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Arc 3: "Everybody’s looking for something"

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“If you want, you could sleep in a bit, nothing is going to move ahead until nyoon.” Subaru heard Felix note, as the black haired girl wandered out onto a small terrace overlooking the front courtyard of the manor, which terrace was near her own room. “Not until everyone’s ready, including some folks from the Iron Fang that are scheduled to show up sometime this morning.”

Flicking the strands of blue hair she was pondering, which mysteriously appeared on Subaru’s pillow this morning into the breeze, Subaru looked to the sound of the voice, where she could see Felix in her knightly uniform leaning onto the low wall enclosing the terrace.

Glancing down, Subaru could see numerous people in armor walking around, some clearly giving orders or hurrying to unknown destinations around the Karsten estate, while others simply chatted, or were hauling boxes towards dragon carriages lined up nearby. In contrast to them, even in her uniform, Felix seemed rather under-dressed for the occasion without much in terms of not wearing any armor.

“Aren’t you going to put on some big fancy armor like everyone?” Subaru asked, looking at the knightess, who simply raised her brows with a smirk as she turned to Subaru.

“No. It’s not like Felix’s going to fight the whale herself.” she noted, shaking her head. There was a sort of ‘this should be obvious’ tone to her statement, though what about it would be obvious from an actual knight, Subaru didn’t get.

“Weird, I expected you’d be the first in line to try and claim the kill for Crusch.” Subaru noted, furrowing her brows.

Felix gave an amused little huff, turning around and resting her back and elbows on the edge of the terrace as she looked towards Subaru.

“First, that honyour belongs to one man only. Even Felix wouldn’t want to change that, unless maybe Crusch-sama requested it… Though Crusch-sama would never ask such a thing.” Felix said, holding up a hand, elbow still resting on the low wall. “Second, while Felix will be nyearby and I won’t hesitate for a moment to step in if Crusch-sama is in any danger, it’s not secret that I’m not a great swordsman like Julius and Reinhard.” she added nonchalantly, not a hint of shame in her declaration, in spite of how such a statement should be an admission of a major shortcoming for any knight by Subaru’s count. “Instead, as always Crusch-sama chose to put everyone to tasks most befitting their abilities, and so Felix will be responsible for healing the injured.”

Given that the catwoman was a talented healer, Subaru could see the reasoning behind that. While the first thing on that note that popped into her head was roleplaying games where keeping the healer behind the battle lines no matter what was imperative, as childish as that example was, no doubt similar priorities existed in this world. Only…

“I don’t know if…” Subaru trailed, looking down on the men in armor, an uncomfortable realization rising up in her head. “If someone is struck by that thing, I’m not sure if there’s going to be much of a chance to save them.” she said. “Even the armor everyone else is wearing feels a bit… Pointless.” she finished quietly.

Subaru felt Felix’s eyes scan over her for a moment before sighing.

“As if Subaru-nyan knew the first thing about fighting the whale.” she huffed with a shake of her head.

Below the terrace, Subaru saw a familiar looking old man. It took her a moment to recognize him now as he wore light armored plates in place of his usual fine suit, but as he bid farewell to another aged soldier with a hand on his heart then turned to the building, his face gazing up at the terrace and at Subaru, there was no doubt that it was indeed Wilhelm. Without his expression betraying anything of his thoughts, he nodded at Subaru before heading inside down below.

“You knyow, Ferris isn’t called Blue for nothing.” Felix continued. “So long as someone hangs onto life, I could fix them up no problem.” she boasted.”

Subaru’s eyes wandered over the many people hurrying about busily, she grabbed her own shoulders, a little shiver running through her that wasn’t born of the chilly early morning breeze.

“Yeah, I guess you would know better about that kind of stuff.” Subaru mumbled uncertainly.

Having come to think of it, she didn’t actually know what triggered that bizarre and cruel effect that appeared to erase Rem from history in a past loop. Was it just getting killed by the whale? Was it some sort of spell it could cast, like how that wolgram pack leader could move the earth? Surely even Felix couldn’t heal someone who ‘never existed’, not that she would even want to, since she wouldn’t know about them. What’s more, why did Subaru even remember people who were erased? Was it simply because her checkpoint was before they got erased, and so she was tangintentally still connected to a point in time where they still— A time before they never exist—

This wasn’t easy to wrap her head around.

