her head before putting on an encouraging smile.

“It does not matter. Just make sure you only use those fruits when absolutely necessary, and only to get to safety.” the girl said.

“Oh.” Subaru noted. She hadn’t really thought about those fruits.

While nothing horrible hopefully happened over night, since there weren’t any villagers running to the mansion, it was likely for the best to take those with her. Matter of fact, since no one came to the mansion, that would most likely mean that Rom missed the saboteur, though Subaru held out hope that that wouldn’t be the case. The plan as she shared with Rom was that the old man should scare off the saboteur before they can do anything to the barrier, or if possible, capture them and drag them inside the barrier. Someone who uses mabeasts to fight probably aren’t that tough themselves, is what she thought, therefore if they’re dragged inside the barrier where their pets can’t get to them, they’d be easy to restrain. Only that likely didn’t happen either, since surely a villager would have reported on it by now.

‘I hope the old man is alright.’ Subaru thought to herself. If he had been hurt because of her—

A cold shiver ran through Subaru. If she was only stronger or smarter, she might have been able to do this on her own. But as things were, she had to rely on the old man’s help. The thought that he might—

“Everything will be alright, Subaru.” Emilia said softly, grabbing her hand.

Subaru realized she spaced out again for a moment, and steadied herself.

“Sorry for the bother, Emilia-chan.” Subaru said putting on a forced smile.

“You should stop apologizing so much when you haven’t done anything wrong.” Emilia pouted. “That’s not what apologies are for. Just say ‘thank you’ instead.”

“Right, thanks.” Subaru nodded, her tension easing slightly.

“You’re welcome, Subaru.” Emilia smiled. “And thank you too. I’m not sure what you said to Felt, but she had become more attentive in her studies recently.”

“Huh?” Subaru blinked. “She has?”

“Yes!” Emilia beamed. “She’s still not very talkative, but I feel that when I teach her, she’s actually paying attention.”

Subaru lowered the wooden writing pad she was holding to note down lunch requests, and held a hand up, pointing at herself.

“You think it’s because of something I said?” she asked in disbelief.

“I cannot think of any other explanation. According to Rem, she hadn’t done anything.” Emilia nodded. “I am not sure what it was, but you have done well, Subaru. So please do not worry about silly things like what you said before!”

Unconsciously, Subaru hugged the writing pad close to her chest. It didn’t answer why Felt still didn’t want to talk to her, but if she really helped her become more open, then that was more than enough for now.

“Thank you.” she said, looking at Emilia, her face burning softly.

The half-elf just smiled back at her sweetly.

 

                                           

 

“Why did Subaru-kun decide to bring her instrument?” Rem asked in her neutral voice while looking ahead, as Subaru and her entered into the shadow of the trees hanging over the path leaving the manor- They had just set out to conduct their grocery shopping after lunch.

“I met a couple of the kids in the village yesterday.” Subaru answered, patting the fat body of the lyulyre hanging over her shoulder, the rest strapped to her back. “I promised them I would show them a few songs I know from home.” she explained with a little measure of pride in her voice.

Rem didn’t answer right away, just continuing to look ahead. The maid remained tense around Subaru. She wasn’t sure why, but she felt she should accept this for now. As much as she’d have loved to break the girl’s shell as she had at least once before, she didn’t want to rush or force it. If, or rather, hopefully when Rem warmed up to her, it should be on the maid’s terms. Subaru had already forced far too much of her feelings on her. Hurt her. It would have been wrong to try and find ways to trick her into liking Subaru.

“What did Subaru-kun do yesterday?” Rem spoke up, breaking the short silence, turning head towards Subaru. Her face was as expressionless as ever.

Her body stiffening slightly, Subaru closed her eyes to collect her thoughts, before looking at Rem with the best fake smile she could muster.

“I’ve stretched my legs, and got to talking with some of the villagers. I’ve also—” Subaru paused. She was no longer certain if it was best to mention this, though it was a bit too late to change her plans now. “I’ve also met someone interesting.”

“Interesting?” Rem repeated, a look of surprise appearing on her face.

“Well, I plan on talking with them more today. I might get to introduce you later.” Subaru nodded with a bit of uncertainty shaking in her voice.

Rem’s eye seemed to examine Subaru’s features for a moment, then she turned her head back forward.

“Actually,” Subaru continued. “I was also hoping to introduce you to the kids, if everything goes well.” she added.

“Why would Subaru-kun plan on something like that?” Rem asked, not looking over.

“Well, firstly, I get the feeling no one at the mansion really ‘gets out’ much.” Subaru began, gesturing at nothing as the maid wasn’t looking. “Secondly, and why it’s the kids specifically, is I wanted to see how they’d be with someone from the mansion. The adults don’t seem to like Emilia-chan very much, but I get the feeling that at least the kids might be able to put that behind them. I think it would be great for her if she had some more people to talk to. They’re a good bunch of kids.”

Subaru held out a hand, and started counting down on her fingers as she continued.

“There’s Mild, fat little boy. Growing up, the ones I met were usually weirdos or bullies, but he seems like a very gentle boy. He wanted his dad to take him into the forest so he could pick flowers for his mom.” she giggled. “Cain and Dain are your typical competitive brothers. I think their dad is the village smith, but they seem less concerned about which of them will get to carry on the family legacy, and more about which of them can capture Petra’s heart. And Petra…” Subaru’s fake smile eased into a real one, thinking back those few precious moments they spent together in neverwere days. “Well, honestly, I mostly just want her to meet Emilia. She’s such a sweet girl. Always looking after the other kids, and surprisingly mature for her age too! I’m certain that if anyone, she could make Emilia-chan forget about her troubles.”

Rem’s steps slowed slightly, and as Subaru walked past her, she looked back to see the maid clutch the empty paper bags close to herself.

“Is that why Subaru-kun suggested that Emilia-sama teach Felt-sama?” she asked, looking down.

“Sort of.” Subaru noted, uncertainly, confused by the maid’s strange reaction. Did— Did she say too much? “I was just hoping to— She seems like the kind of lonely, where one pretends they’re not.” Subaru said. “Why else would she be so eager to speak to me?”

A small huff escaped the blue maid’s lips as they transformed into a subtle smile briefly, before Rem raised her head back up, returning to her usual expression.

“Subaru-kun worries too much.” the maid declared, hurrying her steps and catching up with her junior, continuing only once she was ahead of them enough for her face to be invisible. “Although it is commendable, that she takes her responsibility to Emilia-sama so seriously, in an inappropriate way.”

