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An Otherworldly Idol

Chapter Text

‘This is quite the predicament.’

She couldn’t help but sigh at the situation she found herself in.

Natsuki Subaru, a girl who had it all and could do it all, a celebrity at her school and upcoming idol sensation, was at a complete loss for the first time in a long while.

She was a girl who could excel at almost anything she put her mind to, be it academics or athletics, mental or physical, her classmates looked up to her and her teachers adored her. Of course, there were those who envied and even resented her for this, but few could bring themselves to hate her given her humble and gracious demeanor. Her ability to quickly adapt to novel environments and challenges meant she could act reliably and decisively under almost any circumstance, so what was it that troubled her so? After all, anyone who knew her would agree that there was very little that could stump her, that she could probably find success no matter where she ended up in life.

Where she ended up, right, that might have been a good place to start. With graduation just a couple of months away, seventeen-year-old Natsuki Subaru who had always had a penchant for music had decided to make a career out of it. Just about anything she played would be a hit at school, and most performances she posted online would prove fairly popular, some even going viral and netting her offers from various talent agencies. In fact, she had just been returning from a successful audition when it happened.

She was suddenly the center of attention, and while some might perhaps consider this a boon for any aspiring idol, it wasn’t for the reasons one would hope for. It wasn’t her glamorous beauty (well, maybe) or star power that drew all those eyes to her, but rather, the fact that she was completely out of place.

The reason being that she was standing right in the middle of a busy road, wearing extravagant attire that stood out like a sore thumb; forcing people to walk around her, although a fair few elected to instead simply push her out of the way. Of course, it wasn’t that she was so inconsiderate as to thoughtlessly block the road, nor was she so desperate for attention as to do this as a prank. In truth, she really had no choice in the matter, for she had ended up here in what was quite literally the blink of an eye.

What had been a quiet road home in the dead of night had suddenly turned into a bustling city street in broad daylight. As someone who had never once experienced time travel or teleportation or even seriously considered the possibility, it was only natural that she would be bewildered by this strange occurrence. Maybe there’s no time travel involved here, one might think, given the existence of timezones, perhaps she was simply teleported to the other side of the world. But one look at her surroundings would make it clear that unless she had ended up in the world’s largest furry convention, wherever she was certainly wasn’t any place on Earth; the reason being that crowd around her was almost entirely comprised of hybrids of all description, from bipedal lizards to talking dogs, there were an absurd amount of humanoid animals traversing the busy street. Could that be part of why they stared at her so? In a place like this, it was ordinary humans like her who stood out most of all, the few other humans she did see all had vibrant hair and eye colors akin to those one would find in certain anime.

(Having put some more thought into the timezone problem, Subaru would have to concede that an entirely different world could most certainly be a different timezone and could indeed even have an entirely different flow of time, and thus her time travel hypothesis had little merit. Being that she was spirited away to another world, though, she wasn’t ready to rule anything out.)

Managing to squeeze her way through the crowd, she left the busy street and found an empty corner from which she could more clearly observe the world around her while she took stock of her situation. It seemed that she was in some sort of commercial district, judging by all the stalls she could see lining the side of the road. She couldn’t read any of the signs, but fortunately, she found that she could at least understand the language when she listened more closely to the various voices haggling around her.

‘Well, this all seems much too realistic to be a dream, but still, I should make sure.’

She quietly pulled out her phone and snuck a glance at the clock. She had heard that clocks wouldn’t function properly in a dream, although it was possible that this other world had strange properties that would themselves distort her clock, and so her clock behaving bizarrely wouldn’t in itself prove that she was dreaming. Such concerns proved pointless, however, since her clock was working perfectly.

She also took the opportunity to confirm that she had no reception whatsoever, and disabled all of her phone’s connectivity features and then turned it off so as to preserve its battery as long as possible. Fortunately, she made sure to always carry a solar charger with her in the unlikely event that she ended up stranded somewhere, but she never imagined that that decision would pay off like this. But she couldn’t even be sure that this world’s sun functioned like her own, what a pain this parallel world business was. She considered that for her to even be alive, the conditions here had to be the same as her old world for the most part, but such reasoning wouldn’t work in this case since the very fact that she ended up here completely defied the laws of physics, meaning it was entirely possible that she was being kept alive through magical means.

‘Could this be a lucid dream? I should be able to control it if so…’

She attempted to lift off, which again wouldn’t prove it was a dream since flight might be a thing she could just do in this world—Ugh, she wouldn’t get anywhere thinking like that. She decided that she would have to simply operate under the assumption that this was reality. Also, she couldn’t fly after all, which disappointed her terribly.

Glancing at a nearby stall, Subaru saw some sort of walking reptilian handing the owner what appeared to be copper coins.

‘Metal coins, huh. Of course.’

By this point she had grown fairly certain that she was in a classic medieval world one would typically see in fantasy stories, so a metal standard currency came as no surprise to her. It seemed quite likely to her that this world followed the usual copper-silver-gold pattern. As she analyzed this world more closely, the reality of her situation began to set in.

And with this, we return to the present:

‘This is quite the predicament.’

Subaru did the only thing she could: Panic. Internally, of course, she wouldn’t make a scene in public.

She had no idea how she ended up here or how to get back, or if it was even possible to go back. The thought that she might never see her friends and family again was truly horrific. She wouldn’t even have time to grieve over this, however, because she didn’t have any time to waste. She was alone in a strange world, her money was probably worthless, all she had was a small bag of essentials she always carried with her, and she was illiterate. She needed every second she could get in order to hopefully secure some source of food and shelter (As much of a blessing as it would be if it turned out she didn’t actually need those things in this world, she wasn’t going to count on something so convenient happening for her).

Deciding that the best course of action right now would be to further investigate this world, Subaru returned to the busy street.

‘Ah, I’m being watched after all.’

Subaru had always been a very popular girl, and that resulted in some becoming more than a little obsessed, as a result of which she had developed a good sense for identifying stalkers. She had in truth noticed these gazes a long time ago, but she wasn’t completely sure since almost everyone around her was giving her odd looks. But now that they followed her even as she moved, there was no doubt.

‘Looks like there’s three of them, common street thugs by the looks of it.’

They were most likely hoping to catch her in a secluded spot, so she was probably safe as long as she didn’t stray too far from the crowd. Still, it would be best to deal with them as soon as possible.

‘I have no idea what the power scale is like in this world, but society probably wouldn’t function if random thugs were absurdly strong. Those guys should just be normal humans…’

She was about to remind herself yet again that such logic wouldn’t necessarily apply in another world when she caught a flash of gold flying across the rooftops.

Despite its absurd speed, the golden streak almost seemed to be moving in slow motion to her as it descended with a gust of wind, brushing against a silver-haired girl dressed in white as it did so.

Taking a moment to realize what had just happened, the silver-haired girl quickly checked for something and immediately panicked as she ran off in the direction of the golden wind.

‘A theft? That girl does look pretty important, maybe…’

Given her elaborate robe and fine features, the girl was no doubt some sort of noble. If Subaru helped her retrieve whatever it was that was stolen from her, might she be rewarded? This plan could just as easily backfire, but…

‘I don’t really want to get involved in something this dangerous, but I might not have much of a choice. High risk, high reward as they say.’

She really didn’t want to end up as some kind of manual laborer or worse still, a prostitute, and this seemed like her ticket out.

Unfortunately for her, the girl was incredibly fast and was already quite some distance away by the time Subaru made her decision—Wait, did she just fire icicles out of thin air?

‘What am I getting myself into…’

Subaru groaned as she chased after her.

Chapter Text

Subaru was already having second thoughts about her decision to intervene; while chasing after an ice-wielding noble may have been stupid for any number of reasons, her primary concern was that she knew nothing of this world’s social customs, what if she committed some grave faux pas and got executed on the spot?

‘The way she’s firing those icicles… Those are warning shots, she’s not intending to kill that thief. I should probably be safe, I think.’

Subaru also noted that she herself was being pursued as she ran after the girl. It seemed that the three thugs had given up on their stealthy approach and were now openly hunting her.

‘You can’t be serious, are those bastards seriously doing this in broad daylight?’

While her frilly black dress afforded her enough freedom of movement to dance, it wasn’t particularly suited to combat. Not that she liked her chances against three men regardless of what she was wearing, especially since they appeared to be armed.

‘The leader definitely is, didn’t get a good look at the other two. Maybe if I separate them somehow… Or if I’m lucky, that girl can deal with them for me.’

As Subaru continued to run, she noticed a particularly beefy merchant selling what appeared to be apples just ahead, perhaps she could seek shelter there if it came down to it, surely even these thugs would be intimidated by a man of such stature. She wouldn’t have much time to consider her options, however, because the gold and silver streaks weren’t slowing down in the slightest and she would lose them if she stopped for even a moment (well, with how fast they were going, she was probably going to lose them regardless), fortunately for her, though, the two suddenly turned off the street and disappeared down an alley that appeared to be a dead end when she got there.

The blonde thief was already gone, perhaps she was capable of running up walls with that speed of hers, though it seemed the silver-haired girl had no such luck as she turned around in frustration, almost bumping into Subaru.

The girl was about to say something, but Subaru immediately interrupted her. Subaru had been thinking of how exactly she should approach her for quite some time now, she figured that she should at least try to tell the truth as much as possible in case this girl possessed some sort of lie detection ability, or even the ability to read minds, although Subaru doubted that one considering the thief was able to take her off guard. Maybe it would only work if she focused on someone, or more likely, she had no such ability.

“Excuse me, miss! I happened to see that you were chasing after a thief. I myself am having a bit of trouble with some thugs at the moment, so I was thinking, would it not be in our best interest to team up?”

As if on cue, the thug trio showed up behind her before the girl could even respond.

“Alright, ladies. Cough up everything you’ve got quietly and nobody gets hurt.” The leader growled, but the larger of his accomplices immediately stopped him in his tracks.

“Wait, isn’t that the girl that was throwing all that magic around?”

“Silver hair, amethyst eyes, can’t get a good look at her ears, but…” The smaller one added fearfully.

It seemed the girl was someone famous, just as Subaru expected. Going off that comment about the ears, could she perhaps be an elf? Elves were generally pretty powerful in most fantasy settings. Subaru snuck a glance at her, despite her apparently overwhelming strength and status, the girl seemed uncertain for some reason. However, since her mere presence was enough to intimidate these hooligans, Subaru decided to take the initiative herself.

“I’m not sure if she even needs my help against the likes of you,” She began, pulling out a small pocket knife as she spoke,” But if you attack, I assure you, you’re not getting away unscathed.”

She was half-expecting them to laugh at her and inform her that only a legendary dragon blade could cut them down, but fortunately, it turned out that they really were just ordinary people as she had initially suspected, because the sight of her knife seemed to put them even further on edge.

“Damn it, this isn’t worth it!”

“You bitch, don’t think you’ll get away with this!”

The men shouted various obscenities as they hastily took their leave.

“Thank you,” Subaru turned towards the girl, genuinely grateful, “You really saved me back there.”

“I haven’t done anything of the sort. You managed drive them off through your own efforts.” The girl responded, clearly in a dour mood. That was to be expected, considering she had just been robbed, but Subaru suspected that there might have been more to it than that.

“Still, I was only able to do that because you were there. I should repay you, perhaps I could help you locate that thief?”

“I thank you for your consideration, but there is no need. As I said, I haven’t done anything worth repaying.” The girl’s eyes reflected a rather complex mix of emotions as she said this. Subaru normally wouldn’t push the matter any further, but this wasn’t something she could give up on. Furthermore, she had come to sense a gentleness in the girl that told her she wouldn’t resort to violence even if Subaru stepped on a sore spot, and while she did feel terrible taking advantage of that, it was just something she had to do.

“Come on, what’s the harm? I’m in the mood to do a good deed today, and I was always good at solving these sorts of things.”

The girl seemed to hesitate for a moment as she looked down at the crystal adorning her chest, touching it for a few seconds before she came to a decision.

“Very well, but let me first say this: if it’s a reward you’re expecting, I have nothing to offer you.”

Well, damn. Could it be that the girl had seen right through her? Even so, Subaru wasn’t the sort to give up once she had committed to something.

“A reward definitely would have been nice, but even so, I still want to help you.”

A look of surprise flashed across the girl’s eyes as she averted her gaze.

“I have already lost sight of the thief, I haven’t a clue where to even begin looking.”

“Before we get started, there’s something I’d like to ask: Aren’t there any guards around that you could ask to help you?” Subaru asked, she was rather curious about the fact that she never once heard the girl call for the guards during that chase, perhaps it had simply slipped her mind, or maybe there was a reason? Could it be that this place had no police force at all?

“Ah, that…” The girl responded, initially uncertain, but her eyes suddenly sharpened as she continued, “I really would prefer to settle this as quietly as possible.”

That strange desperation in her eyes surprised Subaru. It almost made her think that the girl herself had stolen whatever the item in question was, though she didn’t seem like the type. Maybe she was coerced into doing so? Either way, it was too early to make any assumptions.

“Alright,” Subaru began, her tone measured, “We’ll need to establish a few key facts first. What exactly was it that she stole from you, and do you have any idea as to why she would have done so?”

This definitely didn’t seem like a mere theft of opportunity, the thief looked like she knew exactly what she was after.

“That… Please keep this a secret, but it was a very important insignia of mine. As for the motive, I do have some ideas, but I’d prefer not to say.”

“An insignia, huh… Does it perhaps signify you as the heir or head of some noble clan, or something like that?” Subaru asked, the thief’s motive starting to become clear to her.

“Not exactly, but, well, you’ve got the general idea.” The girl’s response was a bit uncertain.

“Would they be able to claim your title simply by stealing your insignia, then?” Subaru initially thought that that would have been a pretty terrible system, but thinking on it some more she could see some reasons as to why this place would function that way. Perhaps merely being able to obtain the insignia meant that you were qualified to use it, since such a feat would surely require some measure of skill.

“No, they— Well, maybe they could, although it’s extremely unlikely. However, without that insignia, I could lose everything.” The girl’s serious expression made it clear that this was no exaggeration.

The wheels in Subaru’s head started turning, she felt like she had a decent idea of what might have happened now.

“Is it the sort of thing where it would be very bad for you if it came to light that you lost this insignia, then? A terrible blow to your reputation that would cost you your position?”

“I-I didn’t lose it, it was stolen from me! … But yes, that would be very bad for me.” The girl’s eyes took on a look of resignation as she said this.

As for Subaru, she was becoming increasingly concerned for her own safety. A random nobody who knows a noble’s dark secret, people in that position almost always ended up dead in such stories. Subaru considered herself a fairly good judge of character and this girl definitely didn’t seem like the type to resort to such measures, but what of the people around her? An overzealous attendant might end up dumping her in a ditch at this rate. Still, she was already in this far, there was no backing out now.

“Well, alright, I think I’m starting to get the picture here. Since you said it would be almost impossible for anyone else to make use of that insignia, the motive would have to be to sabotage you specifically. That suggests to me that you’re in some sort of political competition, and a rival for your position has decided to take you out of it.”

Indeed, she had read many stories of such things happening in noble households. Siblings warring against each other to to claim their birthright was a classic trope.

“You really think-? If that—“ The girl seemed genuinely shocked by the possibility, did she perhaps think it really was just an ordinary theft? Could it be that Subaru was off-base, or was this girl just exceptionally naive?

No, it was more like she had considered the possibility, but just didn’t want to believe it. She seemed like the type to believe in the inherent goodness of people, the idea that one of her rivals would do this to her must have been terribly unpleasant to her.

“Operating under the assumption that that thief was hired by someone, our situation’s just gotten a whole lot more complex. It’s gone from tracking a thief to navigating a rival’s political machinations. It could be that they intend for you to follow her, and she’s leading you straight into a trap.” Part of Subaru was really starting to regret ever getting involved in all of this. Still, now that she knew, she didn’t want to just abandon this girl.

“I… Regardless, I cannot give up on that insignia. Whatever trap they may have laid for me, I have no choice but to face it.” The girl’s resolve hadn’t wavered in the slightest, if anything, she seemed even more motivated than before. “I thank you for your help, um…”

“It’s Natsuki Subaru.” Subaru gave her real name instantly. Would it have been smart to use a pseudonym? Possibly, but she had already decided that she wanted to be honest here.

“Subaru, thank you for your time. You’ve helped me get a better grasp on the situation. However, it has become clear that this is something I should solve myself, I cannot in good conscience involve a stranger such as yourself in my troubles now that I am aware of the risks involved.” The girl gave Subaru a small bow as she said this, and then turned away from her.

Subaru was by this point fairly certain that her life was already forfeit, but she figured her best chance would be to just stick with this girl. Even knowing that she was heading off to a probable ambush.

“Please wait! Do you even know where you’re going?” Subaru called after her, she didn’t want to let her walk away.

“I was planning to ask the spirits.” The girl responded, turning her head slightly to look back at Subaru.

“Can you not do that right now? I’m sure I could figure something out if I knew the location,” Subaru pleaded. She was somewhat concerned about what exactly these ‘spirits’ might be, but there was no time to worry about that now.

“Well, if you insist…” The girl nodded and then closed her eyes, the world itself seemed to shimmer around her as she emitted an ethereal glow, and she was soon surrounded by countless minute lights bouncing around as if they were delighted to see her. The sight left Subaru speechless. The girl’s already supernatural beauty was quite literally otherworldly as she silently conversed with her spirits.

‘She’s a real idol… Much more than I’ll ever be.’

The girl had so easily, so naturally transcended that magical, larger-than-life image all idols aspired to create for themselves. Subaru was never one to compare herself to others or envy them for their talents, but she knew the real deal when she saw it, and she knew by instinct that it was something completely beyond her reach.

‘Ah, damn it all…’

Subaru sighed with admiration and the slightest bit of bitterness as she watched the ethereal beauty before her.

Chapter Text

Having concluded her talk with the spirits, the girl informed Subaru that she only managed to learn the general direction the thief was headed.

“Do you at least know what’s in that direction?” Subaru asked.

“No, I’m actually not familiar with the capital at all. I was hoping you might know.” The girl responded, her gaze slightly lowered.

‘The capital, huh. I’ll keep that in mind.’

“I’m afraid I have no clue, I’m probably even more lost than you are. It’s… My first time here.” Subaru said, hiding her nervousness as best she could.

“Ah, so are you not from Lugnica after all? Your name, features, even those clothes, they’re all quite different from what I’m used to. I’m not very well versed in worldly matters, so I didn’t want to be rude by bringing it up, but…” The girl’s eyes seemed to light up a little as she asked this.

‘Lugnica, is that what this place is called?’

“I was quite surprised as well, when I saw you summon those spirits. How do you do that?” Subaru wanted to avoid the subject of her origin for now, until she’d gathered more information at least, so she dodged the question and posed one of her own. Indeed, she really was curious about those glowing orbs, presumably the spirits the girl was referring to.

“Oh, that? I just call to them and they appear.” The girl responded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Right, of course,” Subaru decided to save the subject for later, electing to instead think of ways to retrieve the girl’s insignia. Going off the thief’s shabby clothing and dirt-covered appearance, it was probably safe to assume her living conditions were rather destitute, what one would associate with a slum dweller in fact. From what she’d read, there were often such settlements located right at the outskirts of large cities, and given that this was the capital, it was only natural that it would have its fair share of the poor, many of whom were likely sectioned off in hovels at the edge of the city. That being the case, it made sense to think that the girl’s true enemy intentionally picked such a person to do the job in order to hide their own involvement, and in truth the thief actually had no idea what it was that they were stealing.

“Hey, is that insignia of yours well-known? Would any random person off the street recognize it?” Subaru asked, hoping to confirm her suspicions.

“Hmm, I think most officials and knights, people like that would know about it, but… I don’t think the average person would recognize it as anything more than a piece of jewelry.” The girl responded after some thought.

Jackpot, that basically confirmed what she was thinking. The thief was just a patsy, probably just hired to nab a piece of jewelry in exchange for some coin, with no clue as to its true worth. Subaru doubted the true mastermind behind this scheme even intended to pay her, she would probably just be killed off as soon as she delivered the goods considering the stakes involved here, no competent plotter would leave such an obvious loose end. At the same time, to have survived this long under those conditions, the thief couldn’t have been a fool herself, so she must have realized something like that could happen and thus would have taken countermeasures. Most likely, she was going to meet whoever it was that hired her at a place advantageous to her, somewhere she would have accomplices to back her up in case the client tried anything. Thieves’ honor and all that, they probably backed each other up in such matters, so a black market seemed like just the place they were looking for.

“Alright, I think I’ve just about figured it out.” Subaru said, causing the girl to look at her expectantly. “The thief is most likely headed to the slums. A destitute place like that would probably have little to no law enforcement to speak of, an ideal breeding ground for criminal activity. There’s probably a black market there dealing in stolen goods, that must be where she plans to hand the insignia off to whoever hired her.”

Pausing for a moment to think some more, Subaru continued, “That’s probably also where your enemy would set up their ambush, if they expect you to follow the thief. I’m not super knowledgeable about who’s who around here, but you seem pretty powerful, so it seems likely your rival would also have strength to match, or perhaps they’ve hired people to fight in their place.” Subaru narrowed her eyes before making her final statement, “If I had to say, I’d guess they’re planning to kill everyone there who could be a witness, they might even be willing to kill you depending on the situation.”

Subaru didn’t know anything about the politics around here, so she wasn’t sure if this mysterious enemy would really go so far as to kill the girl, still, one could never be too careful when it came to matters of such import.

The girl’s eyes had widened slightly, her expression blank as she took in this information. She then grimaced, seemingly having come to terms with what she had just heard.

“Such an evil scheme, yet I cannot deny it for your reasoning is sound. I cannot thank you enough for your aid, Subaru, it is terrible to imagine what might have happened if you hadn’t been here.” The girl spoke earnestly, warming Subaru’s heart with that gentle innocence in her eyes.

“I know you said you had nothing to offer me, but if you want to thank me, could you teach me how to do that stuff with the spirits? Is that something I can do too?” Subaru asked, hopeful that even if she didn’t get anything else out of this, she could at least learn something useful.

“You want to learn the spirit arts? Well, the lesser spirits seemed rather fond of you, so you probably have the affinity for it…” She glanced once more at the crystal on her chest, touching it as she continued, “Alright, might as well. Puck, come on out.”

She held out her hand with her palm facing upward as particles of light gathered over her palm, coalescing into what appeared to be a gray kitten. He lazily reached out to Subaru with a paw as he groomed himself, “Hey there, I’m Puck.”

“Hello. Natsuki Subaru.” She responded, somewhat confused. That light looked familiar, so was this thing a spirit too? Was that why the girl had summoned it?

“Puck, Subaru here wants to learn the spirit arts. Could you teach her?” The girl asked the cat in her palm.

“Well, I don’t really mind, but don’t you have more important matters to attend to right now?” Puck asked, his tone completely apathetic.

“Right, I…” The girl glanced at Subaru hesitantly.

“Ah, that’s fine, we can deal with your problem first. We can get to the spirit stuff when all of this is over.” Subaru said.

“Thank you… Did you just say ‘we’?” The girl asked, as though she had suddenly realized what exactly it was that Subaru said.

“Of course. I’m coming with you, aren’t I?” Despite knowing how dangerous this was, Subaru would have seriously hated to part ways right here. She’d never be able to sleep again if she didn’t know whether or not this girl made it out safe and sound.

“I told you, this is much too dangerous! I cannot ask you to risk your life for my sake!” The girl protested, she almost seemed angry that Subaru would so easily put her life on the line.

“I’m well aware of how risky this is, but still, I just can’t abide by the idea of sending such a beautiful and well-dressed young woman into slums alone.” Subaru was surprised to find that her half-serious response made the girl turn beet red instantly.

“Hey, I’m not trying to hit on you or anything, you know? I’m pretty sure I don’t even swing that way, that was just a simple statement of fact.” Subaru said as the girl brought up her fingers to cover her face. Subaru was about to continue when the floating cat suddenly sprung up and punched her in the face. Well, it was more like a soft tap on her nose, but still. Not wanting to anger a potentially powerful spirit, she didn’t react and simply waited for him to explain himself.

“You’re a real smooth talker aren’t you?” He began, his eyes and tone turning much sharper all of a sudden, “If you were a guy, I might have had to ice you right there.”

He wouldn’t seriously do that, right? That was a joke, surely. Subaru wasn’t sure how to proceed, but fortunately for her, the girl suddenly spoke up.

“Subaru, you dunderhead!” She pouted, “If you want to come so badly, fine! I don’t care!” She declared this with a huff as she walked off with a blush. Subaru couldn’t help but smile at the sight, the contrast of this immature behavior against the regal image the girl tried to portray was just perfect.

Speaking of which, perhaps it was about time to stop thinking of her as ‘the girl’.

“Hey, hold on.” Subaru called out as she hurried after her, “Since you know my name, and I know your cat’s already, won’t you tell me yours?”

The girl stopped dead in her tracks instantly.

Chapter Text

Subaru was always rather good at reading the room, but the girl’s demeanor had shifted so drastically it probably would have been obvious to just about anyone.

“My name…” The girl’s gaze was glued to the ground, as if she was debating something internally, the tone of her voice sounding as though it was struggle just to get the words out, “Is Satella.” she managed to say with great effort, but even the girl herself seemed surprised by what she just said.

Even the cat she kept with her seemed shocked when she said this, so there were two main possibilities here as far as Subaru was concerned: The first being that Satella was in fact her name, but it was supposed to be a secret and she wasn’t supposed to let anyone know, given the air of secrecy she had been trying to maintain thus far, this seemed like a plausible explanation. The second explanation was that Satella was a pseudonym, that she for some reason decided not to give Subaru her real name and was feeling guilty about it, this one seemed quite likely as well, but hadn’t she already agreed to teach Subaru about spirits? She didn’t seem like the type to renege on such an agreement, was she perhaps planning to just give Subaru a brief lesson and then leave her, never to see her again?

Either way, Subaru decided that it wouldn’t be wise to press the matter right now, and thus let it go for the moment, although she couldn’t help but wonder if there was any significance to the name Satella, the way the two of them reacted was just a little too strong for it to be some random fake name. The girl in particular behaved as though that name should have meant something to Subaru, so she decided to test this out by prodding her a little,

“Hey, Satella.” She called, carefully gauging the girl’s reaction, and as she expected, the girl flinched ever so slightly as she spoke the name. Was that because the name was fake, or was it simply that she didn’t want her name called in public? Subaru was leaning towards the former, and she wasn’t sure how to feel about that, for what reason would she have given her a fake name? Did she not trust her? Was this some kind of test? “This seems like it could be a long walk, so could you tell me about spirits on the way? You were silent back there when you were talking to them, so is it some kind of mental link?”

“That’s right.” Puck responded in her place, “You can mentally transmit your thoughts and feelings to spirits you’re contracted to, and that goes for the other way around too.” He winked at her playfully as he continued, “Although, a great spirit like me can very easily skim the surface of your thoughts without any sort of contract in place.”

‘Oh, crap.’ Subaru thought, great spirit? This kitty was insanely powerful from the sound of it, and he could read her mind too? He knew she was testing the girl when she called her name, then?

‘Ah, you’ll have to forgive her for that. She wasn’t really thinking straight when she picked that name and she’s already regretting it, so don’t hold it against her.’

Puck’s voice seemed to echo directly into her mind, the sensation was somewhat disconcerting to Subaru, but she didn’t comment on it.

‘Telepathy, huh? So we can communicate with our thoughts, how convenient. Anyway, about the fake name thing, I don’t really mind, but… What does Satella mean, exactly? It seems to have some sort of significance.’

‘Oh, you really don’t know? Well… You might think poorly of Lia if I told you, so I’d rather not. Hear it from her if you must.’

‘Lia? Is that her real name, then?’

‘Whoops, looks like I let it slip.’

The cat smacked his head with a ‘tee-hee’ and vanished into Lia’s hair, the sensation of which seemed to surprise her. Lia seemed to have spotted something out of the corner of her eye as this happened, because she immediately started heading in a particular direction.

“Hey, wait, where are you going?” Subaru asked.

“Subaru, that child… Doesn’t it look like she’s lost?” Lia pointed out small green-haired child wearing a pink dress as she said this. Indeed, the girl seemed to be on the verge of tears and quite clearly had no idea where to go.

“I guess so, you want to help her?” Subaru would normally admonish her for getting distracted from her task so easily, but this kind nature of hers could later work in Subaru’s favor, and besides, it would probably be faster to just deal with the kid than it would be to convince Lia to leave her.

Lia nodded in response, and Subaru encouraged her to go and give it a shot. Unfortunately, her attempts to talk to the child immediately fell flat and the little girl only became even more distraught than before. Subaru walked up to them before the situation could deteriorate any further, with a perfect plan that could solve this issue instantly:

“Why not just let her play with your cat? Kids love kitties.” she suggested, Lia was initially hesitant, saying that most people wouldn’t play with spirits so casually, but Subaru pointed out that such a small child probably wouldn’t even know that Puck was a spirit to begin with, causing Lia’s eyes to light up as she proclaimed, “Of course! Puck, come here!”

Puck was rather reluctant to respond to her call, but he ultimately gave in and let her hand him to the child, who started off somewhat nervous as she reached out to him, but very quickly started fluffing him all over with no hesitation, her delight evident on her face.

Having successfully calmed the child down, they learned that her name was Plum, Subaru suggested to Lia that she should use her spirits to locate the child’s parents, but Lia was once again hesitant, saying that it wasn’t good to use spirits in such a public place. Subaru wasn’t sure how much that mattered when it hadn’t even been half an hour since she ran down this very street firing magic all over the place, but she decided to humor the girl.

The child was too young to offer them much useful information about who her parents were, so the two held her hands as they walked around the general vicinity, looking for anyone the girl might recognize as a familial figure. Subaru couldn’t help but note that they looked very much like an idol duo hanging out with a small fan, but Lia had no idea what she was talking about.

It wasn’t long before they happened upon the gruff man manning the apple (or appa, as she would learn they were called) stand, the girl seemed to recognize him and immediately called out to him. It turned out that the man was her father, the two of them thanked the duo upon being reunited, and Subaru even managed to obtain some information about the thief they were pursuing. She was supposedly a rather infamous thief known as Felt, a teenage girl who had already made a name for herself in the slums.

“Looks like we really have no choice but to go to the slums after all…” Subaru muttered dejectedly, hoping that her conjecture might have been wrong, she really wasn’t dressed for this. Even setting that aside, she’d never want to set foot in such a place regardless of what she was wearing.

“Would you happen to know some sort of appearance altering magic? It would be a bad idea to go there dressed as we are.” Subaru asked Lia, hoping that she wouldn’t have to tear up her dress and cover herself in mud to fit in. She didn’t even have a change of clothes, ruining the only dress she had was the last thing she wanted to do.

“I do have a cloak for that, but… I don’t have it with me right now.” Lia responded, her tone apologetic.

“It can’t be helped, then. Let’s get going.” Subaru briefly considered having Lia be the one to ruin her dress and get all dirtied up, but someone like her would always stand out no matter what, she just had that air of nobility about her.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

The sun had begun to set by the time they reached the slums, it seemed to Subaru that this world’s day-night cycle followed her old world’s 24 hour cycle pretty closely, at least by her estimate. She also learned quite a bit more about spirits and magic from Lia and Puck along the way. There were familiar terms like mana and contracts, as well as new ones like Ods and gates. It also turned out that the magic system in this world followed the six element trope commonly seen in various stories from her old world, Puck even went so far as to divine her element for her, apparently she was a yin user, which was supposed to be quite rare. Puck had also added that yin was an element that mainly dealt with negation, and at the advanced level could even perform spacetime manipulation, which she was quite excited about.

Subaru also found it strange that someone like Lia would be traveling alone, when she asked about this, the girl admitted with embarrassment that she was indeed supposed to have an attendant with her, but she had ended up losing her when she absentmindedly wandered off on her own. Lia apparently wanted to settle all of this without this attendant of hers finding out about her blunder, but Subaru suggested that, given the danger of the situation, it would be wise to signal her attendant somehow. Lia wasn’t sure if her lesser spirits would be capable of such a thing at this range, but apparently her attendant had some sort of clairvoyance ability, so she agreed to give it a shot.

“We’re almost there. Come to think of it, Puck, you mentioned a time limit, didn’t you? Will you be okay?” Subaru asked, recalling that the cat had once mentioned he could only maintain his physical form from nine to five. That was another thing she learned, the units of time in this world were quite similar to that of her own.

“Sure, I can hang around for another hour or two. That should be long enough to finish our business here.” Puck responded, casual as ever, though Subaru could sense that he had gotten ever so slightly more serious than before.

“Still, just in case things go wrong and I need to fight, I should warn you that while I don’t know how strong people are around here, I’m probably no better than the average person. Could you maybe teach me a yin spell real quick?” Subaru asked, hoping to improve their chances however she could.

“Your gate hasn’t even been opened yet, it’s actually kind of strange how completely unused it is, like an infant’s. You’re probably incapable of performing any magic as you are now.” Puck immediately shot her down, destroying her hopes of wielding powerful magic. Still, that only meant she had to open her gate, although she still didn’t know exactly how powerful she would be when that happened.

“You said spirit arts users don’t use their gates, and instead cast with mana from their surroundings, right? Would that be something I can do, then?” Given that ordinary magic wasn’t going to work for her right now, Subaru began considering alternatives.

“Well, it might be possible since your affinity for spirits is pretty high, but a contract isn’t something you should rush into so hastily. Still, I understand that you’re worried, and it would be good for Lia’s sake too if you could at least defend yourself to some extent, so she wouldn’t have to worry about you in battle.” Lia seemed to jump a little when Puck spoke her name, it looked she was still under the impression that Subaru thought her name was Satella. It would be awkward to correct that misunderstanding right now, so Subaru decided to just ignore it, she could clear it up later if necessary.

“However,” Puck continued, “We’re short on time as it is, I don’t think we can afford to take the time to teach you right now.” He was right, but Subaru had already planned for this.

“Alright, here’s the deal: As I already explained, it would be quite the hassle going through the slums dressed as we are now, and since this is the only set of clothes I have on me, I’m not exactly keen to ruin it. However, if you teach me, I would be willing to rip this dress up and cover myself in dirt to better fit in. Lia could then cover herself up with the rags, too, which would make it much easier for us to proceed. Not only would that save us time, we might even be able to extract some information from the locals as to where exactly we might find Felt.” Having said this, Subaru looked at Puck with a resolute expression, as if daring him to refute her argument.

Puck simply smiled wryly in response, “Well, I guess I can’t argue with that. Let’s make this quick, then.”

Having agreed to teach Subaru the spirit arts, Puck first told her to focus her mana into her eyes so she could more clearly see the spirits already around her. Seeing as she had never manipulated her mana in her life, she had no idea how to do this, and so he had to perch on her head and guide her through the process. He then told her various ways to draw spirits to her, even suggesting that they would more readily approach her if she stripped, a suggestion she immediately declined, not even sure if he was being serious. Still, she figured she might as well rip her dress up beforehand, since she was already going to do that anyway.

Finally, having completed her preparations, the time had come. Puck told her that while some experienced spirit arts users contracted multiple spirits, this was very hard to do, especially if the spirits were of different elements. Since they were were short on time, it would be best if she picked a single powerful spirit that matched her native element, rather than going for multiple weak spirits that she would have to develop over a long period of time. The term powerful was relative, though, since at her level the best she could hope for was a newly evolved quasi-spirit. Still, that would be enough, and so she resolved herself.

This was it, she was going to summon a spirit and form a contract with it, or so she hoped.

“Alright, let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

Unfortunately for Subaru, it turned out that her mana reserves were nothing to write home about. According to Puck, the contractor’s mana quantity was something most spirits would consider before entering a contract, and hers just wasn’t large enough to draw in any powerful spirits. However, she did manage to attract a yin quasi-spirit that had only just recently taken form. The contract requirements were rather lax too, only requiring that she commune with the spirit on a regular basis, although the exclusivity clause did give her pause, she was hoping to one day contract spirits of other elements too, but this condition wasn’t one the spirit was willing to budge on, and it seemed to be the best she could get, and so she conceded, allowing the spirit to become her sole contractee.

‘Well, here’s to a long and happy relationship, I guess. Since you don’t have a name, I suppose I should give you one, hm? Let’s see, what would be good? Nox, Nacht, Noctis, Noctua? Nox sounds alright, let’s go with that.’

To celebrate her new partnership with the little black orb, Subaru asked Lia to hold on to her bag while she rolled around in the mud and even punched herself a few times for good measure.

“There, I look just like a battered housewife returning from a hard day of labor, don’t I?” Subaru declared proudly.

“That’s a disturbing way to think.” Lia responded disapprovingly. They had fashioned the parts of Subaru’s dress that she had torn off into a makeshift cloak that Lia was now using to cover herself.

As Subaru predicted, this allowed them to pass through the slums without much trouble, she even received some sort of strange fruit from an old lady they encountered, apparently called a bocco fruit. It wasn’t long at all before Subaru learned from one of the men she questioned that Felt was headed to a place called the loot house, and she had also gotten directions to its location. Lia was rather displeased, though, when the man told them that they would have to negotiate to get the insignia back, wondering why she should have to pay for something that was stolen from her.

“You don’t have to pay for it. Puck’s supposed to be pretty strong, right? I’m sure he could wipe out every single person at that loot house no matter how many people she has with her.” Subaru noted.

“That’s probably true, but I’d rather not resort to such measures. I was hoping to reach a peaceful resolution if possible.” Lia responded, clearly reluctant to rely on her spirit’s tremendous power.

“You don’t have to go so far as to kill them, but I think you’re definitely well within your rights to use force here. They did rob you, after all, and from what you said, you could quite literally lose everything if you don’t get that insignia back.” Subaru was somewhat frustrated, while she recognized that she was only able to get this far in the first place thanks to Lia’s gentle disposition, it displeased her to see Lia extending that same courtesy to others. Subaru’s maidenly heart was super complex. (Not really, her feelings weren’t particularly complex at all, when it came down to it she just wanted Lia to only be gentle with her and strict with everyone else. Still, she preferred to think of this feeling as complex.)

Before Lia could respond, Subaru almost bumped into someone as they turned a corner. She was a beautiful black-haired woman wearing a revealing black and purple dress with a neckline plunging so low it could hardly even be called a neckline, Subaru could tell at a glance that this woman didn’t belong here, her appearance and outfit were far too tidy, and Subaru’s every instinct screamed that she was dangerous. Subaru tried her best to remain calm as they exchanged the usual pleasantries, with the woman apologizing and Subaru assuring her it was no big deal, but she could feel that the woman’s eyes were trained on Lia who was standing a short distance behind Subaru, it was as if she could see exactly who she was even though Lia had her face covered.

Subaru wanted nothing more than to end this interaction as quickly as possible, to hopefully leave here with her life, which was starting to seem increasingly unlikely. But despite her best attempts to appease her, she could tell that the woman wasn’t about to let her leave.

And then she felt it, the familiar sensation of time slowing to a crawl. She could see the woman stealthily pulling out a terrible black blade from under her dress with such speed that most ordinary people would already be split in two before they could even realize what was happening, but Subaru could see it clearly, the blade’s every curve and indent had been burned into her mind as it approached her torso at an angle that would completely rip her abdomen apart. But no matter how clearly she could see it, her body wouldn’t respond in time, the blade was approaching much too fast, her only hope was for either Puck or Lia to notice what was happening and shield her in time. If they didn’t, it was over, she was finished, she couldn’t possibly avoid—

The blade missed.

It wasn’t that Subaru had dodged it, this had all happened much too fast for her to make even the slightest movement, rather, it was the blade itself that had warped around her torso without ever making contact. Startled, her would-be assassin immediately backed away from her, with Lia and Puck wasting no time sending a barrage of icicles after her, having noticed what had just happened.

“Who are you?! Why are you doing this?!” Lia demanded as she fired another volley at her.

“Oh my, you’re here quite a bit earlier than I was told to expect.” The woman responded with a tone of amusement, as though her opponents were no threat to her at all.

As for Subaru, she was already quite certain exactly who this woman was. But at the moment, she was occupied with a more important matter, namely, what in the world had just happened to save her life.

“Nox, you-?” Subaru called to her newly contracted spirit, realizing that it was he who had intervened by curving the space in the blade’s path, causing it to harmlessly warp around her torso.

‘Man, this contract is already completely worth it.’ She thought, she was glad she didn’t end up making a fuss over the exclusivity clause, or she’d be dead right now.

Having settled the matter of how exactly she survived, Subaru turned towards the battle and called out to the assassin, “You! You’re the one who hired Felt, aren’t you?!” The woman merely glanced at her without responding, but the look in her eye told Subaru she was right.

Subaru pondered what her next move should be. Should she try to help Lia and Puck however she can here, or should she go on ahead to the loot house in order to retrieve the insignia while the other two kept this woman in check? Nox was still exhausted from that trick earlier, so he probably wouldn’t be able to perform another spell for a little while, and it seemed like Puck and Lia already had the advantage here, so she chose the latter option.

‘Puck!’ She called out through their mental link, ‘I’m going to retrieve the insignia! I’m leaving that woman to you two, protect Lia!’

Having received Puck’s acknowledgement, she immediately ran off in the direction of the loot house. She had heard that it was located right at the very edge of city, against the city walls. She could already see the walls quite clearly, so she must have been close— But it wasn’t just the city walls that she saw when she looked up, there was a familiar golden blur racing across the rooftops.

‘Perfect! She hasn’t reached the loot house yet!’ Subaru thought, this was practically the ideal situation as far she was concerned, she expected Felt to have reached the loot house a long time ago at the pace she was moving, had she gotten held up somewhere? Regardless, if she could intercept Felt here, she could completely avoid whatever trap lay in wait at the loot house.

The problem, again, was how fast the girl was moving. Subaru couldn’t possibly catch up— Not with her normal speed at least.

‘Nox, I’m counting on you.’

The next step she took, that single step, propelled her forward with incredible speed, it was as if gravity and inertia had ceased to exist for her, she covered the distance between them in a fraction of a second, easily overtaking the thief and landing a building ahead of her. However, she did feel like something in her cracked when she did this, she hoped it wasn’t anything serious.

“Who-?!” Felt began, startled, but Subaru quickly interrupted her, deciding that she was the one who was going to do the talking here.

“It’s over, Felt. Give it up. I’ve already informed the guards and your client is being dealt with as we speak. I don’t know what she offered you for that insignia, but that contract is now void, and the insignia is worthless to you. I’ll let you off the hook if you return it quietly, but if you try to resist, you should know that the guards are already on their way, and they won’t be so lenient.” Subaru bluffed, hoping to make the girl give up without a fight. Nox wouldn’t be able to cast another spell so quickly after the last one, and Subaru would stand no chance on her own against someone so fast.

The girl’s expression shifted several times as she took in Subaru’s words, ultimately settling on an angry grimace. “You… Damn it, this has nothing to do with you, why are you getting in my way?!” She yelled.

“You’re wrong, this has everything to do with me. Both me and the girl you stole it from, our fates ride on her getting that insignia back.” In truth, Subaru did sympathize with the girl to some extent, just the short time she spent in these slums felt terribly oppressive. The stench, the broken down denizens that called this place home (though it was the furthest thing from anything Subaru would call ‘home’), the stifling atmosphere that made you feel like you could never leave, the feeling that the ‘outside world’ was completely beyond reach, such things would take a heavy toll on almost anyone. Even the building — though it could hardly be called that — she was standing on right now felt like it could collapse under her weight at any moment. She could hardly imagine how terrible it would be to live in such conditions, especially from such a young age as this girl apparently had.

Still, Subaru wasn’t going to allow such sentiments to cloud her judgement. She knew what she came here to do, and she was going to carry it through to the end.

“Your fate rides on it…? Ha! So she hired you to take it back, is that it?” The thief sneered, “I’ll bet that story about the guards was a bunch of crap too, wasn’t it? Look at you, as if someone like you would ever go the guards!”

Tch, her disguise was working against her now. She did consider herself a good enough actress to bluff her way through this, but her tattered getup was just too convincing, she looked far too much like a slum dweller to project any sense of authority.

“Maybe you’re right, it’s not like I can prove you wrong either way, but is that really a bet you want to take?” Subaru asked with narrowed eyes, her tone calm and threatening.

“Whether or not my client’s really been caught, whether or not there really are guards after me… That doesn’t change what I have to do.” The girl responded, her eyes burning with determination, “A fancy jeweled insignia like this would definitely sell for quite a bit regardless of who I sell it to, it’s not like I even need that woman’s contract. As for the guards, well, I just need to take you down quickly and get away from here.” She continued, entering a combat stance. The fact that she openly admitted that she was about to attack meant that she knew Subaru was already expecting her to do so, and thus a sneak attack would be ineffective. However, Subaru couldn’t tell why she decided to go through with it anyway, did she think she was so much stronger than Subaru that she could easily beat her, or was it simply desperation?

“This is your last chance to surrender quietly, I’m still willing to let you go. If you come at me, it isn’t just prison time you’re risking, it’s your life.” Subaru said, keeping her voice even so as to hide her nervousness. She just needed to stall a little more, Nox was almost ready with their next spell, he had already whispered the incantation to her, she knew exactly what she had to do—

“Go to hell!” The girl yelled, lowering her stance as she prepared to lunge at Subaru, however—

“Shamac.”

Chapter Text

In a certain sense, it was only thanks to this girl that Subaru had gotten this far. If she hadn’t stolen Lia’s insignia, Subaru wouldn’t have been able to ingratiate herself to her, and she wouldn’t have ended up learning how to contract spirits. Subaru was in a strange way thankful for that, but looking at it another way, it could also be said that by stealing that insignia, Felt had created the instrument of her defeat. The fact that Subaru now stood before her like this could be said to be a karmic echo, a shadow of the girl’s own actions come to haunt her.

Subaru had successfully cast her blinding spell the instant before the girl could lunge at her. Completely deprived of her senses, the girl’s attempted leap simply left her flopping helplessly onto the ground. Subaru casually stepped over to her and felt around for the insignia, pulling it out when she found it. Perhaps her eyes had deceived her, but she could almost swear that the insignia had a certain glow to it that faded when she picked it up.

Subaru wasn’t one to ignore such minutiae, so she immediately started thinking about what it could mean as she examined the insignia. It was rather small, triangular in shape, with a dragon engraved onto its surface and a distinctive jewel in the middle. It was mainly the jewel that caught her eye, she had often read stories about weapons and the like lighting up when someone worthy touched them, so was that it? She seriously doubted some random thief would be worthy of whatever this insignia represented, but she touched Felt with it just to be sure.

Surprisingly, the gem really did light up when the insignia came into contact with the girl. Subaru’s mind started racing a million miles a minute as soon as she saw this, what in the world could this possibly mean? Could this girl be the true owner of the insignia? Had Lia stolen it after all, like she initially suspected? No, that didn’t make any sense, this girl didn’t even know what the insignia was. To begin with, even Subaru herself didn’t really know what it was or what it represented. She recalled that Lia had mentioned that it would be almost impossible for anyone else to make use of it, but she didn’t say it would be completely impossible. Perhaps the insignia was some sort of genetic test that identified people of a certain bloodline? It was difficult to imagine Felt and Lia sharing family, though, they didn’t resemble each other at all, their common ancestor must have been from way back.

Subaru sighed, she didn’t have enough information to figure this out, she should just go back to Puck and Lia, who she hoped would have defeated that woman by now, so she could ask them about it. Subaru then started running back, releasing the spell on the girl once she was out of sight, but there was just one problem—

She was completely exhausted, she seriously felt like she could die if she took another step. Initially confused, she realized that since Nox hadn’t had enough time to recover before she confronted Felt, he had drawn from Subaru’s own mana pool to produce both the movement spell as well as the blinding spell. Given her rather mediocre reserves, just those two spells had used up just about everything she had in her, leaving her completely drained.

‘Really should have kept that bocco fruit on me.’

She hadn’t wanted to get addicted to strange substances on her first day here, especially not to what was apparently this world’s equivalent of cocaine, but it would have been pretty good right now.

Despite her worries that she might drop dead if she had to make it all the way back to Puck and Lia, she had no choice but to get going and so she forced her body to advance. With some effort, she even managed to break into a light jog, although it may have been inaccurate to call it a jog, it was more like she was flailing her limbs around just enough to keep herself from falling over, it felt very much like she was playing QWOP.

Even though she felt like she was dragging her own corpse by the end, she had finally managed to make it back, and when she did, she found to her horror that the battle was still raging. The woman had lost her cloak, but beyond that, she showed no signs of having sustained any damage whatsoever. On the other hand, Puck was clearly approaching his limit. Having noticed Subaru, he briefly called out to her before fading away into particles of light.

‘You’re finally here. I see you’ve retrieved the insignia, good, I’m just about at my limit here, so I’m going to have to leave the rest to you.’

‘You can’t be serious, I can barely even stand, let alone fight!’ Subaru protested. Maybe this was the end for her, despite her best efforts, she just couldn’t see a way out of this. Even if she asked Lia to toss her the bocco fruit, she doubted she could do anything against an opponent whom even Puck could not defeat.

As she was coming to terms with the idea that she might die here, she saw a shadow sailing overhead and looked up to see a pink-haired girl in a maid outfit descending from what seemed to be the heavens themselves.

“Al Fula!” She yelled as she unleashed a devastating torrent of wind at the woman in black, completely ripping her to shreds and obliterating the entire area. The woman was destroyed so completely that there was nothing left of her but bloody mist that was now flying all over the place. It was as if a bomb had gone off, producing shockwaves strong enough to send Subaru flying. Given that she was too exhausted to even remain upright, let alone maintain her footing in the face of such fierce winds, she allowed the powerful gusts to blow her away without any resistance.

‘Please tell me that’s the end of it…’

With this final thought, she crashed into someone’s shack and blacked out instantly.

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“You really are… A handful… Emilia-sama.” The pink-haired girl, Ram, said as she panted, clearly exhausted from that massive spell.

“I’m reeeeally sorry about this, Ram, but we need to get away from here right away. That woman just now can come back from almost anything, it’s possible that even your attack hasn’t finished her off.” The silver-haired half-elf, Emilia, responded as such, obviously speaking from experience.

“Very well, let us make haste then.” Ram herself had sensed that something was off about that woman, and she wouldn’t want to spend too much time in a place like this regardless, especially not with her present company.

“But first, I’d like to bring that girl with me.” Emilia said as she turned her gaze over to where Subaru had just crashed, “She’s been a huge help to me, I would like to bring her to the mansion and reward her if possible.” She said, looking at Ram expectantly.