“Is there something I could do?” Subaru asked with a little shudder, turning to Felix in hopes of distracting herself from dark premonitions. “It looks like almost everyone’s got something to do down there, so maybe I could—”

“If Crusch-sama or anyone else finds a use for Subaru-nyan, they’ll call for you.” Felix said simply, brushing Subaru’s question off. “Not sure what exactly you think you could do to beginy with.” she added, raising her arms in a theatrical shrug before straightening herself out. “Like I said, you can just sleep in.”

Looking down at the soldiers again, here to risk their lives so readily, Subaru had to avert her eyes from below.

“I don’t know, it looks like they all pulled an all-nighter because of me. Even Rem’s not in her room, probably helping somewhere, so I’ve got no e—”

“That girl I’m pretty sure is in the kitchen making breakfast for Subaru-nyan.” Felix sighed once more. “Also, that’s a pretty self-absorbed way to look at it. It’s not like anyone except that silly girl is doing anything they’re doing on this estate for Subaru-nyan’s sake.” she huffed with a sarcastic little cock of her head.

“Well, no, but…” Subaru swallowed uncomfortably, glancing down again. How many of these people would—? “But if not for me, they would probably be safe.” she admitted finally, the dark thought churning in her heart. “If I didn’t tell you where the whale will be, there would be no chance that any of them will—”

“Hold it.” Felix said, almost grunting as she huffed, her eyes piercing Subaru through for a moment before she lowered her face and shook her head. “Everyone here is here by their own volition, you knyow?” the knightess asked, gesturing down at the courtyard. “They aren’t going to risk their lives because of you, or even because of Crusch-sama. They’re doing it to bring down the whale, because playing even a little part in doing that is worth more to them than their own safety.” the knightess explained with an usual level of clarity and seriousness to her tone before returning her eyes to Subaru’s. “A cause Subaru too has now played a little part towards accomplishing.” she added, with a strange expression stuck between a sense of approval and a stern lecture. “So don’t belittle their desires by feeling shame or fear on their behalf. No matter what happens, I’m sure they’re thankful for being given the chance to end the whale’s terror.”

A brief, sharp huff of air escaped Subaru’s nose involuntarily, as she felt the last person she’d have expected to take her side in anything spoke these seemingly cold words of compassion.

“As for people getting hurt, let Felix worry about that. That’s what she’s coming for after all.” the knightess added with an odd pout to her words. “Or does Subaru-nyan have that little faith in Felix’s abilities? Because while Felix might not be the best with the sword on her hips, she could happily remove that arm again if Subaru-nyan’s not satisfied.” she added with a grim smile.

For once unshaken by the sudden threat of violence Subaru simply gave a mildly amused huff before looking back down from the terrace, trying to commit the knightess’ words to her heart enough to believe them.

“You’re sure everything’s ready?” Subaru asked, looking back to Felix. “It was so short notice, I know Crusch had been preparing since the fog showed up but—”

“Hm?” Felix hummed. “Oh, you actually thought Crusch-sama’s only been preparing since the mist showed up between Flanders and the capital?” she asked with a surprised look that quickly shifted into amusement, the knightess covering her face with one hand. “Ah, listen to me. I might actually have bought into your little ‘I’ve got everything figured out’ thing yesterday.” Felix laughed at herself.

“Huh?” Subaru returned confused. “What do you mean? Was Crusch preparing since before the mist showed up?”

Come to think of it, Subaru hadn’t even realized yet that the mist ‘shows up’, she more or less just assumed it perpetually wanders the world. Maybe flying up into the sky to become an ominous cloud also seemed like something the mist might do, but from the way the knightess spoke, that didn’t seem like the case.

“Well, of course! Crusch-sama had been gathering forces and resources since even before the royal selection meeting.” Felix nodded. “It’s been known for some time that the mist would be in this part of the country for some time now.”

Subaru blinked. Maybe her prophecy lie wasn’t as outlandish in this world as she thought? No, actually, that wouldn’t add up!