Unsure what just happened, only sensing a vague hint that she might have done something right, Subaru jogged to catch up with the maid again, a hopeful smile growing further on her face.

 

                                           

 

Reaching the village, Subaru found it undisturbed. This was both a relief and somewhat of a disappointment. The last thing she would have wanted was for anyone to get hurt, but since there was no measure of commotion to be noticed, it meant that the intruder was definitely not caught.

Since Rom was specifically instructed not to wander far from the village, Subaru was confident this meant the giant wasn’t hurt. If there was a fight, the villagers would have noticed, and Rom could have escaped inside the barrier. Given that no one appeared on alert, neither was there a fight, nor did Rom capture the saboteur, which meant the only possibilities were that he missed the saboteur, or that there was never a saboteur to begin with, and the dog’s missing horn was  just a coincidence. It was still possible that one of the magic stones just failed over time, and a puppy wandered in by chance each time. Some things didn’t change between loops, maybe this was one of them.

Regardless, the next step would be to alert the village or mansion of the barrier’s damage, so they can fix it. But for that, she’d need to know where the failure was, which would—

Damn it! ’ Subaru thought to herself wincing. She was so distracted with not getting to talk with Felt, and then the sweet things Emilia said to her, she had yet again forgotten to ask how to check from Beatrice.

It didn’t matter, people in the village would have to know, since they checked occasionally, she’ll just need to ask them to check again. More importantly, every loop, the wolgram puppy would end up playing with the kids. She didn’t remember any of them getting bitten, but she couldn’t just let it stay inside the barrier. She’ll need to deal with it too, which meant keeping an eye on the kids. One of them will probably find it and bring it to the rest again, like before. Only, then she needs to convince Re—

“Now that we are here, Rem will take care of the shopping. Subaru-kun can go play her music for the children.” Rem announced, breaking Subaru’s line of thoughts.

“You’re fantastic sometimes, you know that, Rem-rin?” Subaru said with a grin, relieved she won’t need to talk her way out of working.

Rem didn’t respond, just gave Subaru a small smile before walking off towards Oringo’s house, leaving Subaru to look for the kids.

Subaru couldn’t see any of the kids near the main village square, and she wasn’t sure where they would be. Aside from one of them finding the dog, the kids’ fifth day always looked kind of chaotic and unpredictable, which was of course to be expected from kids. This left her in an uncomfortable position where she’d need to rush off and find them—

If you play it, they will come. ’ a voice said in the back of her head.

Or perhaps she could just make them come to her. This isn’t a very big village. All she needs is a song.

Walking to the vacant well in the middle of the square, Subaru pulled the lyulyre over her shoulder, and began strumming randomly, her grip on the strings somehow still imperfect after essentially a month of on and off practice. She was beginning to suspect that her muscle memory probably went with everything else when she reset worlds, but this was not the time to be fantastic, or to show off, just play something that might catch people’s attention and bring the kids to her.

‘But what am I supposed to play? I still don’t know any real local songs.’ she pondered.

She had looked a little bit into songs that in the past she was recommended, but not having had a chance to study from local sheet music, she had no idea on the melodies or anything else. On top of everything else she had to worry about today, trying to figure out what she should play was just a bit too much pressure—

Pressure, pushing down on me. ’ she quoted inside, while her fingers sliding over the neck of the lyulyre, she took on an approximate of a familiar hold and began strumming a favourite tune.

 

                                           

 

“What was that one called?” asked Petra as Subaru wrapped up a song, sitting against the well with a couple of people around.

Stairway to Heaven .” Subaru answered with an awkward blush. “Though the people who wrote it probably wouldn’t like me passing it off as such. It was actually just the start bit of it, and I messed it up pretty bad in a few places.” she added.

As she hoped, playing music got people’s attention just like the first time around, and it didn’t take long before some of the kids showed up to check out her music. Sure, they laughed at her when she obviously messed up a few of the songs she played, even going so far as stopping and retrying the same melody over and over until she got it right which amused them to no end, but it still made her feel good. It was so much like the first time, it gave her hope everything else she lost could be reclaimed too.

“Fun fact about that song!” she said, holding up a finger. “In A — In part of my hometown, that song got so popular, and so many people played it constantly, that it became rude to play it in stores selling instruments, because everyone was sick of hearing it!”

“Where you used to live, there were stores that sold nothing but instruments?” Cain asked with a look of disbelief.

“Right, you probably don’t have those here.” Subaru murmured. “Well, let’s just say my hometown was very, very much into music.” she said, continuing to weave the ever growing lie of her origins, before snapping her fingers. “In fact, that’s why we had a bunch of very unique instruments.” she said with a nod. She couldn’t believe she didn’t think of that sooner. Stating that her hometown had a thing for music would let her get away with everything from all the weird songs she knows to her preferences for instruments that don’t exist there! No one could even really say she was weird! It wasn’t her, just her culture, yeah!

“Do you know any songs with a— well, a song?” Dain asked.

“You mean lyrics?” Subaru asked.

“What’s lyrics?” Dain returned.

“He means lyrics.” Petra noted with a tired expression.

“Right.” Subaru nodded, raising her head to the sky and closing her eyes, tapping the fat round body of the lyulyre, trying to think what would be the best. She had avoided singing the lyrics to the english songs she played just now, since she didn’t want to spin the same yarn about english being a magic language all over again, especially since the kids were already interested thanks to the meeting yesterday.

However, most Japanese songs she knew made references to the modern world, culture or history. Things that would be difficult to explain, which was part of why she stuck to English songs when she sang in the past, since she didn’t need to explain anything more about those lyrics than that they’re in another language. With Japanese songs, she’d have had to keep up with Emilia or Ram, or whoever’s questions about all the little cultural references, which even contradicted each other since they came from all over the country, and some even sang about other nations. Saying her hometown was into music was one thing. Saying that it somehow had all the cultural quirks of the entirety of Japan rolled up into one and then some, would have been really pushing the suspension of disbelief on it.

Subaru’s eyes suddenly snapped open, and she looked back down on the kids.

“Hey, if you promise not to laugh at me too much, I could sing you a song I wrote.” she suggested.

“You wrote a song?” Petra asked, surprised.

“Well, actually I wrote a couple, not very good ones, usually just borrowing melodies and writing lyrics to them.” Subaru admitted. “But there was one I thought I could play before. It’s based on an old fable about two onis of whom one wanted to befriend humans who were scared of her, and whose friend helped her out.”