“Fine, make it quick.” Ram replied, she was in no mood to argue if Emilia wanted to bring a stray home, Roswaal-sama would deal with her as she saw fit. Taking a closer look at the girl as Emilia gently pulled her out of the rubble and healed her, Ram noted that though her attire resembled that of a slum dweller, her features suggested that she was a woman who had a fine upbringing, most likely raised in a noble household, a runaway perhaps? She definitely didn’t look like she was from Lugnica.

Having retrieved the girl, Emilia carried her over her shoulder and followed Ram as the two dashed away from the area. Ram’s senses had been focused behind the pair all the while, worried that the bloody mist might reform into that sinister woman at any moment, and indeed, that was exactly what happened.

“Emilia-sama, behind!” She called out.

Emilia managed to manifest a shield in the nick of time, barely blocking the supersonic knives hurtling towards them.

That damnable woman had recovered completely, and was now pursuing them with renewed vigor. Ram glanced at Emilia, without her great spirit, the girl lacked the firepower to take on an opponent of this caliber. Or rather, she wouldn’t use the firepower she had with other people around. That being the case, there was only one choice left to Ram,

“Forgive me, Emilia-sama.” She said, her forehead starting to glow.

“Huh? Wha-“

“It seems you will have to carry two people back to the mansion.” Ram said, blood pouring out of her forehead as she used the last of energy to cast her ultimate spell once more, her consciousness fading as she said the words,

“Al Fula!”

Chapter Text

Subaru vaguely recalled being blown into some kind of hut, and she had been fading in and out of consciousness ever since. Straining her mind, she remembered that some sort of pink maid had appeared right before this happened, and indeed, it was that very maid’s spell that was responsible for her current state. Still, she appeared to have utterly destroyed that monstrous woman with that spell, so Subaru wouldn’t hold it against her.

Subaru couldn’t hear clearly over her terrible headache and buried under all of this rubble, but she thought she heard the maid address Lia as Emilia. Was that her real name, then, Emilia? As she pondered such matters, someone came up to her and started clearing the rubble off her, the silver blob in her vision suggesting that it was Emilia. She gently pulled her out and applied some kind of healing spell that seemed to be lulling her to sleep. Subaru had heard that it was bad to go to sleep concussed, but since Emilia was healing her head injury, she was probably fine?

Actually, she wasn’t sure if she should even have any confidence in Emilia’s medical knowledge, given the girl’s naivete in other areas, so this could actually be really bad if she allowed herself to drift off to sleep. She seriously hoped she wouldn’t end up brain damaged from this, but she was so exhausted she could easily sleep for seven or eight hours at least, and so she accepted the alluring call of her dreams. She wasn’t really sure if she was dreaming, though. There was another huge explosion of wind, but hadn’t that already happened before she got knocked out? There was also this red-headed dude that almost looked like a pillar of flame to her, some sort of shadowy woman, and a carriage she was very certain was drawn by some kind of huge lizard, but those might have actually been real. And while the details were difficult to recall, the actual order they appeared in may have been different.

Every time she felt like she was about to wake up, she felt Emilia gently running her fingers through her hair, soothing her back to sleep. She definitely needed it after the day she just had, so she was grateful. Her sleep-addled mind eventually felt the unusually smooth carriage ride come to a stop, she then heard a gate open, and she was carried into whatever this place was. Once inside, she felt herself being stripped, washed, and changed by feminine hands. She hoped it was Emilia, it wasn’t weird to be naked with your gal pal after you risked your lives together, it would be rather awkward for her if it was some maid.

She was then placed in what was perhaps the most luxurious bed she had ever slept in (and there was some pretty strong competition), upon which she drifted off into a deep sleep. Much to her displeasure, she was suddenly awoken by some sort of bizarre alarm-like sensation in her head. Subaru was quite confident in her body’s internal clock, so she was sure it must have been rather early in the night still, so who was it that dared disturb her much-needed beauty sleep? She seriously hoped this wasn’t some bizarre world where nights only lasted a couple of hours.

Her mind suddenly snapped to attention when she realized it was Nox desperately transferring feelings of warning to her, any sleepiness she may have retained vanished instantly when she realized how serious her spirit was. Her eyes shot open to find a blue-haired maid who looked very much like the pink one from earlier reaching for her throat. Using Nox’s magic, she flew off the bed in an instant, bouncing off the wall and landing on the floor in a combat-ready stance. She didn’t have time to compliment herself on how cool that was, because the blue maid was preparing for battle herself.

Subaru looked through her memories, trying to find an explanation as to why she had woken up in the middle of the night to the sight of this maid trying to strangle her, but try as she might, the situation remained a complete enigma to her.

“You! What are you—“ They both yelled simultaneously. The maid then grinned, madness evident in her eyes, “Feigning sleep, I see. Rem knows not how you deceived Emilia-sama, but your scheme ends here, witch cultist!” She seemed to manifest some sort of spiked ball-and-chain weapon out of nowhere as she shouted this, what were those things called again? Morningstars? Flails? Whatever it was called, the maid had just sent its head flying towards Subaru with incredible speed. Subaru wasn’t in the mood for another deathmatch so soon after her last, so she chose to instead have Nox deflect the weapon and enhance her speed so she could make a quick getaway. As she blew through the door and slammed it shut behind her with a kick, she once again found herself completely exhausted to the verge of death.

‘Right, you can’t use multiple spells in quick succession like that. No need to feel bad about it, though, you seriously saved me again.’

Even as she reassured the spirit, terror gripped her heart. She couldn’t possibly escape the maid in her current condition, the second she opened that door— It was then that Subaru noticed that the hallway was lined with countless identical doors as far as she could see in both directions.

Leaning against the wall, she managed to walk a few doors down, noting that the paintings and plants were also similarly duplicated as she did so, but there was still no end in sight.

‘Doesn’t seem like an illusion, this might be a real looping hallway… That maid still hasn’t come after me, either. What the hell is going on here?’

She doubted the maid was responsible for this, since she could very easily take advantage of the situation and kill Subaru right away if so. On the other hand, it was also possible that this was some kind of sick torture.

‘Any ideas, Nox?’

The spirit informed her that this was the work of a great spirit of yin, a spirit far outclassing Nox.

The moment she had this little mental exchange with her spirit, the hallway warped around her, turning into an ordinary hallway with a clear end in sight, however, she could also feel an overwhelming magical presence shrouding the entire corridor.

‘Not even trying to hide your presence, are you… Is this some kind of challenge?’

She could feel ominous magic emanating from each door, most likely there was some kind of trap hidden behind each one. Subaru turned the corner to leave that accursed hallway, only to find that every other door in sight also had a similarly foreboding aura. To have enough control over spacetime to freely manipulate what was behind so many doors simultaneously, Subaru could only be amazed by this great spirit’s power, they definitely earned their title. On the other hand, she really couldn’t approve of their rotten personality.

‘Seriously, who comes up with this stuff? It’s demonically inspired.’

She sighed as she forced her heavy body to trudge along, slowly approaching that one single door that seemed to her to be ever so slightly different from the others. When she pushed it open, she found herself in a large library lined with countless bookshelves, with a small blonde girl dressed in an ornate pink dress sitting on a stool before her, looking up from her book with an annoyed expression.

“You are a profoundly aggravating girl indeed, I suppose.” The little girl spoke, her weary expression and tone completely unsuited to her apparent age.

Judging by the way Nox was cowering before her, this was most likely the great spirit responsible for her plight. Looking closely, Subaru could even see that she had little butterflies for pupils, so she couldn’t possibly have been human. Well, since this was another world, maybe such things were possible. Still, Subaru was certain she had to be the great spirit of yin in question.

“O Great Spirit,” She began, getting down on one knee and lowering her head before her in a subservient stance, “I know not what mine unworthy self has done to incur thy wrath, but I beseech thee, would thou not consider pardoning this transgression?” Subaru had given it her all attempting to mimic what she imagined one seeking redemption from a great spirit might say, but given that she had little experience in such matters, it probably wasn’t very good.

“It is good that you know your place, but I have no use for your prostrations.” The girl spoke, “Betty will overlook this if you leave quietly.” She continued with a sigh.

“Great, thanks.” Subaru said, breaking character immediately as she stood up (almost falling over in the process, she had forgotten how tired she was in all the excitement), for she sensed that behaving in such a stiff manner probably wasn’t doing her any favors here.

As Subaru turned around and reached for the door, she hesitated. She might die if she stayed in here and angered this great spirit (Betty? Was that her name?), but she would definitely die if she went out there and ran into that blue maid.

“By the way…” Subaru began, hesitantly addressing the great spirit, “Thanks for that. You saved me back there.” She hated to think what might have happened if this girl, no, this spirit, hadn’t intervened.

“The girl is far too egotistical if she believes Betty did that with the intent of saving her.” The spirit responded, not even bothering to look up from her book.

“Right, well… Do you mind if I stay here for a bit? There’s a lot I need to think about.” Subaru asked, her tired tone conveying her weariness and desperation.

“The forbidden archive is not for the girl to lounge about in as she pleases.” The spirit replied, but she didn’t actually do anything to eject Subaru from this place, apparently called the forbidden archive, nor did she really even acknowledge her presence from that point onward, so Subaru figured it might be okay to stay as she leaned against the wall, sliding down it with a sigh.

Silently thanking the spirit, Subaru began pondering her situation. Subaru was certain that Emilia was the one who brought her here, she was also most likely the one who changed her into this gray robe that appeared to be some kind of mix between a hospital gown and a bathrobe. Subaru was under the impression that they were getting along pretty well, so why in the world would she leave her with a murderous maid?

The moment she woke up after that harrowing battle was supposed to be a glorious one, with Emilia by her side asking her if she was okay and then offering to reward her handsomely. Instead, for some reason, she was immediately forced into yet another battle for her life. Subaru wasn’t the sort of adrenaline junkie that would get excited over thrilling battles or whatever, if possible, she wanted to live the rest of her life as peacefully as possible. The fact that all of this had happened to her in just a single day seriously did not bode well for her life in this world.

Well, no point complaining about that now, Subaru decided to instead give some thought to the maid’s motive, hopeful that she might find some way to appease her. From what she said, it seemed that she was under the impression that Subaru was a witch cultist, whatever that was. Glancing at the spines of some of the books around her, she didn’t find anything she could read, so that was a no go. The only source of information left to her was the spirit before her, she would probably know, most likely being an ancient and wise spirit that had already read everything in this archive.

Subaru really didn’t want to test the spirit’s patience any more than she already had, whatever goodwill she may have had was surely running thin, but it was all she could do for now.

“So…” Subaru called out, “You know anything about witch cultists?”

Chapter Text

The moment Subaru mentioned the term witch cultist, the spirit’s eyes shot up and fixed her with a stern glare demanding that she either explain herself immediately or face the consequences.

“Not that I’m associated with them or anything, whoever they are!” Subaru hastily added, “It’s just, it appears that a member of the mansion’s staff seems to believe that I… Am part of whatever that cult is.”

Come to think of it, was that girl even really a maid here? Could it be that she somehow snuck in impersonating the pink maid? While they looked similar enough at a glance, she seriously doubted that anyone would actually fall for such a trick, so this probably wasn’t a possibility worth considering.

Also, wouldn’t the spirit already know exactly what had happened? Subaru was under the impression that she would probably know most everything that was happening around the mansion with those powers of hers, but was that not the case?

“That would be because of the girl’s stench, I suppose.” The spirit replied after a brief period of silence, her glare relaxing slightly.

That comment definitely stung, while it was true that she ended up in a rather filthy state yesterday (or was it today? She wasn’t sure if it was the next day yet), that was all for Emilia’s sake, and moreover, wasn’t it strange to attempt to murder someone just because they smelled bad? Furthermore, Emilia, or whoever that was, had already washed her off pretty thoroughly, so she should have been pristine at that time.

Indeed, what stench was this girl even talking about to begin with? True, Subaru had gotten a little sweaty on her way here, but that was only natural considering she was running from a killer maid. Also, she was certain her fans back home would have been delighted by the scent of her sweat, it would probably sell for quite a bit if she decided to put it up for auction. Ah, her thoughts were heading in a strange direction, must have been the sleep deprivation, she couldn’t let herself get distracted now.

“When you say stench, what do you mean exactly?” Subaru asked hoping the spirit would be gracious enough to clarify.

“Is the girl truly unaware? Betty is referring to the witch’s scent that surrounds you, in fact.” The spirit’s response seemed rather casual on the surface, but Subaru sensed there were subtle implications that she couldn’t possibly grasp as she was now. More importantly, the fact that she apparently smelled of the witch (who?) was a revelation to her, no one else had ever mentioned anything of the sort. Could that be why Emilia was so hesitant to trust her back then?

The moment she thought of Emilia, some dots started to connect in her head, but she needed to clear something up first.

“Well, let me first say this: I don’t know how much weight my word holds here, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of me smelling like whoever this witch is, and I have no idea whatsoever why her scent would hang on me. I’m not associated with that cult in any way.” Subaru spoke as sincerely as she could.

“There is no point in the girl explaining herself to Betty, in fact. It is not Betty whom she needs to convince.” Subaru’s words didn’t seem to have any effect on the spirit, but at the very least, it didn’t seem like the girl didn’t believe her.

In truth, there were many more questions she would have liked to have asked, but Subaru didn’t know how long the spirit’s patience would last, so she had to be extremely careful with what she asked, economizing her inquiries as much as possible so as to obtain all the useful information she could. In order to do that, she first had to carefully analyze the information she already had so she wouldn’t end up asking for anything redundant.

Thinking back to when Emilia gave her that fake name, she clearly expected Subaru to have some kind of reaction to it, even Puck seemed surprised that Subaru didn’t know what the name meant. Given how reluctant Emilia seemed to take Subaru with her on such a dangerous quest, it was quite likely that her goal was to scare Subaru away. That being the case, given the fact that this witch was such a terrible figure that merely bearing her scent would make one a target for assassination, and considering she supposedly had a cult dedicated to her, apparently full of evil people, it seemed very possible to Subaru that Satella may in fact be the witch’s name.

While it certainly seemed like the ideal name to invoke to strike terror into someone’s heart if Subaru’s hypothesis was correct, it would also mean that Emilia didn’t know about the witch’s scent on her, since if she did she would presumably have no reason to think Subaru would be afraid of the witch. Of course, it was also possible that Subaru was completely wrong and the name had some other meaning. She didn’t want to waste a question on this, but she had to know for sure before she could consider other matters.

“Emilia mentioned the name Satella before, does that mean anything? Is it perhaps the witch’s name?” she asked, slightly worried how the spirit might react to such a question. Subaru was also curious what Emilia would have done if Subaru really did run away from her back then.

“How casually you speak that name, it is the very essence of taboo, in fact. And the brat has some nerve as well, for her of all people to say it…” The girl’s expression was unreadable. This was probably the first time in a long while Subaru felt this lost in a conversation, she usually quite good at telling exactly what other people were feeling and thinking.

Still, though the spirit’s response was much vaguer than she would have liked, Subaru felt that it was probably safe to assume that the name Satella was in fact the witch’s name, or at least connected to her in some way. That would have to mean that Emilia did not know that Subaru smelled of the witch, which in turn would mean that only certain people could smell it. Subaru also considered the possibility that she didn’t actually smell of the witch back then and that the scent only recently appeared on her, though she couldn’t imagine why that would be the case. Maybe Emilia accidentally used witch-scented soap on her or something, she did seem kind of ditzy. No, the idea was absurd.

Suddenly, she remembered one of the thugs listing Emilia’s features in terror before they ran away, and Emilia’s dour expression when he did so. Silver hair, amethyst eyes, presumably elven ears. From the brief time Subaru had known her, it was difficult to imagine the girl having a reputation that struck such primal terror into people, so what if those traits weren’t describing her specifically? The way the spirit implied that it was strange for Emilia of all people to use the name Satella seemed to further confirm this theory.

No, wait, if the name was so taboo, could it be that merely hearing the name would be enough to place the witch’s scent on someone? Would that be why it was so bad to say it? Can’t be, there’s no way Emilia would do that to her, right?

“Can you tell me more about this witch? Who is she, exactly?” Subaru, having decided that learning who exactly the witch was might help her figure out what to do about this situation, decided to pursue this line of questioning.

“The girl seems quite restless, I suppose. Shall Betty help put her to sleep, I wonder?” Unfortunately for Subaru, it appeared that the spirit had had enough of her as she rather sinisterly pointed her palm in Subaru’s direction.

“Please wait! I get that I might be annoying you, but this is a matter of life and death for me!” Subaru’s plea fell on deaf ears, the spirit would not entertain her any further. This was to be expected, Subaru was honestly surprised that the girl had tolerated her questioning as long as she had, though of course, Subaru couldn’t help but wish that she was just a little more tolerant.

“The girl’s concerns are not Betty’s problem to deal with. If it is protection you desire, seek it from the brat who brought you here, in fact.” As the girl said this, Subaru felt herself getting sucked in by the door behind her. Still too weak to put up much resistance, she was helpless as she got tossed out of the library.

Subaru got up to find that she had been dumped in a luxurious bedroom, which she realized was Emilia’s bedroom once she checked the bed. Subaru immediately realized that if the great spirit was no longer protecting her, that blue maid could come for her once more. She wasn’t sure what range the maid could detect her witch scent from, but she did refer to Emilia as Emilia-sama, and judging by this room, it felt safe to assume that Emilia really was the lady of this manor, so Subaru figured she might be safe if she just stayed here. After all, even if she knew that Subaru was here, would she be so brazen as to murder her in her own master’s room? Actually, thinking back to her encounter with her, it seemed entirely possible that the maid might do such a thing.

‘Puck, are you in there? Mind helping me out here?’ She tried to call for the cat spirit, hoping that he might aid her, but unfortunately for her, he was nowhere to be found. He did reach his limit in that battle earlier, she supposed he probably wouldn’t be able to come back until he recharged.

Subaru also considered the idea of just running away from this mansion, but she had no idea where she was, and the maid would probably catch her with ease if she tried it. Nox seemed to have regained his strength at least, though Subaru herself hadn’t, maybe she could just go out there and make a final stand against the maid, although she had absolutely no reason to do something so suicidal.

She then looked over at Emilia, and that huge, comfy bed she was sleeping in. Even if that maid was willing to murder Subaru in her own master’s bedroom, she would never dare to do it if Subaru was sharing her master’s bed! Subaru just needed to sneak under those sheets with Emilia, and all her problems would be solved. Her judgement wasn’t at all influenced by the fact that she wanted nothing more than to just go back to sleep and not deal with this crap anymore. Subaru was a little worried about Puck considering what he’d said to her back in the capital, but the guy wasn’t even around right now.

Come to think of it, Emilia did strip her down and wash her while she was unconscious, so she was well within her rights to do this. Moreover, that bed was more than large enough to easily fit half a dozen girls of their stature, so they wouldn’t even make contact in there. Furthermore, it was supposed to be Emilia who woke her up, gently and dotingly, not that bloodthirsty maid who probably intended to kill her without ever allowing her to awaken at all.

Having successfully justified herself, Subaru stealthily made her way onto the bed and slipped under the sheets. As luck would have it, it turned out that Emilia was apparently quite a heavy sleeper, because she did not react to Subaru’s movements at all.

‘Wake me up properly this time’ she muttered in her mind as she once again returned to her dreams.

Chapter Text

Subaru woke up to find herself dead the next day. Not really.

Fortunately for Subaru, she wasn’t murdered in her sleep after all. However, she ended up waking up before Emilia, a fact she wasn’t especially jazzed about, since her fantasy was once again shattered. She was also hoping that Emilia could explain everything to her and clear up whatever misunderstanding was going on with that maid (although it really didn’t feel right to call attempted murder a misunderstanding). Subaru wondered if maybe she should just pretend to be still be asleep, but she would hate to waste her time like that, she had a psychological revulsion to behaving so slothfully. Also, it might be awkward to explain why exactly she was in Emilia’s bed all of a sudden.

Taking a look out the window, Subaru confirmed that the sun was only just now rising, and her worries of this being a world with short nights could be put to rest. Subaru wondered if she should just get up and start exploring the mansion, she did feel much safer with the sun up. While theoretically her situation hadn’t changed at all, murder just didn’t seem like something you would do in broad daylight; although she wasn’t expecting to get murdered in her sleep either, so who was she to say?

Deciding that it would be best to just stay with Emilia, Subaru started pondering how best to utilize her time, and it hit her.

‘Of course, Nox, come out here!’

Puck apparently slept in Emilia’s crystal when he wasn’t around, but where did Nox go when he disappeared? Subaru didn’t have any such place to store him. Perhaps low-level spirits like him could just subsist off atmospheric mana.

Having gotten out of the bed, Subaru sat down on the floor in a meditative stance as she summoned Nox, intending to practice with him for a bit. While she doubted a short morning training session would have much effect, there ought to be considerable improvement if she kept at it every day.

‘By the way, I know you can draw mana out of me, but can you do the reverse? As in pumping atmospheric mana into me or something like that? That would be pretty cool, I think.’ Subaru asked, but unfortunately, it seemed that Nox was incapable of doing such things.

Subaru also wondered if mana usage might work like cardio, where regular training to exhaustion could increase your capacity several times over. Although she had also heard that if you completely used up your mana, you would start casting from your Od which would shorten your lifespan, which was something she definitely wanted to avoid.

As she practiced with Nox to efficiently draw out small amounts of mana, she noticed that she could also do this on her own. The feeling was a little different from when Puck taught her, like she could freely expel her mana now. Upon further inquiry, she found out that Nox had wrenched her gate open as he rapidly drew out her mana against Felt. She recalled the cracking sensation she had felt back then, so that was her gate opening up? She hoped doing it this way didn’t cause any damage.

Some time later, she heard Emilia mumbling as Puck emerged to wake her up. A lucky break for Subaru, it would have been rather awkward if it had been that maid who came to wake her. She noticed Puck shooting her a sly glance as she looked over in their direction, did he know about last night after all? It also looked like Emilia wasn’t a morning person at all, it took some serious coaxing from Puck to get her out of bed, and she still didn’t seem fully lucid even when she had finally gotten up.

“Subaru? What are you doing here?” she asked as she rubbed her eyes, having finally noticed Subaru’s presence.

“There was a bit of a misunderstanding with a maid, so I decided to seek shelter here.” Subaru responded.

“A misunderstanding?” Emilia asked, confused.

“She called herself Rem, and…” Subaru paused for a moment, wondering how honest she should be here. She glanced at Puck and then continued, “She seems suspicious of me. I don’t want there to be bad blood between us, so could you maybe clear things up?”

“Hm? Oh yeah, sure.” Emilia still seemed pretty out of it, Subaru wondered if she was even listening properly.

“Lia’s not very good in the mornings, you should give her a little time.” Puck interjected.

“Right, of course, but do you mind if I come with you? I don’t want to be alone right now.” Subaru responded, and with their permission she followed along as Emilia went about her morning routine. She found it a little strange that Puck was the one who dressed her and did her hair, but she didn’t comment on it. Would Nox also want to do that kind of thing for Subaru when he grew into a great spirit? (Was it even possible for him to become a great spirit, come to think of it?)

Emilia had also returned Subaru’s clothes and belongings along the way; Subaru was rather surprised to find that her dress had been restored almost perfectly, she was certain it had been irreparably damaged. Maybe this world had magical means of repairing clothing? As she walked with Emilia, Subaru noticed that the mansion seemed completely deserted, no servants, or anyone, around whatsoever. It wasn’t that they weren’t there, though, rather, they were being stealthy. Subaru could feel that she was being watched everywhere she went, if Emilia wasn’t with her, she would definitely be terribly nervous right now. Since it looked like Emilia was fully awake now, Subaru decided to strike up a conversation,

“So, Emilia, about that name you gave me yesterday.” Subaru decided to broach the topic that had been weighing on her for a while now, the very mention of it startling Emilia, it seemed that it had completely slipped her mind.

“Ah, um, that—“ The girl was panicking, at a loss for what to say, so Subaru took the initiative.

“Relax, I’m not mad or anything, I won’t ask you why you chose that name, but I heard a little from the spirit in the library, and I was hoping you could tell me more about this witch.” Subaru said, hoping to finally get some answers. She could almost swear that the temperature the in the corridor dropped when she asked this, it seemed Puck wasn’t happy about this conversation at all, because he cut it off immediately.

“All you need to know is that she’s someone who people are very afraid of, who happens to bear a passing resemblance to Lia.” He spoke with finality. Hold on, wasn’t he the one who told her to find out from Emilia just yesterday? What an unreasonable guy.

“It’s okay, Puck. She deserves to know.” Emilia reined him in as she turned to Subaru, her eyes wavering, “Um, Subaru, I’m reeeally sorry about yesterday, I wasn’t thinking properly, I have no idea how I—“ She was about to unleash a stream of apologies, but she managed to catch herself. “Right, you wanted to know about the witch, I guess you really are from somewhere far away… Her proper title would be The Witch of Envy, um, she was a really bad person who destroyed half the world four hundred years ago. She was defeated by the combined efforts of the Sage, the first Sword Saint, and the Divine Dragon, but uh, even though she was sealed away… Her creations, the witchbeasts, terrorize the world to this day… And… It is said that she was a silver-haired half-elf, like me.” Emilia concluded, evidently having some trouble giving this impromptu history lesson, no doubt partially because it was personal to her, but still, Subaru did learn quite a bit.

It seemed a bit strange to her for people to be afraid of someone who was sealed away four hundred years ago, but she thought back to her own world and certain religious people’s fear of the devil or whatever equivalent their religion had even though that guy had been banished to hell or whatever, so it made sense. Moreover, since the witch’s creations apparently still terrorized the world, it would be as if literal demons infested the Earth back in her old world, and people would definitely freak out quite a bit if that happened. Furthermore, she also recalled various myths about the second coming of the devil, a person who would be the harbinger of doom, could it be that Emilia was viewed that way here? Could it be that she was considered the literal antichrist of this world?

Subaru noticed that Emilia’s expression was rather fearful as she looked at her, so she figured she might as well reassure her before she gave any more thought to the matter, “That’s a pretty crazy story. It doesn’t really change how I see you or anything, though, so don’t worry about that.” Subaru would have liked to have learned more about these witchbeasts, she’d hate to run into one of them unprepared, but she didn’t want to stay on a topic that was uncomfortable for Emilia.

Emilia seemed relieved when Subaru said this, she also seemed to have remembered something just then, “Ah, Subaru, you mentioned something about a misunderstanding with Rem this morning?”

Ah, so she was listening. “Right, yeah, she seems to have the wrong idea about me. It’s not really a big deal or anything,” It was definitely a big deal to Subaru, but she didn’t want to make too much of a fuss over it, “But as I said, I’d hate for there to be any bad blood between us, so I was hoping you’d help me clear things up with her.”

Emilia still hadn’t mentioned anything about the witch’s scent, and she didn’t seem to have any idea why Rem would take issue with Subaru, so it was probably safe to assume Emilia knew nothing about that. Was the maid truly acting independently, then? Or could it be that Emilia wasn’t actually the lady of this manor?

Before their conversation could progress any further, they were interrupted by a voice that was all too familiar to Subaru, “Rem would like to apologize to the honored guest, Rem had acted in haste.” The maid’s voice was a lot calmer now than it was last night, Subaru would almost consider it pleasant to listen to were it not for her prior experiences.

‘What the hell, are these guys ninjas or something?’ Subaru thought as she turned in the voice’s direction to find that the blue maid had suddenly appeared there, with the pink one by her side. Despite their similar appearances, the differences really were obvious when she looked at them side by side.

“Ram would also like to apologize for any… Discomfort my sister may have caused the honored guest.” The pink maid, Ram, said, her voice much more commanding than her sister’s. Subaru found it pretty convenient how most people around the manor referred to themselves in the third person, it made learning names a lot easier.

Also, these two really were twin sisters after all, huh? One had saved her life just yesterday, and the other tried to take it just hours later. She’d heard of twins being opposites in some ways, but that was just taking it too far.

Furthermore, despite their apologies and guise of civility, they still regarded her with caution, the blue one especially. They hadn’t yet addressed the matter of her bearing the witch’s scent, after all; Subaru was almost worried that she was in for another assassination attempt, but she decided to hope for the best.

“Right, glad we could clear that up. So, let’s all get along, yeah?” She said, hoping that would be the end of it, although she had a sneaking suspicion that she would have to come back to this later, in private, away from Emilia.

Chapter Text

Having parted from the maids, they were now headed to the mansion’s garden, where Emilia informed that her that she would be performing her daily ritual of conversing with her spirits, something she endeavored to do twice a day as per the terms of her contract.

“See, Subaru? It was nothing to worry about after all.” Emilia said cheerfully.

“Yeah, I guess I kind of freaked out over nothing. I guess I’m a little jumpy after what happened yesterday.” It absolutely, most certainly, was not nothing, and the situation definitely hadn’t been resolved, but there was no point worrying Emilia over it. Or rather, she just didn’t want to tell Emilia. She really hoped this could just be settled quietly. Subaru recalled that Puck could skim the surface of her thoughts, she wondered what he thought of all this.

‘Lia would be pretty sad if you went and died, so try to stay alive, yeah?’ he helpfully(?) echoed into her mind, although she did wish he would actually do something to help her stay alive.

Thinking back to her interactions with Rem, although Subaru was relieved that the maid would at least maintain a facade of civility in front of Emilia (or was it that her sister was keeping her in check? Perhaps some combination of both?), she was still worried about meeting her alone, something that was sure to happen eventually if she remained at this manor. Speaking of which, how long would she be allowed to stay here? They did refer to her as a guest, and it wasn’t as if she was immediately kicked out as soon as she was healed, so was she perhaps welcome here?

“So, Emilia— Wow, this garden’s huge.” As they walked out the door, the sheer size of the manor’s so-called garden distracted her mid-question. She had expected as much, considering the size of the mansion itself, but it was still something else to actually see it in person.

“I was pretty surprised too, when I first saw it. I’m still not really used to living in this kind of place.” Emilia responded as she nodded. Hold on, she wasn’t used to living in this kind of place? Were Subaru’s earlier suspicions correct after all?

“Are you a guest here, then?” Subaru asked, thinking back, the way the maids addressed her was indeed a bit off.

“That’s right. The lord of this manner graciously took me in and is… Aiding me in the pursuit of a certain goal.” Emilia hesitated for a bit explaining her exact relationship with this lord. Subaru’s mind immediately went all sorts of unpleasant places she really didn’t want to think about, so she banished the thoughts from her mind.

“I see. Well, have fun with your spirits.” Subaru said, with Emilia nodding in response and the two parted ways here. Well, they actually just walked a short distance away from each other to converse with their respective spirits.

Subaru could tell that she was being watched even now. Ever since she left Emilia’s room, there was nary a moment that she didn’t feel that chilling gaze on her. She did her best to ignore it for now as she interacted with Nox, wondering just how strong he could get. She did feel a little bad, it wasn’t as if she was unsatisfied with him as he was now (well, just a little), but it would be nice to have a powerful spirit. Subaru herself lacked the mana capacity to support a powerful spirit, though, so her own limitations were also at fault here. What would become of their bond if Nox became too powerful to survive off atmospheric mana alone and needed to draw in even more from her?

Well, learning magic was no reason to neglect her physical strength, so Subaru figured she might as well do her morning exercises while she was at it. Maybe training both physically and magically at the same time would dramatically improve the effectiveness of both or something, probably not, but what if it did?

“Would be nice if I had some weights too.” She muttered, and in an instant the blue maid suddenly appeared beside her, “Would these be to the honored guest’s pleasing?” she said as she offered Subaru metallic weights of the kind used with scales to measure an object’s weight.

“Ah, thanks.” Subaru said, ‘Not exactly what I was asking for, but these will have to do. What the hell was that response time, anyway? That’s terrifying.’ With a quick bow, the blue maid disappeared once more as Subaru tried to figure out how best to make use of these unwieldy weights, her small hands couldn’t get a good grip on them at all.

When she noticed that Emilia was done communing with her spirits, she immediately stepped over to her, hoping to clarify some more doubts she had regarding magic and spirits. Her main question was regarding her gate, which had been forced open by Nox. Puck informed her that while doing it that way did cause some damage, she should be fine as long as she didn’t use magic recklessly. She also asked if it was possible to increase her mana capacity, and she learned that while it was possible to some extent, most people had a natural limit that they could never surpass, meaning she would never be all that much better than she was right now. How disappointing.

Subaru also noticed that neither Puck nor Emilia had broached the subject of the insignia, or really yesterday’s events at all, figuring there must be some reason, Subaru decided to avoid those topics as well, for now at least.

“By the way, Subaru, what were those movements from before?” Emilia asked, curious about what Subaru had been doing.

Subaru wondered for a moment if Emilia was referring to the way she was caressing Puck, but there wasn’t anything special about her petting technique that she could recall, so it must have been her warm up exercises she was referring to. As for the reason Subaru was petting Puck, it was partly simply because she felt like it, but also so that he would better be able to confirm that the statements Subaru was about to make were truthful. She had sensed that Emilia would soon begin to question her origin, as was natural.

“I was just limbering up, it’s not good to jump into strenuous exercise without preparing yourself first.” Subaru explained, wondering if such a concept was foreign to this world.

“Come to think of it, Subaru, you’ve honed your body quite well, haven’t you?” Emilia asked, bringing a finger up to her lip as she did. Indeed, dancing for extended periods was far more strenuous than most would realize, and to maintain enough control over one’s breath to sing at the same time would take some seriously grueling training. Subaru was rather proud of the results her efforts thus far had brought her, and was glad Emilia had noticed. Before she could respond, however, Emilia continued, “I noticed while I was wiping you down yesterday, not just your physique but your skin and those fingers too, they’re completely different from those of a commoner, you were born to a family of high standing, were you not?”

“I wouldn’t say that. Sure, my dad was doing pretty well for himself, but I wouldn’t say our family was anything out of the ordinary.” It seemed that Emilia had fallen under the impression that Subaru was some kind of noble or something. Flattering, but completely wrong. Although, come to think of it, Japan’s upper middle class probably did seem something like nobility on a worldwide scale, considering the vast majority of the world’s population lived under much poorer conditions.

“That black hair, too… Refugees from Vollachia often possess features similar to yours, might that be your situation? I’ll bet you had an attendant too, but got separated from them while you were running from those men.” Emilia continued, clearly convinced Subaru was a runaway noble from whatever this Vollachia place was.

“I’m sorry to say this, but you’re completely wrong.” Subaru shot her down immediately. The fact that the people of Vollachia apparently looked similar to was a rather interesting tidbit, though, she would have to investigate that in her own time.

“Ghk… Well, would you mind telling me a little about yourself, Subaru?” Emilia had given up on guessing, opting to simply ask Subaru instead.

“Well, if it’s my place of birth you’re wondering about, unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much I could tell you. I seriously doubt I could even place it on a map. I actually have no idea how I even ended up here to begin with, or where in the world Lugnica is supposed to be.” Subaru responded, causing Emilia’s expression to shift to one of shock.

“Eh?! Are you serious?!” Emilia was incredulous, that was only natural, even Subaru herself didn’t understand what was going on with her.

“Completely.” Subaru’s response was honest, indeed, it would probably be impossible to place Japan on a map in this world, but how foolish would she feel if it turned out that they actually knew about Japan all along? Maybe that Vollachia place was composed of other people from home? Probably not.

“But you seemed so confident back in the capital, like you knew exactly what you were doing…” Emilia’s voice was getting quieter, it seemed that this was quite difficult for her to take in.

“I did know what I was doing for the most part, I just happened to be completely lost.” Subaru responded. Indeed, she endeavored to always act rationally and decisively, that wouldn’t change even in this world. Of course, whether she actually succeeded in doing so was another matter.

Emilia remained quiet for a time, simply staring at Subaru with wide eyes, though her gaze occasionally flitted around, occasionally landing on Puck who was still purring in Subaru’s hands.

“It’s okay, Lia. She’s telling the truth.” he said at long last.

“Finally, I was wondering when you were going to speak up.” Subaru half-jokingly complained as she gently flicked his ear.

“I’m not very happy about you feeling me up just so you can use my ability that way, so I decided to hold out on you a little.” Puck responded with a teasing tone.

“Hey now, don’t you go acting like I was just using you, I was legitimately enjoying that. Can’t you feel my affection through my fingers?!” She intensified her petting as she spoke. She couldn’t help but think of Nox as she said this, the poor fellow was terrified of Puck, maybe it was cruel to him to keep playing with the cat. Still, it would be nice if they could get along, and so she kept at it.

“Nyaa~, I can feel the affection all right. Careful, though; I’m a taken man!”

“Come on, Lia doesn’t have to know…”

“The troubles of being a ladies’ man, they just don’t leave you alone.”

“What are you two even doing…” Emilia interrupted their little skit, her expression suggesting she wasn’t nearly as amused as Puck and Subaru.

“Don’t worry, Emilia-tan! I was just playing around with that guy, you’re the only one in my heart.” Subaru said to Emilia with a wink, Puck following up with an “Ouch, and here I thought we had something.”

“Subaru! You shouldn’t joke about such things!” Emilia pouted, it seemed this really wasn’t her brand of humor. Still, Subaru wasn’t completely joking.

“It might not be in that way, but I really do like you, Emilia.” Subaru adopted a more serious expression and spoke in a sincere tone.

“Eh?” Emilia didn’t know how to respond, she hadn’t been expecting this at all.

“Sure, just forget about me.” Puck grumbled. “Quiet, you.” Subaru shushed him, stroking his chin as she turned back to Emilia, “I don’t really know the details at all, so maybe I’m being presumptuous here, but it looks like you’re kind of insecure about your resemblance to the witch; maybe people judge you for that, so I definitely understand if you are. But as an outsider to all of this, from the short time we’ve known each other, I just want to say I think you’re a wonderful person, and some scary stories about a witch aren’t going to change that.”

“Subaru… Why are you…” Emilia looked away, unable to meet Subaru’s eyes as her face heated up.

Indeed, why? Subaru had only known the girl for a day, it wasn’t as if they had hit it off and become the best of friends or anything. But somehow, it felt to Subaru like Emilia was the only person in this whole world that she could trust. That probably wasn’t true, of course; there were surely any number of good people out there she hadn’t met yet, and even among the people she had met, that shopkeeper and his daughter, the old lady from the slums, maybe even the spirit in the library, there were several who seemed like decent enough people. Even so, in this world that had thugs, assassins, and killer maids lurking around every corner, Emilia stood out like a ray of light cutting through the shadows, by simply remaining at her side, Subaru had managed to overcome all of those obstacles.

In a certain sense, it was at least partially because she got involved with Emilia in the first place that she almost died in the slums, and that in turn led to her almost dying in her sleep last night, and maybe such things would keep happening if Subaru stayed with her. She still didn’t know the significance of the insignia, it was entirely possible that the incident in the slums was just a small of taste of what it could lead to, but even so, Subaru would never blame the kindhearted girl before her for any of that. If anything, considering she was basically her first and only friend in this world, it only made her want to stay by her side and support her through all of it.

Of course, there was a selfish element to this too, if staying with Emilia meant that she could keep living in this mansion, that would of course be ideal. Setting aside the occasional murder attempt from the staff, this place really was wonderful, probably much better than anything Subaru could hope for if she left. Maybe she could become a great merchant using her otherwordly knowledge or something, but that wasn’t a risk she felt like taking. For now, all she wanted was to stay right here.

“I’m really glad I got to know you, Emilia.” she said, smiling brightly.

Chapter Text

Shortly after her heartwarming talk with Emilia, the twin maids appeared before them, informing them that the lord of the manor had returned and wished to see them. When she wondered what kind of person this lord was, neither Emilia nor the maids were able to provide an answer, simply stating that they were indescribable.

“Ahaa, it is truly woooonderful to see our dear guest in good heeeeealth.” the woman before her spoke, her cadence and pitch shifting bizarrely mid-sentence.

Despite what the others had said, Subaru found it very easy indeed to describe her; maybe they didn’t have clowns in this world or something, because that was her first thought when she saw her. She was tall woman, easily over six feet, and her pale face and slender yet voluptuous figure were definitely what most would consider attractive, were it not for the fact that everything everything else about her appearance, from her makeup to her extravagant and garishly colored outfit, made her appear much more like a jester than any sort of noble. Subaru did hear that some nobles tended to be eccentric, but this was something else. Or maybe she was the court jester, and this was how she was supposed to dress? Assuming court jesters were even a thing in this world.

The woman, apparently the aforementioned lord of the manor, Roswaal L. Mathers, presently had her hands on Subaru’s shoulders as she looked down at her with a strangely affectionate gaze. There was something off about those eyes, something that made Subaru very uncomfortable, but looking at them from up close, she noticed that they were each of a different color, the left eye yellow and the other blue.

“Thank you. It was very kind of you to take me in.” Subaru responded, the woman’s choice of dress was no business of hers, it was only right to be polite to her host. Although she couldn’t help but wonder if this woman had anything to do with what the blue maid had done last night, probably not, since she was apparently away from the manor, but Subaru was still somewhat worried about the possibility.

“Pleeeease think nothing of it, you have performed a tremeeeeendous service for me, it is only natural that I would offer the gratitude you are duuuuue.” The woman glanced at Emilia as she said this, “On thaaaaat note,” she continued, her eyes flitting over to the maids this time, “would you care to jooooin us for a meeeeal?”

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

Subaru was fairly certain she wouldn’t be poisoned to death here, so she agreed. Roswaal then ordered the two maids to escort her to the dining hall, much to her dismay, Roswaal and Emilia had stayed behind to discuss something, leaving her alone with the twin maids. However, neither of them mentioned anything about the incident and the trio reached their destination without incident. Subaru would be glad to put all of that behind her if the maids were willing to do so, but she just knew the subject would once again come up at the worst possible time.

The dining hall was certainly worthy of its name, its size comparable to a small house, with a long table in the middle at which the spirit from the library was already seated, holding a glass that had some sort of amber liquid in it. Subaru didn’t know what to say to her, so she simply nodded in her direction. The maids had left for the kitchen, meaning Subaru and the girl were presently the only ones at the table.

Of the nearly twenty chairs around the table, Subaru noticed that four already had plates and cutlery set before them, one of the chairs being the one the spirit was currently seated in. Subaru presumed that the chair at the head of the table must have been Roswaal’s, the one closest to it must have been Emilia’s, and the final one, set near the bottom of the table, far from all the others was most likely Subaru’s.

Subaru was wondering if she should maybe pick her stuff up and move it over to the chair next to Emilia’s when she noticed that the spirit had raised her glass to her mouth. the amber liquid slowly pouring in. Subaru was pretty sure that stuff was alcohol, even though she knew that the spirit was probably many times older than she appeared, it still felt strange to see someone with the appearance of a child imbibing so casually.

Having noticed Subaru’s gaze, the spirit locked eyes with her, “What is it? Does the girl desire a sip, I wonder?”

Subaru wasn’t sure about the drinking laws around here, but regardless, she preferred to steer clear of illicit substances as much as possible, and so she chose to politely turn the spirit down, “Sharing a drink with a great spirit is probably too great an honor for me.” she said with a wry smile. The spirit was probably just teasing her, anyway.

More importantly, Subaru had made her decision. She would move over to the chair next to Emilia’s, even Roswaal admitted that Subaru had performed a great service yesterday, she deserved to be a little audacious here. The spirit simply observed her without comment as she moved her tableware over. She then addressed the spirit once more,

“I wanted to thank you again for yesterday, you really did help me out.”

“Thanks too often given will only lose their value. The girl’s thanks are already of little value to Betty.” The spirit casually brushed her off, but her response still brought a small smile to Subaru’s face.

It was at this moment that the doors to the dining hall opened once more, and the maids announced their presence as they brought in a cart loaded with all sorts of food.

’The stuff I can see looks normal enough, thank goodness.’

Subaru had been somewhat worried that this world might have strange culinary customs, like a bug-based diet or something. While she had read that insects were supposed to be an excellent source of protein, that just wasn’t a diet she could abide by.

The maids made no comment on the fact Subaru had shifted from the seat that was assigned to her, nor did Roswaal and Emilia when they entered, the latter two being more focused on the spirit whom she would learn was called Beatrice. Roswaal was delighted to see that Beatrice had joined them at the dinner table, something the spirit apparently hadn’t done in a long time, only for the spirit to immediately shoot her down by saying she was only here to see her brother(?). Beatrice’s tune changed instantly, however, when she saw Emilia, or more specifically, Puck.

“Nii-cha!” She called out gleefully. Was Puck the brother she spoke of, then? That kind of made sense, since they were both great spirits. Subaru was under the impression that Puck was a great spirit of fire, though, could sibling spirits have different elements?

Puck then greeted her and the two made plans to hang out for the day, and for the first time, Subaru felt that Beatrice’s behavior matched her appearance, she really was just like a little girl right now, excited to play with a kitten.

“Never imagined I’d see her like this…” Subaru muttered.

“You know Beatrice?” Emilia asked, surprised, as she took her seat next to Subaru.

“Ah, yeah, met her yesterday. That was how I ended up in your room, actually.” Subaru replied, not mentioning what exactly it was that caused her to run into Beatrice in the first place.

“It’s very unusual for Beatrice to allow anyone into her library, let alone a stranger. She must really like you.” Emilia noted, clearly misunderstanding their relationship.

Before Subaru could respond, however, Roswaal’s voice rang out through the dining hall, “It is veeery good indeeeeed to see our dear guest getting along so weeeeeell with Emilia-sama.”

Having drawn all eyes to herself, she then looked at Emilia, “Noooow then, Emilia-sama.”

Emilia nodded in response, her expression turning serious as she pulled out her insignia and placed it on the table, that familiar glow reminding Subaru of what she saw back in the slums.

Chapter Text

Subaru decided not to mention that Felt could also activate the insignia just yet, opting to instead just listen while they finally explained everything to her. She learned that the entire royal family had just recently died out, and that the insignias were used to identify those who worthy to ascend the throne in their place, meaning Emilia was in truth a candidate for the kingdom’s throne. Subaru wasn’t especially surprised by this, she did seem pretty important.

She then asked if the emblem on the insignia had anything to do with that Divine Dragon she’d heard about, and indeed, it turned out that it was apparently by the Dragon’s will that all of this was happening, it had handed down a new prophecy stating that the kingdom’s new ruler was supposed to once again enter the kingdom into a contract with the Dragon since the family it was originally contracted to had died out, and that this next ruler was supposed to be selected from five eligible candidates determined by the dragon insignias, and the kingdom had been searching all over to locate said candidates, of which four had already been found.

‘So Felt would be the final one, huh. I could quite literally set history in motion if I simply told them.’

The topic of conversation then turned to Subaru herself, with Roswaal noting that it was very strange that Subaru could have made it into Lugnica all the way to her manor while lacking such basic knowledge as she claimed to. When questioned if she had even gone through the country’s immigration check, Subaru realized that her very existence here may have violated a number of laws. (Well, she was already breaking the laws of physics.)

“In a certain sense, I actually am kind of an illegal immigrant, come to think of it.” she mumbled with a frown.

“Subaru, you shouldn’t admit that so easily! If we reported you to the bureau, you’d be thrown in prison and they’d beat you black and blue!" Emilia protested, shocked that Subaru would so casually state such a thing.

“Black and blue, heh…Anyway, it’s the truth, and it’s probably best for me to be honest here for the sake of our bright future together.” Subaru said, the other reason for her honesty being that her complete lack of knowledge about the kingdom would make it impossible for her to talk her way out of this, unless she claimed amnesia or something which surely wouldn’t work, not with the blue maid still eyeing her that way even now.

“Anyway, I really don’t think you’d go and report me, Emilia-tan, and the same goes for you, Roz-chi.” Subaru was already taking an extreme gamble here, so she figured she might as go ahead and throw out some nicknames in order to permanently cement her place in this mansion if this all went well. She noticed that Roswaal’s smile had deepened as she spoke, so this was probably fine, “After all, given the knowledge I have of your secrets, I doubt you’d ever want to let me get interrogated by the state.”

“That being the case, the only option you have if you really want to keep me quiet… Is to execute me right here.” Subaru was only saying this because she was quite certain that she wouldn’t actually be killed off right now, but if that was what Roswaal was planning, Subaru hoped she would at least be able to finish her speech before it happened.

“Subaru!” Emilia protested, as if even entertaining such an idea was distasteful to her. Indeed, Subaru was mostly talking to Roswaal here, but she could see why Emilia would take offense to her statement. She had to keep pressing forward, though.

“However, as you admitted yourself, I pulled off something pretty great yesterday. You don’t know much about me or what I’m capable of, but as a potentially invaluable asset to Emilia, it would be in your best interest to keep me right next to her until you can figure that out, isn’t that right?” Subaru spoke as confidently as she could.

“Indeeeeed, it is as you saaaaay, dear guest. If you could aaaaaid Emilia-sama in her future endeavors as you have alreeeeady done, that would of course be ideeeeal.” Roswaal replied, her grin widening as her gaze urged Subaru to continue.

“However, before any of that, is it not only right that I should be rewarded for my efforts?” Subaru was really pushing her luck here, she had already learned how to contract spirits from Emilia, as they had agreed upon yesterday, and the pink maid had saved her life. Still, given that she had technically saved the candidacy of a woman who may one day become the queen of this nation, she felt like she could go for more.

“… That’s right, Subaru. You put your life on the line to retrieve my insignia when you had no obligation to, I cannot thank you enough. Anything you desire, if it is within my power, no, even if it’s beyond me, I shall most certainly endeavor to make it happen.” It was Emilia who responded this time, her expression and tone made it clear just how serious she was, her sincere gratitude made Subaru feel pretty terrible for taking advantage of the situation, but still, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Subaru could potentially set herself up for life here, she couldn’t let such feelings as momentary guilt hold her back.

“That’s great to hear, Emilia. Thank you, but I’m not done with Roswaal just yet.” She said, thanking Emilia before she sharpened her eyes and returned to Roswaal once more. “While it’s true that I helped Emilia out of a tough spot, the reason she even ended up in trouble to begin with was because her chaperone went and lost her.” Subaru sensed that Emilia was about to injerject that it was her own fault that they got separated, but she cut her off before she could. “Still, she did save our lives in the end, so let’s call that even. What I really want to address here is what happened last night…” Subaru said, her chilling tone causing the atmosphere in the room to shift instantly, the maids in particular had tensed up noticeably.

The only reason Subaru had even brought up the pink maid’s actions was to neuter the argument that she had saved Subaru’s life. By framing it in such a way that it looked like the pink maid was only making up for her failure to properly watch over Emilia to begin with, Subaru left them with no defense for what she was about to say next.