“But I thought no one could predict where it’s supposed to go or where it’s going to appear!” Subaru exclaimed with furrowed brows. “That’s like the one thing everyone complains about with it!”

Felix put on a coy expression and shrugged theatrically once more using the entirety of both her arms for emphasis.

“It’s all thanks to Wilhelm-san.” Felix said simply. “He’s been doing practically nothing for the past two decades but try to track the damn thing and gather an expedition to kill it you knyow.” the knightess explained. “I assumed you knew that too.” she added, her ears twitching. “Of course, it was only Crusch-sama who’d eventually offer her aid.” Here, Felix’s expression soured somewhat into a more sorrowful one, though her smile didn’t fade as she looked off towards the palace in the distance. “I suppose Crusch-sama must have understood better than most his position.” she said before shaking her head. “No, even without that, that’s just the kind of person Crusch-sama is. She’d seek out the person that the whole world turned their back to and offer them aid. ‘It’s what His Highness would do.’ she’d doubtless say.” Felix added, her eyes and mind wandering far away.

Subaru felt completely lost. This was now the second time people implied that there was some sort of great rivalry between Wilhelm and the whale, but neither time had anyone actually given her enough to figure out what kind of rivalry it was, simply giving her those knowing looks and infuriating, modest statements ‘if you know what I mean’. Well she didn’t, and frankly, she was afraid to admit it.

“Speaking of…” Felix added, her ears twitching once more, and her turning towards the door of the terrace which moments later opened, revealing two figures.

One of them was the older, yet still handsome man of whom they were just speaking, and the other a gentle, blue-haired maid, holding a tray before herself with a modest breakfast meal and a cup of tea prepared.

“Forgive us, for the interruption.” Wilhelm greeted them, placing a hand on his heart. “I had encountered Rem-san in the kitchen finishing the preparation of Subaru-dono's meal, and thought I’d see her here.” he spoke, the extraordinary honorific catching Subaru off guard. Even Felix’s ear fluttered at its mention. “I’ve also exchanged words with Crusch-sama, she had asked for help equipping her armor.” he added, turning his gaze towards Felix.

“Ah! I’ll get right ony that then!” Felix said suddenly, sounding very chipper, completely abandoning any thread of conversation that may have been there, and heading to the door and past Wilhelm without further pause. “See ya later!” she said as she hurried off.

Paying no mind to Felix’s departure, Rem stepped into the terrace with her tray, smiling with a greater blush than her usual.

“Good morning, Subaru-kun.” she spoke. “Should Rem present Subaru-kun’s breakfast here, or would she prefer to return to her room?”

Looking at it, the low wall of the terrace serving as a sort of guard rail was wide and flat enough at the top to place the tray on it without any threat of it falling over unless pushed, so—

“Here’s fine.” Subaru said, pulling her neck in involuntarily, feeling even more conscious about being pampered more than she should be with the older man standing there. The old man whose eyes were planted squarely on Subaru, and who now opened his mouth.

“Subaru-dono, may this old man take a moment of your time?” he asked, his posture, expression, and frankly everything about him looking more serious than Subaru had ever seen him look.

Given his occasional tendency to appear as if he could look straight through people and see the truth of their very soul in a fashion quite different from Crusch Karsten’s Divine Protection, this unnerved her greatly. Though it wasn’t like she had a way out of the current scenario if the man’s serious expression and sudden adoption of a complimentary but also much less personal honorific was a sign of him having realized anything promising to bring only doom to Subaru.

“Y-yes, go ahead.” Subaru nodded, her body tensing up, preparing for the worst accusation possible, until—

Without warning, the old man descended to one knee before Subaru, bowing his head low, sending Subaru’s mind reeling as he simply knelt there in a fashion one would expect to see before— Well, someone important! Like Crusch or Anastasia! Definitely not Natsuki Subaru, the pretend-bard!

“I had wished since yesterday a chance to express my deepest gratitude, Subaru-dono, for bringing to us the information on the whale’s next appearance.” he spoke with absolute reverent subservience, leaving the girl before him completely baffled.