The idea seemed to catch the kids’ attention. From the way they looked at her, Subaru didn’t get the feeling that they were expecting much, but they were clearly curious to hear what she had to sing. Looking out through the crowd, she scanned her side of the well for sight of any other kids playing with the dog, but she didn’t see them. Rom also didn’t show up yet, though that was to be expected. They were supposed to meet again at the windmill, she just couldn’t go until she made sure the dog couldn’t hurt the kids. At least while she was playing for them, they couldn’t be off getting bit.

“Alright, here we go.” she said, beginning to play the sad melody. “ Alone! Tired of being alone... ” she began.

 

“...Goodbye, Blue Eyes.” she finished the song, playing the last couple of melancholic notes.

The children didn’t say anything right away, the only big reaction being an especially young girl, probably around five, who clapped for her. Reaching out, Subaru patted her head with a smile.

“I’m not sure how much of the story you would get this way, without knowing the fable.” Subaru began. “But I hope you liked it.”

Cain who was sitting cross legged, his hands on his ankles, suddenly leant forward. “The melody was very nice, Subaru-chan!” he declared.

His brother gave him an odd look, but Subaru’s thoughts were occupied with trying to remember if she even wrote the melody for this one, or if she borrowed from something. She couldn’t remember sometimes which of her songs were borrowed and which were hers when it came to the old ones.

“It’s a bit funny how there is a red and blue oni in that story.” Petra noted ponderously, her eyes wandering somewhere above Subaru and the well. “It reminded me of—”

“Subaru-kun.” came softly spoken from the otherside of the well.

Slightly startled, Subaru reached and grabbed the well, climbing to her feet, turning to the source of the voice, putting her lyulyre down by the well.

“Rem!” she greeted. “Didn’t hear you come here.”

The blue haired maid’s eye and head were cast downwards, tightly holding her filled paper bags.

“Rem?” Subaru probed, the maid was oddly quiet. “Did something happen? Did you not get to buy something, or?” she tried. There were no problems shopping before, Rem’s behaviour was very odd.

“Subaru-kun, we should return to the manor.” Rem said simply, not lifting her head, her face concealed by the curtain of her hair.

“I don’t know what happened, but could we please stay a little while longer?” Subaru asked. She still hasn’t seen the dog, nor did she have a chance to meet up with Rom. “I’ve kind of had a thing going on he—”

Subaru-kun. ” Rem repeated with a raised voice, that Subaru couldn’t explain. What could have ha—

Just then, she heard a sad, high pitched whine from behind, as if in response to Rem’s inexplicable outburst, but it didn’t sound like a child.

Turning around, Subaru spotted the sad, quiet little purple haired girl, and once more in her hands was the small dog. Of course it would be the loner that the damn thing targets first.

“Go on ahead Rem, I’ll catch up shortly.” Subaru said abscently over her shoulder, her eyes not leaving the damnable fuzzball.

Rem protested, but Subaru had better things to worry about, and she walked over to the little girl.

“Hey, where did you find that little thing.” Subaru asked softly, crouching down in front of the girl.

The purple haired girl didn’t say anything, just looked up at Subaru with her big green eyes, and then holding the puppy in one arm, pointed the other to the side of the village.

“This little guy escaped from the forest, did he?” Subaru said, trying to keep to her forced sweet tone, but the buried rage of what this thing had done to her began to bubble forth.

To fix the problem, she needed proof that the village was in trouble. If Rom couldn’t get that for her, then it was time for drastic measures.

“How are you, bud ?” Subaru asked, gritting her teeth, putting her right hand on the dog’s head and giving it a somewhat more than polite pat. As expected, the dog began to growl at her, but she didn’t stop. “What’s the matter, don’t like being petted, girl ?” she continued petting it, the purple haired girl giving her a confused look as she went on.

Finally fed up, the dog joinked its head forward and bit its sharp teeth into Subaru’s hand between her thumb and index fingers. With a pained grin, Subaru sprung the trap, grabbing the side of its heads with those fingers, pulling it out of the girl’s grasp.

“Bitey, are we, mutt ?” Subaru spoke with a maddened look on her face, holding the dog up high, barely holding back her desire to scream as it continued digging its teeth into her hand.

“Hey, what are you doing?!” Dain spoke up, and the rest of the kids also pooled around Subaru’s legs.

“Sorry kids, but this thing came out of the woods, there’s no telling what diseases it carries.” she hissed, not taking her eyes off the dog in her right hand, using the left to push the kids out of her way as she quickly began to march where the purple haired girl pointed, near the edge of the village. From experience she knew, this was one of the places where the magic stones were closest to the houses, the woods only cordoned off by the magic stones and some white fence.

“Let go of her! It’s just a puppy, she didn’t mean to hurt you!” Petra cried out commandingly.

“Yeah, yeah.” Subaru answered without pity, scenes of her previous deaths playing before her eyes.

The pup should have counted itself lucky that Subaru knew its curse won’t activate until the evening, or the first thing she would have done was curb stomp it. It wasn’t going to take her life, or anyone else’s life again!

“Subaru-kun! What is the meaning of this?” she heard Rem call, but Subaru didn’t answer, the maid’s voice, and the sound of the paper bags just recalling that horrible night on the cliff, with the leaves rustling in the breeze nearby.

Reaching the white fence, Subaru felt a couple of small hands grab onto her pants and the bottom of her dress jacket, but she just pulled herself free, before holding the dog out before herself, grabbing its neck with her other hand and pulling it free.

Hissing in pain as its sharp canines tore further into her hand on their way out, Subaru tossed the blasted mutt over the fence and screamed at it to run.

“Why were you so mean to it?!” Petra demanded, Subaru noticing the angry looks of all the kids around her. The little girl who clapped at her music earlier was weeping.

“That thing could have been dangerous! I thought I told you to be careful with strange animals yesterday!” Subaru responded angrily, the swirling memories and pain in her right arm clouding her mind.

“It was just a pup!” Cain protested.

“Yeah! What kind of person treats a little dog like that?!” Dain echoed his brother.

Subaru shook her head, looking back towards the woods, where the dog was quickly disappearing into the distance. However, just near where the dog was kicking dust—

“Rem! Look there!” Subaru declared, pointing at the tree line. “Isn’t that stone supposed to be glowing?” she asked, shaking her other, aching hand. Her bubbling rage gave her a strange, overwhelming sense of clarity.

“The barrier is down!” Rem noted in a shaken voice. Something was mixed with her tone of surprise, but Subaru couldn’t identify it.

Scanning the woods for other mabeasts, Subaru’s eyes crossed over a familiar looking dark figure in the distance.