“There was a… Let’s call it a small problem with a member of your staff last night,” Subaru said, glancing at the blue maid, “Now I’m not asking for you to punish her, I’d prefer to avoid that if at all possible, since it appeared to have been a misunderstanding and I’d like to get along with her at the end of day, but when it comes down to it, is it not the master’s responsibility to be held accountable for their servants’ actions?”

Subaru did her best to avoid looking at Emilia as she said this. What kind of expression was she making right now? Was she disappointed?

“You are of course correeeect. Now, how would you have me coooompensate you for your troooooubles?” Roswaal’s smile hadn’t faded at all, Subaru was glad she immediately agreed without even asking for any details, she could now state her demands in earnest.

“Right, with all of that out of the way, I shall now list my conditions: First of all, I want to take up permanent residence in this mansion and I’d like to receive an allowance while I’m here. Secondly, since I can’t read this nation’s writing, I’d like to learn to do that as well. The third’s not really a condition, but…” She paused and looked at Beatrice, who was still playing with Puck, seemingly not even paying attention to the conversation, “When I can read, it would be nice if I could use that library of yours.”

“You wish to enter the forbidden archive? What part of the word ‘Forbidden’ does the girl fail to understand, I wonder?” Beatrice shot her a dismissive glance as she immediately turned her down.

“Now, now, Beatrice.” Roswaal stepped in, “Is our dear guest’s pursuit of knowledge not aaaaadmirable? Was it not for that very purpose that the library was creaaaated?” Roswaal’s eyes took on a strange glint as she said this to Beatrice, as if it was some secret only they would understand. Beatrice glared at Roswaal for a moment, seemingly having understood whatever implication the woman’s words carried, before she turned her gaze back to Subaru.

“The girl may enter the archive as she pleases, if she is able to find it, I suppose.” she began, “Though it bears mentioning that she will of course be at Betty’s mercy when she does so.”

‘If I can find it, eh? I suppose it’s like that trick with the doors, where she can move things around freely?’

“Now, will that be aaaall, dear guest?” Roswaal asked, her tone one of amusement. Subaru was considering also asking for a large amount of money upfront, but that really would be pushing it, and besides, she knew nothing of the kingdom’s economy beyond the fact that they used metal coins. She didn’t even know what kind of allowance Roswaal would be giving her exactly, she would have to clear that up as soon as possible, and in order to do that, she’d need to learn to read.

With their talks concluded, Roswaal ordered Ram to take some time out of her schedule to teach Subaru. Subaru was glad she hadn’t chosen the blue maid, that would have been terribly awkward, although she did still make sure to compliment her on her cooking, since the food genuinely was excellent, and the blue maid was apparently mostly responsible for the cooking in the mansion.

The residents of the manor then dispersed to carry out their tasks for the day, Roswaal to do whatever it was that she did, Emilia to study for the upcoming royal selection, Rem to do some more housework, Beatrice left for the forbidden library, although she had done so by directly connecting its entrance to that of the dining hall, confirming to Subaru that she really could move it anywhere in the mansion. Finally, there was Ram, who was accompanying Subaru back to her room with some study materials in hand.

In order to clear the air with Rem, it couldn’t hurt to first have a talk with her sister, Subaru thought, and as the two entered her room, Subaru decided that that was exactly what she was going to do.

Chapter Text

Subaru was currently seated at her desk, with a notepad, a few sheets of paper, a quill and a bottle of ink, and a children’s story book laid out before her. Ram informed her that there were three scripts she would have to learn to be properly literate, those being imoji, romoji, and hamoji, and that they would be starting with imoji, with Subaru’s goal being to reach a level where she could read the story book she saw before her, which was written entirely in imoji.

‘Three scripts, huh. A lot like Japanese in that way. I suppose that makes sense, since the spoken language is almost exactly the same, barring a few nouns for some reason.’

Ram then organized the several dozen characters Subaru would need to learn into rows and columns, instructing Subaru to master them one row at a time as she sounded them out for her. Subaru decided to save the conversation she wanted to have for later, she would need to devote all of her attention to this in order to learn as efficiently as possible, she would only be wasting Ram’s time as well as her own by getting distracted. Subaru was always a good learner, so she managed to pick things up rather quickly. She also noticed that, though strict, Ram herself was quite a good teacher.

In less than an hour’s time, Subaru had memorized all the characters from the imoji set, and Ram left her for a bit to revise on her own, informing her that she would be tested later. Subaru decided that she might as well have a look at the book while Ram was gone, and while it was rather slow going at first, she found that she was indeed able to read its contents with some effort, though she hadn’t gotten very far by the time Ram returned, having brought tea for both of them.

As Subaru sipped on her tea (which was excellent), she decided that it was finally time to broach the subject of Rem and the witch’s scent that apparently hung on Subaru.

“Ram, I—“ she began, but the maid sitting on her bed cut her off.

“Ram is grateful to the honored guest for being lenient with her sister.” she said. This was a relief to Subaru, she noticed that Ram had looked somewhat upset when Subaru used Rem’s behavior last night as a bargaining chip against Roswaal, fortunately it didn’t seem like that would affect their relationship going forward.

“You don’t have to keep calling me the honored guest, you know? Just Subaru’s fine. You’re my teacher right now, after all, I was hoping we could be a little friendlier.” This was already going better than Subaru had expcted, so she figured she might as well take this chance and attempt to befriend the maid.

“Very well. Ram shall commit that to memory, Barusu.” came the maid’s response, causing Subaru to smile wryly. The fact that the maid felt comfortable enough with her to butcher her name so casually could only be a good sign. Barusu was a rather fitting nickname for her as well, recalling that a spell bearing that name had collapsed a flying castle and blinded the villain in a certain movie from her home world, Subaru found it perfectly suited to a woman of yin such as herself.

“Anyway, Ram, I know I apparently smell of the witch, but I just wanted to tell you, I am most definitely not associated with any sort of cult.” Indeed, Subaru’s family had been secular for generations.

“Ram is aware. With how pathetic Barusu was in that last battle, she could not possibly be associated with the witch cult.” That wasn’t how Subaru would have put it, but yes, her valiant efforts in that last battle should have cleared her of any suspicion, although she supposed that it was possible that a really dedicated sleeper agent might be willing to go that far too.

“Though since Barusu has brought it up so freely, would she care to explain why exactly it is that she bears the witch’s miasma?” Ram asked, her eyes and tone sharpening imperceptibly.

“I actually honestly have no clue, I just found out about that yesterday.” Subaru spoke, hoping her expression and tone would convey her sincerity.

“Barusu’s foolishness is truly astounding. It is enough that she knows nothing of the world around her, to think she would even be ignorant of her own—“

“Okay, hold on just one moment. I know I asked you to be a little more casual, but is it really necessary to go that far?” Subaru didn’t really mind Ram’s sass, she even found it somewhat endearing in fact, but still, she found it a little strange to have a maid she had only just met treating her this way.

“Ram believes her honesty is her most charming feature.” she said as she set her cup down, having finished it.

“Ram is surprised to see Barusu making an effort on her own.” Ram said, seemingly having noticed that Barusu - no, wait, Subaru, that nickname was starting to stick in her mind - had been reading in her absence,

“Of course I am, what kind of person do you think I am, exactly?”

“A useless freeloader taking advantage of Roswaal-sama’s goodwill.” With these words, Ram stood up and walked over to Subaru to examine what she had written thus far. She then instructed Subaru to write out all of the imoji characters in order, and sound them out. While their recent conversation had distracted her somewhat, Subaru did manage to retain the information and thus aced Ram’s test.

“Ram had been worried that Barusu’s mental capacity would fall short of even a small child’s, it is good to see that she at least possesses the barest capability for literacy.” Backhanded as it was, such a compliment from Ram may perhaps have been among the highest praise Subaru had ever received.

With this, Ram took her leave, throwing some more sass Subaru’s way on her way out. With her gone, Subaru turned her attention back to the book. It appeared to be a collection of Lugnican legends, simplified so that young children could read them. While there were a number of interesting stories in there, like the one about the sage who had planted a tree which would grow and grow until it pierced the clouds, the ones she was interested in were the ones about the Dragon and the witch.

Unfortunately, being that it was a children’s book, it didn’t offer much detail about either. The story about the Witch of Envy mostly just reiterated what she had already heard from Emilia, that she had caused a great calamity four hundred years ago and the like. The story of the Dragon, too, mostly just echoed what she heard at breakfast today, about its contract with the royal familiy to protect the kingdom. She did learn that the Dragon had apparently saved the kingdom a number of times, though, it was definitely understandable why they would want to reestablish the contract as soon as possible.

‘Well, I’ve been sitting around long enough, I think. Might as well stretch my legs a little. Let’s go, Nox.’

Subaru left her room, deciding to try and track Beatrice down. She recalled what she felt the last time she found the library and wondered if she might be able to repeat that.

As she wandered the mansion’s corridors, she ended up running into Rem, who had been replacing the flowers in a vase. The girl had clearly noticed Subaru’s presence, but she did not acknowledge her in any way.

“Hello, Rem.” Subaru decided to call out to her, keeping Nox at the ready just in case things went south.

“Greetings, honored guest.” Rem replied, her expression blank, though her tone suggested that this wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have in the slightest. Before Subaru could even say another word, Rem was already walking away from her.

“Rem will be taking her leave now.”

‘Tough nut to crack, eh. Well, that’s fine.’

In truth, even though Subaru understood that the maid was only trying to protect the manor (presumably), an attempt on her life wasn’t something she could forgive so easily. No matter how she rationalized it, that bit of resentment would not leave her heart, thus forming a permanent rift between Subaru and the maid. Even if they were to talk things out right now, Subaru wasn’t sure if the two of them would ever get along.

‘Damn, this sucks.’

Subaru sighed, her mood ruined. She didn’t really feel like studying anymore, in all honesty she wanted nothing more than to just go and hang out with Emilia, but she wouldn’t want to interrupt a potential successor to the throne’s studies. The mere thought of the sheer scale of the responsibility on Emilia’s shoulders was daunting to her, she couldn’t imagine the pressure of being responsible for the fate of an entire kingdom. The fact that Emilia was determined to confront such a challenge head on only deepened the admiration Subaru already had for her, she really was built of tougher stuff. However, that didn’t change the fact that without Emilia, Subaru had no one to hang out with and nothing to do.

‘There’s not much to do around here for entertainment, huh. Wouldn’t want to bother the others by singing…’

The mansion was large enough that it was likely that no one would hear her if she did it in some secluded room, but still, no telling who might wander by,

‘Alright, Nox. You’re up, play with me for a bit. It’ll be good practice, too.’

She had Nox cast the levitation spell Murak on her, and then proceeded to float down the mansions corridors, gently bouncing off the walls now and then as she tried not to hit anything important.

’Those decorations look like they’re worth more than my life, I’d better not hit them no matter what.’

The high stakes really got her blood pumping, it was good to finally get some excitement that didn’t involve the risk of death. Well, maybe she actually was risking death if she broke anything expensive. Even so, she couldn’t but increase her speed further and further as she narrowly dodged paintings, vases, and various other adornments.

‘What am I even doing, this is just irresponsible…’

Subaru wasn’t really the rebellious type, some might even describe her as a rather straitlaced girl, someone who followed the rules for the most part. Of course, depending on what said rules were, Subaru was entirely willing to break them as she saw fit, but this was different. She had never been the kind of person to put other people’s property at risk just so she could have a little fun, she was honestly surprised that a little boredom and frustration could degrade her character to this extent.

‘I suppose an idle mind really is the devil’s workshop, huh. Well, part of it is that I’m just not a good person at all…’

Subaru was about to make pun switching idle for idol, but she decided against it. To begin with, she didn’t even understand why her mood had suddenly worsened so much. Was it homesickness? While she did miss her old world, there was something else to this feeling too. Things were going extremely well for her right now, she had secured a great life for herself in this other world, she shouldn’t have had that much to be frustrated about. Could it be that merely seeing Rem had pissed her off to this extent? If so, she wondered if the maid felt similarly about her.

‘Ugh, I guess I really do need to make up with her, I might not ever know another moment of peace in this mansion if I don’t.’

Subaru noticed a familiar sensation from a certain door as she thought this, and so she decided to touch down there. Nox was just about reaching his limit too, she wouldn’t want to end up using her own mana yet again. Being in a bad mood was no excuse for her to go around wasting her time, if she had the opportunity to study, she ought to take it.

‘Alright, let’s see how good my instincts are.’ she thought as she gripped the door’s handle and twisted it open.

Chapter Text

When she opened the door, she found the forbidden library awaiting her on the other side, just as she expected. The sight within was also more or less what she had expected, with Beatrice gleefully playing with Puck as if she didn’t have a care in the world, though she immediately froze when she noticed Subaru’s presence.

“Yo, Beako.” Subaru called half-heartedly.

“The girl has truly unfortunate timi— What did you just call Betty?” Beatrice stopped her rebuke mid-sentence when she noticed that Subaru had suddenly nicknamed her.

“It’s a term of endearment.” Subaru responded. While true, she had said it without even thinking about what she was saying. She was still somewhat distracted by that ever-present irritation that had invaded her heart.

“There is nothing endearing about it, in fact. What kind of relationship does the girl think she has with Betty, I wonder?”

Subaru didn’t respond. While it was true that she appreciated the girl for saving her yesterday and also for letting her use the library, it was also true that she didn’t really know anything about her nor had they really interacted very much, and their relationship would be considered one of acquaintances at best. Though she was loath to admit it, that may have been her loneliness talking. Humans were social creatures, after all, and that was especially true for Subaru. She had been ripped away from her loving family, her wonderful friends, her adoring fans, all of whom had always made her days brighter.

The only one in this world whom she might call a friend was Emilia, and her station was completely different from Subaru’s, Subaru could not possibly ask to take any of her time when she knew the colossal amount of pressure the girl was no doubt facing already, pressure that surely would have crushed Subaru had she been the one trying to bear it. Perhaps Ram could be another option, Subaru did feel like she could befriend her after their little talk today, but as long as Subaru’s relationship with her sister remained in its current state, it would also affect her relationship with Ram, making it difficult for the two to truly get along. Furthermore, Ram was quite busy herself, beyond the time she took out of her schedule to teach her, Subaru doubted the maid would have much spare time to spend with her.

And of course, Subaru herself would hate to impose on them like that. They all had such important things to do, it would be wrong to distract them just so she could make them take care of her moodiness. This wasn’t a problem she ever had in her old world, she had no shortage of people who would have loved nothing more than to give her their time; she could freely choose who she wanted to spend her time with, and when, and those she chose would consider the opportunity an honor. Subaru was only now realizing just how much she was taking her position at the top of the social hierarchy for granted. She hated feeling this needy, she hated feeling like a nobody, she hated feeling like she was desperate for people’s attention.

‘Maybe I’m a much more vain person than I realized…’

Subaru’s thoughts were now turning in a dark direction as she thought back to her first night in this mansion. Rem. This was her fault. Even though her murder attempt had failed, she had successfully ruined Subaru’s life. That single act of hers colored all of Subaru’s interactions in the manor even now. It was because of her that Subaru now felt this way. It was because of her that Subaru couldn’t get close to her sister, or anyone else. It was because of her that this terrible anxiety had taken root in Subaru. It was because of her that Subaru couldn’t find a moment of peace in this manor—

No, there was another culprit. The witch. She who had marked Subaru with her scent. It was because of that scent that Rem had attacked her, and because of that scent that all of this was happening to Subaru. The witch was truly terrible indeed, Subaru could now very easily understand why she was detested so even four hundred years after her defeat.

‘Damn her! Why me?! Why would she do this to me?!’

Was this some kind of sick joke? Had it been the witch that had brought her to this world in the first place, solely to torture her? It was hard to imagine that Emilia, the very image of kindness, shared her likeness with such a twisted freak.

“The girl’s thoughts are becoming increasingly twisted, I suppose. For what purpose has she come to the library, I wonder?” Beatrice’s words snapped her out of her macabre reverie.

“Sorry about that. I was wondering if you had any books around here written in imoji.” Subaru tried to calm her racing thoughts as she spoke, she shouldn’t let her troubles affect the others in the manor, especially not Beatrice who had no fault in this whatsoever.

With Beatrice directing her, Subaru obtained a few books that interested her and got to reading. That was all she could do right now, really. Hole up in the library and read, and when she was done there, she would go and do the same in her room. That was an existence Subaru hated to imagine, yet it was all that lay in her future. When it came time for her meals, she instructed Ram to simply bring them up to her room, declining to join the others at the dinner table; her time was better spent accumulating as much knowledge as possible as quickly as she could. She had ceased to interact with the other inhabitants of the mansion at all, except for Ram when she came to teach her, and even there it was only the bare minimum. She would no longer leave her room at all except to visit the library or the bath, and were it not for the time she spent with Nox, she would have passed each day without having a single conversation of note. She truly was grateful for the spirit’s presence.

Subaru would also notice whenever she left the bath, that there would be a new dress waiting for her, sewn to fit her almost perfectly, no doubt the work of Rem. Subaru was amazed that the maid could so quickly and accurately fit these dresses for her without even having taken her measurements (or maybe she knew because she was most likely the one who had repaired Subaru’s tattered dress), but it also made her feel even more terrible.

‘She can work this diligently even for someone she hates, huh.’

Indeed, even the food Subaru ate most likely came from Rem, and she could sense that the maid hadn’t slacked off at all there either. She hadn’t let her personal feelings interfere with her duties in the slightest. Compared to her, Subaru who had so easily withdrawn from the world just because of her own insecurities— No, Subaru didn’t even merit comparison to the girl, merely making such a comparison would be an insult to the maid.

‘What the hell is wrong with me? How did I fall apart so easily?’ she wondered as she picked up another book.

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On her fourth day at the mansion, while she was playing with Nox in the bath, she had a visitor.

“Subaru, is that you?” A familiar voice like a silver bell called out to her.

“Ah, Emilia. Sorry, I’ll be right out—“ Subaru panicked, she wasn’t prepared in the slightest to see the silver-haired girl now of all times.

“No, please wait. I’ve been wanting to talk to you.” Emilia urged her to stay as she entered the large bath herself. Subaru simply remained silent, waiting for her to speak.

“We haven’t seen each other at all since that day, have we? I hear you haven’t been leaving your room lately…” Emilia began, her tone uncertain.

“Ah, I’ve been pretty busy with my studies lately. Sorry about that.” A pathetic excuse, but that was all Subaru could say to the lovely girl before her.

“It isn’t good to push yourself so hard, you know. If you would just relax a little—“ Subaru couldn’t let Emilia finish her sentence, she had to cut her off, she couldn’t bear to let Emilia waste such kind words on her for something she had inflicted on herself.

“I’m fine, Emilia, really. It’s not like I have nothing to show for it, you know? I’ve already mastered imoji and romoji, once I can read hamoji properly, maybe I’ll take a break, take it easy for a while.” Indeed, despite her deteriorating mental state, Subaru’s studies continued to progress at an acceptable rate. The part about her eventually relaxing was a complete lie, though. She needed to keep at it in order to feel like she had a purpose here. As Roswaal said, the pursuit of knowledge was an admirable goal, as long as Subaru kept working towards that, she could ignore the darkness festering in her soul.

“If you say so, Subaru… But your eyes, and your voice… You seem so tired. You were much livelier back then.” Emilia said, averting her eyes from Subaru’s as she directed her regretful gaze downward.

“When you said you were glad you got to know me, I… I was so happy. I felt the same way, I was really glad I met you.” Emilia’s voice wavered as she spoke, her eyes glistening as she teared up, “But now, I don’t know what could have happened, but when I see how you’ve changed— When I think that because I brought you here, you might have—“

Every single word she spoke tore into Subaru’s heart. The fact that she had been making Emilia worry about her for all this time was unforgivable. She should have known, it was only natural that someone as kind as Emilia would be concerned, even for the likes of her. Subaru wished she could reassure her, she wished that she could find exactly the right words to ease her worries, but she just couldn’t. She had always been so confident when she interacted with others, like she knew exactly what kind of person they were, how they were feeling, what she should say to them, but what did she really know about anyone else? What right did she have to tell them how to feel? It was disgusting to think that she had ever held such delusions of grandeur.

Still, she could not let Emilia think that any of this was her fault. If anything, the fault lay with the world around her, and most of all, Subaru herself.

“None of this is your fault, Emilia. You don’t have to worry about a thing, it’s just… I guess I’m having a bit of a hard time adjusting to all of this, that’s all.” Subaru spoke, her voice no longer carrying even a semblance of the confidence and certainty it once held.

“Even so, I wish there was something I could do to ease your troubles, if only I could—“

“Emilia, I’m truly grateful that you feel this way, but please, you needn’t concern yourself with me. It’s entirely my own fault that I ended up this way, it has nothing to do with you.” Subaru was choking up, she couldn’t take this anymore.

“It was my fault that I lost my insignia, but you still risked your life to help me that day!” Emilia yelled, tears now streaming down her face, “After you’ve done so much for me, the fact that you won’t even trust me to help you when you’re so obviously in anguish…!”

Subaru was by this point completely incapable of offering any sort of response, but it was Emilia herself who cut herself off this time, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have raised my voice. I’m sure you have your reasons, I shouldn’t pry where it’s not wanted.”

Her eyes were now clear as she looked at Subaru, though it was Subaru who couldn’t meet her gaze this time. “It seems you and Rem have been avoiding each other. Is that what this is about? That misunderstanding you mentioned back then?” Subaru didn’t respond, she couldn’t, causing Emilia to sigh. “She’s going to the nearby village to do some shopping today. Maybe you’d like to accompany her?”

Chapter Text

Subaru turned down Emilia’s offer to go shopping with Rem, she couldn’t even stand to look at the maid as she was now. As much as she hated herself now, her dark feelings towards the maid hadn’t vanished either. Subaru had come to hate a whole lot as her mental state spiraled downwards, forming a sort of self-perpetuating cycle. Reassuring the silver-haired girl with some half-baked excuses, Subaru once again returned to the library.

Subaru was well aware that she was declining mentally, but it was only now that she saw how difficult it was for her to have a simple conversation with Emiila that she had realized how far she had fallen in a matter of days. The words that came to her so easily before now escaped her no matter how hard she tried to find them, she had descended to a point where she was only capable of conversing with her spirit. She might have seriously gone insane here were it not for said spirit keeping her company.

‘Damn, I sure turned pathetic pretty quickly.’ she thought to herself with a bitter smile, ‘Imagine if the fans back home saw me like this, gotta get my act together.’

Although it was by this point laughable to her that she actually had people that looked up to her. Sure, she could sing a little, but what was that really worth? She hadn’t ever accomplished anything of note, anything worth admiring.

She also hated herself for feeling this way, for the way she felt when she was with Emilia especially. Subaru had built her up to epic proportions within her mind, and while the girl certainly deserved to be held in such high regard, she was also just an ordinary girl with ordinary feelings at the end of the day. Subaru had seen her uncertainty in the capital, her insecurity about her resemblance to the witch, the way she would smile when Subaru spoke to her. From what Subaru had seen, she wasn’t especially close to any of the other residents of the manor, Roswaal was only superficially polite to her, the maids maintained a professional distance, and Beatrice hardly acknowledged her presence at all, except when she wanted to see Puck. It didn’t seem like Emilia ever left the manor either, except on special occasions like her trip to the capital, the purpose of which still remained unclear to Subaru. It seemed she and Emilia were similar in that way, both shut-ins who only had their spirits to talk to. But unlike Emilia, who was rejected by the world due to the circumstances of her birth, something she had no control over, Subaru had no excuse for her behavior.

It truly pained Subaru to think that in much the same way that she had thought of Emilia as her first and only friend in this world, Emilia too may have thought of Subaru the same way. She had seen how happy Emilia was when they spoke that day, she knew how deeply her presence affected Emilia from their recent encounter in the bath, but she couldn’t be that person for her. She couldn’t be that person for anyone. And she hated that. She knew that Emilia wouldn’t look down on her, yet it was Subaru herself who did not see herself as worthy of befriending her. Simply speaking to someone so noble, someone so important, someone carrying such a heavy burden, seemed to expose every little flaw marking Subaru’s soul, as though a burning light had been cast upon her. Subaru knew Emilia wouldn’t want to be thought of that way, she wouldn’t want to let such considerations ruin their relationship, but Subaru just couldn’t help it. It was easy to be magnanimous when she was at the top, but next to a woman who may one day be queen and yet possessed the kindest and humblest soul she knew of, she realized just how petty and small she was as a person.

With such thoughts invading her mind as she finished yet another book, Subaru completely lost track of the passage of time, neglecting to leave the library even for dinner as she eventually dozed off on the floor, still leaning against a bookshelf with a book in hand. She was of course, immediately awoken by Beatrice.

“The forbidden archive is not for the girl to sleep in, in fact.” she announced.

“I’m sorry, Beatrice. Just for tonight, could I stay here?” Subaru pleaded. As a space quite literally separated from the mansion, the forbidden library offered her a sense of safety and peace she couldn’t find anywhere else. Even her own room would not offer her this comfort which she so desperately need right now. Just one night, she would be ready to confront the world tomorrow, this one night was all she needed.

Beatrice silently looked down at Subaru, her gaze one of pity mixed with a certain other emotion, as she silently returned to her stool, implicitly giving Subaru permission to remain in the library. Subaru’s debts to the great spirit just kept on accumulating, she wondered if she could ever repay her kindness as she once again drifted off to sleep.

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The next day, she woke up to find that Roswaal had apparently called for Beatrice. Figuring it was about time she left the library, Subaru decided to follow the spirit, only to be greeted by a horrific sight that would mean the end of her life at the mansion as it had been thus far.

Rem lay in bed, dead, with Ram sobbing by her side.

Emilia and Roswaal were there too, and having noticed Subaru’s arrival, they spoke to her. Maybe, not that Subaru would know, because she wasn’t listening to a single word that came out of their mouths. She could tell instantly from the atmosphere in the room that she was a suspect here, that the residents of the manor thought she had a hand in this.

Why was this happening? Why was Rem dead? Why did they blame Subaru? It wasn’t enough that her murder attempt had already ruined Subaru’s life here, she had to go and ruin it even further with her death. Perhaps it was silly to blame the girl for this, but Subaru’s mental state was already far beyond the point of rationality.

She then noticed that Ram was speaking to her, yelling at her, blaming her, “You hated her! I saw you conspiring with that spirit of yours! How could you?!”

Subaru tuned her out again, she really didn’t want to hear this crap. She understood that Ram was grieving the loss of her beloved sister, that it was hard to remain rational in the wake of such a loss, but why did Subaru have to be her scapegoat? What had she done to deserve all of this?

Subaru briefly considered that she may have already died without noticing it, what she thought was another world was actually her purgatory, tormenting her for the sins she committed in life. Even so, that didn’t mean she was going to roll over and accept it as long as she had a choice in the matter.

She also noticed that Beatrice had spoken in her defense against accusations of her hiding away, stating that Subaru had been spending most of her time in the library and indeed even most of yesterday, and thus couldn’t possibly have had a hand in this. The spirit truly was too good for Subaru, that Subaru could never repay her in any way made her heart ache.

But such defenses were already meaningless, even if Subaru proclaimed her innocence, even if she was outright proven innocent, her life here was already over, things would never be the same again. She could not stay here.

The more she thought about it, the angrier she became. This was supposed to be her reward, the fruit of her efforts, the result of her heroic actions in the slums. So why was it all falling apart like this? Her rage continued to swirl and build within her until she finally erupted,

“Damn you! I’ve had enough of this garbage!” she yelled as she exploded through one of the mansion’s windows, using Nox’s powers to propel herself out of the manor with incredible speed. The past four days of practice were now showing their results, her synergy with her spirit having improved significantly, it wasn’t long at all until she had flown all the way to the nearby forest, only touching the ground a handful of times along the way.

She didn’t know where she was running, she just wanted get away from the manor, far, far away, as far as she could go. She hadn’t even taken her belongings with her, if she simply had those, maybe she could have sold them for a tidy sum and built a new life for herself. But now? What options did she have left to her?

Her thoughts were interrupted when Nox suddenly sent her strong feelings of warning, informing her that enemies were closing in as they rushed through the forest.

“Minya!” she yelled as she spun mid-air, using her newly learned offensive spell to skewer her pursuers without slowing down in the slightest. Having seen them, she could only describe them as demonic… Wolves? Dogs? Either way, that distinctive horn jutting out of each one's forehead made it obvious to her exactly what they were,

‘Witchbeasts! Now of all times?!’

That blasted witch really was intent on making her life as difficult as possible. Despite her improvement over the last few days, she still wasn’t at all suited to a long battle. She could sense through Nox that there were even more such beasts pursuing her, and judging by the fierce winds she could hear off in the distance, the pink maid was chasing her as well. Given that she would run out of mana right away if she tried to stay and fight, her only option was to just keep running as fast as she could, not that she had enough mana to even do that for very long.

Such worries would prove fruitless, however, for a gigantic blast of wind would soon tear its way through the forest towards her, felling every tree in its path until it finally reached her. Subaru managed to use the last of her strength to dodge the brunt of it, but the impact still sent her flying several dozens of meters, out of the dense woods and into a clearing, breaking several of her bones along the way.

Unable to even stand, Subaru could only watch as the pink maid approached her, a veritable tornado swirling around her as she did so. The blood dripping into Subaru’s eyes made it impossible for her to even see the maid’s expression, though she could imagine quite well exactly what kind of expression it was.

“You… You’ll pay for this!”

She couldn’t tell if the voice was the maid’s or her own.

Chapter Text

Ever since she was a child, the very idea of death brought about a terrible existential dread in Subaru. There was nothing she feared more than the idea of ceasing to be, never to return. No second chances, once you were gone, that was it. What in this world could be more terrifying, more terrible than the ultimate dead end that was death? That final wall that equalized all, which all living things would one day have to face, the mere thought of which could cause terror like no other?

As her life neared its end, such thoughts were all that filled her mind. There was no clever way out of this, nothing that could save her this time. All she could do was wait out those last agonizing moments until she was finally put to rest.

Such a pleasant way to put it, wasn’t it? ‘Put to rest’. The excruciating pain coursing through her entire body barely even registered in her mind, her imminent death was all she could think of.

Still, even if she was going to meet her end here, that was no reason to take her spirit with her. Nox at least should live on, she owed him that much.

‘Guess this is goodbye, Nox. Thank you, for everything.’

As the spirit desperately whizzed around her, about to extinguish his own Od in one final attempt to protect her, Subaru stopped him and broke their contract despite the spirit’s protests, telling him to be free and live a long life, something she wouldn’t be able to do herself. Having severed her bond with her spirit, Subaru was now well and truly alone.

It was only now that Subaru truly understood the root of her anxiety, the true identity of the specter that had broken her down over the past four days. The fear of death. More than her loneliness, more than her homesickness, more than her insecurities, more than anything, it was the fear of death that had destroyed her so. This world was one where death was always a real possibility.

The idea that she might die at any moment had haunted her subconscious for her entire stay at the mansion. While it was technically true that she could have died at any moment in her old world as well, it always seemed like such a distant concept, something she could easily distract herself from, though the sleepless nights upon which such fears would consume her certainly weren’t few in number even then.

What a terrible fate, to be so suddenly ripped away from everyone she knew and loved, only to die such a pathetic death mere days later. It was almost comedic, really, though she could neither laugh nor cry about it as things stood now. She was about to lose everything, she would never again see her friends and family, or Emilia, or anyone. Even though it was probably impossible, she had still held some hope that she might someday visit her old world once more, but all of her hopes and dreams were about to be extinguished.

Her only saving grace was that these thoughts had distracted her enough that she had barely even noticed the moment of her own death as she was ripped apart by the same blades of wind that had once saved her life.

As her consciousness faded, never to return, the person known as Natsuki Subaru ceased to be—

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Hm? Subaru felt like something important happened here, but she had no memory of it whatsoever.

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Subaru was awoken by an unpleasant yet familiar alarm-like sensation in her head, immediately recognizing it as Nox warning her, her eyes shot open to find that she was in a very familiar situation indeed, with a blue maid reaching for her throat, though there was something different about her demeanor this time, her eyes were presently widened in shock.

Instantly leaping off the bed and bouncing off the wall onto the floor as she had before, Subaru tried to process what was happening here. Rem was alive, and Subaru herself was alive too. Why? What was going on here? Was all of that some kind of sick prank? Had she dreamt it all? If it had only been a dream, she could only be glad, but somehow, she doubted that that was the case, this was all too familiar.

One key difference from what she had experienced previously, however, was that the blue maid was much more aggressive this time, so quick to bring out her flail and attack that Subaru hadn’t even had time to say anything.

As Subaru called upon Nox’s powers to deflect the maid’s attacks while she desperately tried to figure out what in the world was happening here, she heard the maid give her that same old spiel about her being a witch cultist and all that, and that gave Subaru an idea.

After a quick mental exchange with Nox, she confirmed through their link that they had only bonded earlier today, their past four days had never been, and that could only mean one thing: Subaru had gone back in time. Whether she was right about this or not, she would need more time to think about her situation, and in order to get that time, she would first have to take down the maid before her. And she knew exactly how to do it.

“Shamac.” She spoke, but despite her incantation, her spell did not activate.

Instead of casting her blinding spell, she simply collapsed to her knees, completely drained. Of course, if the past four days had truly vanished, then it was only natural that any improvements she would have made in that time would also disappear with those lost days.

‘So it’s a true reset, huh…’

But the conditions weren’t exactly the same as last time, the maid’s behavior had changed, for what reason would that be? She could only think of one: The reason the maid had attacked her in the first place.

If the maid had attacked her because of the witch’s miasma that hung on her, it would stand to reason that her increased aggression was the result of that miasma having intensified.

And if the miasma surrounding her had intensified upon her resurrection, that could naturally only lead to one conclusion: It was the witch that had brought Subaru back from the brink of death.

This realization turned her world upside down. Had it been the witch that had brought her to this world in the first place, as she had initially suspected? For what reason would she do that, and moreover, offer Subaru another chance at life upon her death? Was this some sort of twisted game to her, the sole purpose being to torture Subaru after all? The choice of checkpoint suggested that that may have been the case, why else would she, of all the possibilities, pick this particular moment to bring her back to?

But even so, regardless of whatever reasons she may have had, Subaru could only view the witch as a savior. Any negative feelings she may have once held towards the witch had vanished instantly. Even if the intent had been to punish or torture her, if it was thanks to Satella that Subaru had avoided the cold embrace of death, if it was thanks to Satella that Subaru had managed to escape the absolute nothingness that should have consumed her, Subaru felt nothing but the deepest gratitude towards her.

The witch cult, was it? While its existence had confused her before, she could definitely see why people would worship her now, such was the boon that she had granted Subaru. Maybe Subaru really was a witch cultist, it would definitely be worth it in exchange for this kind of power.

The miasma that she had hated so much in her previous life, the miasma she thought must have been a curse put upon her had turned out to be anything but. It was in fact a shroud of protection, a defense against the cosmic horror of utter annihilation, a wonderful scent that told Subaru that she was loved.

Indeed, for the first time since she had come to this world, Subaru felt that she was loved; and with that feeling burning within her, she felt like she could do anything, overcome any obstacle. How ironic it was that this love would come from Satella of all people, detested by the world as she was. But then, it hit her. Emilia too was similarly rejected by the world, was she not?

Subaru had once thought it absurd that Emilia would share her likeness with the witch, but it now seemed so perfectly fitting to her that the two most wonderful women in her life shared the same appearance, though it pained her heart to think of the unjust prejudice they faced. (Well, maybe the prejudice Satella faced wasn’t so unjust, if the rumors were true.)

These thoughts raced through her mind as she lay helpless before Rem, completely at the maid’s mercy, mercy she would not receive.

The only mercy Subaru could rely on, then, was that of the witch, she who was detested by all, she who had brought untold catastrophe to this world, and she who had saved Subaru from the absolute darkness that was death. Subaru was prepared to offer her almost anything, even her undying devotion, if she could only get another chance.

‘If I can come back once more, if I just get that chance…’

Maybe she could survive now if she just sacrificed Nox in her place, as the spirit even now insisted on sacrificing itself to save her. But that just wasn’t something she was willing to do. She would have to bet everything on the chance that the witch would show her mercy once more, and bring her back yet again.

Even as Rem’s flail ripped her limb from limb, extinguishing her life for good if not for the witch’s blessing, Subaru’s final thoughts were of Satella, offering her one final prayer.

‘Just promise me, I’ll be back in time.’

And her world turned dark.

Chapter Text

Subaru’s prayers had been answered, she had once again been returned to the world of the living, a chance she didn’t intend to waste.

“Shamac.” she incanted, immediately blinding the maid hovering over her as she rolled off the bed and dashed out the door, where she was once again greeted by the looping hallway. Solving Beatrice’s puzzle as she had before, she once again found herself in the forbidden archive.

“You are a profoundly aggravating girl indeed, I suppose.” The great spirit recited her familiar line.

True enough, she had been acting quite pathetic for a bit there. She had no idea how she could allow herself to fall apart so easily, but fortunately, she was past that now. She had been given another chance thanks to the witch, and with her blessing, Subaru would never again allow herself to be overcome by that bizarre melancholy that had invaded her heart, which she now understood as the primal fear of death. Of course, that was assuming the witch would continue to resurrect her as she had thus far, which Subaru couldn’t be entirely sure she would do.

‘Well, it’s not like I was planning to go and die willy-nilly, so it doesn’t really change the fact that I just have to do my best to avoid dying in the end.’

Even so, the thought that the witch had her back in the event that she somehow did end up dying was quite comforting, it really did put her at ease.

“Yeah, I guess I am. Sorry about that.” Subaru spoke, joy welling up in her heart.

“If the girl is aware that she is an eyesore, surely she is also aware that it would be best if she made herself scarce?” came Beatrice’s scathing response.

‘Man, you’re almost reminding me of Ram there.’

“Yeah, sure. Just one thing, though, you mind dropping me off at Emilia’s room real quick?” Subaru asked, hoping to use the same shortcut she used last time. Since she was doing this a lot earlier than she had last time, Emilia may not have even gone to sleep yet, which would be ideal.

“What is it that the girl intends to do there, I wonder?” Beatrice asked, her eyes narrowing. Yeah, come to think of it, her request probably did seem a little suspicious considering she was supposed to be a newcomer to the mansion.

“Just wanted to have a quick chat with Emilia, there’s also a certain maid that I’d prefer to avoid right now.” Subaru began, pausing momentarily before she decided to add the following, “Emilia would be quite sad if I got murdered as soon as I got here, I think.” In truth, it was Puck’s name that she wanted to mention here, but she didn’t want to act like she knew Beatrice that well yet, it would only make her even more suspicious.

“Betty knows not why the girl believes she would care for the brat’s feelings.” Beatrice paused, she looked as though she wanted to ask about something here, but decided against it, “But very well. If it will get the girl out of Betty’s hair.”

“Thanks a bunch, kiddo!” Subaru called out as she turned around to walk out of the library, glad that Beatrice didn’t question her too much, but unfortunately for her, her choice of nickname earned her a blast to the back that sent her flying out of the library right into Emilia’s bed. Fortunately, Subaru had managed to use Nox’s powers to correct her course mid-air and was thus able to land gracefully, in a refined pose that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of any magazine.

“Subaru? What are you doing here?” Emilia asked, dressed in her nightgown, clearly having been preparing for bed before Subaru came flying in. Good, she made it in the nick of time.

“I just got blasted out of the library by the spirit in there, next thing I know, I’m in your bed. So, how you doin’?” Subaru asked, having sprawled out on Emilia’s bed.

“Me? Um, I just got done reporting today’s events to Roswaal — ah, she’s the lord of the manor, by the way — which was pretty awkward. I was about to go to sleep until you came in.” Emilia responded, easily accepting Subaru’s presence here with no resistance whatsoever.

“Sorry to keep you up, but there’s a few things I’d like to talk about, if you don’t mind.” Subaru spoke as she wondered how to deal with the conversation she was about to have. To keep things advancing quickly and smoothly, she supposed she would just have to do what she did best: lie and lie some more.

If there was one good thing about her isolating herself so completely in her past life — Well, the one before her past life, though the last one was so short it barely even counted — It was that it allowed her to accumulate quite a bit of information in just four days’ time. She had already mastered imoji and romoji too, though hamoji was still a ways off, which was rather frustrating since that meant that most of the more complex books in the library were still beyond her, limiting what she could learn.

“Of course, go ahead.” Emilia acquiesced, ready to disrupt her sleep schedule to hear Subaru out as she sat down beside her.

“Right, well, since you mentioned the name Roswaal, can I take that to mean that this is the estate of the Court Mage?” Subaru asked, pretending as though she was just now piecing information together. This was a trick she wouldn’t want to employ too much with the other residents of the manor, but it was probably fine with Emilia.

“That’s right, what about it? Ah, I’m surprised you know about her, though…” Emilia replied with a look of mild surprise. Indeed, given how completely ignorant of everything Subaru had been back in the capital, which would have been just a few hours ago from Emilia’s perspective, this would probably seem pretty strange.

“It might be my first time here, but I doubt there’s very many people in the world who wouldn’t have heard of the Mathers family, given their rich and storied history. Anyway, back to what I was saying. Since you mentioned that you had to report today’s events to Roswaal… Would it be safe for me to assume that you’re actually a candidate in the royal selection, with the Court Mage Roswaal L. Mathers as your patron?” Subaru continued with her act, the sooner she could get this basic information out of the way, the sooner she could delve into the more important stuff.

“Wow, you just keep surprising me, though maybe I shouldn’t be by now… You’re right. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear before, I… And that name I gave you…” Emilia’s gaze faltered as she responded.

“Ah, no, that’s all fine, I don’t mind at all. It’s only natural that you wouldn’t go around spilling everything to complete strangers. I just wanted to be sure, since we’re not just strangers anymore, are we? Emilia-tan.” Some might say Subaru was getting familiar with her a little too quickly here, but she didn’t care. She had never been the type to care too much for that sort of thing, except for that first loop, in which her thoughts had become strangely warped when she was confronted with her own mortality, something she was no longer especially concerned about now that she knew Satella was backing her up.

She wasn’t going to let anything so foolish hold her back this time, she was going to hang out with Emilia all she wanted and fully enjoy her Emilia Time.

“You even know my real name? Gosh, what don’t you know at this point?” Emilia replied, equal parts surprised and impressed.

Subaru was glad she had this kind of reaction, that was just the kind of girl she was, which would allow things to progress smoothly. Unfortunately for Subaru, she was quite certain that someone who would react quite differently to everything she was saying was most likely waiting and listening right on the other side of the door. She had intentionally kept her voice low to keep the maid from overhearing, but she didn’t know how good the maid’s hearing was. Still, if she could track Subaru all the way here, could it be that she could smell the witch’s scent on her from anywhere in the mansion? That was some pretty terrifying range if so.

‘What I don’t know at this point, huh? A whole lot, like why exactly Rem died that day, for one.’

“Wait, what did you just call me? What does ’tan’ mean?” Emilia’s expression shifted to one of doubt as she suddenly realized that Subaru had attached some sort of unknown honorific to her name.

“It’s something like a term of endearment, basically. Certain people from my homeland from my homeland would often use it for their favorite celebrities, idols and the like.” Indeed, it was one even Subaru herself would often hear from her fans.

“Idol?” Emilia asked, repeating the unfamiliar term. Ah, that’s right, idol was a loanword from English, she supposed it would make sense if they didn’t have such words here. Although this world did still use a few loanwords, and not just from English, which piqued her curiosity. How exactly did that work? Was it only terms up to a certain date or something? Would that imply that someone from Earth had already come to this world before her, and spread those terms?

“I suppose you’d know them as bards, though the concept is a little different, it’s mainly just the singing part you need to keep in mind.” Subaru gave a brief explanation without delving too deep into the details.

“Ah, but I’m not a singer or anything, though. It’s not something I’ve really tried at all…” Emilia trailed off, clearly somewhat interested in giving it a shot.

“I suppose that’s just a bit of personal bias on my part, I was actually aspiring to become an idol myself, you know. You’d make a fine singer, I think. You have a lovely voice, one of the finest I’ve ever heard in fact.” Subaru spoke, making Emilia blush with her high praise.

“Mm, I don’t know…” Emilia said, looking off to the side for a moment before she continued, “By the way, Subaru, since you mentioned your homeland, would you mind telling me a little more about what it was like?” she asked, her curiosity sparkling in her eyes.

“My homeland, huh. Well, it was… Quite different from Lugnica, I’d say.”

Subaru recalled that Emilia had thought that she was a refugee from Vollachia last time. She still didn’t have a very good idea of what this world was like, though she did know it was mainly divided into four great nations, of which the Dragon Kingdom of Lugnica was one. Until she knew more, though, she wouldn’t want to reveal too much, lest it come to light that she was an other-worlder before she was ready to reveal it. She hadn’t found any information on the subject besides a few children’s stories about this guy called Hoshin of the Wilderness, the founder of Kararagi who supposedly came from beyond the ‘Great Waterfall’ which was said to be the edge of the world, something else that was worth looking into when she had the time.

All of that aside, she needed a way to quickly distract Emilia right now, and a song seemed like the perfect fit, “People back home were pretty fond of music, so that would be a good place to start, yeah? I could sing you a song really quick, if you wouldn’t mind? It’ll probably be quite different from anything you have in Lugnica, I think.”

Emilia pondered for a moment with a finger on her lip, “Hmm, it’s already pretty late, but… My room is far enough away from the others that it shouldn’t bother them as long as you’re not too loud. Alright, I was pretty curious about that idol thing you mentioned too. Please, go ahead.”

’There’s someone outside this door right now who would definitely be bothered by just about anything I do in this mansion, but that’s fine as well. Maybe I can capture her heart with my magnificent tones. That probably won’t happen, but what if it did?’

Subaru wondered what she should sing, any English songs would probably sound like complete nonsense here, so her choices were somewhat limited. Even without that restriction, though, she already had a pretty good idea exactly what she wanted to choose.

The song she had settled on was a renowned classic and longtime favorite of hers, and indeed the song that inspired her to start singing in the first place, Sound of Destiny. A song that had famously defeated White Album (not that one) to claim the grand prize at the Venus Music Festival on the 28th of February, 1987, a day that would go down in history as one of mankind’s most important moments, alongside such historic achievements as the splitting of the atom and the moon landing. Even though it was technically before her time, Subaru still remembered it clearly even now.

As she belted out what may have been her finest rendition of the song yet, for she now more than ever truly felt the emotions that the song described, she noticed that it wasn’t just Emilia who was engrossed in her melody, even Nox was gently bobbing along to her beat as she sang, sending pleasant emotions her way through their mental link.

Smiling towards him, she called out to the spirit telepathically, ‘How about it, Nox? Turns out your mistress is way more awesome than you may have thought, eh? But if you think this is all there is to me, just wait—‘

She had been planning to keep her power of resurrection, presumably granted by the witch, secret from everyone else; but she figured it might be alright to let her trusty spirit know. But as she was about to find out, that decision was not hers to make.

Chapter Text

She once again experienced that familiar sensation of time slowing to a crawl— No, this was different. Time now stood completely still, the world itself having halted as a roiling mass of shadows consumed the room. Even though she had never once seen these shadows before (or had she?), she could tell by instinct exactly what they were— The Witch of Envy had made her appearance here.

‘Hey, come on now. Aren’t you supposed to be sealed away? Give a girl a little warning, would you?’

But then, Subaru supposed, the witch’s sudden appearance before her very well may have been the warning in itself.

As a dark, disembodied hand emerged from the shadows coiling around her and reached for her heart, Subaru could only imagine one reason why such a thing would be happening: She wasn’t allowed to reveal the secret power the witch had granted her, not to anyone, not even to her spirit.

‘Pretty damn strict to monitor even my mental link with my spirit, though. Well, I get it. I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t know, I’ll do better from now on, so could you please maybe go just a little easy on me?’

Subaru didn’t think the witch would kill her here, that would make no sense since it had been the witch herself that was resurrecting Subaru thus far. Maybe Subaru was just deluding herself here because she didn’t want to die. All that renewed confidence she gained because she no longer had to fear death thanks to the witch’s blessing would mean nothing if it was the witch herself that was threatening her.

‘Woah there, going straight for the heart, huh?’ she thought as the fingers wrapped around her heart, ‘At least buy me dinner first.’ she joked as the hand squeezed, crushing her heart and causing her indescribable agony— Well, the agony part was true, her heart was actually completely unharmed, thankfully.

After what felt like an eternity, the hand finally let go as the shadows started to recede.

‘Thanks, was great seeing you, love you too.’ Subaru managed to offer one final quip as time began to move forward once more.

Still, as painful as this little encounter with the witch was, it was also reassuring in some ways. If the witch had come to keep Subaru from revealing her secret, that would mean that the witch would most likely continue to resurrect her. As long as Subaru could count on her ability to loop, nothing could stop her. Well, except for the witch herself, but Subaru hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Although, come to think of it, she now couldn’t help but dread that a day would come when she would have to stand against the witch.

That was a matter for later, though. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t keep her face from momentarily contorting in pain, which had of course caught Emilia’s attention, so for now, she would need to come up with an excuse for Emilia as to why her expression had shifted so suddenly. Or she would have, if not for the fact that her excuse fell right into her lap in the form of the blue maid who had thrown open the door with such force that it had almost been ripped off its hinges as she glared into the room.

“Emilia-sama—!” she began, panicking, only to be greeted by greeted by the sight of two confused young women staring back at her. Though while Emilia’s confusion was genuine, Subaru’s was entirely acted.

‘The way she’s suddenly come running in like this, I suppose that would mean the miasma surrounding me has flared up once more. So trying to tell people about my power has that kind of effect, huh… I’ll have to keep that in mind.’

Of course, it wasn’t as if Subaru could go around testing this as she pleased, Rem and the witch were both women whose wrath she would not want to incur.

“Rem? What’s the matter?” Emilia asked.

“Ah, no, if—“ The maid was too flustered to form a proper response, so Subaru took over for her.

“I’m sure she was just so captivated by my amazing singing that she could no longer contain herself. Isn’t that right, Rem?” Subaru teased, shooting her a playful look as she spoke.

The maid simply stared at her for a moment, her inner turmoil evident in her eyes, before she turned back to Emilia with a bow, “Rem apologizes for the intrusion. She—” she was about to apologize and take her leave (though she would probably just wait outside the door again and murder Subaru the moment she stepped outside), but Subaru wasn’t going to let her do that.

‘She shouldn’t be able to dodge me like she did last time now that I have Emilia here. I’d better go ahead and settle this right now.’

“Hold on, Rem. Why the rush? Since you’re here already, wouldn’t it be best if we got to know each other a little?” she shot a suggestive glance at Emilia as she continued, “I’m sure you feel the same way too, Emilia.”

Emilia looked like a deer in the headlights when Subaru suddenly brought her into the conversation. It seemed she wasn’t very comfortable with being forced into the mediator role like this, and Subaru did feel bad for using her like this, but it was what she had to do to advance. Besides, it wouldn’t do for a future queen to be so timid, this could even be good practice for her.

Sensing that Emilia was faltering, and aware that she could not let her back down here no matter what, Subaru subtly took her hand and gave it a small squeeze. Meeting Subaru’s eyes for a moment, Emilia seemed to have gotten the message, because she then faced the maid with the uncertainty in her expression having vanished.

“Yes, I think it would be best if you two got to know each other. Why don’t you stay and chat with our guest for a bit, Rem?” she asked, and despite her obvious displeasure, Rem had no choice but to obey with a small bow, “As you wish, Emilia-sama.”

She then glared at Subaru, the sheer hatred visible in those eyes truly was a thing to marvel at.

‘I’d better sort this out quickly.’

“Alright, Rem, — and you too, Emilia, — there’s something important I need to tell you two.” She spoke in a somber tone as her smile faded, “The truth is, I have a certain condition, and it causes the witch’s scent to hang upon me.”

Emilia was shocked by this ‘revelation’, though Rem wasn’t nearly as credulous.

“A condition? Rem has never heard of such an ailment. Is the honored guest certain there isn’t some other reason she carries the witch’s miasma?” she spoke with venom in her voice.

“Yeah, I’m sure.” Subaru said, not even bothering to entertain Rem’s insinuation, “I’ve never met anyone else with this sort of condition, and as far as I know, there isn’t a way to treat it.” Not that she’d even want to get it treated if it truly was the source of her power to resurrect, there was no way she would ever give that up.

“I understand why you would be suspicious of me, but let me assure you, it was through no will of my own that the witch’s miasma came to burden me. Let me also say that this is pretty painful for me too, you know. It occasionally flares up like it did just now — as I’m sure you’ve noticed, Rem — and each time it does, it hurts like hell.” Subaru didn’t even have to come up with a good lie here, since most of what she was saying was already completely honest.

“Gosh, I had no idea you were dealing with that, Subaru.” Emilia said, her gaze one of pity and compassion as she looked at Subaru with a hand covering her mouth.

Rem, on the other hand, looked terribly conflicted.

“Rem.” Subaru addressed the maid in as earnest a tone as she muster, “You can trust me. I’m not going to let any harm befall this manor. I put my life on the line for Emilia once and I’m prepared to do it again.”

Indeed, with her new power, risking her life wasn’t nearly as daunting as it had been before. However, her words still seemed to affect Emilia deeply, she looked like she desperately wanted to say something in response, but was conflicted as to whether or not she should interrupt whatever was happening between Rem and Subaru right now.

As for Rem, Subaru’s words had clearly had some sort of effect on her as well, though it would be going too far to say that the tensions between them had been resolved. Subaru did to some extent find it rather absurd that she even had to do this; it was she who had been wronged, after all, so why was it that she had to be the one so desperately trying to make peace here? But there was no helping it. As misguided as the maid was, if the witch cult were truly so terrible a force as she believed, feared even, her actions may have seemed to some to be rational.

Rem remained silent for a time, a small frown as her face as her mouth occasionally opened only to close right away. It seemed that she had many things to do say, but she ultimately settled on just a few words, “Very well, honored guest. Rem shall take those words into consideration.”

Maybe this was the best Subaru could hope for, right now at least. Something about the maid’s hatred towards the cult felt deeply personal, it was far too great to be an emotion derived solely from stories and second-hand accounts, the maid had most certainly had some sort of experience with the witch cult in her past. Perhaps it would be necessary for Subaru to get to the bottom of this mystery if she ever hoped to bridge the gap between them.

“Although, if Rem may be so bold, she would suggest that it would be best if the honored guest were to return to her room.” Rem continued, clearly still wary about leaving Subaru alone with Emilia. “As a result of her current position, Emilia-sama has a number of important matters to attend to throughout the day. It would not be good to disrupt her scheduled sleeping hours.”

Important matters, eh? As far Subaru recalled from her first life, not that she would know for sure since she hadn’t interacted with the girl all that much, the only things Emilia had on her schedule these next four days were her studies and her sessions with her spirits. Those were definitely pretty important things to do, though.

“Ah, yeah, I get that. I’ll be right out, there’s just a few things I’d like to discuss with her first, this won’t take too long.” Subaru responded.

Indeed, there were still a few other matters she needed to clear up before she could leave. For instance, the fact that Felt was able to activate the insignia, and thus was most likely the fifth and final candidate the kingdom had been searching for. While she was at it, she figured she might as well inquire as to what exactly had happened in the slums after she passed out.

Chapter Text

Having said her piece, Rem bowed and then took her leave, closing the door behind her as she left (though Subaru suspected that she was probably just waiting right behind the door again). Now that she and Subaru were once again the only ones in the room, Emilia was finally able to speak freely, “Subaru, that condition you mentioned, will you be alright? You mentioned that no one could find a cure, but Roswaal and Beatrice know a lot about this kind of thing, maybe if I asked—“ As much as Subaru appreciated her concern, it would be rather inconvenient for her if Roswaal and Beatrice started investigating the matter too deeply, so this wasn’t an offer she could accept. They didn’t really press her about it last time, even though Beatrice could smell the miasma on her and Roswaal most likely would have heard of it from Rem, and she preferred to keep things that way.

“I’m fine, Emilia. It’s totally manageable, really. I just wanted to be upfront about it because I didn’t want anyone here getting the wrong idea about me, I know from some rather unpleasant first-hand experience that the scent I carry can lead to some very unfortunate misunderstandings.” Subaru said, hoping to dismiss this topic as soon as possible since it wasn’t one she really wanted to stay on for too long.

“If you say so… But if you ever find that you’re having a hard time with this condition, or anything, make sure to let me know right away, okay? You’ve done so much for me, so I want to do whatever I can for you too.” Emilia responded, her concern evident in her eyes.

“Thank you, there’s something you can help me out with right now, actually. I was wondering if you could maybe tell me what actually went down in the slums, since I wasn’t around for most of it.” If she just had the answer to this question, perhaps some key insights would be revealed to her.

“Right, I suppose you would be curious about that. Let’s see, um… Let’s start from when you left to retrieve that insignia. It turns out that that woman we were fighting was someone called Elsa Granhiert, an infamous criminal from Gusteko known as the bowel hunter.”

‘What a sinister moniker, glad I never died to her.’

“Then Rem’s sister, Ram — the pink-haired maid, she looks very similar to Rem, I think you might have seen her, actually — showed up right around the same time you returned with my insignia, and managed to save us; although she did end up passing out from using up too much mana. She’s still resting even now, I think Roswaal took care of her before she left to do something.”

Right, Subaru had heard the part about Roswaal in the previous loop too, but what would she be doing in the middle of the night? Was she perhaps taking care of some administrative issues relating to that incident, or something of that nature?

Also, Ram being unconscious right now would explain quite a bit about Rem’s current behavior. The elder sister did always seem to be the more reasonable of the two.

“The crazy thing was that even though Ram had used up all her power to blow that woman far, far away, up into the sky and over the city walls, she still managed to come back and catch up to us. Since I had to carry you two, I couldn’t keep up with her speed at all. That was when the current Sword Saint, Reinhard van Astrea showed up. Ram’s huge attacks had attracted his attention, so he was heading over to the slums to check out what was happening and we ended up running into each other. It was his day off, too; it was sooo nice of him to step in despite that.”

Sword Saint, that was a term Subaru was familiar with. She had read that the first generation Sword Saint, Reid Astrea, was one of the ones responsible for the defeating the Witch of Envy four hundred years ago. While she had mixed feelings about that now, since she now held a somewhat favorable opinion of the witch, she at least understood that if this Reinhard guy was anything like his ancestor, that assassin shouldn’t have been any challenge to him whatsoever.

And indeed, she wasn’t. Emilia would go on to narrate that Reinhard had defeated Elsa with a single blow, but the woman somehow managed to vanish in the absurdly destructive aftermath his attack had wrought. While the news that that woman was still out there somewhere was very disconcerting to Subaru, and she did hope that maybe they were mistaken and the assassin was in truth completely obliterated by Reinhard’s attack, she made no mention of it as she continued to listen to Emilia’s story, though the rest wasn’t of much import, the only noteworthy part being when Emilia said that she had tipped Reinhard off about the loot house, hoping that he might discover something there, and that they were now waiting to see if he did in fact find something.

Subaru figured that this was as good a time as any to bring up Felt’s potential candidacy.

“Speaking of the loot house and all that, Emilia, I should let you know that the girl who stole your insignia, Felt… She might be a candidate too, because the insignia lit up when it was in contact with her.” She decided to just come right out and say it.

Emilia’s expression was blank for a moment, before she reacted with… Not nearly as much shock as Subaru was expecting. Sure, she was pretty surprised, but shouldn’t this have been pretty much the craziest news ever? She seemed to be taking the fact that the final candidate was a thief from the slums who was only discovered by happenstance mid-theft rather well. But then, Subaru thought about how silver-haired half-elves like Emilia were viewed in this world; perhaps society viewed her as someone even lower than a thief, no, they almost certainly did.

In all honesty, Subaru found it quite difficult to imagine how Emilia could possibly win the throne with her circumstances being what they were. Unless the other three candidates were also from similarly disadvantaged and unconventional backgrounds, which Subaru supposed was entirely possible, Emilia really didn’t stand much of a chance at all. But if the Court Mage Roswaal L. Mathers herself was backing her, perhaps there was more to it. Or perhaps not, Roswaal did seem pretty crazy.

But despite her behavior, the insanity Subaru sensed from Roswaal wasn’t mere eccentricity. It was a completely singleminded insanity, one that suggested absolute devotion to one goal above all else. Merely looking into her eyes made her obsession clear to Subaru. That being the case, it was probably safe to bet that she had some grander purpose in mind when it came to her decision to back the half-elf, though Subaru couldn’t tell what this would mean for Emilia herself.

Still, the election was Emilia’s challenge to face, and while Subaru would be glad to support her in any way she could, it wasn’t her place to decide whether or not the half-elf had a chance, to merely think of such a thing would be a mockery of her determination. Surely, Emilia herself realized more than anyone how steep the path she had chosen would be, and yet she still chose to walk it, so regardless of whether she succeeded or failed, that spirit of hers was something to admire.

“So it was that girl… Ah, Reinhard might have taken her into custody when he went to investigate the loot house, we should let him know right away!” Emilia responded.

Subaru was a little surprised that she would so easily add to her competition with no hesitation whatsoever, but then, that was part of what she liked about Emilia. Also, it seemed that the royal selection couldn’t even begin without this final candidate, so maybe there wasn’t even a choice here to begin with.

There was still a lot more Subaru wished to talk about, but she would have to save such discussions for tomorrow, she wouldn’t want to anger Rem any further than she already had.

“Alright, Emilia. As much as I’d love to spend the night here,” Subaru began, her suggestion making Emilia perk up a little, “I suppose I’d better head back to my room now, wouldn’t want to make Rem pout, though that sort of expression might look pretty cute on her.”

And it would be even cuter if Subaru didn’t have to put her life on the line to see it, although maybe the risk factor would make it even better? Nah, Subaru didn’t have such strange tastes.

“Well, see ya later.” Subaru got off the bed and headed for the door as they said their goodbyes, promising to meet up again in the morning.

As she had expected, she found Rem waiting right outside the room as soon as she opened the door and looked down the hallway.

“Well, I’m here. As promised.” Subaru spoke calmly, though she was secretly having Nox prepare a spell just in case.

Rem did not acknowledge her statement in any way, simply stating “Rem shall guide you.” without even looking at her as she started walking off in the direction of Subaru’s guest room.

‘Alright, there’s no way I can let this go like last time. I need to make up with her properly, and prevent her death in four days’ time. Come to think of it, perhaps it would be ideal to do both at the same time, I’m sure even a girl like this would fall for me if I heroically saved her life.’

Subaru recalled that Emilia had mentioned that Rem was going to go to the nearby village to do some shopping that day, and it seemed that Rem had ended up dying in her sleep that very night. It seemed very unlikely to Subaru that a young and presumably healthy girl would just drop dead out of nowhere, so perhaps there was some sort of connection there.

‘Right, the village. Irlam, was it? I suppose that’s as good a place to start as any, time to start investigating. After a good night’s sleep, of course.’

She had actually already seen the village back in her first loop; when she was dashing away from the mansion and into the forest, she recalled having passed by it momentarily. It wasn’t very far, she could probably head over there right after breakfast, even.

Having reached her room, with Rem already gone before she could even say goodbye, Subaru fell asleep with such thoughts filling her mind.

Chapter Text

Subaru woke up feeling wonderful, more refreshed than she had in a long time.

‘What a beautiful morning.’

Even though this morning was exactly the same as it was back in her first loop, the constant threat of imminent death had kept her from properly enjoying it back then. Subaru really couldn’t thank the witch enough for freeing her of such concerns.

Now then, what was a girl to do on such a fine morning as this? She supposed she should probably go and hang out with Emilia once more, as she had last time, and so she went about her morning routine and played with Nox for a bit, until the sun had risen enough that she felt that Emilia would be ready.

‘Alright, looks like this should be around the same time as when we visited the garden last time… Ah, there she is.’

Having found Emilia as she was making her outside, Subaru called out to her, “Morning, Emilia.”

“Ah, Subaru. Good morning.” Emilia responded as she turned to face Subaru, somewhat surprised to see her there.

“Heading out for a chat with your spirits, I assume?” Subaru asked, even though she already knew the answer.

“That’s right. Things got pretty hectic yesterday, so I need to thank them for helping out too.” Emilia answered, calling forth her lesser spirits as the pair walked through the mansion’s enormous garden.

“I guess I’ll leave you to it, then. Wouldn’t want Nox to get lonely either.” Subaru said as she summoned her own spirit, moving a short distance away from Emilia as she did so.

Doing her usual morning exercises and practicing with Nox as she did so, she soon returned to Emilia when she was done communing with her spirits and repeated the same song and dance of explaining warm up exercises, dodging questions about her homeland, playing with Puck, and so on. Though the conversation had taken a slightly different path this time, due to their interaction last night and Subaru’s pre-existing knowledge.

“By the way, Subaru, I never got to say this last night since your condition suddenly acted up and Rem came running in, but that was a very nice song. I’ve never heard anything like it.” Emilia said with a small smile, closing her eyes and placing her hand against her chest as she fondly thought back to last night.

“Thank you, that one’s actually my favorite song. I was a little worried our tastes might differ here, but I’m glad you liked it too.” Subaru responded, delighted that Emilia also understood the true magnificence of Sound of Destiny.

“By the way, Emilia,” she continued, “I’m a little curious about what kind of music you guys have here. Maybe you could show me a song or two?” she suggested, hoping to hear Emilia sing. With that angelic voice of hers, it would surely be magnificent.

“Ah, um…” Emilia hesitated, her eyes darting around, “I don’t think I know any songs well enough to sing them properly…” she said.

“That’s fine, I don’t expect you to sing an entire song. Just a small snippet would work, the general melody is all I’m looking for.” Subaru responded.

“Well,.. If you insist.” Emilia said as she nodded. She closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths to prepare herself, and then unleashed the most beautiful— No, wait, this wasn’t right. Something was going wrong here, Subaru was starting to wonder if she was perhaps having a stroke or something, or maybe her ears had ceased to function properly. Damn it, why was this happening to her now of all times? She was supposed to be listening to Emilia’s wonderful singing, yet her auditory senses were completely failing her, filling her ears with some sort of strange cacophony of shrill noises instead.

As Subaru began to ponder the idea of resetting to fix her hearing (strange, why hadn’t this happened last time?), Emilia, apparently having finished her song, asked her how it was. Incidentally, the strange noises also stopped right around this time. Realizing this, Subaru could only come to one terrible conclusion: There was nothing wrong with her hearing, that was just what the silver-haired girl’s singing had sounded like. This was a massive shock to her, given the typical tropes she would have expected a beautiful elven princess to also be an excellent singer, but then she supposed that was her own fault for placing weird expectations on Emilia.

“Ah, that was definitely pretty unique. Not a sound I’m used to,” Subaru snapped out of her thoughts, returning to reality and delivering her response as best she could, “Your pitch could use a little work, but that’s to be expected since you’re an amateur. You’ve definitely got the voice for it, so I think you could certainly become a great singer with some practice.”

The girl seemed to be tone-deaf, or perhaps it was simply a lack of practice, her notes were all over the place; but underneath it all, her voice did possess a certain lyrical quality. Subaru genuinely did believe she could become a good singer with enough effort, although perhaps that effort would be better spent in other areas for one hoping to one day become the ruler of this nation.

With a smile and a blush on her face from Subaru’s praise, Emilia asked Subaru if she could perhaps teach her now and then when they both had time to spare. Subaru hadn’t really been expecting this at all, but she was always ready to leap at any excuse to spend more time with Emilia, so she immediately agreed.

As the pair continued their pleasant conversation, they were soon interrupted by the arrival of the maids. It was time for Subaru’s second meeting with Roswaal.

Subaru had been wondering ever since she began this loop about how exactly she should approach their confrontation this time. There was the possibility of simply repeating everything she did last time, but as confident in her acting as she was, she doubted she could so exactly feign her reactions as to replicate that conversation. It would also be a massive waste of time to keep asking questions about things she already knew.

Another option, then, would be to obtain more information about this royal selection. Emilia would probably bring up what she had told her about Felt here, or maybe she would do so later in private, but regardless, Subaru could take this opportunity to learn more about the other three candidates; she was also curious about that council of wise men she had heard were presently running the nation in the absence of a ruler.

Regardless of how she chose to approach the conversation, another thing she would have to think about was her reward, more specifically, what she could ask for to better her relationship with Beatrice and the maids. Her choice last time didn’t seem to really endear her to anyone in the mansion, if anything, it only had the opposite effect on some.

One option would be to ask for a job here as a maid, she could get closer to the twins by working alongside them as a fellow servant, but there was just one problem with that: Subaru didn’t want to work, especially not such a hard job. The entire mansion was currently being managed by just these two maids, though Subaru had heard that there was apparently a third maid who had left a short while before her arrival. However, Subaru wasn’t ready to, nor did she particularly want to, take that maid’s place. The workload was simply too immense. So while their maid outfits were definitely pretty sexy and Subaru did feel like she might be inclined to try them out as part of a cosplay back in her old world, actually working as a maid wasn’t an idea that would work for her.

Although, since it was Rem doing most of the work at the end of the day, Subaru supposed it might be possible for her to laze about now and then like Ram did. Either way, asking for a job as a reward was a no go. That would barely even count as a reward. After much thought, the only conclusion Subaru could come to was that she should simply repeat her request from last time. She could win over Rem and Ram by saving Rem’s life in three days’ time, and she could probably eventually worm her way into Beatrice’s heart one way or another.

With this plan of action in mind, Subaru entered the mansion to face Roswaal once more. She once again joined the eccentric noble at the dinner table, and their conversation over breakfast proved quite fruitful. She learned of the Duchess Crusch Karsten, a militaristic candidate and the current favorite in the royal selection who managed her lands competently and achieved great feats on the battlefield, one of which involved repelling the Great Rabbit from her father’s domain at just seventeen years of age.

Then there was Priscilla Barielle, also known as the ‘Bloody Bride’ who had left a trail of dead husbands in her wake, a woman considered by many to be far too haughty, and yet who seemed to possess a sort of supernatural luck that ensured she never knew failure; the formerly poverty-stricken lands of her former husband Leip Barielle had completely turned around under her leadership, even the most barren fields would produce bountiful harvests as her lands became more prosperous than ever before.

Finally, there was Anastasia Hoshin, a completely self-made merchant who had managed to rise from the bottom to become an economic force to be reckoned with. Originating from Kararagi, which gave some in Lugnica pause, since they were unsure about the idea of electing a forgeiner as their leader; her skills in commerce were undeniable, for she had turned her Hoshin Trading Company into one of Kararagi’s, perhaps even the world’s, greatest powers.

Now that she had heard of all of these incredible women, Subaru felt even more unsure about Emilia’s chances in this election. And though it may have been cruel to say it, perhaps any of those three women deserved to rule more than Emilia did, they were certainly more qualified at least.

Subaru admonished herself for thinking this way, that was wrong, it wasn’t as if a ruler ruled alone, they would have any number of advisers at their side. It was entirely possible for all of these brilliant minds to work together, and they could do so under Emilia’s rule. Subaru still didn’t know exactly why Emilia wanted to be queen, the subject hadn’t really come up in their conversations, but she was certain it had to be for some noble goal. Emilia wasn’t a girl who craved power for the sake of it, she had some greater purpose in mind. From what she could put together, though, it seemed to be to seek equality, not just for half-elves, or even just for demi-humans, but for everyone? Subaru had read a little about the demi-human war in her first loop, about how some tensions remained even today. Perhaps Emilia wished to create a nation where a person’s worth would not be determined by the circumstances of their birth. It was a magnificent goal, one worth devoting her heart to, even if she had little chance of winning.

By this point, Subaru had already resolved to support Emilia however she could. Though she of course wanted to avoid dying as much as possible, if this new power could help her do that, she would use it to the fullest. And as she thought this, she suddenly understood exactly what she wanted to wish for this time.

Chapter Text

“Oho? You saaaay you wish to become Emilia-sama’s kniiiight?” Roswaal asked as she laughed with amusement.

Indeed, that was exactly what Subaru had wished for. While she unfortunately wasn’t too knowledgeable as to the specifics, she had at least read up on the basics of knighthood in her first life. Furthermore, she learned that two of the other candidates, Crusch and Anastasia, had knights standing by them, and it was possible that Felt would receive one as well. When she inquired about Emilia, she of course found out that the half-elf had no such person backing her. That being the case, asking to be knighted seemed to be the perfect fit here. Even though many in the room were incredulous when she announced this, Emilia herself more than anyone, Roswaal didn’t seem to be surprised in the slightest.

“That’s right. Since I retrieved Emilia’s insignia, assisted in the defeat of a notorious criminal, Elsa Granhiert; discovered the final candidate to the throne and moreover helped save the lives of two candidates, I think I’ve got the qualifications for it. And my loyalty to Emilia should be beyond doubt, since I put my life on the line for her.” Subaru responded. Perhaps she was giving herself too much credit here, but everything she said was technically true, so it was probably fine.

“What you say is true, ceeeertainly, yet great feats and looooyalty alone do not make a knight. You would haaaave to demonstrate significant ability, martial or ooootherwise. Do you perhaps possess an exceptional skiiiiill of some soooort?”

‘I’ve got an exceptional skill all right, not really one I can tell you about, though.’

The way Roswaal looked at her when she said those words was pretty strange, though. The sort of knowing look that suggested she knew something secret, but what? Roswaal couldn’t possibly know about her power to resurrect, surely that would be impossible.

“I suppose that depends on what you mean by significant ability. Let’s take Ram for example, how would someone of her level fare?” Subaru asked, thinking back to the colossal spell Ram had cast back in the slums.

“Short of the Sword Saint, Nee-sama could very easily defeat any knight in this kingdom.” Rem, who had been silent thus far, suddenly piped up at the mention of her sister.

“Seriously? That’s an exaggeration, right?” Subaru asked.

“Perhaps there might be one or two others who might require a little effort on my part.” Ram responded.

It wasn’t as if Subaru knew much about the power scale of this world, but she found it extremely difficult to believe that some maid was one of the most powerful people in the entire kingdom. Even if they were exaggerating, though, it at least got the point across that Ram was far above the level of the average knight. Perhaps it did make sense, these two maids also seemed to be the only security force this manor had, they must have been very powerful indeed to be trusted to guard the estate of the Court Mage.

“So that Granhiert woman really must have been something else then, to take on such powerful opponents…” Subaru muttered.

“Indeeeeed, she would be an opponent weeeeell beyond the capabilities of moooost knights. That wooould perhaps be too hiiiigh a standard to aim for.” Roswaal helpfully chipped in.

‘Meaning these knights can’t be all that strong, then. I could probably make it if I tried. Isn’t that right, Nox?’

“Pardon Ram, honored guest, but she does not believe the honored guest possesses any talent for combat whatsoever.” the pink maid spoke, “The honored guest’s dreams of knighthood are therefore little more than fantasy.”

‘Is she seriously roasting me already? That might be true, though. Still, that doesn’t mean I won’t try.’

Roswaal did mention that martial ability wasn’t the only way to become a knight, that she could also prove herself in some other way. Still, considering how dangerous this world was, it would probably still be best for Subaru to focus on improving her combat ability as much as possible and thus obtain her knighthood that way.

“No talent for combat, huh? Sure, maybe it’s impossible for me to become as strong as you, Ram…” Subaru began; indeed, with how easily Ram took her down in her first life, she seriously doubted she and Nox could ever match up to her. Puck was a great spirit and even he couldn’t defeat Elsa, who appeared to be more on less on par with Ram by Subaru’s estimate, although that could have been due to the absurd healing abilities she had heard the woman possessed. Subaru didn’t know how good of a spirit Nox was, but it seemed very unlikely to her that he would be much stronger than Puck even if he managed to evolve into a great spirit, not that that would happen any time soon. Even so, it wasn’t as if Subaru had to aim that high to begin with. “But I bet it won’t even take me a month to reach a level worthy of knighthood.”

“Please wait, Subaru!” Emilia interrupted, her tone panicked as she finally joined the conversation. “Are you sure that’s what you want to ask for? Becoming my knight, um, it might not be very good for you—“

“Yeah, yeah, you’re a silver-haired half-elf and all that, I know. That doesn’t matter to me, I still want to stand at your side.” Subaru responded before Emilia could even finish, she wasn’t about to back down here no matter what Emilia said. Well, unless she brought up some insanely good argument that Subaru hadn’t considered yet.

“You don’t have to become a knight to do that! I’m reeeeally happy you want to stay with me, but you already risked your life for me once, you have no reason to—“

“Of course I have a reason. It is only natural that a knight would defend her liege even at the expense of her own life.” Subaru cut her off again. A rather disrespectful way for a knight to treat the one they intend to serve, come to think of it. She wasn’t a knight just yet, though, so it was probably alright.

“Veeery good indeed, such aaaadmirable words,” It was Roswaal who spoke up this time, “If our dear guest is so inteeeeent on this path, who are we to question her determinaaaation?” She then sharpened her gaze as she met Subaru’s eyes, “A month, you said? Once the fiiiinal candidate is reported to the kingdom, the royal selection should begin in earnest in a month’s tiiiime, twoooo at the most. If you are able to demonstrate that you are woooorthy of being knighted by that time, perhaps we shall see what can be doooone?”

So Subaru would have a month or two before the royal selection would truly begin, that was just perfect.

“That’s great. In that case, Roz-chi, I’d like for you to provide me with a large supply of mana crystals, so I can train to the fullest right away!” Subaru had heard that the bath was heated using mana crystals of fire, and indeed that mana crystals of various elements often served somewhat equivalent roles to electricity in her old world. While that was certainly interesting, what had really caught her attention was the possibility of using the crystals as a mana source for Nox, thereby granting them theoretically infinite spellpower. It wouldn’t really be infinite, though, since Nox’s throughput would still be a bottleneck in the end.

“Certainly. Prove to us all just how dedicated you are to Emilia-sama, Natsuki Subaru.” Roswaal responded, her strange cadence vanishing momentarily as she spoke.

Roswaal’s behavior was starting to seem stranger and stranger to Subaru. There was already that strange affection and familiarity with which she regarded her, but the bizarre amount of faith she had in Subaru was also worth noting. Was she perhaps overestimating her after having heard what happened in the capital? Also, the woman seemed strangely prescient in many ways; take the discovery of Felt for instance, she hadn’t been at all surprised by the news that the final candidate had been located while they were searching for Emilia’s insignia.

As Subaru pondered such matters, breakfast was soon over and done with. She then informed the others that she would be taking a quick trip outside to check things out, in response to which she was warned not too wander too far, and especially not beyond the forest barrier which prevented witchbeasts from entering the domain.

’So there’s a barrier, huh. I’ll have to check that out too while I’m in the village.’

She was a bit hesitant about visiting the village this early, since there was a possibility that her presence there might result in the series of events that led to Rem’s death never happening. Not that she wanted Rem to die, but she would prefer to follow the same path until right before the maid’s death, so that she may figure out what exactly it was that had caused it. Still, even in the worst case scenario, she could always just loop again if necessary.

‘Alright, Nox. Time to work on our movement for a bit.’

Calling forth her spirit’s powers, she dashed off towards the village, reaching its outskirts in no time at all. As she entered the village, she noted that it was pretty much what one would expect from a small village such as this, with farming and hunting being the main source of livelihood for its occupants, although there were also a few craftsmen here. Perhaps she could pick up a weapon from the blacksmith one of these days. Even though she planned to mostly rely on her spirit for combat, what sort of knight would she be without a blade at her side?

She also found that Roswaal was extremely well-regarded here, apparently being a very generous lord, because the villagers all instantly became much more welcoming as soon as she mentioned that she was a guest at the manor.

She then wandered around the edge of the village, observing the line of barrier crystals surrounding the forest that she had died in back in her first life. She confirmed through Nox that they were all working properly, so if it was a problem with the barrier that caused Rem’s death, perhaps by letting some witchbeasts in, it hadn’t happened just yet.

Speaking of witchbeasts, she would have to do a little more digging on that front. It seemed strange that Rem would so suddenly die in her sleep, with no one in the manor having any idea as to what could have happened. Could it be that the witchbeasts had some method of killing that left no evidence? It seemed strange to think that, as far she was concerned they were little more than dumb beasts, hardly the sort to be capable of such a thing. Still, it wouldn’t do to underestimate her enemy here. She also couldn’t be sure that it was actually a witchbeast that did the deed, but that was the only lead she had, nothing else in the village seemed especially suspicious.

She was able to learn from the villagers that the dogs out there were supposed to be called Wolgarm, but she was hounded by a bunch of curious kids before she could find out more. She managed to pacify them by singing them some quick ditties she had come up with on the spot, and then they ended up discussing their hopes and dreams for the future. She had ended up spending a lot more time here in the village than she was initially planning to, but these kids were pretty cute, so she figured it was fine.

“Look at you, little miss popular.” she said as she ruffled Petra’s hair. She had just learned that the brothers Cain and Dyne would often fight over her, since both of them wished to one day marry the girl.

“It’s not like I really want to be, though…” The girl muttered in response.

“It’s a pretty good feeling once you get used to it, much better than the opposite, I’d say. I was actually pretty sought-after myself back in my hometown, you know.” Subaru said, fondly reminiscing about the many men and even some women who had tried to win her heart back in her old world, none of whom had succeeded. She wondered if it was possible that she might have some sort of fairy tale romance in this new world full of knights and monsters.

“Your hometown?”, “Were you a bard there?”, “What was it like?”, the mention of her hometown resulted in a deluge of questions being directed her way. She really couldn’t spend any more time here, though, so she decided to put an end to this.

“Sorry, kiddos. I really should be getting back to the mansion by now. But since you all went and told me about your dreams, I guess I might as well tell you mine in return. You’ll have to be satisfied with that much until I return, okay?” She heard some grumbles in response, but the kids ultimately acquiesced.

Subaru hadn’t mentioned Emilia at all ever since she arrived in the village, she knew it would probably only make things awkward and she didn’t want to do that just yet. Even so, she would occasionally overhear some hushed voices complaining about the half-elf up in the manor as she passed by. How terrible, Emilia really couldn’t catch a break, not even in a village that was quite literally just down the road from her.

So Subaru decided that she might as well try to talk to the kids about her first, perhaps it would be easier to change their opinions than it would be to do the same for the adults, not that she expected to achieve much with just one visit.

“You see, I actually want to become a knight. Emilia’s knight, to be specific.”

Chapter Text

Just as she expected, the mere mention of Emilia’s name had instantly destroyed the pleasant atmosphere they had built up between them. Though at the very least, this confirmed to her that they knew Emilia’s name, she was almost worried that they only knew her as ‘the half-elf’ for a moment there.

“I get why you guys would be wary of her, those stories about the witch are pretty scary, after all.” It must have been even more frightening for these people since they lived right at the border of a forest full of witchbeasts. “But let me assure you, as someone who’s actually spent some time with her, she’s actually one of the kindest souls you’ll ever meet, and I hope that one day you’ll be able to see that.”

“In fact,” she continued, “Once I become her knight, I’m going to prove that to the whole world, and I suppose I might as well start with you guys. But for now, I really should be heading back.”

With these parting words, she once again, she summoned forth Nox’s powers once more and rushed back to the mansion. She noticed that some of the kids behind her were amazed by the sight, perhaps she ought to introduce them to the spirit whenever it was that she would next visit them. In three days’ time, if all went well.

When she reached the mansion, she found that Ram was waiting for her in the mansion’s garden, with a cart full of mana crystals beside her. That was pretty quick.

“Barusu should take care not to blow up the mansion.” Ram noted sarcastically, although if such a large amount of mana crystals were to be activated carelessly, perhaps they really could wipe out the entire mansion. Although the fact that Ram was willing to trust her with them could only be a good sign. Or perhaps it wasn’t necessarily trust, after all, Subaru would only be committing suicide if she actually activated all of those mana crystals at once.

‘I still get stuck with that nickname, huh. I kind of like it, though.’

Subaru immediately got to work as the maid returned to her duties. Thanks to her experience from her previous lives and the mana crystals allowing her, or rather, Nox, to keep practicing non-stop (almost, he still needed some rest now and then, at which point Subaru would instead practice using her own gate), Subaru managed to achieve in just a few hours what had taken her four days in that first loop, although she had spent most of her time reading back then.

‘Alright, I should be about as good now as I was when I got killed by Ram, I think, maybe even better. It’ll be time for lunch soon, I should head back inside.’

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Returning to the mansion, she decided to ask Emilia and Puck a few questions about the spirit arts over lunch.

“So, Puck, I know humans are capable of using more than one element,” She had even heard that Roswaal was capable of wielding all six, “But can spirits do the same? Can a spirit use elements besides their native one?”

“It’s definitely possible, but it would be asking a bit much of a young quasi-spirit if you tried to have him master multiple elements, if that’s what you’re asking about.” Puck responded. Good, that meant it would be possible for Nox to branch out from yin. She didn’t want to put too much pressure on the little guy, but she secretly hoped that he could turn into a super awesome spirit that could wield all six elements proficiently.

“I see. By the way, Emilia, are you the only healer around here?” Subaru had read that healing magic was based on the manipulation of water mana, that was something she would like to learn as well.

“No, Rem can actually do it too, she’s pretty good with water magic.” Emilia responded, with the maid’s expression subtly shifting into one of displeasure for a moment at having her abilities revealed to Subaru. “But Beatrice is better than either of us, she’s the best healer in the mansion.”

‘Beatrice, huh? Perhaps I ought to visit the library again one of these days.’

The spirit hadn’t joined them at the dinner table this time, Subaru would have to speak to her later.

“Alright, Puck, as a reward for retrieving Lia’s insignia for her, could you convince Beatrice to teach me a thing or two about yin and healing magic?” Subaru asked, recalling that the spirit was supposed to be spending the day with Beatrice, so he would probably be going back to her right after this.

“Well, I can give it a shot.” he nonchalantly responded.

While Subaru didn’t want to impose on the other residents of the manor too much, she didn’t really have such qualms when it came to Beatrice.

‘It doesn’t look like she even has anything to do besides sit in that library all day, anyway. Might as well.’

Of course, Subaru couldn’t help but notice the strange way Roswaal was looking at her throughout that entire conversation. Ever since she first took notice of it, Roswaal’s unusual behavior towards her had become extremely difficult to ignore. Still, there wasn’t anything she could really do about it, so she didn’t comment on it.

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After lunch, Subaru had headed out to the garden once more to get a few more hours of practice in. Once she was done, she decided to go and soak in the bath for a bit, at which point she once again had an unexpected visitor joining her.

“Greetings, might I perhaps jooooin you?” So said the last voice Subaru would have wanted to hear here. Actually, was it the last? Yeah, among the mansion’s inhabitants, Roswaal was definitely the last person Subaru would want in the bath with her.

As she looked up at Roswaal’s slender yet bountiful figure, which now lay bare before her, certain things started to click into place in Subaru’s mind. With the woman’s naked form right there in front of her, all of Roswaal’s strange behavior towards her started to make sense. Could it be that Roswaal had been making passes at her this entire time? Were those unreadable glances she sent her way now and then actually those of passion? All this time, that bizarre knowing gaze was actually the gaze of a predator staring at its prey, a woman who knew she would soon have a nubile young maiden in her palm of her hand.

While Subaru was flattered to have the Court Mage herself regarding her this way, she was also conflicted. Certainly, Roswaal would be an excellent catch, being the greatest magic user in the kingdom and possessing obscene amounts of wealth to top it off, it was in fact terribly unlikely that Subaru could hope for anyone better; but then there was the problem of sex, Subaru just wasn’t sure if she was into women. The other problem being that Roswaal was still a total weirdo who really threw Subaru off her game.

Still, it wasn’t as if Subaru could turn her down, and so she acquiesced, “Sure, do as you please.”

Ah, that statement meant that she couldn’t stop Roswaal from entering the bath, by the way, it didn’t mean that she couldn’t stop her from doing whatever might happen after that. Subaru cursed herself, what if Roswaal interpreted those words as consent? Could this be the day upon which Subaru would lose her chastity for good? Why was this happening now? How come Roswaal never visited her in her first life? Maybe she wouldn’t have ended up in such a weird funk back then if she knew Roswaal was actually into her this whole time. Hold on, that wasn’t right; the way she was thinking, it was almost as if she wanted Roswaal to pursue her like this.

‘I really am so damned vain, huh.’

Even though she had very little interest in Roswaal as a person, the idea that such a powerful noble desired her still set her soul ablaze. This was exactly the sort of stroking her ego needed. Of course, there was also the fact that this might lead to an entirely different sort of stroking, which Subaru still wasn’t sure if she really wanted.

Roswaal, who had already entered the bath at the opposite end while Subaru was thinking such things, finally addressed her, “It would seeeeem you have a lot on your mind.”

Snapping out of her risqué reverie, Subaru responded, “Ah, yeah. I was just thinking about how I’ll have to work pretty hard to reach an acceptable level in a month’s time.”

“Speeeeaking of which…” Roswaal began, closing her right eye as her left sharpened, “I had wondered if you might perhaps wish to seek counsel from the greatest magician in the kingdom.”

Ah, of course, she was a noble after all. She wouldn’t be so uncouth as to just pounce on Subaru right away. She was planning to win her heart steadily by tutoring her, or so it would seem.

For her part, Subaru felt bad for having immediately dismissed Roswaal as someone she wouldn’t want to interact with any more than was necessary when they first met. The fact that Roswaal came here like this to offer to teach her showed Subaru that she may have misjudged her. Still, this was excellent opportunity, so naturally, Subaru was going to take it. The question now was, what exactly would she want to learn from Roswaal first?

“Alright, could you teach me a little about yang magic, then?”

Chapter Text

Having exited the bath, where fortunately (or unfortunately?) nothing happened between her and Roswaal, Subaru thought back to what she had just learned. Roswaal had first informed her that while she had neither the mana reserves nor a large enough gate to cast powerful spells, it would still be worth it to learn to cast on her own, even though she would normally need to rely on her spirit to fight effectively under most circumstances. Indeed, that was a conclusion Subaru herself had come to, which was why she would practice casting from her own gate whenever Nox needed to rest.

What she had really wanted to learn about was yang magic, the reason being that it was also an extremely rare element just like yin, so she doubted she could find anyone besides Roswaal who could instruct her in its use. In the interest of not ending up all pruny, however, she couldn’t spend too much time in the bath, and thus only had enough time to pick up a single spell, Jiwald, which as far as she understood it was basically a laser beam spell. She had been hoping for some kind of buffing spell instead, which she had heard was a specialty of yang magic, but she supposed this would have to do.

‘While I practice that, what else should I learn? I suppose healing magic would be a good one to aim for.’

She had also had an unpleasant encounter with Ram as soon as she exited the bathroom, with the maid being unreasonably angry that she had bathed with Roswaal despite Subaru’s assurances that they were on opposite ends of the tub the entire time. What was that all about? Did the maid seriously have some sort of crush on her master or something? Considering the strange thoughts the woman’s nude form had put in Subaru’s mind, perhaps that was understandable. Still, this wasn’t really something worth thinking about right now, she had more important matters to attend to if she wished to become a knight in a month’s time.

Perhaps now would be a good time to visit Beatrice, and then she could join Emilia for her nightly spirit communion session after dinner. She recalled that Emilia had asked her to teach her a little about singing when they both had time to spare, perhaps Subaru could learn about healing magic from Emilia at the same time.

As she decided on this course of action, she walked up to a particularly attractive door and pushed it open,

“Yo, Beako.” Subaru called out to the spirit within. Come to think of it, it was right around this time that she ended up having a mental breakdown last time. She was feeling just fine this time, though, thanks to Satella’s blessing. “You might have heard from Puck, but I’m here to learn about healing magic. Mind teaching me a thing or two?”

“Why must Betty entertain—“ Beatrice began in an exasperated tone, before her expression suddenly shifted when she noticed that Subaru had given her a nickname, “What did you just call Betty?”

“Beako, a lovely nickname for a lovely girl. Consider it an advance on the wonderful relationship we’re sure to develop as you teach me, sensei!” Subaru responded with a wink.

“The girl is entirely delusional, I suppose. Had Nii-cha not requested it, Betty would never even consider teaching her, in fact. Honestly, using him like that…” Beatrice responded indignantly.

‘Hmm, she reacted somewhat strangely when I said the word sensei, wonder what that’s about.’ Subaru wondered, filing that detail away for later.

“I suppose I’ll have to be grateful to both you and Puck, then. Now then, let’s get started!”

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Unfortunately for Subaru, there was a small problem in that Nox absolutely refused to appear before Beatrice, meaning she had to attempt to use healing magic through her own gate. Naturally, her attempts were all complete failures, though she did learn a fair bit just by trying. She would just have to take what she had learned and repeat it with Nox later.

While it was rather inconvenient for her how he would cower before Puck and Beatrice, she also remembered how he was completely willing to sacrifice himself to save her the last two times she died, so she couldn’t help but forgive him for it.

‘I can always count you when I’m in a pinch, isn’t that right, little buddy?’ she thought as she walked out into the moonlit garden, where she and Emilia had agreed to meet over dinner. Incidentally, Subaru had also made one final attempt to reach out to Rem too, but much like the rest of her attempts throughout the day, the maid simply brushed her off. She would just have to try again tomorrow. Even in the worst case scenario, though, she really only had to keep this up for three days.

Looking around, she found the silver-haired girl near the gazebo, almost finished conversing with her spirits. She truly did look divine right now, with both the moonlight and the lights from the spirits reflecting off her, reminding Subaru of what she had felt when she first saw Emilia doing this back in that alley. Perhaps Subaru herself could also do it now, without Puck’s assistance.

‘Don’t go getting jealous now, Nox. I’m not looking for other spirits or anything, this is just a little test.’

Keeping a safe distance from Emilia so she wouldn’t interfere with her spirits, Subaru repeated the procedure Puck had taught her back in the slums. And just like then, she was surrounded by countless lesser spirits and an ethereal glow. She really wished she had a mirror out here, what did she look like right now? Damn it, she really should have learned some fire magic first. Maybe then she would be able to see herself in a wall of ice or something.

‘How is it, Nox? Is your mistress beautiful?’ she asked of her spirit, and hummed with approval when he bobbed up and down in agreement.

She then turned to look at all of the lesser spirits around her. These minute little lights could one day go on to become powerful spirits with their own unique forms, the thought of which made her somewhat emotional. Speaking of unique forms…

‘Say, Nox, can you control what you’re going to grow into at all? If so, I’d really like for you to become a black dragon or some other kind of flying mount. It would be awesome if I could ride you into battle, wouldn’t it?’

As she started coming up with silly ideas for what her spirit could transform into (maybe a giant centipede would be cool? How about a spider?), she found that Emilia was walking over to her, her session with her spirits having concluded. That being the case, Subaru decided to disperse her own spirits as well.

“What were you doing with all of those spirits?” Emilia asked with a slight tilt of her head.

“Well, you just looked so beautiful conversing with your spirits under the moonlight that I just had to try it myself.” Subaru responded with no hesitation.

“Gosh, Subaru, you just keep saying those sorts of things… Even back in the capital too.” Emilia said with a blush as she waved off Subaru’s compliment.

“I keep saying it because it’s true. That aside, Emilia, I’m here to learn a bit about healing magic. While we’re at it, maybe we could also see about getting you some singing practi— Ah, I guess it would be best not to distract the spirits.” Subaru was about to suggest that Emilia could try to sing while they worked on Subaru’s healing, but her current attempts at singing would probably just agitate the spirits and make things much harder. Oh well, they would just have to save that for later.

“Sorry about this, Emilia-tan. For the next month at least, I’d like for us to prioritize my training. We can work on your singing after I become your knight.” Subaru said, causing Emilia’s expression to darken slightly.

“Sure, I don’t really mind, but… Subaru, are you really sure you want to become my knight?” Emilia asked, her uncertainty evident in her voice.

“Of course I’m sure, this isn’t the sort of thing I’d joke about.” Subaru responded seriously.

“Yes, but… We only just met yesterday, why would you go so far for…” Emilia trailed off, her gaze descending to the ground off to the side as she did so.

“You want to know my reason, huh… Well, if I had to say…” Subaru paused dramatically here, causing Emilia to look at her with her eyes full of both hope and fear. But while Subaru could name any number of reasons for why she was doing this, at the end of the day, it really was just a very simple matter, something that required no explanation at all.

“It’s just something I feel like doing.” she said, her words briefly rendering Emilia speechless from the shock of what she had just heard.

Emilia simply stared at Subaru wide-eyed for a few moments until she finally found her tongue, “Just because you feel like it? This is just some whim to you? Subaru, do you even understand—“ Emilia found herself unable to continue, her words stuck in her throat as she tried to understand Subaru’s thought process.

“Now hold on just one moment there. When I say I’m doing it because I feel like it, I don’t mean anything as whimsical or transient as what you might be imagining. When I want something, really want it, I give it everything I’ve got to obtain it. This isn’t something I plan to give up on, Emilia, so you can rest assured, I’m about to show you a level of diligence that’s positively demonic.” Subaru spoke with sincerity. She understood why it would be difficult for Emilia to believe her, given her no doubt troubled and lonely past, but she could just take her time with the girl and slowly make her believe with all her heart.

Emilia seemed to be deep in thought for a time until she finally sighed and looked up at Subaru with a wry smile, indicating that she would let Subaru win this one, “Demonic diligence, huh? That’s something you’d have in common with Rem, I think.” was the only response she could offer.

‘Rem, I’ll need to think of a way to deal with her situation too… In just over 72 hours, she’s going to die. I need to prevent that, and win her heart at the same time.’

Subaru had been so completely absorbed in her healing training with Beatrice that she had completely neglected to ask about the witchbeasts’ abilities. That was a mistake she would have to rectify tomorrow. Her current working theory was that Rem had somehow been stricken with some sort of strange ailment when she visited the village, and it was that ailment that had killed her that night. But she couldn’t be sure that that was what had actually happened. And even if she was correct, she didn’t know if this mysterious ailment was curable as she hoped.

Until she could actually confirm her suspicions regarding the matter, it would be far too reckless to simply allow Rem to go to the village in order to see what happens, and then just hope that she could solve everything after the fact. But it didn’t seem like she had made any headway with Rem at all, her relationship with the maid was no better than it was last night, and it would be difficult to enact any other plans without Rem’s trust.

“Subaru? What’s the matter?” Emilia asked, having noticed the sudden shift in Subaru’s expression.

“Just thinking about the steep path that lies ahead of me…” Subaru muttered in response, though she would soon continue with a grin, ”And the magnificent reward that awaits me once I overcome it.”

Chapter Text

It was now Subaru’s fourth day at the mansion, the day Rem had died in her first life. Their relationship hadn’t improved at all over these past four days, so Subaru had little choice but to go with her original plan of just letting things play out until after Rem had already been cursed. Fortunately, Subaru was now quite certain that a curse must have indeed been the means by which Rem had been killed thanks to the information she had managed to obtain from Beatrice.

In particular, she had learned that the bite of a Wolgarm could plant a curse into their victim which would then activate later that day, draining the victim of their mana and ultimately killing them. She had also learned that while it would be impossible to cancel a curse that had already been activated, Beatrice could quite easily dispel it if it were to be detected prior to its activation. What she found strange, however, was that Rem would even allow herself to die that way. Given that the village was right on the border of the forest and even had a barrier defending against the Wolgarm, surely she would have been aware of the risks. Subaru had confirmed that the Wolgarm couldn’t cast their curse from a distance or anything, in order to place a curse on someone, the caster would have to to make physical contact with the target. That being the case, Rem would have to know that she had been bitten, and if she knew, why hadn’t she done anything about it?

What of the mansion’s other inhabitants, come to think of it? How come none of them noticed the curse either? Surely there must have at least been a bite mark or something of the sort left behind, or was there truly no evidence whatsoever? Subaru did recall that Rem was capable of using healing magic (which Subaru herself was unfortunately completely failing to pick up), the only conclusion she could come to was that Rem had healed the bite right away and never told anyone else about it.

‘It just doesn’t make sense.’

Was the girl suicidal or something?

Rem had already left for the village by now, and while Subaru wished she could secretly follow her to see what exactly had happened, there was the problem of the witch’s miasma that hung upon her. She didn’t know of any ways to disguise it, so Rem would notice right away if Subaru tried to sneak after her.

‘Guess I’ll just have to intercept her on her way back.’

Subaru kept any sort of intensive training to a minimum today in order to conserve her energy for a potential battle, should it come to that. She was also carrying a pouch of mana crystals with her just in case. Still, it would be a waste of time to just stand around waiting, so she was experimenting with having Nox use spacetime magic to collapse used mana crystals back into their original form. If it was possible to compress the mana released from mana crystals back into a solid state, perhaps with enough training, they would be able to instantly form such crystals from atmospheric mana alone. Did this world have a law of conservation of mana or something, come to think of it? If so, she could theoretically keep using the same mana infinitely if she perfected this technique. On the other hand, maybe there was such a thing as mana entropy, in which case any such exploits would ultimately have an unsurpassable limit.