‘Rom!’ she noted inside silently.

“If the barrier is down, can they get through anywhere, or only here?” Subaru asked demandingly, not taking her eyes off the woods.

“Only here.” Rem answered, her voice dark and trembling.

‘Rom must have seen that the stone was down, and stuck around to keep the village safe.’ she concluded. ‘Probably didn’t notice the little guy slip past.’

“Alright, then go back to the mansion.” Subaru began commandingly. “Then, send Beatrice here. That might have been a wolgram pup, she should be able to do something about this.” Subaru declared, holding up her hand. “I’ll stay here and make sure nothing else gets through here.” she finished. This should give her a chance to talk to Rom.

“No.” Rem answered coldly.

“What?!” Subaru asked, turning around, her nerves firing off in her mind. “Don’t you understand what this means?! Unless you can fix the barrier right now—”

“Subaru-kun needs to return to the mansion right away.” Rem declared, giving Subaru a dark, serious look.

The pain tingling in her hand, Subaru bit down on her teeth and looked in the maid’s eye. Why won’t she— Maybe she thinks the curse should be handled right away?

“Fine! Then I’ll go back to the mansion, just please stay here and—” she started with annoyance, but was quickly interrupted by Rem.

“No. Rem will take Subaru-kun back to the mansion right away, then Roswaal-sama will decide what is to be done.” Rem said.

“I don’t know what got into you Rem, but this is a little bit more—”

Now! ” Rem repeated.

‘What is wrong with her? She was fine less than an hour ago!’ Subaru thought. ‘There’s not time for this, but she clearly won’t see reason.’

“Fine.” Subaru conceded, glancing towards the part of the woods where she saw Rom for a moment. “ But I hope someone sticks around here and makes sure nothing bad happens to these kids. ” she added loud enough that Rom could hopefully hear it.

“Just come!” Rem hissed.

Giving one last look down at the kids, Subaru scanned the purple haired girl for any sign of a bite, but she couldn’t see anything.

“If anyone got bit, tell them to go to the well and wait!” Subaru ordered, looking at Petra, but even she was looking at her like she was a criminal.

‘Who cares.’ Subaru fumed inside, anger throbbing in her chest. She wished she could have snapped that little bastard’s neck, but she had to avoid it in front of the kids.

She just continued to grit her teeth as she hurried off with Rem, hoping the entire pack of wolgram gets wiped out once the danger is made clear.

Chapter Text

Boom!

Subaru instinctively pulled her head down at the loud clapping sound coming from ahead and above as they were approaching the manor’s gate. It didn’t sound exactly like an explosion, but Subaru couldn’t quite place what it was like, until she looked up and saw the remnants of a white, misty circle dissipate quickly overhead against the orange sky.

‘A sonic boom? In this world?!’

“Roswaal-sama…” Rem muttered next to Subaru with an at first concerned then soon angry expression, gazing at the sky.

“Wait, you mean to tell me that was—?” Subaru began.

“Roswaal-sama has left the mansion.” Rem said gritting her teeth. “We need to see Nee-sama immediately!”

“Can’t we just talk about how she went and fl—”

Now. ” Rem declared commandingly, picking up the pace.

Seeing as that the maid was clearly not willing to talk about whatever was so wrong openly, Subaru just followed her instructions and ran towards the gate, where Ram was already waiting, expecting Rem and Subaru’s return.

“Nee-sama!” Rem exclaimed, as the gate slid open, rushing to her sister’s side.

“What happened to Barusu’s hand?” Ram asked with narrow eyes.

“The barrier of the village is down. A dog bit me, I think it was a wolgram.” Subaru answered.

“The ba—?” Ram started, but Subaru interrupted her.

“Kids were playing with that dog! I’m going to get Beatrice and tell her to go to the village and cure any curses, as well as this.” she said, holding up her hand, before rushing off towards the mansion.

“Suba—” Rem called after her angrily, but Ram caught her arm.

“Rem, wait, what happened…?” Ram asked of her sister, but Subaru couldn’t hear the rest, already rushing to the mansion. With the way Beatrice’s room would change places, there was no time to lose, she had to find it as soon as possible and return to the village to make sure no more mabeasts enter it!

Running up the inclined road to the main gates and through them, Subaru began to hear faint yells from behind in Rem’s voice. Has she really still not realized what’s going on? People’s lives are at risk!

Following her hunch, Subaru ran up one flight of stairs, and turned down the first corridor.

“Subaru!” came faintly from behind, with the sound of shoes clopping on the wood of the entrance hall one floor below.

“Just get ready and go to the village!” Subaru shouted, reaching a door.

‘Why did Roswaal have to leave right now?!’ she fumed inside. ‘She better have headed for the village to help it. She never left before, what could have changed?!’

Subaru! ” came commandingly from the top of the stairs as Subaru opened a door and stepped inside, another call briefly sounding out before being stricken silent as the door shut behind Subaru.

“Why is the girl in such a rush, I wonder?” Beatrice spoke, casually reading in her armchair as usual.

“Beako, I don’t have time to get into details.” Subaru began frantically. “The village’s barrier is done, and I’m pretty sure at least one wolgram got inside it.”

“This is quite absurd, I suppose.” Beatrice stated without any sense of urgency, looking up. “I don’t know what nightmares she—” Beatrice continued, but then her eyes locked onto Subaru’s hand covered in blood.

“You said you can detect and remove curses.” Subaru declared, marching to the girl, and holding out her hand. “You can confirm for yourself. This is a wolgram bite, isn’t it?”

Beatrice furrowed her brows and sniffed in the air, before holding up a hand, to which Subaru noticed that a faint trail of black smoke began emanating from her wounded hand.

“How is it that the girl managed to encounter a wolgra—” Beatrice began in her measured tone.

“Beatrice!” Subaru interrupted frustratedly, dark scenes playing in her mind, both past, and terrible futures alike. “We don’t have time for this! The thing that bit me was playing with the village children! If there’s more of them, they can get through the hole in the barrier, and it needs to be patched! I need you to come with me and help!”

The spirit’s eyes widened, as she looked up at Subaru, as if she was searching for something.

“Beatrice! We don’t have time to waste! Please just remove the curse and get going!”

The spirit looked down and shook her head slightly.

“Betty needs to talk with the staff of the mansion, this could be—”

Damn it already! ” Subaru hissed, leaning forward and putting her arms on the armrests of the chair Beatrice was sitting on, caging the girl between her seat and Subaru. “Any minute we waste here, people could be getting hurt or worse!”