She had heard that all mana eventually returned to something called the Od Laguna, apparently the Od of the world itself, which would then return said mana to the world, thereby starting the cycle anew, but she had no clue as to the mechanics of how this actually worked. If this was an infinite cycle with no loss in the amount of usable mana available to the world's inhabitants, perhaps...

As she pondered such matters, she noticed Roswaal walking up to her out of the corner of her eye. Judging by her formal outfit, it seemed to Subaru that she was about to head off to some sort of meeting.

“Hello there, Roz. You going somewhere?” Subaru couldn’t recall if this had happened in her first life, since she had spent all of her time then absorbed in books.

“Correeect. I have received some raaaaather troubling news, news that caaaalls for a brief visit to the sanctuary in order to confiiiirm the situation.” Roswaal responded, after which she placed a hand on Subaru’s shoulder and leaned in, whispering into her ear in a hushed tone, “As Emilia-sama’s future knight, I truuuust you will take care of her in my aaaabsence?”

“Of course. I’ll do my best to protect her, and the manor along with her.” Subaru responded, “Will you be gone for very long?”

“Liiiikely not, a day or two at the very most. I shall leave the manor in your caaaapable hands until then.” Roswaal lifted off the ground as she said this, and then exploded across the sky with a sonic boom.

‘Man, I really should learn how to do that.’ Subaru thought as she watched Roswaal fly off over the horizon.

‘Pretty inconvenient for me that she’d leave right on the day of the incident, though. I was hoping to enlist her aid if at all possible.’ Although as far as Subaru recalled, if Roswaal did in fact leave in her first life too, she was already back by the next morning. More importantly, Subaru would first have to deal with Rem’s situation, or at least collect enough information to solve it in her next life. That was the most immediate problem she was facing.

Taking a look at the setting sun, when she felt that enough time had passed that Rem would probably be done with her shopping, Subaru immediately started rushing over to the village, encountering Rem when she was halfway there.

“Yo, Rem-rin.” she called out.

“Honored guest.” the maid replied, her voice completely monotone, “Did you have some business in the village?”

“Well, I was thinking I might go and play with the brats for a bit, but since it looks like you’re carrying quite a bit there, how about I help you get those back to the mansion?” Subaru suggested.

“That will not be necessary, you need not concern yourself with such matters.” The maid promptly rejected her, which she had of course expected. But as they spoke, she was in truth having Nox scan the maid for any signs that something was off. While they didn’t have much talent for healing magic, they had at least gotten quite good at diagnosing problems.

While there were no outward signs of injury, Nox noted that the maid showed signs of having expended some mana. Had she healed herself after all, as Subaru had initially suspected?

“By the way, Rem, I’ve been studying healing magic with Beatrice recently, and it seems to me that you used it just now. Did you perhaps hurt yourself somewhere?” Subaru prodded, hoping to finally get some answers as to what exactly had caused the maid’s death.

“… It was a trivial matter, it is nothing to be concerned over.” The maid responded, some of her annoyance leaking into her tone.

“Are you sure? Because my spirit’s sensing that something’s off here.” Subaru bluffed, “This might be more serious than you think.”

“With all due respect, honored guest, Rem does not—“

“Let’s go see Beatrice if you don’t trust me. I’m sure she could get to the bottom of this.” Subaru immediately cut the maid off, these past four days would have been a complete waste if she let it all fall apart here.

Rem regarded her with suspicion, perhaps wondering why Subaru was insisting on this so strongly, yet unable to come up with an explanation, “Rem does not believe Beatrice-sama would leave the forbidden library so easily.”

“You just leave that to me; if she doesn’t want to leave the library, I’ll just take you in there. But you absolutely must see her, okay? Now let’s get going.” Subaru spoke firmly as she took one of Rem’s bags. Despite her reluctance, the maid ultimately submitted, following after Subaru with no further argument.

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Having dropped their groceries off with Ram, Subaru once again started to drag Rem off to Beatrice, causing Ram to raise an eyebrow, “Do you have some business with my sister, Barusu?”

Of course, she could use Ram to get more information out of Rem about what exactly it was that had happened to her, “Your sister got hurt when she was in the village, I’m taking her to Beatrice to get it checked out.”

Ram turned her inquisitive gaze over to Rem when she heard this, prompting the blue maid to respond, “It truly is nothing serious, Nee-sama, yet the honored guest insists…”

“And we’re going to go see Beatrice to find out if it really is nothing serious, though I’ve got an inkling otherwise.” Subaru said with urgency.

“Foolish though she may be, Barusu demonstrated adequate judgement in the capital. If she is concerned to this extent, perhaps there is something to it. Rem, what happened?”

‘Hold on, how come she’s calling me foolish? Does she still think my ambition to become a knight is delusional or something? She’s been teaching me wind magic too, though, so doesn’t that count for something?’

Initially hesitant, Rem finally responded as such, “… Some children in the village were playing with a small puppy; Rem had gotten careless and allowed it to bite her, but it left no significant injury and was easily healed.”

“Wait, a pup?!” Subaru exclaimed, everything was falling into place now, “Did it have a horn?!”

“No, though it did possess a bald spo—“ Rem paused, her expression immediately shifting into one of shock once the realization dawned on her, “No, that cannot be…” she murmured as her eyes wavered.

“We need to see Beatrice right away! Ram, watch over Emilia! I’m going to need to head back to the village immediately once we’re done here.” Subaru gave her orders in a commanding tone as she grabbed Rem’s wrist and started dragging her away.

“Wait, Barusu! Are you suggesting that it was a Wolgarm’s young that bit my sister? Has the forest barrier been breached, then?” Ram called after them as they ran off.

“The barrier’s one of the things I’ll need to check on when I head back there!” Subaru yelled back as she found the door she was looking for and threw it open,

“Beako, Rem’s been cursed by a Wolgarm. Sorry to spring this on you, but you need to dispel it right away.” Subaru said as she pushed Rem out in front of her, towards Beatrice.

“What a troublesome girl you are, in fact. Do you perhaps believe that Betty is a tool that exists solely for your convenience, I wonder?” Beatrice responded, knitting her brow as she looked up at them.

“I’m really sorry about this, I know I’ve been relying on you a lot these past four days, but you’re the only one I know who can do anything about this. Please, Beatrice.” Subaru pleaded, she really wished she could dispel the curse on her own, so she wouldn’t have to turn to Beatrice again, but she just didn’t have the skill to do it.

Although, come to think of it, Puck might be able to do the same thing, though she would be running the risk of Emilia finding out about what was happening here if she went to him. She wanted to avoid getting Emilia involved if at all possible, but that was also an option to consider if she failed here and had to loop again.

Beatrice sighed with exasperation, “Very well. It would be a problem for Roswaal too if that girl died, I suppose. Betty will indulge you just this once.”

As Beatrice descended from her stool and stepped over to Rem, who was still in too much mental turmoil to say much of anything, Subaru’s thoughts immediately turned back to the village.

‘Rem mentioned that the children were playing with that witchbeast before it got her. If the kids got cursed too… I just hope I make it in time.’

Chapter Text

“It is done, in fact.” Beatrice announced as she extinguished the dark cloud she had just extracted from the area Rem had been bitten. So that was what a curse looked like, Subaru didn’t think they would be visible.

“Excellent, thank you. Now, for the village. I need to go check on the barrier, and make sure the kids are safe too…” Subaru said as she planned out her next move.

“… Rem apologizes.” The maid finally spoke, her voice strained.

“Hm? What for?” Subaru asked, with Rem’s sudden apology having interrupted her train of thought.

“Because of Rem’s mistake, because Rem failed to notice, those children might…!” Rem responded, clearly distraught, as she lowered her wavering eyes.

“No point moping about that now. If you want to make it right, come with me.” Indeed, apologies and regrets weren’t what they needed right now. Subaru had seen for herself just how strong Rem was in her previous lives, if she could take Rem with her, that would simplify things considerably.

“Huh?” The maid was taken off guard by Subaru’s reaction, though what she was expecting in the first place was a mystery to Subaru.

“If the barrier really has been breached, I don’t think I’ll be able to resolve the situation on my own; and I can’t take Ram with me since I’d prefer to leave her here so she can watch over Emilia. That being the case, you’re the only one I can count on right now. Come with me, Rem. We need to get to the village right away.” Subaru explained, though the maid simply stared at her blankly for a time, unable to offer any sort of response beyond her subtly shifting facial expressions, no doubt indicative of the many thoughts racing through her head right now. Subaru didn’t have time for this, though, so she simply grabbed Rem’s hand and rushed off with her, saying a quick goodbye to Beatrice on her way out.

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The sun had already set by the time they reached the village, but they found that it was illuminated by a different orange glow.

‘Torches… Tch, so we didn’t make it in time?’

As the villagers ran around in a panic, many of them bearing torches, one young man passed by the pair and took notice of their presence,

“You two, from the mansion…”

“That’s correct. Tell us, what’s the situation here?” Subaru’s forceful tone and stern gaze took the man off guard, momentarily freezing him in place.

”Uh… Some children from the village have gone missing, you see. We know they were playing outside when it was still light out, but after that…”

Rem’s already guilty expression darkened even further when she heard this, but Subaru paid no mind to this, her thoughts lay elsewhere. In particular, the area of the forest Nox was urging her to look at, sensing that something was off there.

“Rem, that part of the barrier doesn’t appear to be functioning. Can the Wolgarm get through there?” Subaru asked as she led Rem over to a barrier crystal that was no longer glowing.

“Indeed. That is why it is most imperative that the barrier is maintained, it was supposed to be the villagers’ responsibility to confirm its integrity, yet…”

“Too late to worry about that now. Have the villagers guard the area, and get someone to report back to the mansion. I’ll see if I can find any leads as to where the kids might be.” Subaru summoned the lesser spirits in the area as she gave her orders.

While Rem relayed her instructions to the villagers, Subaru confirmed through the spirits that the children had indeed entered the forest just as she had feared.

“Damn it, they’re in the forest after all. That damned mutt must have lured them in. If it’s cursed them too, and it most likely has, we have no time to waste. We have to head in there, Rem.” Subaru said to the maid who had returned to her side.

“Please wait. Do you not find it strange that this is happening now of all times? Might it be possible that this is a coordinated attack, timed to occur during Roswaal-sama’s absence?” Rem asked, though the uncertainty in her tone and expression made it clear that she had lost confidence in her own judgement and thus would mostly likely defer to Subaru here if she was pushed.

“That’s something I’d considered too, you’re worried that this is a distraction, with the real target being the manor, isn’t that right? The whole situation’s off to begin with, it definitely feels like there’s someone behind this, but how would they be able to time it so precisely? It seems to me that Roswaal’s departure wasn’t one that she had planned in advance, she said she was heading out to confirm some news she had just received, so for the assailant to know about that would mean they know more about Roswaal than the residents of her own manor.” Subaru closed her eyes with a small frown on her face as she put her thoughts into words.

“I won’t disagree that the mansion might be in danger, but even so, I still have to prioritize those kids, Rem. You’re free to return to the mansion if you wish to do so, but I’m going to rescue those children no matter what, even if I have to do it alone.”

“Why would you…” Rem began, but her voice trailed off, leaving her question unfinished. However, Subaru was certain it wasn’t just one question she wished to ask, those few words surely encompassed many ‘why’s.

“If I had to say, it’s because I trust Ram to handle things back at the manor. Aren’t you the one who’s always going on about how amazing your sister is? Now would be a good time to have that sort of faith in her. While we don’t have any guarantees, she at least has a much better chance of fending off whatever threat the manor might be facing by herself than the kids do of surviving this on their own. Simply put, I’m just prioritizing the side that needs my help more.”

“Rem understands, but... To enter the forest without Roswaal-sama’s permission is…” she began, but immediately realizing that such an argument would be moot at this point, she abandoned it in favor of another, “Did you not say that you wished to become Emilia-sama’s knight? Does that not mean you should prioritize her safety above all else?”

“What kind of knight would I be if I let her subjects die right under my nose?” Subaru responded, but such a statement wouldn’t convince Rem on its own and indeed it wasn’t really what motivated Subaru either, so she continued, “If Emilia were here, she would do everything in her power to help those kids, even if it meant putting herself in danger. I want to live up to that spirit of hers. It’s part of why I admire her so much, and the reason I want to serve her in the first place.”

“Although I didn’t think of myself that way at the time, I was actually a pretty self-centered person before I met her. That’s probably true even now, but back in the capital, even when that thief was making off with her insignia and she was at risk of losing everything, Emilia still stopped to help a lost child we had run into. We really didn’t have any time to waste and I thought it was such a foolish thing to do, and while I still think it was incredibly reckless, I also came to adore her for acting that way. That selflessness and nobility was something precious, something most people would lose as they grow up and face the harsh realities of the world. People like that get taken advantage of, they suffer for it, but even though the life she’d led until that point must have been harsher than I could possibly comprehend, it hadn’t dulled her generous spirit in the slightest.” Subaru’s expression relaxed ever so slightly as she spoke, with a small smile appearing on her face towards the end.

“I want her to stay that way. I don’t want her to ever regret being a good person or doing the right thing. I want to help her however I can, I want to protect her from all harm, I want to make all of her wishes come true. So if I can lighten her burden even a little…” Subaru continued as she looked back towards the forest. She had sent Nox out to search the forest while she spoke, and she could sense through their mental link that he had found something, though it was difficult to discern any details at this range.

“Of course, this is for the kids too, and the villagers as well. Those children all have hopes, dreams, futures, I won’t allow those to be extinguished here.” She then turned back towards the village, “And the villagers live in fear of the half-elf up in the manor. Even the ones that aren’t afraid of Emilia herself still fear the possibility that her mere presence here could bring misfortune upon this land. And if this really is a coordinated attack, they would be right in a way. Just like that incident at the capital, this too most likely has to do with the royal selection, which is to say they’re targeting Emilia. Of course, the villagers probably wouldn’t know that, but… Even so, I need to show them that Emilia’s decision to bring me here was a good one. I need to prove to them that it was thanks to her that their children were rescued tonight.” Nox had returned to her side by the time she finished, and was now relaying the exact position and condition of the children to her.

“And in order to do that, I’ll first need to make my way through the forest. Let’s go, Rem. I know exactly where those kids are.”

“… Very well. Let us proceed, then.” Rem responded, offering no further argument as her signature flail suddenly manifested in her hands, seemingly appearing out of nowhere and reminding Subaru of a rather unpleasant time in her life, or rather, lives.

‘I might have to go back to that moment if I die, huh… Let’s hope I can make it through this without any casualties.’

Chapter Text

The journey to the children’s location was relatively smooth, they hadn’t even encountered any witchbeasts on the way. The dense woods parted into a sizeable clearing as they ran through the gaps between the trees, and it was in this slightly elevated clearing that they discovered the children sprawled out in a manner reminiscent of what one might find in a ritual sacrifice, the thought of which was terribly unpleasant to Subaru.

“They’re still alive, but… That might not be the case for much longer.” Subaru noted as she examined them.

‘Damn it, could it be that the curse has already activated? No, it’s far too early, they can still be saved. If we just get them back to the village…’

There was still the matter of actually releasing the curses, where Subaru would unfortunately have no choice but to rely on Beatrice again. Neither Rem nor Subaru were capable of such a thing, so all they could do was apply some basic healing magic to comfort the children before carrying them back.

Since Rem was the more skilled healer of the two, she was the one casting the healing spell while Subaru gathered the children and brought them over to her. As she picked up the reddish-brown-haired girl she had met once before, however, she found that the girl was slightly more lucid than the others as she stirred in Subaru’s arms, opening her eyes ever so slightly.

“Subaru…?” the girl murmured.

“Hold on just a little longer, Petra. We’ll get you and your friends out of here in no time at all.” Subaru reassured the girl, telling her that everything would be alright.

“One… More… Still…” Petra forced the words out of her throat, but she soon reached her limit and her consciousness faded once more. Her efforts weren’t in vain, however, because Subaru got the message loud and clear.

“Rem!” Subaru called out to the maid, “Petra says we’re missing one, is that true?”

“Rem recalls that there was also a girl with brown hair who wore it in a braid… If she was taken away alone, however…” Rem didn’t finish her sentence, her insinuation already glaringly obvious.

“Alright, got it. I’ll be heading deeper into the forest to search for her. I’m leaving these kids to you, take care of them.”

“Please wait! That would be far too risky an endeavor, in our effort to rescue that last child, we might well end up losing the ones we have already recovered.” Rem appealed to her in a pleading tone, urging her not to go.

“That’s what you’re here for. Take the kids back to the village, and if you’re that concerned, you can come back for me and the girl.” Subaru responded as she turned around, having already sent Nox out to scout deeper into the forest while she summoned some lesser spirits once more.

“… Are you so certain I will be able to find you?”

“I think we both know quite well exactly how you can track me down.”

Subaru’s blunt response caused the maid to flinch. While Subaru wasn’t about to, nor did she want to, ask Rem to abandon her hatred for the witch cult or anything of the sort, she at least hoped to change Rem’s attitude toward’s the witch’s scent that hung upon her. Subaru chose her next words with this objective in mind,

“I understand that the witch’s scent must be quite unpleasant for you, I wasn’t especially fond of it myself at first, but… It doesn’t always have to represent something negative, you know. We could even think of it as a guiding beacon of hope this time.”

Naturally, this suggestion was one that Rem was hesitant to accept, but the fact that there was any hesitation at all was already a massive change from before. With those parting words, Subaru charged into the forest, deeper and deeper, pressing forward endlessly until she found what she was looking for—

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

‘There.’

Looking through a gap between the trees ahead of her, Subaru found the girl she was looking for lying beside a felled tree in a small clearing.

‘She looks fine, or rather, no worse than the others at least, but… Could this be a trap? Well, I’m already in too far to back out now. Let’s do this.’

Running over to the girl’s side, Subaru was about to pick her up when Nox sent her feelings of unease through their mental link, telling her that something was wrong. Well, even more wrong than their already disastrous situation.

‘What’s the matter, Nox?’ Subaru asked as she knelt beside the girl and examined her. As one would expect, she too had a bite mark on her and was displaying the same symptoms as the other children, so there shouldn’t have been anything too odd about this, besides her strange positioning…

‘Her hair’s been dyed.’ Subaru could tell through Nox that brown wasn’t her natural hair color, it should have been more like a dark blue. Still, that in itself shouldn’t have been a cause for concern. Even so, Subaru could help but tremble ever so slightly as she scooped the girl up into her arms.

‘Looks like I won’t have much time to think about it. Better get moving.’ Subaru thought as she noticed the several dozens of red orbs shining between the trees around her. It really was a trap after all.

Taking the initiative, Subaru charged the horde of Wolgarm before they could make their move, shredding them with blades of wind as she cleared a path before her. She had discovered over the past three days that wind was her second best element, but in terms of mana usage against large groups, it was actually considerably more efficient than yin; at her current level of skill at least.

It felt a little strange to be massacring so many animals so casually, she wondered if doing so might perhaps damage the ecosystem or something, but as far as she knew, witchbeasts were of no value to this world whatsoever and were little more than a scourge in need of utter annihilation. That being the case, this was probably fine.

‘With this pouch full of mana crystals, I figured I’d have more than enough spellpower to wipe out an entire forest full of witchbeasts, but…’

As she was besieged by endless waves of Wolgarm, it was starting to seem to her like she really was facing every single one in the entire forest, and though she was loath to admit it, she wasn’t quite up to the task.

‘Damn it, there must be more witchbeasts in here than there are trees. Why the hell are there so many of these bastards?’ she complained internally as she continued to fire off blasts of wind in rapid succession. It wasn’t enough to simply keep firing in the direction she was running either, short of emerging from the ground, the Wolgarm were attacking from every conceivable angle, even from above as they were apparently capable of climbing trees, as evidenced by the ones descending from the trees. Subaru’s reflexes were pushed to the limit as she just barely managed to rip them all apart before they could reach her, but she doubted she could keep it up for very long. The fact that she had to carry a child through all of this only made things that much harder. She would cast Shamac whenever there were too many for her to handle at once, but this served little purpose beyond giving her a little breathing room, for whatever Wolgarm she had blinded would almost immediately be replaced by a horde of similar size.

‘Does the scent of your creator really piss you off that much? I swear, you’re even tougher on me than she is… At this rate, I’ll never make it out of here.’

The Wolgarm were much more aggressive and numerous now than they were when she encountered them in her first life, and their movements seemed more coordinated too, like they really were being controlled by someone or something. As Subaru began to ponder desperate measures, she suddenly heard the distinctive sound of chains rattling through the air.

‘She really came back for me, huh. I’ve gotta say, I’ve never been this glad to see her.’ Subaru thought as a familiar maid appeared before her, her flail obliterating every single Wolgarm in its path.

“The children are safe, and the barrier has been repaired!” the maid announced as her eyes met Subaru’s.

“Splendid, now we just need to make it out of here ourselves and it’ll all be over.” Subaru responded with a grin, though this was currently proving to be the most difficult part of the entire operation. If anything, everything until now had been a breeze.

The pair started fighting their way back to the barrier, but even with their combined efforts, they were slowly getting overwhelmed. Subaru hadn’t taken any damage just yet, since she was only using ranged attacks (though she wouldn’t be able to do this for much longer, since she had already used up most of her mana crystals); Rem, however, wasn’t faring as well. Though she would fire off the occasional Huma, she was for the most part engaging in melee combat with her flail, and failing that, her bare hands. Although Subaru was definitely impressed as she watched Rem crush the Wolgarm that made it past her flail with her bare hands, fighting at such close range meant that the Wolgarm also had the opportunity to bite or claw back in their final moments, and though they weren’t very effective individually, the damage was steadily accumulating.

Still, Subaru estimated that they would probably make it at this rate. Her tactic of using Shamac to buy some time whenever either of them was about to sustain critical damage was still proving effective, and she figured she could at least keep it up until they were close enough to barrier to just make a run for it. As she thought this, however, she noticed one particular Wolgarm that was different from the rest. A small and fluffy one bearing a distinctive bald spot on its forehead.

‘You…!’

Subaru didn’t even have time to curse it for causing all of this in the first place before it emitted a powerful magical aura as it produced a massive shockwave that tore through the ground towards her. With its size and speed, it would definitely cause massive, potentially even fatal, damage to both her and Rem if it made contact. It would be impossible to dodge in time, they were surrounded by far too many witchbeasts to do that. Even if Subaru tried to fly upward with Murak, they’d just be caught by the Wolgarm in the trees. Perhaps she could dull it to some extent, but she wasn’t powerful enough to fully stop an attack of this scale.

The only option available to her, then, was to focus all of her power on saving just Rem and the child. She didn’t know if this world would continue after her death, but supposing it did, it was only natural that Rem should be the one to survive. Subaru probably wouldn’t be missed very much if she died here, but Rem was far more dear to the residents of the manor, and especially to her beloved sister.

In all honesty, Subaru felt rather uneasy about handing the child off to Rem. From what she had read, the fact that the dog had lost its horn probably meant that it had a master, meaning there was someone behind this just as she and Rem has suspected. She didn’t want to think it could be the girl in her arms, surely the Wolgarm wouldn’t attack their master which such ferocity, but she just couldn’t banish the thought from her mind. She couldn’t rely on such vague suspicions to guide her actions, however, so it would just have to be something to keep in mind for next time.

Making a split second decision, Subaru shoved the girl into Rem’s arms and launched the pair away as the shockwave crashed into her, shattering several of her bones and sending her flying. Subaru attempted to correct her course mid-air to keep herself from crashing into a tree, but several Wolgarm took this opportunity to pounce on her, shredding her skin and muscles and further ruining her already broken bones.

Rem immediately blew them off her, of course, but the damage was done. Subaru was also fairly certain that Rem had yelled out her name just then, though she was in too much pain to be sure. It would be truly unfortunate to have to go back to the murderous Rem after this, but she didn’t have much choice.

‘Still, on the off chance that this world does go on after my death, I’ve at least got to make sure these two get out of here in one piece.’

“Shamac!” she yelled, using up the last of her mana crystals to blind every Wolgarm in the area as she leaned against a nearby tree and forced her broken body to rise. Frustratingly, the little dog had stepped back just enough to be just barely out of range of her spell.

“Subaru…?” Rem murmured in disbelief as Subaru dragged herself upward, miraculously forcing herself back on her feet, “No, you mustn’t! If you push yourself any further—!” Rem began as she rushed to Subaru’s side, though Subaru wouldn’t let her finish.

“Rem, take that child back to the village.” she commanded, her eyes locked with the tiny Wolgarm’s as they each prepared for their deathmatch.

“What…?” Rem asked, her eyes widening as she grasped Subaru’s intentions.

“I’ll hold these guys off, the witch’s scent I bear makes me the perfect bait. I don’t think I can hold out for very long, though, so you’ll have to be quick.” Subaru figured she must have broken several of her ribs, just speaking was torture.

“That won’t be necessary, Rem can still fight!” the maid protested, though her tone suggested she knew that Subaru wasn’t about to back down here.

“Not while carrying that kid you can’t. Just get her out of here safely, once you make it past that barrier, you can consider the situation resolved.”

“What about you…?” Rem asked, the answer already painfully obvious to her.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll definitely come back, no matter what. Until I die, even after I die, my loyalty to Emilia isn’t something that can be erased so easily.” Subaru said with a wink, though her expression turned serious once more as she turned back towards the tiny Wolgarm that had now shrunk itself down even further by curling up into a ball. Whatever it was doing, she had to get Rem and the girl away from here immediately, “There’s no time. Now go.”

Her hesitation made her waver momentarily, but Rem finally listened and ran off towards the barrier, casting her sorrowful gaze back towards Subaru one last time as she left.

With the maid gone, Subaru could now focus all of her attention on the ball of fur before her, which had suddenly exploded into a hulking beast many times larger than any she had faced thus far.

‘Alright, you look much more like a proper final boss now. Bring it on, you big bastard!’

Chapter Text

Despite Subaru’s reassurances, it was obvious to Rem that the girl wasn’t expecting to make it out of this alive. Even as she ran away as Subaru instructed her to, Rem didn’t know what to do. Subaru had guaranteed her an escape path, but if she actually took it, it would be no different from leaving Subaru to die. On the other hand, if Rem went back for Subaru, she would be putting the child in danger once more.

‘If you turn back now, you waste what she’s given you. Any hesitation would be a mockery of Barusu’s determination.’

When she tried to think of what her sister would do in such a situation, these were the words that came to mind. Surely, her sister would tell her something along those lines. Perhaps that was the correct way to think. Subaru had entrusted her with one final mission, to get the child in her arms past the barrier and into the village. Rem would truly be beyond redemption if she couldn’t even accomplish that much.

But even if it was correct, that just wasn’t something she could accept. It felt wrong, so wrong. Subaru had no fault in any of this, her judgement had been perfect throughout; it was because of Rem’s own failure that all of this had happened in the first place, so why was Subaru the one paying the price?

Subaru had always been an enigma to Rem, she just couldn’t understand her. She had been suspicious of her from the very moment Emilia brought her into the mansion, and the fact that her sister was unconscious then had only inflamed her anxieties. The story seemed far too convenient; according to Emilia, Subaru was just a passerby she happened to run into who then proceeded to risk her life to help Emilia retrieve her insignia, and played an instrumental role in doing so. The fact that she also bore the witch’s scent practically confirmed to Rem that she was up to no good, that she had some ulterior motive, that the events in the capital were not what they seemed.

Dangerous thoughts had filled Rem’s head that night, and she very recklessly decided to deal with the situation herself. However, there was an explosion of miasma as Rem reached for the girl’s throat, and she instantly cast a blinding spell and escaped before Rem could even react. Now fully certain that the girl was an enemy, Rem was in a state of panic because her presence had completely vanished, her scent disappearing without a trace. Fearing that her incompetence may have unleashed an insidious threat upon the manor in the middle of the night, Rem hastily tried to track her down before she could enact her evil plans, but it seemed that Beatrice was for some reason interfering with her efforts. If it wasn’t Beatrice, however, that would mean that the assailant’s skill with spacetime magic was on par with that of the great spirit, a possibility Rem wanted to deny at all costs, and yet couldn’t help but admit held some merit, for it was a yin spell that the girl had used against her.

If the girl was truly capable of wielding such power, Rem would stand no chance against her. Fearing that she may have doomed the manor in her haste, Rem’s anxiety had just about reached its peak when that distinctive scent suddenly reappeared, leaving a trail for her to follow; a trail that led, much to her horror, to Emilia’s room. Hoping to find some clues as to what the girl was up to, Rem stealthily listened in from the other side of the door, but all she ended up hearing was some sort of strange song. It was rather pleasant to listen to and even Rem ended up relaxing ever so slightly in spite of herself, but that changed immediately when she detected another burst of miasma emanating from within, prompting her to throw open the door and barge in, ready to stop whatever evil machinations lay in wait within even at the expense of her own life if need be; however, completely contrary to her expectations, nothing had actually happened and two young women within simply stared at her, evidently confused by her sudden intrusion.

Though she had already been regretting her decision quite severely, she now realized anew just how foolish it had been. It was obvious now more than ever that regardless of however certain Rem may have been that the girl was an enemy, Emilia still viewed her as a benefactor and her savior. Sensing the clear affection in the way the two interacted with each other, it seemed to Rem that they must have gotten at least somewhat close in the capital. Emilia was a rather naive person, so it must have been quite easy to gain her trust, but Rem hadn’t been expecting this at all. If the girl was intending to use Emilia as a shield, what could Rem do? Rem didn’t actually have any hard evidence and she doubted Emilia would give up on the girl even if Rem told her about the witch’s miasma that surrounded her. On the contrary, it was Rem herself who was now on the back foot; if the girl were to bring up her attempted murder, Rem would have a very hard time indeed defending herself.

However, as Rem desperately wondered how best to justify her actions, the conversation took an entirely different turn from what she had expected. The girl hadn’t mentioned anything about what had happened between them, instead electing to defuse the tension with a joke. Confused, Rem attempted to leave so she could think things over, but the girl, with Emiila’s approval, insisted that she stay and chat. Rem hesitantly agreed, and the girl would then tell them that she was afflicted with some strange condition that Rem had never heard of, one that caused the witch’s miasma to explode from her on occasion. Rem didn’t believe her for a second, this was obviously a cover story to hide her involvement with that accursed cult. The girl went on to say that she was prepared to risk her life for Emilia again, as she had before, and that she wouldn’t let any harm befall the manor, and urged Rem to trust her. Despite the sincerity in her tone, Rem just couldn’t trust her, not one bit. Even so, Rem could tell that nothing good would come of pressing the matter now, so she did not argue.

The girl then obediently followed Rem back to her guest room just as Rem had instructed, and seemed to fall asleep for real this time; although Rem was now unsure if she was actually feigning sleep that first time, though she was initially certain that was the case, it was also possible that she was simply awoken by her spirit. Either way, Rem was neither bold nor reckless enough to go in there for a second attempt, and she wasn’t sure if she would even want to at this point.

Later that night, when her sister had awakened at long last, she too warned Rem against taking any further action against their guest. And in the morning, come breakfast, the girl seemed awfully interested in the royal selection, asking several questions relating to it, after which she suddenly declared that she wished to become Emilia’s knight, which much to Rem’s surprise was a request Roswaal was actually considering. So that was what she was up to, Rem had been wondering why she had kept Rem’s attempt to kill her last night a secret, it now seemed obvious that the girl had been hoping to worm her way into the mansion and gain its residents’ trust so she could then execute whatever dastardly scheme she had in mind, and in order to do that, she was doing her best to avoid causing a scene by accusing Rem.

The question, then, was why in the world Roswaal was allowing this. Surely she must have known the threat the girl represented, but not one person there seemed especially concerned, not even her sister. It was ultimately Emilia herself who objected, but she had done so out of concern for safety of the girl in question, rather than that of the manor. However, the girl casually spoke over her and overruled her, and it was decided that she would be selected as Emilia’s knight, if she could prove herself by the time of the royal selection, with Roswaal even offering to support her in her efforts.

Over the next few days, the girl would continue to get closer to the others in the manor, even approaching Rem every day, though Rem would always rebuff her. That wasn’t the case with the others, though. Emilia and the girl would of course spend all of their spare time together, but it seemed that even Beatrice and Rem’s own sister, Ram, had taken a liking to her. She was allowed to enter the Forbidden Archive as she pleased, and Beatrice would now step outside the library more often than she ever had in the many years Rem had served here. As for Ram, she was presently acting as the girl’s instructor in wind magic, a role she had taken on at the girl’s request, and Rem would often find the pair having pleasant conversations over tea in the girl’s room.

Rem just didn’t understand it, why would they trust her so easily? Why would they give her very the tools she needed to bring about their doom? The idea that the girl might one day use the same magic she learned here to attack the manor was absolutely infuriating. What was even more infuriating was that she could never sense in the girl even the slightest inclination that she intended to do anything of the sort. That would have to mean that she was innocent, but that just wasn’t an idea Rem could accept, because if she truly had nothing sinister planned, why would she so easily gloss over Rem’s attempt to kill her? She never mentioned it again, to anyone, and from the cheerful way she always greeted Rem, it almost seemed to her that the girl had actually forgotten that it even happened.

It was only now, on Subaru’s fourth day at the manor, that Rem started to understand what kind of person she was. It seemed Subaru had wanted to visit the village today, but utlimately decided against it, perhaps out of consideration for Rem since she knew she would be shopping there today, which made Rem feel just a little guilty. When she reached the village, she found that Subaru had apparently made a good impression there too, because some children came up to her asking when Subaru would visit again, it was also those same children who were playing with the Wolgarm that would go on to cause the incident that would ultimately lead to Subaru sacrificing herself.

Briefly joining the children at their insistence, Rem had carelessly allowed the Wolgarm to bite her, though she thought nothing of it at the time and simply healed the wound right away. On her way back to the manor, she noticed Subaru running up to her. The girl had apparently been planning to play with the children in the village, but then decided to instead help Rem carry the groceries back when she saw her; Rem rejected her offer as usual and thought that would be the end of it, since the girl would usually give up when rebuffed, but Subaru would go on to insist that there was something wrong with Rem, that they had to go and see Beatrice right away. While Rem was somewhat impressed that the girl could sense that she had used healing magic, she also still did not trust her enough to follow her suggestion. She really couldn’t see what purpose this would serve if it was in fact some plot, though, so she ultimately acquiesced.

It was only when they returned to the manor and met with Rem’s sister, who agreed that Subaru’s concerns held merit and asked Rem to explain what had happened, that Rem came to realize her grave error. The little dog the children had been playing with was in fact a Wolgarm, a terrible witchbeast whose bite had cursed Rem, and most likely would have killed her were it not for Subaru’s intervention. While Rem struggled to come to terms with this knowledge, Subaru dragged her to Beatrice, effortlessly locating the library on her first try as she usually did, and pleaded with the spirit to save Rem. After successfully convincing Beatrice to dispel the curse, Subaru would then immediately take Rem to the village where their worst fears were realized, with the children having gone missing, in response to which Subaru would declare that they had to enter the forest to save them.

The guilt in Rem’s heart had continued to intensify the entire time, though it had in truth been present ever since that first night, it had grown to an unbearable level over the past hour. And with her immense guilt came confusion, and all she could ask Subaru was why? That single question she could not even finish was the culmination of the many doubts she had regarding the girl, the girl she had never been able to understand in the slightest.

And though Subaru said a number of things in response, the answer she ultimately settled on was one regarding her feelings towards Emilia. Those heartbreakingly loving words and the sincerity with which she said them convinced even Rem that they were nothing but the purest truth, and it was in this moment that Rem felt like she suddenly understood everything. All of the girl’s actions made sense now.

Surely, that was just the kind of person she was. If she saw someone in distress, she would reach out to help them, no matter who they were. Her actions proved this to Rem again and again, the way she so desperately tried to save the girl who almost killed her, the way she charged into the forest without hesitation despite knowing how dangerous it was, the way she ventured even further into the darkness by herself to save a single child, and even now, the way she put her own life on the line to allow Rem to escape with the child all made it painfully clear.

Of course, it must have been the same in the capital too. Emilia’s story which Rem had doubted so much, which seemed far too good to be true, may have been completely true after all. Perhaps Subaru really was a random passerby who saw that she was in trouble and so decided to help her. Rem had always thought it suspicious how Subaru was always trying to get closer to Emilia, a half-elf whom most of the world would avoid at all costs, and whom even Rem herself tried to avoid interacting with as much as possible, but that was her own shallow biases coloring her view. It was exactly as Subaru had said at breakfast that day, it didn’t matter to her at all that Emilia was a half-elf. More than a royal candidate or half-elf, she was just a lonely girl first and foremost, and of course someone like Subaru would want to stay by her side.

Watching Subaru made Rem realize just how narrow-minded she had been. Subaru’s condition had surely brought her far more suffering than Rem could possibly know, she hadn’t been at all surprised when Rem attempted to kill her, and the way she casually brushed it off and later went on to use her scent as bait for the Wolgarm… All of this could only mean that Subaru had already experienced such things before. And yet she never let her past hold her back nor did she hold grudges, she was always facing forward with a smile. The more Rem thought about this, the more it seemed to her that most of what Subaru had said about Emilia could just as easily be applied to herself, and those words would not stop running through Rem’s head as she dashed towards the village.

‘I thought it was such a foolish thing to do, and while I still think it was incredibly reckless, I also came to adore her for acting that way.’

With her spirit aiding her, Subaru was capable of moving much faster and with more freedom than Rem. Even accounting for the witch’s scent, she surely would have had an easier time getting the child out of the forest than Rem. The fact that she still chose to have Rem be the one to escape instead, then, could only be the result of her magnanimous nature. Rem could not commend her sacrifice, she didn’t have the right, since it was entirely her fault that Subaru had to make such a choice in the first place, but Rem really wished she hadn’t. She wished Subaru would have just left her behind to escape by herself. Any misgivings she may have had in regards to the girl had already completely vanished, and her heart was now tormented by the memories of all the times she had rebuffed Subaru’s attempts to reach out to her. Every act of kindness had turned into a dagger in her heart, with this one hurting most of all.

Even if it meant losing her life, Rem would have gladly stayed behind if Subaru had asked her to. Perhaps it was even possible she would survive if she manifested her horn once Subaru was far enough away, beyond the barrier. That was in truth something she really should have done already. She had refrained from entering that state for fear that she might lose the ability to differentiate between friend and foe in her blood thirst, which would mean that the witch’s miasma would make Subaru a target as well. Cowardly as it was, she could not bear the thought of ending Subaru’s life by her own hand, even though she had attempted to do just that mere days prior, and thus she could not bring herself to transform.

The fact that Rem was too weak to make it through this without that form, however, meant that Subaru had to risk her life regardless to protect her. Rem cursed herself, was there truly no limit to her incompetence?

‘That selflessness and nobility was something precious.’

Her eyes burned as tears flowed freely down her face, if only she had accepted Subaru earlier, as the others in the mansion had, none of this would have happened. If Rem hadn’t kept rejecting her, if Subaru had accompanied her into the village earlier today, surely she would have realized right away that there was a witchbeast in their midst, and that the barrier had been breached. Subaru would have been able to solve everything right away, the children wouldn’t have suffered, and Subaru wouldn’t have needed to lay down her life for Rem’s sake.

It was Rem’s own petty biases that had caused this. She had been the only one too blind to see the girl for the wonderful person she truly was.

‘People like that get taken advantage of, they suffer for it.’

And even now, Subaru was willing to die for Rem without hesitation. Even after Rem had attempted to kill her, even though Rem had done nothing but shun her over the past four days; the thought that Subaru would give up her life to correct what was ultimately Rem’s failure was too much to bear.

It wasn’t Subaru’s place to die in that forest. She should have been by Emilia’s side, eagerly awaiting the day she could become her knight; she should have been playing with the children in the village who were eagerly awaiting her next visit, she should have been training with Ram as they threw affectionate barbs at each other, she should have been studying with Beatrice, who seemed to have grown quite fond of her.

Unlike Rem, who had already lost everything on that fiery night, Subaru had a bright future ahead of her, one that wouldn’t be complete without her. It wouldn’t be right for it to end here.

As Rem thought back to that night all those years ago, however, that scene suddenly felt far too familiar. The sight of someone so wonderful destroying themselves to protect her, someone she had resented for no reason beyond her own shortcomings… She really hadn’t changed at all. She had once again made the same mistake she had back then, the mistake that had defined her life ever since.

But even though she had resolved to live as her sister’s replacement ever since that day, to do her very best to replicate what her sister could have done, what could she possibly do for Subaru? Even if the girl somehow survived, there was no telling what terrible state her body might be in; Rem doubted even Beatrice would be able to fully heal her. If Subaru was forced to give up on her dreams of knighthood because of this, how could Rem possibly make up for that?

‘But even though the life she’d led until that point must have been harsher than I could possibly comprehend, it hadn’t dulled her generous spirit in the slightest.’

But perhaps Subaru didn’t even expect her to make up for it, perhaps she didn’t expect anything from Rem at all. She hadn’t been fazed in the slightest when Rem tried to kill her that night, after all, so surely she hadn’t been expecting anything better to begin with. What kind of life had she lived until now that an attempt on her life was something she could brush off so casually? What had driven her to the point where she would so easily sacrifice herself for someone who had tried to take her life, and had done nothing to make up for it?

Her racing thoughts ultimately converged into one single wish, and a firm conviction: That Subaru had to live through this, she would make sure of it. This wasn’t a conviction borne of guilt, nor did it come from a desire for forgiveness or redemption. There was no way she could possibly redeem herself, and she did not want Subaru to forgive her; she would accept any punishment the girl wished to impose on her, though her heart told her that Subaru would not wish to punish her at all, which was perhaps more painful than punishment ever could be.

Either way, Subaru had to be alive to make that choice.

‘I want her to stay that way. I don’t want her to ever regret being a good person or doing the right thing.’

This was the one point on which Rem could not agree with Subaru. Even though Subaru’s judgement had been perfect throughout, if there was one mistake she had made, it would be that she chose to save Rem instead of herself. Although Subaru would surely tell her that that was no mistake, Rem simply could not think of it as the ‘right thing’ to do, nor did she want Subaru to remain the kind of person who would keep making such decisions.

If things ended like this, Subaru wouldn’t even have time to regret her decision, she would die having only ever thought kindly of Rem. Such a noble sacrifice would be wasted on Rem, she did not deserve it in the slightest; so Subaru would have to live on, and learn that her life was far too precious to be thrown away so easily. That was why Rem had to go back for her, if against all odds the girl was somehow still alive, if Rem had even the slightest chance to save her…

‘Please wait. Rem shall come back for you, Rem will definitely save you, so please…’

Having finally made it past the barrier, Rem immediately deposited the girl in her arms with the villagers and rushed back into the forest with that single wish burning in her heart, desperately praying for the safety of the girl she had left behind—

‘Don’t die.’

Chapter Text

‘Well, it’s just you and me now. What are you waiting for?’

Subaru wasn’t capable of much movement in her current condition, it was taking all she had just to remain standing, so she would have to wait for the massive beast before her to make the first move. However, the Wolgarm didn’t seem to have any intention of closing the distance between them; and with neither side advancing, the two simply stared each other down.

‘You’ve gotta be kidding me. Are you seriously so much of a coward that you don’t even want to take on a girl on the verge of death? What’s that huge body for, then?’

Having used up all of her mana crystals already, Subaru wouldn’t be able to maintain the blinding spell she had cast on the Wolgarm surrounding her for much longer; it therefore seemed that the leader of the beasts intended to simply wait until she was out of mana so it could then sic its minions on her.

That of course wasn’t something Subaru could allow, even though she was practically dead on her feet already, she wanted to at least kill the damned thing before she moved on to the next world. She would first have to draw it closer to her in order to do that, though, and she could only think of one method that could work given her present circumstances.

‘Forgive me for this, Satella-tan.’

Come to think of it, Subaru didn’t even know if attempting to tell some witchbeasts about her power would have the same effect. She hoped it did, or she would be completely screwed.

“While you’re waiting, there’s a little something you should know!“ Subaru began, and time ground to a halt once more as the witch’s shadows surrounded her. While this was exactly what Subaru had hoped for, there was now the matter of what the witch would do to her for ignoring her earlier warning. Subaru hoped she would be let off as easily as she was before, with her heart simply squeezed and nothing more.

‘First of all, let me just say I had no intention of actually telling anybody, as I’m sure you must be aware… I just wanted to see you again, Satella-tan, and bathe in your scent.’

This was the only excuse she could come up with, and it was true, so she just had to hope it would work. She patiently waited as that disembodied hand slowly reached towards her once more, though it somehow seemed to have a more definite form this time. Could it be that its structure would keep solidifying the more Subaru did this, and ultimately release Satella in her full glory or something? Subaru wasn’t sure that that was something she would want just yet, so she would have to wait on that, assuming it was really possible.

‘At least until I’ve changed the world’s opinion of you… And I can be sure you won’t destroy half the world again, though maybe you had a reason?’

Subaru tensed up slightly as the hand finally reached her heart and wrapped around it,

‘I know I always ask this, but could you please maybe consider going just a little easy on me this time?’

She then braced herself as the hand squeezed, causing that familiar agony to course through her again. Even though most of her body was completely destroyed at this point, this pain easily transcended everything else she was feeling, she was almost impressed in a way.

‘Yeah, okay, thanks. I suppose I’ll be seeing you later, then.’

The shadows vanished and time began to flow once more. There was a key difference from before, however, in that the gigantic Wolgarm had now flown into a rage and was charging at her without any consideration for its blinded lessers, crushing them underfoot as it rushed her.

‘Guess I’ll have to thank you for doing part of my job for me. Doesn’t mean I’m about to spare you, though.’

“Shamac.” She cast her spell once more, with the beast now far too close to avoid it as it had before.

Having successfully blinded the beast, Subaru picked up a fallen branch and used spacetime magic to compress its tip into an infinitely sharp point, one that could pierce anything, and pointed it at the Wolgarm.

‘Well, here goes nothing.’

She then launched herself at the beast using a combination of yin and wind magic, proceeding to then use her momentum to drive the branch into its throat. Her makeshift weapon easily tore its way through the Wolgarm, only stopping because Subaru couldn’t push it any further once her arm entered the wound and got trapped between the Wolgarm’s muscles. However, that just meant she had to push the rest of her body through along with it.

“Fula.” she incanted, forming an explosion of wind from within the dog’s throat, forcing the branch to blast the rest of the way through with Subaru’s body following shortly after as the wind ripped apart the beast’s internals. The Wolgarm’s head was blown clean off as Subaru’s body exploded out of the back of its neck; at the same time, however, this little stunt had worsened her injuries even further, rendering her completely incapable of any movement, and had also used up most of her mana.

All she could now was use the last remnants of her mana to float helplessly over the forest, just beyond the reach of the vicious beasts below her, all of whom had now broken out of her blinding spell.

‘Well, I’ve done all I can, I think. It should be fine to move on to the next world now…’ she thought as the last of her mana vanished, causing her to fall out of the air, down into the horde of gaping maws that awaited her below—

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

When Subaru awakened, the dull pain still coursing through her body immediately made it clear to her that she hadn’t reset.

’I actually survived, huh… I was kind of hoping to get another shot at this, though.’

Her execution this time was far from perfect, she could have done much better if she had another attempt. Still, it would be pretty awkward to go and kill herself now.

She opened her eyes to find an unfamiliar ceiling before her. The bed she was lying in felt different too; taking a look around, the simplistic construction of the room suggested to her that she was in the village, with the trace amounts of sunlight filtering in through the window telling her that it was still quite early in the morning.

“Emilia… You saved me again, huh.” she muttered under her breath as she lokoed over to find Emilia sitting by her beside, her clothes drenched in blood. The girl was asleep, no doubt exhausted after giving it her all to heal Subaru. It was the same in the capital, Subaru recalled that it was Emilia who pulled her out of the rubble and healed her then too.

“I wonder about that. While it’s definitely true that Lia played her part too, it’s probably a certain other girl who really deserves your gratitude.” a familiar gray cat said in response as he emerged from Emilia’s silver hair. It didn’t take very much thought at all for Subaru to figure out who this certain other girl was, if Rem had truly come back to save Subaru, she could only hope that the maid had survived as well; it would be terrible if she lost her life because Subaru dragged her into the forest.

“Yo,” the cat called out in greeting as their eyes met, “How are you feeling?”

“Honestly, pretty damned terrible.” she responded. Just sitting up in bed was a Herculean effort, with every little movement accompanied by sharp twinges of pain. Moreover, taking a closer look at her body, she found that not only was she covered in half-healed scars, there were also numerous thread-like structures running through her entire body, akin to stitches. Whoever it was that had done this clearly had no skill for the art, however, for their work was terribly clumsy. All she needed was some screws in her head and her Frankenstein’s monster cosplay would be complete. “Seriously, what’s with these stitches? Didn’t we have anyone just a little better at doing this?”

“There wasn’t much choice, there wasn’t nearly enough mana in your body to properly heal you, and your body had already sustained far too much damage to even survive through the healing process. It’s been a long time since I last had to do this sort of thing so I messed up a little here and there, but you would have fallen apart completely if I hadn’t done this, you know?”

“It was you?! Come to think of it, I suppose you actually did pretty well for someone with such a tiny body.” While it was rather disconcerting to hear that it was Puck himself who had performed this haphazard surgery on her, she supposed she ought to be grateful. Still, to think she had been ripped apart so badly that her body couldn’t even hold itself together without these stitches…

“Well, it was pretty easy since you weren’t moving. Although I had to freeze several of your wounds before I could get to work on them, since you were pouring blood all over the place, so they may not have healed properly.” the spirit noted in response.

“I guess Emilia did a pretty good job if she managed to heal me to this extent despite all of that. I’ll have to thank her properly.” Subaru said softly as she returned her gaze to the sleeping half-elf’s face.

“Indeed. She went so far as to draw from her Od to summon me in the middle of the night, you know?”

”Wait, her Od? Isn't that really bad?! Won't that shorten her lifespan or something?!” Panicked, Subaru rapidly asked several questions in succession. She thought back to Puck’s explanation in the capital, that the Od was something like one’s very soul, that using it was akin to destroying part of oneself.

“Well, in a certain sense. That she went so far for you is definitely something you ought to be grateful for, I think.”

“Damn it, how could I let this happen…?!” Subaru grit her teeth in frustration, her survival had ruined everything. She had no choice now but to reset immediately, to create a world where Emilia wouldn’t have to make such a sacrifice—

“Well, it wasn’t really anything significant, so you don’t have to be that concerned over it. It’s just something to keep in mind, nothing more.” Puck noted nonchalantly.