Subaru wasn’t mad at Beatrice. Not really. All the horrible images in her mind, swarm of dark wolves with horns pouring into the village, the children and adults alike torn apart, some Granhiert-like beastmaster emerging from the woods to mockingly behold their work— These weren’t images born of Beatrice’s inaction, or even Rem’s doubt. Every wasted moment, even a person potentially hurt was on her . Subaru had lost her temper, she couldn’t think straight, maybe she could have done something different, she could have found a better way to prevent the damage to the barrier, and she didn’t. She wasted time writing down lyrics and playing her stupid instrument to ‘relax’, where there was no time to, like when she’d refuse to just sit down and study for exams back home.

No one else around her knew what was coming, so the only responsibility for whatever may happen lied with her!

“And why should Betty follow the orders of some newly hired maid, I wonder?” Beatrice asked, her brows furrowed again.

Her head feeling woozy, Subaru looked into the spirit’s butterfly eyes for a moment before groaning and pushing herself off the armchair.

“Fine. Talk with the twins! Roswaal just left, you three can keep wasting time, but I’m going back.” she fumed, turning around.

Wait. ” Beatrice commanded, and Subaru heard the large tome close shut in the girl’s lap, and her light feet touching the ground. “The girl is truly foolish, I suppose. She was about to leave with a curse that may activate in the next few hours, in fact.” she declared, harshly grabbing Subaru’s hand, then clasping at the black mist emanating from it, which quickly dissipated.

Her mind began calming slightly, as the spirit’s free hand began emanating a familiar light, the pain fading from Subaru’s hand.

“Thanks.” Subaru said simply, her mind still racing.

“The girl assumes kindness or favour was given, when there was none, in fact.” the spirit huffed. “Betty simply doesn’t want to put up with anyone complaining when she dies that it was Betty’s fault.”

“Right.” Subaru said, smiling weakly. “Please hurry with the talk, and get to the village as soon as you can.” she added, patting the girl’s head to which Beatrice just huffed angrily.

Hurrying back to the door, to her surprise as she opened it, instead of a hallway, it opened to the gardens. Stepping outside, she could see that the library’s door had connected to the tool shed besides the stables near the main gate.

Taking a deep breath, praying that her suspicions of a mabeast trainer were wrong, and returning to the village she won’t find a horde of dogs overtaking it, she looked back briefly at the flustered guardian of the library and held up a fist, thumb standing tall. Gritting her teeth, summoning every bit of confidence she had to piece together a facsimile of bravery, she nodded at the spirit.

“I trust you won’t let them down.” Subaru declared, closing the door and rushing towards the gate that the now absent twins have left open.

 

                                           

 

Running as best she could back up the road, Subaru began feeling the rush both ways between the mansion and the not near enough village take its toll on her stamina. If she paced herself, then surely this amount of running wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but this wasn’t a leisurely exercise. She wasn’t jogging to maintain a waistline, or to convince herself that she’s totally got things more together than the other shut-ins that waste away in their room. No, she had to get back and make sure everyone was safe.

Subaru was hoping, praying that she’s overreacting. She only ever saw the one puppy. It could still have all been chance, it could have been that there was no attack. If there was no attack, she had no idea how she'd explain to everyone her overreaction. In fact, in general she had no idea how she'd explain anything. None of it would matter though, if her hesitation causes even one person to die.

Looking to the sky between the trees, Subaru bit down on her teeth. The sun had already gone down. There should have been some more time until the curse activates. With their strange strength and Beatrice’s magic, hopefully the twins and the spirit can make it to the village in time to save anyone else that might have been bit.

‘Why did Rem act like that?’ Subaru’s mind raced. ‘She wasn’t always like this. The first two loops she was warmer, especially the second. She trusted me, and she even seemed to trust me when we got to the village, so what happened?’

Thoughts swirling in her mind, Subaru thought of how Rom could tell she was lying. Did Subaru give off some bad vibes that the maid picked up on? Was it the cruelty to the dog? Or is she simply ordered to return to the mansion if the village is under attack? No. She couldn’t imagine that Rem would leave the village defenseless when there is an assassin on the prowl. Maybe she knew something Subaru didn’t? But what? The only thing she could think of was that since Rem wasn’t always like this, whatever happened, must have been Subaru’s fault. She could have prevented it. She could have done something different, and she didn’t—!

Up ahead in the distance, she spotted the edge of the village, and heard the distant sound of shouting. In the village square visible from far away down the road, people were gathered up with torches. Subaru’s heart skipped a beat, fearing that they may have been attacked and were engaged in battle, however instead, most everyone appeared to be standing in a single circle.

Hey! What’s going on?! ” Subaru shouted as clearly as her short breath arrived, stumbling the last few dozen steps as she reached the outer houses.

As heads turned towards her, and a few people stepped to the side giving her a better look at the center, Subaru’s chest clamped down painfully at the sight before her.

What are you doing?! ” she yelled loudly, without control.

In the circle of the men, Rom bound by ropes, some tied around the well, the rest continuously pulled back by roughly twenty people, mostly men but even women. She didn’t see any big, obvious wounds on him, but the sign of the giant restrained like this—

“Subaru?!” one of the villagers shouted in surprise. “Has Roswaal-sama heard?”

Running past the man, Subaru pushed herself through the crowd of people to get to the giant, some jumping back to get out of her way, others making an attempt to grab her, warning her of the danger the giant posed. Rom’s eyes followed Subaru, but she couldn’t figure out his expression.

Finally reaching him, Subaru grabbed onto the first tight rope around the giant’s arms, thinking not of the crowd or anything else here, just freeing him and examining for injuries. At first glance, it didn’t seem like the giant was hurt, but she saw two men with swords nearby holding them at Rom threateningly, one she was fairly certain was Cain and Dain’s father. The ropes around the giant bound both his arms, his neck, and they even tied a rope into his mouth, so he was unable to speak.

“What are you doing you stupid girl?!” one of the men shouted, grabbing Subaru’s arm and pulling her back.

Let me go! ” Subaru fumed, trying to free her arm, but finding the man’s grip difficult to escape. “And let him go too! What the hell are you thinking?!”

Was their baseless hatred of Emilia not enough?!

“What are you thinking?!” shouted Cain and Dain’s father, still pointing his sharp looking sword squarely at Rom’s chest from only a few steps away, as Subaru was grabbed by a second man and pulled further from Rom. “Our kids have gone missing, and you’d want us to free this giant skulking about?!”

“Is Roswaal-sama on her way?!” someone shouted.