“You say that now, but I’ve got a feeling that I’m going to end up regretting this terribly during our last few years together…” Subaru muttered, her eyes narrowed

“You’ve already decided you’re going to be spending the rest of your lives together, huh? I imagine Lia would be the one who ends up outliving you in that scenario, though. The difference in your lifespans is far too great.” Puck responded, casually stroking the fur on his chin as he spoke.

“Don’t underestimate me, damn it. I promised Emilia I’d always be with her, there’s no way I’d let something as simple as a human lifespan stop me.” Subaru shot back. Indeed, with Satella on her side, there was no telling how long she could end up living.

“Anyway, all of that aside…” Subaru adopted a more somber expression as she continued, “Rem and the kids, I assume they’re fine?”

“That’s right. Well, that girl seemed to have ended up in pretty terrible shape in the forest, but her wounds healed rapidly thanks to her demon transformation and she was mostly fine by the time she brought you back here. As for the kids, they’re fine too. Healing you wasn’t the only reason Lia summoned me, you know, she also had me release the curses placed on the children.”

While it was great to hear that Rem and the children were fine, this was the first Subaru was hearing of this so-called demon transformation. Rem certainly hadn’t used anything of the sort back when they were rushing through the forest, sure would have been useful then…

‘Did she suddenly awaken her Super Saiyan state when she witnessed my heroic sacrifice or something?’

“Alright, that’s good to hear… Anyway, would it be alright if I stepped out for a bit to check things out?” Subaru asked as she looked towards the window

“Sure, go ahead. As for those stitches, they’ll dissolve harmlessly into your body after your wounds finish healing, so you don’t need to worry about getting them removed or anything.” Puck responded with a wink.

“Excellent. Well, see you later.” Subaru said, bidding farewell to the spirit as she forced her aching body out of bed and over to the door, gingerly pulling it open and stepping out into the village—

Chapter Text

“I see you have awakened, Barusu.”

Subaru immediately encountered Ram, who was carrying a basket full of steamed potatoes, the very moment she stepped outside.

“Good morning, Ram.” Subaru responded, though she found it rather difficult to even raise her arm in greeting given her current condition.

“How pathetic you are, Barusu. To think you would still be in such a state even after being tended to for an entire night, what a miserable sight.” Ram said as she looked at Subaru with feigned disdain, “Eat this and recover at once.” she continued as she attempted to shove one of her potatoes into Subaru’s mouth with incredible speed, though Subaru managed to catch it at the last second.

“Oi, I seriously could have died just now if that made it into my mouth, you know!” Subaru yelled as she tossed the literal hot potato she was holding back and forth between her hands.

“If you allowed yourself to be killed so easily, that would only prove you lacked the qualifications to become Emilia-sama’s knight in the first place.” Ram responded with a snort, “Ram was merely ensuring that you remained vigilant at all times, be grateful.”

Her eyes then softened as she continued, “In all seriousness, do be careful, Barusu. Were it not for the aid of the Great Spirit-sama and Beatrice-sama, you would most certainly be dead.”

“So Beako’s out here too, huh. I didn’t think she was the sort to ever leave the mansion.” Subaru noted in response. She had heard that Beatrice couldn’t use her true power beyond the manor’s grounds, that her power was linked to the Forbidden Archive, with the library acting something like a massive gate for her.

“It was a request from the Great Spirit-sama, after all. It is normally exceedingly rare for Beatrice-sama to even exit the Forbidden Archive, let alone the manor itself.” Ram explained.

“By the way, Ram…” Subaru began, changing the subject as she attempted to cool her potato with fire magic, “There’s a certain kid I’ve been curious about. She was the last one Rem retrieved from the forest, with braided brown hair, though her natural hair color would have been a dark blue… Would you happen to know anything about her?”

“Ram cannot say she does. Was there in anything in particular that you wished to learn?”

“It’s only a vague suspicion, but I kind of have a feeling that she might in some way be related to the attack last night. I’d appreciate it if you could investigate her for me.”

“Consider it done. Though if Ram may ask, what is it exactly that Barusu suspects?”

“Well, it’s mostly that Nox was uneasy around her, and I’ve got a feeling that she might be able to control witchbeasts, in which case she may be the one behind all of this…” Nox suddenly trembled as Subaru spoke, causing her to look over at the source of the disturbance to find Beatrice, who looked as though she had some business with her, “Anyway, I’ll leave you to it; it looks like Beako wants to have a chat with me.”

“Ah, that potato was really good, by the way. I’m impressed.” she said as she walked over to join Beatrice, with the pair then proceeding to a secluded area near the forest to have their talk,

“So, what was it that you wanted to talk about?” Subaru asked, but Beatrice did not immediately respond. Her expression suggested that whatever it was, it was rather difficult for the spirit to say, Naturally, Subaru already had an idea as to what this might be about.

It wasn’t long before Beatrice was finally able to put her thoughts into words, “Nii-cha has his own thoughts on this, in fact. But Betty does not believe it would be fair to you to keep quiet about this.”

“So it’s about the curses after all, huh?” Subaru muttered. She had figured that might be the case, since she been bitten by countless Wolgarm. In addition to which, Nox had been warning her about it the entire time, so she would know even if she hadn’t figured it out herself. Presumably, the sheer number of overlapping curses would make them impossible to release, which would be why Puck and Beatrice hadn’t done just that.

“… You were aware?” Beatrice asked, slightly surprised.

“Well, yeah. So I’m going to die in about half a day’s time, is that it?” Subaru responded.

“That is correct, in fact. You don’t seem especially perturbed, I suppose.” Beatrice noted, Subaru’s apparent lack of fear causing her to raise an eyebrow.

“To be honest, I wasn’t really even expecting to make it out of that forest alive, so any extra time I get after that is just a bonus as far as I’m concerned. Rather, I’m just grateful you guys even tried so hard to save me, so…” As the words left her mouth, a certain memory suddenly sprung forth from the depths of her subconscious, a memory of a conversation she had overheard while drifting in and out of consciousness—

“Beako, where’s Rem?”

Back in the forest, Subaru had been convinced that the kids’ curses hadn’t yet activated when they found them, a belief she didn’t actually have any basis for beyond blind hope. Come to think of it, the way they weakened from mana loss matched the symptoms of the curse exactly, meaning that if they really were saved, it was possible to save someone whose curse was already active. The method of doing so was also obvious upon further thought, from what Beatrice had told her three days ago, the curse was the means by which the Wolgarm obtained sustenance, essentially turning their targets into Wolgarm food. That being the case, if the Wolgarm casting the curse was to be eliminated, the curse would naturally cease to function since the stolen mana would no longer have anywhere to go.

Indeed, all of this made sense. Considering the sheer number of Wolgarm Subaru and Rem had massacred, it was only natural that the Wolgarm that had cursed the children would also be among them; this matched whatever few details of that conversation between Rem and Beatrice that she could remember, but what really interested her about their talk was the way it ended—

“… You caught on quickly. Were you in her position, what would you do, I wonder?” Beatrice responded, her brow furrowing ever so slightly as she spoke.

“Damn it, you’ve gotta be kidding me!”

Surely, this must have been the reason Puck wanted to keep quiet about the curses. If Emilia were to find out, she would surely push herself beyond reason despite her exhaustion, the possibility of which terrified Subaru; she would much rather die a thousand times than ever lose Emilia.

Considering the sheer number of Wolgarm that had bitten Subaru, to attempt to vanquish all of them was akin to challenging the entire forest. Was Rem seriously planning to face that entire horde alone?

“So that’s where you were. Have either of you seen Rem?” came the last voice Subaru would have wanted to hear right now.

Neither Beatrice nor Subaru offered a response, with Beatrice maintaining her poker face and Subaru simply casting her gaze in the direction of the forest. Immediately catching on to what Subaru was implying, Ram’s expression shifted instantly as she closed her eyes and activated some sort of power.

“I can’t find her with clairvoyance, so she really is…!” Ram exclaimed as she opened her eyes, clearly agitated. She immediately started running off towards the forest, though Subaru rushed over and stopped her.

“Hold on! Do you even know where she is?”

“I will once I enter the forest! Step aside, Barusu!”

“Wait, there’s a few things we need to clear up first; you’ll only end up getting yourself killed if you charge in there blindly. Rem’s goal right now is to wipe out every single Wolgarm that cursed me, so even if you do actually manage to find her, there’s no telling how many Wolgarm you’ll have to face to actually bring her back.”

“What are you talking about? Your curses should have been released already…” Ram’s words suggested that she didn’t know either, interesting, so it really was kept secret from everyone else.

“It’s a long story, but basically, the only way to get rid of them right now is to kill all the Wolgarm responsible for placing them.” Subaru explained, “That being the case, since Rem’s doing this to save me, I think it’s only right that I should come with you.”

“You intend to accompany me, Barusu?” Ram asked, seeming slightly shocked that Subaru would want to do so in her condition.

“That’s right. I don’t know that I’ll be of much use in my current condition, but I can at least call upon the spirits to help locate her. In combination with that clairvoyance of yours, we should be able to find in her in no time at all, isn’t that right?” Subaru suggested, having guessed from Ram’s words that the maid’s so-called clairvoyance had a range limit.

Ram briefly lowered her eyes in thought before she responded, “Certainly. My clairvoyance allows me to see through the eyes of all beings sharing my wavelength, but only within a certain range. So if you can at least narrow Rem’s location down to the general area, I should be able to find her right away.”

“Alright, let’s not waste any time, then.” Subaru said, turning back towards Beatrice as she prepared to depart with Ram, “Beako, I don’t know if I’m going to make it back this time, so if I don’t, just tell Emilia I’ll always be watching over her, even if it’s in another world, okay?”

Subaru was a little worried that the witch might take issue with this statement, but it wasn’t a problem, since it wasn’t as if anyone else would understand what it truly meant. It was a completely self-serving and worthless form of reassurance, though; after all, she would still be abandoning the Emilia of this world for another.

“Are you so willing to throw your life away, I wonder?” Beatrice asked, her tone somewhat melancholic.

“Not at all, just the opposite, in fact. It’s precisely because I don’t want to throw this life away that I’m going to head into the forest, instead of just waiting for my death in half a day’s time.” Subaru replied.

Indeed, she had initially considered the idea of simply allowing herself to die peacefully in her sleep. It was rather convenient in a way, perhaps the ideal way to reset as far as she was concerned. But now that Rem’s life was at stake once more, Subaru couldn’t just leave this world behind as it was; her heroic sacrifice in the forest would be completely pointless if the maid immediately went and got herself killed right after.

‘Besides, I don’t even know for sure that I’ll reset to the same point. Knowing Satella’s sense of humor, she might just drop me right back into the jaws of those witchbeasts or something.’

While Subaru did appreciate a good sense of humor, Satella’s in particular was perhaps a bit too extreme for her tastes.

“Do as you please, I suppose. Your actions do not concern Betty either way.” Beatrice said as she waved them off, in response to which the pair said their farewells and ran off into the forest,

“Incidentally, Ram, could you tell me a little more about Rem’s demon transformation? Is that something you can do too?” Subaru asked, deciding she might as well obtain some more information on the way.

“The transformation you speak of is one unique to the demon race, triggered when a demon manifests their horns. A demon’s horns can be considered the organ through which their mana is regulated, so in this state, they devour the atmospheric mana surrounding them and dramatically increase their combat and healing capabilities.” Ram explained, pausing momentarily before continuing, “As for whether or not I can use that form myself, I cannot. Ram is hornless, you see.”

So it was a transformation that involved sprouting horns, perhaps she should have expected as much considering the name. Learning this, Subaru couldn’t help but be reminded of the witchbeasts, which was especially interesting since they could also smell the witch’s scent on her just like Rem. More importantly however, the question she really wanted to ask was—

“Hornless, as in you were born that way or…?” Subaru asked cautiously.

“There was a bit of trouble, and I foolishly lost the single horn I was born with. I’ve had to rely on Rem for everything ever since.” Ram responded, her tone not changing in the slightest despite the gravity of her words.

So that’s how it was. Having heard this, Subaru felt like she finally understood what exactly it was that drove Rem. Her intense adoration for her sister, her immense hatred for the witch cult, and the connection between those feelings—

“That bit of trouble you mentioned… Might it perhaps be related to the witch cult?”

Chapter Text

“… You can be excessively quick-witted when it counts, Barusu. Yes, that is correct.” Ram replied, going on to explain that the cult had burned down their village and massacred their entire clan, with Rem and Ram being the only two survivors thanks to Roswaal who graciously saved them.

“I see. Thank you for telling me.” Subaru thanked her sincerely, she was genuinely glad that Ram trusted her enough to reveal something so deeply personal to the twins. As she thought this, she suddenly received a response from the lesser spirits she had summoned,

“I’ve got a read on Rem’s location. Try looking in that direction.” she said, pointing in the direction the spirits had suggested. Ram nodded and closed her eyes, activating her clairvoyance once more.

Ram’s eyes suddenly shot open, though her tone remained as calm as ever, “We’re being surrounded. Above you, Barusu.”

Several Wolgarm descended from the trees above Subaru the moment Ram gave her warning, though they were instantly ripped to shreds by the maid’s wind magic; the very same magic that had killed Subaru the last time she entered this forest with Ram, which was rather amusing to think about.

The pair were assaulted by countless hordes of Wolgarm as they made their way toward’s Rem’s location, but they were no challenge at all to Ram, who effortlessly sliced them all to pieces with her blades of wind. Subaru found it quite impressive that Ram could so easily deal with the Wolgarm singlehandedly, though she also noted that there weren’t nearly as many as there were last light; it seemed she and Rem had cut down their population significantly.

Despite Ram’s incredible prowess, however, it wasn’t long before she hit her limit and collapsed, having completely exhausted all of her mana. Subaru herself was in no condition to fight either, so all she could do was quickly cast Shamac as she scooped the maid up into her arms and ran off with her.

With the maid in her arms, Subaru noted that she was amazingly light. So light in fact that Subaru could fairly easily carry her even though she found it somewhat difficult to even support her own bodyweight in her current condition, which she found very convenient.

“I’ve found her.” Ram declared all of a sudden, apparently having used her clairvoyance while Subaru was carrying her. Nox was also able to sense some fluctuations in the atmospheric mana in the direction Ram indicated, confirming Rem’s presence there.

“The mana in the atmosphere is shifting quite a bit. I’d guess she’s in that demon form you told me about, and it looks she’s going on a rampage. Will we be fine approaching her?” Subaru asked, recalling that inexperienced Super Saiyans could have a hard time controlling their bloodlust.

“… If Rem has truly lost control, this could prove somewhat dangerous. All it would take to pacify her, however, is a good blow to the horn.” Ram replied, though the uncertainty in her voice made Subaru more than a little nervous. The maid then passed out before Subaru could even press her on it, leaving her little choice but to hope for the best.

“All it would take, huh. Let’s hope it’s that simple.”

Spotting a cliff nearby, a sharp descent of over forty feet by her estimate, Subaru had an idea. Leaping down the cliffside and using Murak to gently descend to the ground, Subaru called out to the Wolgarm looking down at her from above,

“Listen up, you bastards!” she began, calling upon the witch for the third time through her attempt to speak of her gift.

‘Do we really have to do this whole heart crushing thing every time? I guess I’m fine it with as long as you don’t move on to anything worse, but…’

The now even more corporeal arm reaching for her heart confirmed to her that yes, they did indeed have to do this every time. With that all too familiar agony exploding from her heart, Subaru simply watched in silence as the shadows vanished once more. She didn’t know if the witch even appreciated her attempts at lightening the mood, so perhaps it would have been best to just remain silent all along, but her quips were mostly for her own benefit anyway.

Subaru then looked back up at the cliff to find that her burst of miasma had had the desired effect, with the Wolgarm that had hesitated to follow her down before now leaping off the cliff in droves, their bones shattering with a satisfying crunch when they hit the ground before her.

‘Looks like Rem’s on her way too, perfect.’

Nox could track her position quite easily at this range due to the way her transformation warped the mana around her. It seemed that Subaru’s scent had reached her too, and she was intent on following it to its source.

As for the witchbeasts, having witnessed the deaths of their brethren, the more clever among them took a detour, descending without injury from a slope that wasn’t quite as steep.

Subaru made no attempt to run, and with their prey right in front of them, the Wolgarm pounced. Or they attempted to, but their approach was cut short by the spiked ball ripping through them.

Just as Subaru expected, the demon she was looking for descended before her, surrounded by a hail of gore, crushing the Wolgarm’s corpses underfoot with her landing.

‘So we’re doing this again, huh.’

The look in Rem’s eyes wasn’t one of recognition, this was a look that had been engraved into Subaru’s very soul in her previous life, a manic, bloodthirsty glare that heralded the end of her life.

“Nee-sama…” she growled.

“What, you still recognize her? I’d appreciate it if you could spare a thought for your good pal Subaru too, you know.”

“Give her back!”

‘You really can’t control that form, can you? I might be able to use this, though.’

It seemed to Subaru that she had underestimated Rem, the maid was doing just fine on her own. Rather, it was Subaru and Ram who had endangered themselves by entering the forest. That being the case, the smartest move right now would be to use Rem as a battering ram (heh) to break through the Wolgarm and return to the village.

“Alright, over here!”

With but a flick of her wrist, Rem launched her flail at Subaru with astonishing speed. It wasn’t anything Subaru couldn’t dodge, however, and she casually stepped out of the way with the aid of her spirit, with the spiked ball crashing into a pack of Wolgarm that had been attempting to sneak up behind her.

In this manner, Subaru continued to lead Rem around, having her kill every Wolgarm they came across. As they ascended the cliffside, however, Subaru found a particularly large horde waiting for them at the top, with several Wolgarm already falling off the cliff as they attempted to rush Subaru.

’That’s quite a few of them, but… You can handle this, right, Rem-rin? You were fine by yourself, after all.’

And so Subaru led the maid into their midst and then leapt into the sky, leaving demon and witchbeast to battle to the death. As Subaru expected, despite the Wolgarm’s numbers, it was Rem who held the advantage, her crushing blows obliterating wave after wave of Wolgarm. The maid was sustaining some damage herself, of course, but she also healed just as quickly; she was pratically invincible.

Suddenly, Subaru’s body grew cold, her vision blurring as she staggered forward, barely keeping herself from falling over. It couldn’t be—

‘The curse?!’

The sensation of mana leaving her body made it clear to her exactly what this was, and she had no way to stop it. Tch, she had gotten too careless. It was only natural that the Wolgarm would seek to gain whatever advantage they could in the face of such an overwhelming enemy, and the natural way to do that would be to extract what little mana Subaru had left. After all of that, to think she would end up dying like this—

Her strength returned all of a sudden, the symptoms of the curse vanishing as abruptly as they appeared. Subaru realized instantly what happened— It was Rem who saved her. She had killed the Wolgarm that had activated the curses, and this was no coincidence either. The maid had ignored the Wolgarm surrounding her to specifically target the ones draining Subaru. So even in that state, she remembered why she was here, and judging by the way she would occasionally call out for her sister, she was still—

‘What the hell am I doing here?!’

Indeed, it was Subaru herself who had forgotten why she had come here. It was to save Rem, and bring her back to the village safely. Instead, she was taking advantage of the maid’s lack of control to make her fight on her behalf, using her like a tool. Subaru had convinced herself that Rem could handle it, but it was now clear that she couldn’t. Her healing had slowed considerably and her movements had dulled, she was clearly struggling.

‘I’m sorry, Rem. But don’t worry, this ends now.’

“El Fula!” Subaru yelled, using most of her remaining mana to shred the Wolgarm surrounding Rem before they could overwhelm her. She had saved her last bit of mana for her final confrontation with the maid, a situation that brought about an odd sense of nostalgia.

‘Sure brings back some memories; you wouldn’t remember, though.’

Subaru waited for Rem to make the first move, and it didn’t take very long at all for her to do just that. Time slowed as her flail ripped through the air towards Subaru, with the girl tossing Ram into the air while she pitched her own body to the side, just barely beyond the path of the spiked ball. While Rem was distracted by her flying sister, Subaru launched herself towards her, closing the distance between them before the maid could even react and sinking her fist into her face.

The sheer impact of the blow shattered Subaru’s fist and dislocated her shoulder, but she successfully knocked Rem out, causing her horn to vanish.

‘Let’s call that payback for my last life. I get the feeling that hurt me a lot more than it hurt you, though…’

“That was some shoddy work, Barusu.” Ram, who was still collapsed on top of Rem, said.

“You sure picked a great time to wake up, Nee-sama.” Subaru noted somewhat sarcastically, although part of her was grateful that Ram was unconscious for all of that.

“Indeed, the best possible time, even.” the pink maid replied as she stood up, “Let us return at once.”

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

‘Not this crap again.’

“Focus, Barusu. You’re falling behind.”

“Easy for you to say, you’re not the one having to carry a girl with one arm.”

Subaru was once again hounded by yet another pack of Wolgarm as she ran. It was only a handful this time, though; Subaru, Rem, and Ram had seemingly eliminated most of their population between the three of them, though it was of course Rem who played the biggest role in this. Speaking of Rem, Subaru suddenly felt the girl stirring under her arm.

“… Subaru?” she mumbled.

“Welcome back, Rem.” Subaru responded, internally wishing that Rem would have learned from her sister’s example and only woken up after everything was over.

“Thank goodness you’re alright, Rem. What a troublesome child you are.” Ram added, drawing slightly closer to Subaru as she spoke.

“Fula!” she yelled, bisecting a pair of Wolgarm that had attempted to flank them, though the strain of doing this caused her to lose her footing; thus forcing her to lean against Subaru,

“Hey, that’s my bad arm, damn it!” Subaru hissed through grit teeth.

“Silence, Barusu. Unless you want even more curses planted in you, you will have to put up with this.”

Ram was correct, of course. This was the best they could do, just keep running and use whatever little mana they recovered to fend off any Wolgarm that got too close. While the horde chasing them had thinned to the extent that even Subaru alone could defeat them under normal circumstances, their current level of exhaustion and injury had rendered them too weak to even fight what few Wolgarm remained head on.

It was mainly Subaru who was doing most of the fighting, relying solely on atmospheric mana to cast her spells, but Ram would back her up when necessary.

“… Why?” Rem asked. She had been rather out of it until now, but it seemed the girl had finally realized what was happening.

“I’m sorry, Rem. I’m sure there’s a lot you want to talk about, but I’m kind of in the middle of something here.” Subaru responded, she couldn’t afford to let herself get distracted right now.

‘Alright, should be close enough now.’

“Ram, take Rem. You should have a clear path to the village if you head right, I’ll draw the Wolgarm to the left.”

The events of last night had already left Subaru with permanent damage, and those injuries had only worsened over the course of this second trip into the forest. Subaru didn’t want to live on with such a damaged body, it would be a waste of her power to reset. She did of course feel bad for the people of this world, it was unfortunate that she would be wasting all of the effort the people around her put into saving her, but she just didn’t want to spend the rest of her life as a cripple.

As a result, she had to make a difficult decision, though it was in reality a decision she had already made last night: To sacrifice her life in the forest, so that the others may escape. It was a win-win scenario, she would get to die a heroic death and reset, the others would get to live on. That was what should have happened last night, everything would have been so much simpler if she had just died then, she never should have been saved—

“No… Again…?” Rem mumbled in despair, having understood Subaru’s intentions immediately.

“I know, right? It hasn’t even been half a day since the last time, give me a break here!” Subaru responded, half-jokingly. It was legitimately upsetting that she had to do this twice in the same loop; the entire reason they were even here in the first place was because Rem wanted to save Subaru, and since Subaru was about to die anyway, everything that had happened since last night was a complete waste of everyone’s time.

“You can’t! You mustn’t!” Rem pleaded as Subaru handed her off to Ram.

“… Ram shall pray for your safe return, Barusu.” Ram said as she adjusted Rem’s weight against her back.

“Nee-sama!” Rem shouted in disbelief. However, she was far too weak to do anything about this, and so could only watch as Subaru prepared herself to face the Wolgarm closing in on them.

“Don’t worry, Rem. I’ve got a super awesome plan to make sure everything turns out alright, so whatever happens here, just know that it’ll be okay. Remember what I told you last night? I’ll make it back, no matter what, so you don’t need to blame yourself for anything.” Subaru said with a grin.

“Just make it back to the village safely, okay?” Gently caressing Rem’s cheek, Subaru departed with these final words.

Chapter Text

With Subaru and Ram running in opposite directions, the Wolgarm hesitated momentarily. However, it only took an instant’s consideration before every last one of them decided to chase after Subaru, just as she predicted.

‘Makes me wish I could smell this scent myself, you know. Does it really drive you that crazy?’

“Shamac!”

With Nox drawing in every last bit of mana he could from the atmosphere and Subaru adding in what little she had left, the two produced a massive explosion of shadow, not even bothering to shape it as the cloud billowed endlessly, covering the entire area in a veil of darkness.

‘If I can make a request, Satella-tan, I’d like to only go back one day this time, if at all possible.’

Subaru had already fulfilled her role in buying Rem and Ram the time they needed to escape, so all she needed to now was to just wait and die. However, the sound of a certain demon screaming her name from behind made her hesitate ever so slightly.

‘This might be pretty unpleasant to watch. Look away, Rem.’

As her cloud of shadows dissipated, Subaru closed her eyes, awaiting her imminent death. Her plans were foiled once again, however, this time by the icicles whizzing past her to skewer the Wolgarm ahead of her.

“Subaru!” a voice like a silver bell called out.

‘Man, you guys really can’t just let me die in peace, huh. Well, it probably wouldn’t have been very peaceful, though…’

Subaru turned around to find a panicked Emilia running up to her.

“Emilia-tan. You showed up right in the nick of time.” she said with an awkward smile.

"I knew you’d use that spell if you were cornered, so I was watching for it! More importantly, look at you! You’re hurt all over!” the silver-haired girl scolded her, her gaze filled with concern and reproach in equal measure as she brought her hands up to Subaru, wrapping them in a pale glow as she started healing her once more.

“Hold on, take a closer look, most of these are from last night! There was a bit of trouble today too, but I’m fine now thanks to you, so it’s all good, yeah? How about a kiss to celebrate our great success?” Subaru jokingly suggested, hoping to distract Emilia and thereby avoid the uncomfortable conversation that was sure to follow, not that she expected this to actually work.

“Don’t try to change the subject! Beatrice told me everything!” Emilia continued, her eyes starting to glisten as she spoke, “That you told her to tell me you’d always be watching over me from another world and all that…”

‘What the hell are you doing, Beako?! You damned snitch!’

While it was true that Subaru had told Beatrice to convey that message to Emilia, she had clearly instructed her to only do so after her death. Had the spirit already written her off or something? Or could it be that she had sensed that Subaru wasn’t really even intending to come back alive? Either way, if she hadn’t told Emilia, Subaru wouldn’t be alive right now. She wasn’t really sure if that was something to be grateful for, though.

Also, where was Puck in all of this? How come he let his daughter head off into the forest? Or had she come here against his will? Subaru pondered such matters as she wondered how best to respond, what she could say to reassure Emilia. She would of course have to lie quite a bit to cover up her suicide attempt, but she figured that would be easy enough.

While Subaru was busy thinking, Emilia suddenly stumbled forward, the faint glow around her hands fading as the consequences of overexerting herself last night took their toll. Having learned from her experience with Ram, Subaru skillfully caught her with her good arm.

“Look what you’ve done, I can’t even heal you properly now...” Emilia murmured into Subaru’s chest.

“Your loving embrace does far more for me than any healing magic ever could, Emilia-tan.” Subaru responded as she held the girl close.

“Don’t tease me!” Emilia began with a pout, though her expression quickly shifted into one of uncertainty as she continued, “… Hey, Subaru… Did you really come here intending to…?”

“Of course not. I’m not so selfless that I’d give my life up so easily, you know. I only came here because I was certain I could make it back, you might not know this, — and I told this to Rem too, by the way — but I always come back, and…” As Subaru gave it her best shot explaining her way out of this one, she noticed that Rem was running up to her, providing a welcome distraction, “Ah, speaking of Rem, there she is. I’m sure she has a lot she wants to say to me too, so what do you say we save this for— Gah?!”

As Subaru gently pushed Emilia off her, she suddenly found herself being tackled to the ground, with the blue maid clinging to her like her life depended on it as she called her name over and over, overjoyed beyond measure that Subaru was still alive. Having passed her limit long ago, with the sensation of Rem’s weight pressing down on her as the maid’s tears warmed her chest, Subaru’s consciousness faded away.

In her final moments of clarity, her eyes lazily drifted across the sky, catching sight of a certain clown who had been watching them from above—

‘What the hell, Roz-chi… You were here too?’

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

‘Ugh, what a terrible dream… Wait, what did I even dream about?’

Having returned from a world of formless shadows, Subaru was momentarily confused as to where she was, with all memories of her ‘dream’ fading instantly as her consciousness returned to the world of the living.

‘Hold on, this bed— No, I haven’t reset.’

The all too familiar sensation of the bed she had awoken in almost had her worried that she had died once more, though the countless aches racking her body immediately made it obvious that she hadn’t.

“… Have you awakened?” a certain someone who had been waiting at her bedside asked in a whisper, presumably having noticed Subaru grimacing as she confirmed her body’s condition.

“… Rem.” Subaru mouthed the maid’s name as she opened her eyes and forced her body to sit up, ignoring the stinging pain in her abdomen as she did so, “You look awfully down, what’s the matter?”

Indeed, the maid’s expression wasn’t at all what Subaru would have expected from someone who had just overcome a great hurdle. Subaru had confirmed through Nox that her curses were no longer active, so everything should have been fine, right? That being the case, she had a pretty good idea what the maid was upset about.

“It was Rem’s fault…Because of Rem, you…” Rem’s voice quivered as she spoke, she couldn’t even finish her sentence before she choked up as tears filled her eyes.

“Wait, hold on just one moment. We should be out of the woods by now, right?” Subaru asked, chuckling internally at her pun, “Don’t tell me I’m still about to die after all of that?”

This wasn’t a possibility Subaru was especially concerned about, she had simply asked to give Rem a chance to gather her thoughts and focus on the positives.

“No, the curses planted in you are no longer active. Beatrice-sama, Roswaal-sama, and the Great Spirit-sama all confirmed it.” Rem responded, her voice now much more even.

“If we’re going so far as to get a third opinion, I guess I’ve got no choice but to believe that.” Subaru said with a nod, “I assume everyone else is fine as well?”

“Yes. Roswaal-sama personally settled the matter in the village, and the children are recovering well. No one sustained any serious injury.” This was all good news, but Subaru could tell from the flicker in the maid’s eyes towards the end that she was about to follow it up with a ‘no one except you’ or something along those lines and then she’d be right back to wallowing in her guilt, so Subaru had to cut her off immediately.

“Sounds to me like we did a great job handling things in her absence, then.” Subaru declared, subtly emphasizing the ‘we’, “I’d say we deserve a reward for our magnificent service, don’t you think?”

“How-how can you say such things? After what Rem did to you—“

Rem’s reaction was only natural, after all, it was only because Subaru possessed the power to reset that she could afford to be so cavalier about this. Back in her first life, before she discovered her gift, she recalled having hated Rem almost as much as she did the witch. It was only after she found out that Satella had granted her this ability that her feelings towards both of them shifted. She was now glad to have lost her life then, there was no telling what sort of mental state she might be in if she had never learned that death wouldn’t be the dead end she thought it was.

“What you did to me, huh? As far as I recall, you saved my life twice. Or was it three times?” Subaru responded, feigning confusion.

“You must be misremembering, it was you who saved Rem again and again! Last night, when Rem was too weak to escape on her own, and even this morning, when Rem foolishly lost control and…” Rem’s voice trailed off as she averted her eyes, the mention of her bloodthirsty state clearly bringing back some unpleasant memories.

“Since there was a whole lot of saving going on, it’d be a pain to keep track of who saved who more. How about we just say we’re even, since it was a team effort in the end? We managed to pull through together, and that’s what really matters.”

Now, Subaru wasn’t especially happy about the fact that she had been saved, she still wished she could have just reset, but she appreciated the thought behind it and the maid’s desperation had definitely touched her heart.

“It was only thanks to your noble efforts that were were able to succeed, Rem was merely a hindrance from beginning to end.” Rem’s tone suggested that she actually believed what she was saying. Subaru was almost impressed in a way, she had never met someone so utterly lacking in confidence.

“My noble efforts, you say? If you really think about it, though, I pretty much just lost twice and had to be rescued by you guys both times.”

“No, that’s wrong! You bravely put yourself in danger to protect—“

“I know, I was kidding, I’m well aware of how cool I was back there. But that’s what you sound like to me, you know? You’re downplaying your accomplishments way too much. To begin with, you were the only one actually trying to save me from all those curses, even Puck and Beatrice had already written me off. I was just about ready to give up myself until I heard you went into the forest alone, so thank you. I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you.”

It was obvious now more than ever to Subaru that contrary to the image she portrayed, Rem wasn’t at all a calm person deep down. Subaru had been aware for quite some time now that Rem wasn’t really thinking straight that first night, that her haste had affected her judgement, but it was only now that she was realizing just how deep the girl’s issues ran.

Subaru had already completely forgiven Rem and had in fact grown quite fond of the girl over the past four days, so if she could help the maid forgive herself too, she would be satisfied.

“You were only cursed in the first place because you shielded Rem, because Rem hesitated to manifest her horn that night. Rem was simply doing the bare minimum to repay you, and failed to do even that; you still had to come and save Rem once more…”

“Okay, so first of all, the reason you didn’t manifest your horn that night was because you were worried about me, isn’t that right? You didn’t want to lose control and hurt me, so I can’t fault you for that at all. Secondly, as for repaying me, you already did that in full by coming back to retrieve me from the forest; going back in there alone to personally execute every single Wolgarm that cursed me went way beyond what anyone could expect of you.”

Indeed, the maid was judging herself far too harshly. Her behavior was also uncomfortably familiar, reminding Subaru of the way she had broken down in her first life. That feeling of being cornered, with her doubts and fears eating away at her, and that ominous dread in her heart telling her that every decision she made was wrong… It was terribly easy to spiral downwards endlessly in a situation like that. And unlike Subaru, Rem couldn’t just make it all go away any time she wanted.

“Also, if we’re playing the blame game, the entire reason we even ended up in that situation to begin with was because I insisted we head deeper into the forest to save that last child, who I’m fairly certain by now was the one behind it all.” Subaru said, and having brought the girl up anyway, she figured she might as well find out if they had any answers just yet, “Speaking of which, I’d asked Ram to investigate her, did anything ever come of that?”

“… That child has vanished, we were unable to locate her after the incident. It appears that she was a stranger to the villagers as well, none of them claimed to know her when asked.” Rem responded hesitantly, confirming Subaru’s worst fears.

“Damn it, she was totally the culprit after all! And I led us straight into her trap like an idiot!” Subaru couldn’t help but cringe at the memory, covering her face with her hand as she grumbled, “That little runt, I can’t believe she pulled one over me like that!”

“That is not something you can be faulted for! You couldn’t have known! It was Rem who should have noticed, it was that girl who had brought in the witchbeast, after all, if only Rem had—“

“Come on, don’t you start blaming yourself for this too. The point I’m trying to make here is that everyone makes mistakes. I screwed up quite a bit there too, to an embarrassing extent, even; so you don’t need to keep beating yourself up like this. You did just fine, Rem.”

Rem’s impassioned defense of Subaru would have been heartwarming if it hadn't immediately segued into more self-criticism. Though she had her suspicions, Subaru struggled to understand why exactly the maid held herself to such an impossible standard. She wouldn’t have to wonder for long, however, because the answer would soon be revealed to her,

“… Rem does not deserve these kind words. If only it had been Nee-sama in my place, if only she hadn’t lost her horn, you wouldn’t have suffered so. Rem has always been so weak, foolish, hasty… Completely inferior to Nee-sama in every way.”

Rem’s eyes trembled as her gaze drifted downward, “Why hadn’t Nee-sama been the one to keep her horn? Why was Rem born her twin? If only Nee-sama had been born with both horns, without such a worthless sister who could not ever hope to serve as her replacement…”

While Subaru had always thought that Rem’s absolute devotion to her sister was a little unhealthy, she certainly hadn’t been expecting an inferiority complex of this level. Even though she knew next to nothing about demons and their culture, however, she couldn’t overlook what she had just heard,

“Let me stop you right there, Rem. I don’t know what Ram was like before she lost her horn, maybe she really was every bit as amazing as you say… But you know, I really don’t think that super amazing sister of yours would want her precious little sister torturing herself like this. I know the current Ram definitely wouldn’t. I might not know much about the situation, but I can say with certainty that punishing yourself like this isn’t going to help anyone, not you or your sister. And maybe you think it’s a form of atonement or something, but trying to live on as her replacement is just way too sad. It’s not like you chose to be born as her twin, and you certainly didn’t choose to have the witch cult attack that night. There’s no point blaming yourself for things entirely beyond your control.”

Strangely, Rem’s already guilty expression darkened even further when Subaru brought up the witch cult. It wasn’t simply that she was recalling a traumatic memory, the look on her face was one of terrible guilt. Subaru could only imagine that this had to do with the circumstances of Ram losing her horn, she really didn’t think Rem could have actually had any sort of association with the cult. Not that Subaru even knew anything about the cult to begin with, so it wasn’t as if she could make any definitive statements here. Regardless, she had more important matters to focus on right now,

“Besides, people can’t just replace each other like that. You’re your own person at the end of the day, and you seem to think that’s a bad thing, but it really isn’t. You’re so much more than just a knock-off Ram. Even setting aside the fact that you’re so much better than her at household chores, that you handle most of the work in the manor without complaint, — which I appreciate very much, by the way, it’s thanks to you that I get to live such an easy life in this mansion — you also complement each other perfectly. Your emotional side is exactly what her cold rationality needs to balance it out, you wouldn’t be complete without each other. While I definitely respect Ram’s ability to make tough decisions with a level head, it’s also a fact that I’d be dead right now if you hadn’t acted so recklessly in the heat of the moment. There’s no way Ram would have gone on a suicide charge into the forest just to save me, she just wouldn’t take the sort of risks you did. The way you’re always trying to do the right thing, the way you’re trying so hard to make up for your perceived slights against me and Ram— They all make you a really good person as far as I’m concerned.”

Rem seemed to believe that her only purpose was to serve as her sister’s inferior replacement, that her existence had no meaning beyond this, so Subaru’s main priority right now was to disabuse her of this far too depressing notion. She figured she might as well start by telling her a few of the wonderful things she knew about her, things Rem had that Ram didn’t.

“A good person? Rem tried to kill you! She has been nothing but terrible to you for completely unjust reasons, and caused you so much suffering! How can you forgive her so easily?” Rem raised her voice as she pressed Subaru, seeming positively indignant that Subaru would want to overlook her transgressions.

“There’s no telling what I’d do if I saw someone suspicious hanging around my Emilia-tan, so I can’t really blame you for reacting that way.” Subaru couldn’t help but smirk as she said this, though she quickly returned to a more serious expression, “Besides, there was my witch’s scent to consider too, in addition to the fact that you would have been the mansion’s sole defense at that time. Your sister was unconscious, Beatrice wouldn’t intervene, Roswaal had just gone out to do something, and Emilia was about to go to sleep. It was only natural that you’d panic a little and end up acting in haste.”

“As for being nothing but terrible to me and all that, that’s so false it’s hardly even worth addressing. Sure, maybe you were a little cold to me the first couple of days, but besides that, you were absolutely wonderful. You worked just as hard for me as you did for anyone else in the manor and that’s all I could really ask for. You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty for, if anything, I’m actually grateful to you. So thank you, for everything.”

“Why…? Why are you so gentle with Rem? Never punishing her, so easily forgiving her every wrongdoing…” Rem had already given up on arguing with Subaru, now only seeking to know why, a question Rem had already asked her several times, and Subaru had never properly answered.

“Maybe you don’t remember this, but I socked you in the face pretty damned hard back in the forest; that’s how I broke my arm, in fact. That’s punishment enough as far as I’m concerned.” Subaru joked in response.

“You did that in order to save Rem, that hardly counts!”

“I’d really rather not ruin that pretty face of yours, though, so let’s leave it at that.” Subaru teased, grinning as Rem’s face turned red.

“Come to think of it, how come you’re so obsessed with getting punished, anyway? Is this a fetish or something?” Subaru could barely contain her amusement as she said this, her words so completely unexpected that Rem could only stare at her dumbfounded, unable to offer any sort of response. “I’m not really into that sort of thing, but I guess if Emilia-tan allows it, I could play with you now and then.”

“Wha-? Huh?” Rem sputtered in response, unable to even form a coherent sentence. Having successfully dispelled the the heavy atmosphere that had enveloped the room, Subaru continued in a lighthearted tone,

“Jokes aside, ever since that night, have you ever once thought about what would make you happy, Rem? You’re always trying to make up for this or that, but have you ever done something just because you want to? Not for anyone else’s sake, but just because you feel like it?”

“After all she has done, Rem couldn’t possibly indulge herself like that.” Rem replied, seeming oddly determined to deny herself any form of joy. That worked just fine for Subaru, though, it made it very easy for her to decide on Rem’s ‘punishment’.

“Is that right? Well then, if you really think it would be so terrible to pursue your own happiness, wouldn’t that make for the perfect punishment? And to make that punishment even worse, you’ll have to put up with my witch’s scent the entire time, because I’ll be right there by your side to make it happen.”

Rem fell silent for a time as she considered Subaru’s words, and a faint, uncertain smile made its way onto her face when she finally responded, “… Rem is a very weak person. If you spoil her like this, she will surely end up leaning on you.”

“That’s fine, I’m sure I’ll have to rely on you just as much.” Subaru responded with a wink, “It’s thanks to you that I have a future in this world, so I’d like to share it with you. And that future isn’t going to be a dreary one, I’ll make sure of that by putting a smile on your face.”

This world was one she had intended to leave behind, but seeing how desperately the others tried to save her, she figured she might as well stay a little longer. And that stay was going to be a pleasant one, not just for her, but for everyone who dragged her into it.

“The future…” Rem mumbled, as if she was hearing of the concept for the first time.

“That’s right. There’s no point obsessing over the past, since it isn’t something you can change. But that’s fine, you can just learn from it to shape your future. We made our own future today, one where we get to live on, so let’s not waste a second of it! We can talk about what we’re going to do tomorrow and then the day after that, and just keep going. Anything’s fine, be it something you think would be fun or something you’ve always wanted to do, tell me all about it!”

“Really, why are you so…?” Rem smiled brilliantly as the tears welling up in her eyes finally flowed freely.

“And in exchange, I’ll tell you something too. I’ll tell you right now, in fact. You’ve been asking me why a whole lot recently, why I do the things I do, and I guess I never really gave you a proper answer. But truth be told, there’s really only one reason I ever do anything, and it’s a very simple reason at that. It’s the way I’ve always lived, and it makes things so much easier. Yes, the reason—”

It was, of course, the exact same answer she had given Emilia, and it was just as true now as it was then,

“It’s just something I feel like doing.”

Subaru had never really been one to stop to admire the scenery, but the vibrant sunlight pouring into the room seemed especially beautiful today as it cloaked the joyous maid before her. Subaru’s gaze drifted towards the window as she admired the bright orange glow of a day she should not have survived. Today was the day she had died in her first life, and she thought for sure she would die today in this life too.

It was thanks to the maid in front of her that her time hadn’t stopped here. So Subaru wanted to help her move forward as well, beyond that fiery night, so that the two of them could greet a new day together—

Chapter Text

A month had passed since the disturbance in the forest, and Subaru and Emilia were walking hand in hand as they returned from the village, where Subaru had just got done quite literally singing Emilia’s praises.

“We’ve been there enough times already, don’t you think it’s about time you visited without that cloak, Emilia?”

The cloak Subaru spoke of was a hooded mantle Emilia always wore whenever they visited the village, personally enchanted by Roswaal herself to prevent recognition. Subaru herself could still see through it, however, since Emilia allowed her to.

“Come now, Subaru. You know I cannot do that.” Emilia responded, her cheerful expression souring slightly at the mention of this familiar topic.

Subaru would often try to convince her that she didn’t need to hide herself away like this, that it would be fine if she showed her true self, but her attempts were not met with much success.

“And also…” the silver-haired girl continued, a faint blush coloring her cheeks as she pouted, “There’s no way I could show my face when you’re singing about me like that. I told you not to do that, Subaru…”

“Ah, sorry, but I was debuting my new technique, you know? And I could think of no better way to do it than to use it to extol my lady’s virtues!”

Much had happened over this past month, not a day had gone by without something interesting happening. To summarize the events of this month would perhaps take a month in itself, but if Subaru had to pick one moment that was especially important, she would have to say that it all began with the arrival of a certain songstress named Liliana.

Though Subaru found her personality and even her very nature rather disagreeable in many ways, she couldn’t deny Liliana’s skill with that instrument she called a lyulyre, not to mention her exceptional singing ability she paired with it. Figuring this might be as good a time as any to pick up her old passion, Subaru attempted to learn to play the lyulyre; but unfortunately for her, as a result of the injuries she had sustained in the forest, she could no longer move her fingers with enough dexterity to play a stringed instrument, meaning her wish to play the lyulyre was shot. Even now, a month after the fact, most of her physical capabilities were still a fraction of what they should have been, having diminished permanently ever since her encounters with those Wolgarm.

Subaru did still manage to learn a fair bit from Liliana’s visit, however, the most important element of which would probably be that popular folk song known as ‘The Sword Demon’s Love Song’, apparently based on a true story. She had even heard that the hero of that story was still alive to this day, though his wife had unfortunately passed, bravely sacrificing her life in an effort to subjugate the White Whale.

And despite her physical handicaps, Subaru’s dreams of becoming a musician once more were not entirely lost. In fact, it wouldn’t be very long before she performed on stage for the very first time in this world, and what a grand performance it was. It all started back when Puck entered his so-called ‘magical release period’ and had to expel huge amounts of mana to preserve his Od, causing the temperature around the mansion to drop precipitously. Subaru ultimately resolved the situation by suggesting that they hold a snow festival, with the highlight of said festival being her very first concert.

It was there, on that ornate stage built entirely out of ice, with innumerable ice crystals shimmering in the air, that Subaru first unveiled the brand new technique she had been working on in secret: The manipulation of sound through a combination of yin and wind magic.

Simply put, by combining spacetime magic and wind magic, she could freely control the flow of vibrations through the air, meaning she could in essence produce any sound she desired, and over any range (well, the range and duration were ultimately limited by her mana quantity). This new ability of hers obliviated the need for an actual physical instrument, allowing her to ‘play’ any instrument she wished to despite her subpar physical condition. In addition, it also eliminated the need for a microphone and speakers, since she could also use her magic to amplify and project her voice with perfect clarity.

Her performance was a roaring success, of course, but that wasn’t the only reason she invented this form of magic, it also had several other more practical applications, a few of which she was still keeping secret. In the end, Roswaal had deemed her achievement so impressive that she finally recommended that Subaru be conferred a knighthood, at long last allowing Subaru to become Emilia’s knight despite her impaired physical capabilities.

And though she initially found it rather difficult to do even the simplest things shortly after the incident, her damaged body wouldn’t prove to be a hindrance for very long either. Through her ever-increasing mastery of magic, she was able to accomplish most things she wanted to do through magical means, and the complexity of the tasks she could carry out in this manner increased by the day.

She had at present achieved at least a basic level of mastery over four elements. Yin and wind were of course her best elements, with yin being her affinity. She also had some level of proficiency in fire and yang; she had chosen to learn fire so she could match well with Emilia and yang because it was extremely rare just like yin. The remaining elements, earth and water, were ones she could barely use at all; earth because she had never bothered to learn it in the first place, and water because she was mainly trying to use it for healing magic, which she had no talent for.

Regardless, by the time she was actually knighted, her magical prowess more than made up for her physical shortcomings, so there were no problems there.

Her knighting ceremony might well have been the happiest moment in her life, even considering the world she originally came from, though she preferred to avoid thinking of her old life as much as possible, so that wasn’t a comparison she wanted to make. And judging by Emilia’s tears of joy that night when they swore themselves to one another, it must have ranked pretty far up there for her as well.

Subaru wasn’t one to rest on her laurels, however, so she kept developing her magic even further, and it was the next evolution of her sound magic that she had just demonstrated in the village. This new technique took advantage of the biggest advantage she had over musicians who used physical instruments, namely that she wasn’t actually limited by what she could physically play, meaning she could theoretically produce sounds from any number of instruments simultaneously. Of course, this meant she would have to produce and manipulate several different waveforms at the same time so it was easier said that done, but she was already capable of ‘playing’ up to three instruments at once after only a few days of practice.

As they returned from the village, Subaru and Emilia had just gotten done arguing about Subaru’s tendency to choose Emilia as the subject of most of her songs. When Emilia declared that she found it embarrassing, Subaru pointed out that she would have to get used to this if she ever wished to become queen, after all, she would surely have any number of bards doing just that once she ascended the throne. Unable to offer a rebuttal, Emilia simply groaned in response.

“Still, you’re amazing, Subaru. You haven’t even had two months of practice and you can already wield magic with such finesse. Roswaal’s the only other person I know of who can combine two elements so precisely.” Emilia’s eyes sparkled as she sighed with admiration.

While Emilia’s high praise brought her immense joy, Subaru found herself distracted before she could respond. There was something else that demanded her attention as they approached the manor; namely, the dragon carriage parked before the manor’s gates.

“Looks like it’s about time, huh…” she muttered with her eyes narrowed, well aware of what this visit most likely meant.

Chapter Text

Having reached the manor’s gates, Subaru took a closer look at the land dragon drawing the carriage that was parked out front. Its sleek physique instantly differentiated it from the land dragons she had seen in this capital, and she found its jet black scales rather alluring as well. Its slender and well-toned body was the very image of agility; surely, it must have been this world’s equivalent of a sports car. The dragon itself also seemed to take an interest in Subaru, looking her over closely.

As the two examined each other, the coachman suddenly interjected, “Well now, please excuse me.” as he descended from the carriage in a manner that instantly caught Subaru’s attention. The old man before her had casually leapt down from the box seat despite its considerable elevation — around Subaru’s eye level, in fact — and landed with the greatest of ease, barely even making a sound.

Subaru carefully observed the distinguished older gentleman as he informed Emilia that there was an envoy in the manor looking to see her regarding the royal selection, and that they were probably meeting with Roswaal right now. While his refined outfit and perfect posture obviously stood out, there was much more to him than just that, making it clear to Subaru that he was more than just a well-trained carriage driver. His well-honed body, for instance — which she could clearly make out even through his exquisitely tailored suit — was one she could immediately tell had seen many battles. Also—

‘He saw through Emilia’s cloak like it was nothing. Who is this guy?’