“Roswaal-sama could find—”

Roswaal is gone! ” Subaru shouted. “She left the mansion earlier, I don’t know where!” she said, wrangling her body, trying to get free of the clutches of the men around her. “And Rom had nothing to do with your kids! He was here to protect you!” she continued. “Let him go!”

Multiple people spoke up in shock, disbelief and even anger.

“He was raving about the kids when we found him!” someone shouted.

“He’s a giant !” someone else added.

“And you’re idiots !” Subaru retaliated, the sleeve of her suit beginning to tear as she was fighting to free herself. “I asked him to protect the village, maybe if you’d ungag him, he’d explain it to you!”

People began chattering again, struck to silence when the old rickety voice of the chief spoke up somewhere nearby.

“Quiet down! Quiet down!” she called, and the ones not holding ropes parted ways to make way for the old lady who slowly was shuffling towards the well from the distance. “What on earth is going on here.” she asked, her voice sounding groggy. Likely the old woman was shaken from her dream by one of the villagers accompanying her.

The other villager holding a sword turned his head to the chief and quickly explained that the kids are gone, and the giant was found skulking about, raving about them.

“Rom was here to protect the village!” Subaru shouted at the chief. “Just ungag him already!” she commanded, then felt the grip on her left arm tighten as a desperate voice cried over her shoulder.

That thing took my boy!

Looking there, Subaru saw a familiar face she couldn’t pin a name to, though she remembered seeing one of the young, five or six year old boys with him before. In the man’s eyes while there was no small measure of hate, her shaking features betrayed an overwhelming sense of fear and grief lying underneath it. Subaru’s eyes darting to other people nearby, she noticed similar expressions on most everyone here. In her haste to free Rom, she had completely missed—

“Calm! Calm!” the chief, Milde called, holding up a hand. “Has anyone actually seen this giant with the children?”

A quiet murmur filled the air for a brief time.

“No one?” Milde asked, hushing people to the side with one hand as she approached the well. “Then do as the young woman asks, and ungag him.”

The two swordsmen exchanged a look, and finally Cain and Dain’s father stepped forward, loosening the knot behind Rom’s head, and freeing the thick rope in his mouth.

The giant coughed a moment, spitting bits of ropes on the ground, before giving Subaru a stern look, then turning to chief Milde.

“I saw the kids talking about going into the forest to rescue a dog.” he said. His voice and expression was tired and annoyed. There was a small measure of hatred burning in it, but far less than anything Subaru would have expected. “When they headed in, they’d have just ran away from me, so I came to warn you.”

“I chased the dog into the forest!” Subaru added quickly, looking to the chief. “It was a wolgram, I just came back from having its curse removed!”

“You expect us to believe—” someone interjected, pointing to Rom, but the giant interrupted them.

“Even you should understand how precious children are to my kind, humans.” Rom said, his voice strained from the ropes still pulling against his chest.

“I saw the girl carry out a dog!” a woman spoke up. “If it was a wolgram—”

“There’s a hole in the barrier!” Subaru shouted again. “Has no one noticed?! It’s right by those houses!” she added, pointing as best she could with her arms restrained.

“Let the girl go already!” chief Milde ordered, to which the arms holding Subaru back let go almost immediately. “As for the giant… He hasn’t been fighting back against the ropes. He isn’t some mad man, get the ropes off him.”

The villagers looked to their chief in shock, but after a moment of silence the ones holding down the ropes loosened their grips and stepped closer to Rom, carefully pulling the ropes free of him. Carefully in not getting too close.

As the ropes around his neck and chest loosened, Rom grunted and slowly rose back on his feet, giving a long cold look to the men and women around him, before his eyes rested on Subaru.

“I know a little bit about tracking,” he said finally. “I’ll help you find those children.”

Subaru took a heavy involuntary breath. To think these would be the giant’s first words—

No, she hadn’t even the time to think about that. She can thank him later. Now she needed to take a deep breath and calm her thoughts. The kids’ lives could depend on it.

“Alright, Rom.” she said, rubbing her arms, still aching where she was held down. “And anyone who thinks they can fight.” she added, pointing a finger around. “I saw the vague direction the dog went. The kids probably are that way too.”

“Do as she said.” chief Milde commanded, a stern, anxious expression on her face. “Enough time had been wasted!”

The villagers exchanged looks then a few of them began issuing commands to fetch more weapons and torches, the two with swords, walking ahead to where Subaru previously indicated.

Subaru, still catching her breath from the run earlier, tried steading her body and thoughts, as she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder.

“You were right. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop them.” Rom said as quietly as his stature allowed.

“It’s not your fault.” Subaru said, patting the giant’s hand, and beginning to walk towards the edge of the forest, shaking the cramps out of her legs between steps. He had done everything Subaru asked of him and more. She had to set this right.

Chapter Text

“Those are hoof marks from a lame animal! The marks are too short and narrow to be a child’s feet!” Rom boomed authoritatively as one of the men with them suggested they change route. “Ground is too hard here for the kids to have left marks, just follow where the previous tracks were going!”

As Subaru, Rom and four of the men from the village, two with swords, two with spears marched into the woods it quickly became evident that the kids wandered far deeper than expected. The men didn’t understand why they’d do it, but Subaru had a pretty good idea that mutt lured them deeper, likely keeping just close enough so they’d see it. That damn bastard of a dog knew to play cute for kids in spite of being a mabeast, an evil creation of the witch. If not it, then its master, if any lured them deeper. No other way Petra would have allowed this!

“Are you sure about your tracking, giant?” asked Altan, father of Cain and Dain. “You don’t look like a hunter. Where did you—?”

“The war.” Rom said coldly without looking back, just continuing to march hurriedly in the direction their last tracks led, scanning ahead with his eyes.

This comment seemed to shut the men up, and one of them even let out a shaky sigh. Naturally, Subaru had no idea what this war was, but she had suspected that it wasn’t one that made giants look good, given the villagers’ reaction.

“Kid, can you keep up? You seem out of breath.” Rom asked, briefly glancing at her.

“It’s nothing, just a little winded.” Subaru brushed it off.

Her body was tense with rage, rage against the dog, rage against herself for not having a better plan, even some against the villagers who tied Rom up instead of hearing him out, though with what she saw on their faces before, the terror of thinking their children were lost to them— Subaru was conflicted on hating them. She probably messed things up a lot earlier today, losing her own temper over the dog, though of course the big difference was that the dog was a mabeast, not a gentle giant who raised and protected a street urchin out of the goodness of his heart.