Subaru continued to look back at him over her shoulder as she and Emilia entered the mansion, where they were greeted by Ram, who informed informed them Roswaal was indeed meeting with with the envoy at present and wished for Emilia to be present as well.

Emilia of course agreed, since this matter was her responsibility to begin with; however, she was hesitant to bring Subaru with her.

“Um, I’m sorry, Subaru, but could you please sit this one out?” Emilia asked, looking up at her with a slightly guilty expression.

“Hm? Oh, yeah, sure.” Subaru naturally agreed without hesitation. Even though she was technically Emilia’s knight now, she still felt a little nervous about actually acting in that position in an official capacity. She still didn’t feel like a ‘real knight’ despite the exceedingly majestic ceremony they had held to bestow that title upon her.

But even if Subaru could dodge this meeting now, she wouldn’t be able to avoid her responsibilities forever. Since the envoy Emilia was about to meet had most likely come here to summon her to the capital so that the royal selection may begin in earnest, Subaru would probably have no choice but to accompany her there. Subaru had always been a rather confident person, but the thought of entering the castle where she would be presented before countless nobles, the council of wise men, her fellow knights, and even the other royal candidates was enough to leave even her stomach in knots.

‘And after I tried so hard to become her knight too, how pathetic. Still, we’re going back to the capital, huh…’

Having seen Emilia off, Subaru figured she might as well use her time productively by investigating that mysterious carriage driver, and so she returned to the mansion’s gates.

As she approached the carriage once more, she was yet again met with the black land dragon’s appraising gaze. There was a certain gleam of intelligence in those eyes that really struck her fancy.

“What, got a crush or something?” she teased, “You’ll have to get in line, I’m afraid.”

The dragon responded by gently bumping her with its snout, as though it actually understood what she was saying. Maybe it did, she didn’t know how intelligent these things were.

“My apologies.” the old man in the driver’s seat called out as he descended from it once more, landing just as gracefully as before, “This land dragon is supposed to be the finest our household has to offer, but…”

“It’s fine, really. I don’t mind one bit.” Subaru responded as she brought her hands up to the sides of the dragon’s face, gently petting it as it rubbed its snout against her scalp, “If anything, I’m glad to have the chance to get up close and personal with a sleek beauty like her.”

Subaru wasn’t really the kind of person who liked to interact with strange animals, if anything, she preferred to avoid them if at all possible. If she had been the one to visit the village on that fateful day, she would probably have told the kids to toss that mangy mutt back where they found it regardless of whether or not it was a witchbeast. However, there was something different about the dragon before her; the two of them seemed to have a natural affinity for one another.

“I am relieved to hear that. It is quite unusual for it to react this way…”

“Must be love at first sight, I guess.”

Subaru couldn’t help but notice the man’s piercing gaze as they had this little exchange, it was as if he seeing right through her, down to her very soul.

“… If I may ask, are those battle scars?”

“… I wouldn’t quite call it a battle.”

“Scars from the fangs and claws of beasts, are they not? Would that be the reason you favor your right side?”

Subaru’s smile froze on her face as the conversation took a turn she really didn’t want it to. It was her own fault of course, she had in her negligence exposed the scars she had gone to such lengths to conceal.

Ever since that day in the forest, Subaru had been rather selective in her choice of outfits; she would only wear clothing that could fully conceal her scars. And she always made sure to adjust her clothes carefully, to ensure that they always covered up said scars properly. But there was no point in doing all of that if she just exposed them herself through her careless movements.

Having her scars pointed out, she realized what she had done wrong immediately. She had gotten too carried away playing with the dragon and exposed the bite marks on her throat when she looked up at it, not to mention the claw marks on her wrist peeking out from between her glove and sleeve as she pet it. It was only for a moment, but that was more than enough for this man who was clearly an excellent warrior to notice. Subaru really should have been more careful around him.

Perhaps it was hypocritical of her to tell Emilia to be true to herself when Subaru herself went to such lengths to disguise her scars. But Subaru would never accept such an argument, for that would mean equating Emilia’s elven features to these grotesque scars. Although they were surely far, far worse to Emilia, and the world agreed with her.

Although it was painful to think that Emilia felt the same way about the features she was born with as Subaru did about her disfigurements, she now felt like she could relate to Emilia in a way. When she first came to the manor, she had initially been confused by how few mirrors there were around the mansion, and the fact that what few were around were often covered up when not in use. She would later learn that this was out of consideration for Emilia. On the night of her knighting ceremony, when the two of them separated from the others and retired to the privacy of Emilia’s room, the half-elf confided in her that she didn’t even know what she really looked like, because she had never seen her own reflection.

This was a horrific revelation to Subaru, she hadn’t even imagined that Emilia would be so insecure about her appearance that she couldn’t even stand to look at herself. That was a feeling that had plagued Subaru herself ever since that night in the forest, however.

The aftermath of that event was not a sight for the faint of heart. The numerous scars and gashes lining her body were enough to make even Subaru herself queasy whenever she caught sight of them, she was actually fairly certain that she was covered in more scar tissue than unblemished flesh by this point. Subaru had always been quite proud of her flawless skin, so in a certain sense, the aesthetic damage she had sustained was a much greater burden to her than the physical impairments that damage brought with it.

Subaru found the sight of those scars absolutely revolting, she tried to avoid looking at them as much possible, doing her best not just to hide them from others, but also herself. She would always ensure that she was alone in the bath, that no one would see her entering or exiting, that she was never caught changing, and so on. Incidentally, this also ruined her plans of using her knighthood as an excuse to always join Emilia in the bath, she really couldn’t curse those blasted dogs enough for this. After all, there was no way she could allow Emilia of all people to truly see her as she was now. Subaru was well aware that Emilia would have already seen the worst of it while she was healing her, but Subaru was unconscious then, she would never allow such a thing to happen if she was awake to stop it.

Subaru also understood quite well why Emilia was so hesitant to reveal herself despite Subaru’s endless reassurances. Subaru had attempted to help the girl overcome her complexes by showering her with all the affection in the world, but being on the other side, Subaru knew just how worthless such acts were. All it took was to imagine the opposite scenario, imagining that it was Emilia trying to convince Subaru that her scars weren’t something to be hidden away, that there was nothing wrong with her, that they were beautiful. Subaru wouldn’t believe her for a second, no matter how sincere she was. After all, even if Emilia herself genuinely felt that way, there was no way the rest of the world would. Following this analogy to its logical conclusion, the Emilia in this hypothetical would then have to be someone who quite literally showed up from another world, one where such hideous disfigurements really were super awesome and symbols of beauty.

‘Man, I’ve really got some nerve mouthing off to her when I’d be no different in her place.’

Subaru wished she could at least be happy that she and Emilia had this in common, but the entire situation was just unpleasant all around.

“… Allow me to apologize once more, it was terribly rude of me to ask such a thing.” the old man said at long last in response to Subaru’s obvious discomfort.

“No, it’s fine. I just got a little distracted is all.” Subaru said with an awkward smile, brushing off his concern with a wave of her hand, “Still, if you really do feel bad… Would you mind telling me your name as a token of apology?”

Chapter Text

The name the man gave her was one she recognized instantly. Even though he had only given her his first name, Wilhelm, she knew he could be none other than Wilhelm van Astrea, the protagonist of the Sword Demon’s Love Song in the flesh.

‘No wonder this guy felt so strong, he’s gotta be better than Elsa, even.’

It was somewhat overwhelming to have a living legend standing before her like this, and surely, she would meet more like him when she returned to capital. The Sword Saint, whom she wished to thank for saving her back in the slums, for instance.

‘I bet it’s going to be the same when I meet Reinhard, too… He’s actually this guy’s grandson, come to think of it.’

The old man also told her that he was presently working for the Karsten household, which immediately brought a few ideas to mind. For one, the fact that he was currently in the service of the Duchess Crusch Karsten of all people couldn’t be a coincidence. From what she had heard, he had been desperately hunting the White Whale for over a decade now; that being the case, who better to lend his sword to than the woman who had successfully repelled one of the Three Great Witchbeasts in the past?

This of course made sense from Crusch’s perspective, too. As things stood, she was already the favorite to win the royal selection; however, she wasn’t especially popular with Lugnica’s merchants given her strict economic policy. Since the White Whale’s very existence was a massive hindrance to all traders, given that its appearances were unpredictable and would often result in the destruction of important trade routes and supply points, she could very easily gain favor with Lugnica’s merchant class by subjugating it. Well, perhaps calling it easy was going a bit too far, since the battle would no doubt be hard-fought, but it was certainly the quickest and most decisive way to go about it.

Naturally, it wasn’t just the merchants who would appreciate such an act, it would also boost her popularity with Lugnica’s general populace massively. If she went two for two against the Great Witchbeasts, which were perhaps second only to the witch in terms of the sheer terror they caused, it would be very difficult indeed for any other candidate to ever catch up.

All of this knowledge was the result of Subaru’s diligent studies over the past month. She had suggested that since she was going to become Emilia’s knight anyway, it would be best if she studied for the royal selection alongside her. While this was in part an excuse to spend more time with Emilia, she did genuinely want to learn all she could about the royal selection so she could help Emilia’s chances in any way she could.

Subaru pondered such matters as she continued to make small talk with the old man whom she now knew was a legendary warrior, and it wasn’t long before the so-called envoy emerged from the mansion with Rem escorting them.

‘This person… Might they be ‘Blue’?’

If Crusch had sent the Sword Demon as a carriage driver, perhaps it wasn’t so absurd to think that she would send her very own knight, the one bearing the title of Blue, Ferris Argyle as the envoy.

The woman walking up to them with a confident strut had smoothly combed flaxen hair that went down to her neck, and she wore a charcoal gray pinstripe suit that wouldn’t look out of place in the Prohibition era. The cat ears sticking out of her head made it clear that she was a demi-human, which along with her androgynous style of dress matched the description of Crusch Karsten’s knight perfectly.

If this person was in fact who Subaru thought she was, she was the most skilled healer in the kingdom; Subaru’s polar opposite in a way, since Subaru herself just could not get the hang of healing magic despite her best efforts.

“I’m honored to have caught the attention of such a lovely young thing.” the woman called out in a teasing tone, having noticed Subaru’s gaze.

“Ah, forgive me, that was rude of me. I was just wondering if you might be Ferris Argyle, I’ve heard a fair bit about you, you see.”

“I am indeed, though I prefer to go by Felix if you wouldn’t mind. While I’d love to stay and chat about what exactly it was that you heard about me, I’ve got a schedule to keep here, so…” the woman, apparently the real Ferris — or rather, Felix — Argyle, glanced at Wilhelm for a moment before her eyes returned to meet Subaru’s own, “For now, let’s part on good terms as fellow knights, yeah?” she suggested as she extended her hand to Subaru.

’So word of that has already spread, huh… Or maybe Emilia just told her.’

When Subaru offered her own hand expecting a handshake, the woman before her instead grasped Subaru’s fingers with her own as she descended to one knee and pressed her lips to the back of Subaru’s hand. It was exactly the sort of knightly gesture Subaru had seen countless times in various fairy tales, but she couldn’t help but feel that this wasn’t the right context for it.

Still not letting go of Subaru’s hand, the woman continued to plant kisses further up Subaru’s arm, even reaching Subaru’s shoulder and going past it though Rem interfered before she could get much further,

“Ferris-sama!” Rem raised her voice in admonishment when she saw the woman’s mouth making its way towards Subaru’s exposed neck.

“Relax, relax.” the woman responded, letting go of Subaru as she backed away with her hands raised in mock surrender, “Just wanted to perform a quick checkup is all.”

“You examine all your patients that way?” Subaru asked with a wry smile.

“Only the pretty ones.” the woman replied with a wink, “But oof, you’re definitely the one Emilia-sama was talking about. You really are in rough shape, aren’t you?”

Before Subaru could even inquire as to what she was talking about (although she already had a pretty good idea), the woman walked past her over to Wilhelm, calling out one last time over her shoulder, “I’ll be looking forward to seeing you in the capital, Subaru-chan. I’ll take care of you properly~”

‘So she’s going to be in charge of my treatment after all, huh? If even Beako couldn’t manage it, perhaps it really is necessary to get the best healer in the entire kingdom. Can’t help but wonder how Emilia managed to convince her, though.’

Subaru didn’t have a very good grasp of the difference in skill between Felix and Beatrice. Felix was obviously better, but by how much? Was it only a marginal difference, or did she completely outclass Beako?

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Wil-ji. Must have been boring waiting out here by yourself, huh?” the woman asked as she reached the carriage.

“Not at all, the young lady here very graciously deigned to keep this old man company, thanks to which my time here was more enjoyable than expected.”

“Hm?” the woman raised an eyebrow, her ears twitching in response to his words as she ascended into the carriage, “What’s this, Wil-ji? You keep going on and on about your wife, but you pounce on the first young thing you come across the moment I take my eyes off you?”

“That is a terrible misunderstanding.” Wilhelm replied simply, not even bothering to entertain the woman’s teasing as he too returned to his box seat.

“May you be well, Subaru-dono. Farewell.”

“Right, goodbye. — And I’m looking forward to our next meeting too, Felix.”

Having bid the pair farewell, Subaru watched as the carriage departed.

‘Looks like there’s all sorts of interesting people waiting for me in the capital. I suppose it’s about time I paid them a visit…’

Even though she was just as nervous as before, there was now an even greater sense of excitement bubbling up within her at the prospect of returning to the capital.

Chapter Text

“I see, so you were the one who arranged to have her treat me after all. Thank you, Emilia-tan.”

“Um, well, that… You know, it kind of seemed like you were having a hard time and it isn’t good for you to have to use so much mana all the time and it seemed like those scars were kind of bothering you and your gate was also a little damaged in the capital and it was also partially my fault you got hurt so—“

Returning to the mansion, Subaru’s suspicions were confirmed when she learned from Roswaal that Emilia had arranged for her to be healed in the capital by ‘Blue’ herself. When Subaru tried to thank her for it, however, the girl blushed furiously as she started making excuses at a breakneck pace.

“Wait, calm down. While it’s definitely super cute, I have no idea why you’re so embarrassed about this. You can feel free to spoil me all you want, you know? There’s nothing in this world more precious to me than your love, Emilia-tan!” Subaru declared with a wink and a snap of her fingers as she pointed at Emilia.

“I’m telling you it’s not like that! I’m just trying to compensate you for your troubles…” Emilia responded in a huff, red as ever.

Subaru of course had no complaints about this. If Felix could return her to her peak condition, that would be excellent. If she could get rid of these horrible scars as well, that would be even better. Perhaps Rem would be a little upset about leaving her alone with Felix considering what had just happened outside, but Subaru herself didn’t really mind since she could tell that Felix wasn’t actually going to do anything.

‘Still, she did get awfully handsy. Let’s hope the other knights aren’t like that…’

Subaru had no idea how she would react if it had been a male knight treating her that way.

“That aside, how’s this going to work? Will I have to drop by the Karsten residence or something?”

“That’s right. Our agreement was for you to stay with the Duchess Crusch Karsten until your treatment is complete. It’s supposed to be for a week or so, but…”

Subaru found it a little strange that Crusch would be willing to take in a rival candidate’s knight so easily, whatever Emilia offered her in return must have been quite alluring, but more importantly—

“Wait, hold on, you’re making it sound like I’ll be staying there alone. What about you guys?”

“Both Emilia-sama and myself will have maaaaany important matters to attend to once the royal selection begiiiins.” Roswaal explained, “We will have to depart from the capital immeeeediately after the meeting in the caaastle.”

“Don’t worry, though, you won’t be alone!” Emilia interjected, “You’ll have Rem with you, she’s going to be looking after you at the Karsten residence.”

“That is correct, Subaru-sama. Rem shall attend to your every need!” the maid proclaimed cheerfully.

“At least I can always count on you, Rem-rin.” Subaru said with a smile as she gently patted Rem’s head, careful not to mess up her hair, “But what about the manor? Will it really be fine with Rem gone for a week?”

“Ha!” Ram snorted, “Do not underestimate Ram, Barusu. Ram shall not die even if starved for a week.”

“At least cook for yourself, damn it! And who’s going to change Beako’s diapers, huh?!”

Subaru found their usual comedic banter as amusing as ever, but it was also just a little bittersweet this time. Even though it was only for a week, it would be her first time in over a month parting from Ram and Beatrice; not to mention that Emilia and Roswaal would be leaving as well shortly after they reached the capital. Not that Subaru would really miss Roswaal all that much.

Subaru knew that it was usually Ram who went on trips to the capital. The reason Rem insisted on accompanying them in her sister’s place this time was also obvious to her.

‘Seriously, how cute.’

Even though Rem had initially been the very image of terror to her when she first arrived here, that was but a distant memory now. As far Subaru was concerned, Rem was just her very own super cute ever-useful all-purpose maid these days.

“By the way, Emilia…” Subaru began, shifting gears to focus on more productive matters, “Do you know what that meeting at the castle’s going to be about?”

“Not in detail, no…” Emilia put a finger to her lips and looked off to the side as she responded, her tone slightly uncertain, “I think we’re just going there to introduce ourselves, so the royal selection can formally begin… Probably.”

“You’re going to be introducing yourself, huh… In front of the council of wise men, the nobles, and the knights…” Subaru muttered, causing Emilia to tense up.

Subaru knew how hard Emilia was working, she had seen it first-hand. She was certain that Emilia would execute on everything she had practiced wonderfully, that she wouldn’t allow herself to falter even on the grandest stage of all, before an audience full of people who hated her for her very existence… But none of that would matter if those that she was speaking to weren’t the least bit receptive. That being the case, Subaru had to find a way to correct this, and she had just the idea.

“Emilia, I’ve got a plan.” Subaru declared, noticing out of the corner of her eye the way Roswaal’s eyes lit up when she said this.

“A plan?” Emilia repeated.

“That’s right. This might be a little reckless… But Puck is supposed to be the ‘Beast of the End’ and the ‘Great Spirit of Fire’, not to mention various other impressive titles, right?”

“Puck doesn’t really like most of those titles, but yes.”

“Well, I was thinking we could use him.”

With Emilia looking somewhat apprehensive, perhaps having guessed what Subaru was about to suggest, Subaru began to explain her plan—

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‘Tch, looks like that brat can hide properly when she wants to…’

It was the dawn of the day they were to depart. With the sun just now peeking over the horizon, Subaru was wandering all over the mansion on the look out for a certain door. Failing to find it, she would eventually end up running into Emilia who seemed ready to leave, signaling the end of her search.

“Subaru? Are you looking for something?”

“Ah, don’t mind me, I was just trying to find my cute Beako. I wanted to give that brat a big hug before we left since I won’t be seeing her for a while, but I’m not having much luck here.”

“She’d probably just blow you away again if you tried that, though…”

The awe the great spirit once inspired in Subaru had completely vanished by now, and she would play with her every chance she got. Just as Emilia alluded to, however, this would often result in Subaru being blown out of the library.

“Oh well, nothing to be done about it, I suppose. She’s at that age, after all, that’s just something every parent has to deal with.” Shrugging her shoulders in feigned resignation, Subaru turned towards Emilia, “Looks like it’s about time. Let’s get going.”

When they reached the carriage that was to take them to the capital, however, they found that Roswaal hadn’t arrived yet. Subaru wondered why she of all people would be late when she was the one who decided on the time they were to depart in the first place, but when she saw Roswaal emerging from the manor with Ram, with both of them hastily fixing their disheveled clothes, she decided that she didn’t want to know the answer after all and shelved the matter for good,

‘Damn it, I really wanted to see Beako at least once before we left, though…’

Subaru figured this might happen, so she teased the spirit to her heart’s content the day before, but it just wasn’t enough.

As she thought this, however, she spotted a familiar silhouette looking down at them from one of the mansion’s windows.

‘You adorable little brat, you really did come to see us off!’

Her heart leaping with joy, Subaru cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled out, “I love you, Beako! Be good, okay?!”, while also directing her voice with her sound magic to ensure that her words would reach their target.

The figure in the window looked displeased, giving her a brisk wave as if to shoo her away before it vanished.

‘Alright, that’s just what I needed.’

The others had already entered the carriage over the course of this exchange, and Rem was currently in the driver’s seat, ready to set off at any time.

Accepting the hand Emilia extended to her, Subaru climbed in as well, turning towards the window to speak to Ram once she was seated,

“Take care, okay? And try not to burn the mansion down while we’re away.”

“You take care as well, Barusu. Should trouble arise, Ram hopes you won’t be as pathetic as you were last time.”

Rem urged the dragon forward as the two bid each other farewell in a manner befitting them. As the carriage made its way down the road, Subaru looked back at the manor one last time to find Ram offering them a curtsy.

‘What do you know, you can act like a proper maid after all.’

The carriage continued to pick up speed, and it wasn’t long before the maid’s figure disappeared over the horizon as they sped towards the capital.

Chapter Text

Subaru knew from her studies that all land dragons were born with a blessing that repelled wind, allowing them to travel smoothly without any air resistance regardless of how fast they were moving. Even so, experiencing it first-hand, she couldn’t help but be astonished.

‘That’s magic for you, I guess.’

The idea of an animal drawing a wooden carriage at highway speeds was absurd enough, the fact that the ride was also as comfortable as it would be in a typical sedan was the cherry on top.

‘Is there something magical about the carriage too, I wonder? Feels like any normal carriage would fall apart at this speed…’

It only took four hours for the dragon to cover the several hundreds of kilometers between the Roswaal manor and the capital. However, with the initial thrill having worn off already, and not having much to see out of the window, Subaru had ended up spending most of the trip fiddling with her phone, a sight the other residents of the manor had already grown used to, believing it to be some sort of unique Metia she possessed.

‘Metia, what an interesting term… Come to think of it, there’s a fair few astronomical terms that seem to have carried over from my previous world, even though the night sky is completely different here…’

Given that she was named after a cluster of stars herself, Subaru had always been rather interested in astronomy. Naturally, that was an interest that persisted in this world too, and she would often find herself gazing up at the night sky or reading about the stars. However, the sights this world’s night sky had to offer had little in common with those of her original world, as was to be expected; after all, it was highly unlikely that she was simply teleported to another part of the universe. Since this was a world with magic, it was probable that she was in a different universe entirely, one with different laws of physics.

‘I can’t be sure either way, though. All of that aside, looks like we’re here.’

With the city walls fast approaching, Subaru put her phone back in her pocket and took a deep breath.

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The meeting in the castle wasn’t until tomorrow, and the group had no concrete plans for today, so they were essentially free to do as they pleased for the day. Well, Rem still had a lot of work to do to prepare their lodgings, so she regrettably could not accompany Subaru as she toured the capital with Emilia.

‘Sorry about this, Rem-rin.’

The sheer dismay in the maid’s expression had struck Subaru’s heart, she would have to make it up to her later. For now, however—

“Man, this is seriously boring.”

Unlike Emilia, who actually seemed to be enjoying herself, Subaru found no joy whatsoever in wandering around the capital. Subaru had already visited several large cities in her old world, and the capital just couldn’t compare to them. Rather, the fact that it lacked any modern conveniences easily made it the worst of them all as far as she was concerned.

“Eh? But the capital’s so huge, and there’s so much to see!” Emilia responded, shocked that Subaru could possibly find this boring.

“Well, yeah, but… It’s just a big city at the end of the day, there’s not much interesting about that. Children of the Heisei era such as myself need constant stimulation, you know!” Subaru declared shamelessly. She had already run down her phone’s battery quite a bit in the carriage, so she didn’t even have that to kill time now.

“Heisei…?” Emilia repeated the unfamiliar word with her head tilted, though she immediately gave up on deciphering its meaning when she saw that Subaru wasn’t going to elaborate, “No, more importantly, is there anything else you’d want to do, then?”

“Anything I’d rather do, huh…” Subaru pondered as she stroked her chin.

They were currently exploring the commercial district. They had just recently run into the appa seller they met a month ago, and they would occasionally find some interesting knickknacks that caught Subaru’s attention, but beyond that, she was bored out of her mind. The problem with fantasy was that it ceased to be fantasy once she got used to it; the sight of land dragons and demi-humans filling the streets may have been wondrous to her when she first arrived here, but the crowd was little more than an annoyance to her now, having lost any charm it may have once held.

The one saving grace she could find was that she could at least use this opportunity to practice a certain other aspect of her sound magic that she had kept secret from the others: Namely, the ability to interpret all incoming sounds, regardless of how faint they might be, with crystal clarity. Well, perhaps it was a bit of a stretch to put it that way, but definitely not by much.

Given that an ability such as this was best suited to spying, she had to keep it secret for obvious reasons, even from the other members of her own faction. It was her hope that she could use this ability to pick up valuable information while in Crusch’s care. While she did feel a little guilty for taking advantage of the Duchess’ good will like this, it wasn’t as if she was getting treated for free, and it was quite likely that the Crusch faction would also try to make use of her presence towards their own ends one way or another.

Of course, using this technique in the middle of a busy street meant that she was besieged by several dozens of conversations simultaneously, as well as countless extraneous noises, ultimately producing a jumbled mess that she couldn’t make sense of at all. That was exactly why it was worth practicing, though. She was already at a level where she could converse normally while doing this; perhaps with more experience, she would be able to extract key insights from many different sources simultaneously. But then there was the problem of whether the human brain could even process so much information at the same time, perhaps there was a biological limit she couldn’t overcome no matter how much she practiced.

But that aside, what she wanted to do most right now was to go and see Reinhard, but since she would be meeting him at the castle tomorrow anyway, there was no point in rushing over now. That being the case—

“Hmm, if we could find a nice restaurant and go ‘aah’ as we feed each other sweets and stuff, that would be pretty nice, I think.”

“Seriously, how childish.” Emilia responded with a pout, though she showed no signs of refusal as she tightened her grip on Subaru’s hand and led her down the street.

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“Okay, I seriously can’t take this anymore! Where’s Reinhard?! I need to see him right now!”

Emerging from the restaurant, Subaru looked up at the sky to find that it was still quite early in the afternoon, meaning it had only been a few hours since they arrived in the capital.

‘What the hell is going on here? Did I accidentally cast a time-slowing spell or something? Or could it be that a fellow practitioner of yin has it out for me?’

The realization that she still had another half a day ahead of her plunged her into the depths of despair. The last time she felt this antsy, she ended up having a mental breakdown and died by Ram’s hand a few days later. There was a lot more to it than that, of course, but still, she couldn’t help but shudder at the premonition of death that hung over her.

“Okay, okay, calm down.” Emilia said with a sigh, her exasperation evident in her voice, “Really, what’s with you? You’ve been acting like a child ever since we arrived here…”

Subaru herself was well aware that she wasn’t her normal self right now. It was probably her nerves getting to her; after all, what could potentially be the most important moment of her life thus far was only a day away, and she was finding it extremely difficult to distract herself from this fact. The passage of time felt agonizingly slow, and her anxiety kept building with each passing moment. Surely, it must have been much worse for Emilia; Subaru was amazed that the girl was keeping it together as well as she was under such pressure. Subaru doubted she would even be able to sleep tonight.

“I’m sorry, Emilia.” Subaru apologized sincerely, “I swear I’ll be on my best behavior tomorrow, though.”

“You’d better be. This really is very important to me, I’m sure you understand that, but…” Emilia’s usually clear gaze faltered as her voice trailed off into a murmur.

While Subaru found it regrettable that her unstable mood had upset Emilia, there was just no helping it. She seriously had to do something about this. If Reinhard wasn’t available right now, perhaps she could visit the Karsten manor instead to begin her treatment early.

Shaking her head, Emilia cast off whatever uncertainties were plaguing her. “I understand that you want to see Reinhard, but I have no idea where he might be right now. If you really can’t wait until tomorrow, though, we could visit the garrison and try to get in touch from there.”

It was extremely unlikely that the Sword Saint would be in the garrison of all places, but Subaru knew that wasn’t why Emilia suggested it. They were probably going there to use a conversation mirror or something of the sort to get in touch with Reinhard, or at least with someone who could do so on their behalf.

Incidentally, Subaru and Emilia also had conversation mirrors of their own, so that they could always keep in touch even if they had to part ways for whatever reason. Subaru had demanded that Roswaal get them a pair when she became Emilia’s knight, and the Marchioness acquiesced.

‘These things really are pretty amazing. They can function over such a massive range without cell towers or satellites… Well, as far as I know.’

Subaru didn’t have much knowledge as to the specifics of how these mirrors worked, so she couldn’t make any definitive claims. All she knew was that she was glad to have one, it would make her week away from the manor a lot easier.

Such were the thoughts that filled her head as they approached the garrison, the sight of which made Subaru hesitate a little. The building was was the tallest one in the area by far, and being embedded into the wall separating the nobles’ district from the rest of the city, it also served as a checkpoint for those who wished to enter it. Just one look at the ominous building caused every story Subaru had ever heard about corrupt police to spring forth from the depths of her memory.

‘What am I even doing trying to meet the Sword Saint like this, anyway? I’m sure he has much more important matters to attend to…’

It would be pathetic to get cold feet now, though, so she just kept pressing forward. Despite her bravado, however, she couldn’t help but have her breath hitch when they reached its entrance and Emilia raised her hand to knock on it. But before she could, the door opened outward as a purple-haired knight stepped out from within.

Chapter Text

The young man who had just emerged from the garrison had well-styled purple hair and striking amber eyes, he was also a fair bit taller than Subaru, placing him at perhaps six feet or so. His features were what most would describe as handsome, though that was the last thing on Subaru’s mind right now.

There were two things about him that really caught her attention, the first of which was his clothing. The uniform he wore was similar to Subaru’s own, but the white cape he paired it with marked him as a member of the Royal Guard, the most elite division of the kingdom’s knights. Incidentally, Subaru’s own cape simply had Roswaal’s family crest emblazoned on it rather than any particular color, since she did not belong to any of the official divisions, serving solely as Emilia’s knight. It was also that very crest that was woven into Emilia’s sleeves, Subaru had always been curious about what that hawk was.

The second feature of his that stood out to her was his blessing. He apparently possessed a blessing that attracted spirits, because Nox felt an instant draw to him the very moment he appeared before them.

‘Oi, don’t go stealing my spirit now. You’ve already got six, isn’t that right?’

Her finely tuned sensory abilities could also pick up the six quasi-spirits he kept hidden away, one of each element. This along with his appearance made his identity very obvious; he could only be the Finest of Knights, Julius Juukulius. Spirit Knights were exceptionally rare, and he was the only one with such skill as to tame one of each element.

He was also technically her rival, since he was Anastasia Hoshin’s backer. That said, they were ‘rivals’ in name only, for any objective third party would probably agree that he was far superior to her in every way that mattered. Both as a knight and as a spirit arts user.

‘Come on, how come I have to run into a strictly superior version of myself so quickly… That’s just unfair.’

Subaru was already rather unsure about her position as a knight, but standing before him really did make her feel like a kid playing dress up. The man before her was the quintessential knight, and his mere presence seemed to shine a light on her every flaw, making her keenly aware of everything she lacked.

This unpleasant feeling was one Subaru had never experienced before, except perhaps during her first loop at the manor. Since she had always been at the top in her old world, she never really had to deal with such insecurities back then. It was practically a fact of life to her that if she simply put in the effort, she would be the best at whatever it was she was doing.

But this world was different, this world was one where the circumstances of your birth immediately decided just how far you could go. The same could be said of her old world too, of course, but it was to a much lesser extent. While there were of course richer and poorer families, those with talent and those lacking it, one could basically think of people as being ‘equal’, that with enough hard work, anyone could rise to the top. Subaru herself didn’t really believe this, but there was at least an illusion of equality that one could believe in.

There was no place for such illusions in this world; family names, bloodlines, heritage, such things decided everything. The knight before her was from an esteemed noble family, while Subaru herself had no pedigree to speak of here. That in itself placed him far above her in the social hierarchy, forming a colossal gap that would be nearly impossible to bridge.

‘I suppose that’s just another one of the things Emilia would want to fix, though. But beyond that, what can you really do about natural born talent and genetic superiority…?’

Of course, Subaru wasn’t such a sore loser as to declare that his family name was the only thing he had over her, that it was only thanks to daddy that he made it as far as he had. He had surely worked hard to reach his current position, and there was no shame in admitting that he was better than her, as they were now at least.

And while she’d evaluated him as ‘better’ than her, such an evaluation didn’t take into account her ability to resurrect. If one were to consider that ability, it could even be said that she was greater than any other knight, for she could rewrite the past itself, and make any problem disappear. Surely, it would be impossible for Emilia to lose as long as she had Subaru by her side, unless they were facing the witch herself.

But the problem was that Subaru herself was the only one who knew of this ability, so looking at it from a third party’s point of view, she still had nothing that could possibly allow her to compete with the Finest of Knights, or even any of the other candidates’ knights.

‘Let’s see, Anastasia Hoshin of course has the Finest of Knights, Julius Juukulius; Crusch Karsten has the greatest water user in the kingdom, the one bearing the title of Blue, Ferris Argyle; Felt could potentially end up with the Sword Saint himself, Reinhard van Astrea… And Emilia gets Natsuki Subaru, random nobody. That’s just rough.’

Even though Subaru was technically instrumental in retrieving Emilia’s insignia and repelling the witchbeast threat, she didn’t actually have any concrete accomplishments to her name. At the end of the day, all her actions amounted to was her almost dying to Elsa, and then almost dying to some dogs. If she wished to stand in line with the other knights, she needed to accomplish something big, and fast.

‘I’ll have to think about how to do that later, for now, I’ve just got to get through this interaction somehow…’

“—My, what an unusual place for us to meet. It has been some time, Emilia-sama. Have you been well?”

The knight’s refined voice matched his dignified appearance, everything about him screamed sophistication. More importantly, he too was able to see through Emilia’s cloak just like Wilhelm. Perhaps that was just something everyone at that level could do.

“… Yes, thank you. I’m glad to see that you’re in good health as well, Julius.” Emilia responded, her tone and expression having stiffened slightly. This was a side of her Subaru had never seen before; she truly did give off a regal atmosphere when she got serious, like a queen.

“I am honored that you remember me. Your beauty has only increased all the more since we last met, Emilia-sama.”

Even if it was mere flattery, it wasn’t often that Subaru heard people speaking positively of Emilia. Finest of Knights indeed, she thought.

“However, is it not a rarer sight for a member of the Royal Guard such as yourself to be here in the garrison?”

Right, Subaru had been so distracted by his sudden appearance that she hadn’t even thought to consider why he was even here in the first place, not that she really cared all that much. Still, perhaps they could learn something useful here.

“I’ve come to express appreciation to the soldiers for their efforts as well as to inspect the city… Would be the gist of it. It was at a friend’s request that I came here, and perhaps it is good to put one’s friends first once in a while. After all, I was able to encounter a beautiful flower along the way.”

Saying this, Julius took Emilia’s hand as he knelt before her.

‘Wow, are you serious?’

The sight of Julius pressing his lips against the back of Emilia’s hand was surreal. Subaru could hardly believe what she was seeing here; this was completely different from when Felix had done this to her as a joke. But then, she supposed, this was probably what passed for chivalry around here.

‘Guess I’ve gotta brush up on my knightly conduct. Should be useful for tomorrow…’

Still, the fact that Julius could perform such a gesture with no hesitation further displayed his good character. Surely, most in this world would balk at the thought of doing such a thing with a silver-haired half-elf. Subaru was of course happy to see someone in such a high position being courteous to Emilia, she had initially been concerned that Roswaal was the only noble who would ever give her the time of day without being forced into doing so.

‘Reinhard must have been a decent enough fellow too, come to think of it.’

“Thank you, Julius. I regret that this is so sudden, but…” Emilia began, changing the subject to the reason they came here in the first place, “I would like to get in touch with the castle regarding a certain matter.”

“Ah, and that would be the reason you came here.” the knight noted with a nod, proceeding to then bring his thumb and forefinger up to his chin as he muttered, “The castle, is it…”

“There has been some talk in the capital of you selecting a knight just recently. Might she be the knight in question?” he asked as he glanced at Subaru.

”That’s correct. She’s my knight, Natsuki Subaru. I’m very lucky to have her.” Emilia responded, a tinge of pride evident in her tone. Even though Subaru had already heard it any number of times now, the sound of Emilia referring to her as her knight was music to her ears. It excited her to no end— all the more so when she saw the joy in Emilia’s expression as she proclaimed it.

Turning towards Subaru, Julius addressed her with a genial smile, “It is said that it was the Marchioness Mathers herself who recommended that you be knighted for your outstanding service in her domain. For Emilia-sama to speak so highly of you as well, you must be very capable indeed.”

“My lady is too kind, I only hope I can live up to her expectations.” Subaru responded humbly.

The two of them then proceeded to exchange the typical pleasantries about it being a pleasure to make each other’s acquaintance and whatnot, every moment of which Subaru found unbearable. As pathetic as it was, she found it difficult to interact with someone she viewed as her better. She preferred to approach all social interactions from an equal or greater standing. If she had just taken down the White Whale, for instance, she would have no problems chatting with this guy all day long, but given that she hadn’t accomplished anything of the sort just yet, the conversation just felt terribly awkward to her.

She really had no business having this sort of inferiority complex when even Emilia herself presented her with pride, but she just couldn’t help it. As she tried to think of ways to extricate herself from this situation, however, she was saved by a voice— No, a trio of voices that cut through the endless noise she was picking up through her spirit.

‘No way, is it seriously those three again? Are they the only hoodlums in the entire city?’

It must have been fate itself that brought them together, she could hear them clearly just a few blocks down.

“Is something the matter?” Julius asked, having noticed the sudden shift in Subaru’s gaze

“It seems I have some business to attend to, please excuse me.” Subaru responded as she started walking away.

“Subaru?” Emilia called after her, confused.

“It’s a trifling matter, I assure you. I shall return momentarily. You just take care of things here, okay?” Subaru called back as she broke into a run and launched herself onto a nearby building in a single bound.

She then dashed across the rooftops, reaching the alley she was looking for in seconds, where she found that familiar trio threatening a woman dressed in red.

Chapter Text

As Subaru descended into the alley, she took a closer look at the woman the thugs had cornered. Her vivid orange hair and blood red dress perfectly accentuated her voluptuous figure. Even Subaru could tell that the countless ornaments adorning her from top to bottom must have been expensive beyond measure, but her fine features easily outshone them all. Subaru had always thought of Emilia as the pinnacle of beauty, but perhaps this woman would be a match for her, although in an entirely different manner. While Subaru would describe Emilia as sweet and innocent, even cute, such descriptors were the furthest thing from her mind when she first laid eyes on the woman before her, if anything, she was just the opposite. She gave off a confident, domineering aura, and her appearance was one that inspired pure lust.

‘Actually, am I even needed here? She looks like she can handle herself just fine.’

Indeed, the woman seemed quite powerful, stronger than Subaru, even. But even if her intervention wasn’t necessary, since she was here already, she figured she might as well go through with it.

“Come on, do you guys really have nothing better to do than harass random women all day?” Subaru called out as she landed behind them.

“Huh? Who—“

The men turned around, annoyed, but immediately froze up when they saw her uniform.

“Yo, remember me? I must say, it’s rather fitting that you guys would be my first arrests.”

“Damn it, she’s a knight?!” the one in the middle, apparently their leader, blurted out.

“That’s right. As for you, it’s about time you said goodnight. Don’t worry, you’ll have a long stay in prison to look forward to when you wake up.” Subaru responded as she prepared an Ul Shamac.

Before Subaru could cast her spell, however, the woman in red cut in, “You there, wait.”

Her commanding tone stopped Subaru dead in her tracks, “Is something the matter, miss?” she asked.

“Who gave you the right to interrupt my entertainment?” the woman asked, her sharp gaze piercing through Subaru.

Somewhat confused, Subaru glanced at the trio, “Your entertainment… Might you be referring to these gentlemen?”

“I imagined this unsightly place might have something amusing in store for me. I happened to encounter these fools along the way and they started bellowing about something or another.” the woman explained in an exceptionally haughty tone.

‘So she’s wandering around these back alleys to get some thrills, huh… Well, I guess that’s not really my problem.’

More importantly, Subaru was starting to have a really bad feeling that this wasn’t about to go well for her. It felt like she could have her head lopped off at any moment if she said the wrong thing here. The threatening aura emanating from this woman was similar to what she had felt from Wilhelm or Julius, but unlike them, she made no effort to hide it.

‘You’ve gotta be kidding me. Is there no such thing as an easy win in this world? How come every single confrontation ends with my life on the line?’

The threat this time wasn’t even the thugs she had come here to arrest, but rather the woman she was supposedly saving. Tch, she never should have gotten involved in this. In her attempt to escape the Finest of Knights, she had ended up jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.

“My deepest apologies, ma’am. Shall I leave you to it, then?” Subaru suggested, keeping her caution out of her voice. If she could just leave now, that would be ideal.

“Oh well, these commoners no longer interest me. I suppose you may as well cut them down while you are here.” the woman responded as she covered her mouth with the fan she had just pulled out of her cleavage. Her tone and expression were exceedingly casual for someone who had just ordered the deaths of three men. What little emotion Subaru could glean from her voice contained no traces of compassion or hesitation, if anything, she was a little excited to watch these men die by Subaru’s hand.

Keeping a close eye on the thugs trembling before her, Subaru rejected the woman’s suggestion before they could try anything reckless, “… While I appreciate the suggestion, I fear the death penalty might be too harsh a punishment in this case.”

Even though Subaru had technically committed a mass genocide back in the forest, that was against witchbeasts. This would be her first time actually killing human beings, and that wasn’t a thought she was very comfortable with just yet. She had already come to terms with the fact that she would probably have to do it at some point, but that didn’t make it any easier. Besides, this really wasn’t the time for it. Unlike the woman before her, Subaru still valued human life to some extent; she wasn’t the sort to go around executing every petty criminal she happened upon.

“How pathetic. For what reason do you carry that sword at your side if you lack the courage to use it where it is due?” the woman asked with her eyes narrowed, her voice dripping with scorn.

Subaru wasn’t about to let this woman talk her into murdering these three, but that didn’t mean she was just going to sit there and take her insults either.

“With all due respect, miss, I believe you have it backwards. It’s precisely because I intend to use this sword properly that I won’t slay these three here. This blade isn’t one I intend to stain with the blood of common lowlives, it shall only cut that which is worth cutting.”

This was an answer Subaru had made up on the spot, something she just said to sound cool. Despite this, it seemed to work brilliantly.

“A fine answer.” the woman commended Subaru’s words as she snapped her fan shut, “Very well. Give it here.”

“Excuse me?”

“That treasured sword of yours, I would like to claim it.” the woman responded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

She seemed to be misunderstanding something here. Perhaps Subaru’s boast was too effective, because there wasn’t actually anything special about her sword. Beyond its ornate design, it was just an ordinary sword like any other. The only reason Subaru had for picking it was that it looked cool, she didn’t care too much about her weapon’s capabilities since she wasn’t really a physical fighter anyway.

But even though it was just a common sword that could very easily be replaced, she couldn’t hand it over just like that—

‘It would be way too pathetic if I went back to Emilia having failed to accomplish anything and losing my sword on top of that.’

“Surely even you must realize what an absurd demand it is to ask that a knight give up her sword. I’m afraid that is not a request I can abide by.” Subaru said with as stern a tone as she could muster.

“Very well. How about this, then— Let us wager for it.”

The woman’s words suddenly made things click into place for Subaru. Her orange hair, red dress, absurd behavior, penchant for gambling…

‘No way, Priscilla Barielle?!’

It was just her luck to run into a royal candidate at a time like this. And not just any royal candidate, but the most unpredictable one of them all; one who wouldn’t hesitate to end Subaru’s life right here if she so pleased.

And while Subaru hoped she could turn this to her advantage somehow, it was probably impossible for her to actually win this wager if the rumors about Priscilla’s luck were true. Even so, perhaps it would be worth it to go through with it just to see her supernatural luck first-hand…

“A wager, you say? That would depend on what you can offer me in return.”

“Naturally, I shall prepare something suitable… Let us see, should you win, I shall allow you to touch my breasts. How about it?”

The sheer audacity of her offer left Subaru speechless. She must have been confident that Subaru couldn’t possibly win, but still. More importantly, did she seriously think Subaru would be willing to give up her sword just to fondle her breasts? The answer was, of course, a resounding yes.

Subaru had never seen a chest quite like that, not in this world or her original one, so if she let this chance go, she might never in her life be blessed with such an opportunity ever again. It wasn’t as if she even cared that much about the sword, it would be worth it to give it up for this once in a lifetime experience.

Furthermore, this could also be quite useful in more practical ways. It could help get her mind off things, for instance, and she would then be less stressed for tomorrow. That could only be a good thing, Emilia would benefit too if Subaru could face the meeting in the castle with a clear heart. And also, she would be more at ease during said meeting if she went in there having felt up one of the other candidates beforehand.

Besides, it was also possible that Subaru actually had a talent for this sort of thing, not that she would know since this would be her first time actually doing such a thing, but what if she was good enough to win Priscilla’s favor? She could then use that goodwill to help Emilia at some point in the future.

The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. She didn't even pay the thugs any mind as they took advantage of the distraction to run off. Having successfully rationalized her decision, Subaru decided to move forward with the bet even though she had no chance of actually winning.

“While it would be an honor for me to lay my hands upon your no doubt divine bosom, given that I must wager my treasured sword in exchange, I cannot help but feel that this bet is not in my favor.” Subaru said, hoping to give herself at least some sort of chance here.

“You are of course free to set the terms of our wager. I care not for the odds.”

“Alright… Let’s go with ten to one, then. You have to beat me ten times in a row to win my sword, but we’ll call it my win if I beat you even once. Would that be alright?”

“Certainly. Now then, you need only select the contest.”

Despite Subaru’s absurd terms, the woman did not care one bit and acquiesced immediately. Subaru wondered if she should perhaps have gone for a much higher number instead, but she didn’t have time for that. She had to settle this quickly and get back to Emilia lest the girl end up following her out of worry.

“Okay, let’s start off with some coin flips, then. I’ll take heads.”

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

Having lost nine times in a row, Subaru could only be amazed. Priscilla’s luck was every bit as ridiculous as she had heard.

“Incredible…” she muttered.

“Now then, I shall show you just how foolish you were to challenge me. That precious sword of yours is already mine, it is simply a matter of how I obtain it.”

“You were the one who challenged me, though…”

Subaru was already prepared for this, of course. In fact, she had expected that this would be the result, she would have found it rather disappointing if Priscilla’s performance had been less dominant.

The nine games thus far were little more than a test, and thus did not matter in the slightest. All Subaru had to do was win this final contest, and she knew exactly how to do it.

“Alright, for this last round, we’re going to be playing rock paper scissors.” Subaru declared, proceeding to then explain the rules as she demonstrated the shapes with her hand, “Rock beats scissors, scissors beat paper, and paper beats rock. We chant ‘rock, paper, scissors’ and then throw out whatever shape we decide on. Get it?”

“Hm, I see. A rather interesting game in itself, it would seem. Very well, let us proceed. I shall throw paper.”

This woman was truly something else, she was already using psychological tricks to gain the upper hand in a game she had just learned. But unfortunately for her, such tricks were now completely worthless, because—

“Here goes, rock, paper, scissors—!”

With Subaru’s hand reflected in them, the woman’s red eyes wavered for the first time. “T-This is?”

The woman had thrown paper as promised, but what Subaru had cast was—

“Behold, the ultimate technique in rock paper scissors! A combination of rock, paper, and scissors! My paper cancels out yours, preventing it from assaulting my rock! My scissors then obliterate your paper, making it an absolute victory for me!”

“What?! You never mentioned any such technique!”

“Oh, but I did. This technique is but a combination of the three basic shapes I explained beforehand. It is simply a matter of knowing how best to use the tools you have at your disposal. That goes for everything in life, not just rock paper scissors.” Subaru explained with her arms crossed, trying to look as self-important as possible to sell her bluff.

“I see. Indeed, it was I who slipped up here. I must admit, just like then, it is quite interesting to have my expectations surpassed…” the woman responded with a faint smile, proceeding to then emphasize her chest by linking her arms under her breasts as she leaned forward, “Very well. I shall acknowledge your victory; as per the terms of our wager, you may do with them as you please.”

Subaru felt her body heat up, and she couldn’t help but grin as she readied her fingers, preparing herself for what was to come.

“Well then, miss, would you kindly accompany me a little deeper into the alley?”

Chapter Text

“You bastards! After I so kindly, so graciously, so wonderfully, so magnanimously let you go, this is how you repay me?!”

As she led Priscilla deeper into the alley, Subaru’s dreams were cruelly cut short by the return of that damnable trio, who had brought over a dozen of their fellow hoodlums with them for a rematch. However, despite having the advantage by far in terms of numbers, the sixteen or so men attempting to corner her couldn’t help but quiver in fright when they saw the rage in her eyes as she slowly walked towards them.

Their sudden arrival had completely ruined her mood at the climactic moment, it would be difficult to get back into the right mindset even if she massacred them all right here. That didn’t mean she was about to give up, though; after all the effort she put into winning the right to fondle Priscilla, she would most certainly use that right to the fullest.

“To think I actually showed you mercy! To think I actually pitied you! To think I thought your lives might have actually had some worth!” Subaru spat, the venom in her voice causing the men to back away as the more cowardly among them fled outright.

“Did you even think for one second why I allowed you run away?! Why I allowed you to live, instead of simply cutting you down as this lovely lady here suggested?! It was so you could reflect, so you could better yourselves, so you could lead more honest lives!” A brilliant torrent of mana swirled around Subaru as she continued her tirade.

“But I see now that such consideration is wasted on you! Are you honestly so foolish as to believe that you could defeat a knight by just adding a few more lowlives to your numbers?! Since those heads of yours clearly aren’t functioning correctly, maybe I really should just chop them off right here!”

With most of their comrades already gone, the original trio and the few allies they had left simply trembled before Subaru, every bit of fighting spirit they may have had already extinguished.

When the leader opened his mouth, perhaps to beg for mercy, Subaru immediately cut him off, “Shut up! Don’t you dare talk to me! I’ll make you regret the day you ever laid eyes on me, so you never even think of doing this crap again!”

“El Jiwald!”