“Here!” Rom exclaimed, pointing to a young tree with broken branches. “These are fresh, and…” He stepped to the tree, and lowered his head. “Footprints!” he declared in his booming voice, pointing forth. “They went towards that clearing!”

Everyone hastening their steps, they rushed forward. Earlier, the men were shouting the names of the kids, but Rom had told them to stop that, as they are more likely to draw in mabeasts than their children that way.

Pushing through what was left of the woods, her fine clothes tearing on the bushes, Subaru stepped into the clearing with Rom and the four other men close behind, a grim moon squinting down onto them, casting its cool light onto the softly rolling knolls ahead, footprints riding up them in the grass.

Just as Subaru reached the bottom of the knoll, she heard a soft moan, then another.

“I— I think they’re here!” she exclaimed with a shaky voice, planting a firm foot on the knoll and beginning to walk up as fast as she could, stumbling and having to support herself with her arm for a moment.

‘They’re just tired, that moan wasn’t anything.’ she repeated to herself as the moans grew closer. ‘One of them sprained an ankle—’

“No.” she muttered.

Reaching the top of the knoll, she saw six children laying in the grass, hunched up, clearly in pain, though they didn’t seem very injured.

“No, no, no!” she exclaimed, rushing forward, the voice of the men behind her washing out of her ears and mind and she ran to the kids, falling to her knees besides them, and examining them quickly.

Laying close to each other, the children were each alive and breathing— but barely. Cain and Dain had collapsed on top of eachother next to Petra, bite marks on their legs, bigger than the one Subaru had.

“Boys! Boys! ” Altan shouted, dropping his sword as he rushed to his sons, pulling Cain off Dain, grabbing their foreheads. “No, this can’t—” he continued, but bit off the sentence.

‘This is my fault, this is my fault.’ Subaru repeated, kneeling in the grass next to the fading children, her body shaking. There was no stopping this. Once the curse was active, Beatrice said nothing can stop it!

Pulling at her hair, gritting her teeth, Subaru hunched forward, pushing her head into the dirt. There had to be something, something she missed, forgot, misremembered, some way to help them! This can’t be it! She can’t let them die! She can’t hold someone in her arms again, dying in her place. Was she cursed that each try just ends worse and—

“—baru.” came a soft whisper, loosening Subaru’s grasp at her scalp, making her raise her head.

Petra! ” she said, turning to the young girl, placing a hand on her head. “I’m here, I’m so sor—”

“The… other…” Petra spoke weakly.

“What?” Subaru cried desperately, caressing the girl’s head. “I’m here!”

“Girl… ran…” Petra forced out, just managing to move her hand a bit, as if trying to point. Looking around, Subaru noticed that the purple haired girl was missing.

“There’s a set of tracks going that way. Wolgram and human.” Rom noted grimmly, pointing down towards the woods before sighing and shaking his head. “I’ve seen this before, there’s—”

Subaru’s hands stiffened, and she looked to the giant angrily.

I don’t care what you saw! ” she fumed, turning back down to Petra who was on the edge of losing consciousness and speaking as softly as she could manage with the growing pain in her chest. “You were very brave Petra, don’t worry, I’ll find your friend, you’ll all be alright.” she said, caressing the girl’s ginger hair as Petra lost consciousness.

“Kid…” Rom said with a pitiful tone. “There’s—”

She didn’t lose hope!” Subaru hissed, patting Petra’s head one more time before standing up. “She held onto consciousness just to tell us, so we can save her friend!”

“We can’t leave the kids here!” Altan exclaimed, holding the heads of his sons.

“You won’t.” Subaru said, clenching her fists, that strange sense of clarity returning to her mind. “I’ll go find the missing girl, you take these kids back to the village.”

“You can’t be serious.” Rom said, narrowing his eyes. “There’s no telling how many of those things are out here.”

“I am entirely serious.” Subaru said coldly, walking to one of the men who put his spear on the grass while checking on a young girl. She bent down and grabbed the spear.

“Then I’m coming with, I can’t let you—” Rom added.

Think old man! There’s six kids here, and only four people aside from you. They can’t carry them all back and defend themselves! You stay and help bring them back!”

“If they’ve been—”

I’m not hearing it! ” Subaru screamed, slamming the end of the spear into the ground.

The logical thing would have been to take Rom. She knew this. With the giant, she had better chances of saving that missing girl, and she might still not have been bitten. In all likelihood, she was the only kid who still stood a chance of surviving today. But that’s exactly why she couldn’t take Rom. To have the giant abandon the six children here, would have been the same as to admit that they were dead. That Subaru killed them with her incompetence. Such a thing was unacceptable!

You’ll be lost out there! ” the giant shouted, growing angry. The other men didn’t comment, too preoccupied with the injured children before them. “Blind bravery isn’t going to lead you out of the woods or protect you from those things!”

Subaru clutched the spear in her hand, twisting it against the dirt, her body stiff with mounting fear. She felt that if she wasn’t going to go now, her weakness will get the better of her. She’ll accept that she can’t do anything, and give up, condemning that kid to die too.

Not today.

“The people of the mansion should be coming soon.” she said with finality. “One of them should easily find me, even in the thick of the woods.” she added bitterly. “Take the kids home.”

With that, she grabbed the spear in both hands and turned to where the missing girl’s tracks led, and ran down the knoll. She ignored the giant’s words calling after her, only turning back a moment to assure that he indeed stayed, then content, disappeared into the treeline.

 

                                           

 

‘What was that girl’s name?’ she thought, thinking of the purple haired, emerald eyed quiet girl she was searching for. If she remembered, she could call her name, though given that she was following wolgram tracks along with hers, that wouldn’t have been very wise either. Then again, who knows? With her stinking of the witch, it might not make a difference. Still, she didn’t want to take the chance.

Stopping for a moment to lean against a tree, Subaru cussed and punched her legs. They’ve been getting stiff for a while now, but it was getting to be too much. This was no time to stop. Petra didn’t give up! When Subaru could barely maintain consciousness when the curse hit her, that girl held on and articulated a call just to see her friend safe!

“Damn you!” she hissed at her legs. “You can quit when everyone’s safe! Move!”

Kicking in the air, her thighs cramping hard, Subaru grunted and pushed herself from the tree, continuing on.

Not far ahead, she noticed that the two sets of tracks she was following separated. The smaller, multi-toed marks of the wolgram veered off to the right, while the footprints of the girl continued ahead. With any luck, this meant that the blasted hound chasing her gave and returned to its pack. Alternatively, it might also have circled back around because it smelled Subaru, and was now prowling.

“Come on. Would a bit of optimism kill me?” Subaru whispered to herself. Being alone at times like this didn’t agree with her. “Just follow the tracks.”

Continuing on the trail left to her, Subaru soon came to a small tight clearing, a large log laying in the center, besides which—

Subaru hissed, trying to hold back a scream, dropping her spear absentmindedly behind a bush on the clearing’s edge and rushing to the fallen tree.

“Hey, hey, are you awake?!” she whispered, reaching and kneeling by the small panting body of the girl laying besides the tree.

The girl was clearly unconscious, and Subaru shaking her didn’t seem to rouse her sleep. At first glance, it didn’t seem like she was bitten, perhaps she escaped and just collapsed from exhaustion? Or maybe she was bit under her skirt—

A low growl broke through the serene noises of the forest nearby, and Subaru heard the sound of rustling leaves.

Clutching her hand, Subaru realized she wasn’t holding her spear anymore, and turned in place, to look to the source of the sound.

Between two bushes, a pair of glowing red, hateful eyes peered back at her, snarling, jagged teeth glistening in the faint moonlight under them, along with a shining horn above.

Her heart beating manically, not saying a peep, Subaru backed away, pushing herself closer to the sleeping girl. Reaching out widely on both sides behind her, she grabbed the fallen tree, and lifted herself slightly, instinctively turning her body into a large shield, wishing to protect the girl over all else.

‘She’s here because of me.’ Subaru thought, before her eyes narrowed and she locked eyes with the shadow between the bushes. ‘You’re not getting her!’

As if reacting to her thoughts, the shadow retracted deeper into the treeline.

‘Did it leave?’ Subaru thought without much hope. Her doubts were reaffirmed when she heard shuffling from the bushes. ‘If I could make a run for the spear— But then the girl will be vulnerable!’

Reaching into her pant pockets, Subaru pulled out one of the small prunes she got from Emilia a few days ago, and put it in her mouth. At least she didn’t forget these.

Taking her suit jacket off, she wrapped its arms around her hands, and held the center out in front of herself, turning along the treeline, following the sound of the shuffling.

“Leave us alone and I won’t hurt you!” Subaru shakily declared, though obviously the dog would probably not understand what she said. It would definitely not care.

Subaru stepped a bit further away from the girl, to try and get a better look into the treeline. The wolgram used this opportunity and with a loud snarl launched out from the shadows!

As its form leapt from the shadows into the moonlight, Subaru’s chest pounded. Its stubby feet with short claws planting themselves into the ground before it. The beast’s thick black fur waved in the air, blown back by the merciless speed at which it launched itself as its chosen victim, its eyes fixed on Subaru with a rabid gaze, its maw slobbering to tear her apart!

Holding her hands apart to tighten the jacket, her only protection, Subaru lowered herself to take the beast’s attack. The wolgram only really came up to about her knees, but if it stood on its hind legs, it would probably have been able to claw her stomach open if given the chance. Subaru wasn’t eager to find out.

The beast leaping forward with astounding strength, its mouth ready to bite at Subaru’s shoulder, she barely had time to adjust, holding up the jacket which was quickly pierced by the dog’s horn between the shoulders.

Stepping to the side and moving her arms, Subaru just barely managed to get out of the wolgram’s way, as it went headfirst into the jacket, its horn tearing somewhat more into the fabric before getting stuck.

“Thash right you bashtard! Shuffocate!” Subaru hissed with a slur, still holding the bokko fruit between her teeth in case she needs it.

Stepping behind the dog as it landed, its head completely enveloped in her jacket. Twisting her arms, Subaru tried to whip one arm of the suit under the dog’s neck to choke it with, but the already weakened fabric she strained back in the village when they held her down couldn’t stand Subaru and the wolgram’s combined efforts, began to let go with a long, ripping sound.

“Damn you!” she cussed, stepping closer, and shaking off the suit’s arms, grabbing instead into the beast’s thick fur with both hands. “Should have left us alone!” she cried, summoning all her might to lift the wolgram, and swinging its body around, before attempting to slam it into the jagged branches of the fallen tree—

Only, the dog’s hair ripped mid air, and Subaru ended up tossing it instead across the clearing.

Landing with a whine, it didn’t take long for the wolgram to stumble back on its feet, now far out of Subaru’s reach, putting an angered paw on the jacket still caught on its head. With a loud snarl, it raised its head, the jacket held in place, ripping open the top of the jacket and freeing its horn and face.

“I don’t imagine this made you reconsider?” Subaru muttered, trying to ease her own tension.

She got her answer when the wolgram locked its eyes back on her, and clawed at the ground, ready to charge.

With no time to think, Subaru turned around, rushing for the bush where she thought she dropped her spear, hoping the dog is too angry with her now to bother with the girl.

The sound of an angered howl approaching behind her, Subaru got close to the bush and spotted the discarded spear on the other side. She was rubbish with fighting, if the dog dodged, the spear wouldn’t do any good!

Closing her eyes, Subaru leapt over the bush keeping her momentum and memorizing where the spear was.

Shamak! ” she cried out, unleashing a torrent of black smoke that enveloped the woods, covering everything nearby with the blackest mist, blinding the moon above and deafening the rustling leaves all around.

—where was she? Why was she? For the next few moments, Subaru wasn’t certain if she existed. She wasn’t even certain existence was a thing. In this world of darkness, without sight, scent or sound, there was nothing, only weakness. She felt limp, though she couldn’t even perceive what was limp. Her body? Did she have one of those?

More importantly, there was something, something she needed to do. There was a reason she was here, she felt it, something simple she had to—

The first and only feeling hit her. Literally hit her. Her head smashing against grass, then rolling over it, before it slammed against her shoulder, then her sides, until she felt something different. Energy rushed through her, a taste appearing in her sensationless world, followed by the feel of bumping against something thin, hard and long. Something important .

Barely conscious of her actions, her mind was present just enough to follow some previous, half-remembered determination to barrel around on the ground and grab the spear, holding it up towards where a howl pierced through the deafening veil, when suddenly like a clap, the silence as banished completely with the sound of a loud, pained whine above.

Subaru felt the spear slide down in her hand, embed itself in the dirt before shaking, followed by a snapping sound.

Letting go of the now uselessly short stub of the spear and panting heavily, Subaru looked up as the darkness around her quickly faded, revealing the whimpering body of the wolgram atop the bush it tried to leap, half of the spear embedded in its chest and piercing through to the other side.

 

Hanging her head and breathing heavily, Subaru could breathe heavily, propping herself up on her knees and elbows. It woul