Her incantation produced countless streaks of dazzling light, most of which she fired directly into the eyes of the hooligans before her. True to her word, she most certainly made them regret ever laying eyes on her, their screams of agony confirmed that. Of course, even at the height of her rage, Subaru wasn’t so cruel as to blind them forever, so she had held back quite a bit so as to only rob them of their vision for a few minutes. Her anger at having been interrupted already subsiding, she could only hope that this was enough to make them learn their lesson. She wouldn’t even have time to drag them back to the garrison if she still wished to play with Priscilla’s breasts, which was still her top priority.

“That was a sight worth seeing.” Priscilla noted with one eye shut, “You have my praise.”

“Thank you very much, miss. Now then, where were we…?”

Subaru clenched and unclenched her hands, stretching her fingers as she readied herself to deliver the most expert ministrations she could. However, she was interrupted yet again, this time by interlopers she could not just take down—

“—I’ve finally found you.”

‘No, how can this be?! Why has fate conspired against me so?!’

At the entrance to the alley was the last person Subaru would have wanted to see here. It seemed Emilia had come looking for her after all, and she was accompanied by a bizarrely dressed woman.

The woman at Emilia’s side had her face covered by a jet black helmet, but the rest of her body wasn’t armored in the slightest. Her clothes were rather shabby, with her upper half almost entirely exposed save for the wrapping around her chest and a worn-down mantle she wore.

“I thought I’d come check out the light show, but…” The woman began, her easygoing voice muffled by her helmet, “You were here after all, princess.”

“Your timing leaves much to be desired, Debra. I was just—”

Priscilla was about to admonish the shabbily dressed woman who was apparently her attendant, and honestly Subaru really wanted to do so as well, but with Emilia here, she had no choice but to stop her. “Ah, never mind that! We can pick that up later if we meet again, or just forget about if we don’t!”

Hastily declaring that everything was fine, Subaru rushed over to Emilia, who she noticed had lowered her hood to hide her face even further while making herself as inconspicuous as possible, no doubt to avoid attracting Priscilla’s attention.

“I’m glad we were both able to find who we were looking for, little lady.” The shabbily dressed woman, Debra, addressed Emilia who was currently hiding behind Subaru. “What a coincidence that they’d be in the same place. Must be fate.”

“Well, I’ve certainly got a thing or two to say to fate right now.” Subaru grumbled, “My lady and I are definitely bound by the red string of fate, though, there’s no mistaking that.”

Subaru was careful not to mention Emilia’s name outright, since it seemed that she was trying to keep her presence hidden.

“Well, anyway, since we’ve all reunited safe and sound, I suppose we might as well part ways now, yeah?” Subaru suggested.

“Ah, sure, that’s fine. I understand the princess can be a bit much to deal with.” Debra responded sympathetically.

“No, that’s really not what I’m frustrated about at all… Rather, I’d have preferred to ‘deal with her’ a little longer, but never mind that. Well, see ya later, I guess.” With these parting words, Subaru took Emilia’s hand and led her away.

“Thanks for accompanying me on my search, little lady!” Debra called after them as they left.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

“It’s alright now, Emilia-tan. They’re gone.”

Subaru had initially been curious about how Emilia had even gotten involved with Priscilla’s attendant in the first place, but Puck explained that Emilia found her rummaging through some trash cans near the garrison looking for a certain someone, and immediately ended up offering her help before Puck could even intervene. Really, what an unfortunate coincidence; perhaps it really was fate itself that prevented Subaru from claiming her just reward.

‘This is just a bad day all around for me, man. I’d even go so far as to call it the worst day of my life. Is this my punishment for cheating at rock paper scissors? It was already a terrible day even before I did that, though…’

“—Subaru.” Emilia, who seemed to be spacing out until just now, suddenly called out Subaru’s name in an exceedingly serious tone. “That girl from before, why were you with her? Where did you meet her?”

‘Woah, why so serious all of a sudden? Does she seriously think I’d defect to another camp or something?’

The idea was absurd, and yet she couldn’t think of much else that could explain Emilia’s behavior. Did she really trust her so little after almost two months of knowing each other?

“Ah, that. You saw those guys writhing in pain on the ground, right? So basically, what happened was I heroically showed up to save her from those hoodlums.” Subaru began, recounting her tale with some slight embellishments, “However, I soon realized the woman I was rescuing was none other than Priscilla Barielle. Now, it’s not every day you get to meet a rival candidate to the throne, so I figured I may as well take the opportunity to conduct some important negotiations with her.”

“Negotiations?” Emilia asked, repeating the word that had caused her to tense up ever so slightly when she heard it.

“That’s right, and let me tell you, that was no easy feat. She’s every bit as tough as they say; things were looking pretty touch and go for a while there, but I managed to pull through in the end. Basically, she owes me a debt now, and I’ll be able to call in a favor when the time comes.” Subaru explained, hoping she wouldn’t have to explain the exact nature of what this debt was. But as usual, her hopes were for naught.

“… What did you negotiate for? What sort of debt is it?”

Subaru understood why Emilia would be cautious about this, since her own knight was apparently negotiating with a rival candidate behind her back, but she really wasn’t into this persistent questioning.

“… I’d like to keep that secret as a matter of personal pride. It’s basically the sort of thing where she swore her body to me, or something like that. Anyway, we don’t actually have to offer her any payment or anything if that’s what you’re worried about, you know I wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize your position. I’m always giving it my all for your sake, you know, I’d like you to trust me on that.”

Emilia still looked unsure, but Subaru continued before she could respond, “As a matter of fact, you can trust me a little more in general, you know. You didn’t need to come running for me right away, I was about to head back myself.”

“It had already been half an hour since you left, though…”

“What, are you serious?!”

Despite Subaru’s complaints about how slow the flow of time was today, she seemed to have the opposite problem when she was with Priscilla, her time with her passed far too quickly for her taste.

‘And before I even got to do anything, damn it all… That whole thing was just one big tease in the end.’

“Still, half an hour, huh? You’re keeping me on a pretty tight leash here…” Subaru muttered. Still, this was what she had signed up for when she became Emilia’s knight, so there was no point complaining about it now.

‘But even so, just one more minute… No, two more minutes, maybe five or even ten. That’s all I wanted. Ugh, what do I do about this passion burning with me now? I can’t possibly ask that sort of thing of Emilia, and I wouldn’t want to lead Rem-rin on… Not that either of them could even compare to Priscilla in that regard. Roswaal might be the only choice I have left, will I have to turn to her after all…?’

“I’m sorry, it’s just that you said you’d be back right away, so I got worried…” Emilia responded, her eyes wavering as her voice faltered, “… I understand that I’m not the one you want to be with right now.”

“While it’s true that I would like to have had just a little more time alone with Priscilla, you’re still number one in my heart, Emilia-tan. I just want to make that clear.” Subaru declared. As upset as she was that she got interrupted at the worst possible moment, it would be pointless to take her frustrations out on Emilia, “Also, you have nothing to apologize for. If anything, your concern warms my heart, though if possible, I would prefer that you first attempt to contact me through our conversation mirrors instead of just running over right away in the future.”

She then continued with a gentle smile, “Even the closest of lovers can go through a rough patch now and then, you know. We’re just a little stressed because of the royal selection, that’s all. We just have to get through tomorrow and everything will be back to normal.”

“Right…” Emilia responded with a weak smile and a distant gaze, “We just have to make it through tomorrow, and everything will be fine…”

Chapter Text

The day had finally come. Today was the day the royal selection was to begin, and there were countless dragon carriages heading towards the castle for that reason. Naturally, the castle’s already robust security had been tightened even further for today, and each carriage was checked thoroughly at the castle’s gates. Unfortunately for Subaru, this meant that they were stuck in what was essentially a medieval traffic jam.

“Looks like this could take a while…” Emilia murmured, her expression tense.

“I don’t mind at all as long as I have your cute face to look at, though. I could even wait here until the end of time if I have to, so long as you’re with me!” Subaru declared with a thumbs up.

“You were getting awfully impatient yesterday, though… My presence only seemed to bother you then.” Emilia responded with a pout.

“Ah, that. Well, I wasn’t really thinking straight then, you know. I realized anew last night that you’re the best and cutest and the only one for me after all. None of the other candidates could even begin to compare, I can personally guarantee it!”

Subaru’s inner turmoil from yesterday was long gone, and she felt completely refreshed. Strangely, now that they were right at the castle’s gates, she didn’t feel nearly as nervous as she did yesterday. In fact, she didn’t feel nervous at all.

‘It’s the sort of thing where the anticipation is much worse than the event itself, huh.’

“This really isn’t the time to be talking about who’s cute and who’s not. I get that you’re trying to cheer me up, but you’re reeeally missing the point here.”

Feigning confusion, Subaru tilted her head, “Am I? Since the other candidates are all girls, I thought for sure that that would be what you were worried about, though.”

“Honestly, you’re so…” Emilia couldn’t help but giggle at Subaru’s antics, and Subaru nodded with satisfaction as she watched the tension leave the girl’s face.

“You have become quiiite adept at dealing with Emilia-sama, I see. Just what I would expect from her kniiiight.” Roswaal intoned as she watched Subaru fondly.

She then continued in a slightly more serious tone, “That said, it is as you saaay. The dragon gems embedded in the insignias have only selected feeemale candidates to ascend the throne… To begin with, since the Dragon Tablet specified that the five candidates were to be shrine maidens at the outset, perhaaaaps it is only natural to conclude that that may be the Dragon’s preference.”

“Thinking about it from the perspective of continuing the bloodline, maybe it really would be more convenient to have a maiden ascend the throne, but… The candidates are all pretty cute too, that’s just a bit too unbalanced, I think.” Puck noted.

“Ah,” he then looked over at Emilia as if he’d just remembered something, “There’s not a single person in the world who could possibly match up to you, though, so you don’t need to worry about a thing. Have some confidence in yourself.”

“I’m not sure what sort of confidence you’re telling me to have, but… Sure, I will. But…” Emilia paused for a moment, putting a finger to her lips in thought as she continued, “What do you mean, from the perspective of continuing the bloodline? Why would a girl be more convenient for that?”

“Huh?”

The look on Emilia’s face made it clear that she really had no clue, which left Subaru speechless. Roswaal narrowed her eyes at this and directed her gaze at the spirit on Emilia’s shoulder,

“Would you not say that that is faaaar too overprotective, Great Spirit-sama?”

”She can’t be interested in what she doesn’t know. This is the best way to protect my daughter as far as I’m concerned, so I’m putting it into practice.”

“Allow me to correct myself. Beyond overprotective, I must say that is raaather controlling.”

Puck simply shrugged in response to Roswaal’s words, at which point Subaru cut in, “But wait! If she becomes queen and needs to produce an heir, then…?”

While Subaru knew from the outset that that was probably something Emilia would eventually have to do, it wasn’t something she had really thought about very much nor did she really want to. Given the information that had just come to light, however, she had no choice but to think about it.

Surely even Puck would not object where the fate of the kingdom itself was concerned. Or maybe he would, he didn’t seem like he particularly cared about the kingdom, or anything besides Emilia. Still, if his beloved daughter wished for her bloodline to continue…

Right, her bloodline. Subaru wasn’t sure if quarter-elves were viewed the same way as half-elves, but surely, many in the kingdom would be unhappy with the idea of Emilia continuing her bloodline. And given the way Emilia viewed herself, perhaps she too would be hesitant. Not that she could even make the choice right now, since she didn’t even know how it was done.

And then there was the matter of Subaru’s own feelings.

‘The thought of some noble violating my sweet and precious Emilia-tan… Gah, I can’t take it!’

An image beyond description burned itself into her mind. Of course, it wasn’t as if it would have to be some random noble. It could be someone Emilia loved deeply and genuinely wanted a family with, Subaru would try to make sure of that at least.

‘Maybe someone like Reinhard; I hear he’s a pretty stand-up guy, and single too.’

And he had just recently saved Emilia’s life too, considering the usual fairy tale clichés about knights and damsels, it would only be fitting.

‘He’s probably saved countless damsels over his lifetime, though, being the Sword Saint and all… I’m one of them too, after all. Since I couldn’t see him yesterday, I guess I’ll just have to hope I run into him somewhere in the castle.’

Even so, Subaru found the thought rather unpleasant. Even if Emilia found someone she truly loved from the bottom of her heart, and that person also loved her and everything was great, where would that leave Subaru? As Emilia’s knight, would she have to dutifully wait outside the door or something? While listening to everything that was going on inside?

Furthermore, there was still the problem of actually teaching Emilia how it was done. Subaru wouldn’t want to just toss her some books and leave it at that. She couldn’t just leave it to Rem and Ram either, she felt like she had a personal responsibility here as Emilia’s knight, that she had to do this herself.

‘But if I went and taught her all of that only for her to go and get impregnated by some man… That would basically be the ultimate cuckoldry, wouldn’t it?’

Subaru didn’t have that sort of fetish, so it wasn’t the sort of thing she’d take any joy in. Furthermore, it was highly likely that she would have to help raise the child, or perhaps even children, as their aunt.

‘Basically the sort of thing where Emilia would be too busy to spend much time with them on account of being queen, and the responsibility of watching over them falls to me or something…’

This was probably a pointless worry since the kids would most likely have caretakers of their own, but still.

‘I wouldn’t mind playing with them now and then, since they’d probably be super cute and stuff, but beyond that… Actually, would Emilia even need any heirs to begin with?’

Given her exceptionally long lifespan, it was just as likely that Emilia would outlive the kingdom itself. Or at least until the kingdom had advanced enough that it would no longer need to rely on the Dragon’s protection, thereby allowing her to freely pick out any successor she pleased rather than having to pass her title down to her descendants.

‘Even with that long lifespan, there’s still the risk of accidental death or assassination, but… I’ll of course be there to prevent anything of the sort from happening. If anything, the ideal would be for both of us to become immortal somehow.’

Subaru had heard that Satella was immortal and indestructible, after all. Perhaps it would be possible for her to obtain that same power somehow, she was technically already immortal in a way.

‘Actually, is it even possible for me die of old age? Am I already completely immortal?’

Subaru’s thoughts were cut short before she could arrive at any conclusive answers.

“Prepare yourselves.” Roswaal’s authoritative voice filled the carriage, “We will be entering the castle shortly.”

“… Right. I’m ready.” Emilia responded.

“You must ready your heart as well, Emilia-sama.” Roswaal addressed Emilia with one eye closed, to which the girl simply nodded in response.

WIth their carriage finally arriving at the castle, Subaru took a deep breath as she went over her plan once more.

‘Alright, everything we rehearsed was for this moment. Let’s make it count.’

Chapter Text

As they descended from the carriage, Emilia froze up. She wasn’t disguising her appearance right now, meaning her features were clear for all to see, and see they did. The atmosphere before the castle had shifted instantly the moment Emilia emerged from the carriage, and she was beset by countless unpleasant stares.

Subaru gave her hand a small squeeze to reassure her, and Puck whispered some comforting words from within her hair as they approached the castle.

‘There’s some sort of tunnel system running through the ground here…’

Subaru could sense that the ground beneath her was hollow as she walked. It seemed that they were walking over a rather intricate series of tunnels linking to the castle.

‘I’ve heard of escape tunnels and whatnot, there’s even one in the Roswaal manor; but there’s way too many tunnels here for just that, it feels like a labyrinth… Maybe it’s to confuse pursuers?’

Emilia had been led away to a waiting room for special guests after they confirmed their identities at the gates, and the meeting wasn’t set to begin for some time yet, so Subaru had some time to kill.

Since she didn’t have anything better to do than explore, Subaru simply wandered around the castle for a while, eventually ending up at a warehouse used to store food. She watched with interest as three carriages stopped before the warehouse and had their contents unloaded and moved into the warehouse using wind magic.

‘That wasn’t a very thorough check, it would be pretty easy for someone to smuggle themselves in by hiding in one of those boxes, I bet.’

What also caught her interest was the fact that there was an entrance to those tunnels she had discovered earlier just nearby.

‘Alright, might as well head underground and check things out for a bit.’

She descended into the castle’s basement and found herself walking down a sturdy stone corridor that was perhaps six feet across, she could almost touch the walls on both sides if she simply stretched her arms out.

‘Man, they’ve really got no security around here, huh?’

Subaru hadn’t run into a single person thus far. The corridor was lined with numerous doors on each side, but the rooms behind them were all empty.

‘Servants’ quarters and changing rooms, it would seem… Looks like there might actually be multiple tunnel systems running through here, and this one’s for use by servants?’

This was probably the path the servants used to retrieve food from the warehouse, among other things. That aside, the thought of actually having to live down here in this dismal and cramped space was a rather unpleasant one; Subaru felt no small measure of pity for the servants here as she examined her surroundings.

‘Although maybe it’s not that bad once you get used to it, perhaps some of them even like it…’

Subaru’s thoughts were interrupted when she sensed the presence of two others down here.

‘Can’t say I was expecting to see them again quite this soon.’

The two figures approaching her were ones she recognized instantly, for it was just yesterday that she had met them.

“— Behold, Debra. I told you she would be here, did I not?”

“Yep, you were exactly right, princess. Wow, your powers of perception are amazing.”

An exceptionally haughty voice followed by a somewhat lifeless one.

“Talk about a quick reunion. Did you two have some business with me?” Subaru asked, though she already had a clue as to what this business might be.

‘There’s no way she’s actually here to fulfill the terms of that wager, right? Why would she bring her attendant with her if… More importantly, are we seriously about to do this right here…? Nah, no way.’

The thought of doing such a thing right below the castle in which they would have to present themselves before every important person in the kingdom not even an hour from now was absurd. She doubted even Priscilla would be so… Maybe she would.

”Business, huh… It ain’t anything as grand as that.” Debra responded, “I just wanted to talk about home a little, if you wouldn’t mind.”

“Home…?” Subaru’s eyes widened slightly as she considered the implications of that word. She was already quite certain that there were others before her, that she wasn’t the first one to be summoned. But as far she knew, they were all historical figures from hundreds of years ago; she had hardly imagined that she would find a fellow other-worlder in this day and age. Still, she couldn’t be sure just yet.

“What do you mean by that?” Subaru probed.

“It’s just that it’s been about eighteen years since I last heard anyone mention such things as the red string of fate. It’s got me feeling a little nostalgic.”

“Eighteen—?!”

Debra’s words, so casually stated, shocked Subaru to the core. Thinking about it rationally, it shouldn’t have been that surprising, but learning that the woman before her had been here longer than Subaru herself had even been alive was somewhat sobering. Perhaps Subaru herself would one day cross that eighteen year mark.

‘Of course, that’s assuming I don’t end up dying permanently somehow. It’s also possible that I could be summoned away again, to yet another world… Well, if that does happen, I hope I at least get to keep my power to resurrect.’

”That’s right. I’m probably pushing forty these days, so I think I’d have been right around your age when I first arrived here.” Debra noted as she gave Subaru a once-over, examining her from head to toe.

Two young women starting from similar points, and yet their circumstances had clearly led them down different yet ultimately converging paths. Fate truly was a strange thing indeed, Subaru thought, to have them meet like this. They were both knights in service of royal candidates, too. Well, Subaru wasn’t sure if Debra was actually a knight, but she definitely served Priscilla with the same zeal Subaru had for Emilia.

Examining the woman before her, Subaru realized anew just how lucky she was. Running into Emilia on that first day truly was an incredible stroke of luck, there was no telling where Subaru would be right now without her. Perhaps she too would be missing an arm, with a face so scarred she couldn’t even show it. Well, she did almost lose a couple of limbs back in the forest, and her body was indeed so scarred that she always had to take great pains to hide it, so perhaps they weren’t so different after all.

More importantly, there was something else about Debra’s words that stood out. Namely, the fact that she was apparently uncertain about her own age. Perhaps it was difficult to keep track of time in this world, especially in whatever no doubt grueling circumstances that led to her losing her arm, but if she couldn’t even remember how old she was when she first arrived here…

“Probably? You think? If you’re not sure about your own age, does that mean…?”

“If you’re thinking amnesia, you’re right. If I had to explain it… It’s the sort of thing where I’m only missing my own personal memories. I was able to keep my general knowledge as well the names for certain things and the like, but as for anything relating to myself, it’s all gone. As far as amnesia tropes go, I guess that’s pretty orthodox, eh?” Debra responded, slipping in a bit of English towards the end.

“If you’re using words like that, I guess you really were summoned from Earth just like me, huh?” Subaru smiled wryly in response to her joke.

“That depends on whether our knowledge matches, though.” Debra said with a laugh, though it was so quiet it just looked like she was simply rocking her shoulders.

“So, would you happen to know anything about this whole summoning business, Debra-san? Like the reason, or if there are others like us…”

“Come on, don’t go attaching that -san now; I go by Debra around here, so please just call me that.” Debra brushed off the honorific with a wave of her hand, “As for your questions, sorry to disappoint, but it’s going to have to be a no to both. I’ve been too busy trying to stay alive to do much research into how or why I was even summoned here in the first place, and like I said before, this is the first time in eighteen years I’ve seen someone from back home.”

Debra fiddled with her helmet as she answered Subaru’s questions, her voice taking on a somewhat dismal tone as she lowered her head. Subaru had expected as much, of course, but she had been holding on to a shred of hope that perhaps Debra was simply referring to Japan when she spoke of home, that maybe she actually knew people from other countries who were also summoned here.

As Subaru pondered their situation, Debra suddenly brought her hand up to Subaru’s shoulder, grasping it firmly as she spoke in a far more emotional tone than Subaru would ever expect from her, “Really, you’re the only one I’ve ever… I honestly thought I might be losing my mind until I met you.”

Subaru’s eyes widened at this sudden declaration, in response to which Debra continued, “I mean, it’s only natural, isn’t it?”

“I’ve got memories of another world, but no memories of my own to actually place myself in that world. I felt like I was going mad, those memories of a different world brought me nothing but isolation as far as I was concerned. I even started to wonder if it was all one big delusion, some fantasy world my consciousness dreamed up after spontaneously coming into being. How could I not? However—”

Debra’s depressed tone shifted drastically towards the end as she tightened her grip on Subaru’s shoulder, “You were there for me. You saved me, sis. My memories are real. I’m not some madwoman. You proved that for me. Ah, really…”

Listening to Debra’s voice that was on the verge of tears as she expressed her gratitude, Subaru felt the weight of her solitude. She had been beset by memories she could not place for eighteen years now, memories that no one else could understand. Unlike Subaru who could use her memories of her own life to confirm the existence of her old world, Debra had no such grounding. Having lost all memory of her former life, she had no means by which to determine whether the world she saw in her mind was real. For eighteen years, she had been drowning a sea of uncertainty—

“Well?” Priscilla’s voice cut in. Though she had been uncharacteristically patient thus far, it seemed she had finally had enough.

“Since I went out of my way to bring you here, I am certain this conversation must have been to your satisfaction, Debra.”

“Oh, yeah! I’m super satisfied! Way beyond satisfied! You’re the best, princess!” Debra declared as she patted Priscilla’s head.

Subaru found it somewhat bizarre that someone as proud as Priscilla would allow this, but she didn’t have time to be thinking about such matters; she had to get out of there quickly, before Priscilla’s attention turned to her.

‘This could get really bad if I hang around for much longer; it’s getting pretty late as it is, wouldn’t want her holding me up again…’

“That was great, but I really do need to get going! See you later!” Subaru called out as she combined yin and wind magic to launch herself back down the entire length of the tunnel, escaping to the surface in an instant and running towards the castle’s central building.

‘Alright, made it! Looks like Emilia’s already inside, better hurry up before she gets worried…’

Before her was a grand hallway, with fully armed soldiers standing at attention on each side; and at the end of the hallway was a gigantic door, guarded by the captain of the Royal Guard, Marcos Gildark—

Chapter Text

‘This guy’s got some decent sensory abilities too; not quite as versatile as mine, but I’d better be careful around him.’

From what she had heard, the man guarding the door, Marcos Gildark, was supposed to be the second strongest knight in the entire kingdom after Reinhard. That meant that he definitely wasn’t someone she would want to mess with or otherwise anger. It appeared that he also possessed some sort of visual ability that allowed him to scan people to determine if they had anything dangerous on their person.

Of course, Subaru got past him fairly easily since the only weapon she was carrying was her sword, and she could hide Nox’s activities without much effort. The pouch of mana crystals she was carrying with her did cause him to raise an eyebrow, but she ultimately made it through with no problems, with Priscilla and Debra following shortly after her.

‘So this is the throne room, huh. I guess it’s about what I expected.’

The colossal room before her had little in the way of furnishings beyond the five chairs lined up on a slightly raised platform towards the far end of the room. The one in the middle was evidently the throne.

‘That dragon design on the wall behind it looks kinda cool.’

Naturally, there were many other fine adornments decorating the walls of the throne room, but Subaru didn’t really care for that sort of thing. This one in particular only caught her attention because it looked like the Dragon was bearing down on the throne, perhaps signifying that the person sitting there was carrying the Dragon and by extension the kingdom on their shoulders.

‘I bet Emilia would look really cool sitting up there. I’d better make it happen.’

She made her way down the red carpet running down the middle of the room, past the knights of the Royal Guard and the nobles; towards the deepest part of the room, where the royal candidates were waiting—

Emilia, who had been eyeing the door rather anxiously, had her eyes light up when she caught sight of Subaru.

“Subaru! Where were you?” she asked in a hushed tone as Subaru walked up to her.

“Ah, sorry. I wasn’t intending to take that long, I was just exploring the castle for a while and ended up getting held up for a bit towards the end.” Subaru spoke casually, dismissing the matter with a wave of her hand, “You know how it goes.”

“You always seem to run into trouble wherever you go… That’s reeeally worrying, you know.” Emilia responded with a pout.

“I know, I really do! I really should have learned my lesson by now, but I just can’t contain my adventurous spirit!”

While it was unfortunate that this sort of thing kept happening to her, Subaru also felt that most of these incidents weren’t actually her fault in any way. It was just that her luck was extraordinarily… Extraordinary. She’d hesitate to outright call it bad since she had also been blessed by good fortune in equal measure.

Before they could discuss Subaru’s various mishaps any further, however, the doors were thrown open as Marcos announced that the council of wise men would now be making their entrance.

Led by Marcos, several distinguished old men entered the throne room. Among them were two in particular whom Subaru recognized.

’Let’s see… The short guy with the long beard should be Miklotov McMahon, the representative of the council. With the king gone, he’s supposed to be the highest authority in the kingdom right now…’

The old man in the middle, Miklotov, had a beard so long it almost dragged along the floor, and his hair was about as long too. He was rather short, quite a bit shorter than even Subaru despite the fact that he wasn’t hunched over in the slightest.

‘And that big bald guy… That should be Bordeaux Zellgef. Roswaal warned me about him, that he’s the one most likely to speak out against Emilia…’

The opposite of Miklotov, Bordeaux’s frame was one of the largest Subaru had ever seen, quite impressive for his age. He was apparently once a great warrior, one who led an exceptional squadron during the Demi-human War. She had even heard that the Sword Demon Wilhelm himself was once part of said squadron.

‘If this guy was out there personally leading the charge against the demi-humans, I suppose it makes sense that he wouldn’t be especially fond of Emilia. I hear Wilhelm was quite the character himself before his wife mellowed him out.’

When the council took their seats around the throne, leaving the throne itself empty, the three other candidates gathered before them. Priscilla of course stood in the middle, haughty as ever, with her confidence not faltering in the slightest even before the council of wise men. To her right was a woman with dark green hair who was dressed in a somewhat masculine outfit, deep blue in color and rather militaristic in appearance. She was almost as tall as Subaru herself.

‘That should be the Duchess Crusch Karsten. If things go according to plan, I’ll be living with her for about a week right after this… Rem’s gonna be there too, of course.’

To Priscilla’s left was a rather petite young woman dressed in white, shorter than the other two, she had wavy purple hair. Also of note was the rather conspicuous fur scarf she had wrapped around her neck.

’And this one must be Anastasia Hoshin, the leader of the Hoshin Trading Company. That’s a… Pretty interesting scarf she’s got there.’

Subaru then glanced at Emilia, “Looks like it’s starting. You should go and line up with the other candidates. Do your best out there, Emilia-tan.”

“Right, I’ll be counting on you too.”

With these parting words, Subaru walked over to her fellow knights while Emilia left to join the other candidates.

‘Let’s see, there’s Julius, Felix, and—‘

“— I thought you might be here. You are Natsuki Subaru, correct?”

A clear, refreshing voice cut through her thoughts and captured her attention instantly. Turning towards its source, she found a knight with blazing red hair and eyes as blue as the sky looking down at her with a genial smile. He was almost a full head taller than Subaru, making him a fair bit taller than even Julius.

Subaru could tell by instinct exactly who he was. Subaru had a knack for identifying powerful people; Wilhelm, Julius, and Priscilla, they all had a certain aura they exuded. But the man before her easily transcended them all; what she felt from him couldn’t even described as pressure, it inspired something much greater than mere awe or fear. If she had to say, it was similar feeling to when she first attempted to speak of her power to resurrect, and the witch herself appeared before her.

‘To think he’d be in the same league as Satella-tan, the rumors actually undersold him…’

“… Reinhard.” Subaru mouthed his name in a daze, neglecting to even attach any sort of title or honorific, though she soon returned to her senses, “Ah, yeah. That’s me.”

“I am glad that you remember me. Your condition was quite poor when we last met, so I had been worried that you wouldn’t.”

The knight before her was Reinhard van Astrea, knight among knights, and the most powerful man in the entire kingdom. Despite this, the awkwardness she felt when she spoke to Julius was entirely absent; on the contrary, she would even describe Reinhard’s presence as comforting.

‘Come to think of it, I do have some recollection of seeing this guy back in the slums, though I was only half-conscious then…’

“When I heard that Emilia-sama had selected a knight, I was certain it had to be you. It is good to see you here, I had been hoping to cross paths with you once more.”

While Reinhard’s compliment seemed to praise Subaru on the surface, it could also be interpreted another way: Subaru was the only option Emilia even had, because no one else would ever give her the time of day. Looking into his eyes, however, Subaru could tell that there was no hidden insult behind his words. He meant exactly what he said.

“Right, I’ve been wanting to see you, too, actually. I wanted to thank you properly for saving us back there, I really am super grateful. In all honesty, I would have liked to have seen you a lot sooner, but there just wasn’t enough time, nor did I really have any means of getting in contact with you, so…”

Even though they had only just met, Subaru was already speaking to him in a rather casual tone, something she herself realized.

‘This guy’s super approachable, he got my guard down like it was nothing…’

“That is more than understandable; you’ve had your circumstances too, I’m sure. I’ve been rather busy myself as of late, so there was just no helping it.” Reinhard responded with a small shrug, though the bright smile spreading across his face made it clear that he was delighted to receive Subaru’s words of gratitude.

‘Man, he really is unbelievably handsome.’

While Subaru had of course taken notice of his flawless features right away, they stood all the more when paired with such an expression. Subaru even started to wonder if he might perhaps be the ideal male specimen. If Emilia was the peak of female beauty, then surely, Reinhard represented a similar ideal on the male side.

‘Their kids would be perfect, I bet…’

Any hesitation Subaru may have had regarding the matter of Emilia’s romantic future was now gone, her worries from just this morning had all been conquered. She wanted to reach out and grab his shoulder and tell him, ‘Take care of her, okay?!’

Subaru’s maternal instincts were already kicking into overdrive as she imagined the wonderful children they were sure to produce, and it wasn’t long before she ended up muttering a prayer to the heavens hoping for Reinhard and Emilia to find happiness together, for their marriage to forever—

“That’s an unusual incantation, I cannot say I have ever heard anything like it. Unfortunately, whatever it is that you are attempting to do isn’t going to work on me. That’s just the way I was born.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, was I talking out loud? That was just a simple prayer, though; nothing you need to worry about.”

With her reveries interrupted, Subaru realized she had been spacing out right in front of Reinhard.

‘Whatever I do, it’s not gonna work on him because of the way he was born, huh?’

Subaru had heard a little about this, that he was gifted with numerous blessings that when combined made him completely invincible. If that was also a trait he could pass down along with his blessing of the Sword Saint, it would only further solidify his place as the perfect man for Emilia, personally approved by Subaru herself.

Of course, thinking about it rationally, it wasn’t as if Subaru really expected anything to actually happen between the two of them. While they were both extremely attractive and also great people at heart (as far as Subaru knew), that in itself did not necessarily mean that a relationship between them would work out, nor that they would even want one to begin with.

‘It’s not like I can just unilaterally pair them off myself, anyway. Still, it’s nice to think about.’

“By the way, Reinhard, you mentioned that you’ve been wanting to see me? Was there anything in particular that you wished to talk about?”

Chapter Text

“You’re friends with Reinhard, Subaru-chan? How unexpected.”

Subaru’s conversation with Reinhard was interrupted by a familiar voice. It was Felix, now dressed in the uniform of the Royal Guard, who had just cut in on their talk with a wink and a salute.

“It’s been two days, hasn’t it? Have you been well, sweetheart? I certainly hope you have.” she asked as she approached Subaru.

“Yes, I’ve been fine, thank you. I am of course glad to see that you’re in high spirits as well, Felix.” Subaru responded with an awkward smile.

“Woah there, you’re getting awfully stiff all of a sudden. Loosen up a little, would you?” Felix said with a laugh as she patted Subaru’s shoulder. “You’re breaking my heart here, is Reinhard really that much more appealing?”

“It would seem that the two of you are already acquainted.” Reinhard noted.

“Ah, yeah. It was just a couple days ago that I first saw her, when she visited Roswaal’s manor to deliver the summons and confirm that Emilia would be attending this meeting.” Subaru replied, casually omitting the part about her treatment.

“I see, so it was Felix who delivered the message to Emilia-sama. I would like to have gone myself, if only I had the time.”

Subaru did agree with him to some extent, it would have been great if Reinhard had been the one to show up, since that would have allowed him to advance down the Emilia romance route; and failing that, perhaps she could have at least drawn him into Emilia’s camp somehow. However, at the end of the day, Subaru couldn’t help but feel that Felix was ultimately the better choice, since Emilia was able to take advantage of their meeting to arrange for Subaru to be treated.

“C’mon, there’s no way the captain would let the Sword Saint leave the capital just like that. Even I’d have to pity him if you stressed him out any further, he’s barely past his thirties and he already looks like that… Makes me worry he’ll end up losing his hair too one of these days.” Felix joked, to which Reinhard could only respond with a strained smile. Naturally, this wasn’t a joke he could openly laugh at given the contents of her words.

Thinking back to what she had seen of Marcos, Subaru had to agree with Felix. If that guy was only just now entering his forties, the years definitely hadn’t been kind to him. Being the captain of the Royal Guard must have been very stressful indeed.

As she thought of Marcos, Subaru’s eyes ended up wandering over to where Julius was, and she found that he was currently introducing himself to Debra.

“Aah, I’m not such a great person that you need to go and address me so formally or anything.” Debra responded, “I’m, y’know… Just a lowly wandering samurai, the furthest thing from knights on the straight and narrow like you guys.”

Debra’s dispirited tone surprised Subaru. It was drastically different from the attitude she had taken when she was speaking to Subaru; her current attitude was one that clearly showed that she wanted to keep others at a distance.

Subaru had thought of Debra as a generally friendly person, but perhaps the impression she had of her was completely wrong after all.

While all of this was going on, Marcos had already begun to explain the details of the royal selection with the permission of the council. That it all began about half a year ago, when the entire royal family suddenly died out due to a mysterious illness; that the dilemma of the covenant with the Dragon was an especially grave one for the kingdom and that it was for this reason that they had to find a maiden capable of communing with the dragon as soon as possible; that the entirety of the Royal Guard had been working diligently in accordance with the council’s orders to locate those selected by the glow of the dragon gems, and so on.

Subaru wasn’t really paying much attention since most of this was stuff she already knew. However, what happened next definitely piqued her interest.

Marcos dug around under his armor and retrieved a certain something, proceeding to then put it on display in the palm of his hand.

‘The insignia, huh… Man, they sure are making a big show of this. I guess they don’t have much else to do for entertainment around here.’

Marcos then bowed to the candidates as he asked them to present their dragon gems, in response to which they each held out their own insignia.

The gems embedded in the insignias all produced a dazzling glow, each of a different color. The knights sighed with admiration as they gazed upon the result of their efforts, and even the council of wise men looked relieved, the brilliant sight before them bringing them no small measure of joy.

Marcos would then go on to explain to the audience that as they could see, the candidates each possessed the qualifications to serve as the Dragon Maiden, and having confirmed this, they could now act in accordance with the Dragon Tablet to—

“Just one moment.”

He was interrupted by the girl holding the blue gem— Anastasia Hoshin. Her gentle voice easily pierced through the solemn atmosphere Marcos had created, causing his breath to hitch in surprise.

With a slight tilt of her head, Anastasia continued, “I understand that you want to carefully go through every detail and all, but I’m a pretty busy gal, you know. It’s like we say in Kararagi, time is money.”

She would then go on to say that she would rather just hear the reason they were gathered here in the first place, rather than listen to the same old stories that everyone already knew, causing a wave of shock to spread through the room. Subaru was shocked as well, though for an entirely different reason.

‘I’d heard of the Kararagi accent, but… What the hell, it’s the Kansai dialect?’

“I must agree with her.”

It was Crusch who spoke up this time, surprising Marcos even further.

“—Crusch-sama. For the head of the Karsten household to say such a thing…”

The argument would then go on for a while, with Crusch noting that while it was important to observe formalities, it was also true that their time was limited, and thus it would be best to touch upon the heart of the matter right away. However, she would end up retracting her statements when it came to light that she had been operating under a misunderstanding, apparently having been misled by Felix as to what the purpose of this meeting was, though Felix would insist that it was simply a guess on her part which Crusch ultimately believed.

‘Felix definitely did that on purpose, though. That’s not a very nice prank to play on your master, to think she’d actually pull such a thing in a place like this…’

Subaru could hardly imagine how Emilia would react if she embarrassed her in front of everyone like that. The very thought made her shudder. But then, the stakes were much higher for Emilia to begin with; perhaps this sort of thing didn’t matter to Crusch nearly as much since she was already the frontrunner by a wide margin.

‘More importantly, isn’t she supposed to have a blessing to prevent this sort of thing from happening? I guess it must be easier than I thought to slip falsehoods past her… I’ll have to keep that in mind.’

The matter wasn’t settled just yet, however. Anastasia persisted despite Crusch’s surrender, insisting that it was pointless to explain the details of the royal selection here when everyone present would already know all about it. She then looked to her fellow candidates for agreement, though Emilia was the only one who spoke up, nervously suggesting that it would be best to just hear him out properly, but Anastasia immediately cut her off, stating that she wasn’t asking for her opinion.

‘Oi, that’s a pretty unpleasant attitude you’ve got there… That’s no way to talk to her.’

Emilia of course did not argue any further, simply casting her gaze downward with an expression of resignation at having her opinion so bluntly rejected. Subaru’s every instinct screamed at her to intervene, but it wasn’t her place to do so. Not yet, anyway. However, she did know of someone who could act in her place.

“Hey, Debra… Sorry to ask this of you, but since your mistress seems like the most dominant presence there, can you do something about this?” Subaru whispered to Debra, who was standing right next to her.

‘I’m counting on you here, Priscilla. Let’s see what you’ve got.’

Subaru was certain that Priscilla could very easily put Anastasia in her place, so she decided that the best option would be to just leave this to her.

“You’re going to owe me for this, sis.” Debra whispered back before she turned towards the candidates, raising her voice before the situation could deteriorate any further, “Hey, I don’t really know what this royal selection stuff’s all about, so I wanna hear what he has to say!”

Naturally, her outlandish behavior ended up drawing all eyes to her which was of course her intention, “C’mon, don’t look at me like that, it’s embarrassing. I’m well aware that I’m kind of out of place here, so if you guys go and treat me like an outsider too I’m going to have to scream and cry and cause a huge scene, you know. Despite being an adult getting on in years and all.”

Her bizarre words had shocked most of the room into silence, but Marcos managed to keep his cool and eyed Priscilla, asking her if she had neglected to explain the procedure to her knight, to which Priscilla retorted that he would go on and on about it even if she had, so she had simply spared herself the redundant effort.

‘That’s just like her, of course… But man, Emilia really doesn’t fit in with all of these supremely egoistic people.’

Part of it was due to her position, of course. The circumstances of her birth meant that she couldn’t act nearly as impulsively as the other candidates; she was already dead last to begin with, she couldn’t afford to ruin her chances even further with any reckless actions. Even Subaru herself had been holding herself back on account of this, but unlike Subaru, Emilia was just naturally a gentle person at heart. She wasn’t at all suited to battlefield such as this.

‘That just means I’ll have to make up for what she’s lacking, though. Still, it would be nice she could at least have enough confidence in herself to not back down instantly in a clash of personalities… But I guess her fear of being seen as the witch is just that strong.’

“That’s the princess for you, willful as usual.” Anastasia groaned. “Give me a break here, do we always have to move at her pace?”

“It is the will of the heavens that commoners should carry out my will. They need only dance upon my palm with joy. Continue, Marcos. Explain to my knight the means by which I shall ascend the throne.”

“It’s actually incredible how you can dress up wholesale delegation to that extent. Even I’ve got nothing left to say to that.” With a resigned shrug of her shoulders, Anastasia signaled her surrender.

‘Ha, that’s right! You can’t just walk all over her like you did with Emilia, can you? That’s a taste of your own medicine, fool! Get wrecked!’

The sheer schadenfreude Subaru was experiencing as she watched their exchange was incredible. Just as she had expected, Anastasia was absolutely no match for Priscilla when it came to a battle of wills.

‘I really do owe you one, Debra… But you know, since your mistress still owes me a debt she hasn’t paid up on, I’m just going to go ahead and call us even.’

Subaru then looked over at Emilia as she thought back to the conversation they had after Emilia found her in that alley,

‘See, Emilia-tan? I told you I was negotiating for your sake, that I would be able to call in a favor when the time came…’

It was pretty much pure luck that things turned out this way, but still. Luck in itself was accomplishment, as Priscilla proved.

That aside, with the situation successfully resolved, it was now time to return to the matter at hand—

Chapter Text

With the disturbance resolved, Marcos would go on to explain the role of the Dragon Tablet while also mentioning the various times its predictions saved the kingdom from disaster in the past. Finally, he got to the prophecy concerning the royal selection itself, stating that of the five candidates capable of serving as the Dragon Maiden, one was to be selected to lead the country and hence reestablish the covenant.

‘Finally, they’re only just now getting to the part about the fifth candidate, huh? Maybe Anastasia was right after all… Well, I kind of had no choice but to take Emilia’s side there, though.’

“I’d figured as much, but… Felt’s discovery hasn’t yet been made public, it would seem?” Subaru asked Reinhard, “I suppose that’s what this meeting’s all about, then?”

“There were some circumstances, you see. In addition, it was also somewhat difficult to prepare Felt-sama for her role in all of this.” Reinhard replied with a wry smile, “Of course, it is truly unfortunate that the proceedings had to be delayed even further. After all, it was our failure as the Royal Guard to locate all five candidates in a timely manner that allowed this situation to persist thus far in the first place.”

“Hm, in a country of about fifty million people, locating four of the five in just half a year’s time is pretty impressive as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think you guys have anything to be ashamed of.”

“Thank you, but it would have all been for naught had it not been for your noble efforts in the lower stratum. The kingdom would have lost two of its potential rulers on that day had it not been for your timely intervention; surely, it must have been fate itself that led you there.”

Reinhard’s expression brightened as he heaped praise upon Subaru. Subaru was of course more than happy to take it.

“That might be just a bit of an exaggeration, I think. Still, if it was for that reason that I could become Emilia’s knight, I can only be thankful.”

‘But damn… I guess he really is Felt’s knight after all. I suppose that should have been obvious, but I really didn’t want to believe it…’

Including Subaru, the four other knights — Well, Debra wasn’t really a knight per se, but still — standing with Reinhard were each here on behalf of their respective masters. That being the case, it stood to reason that he was also here representing a candidate of his own, which would be Felt.

While it was unfortunate that Subaru would have to give up on her plans to draw him into the Emilia camp, for the time being at least, she supposed it was only fair that Felt should be given a fair chance as well. That’s what Emilia would say, at least.

‘I don’t really know about giving your opponents a fair shot, though. Still, I suppose she could at least be somewhat useful as a spoiler candidate or something.’

It was too early to decide on whether Felt’s presence in the royal selection would be a positive or negative influence on the Emilia camp. Subaru figured that even with Reinhard’s support, her chances of winning would probably be even lower than Emilia’s. That being the case, her participation or lack thereof probably didn’t really matter all that much; Crusch and Priscilla were the ones Subaru was really worried about. Priscilla especially.

‘I imagine Felt’s not especially fond of me after what happened back in the slums, though… If she decides to go out of her way to be a problem for us, perhaps it really would be best to just have her drop out right away.’

While Subaru pondered such matters, Marcos concluded his explanation and apologized to Anastasia, who just brushed it off.

“Well, princess?” Anastasia addressed Priscilla, “Are you satisfied?”

“Hmm, I wonder. Debra, do you understand now?”

“Yep, sure do. Thanks for going out of your way for me; and thank you too, Kararagi girl.” Debra responded as she waved her arm.

“So it would seem.” Priscilla replied to Anastasia, who simply sighed in response.

“Well, if you’ve got more to say, make it quick.” Anastasia declared, boldly directing her gaze up at the council, “I don’t have time to play around here, I’ve got things that need doing. I’m sure the grandpas holding the country’s pursestrings would understand.”

‘Man, these guys really do just say whatever they want, huh.’

Emilia’s timid behavior only stood out all the more in the face of such audacity. The council didn’t even seem to mind that much either,

“Unfortunately, Anastasia-sama, despite your no doubt busy schedule, I must ask that you indulge these old bones for just a little longer.” Miklotov responded, “After all, today is a day that shall go down in history.”

Despite his initially casual tone, the way his voice suddenly deepened towards the end sent tremors through the room.

“A day that will go down in history, you say. I suppose the time has come then, old man?” Priscilla asked, to which Miklotov responded with a small nod.

“Knight Reinhard van Astrea! Forward!” Marcos’ commanding voice boomed across the room.

Reinhard then stepped forward to announce the completion of the Royal Guard’s mission, but Subaru’s attention was elsewhere. Her eyes were fixed squarely on the door, although to be more specific, it was the person on the other side that had caught her attention.

‘What the hell, she’s right outside… Don’t tell me she’s about to make a cool entrance or something. I guess Reinhard’s gotta do what he can to make his lady stand out, but man…’

As Subaru sharpened her senses, however, that wasn’t the only thing she noticed. There was also someone making their way through the tunnels beneath the castle. Perhaps it was inaccurate to use the word someone, it seemed more like some sort of gorilla.

‘Are they a demi-human or something? The giants were all wiped out last I heard… Maybe there were a few survivors?’

Subaru decided to keep this information to herself for now, not wanting to reveal her sensory abilities by reporting the intrusion.

‘They don’t seem especially powerful or dangerous, I can probably handle them myself if they try anything… And if something does go wrong, I can always just kill myself and do it over.’

“Bring her in.”

As Subaru tracked the intruder’s position, Reinhard’s command suddenly rang out through the room, in response to which the soldiers manning the door bowed and then pulled it open.

‘Well, there she is… She does kind of look like a princess all dolled up like that.’

Her appearance had changed drastically since Subaru last saw her. She now wore a fine yellow dress and high heels that seemed awfully hard to walk in, especially for a girl like her. Her once dull blonde hair now shone brilliantly, and her red eyes didn’t seem quite so fierce as before.

Reinhard then introduced her as Felt-sama, the woman he himself revered as queen as she gracefully walked up to him.

‘C’mon, what’s with the total change in character? Don’t tell me she’s about to turn into a real competitor too… Even if I try to torpedo her campaign right away by accusing her of stealing Emilia’s insignia, that would only be suicide for the Emilia camp.’

Indeed, even if Subaru could bring her down with such an accusation, Emilia herself would also go down right along with her for even allowing her insignia to be stolen in the first place.

‘I guess if Reinhard doesn’t say anything, I won’t either. Knights’ honor and all.’

With Felt now standing before him, Reinhard nodded with a smile and then bowed to her, “Thank you for gracing us with your presence, Felt-sama.”

Lifting her gaze to meet his, Felt called his name, “—Reinhard.”

“Yes?”

“— What the hell is going on here, you bastard?! You just dragged me here with no explanation!”

Felt’s leg launched itself towards Reinhard’s temple as she raised the hem of her dress. However, the knight casually caught her foot before it could reach its mark.

‘Ah, there it is. Looks like she hasn’t changed one bit after all, phew. Had me worried for a second there.’

Felt then proceeded to bicker with Reinhard for a little longer, ultimately asking him if he wasn’t at all embarrassed to have kidnapped a young girl as a knight, to which Reinhard responded that it was for the sake of the kingdom.

‘Well, she was a criminal at the end of the day, so it’s not like anyone can fault him for locking her up. Still, anything for the kingdom, huh?’

Subaru couldn’t help but wonder how far Reinhard would go if it was for the kingdom’s prosperity.

Her attention shifting from Reinhard, Felt turned around to face the shocked audience, who she clearly understood at a glance were of the upper class, “The hell’re you guys staring at? I’m not some circus freak on display here. But if that’s what you think, you might as well toss me a few bags of coins; you bastards look rich enough to spare a couple.”

With her eyes flitting around the room, her glare suddenly intensified when her eyes landed on Subaru. “… You again.”

“It’s been a while, Felt. I am honored that you remember me.” Subaru responded jokingly, presenting a calm exterior despite her increasing nervousness.

‘If she slips up and mentions anything about the insignia incident, or worse yet, if she does it on purpose to screw us over… I don’t think she’s the sort to go for a suicide play like that, though.’

“As if I’d ever forget about you!” Felt snapped as she walked over to Subaru, narrowing her eyes as she muttered, “Tch, so you were a knight after all? Of course, that’s just great…”

“You seem to be misunderstanding something here, Felt.” Subaru responded, subtly bracing herself just in case Felt decided she wanted a rematch, though she doubted even Felt would be quite so foolish as to attempt such a thing here, “I wasn’t actually a knight when we last met.”

A faint smile spread across her face as she continued, “It seems we’ve both advanced quite a bit since we last saw each other. That’s wonderful.”

“Huh? The hell’re you talking about? That bastard over there’s been keeping me prisoner these past two months — all because of you, by the way — and let me tell you, that’s the furthest thing from what I’d call ‘advancement’. If you really wanted to help me get ahead in life, you should have just let-“

Subaru’s eyes widened slightly as Felt very nearly slipped up, but the girl managed to catch herself at the last second.

‘Okay, I realize I did kind of screw you over there, but that entire situation was mostly your fault to begin with. I’m not about to accept any blame here.’

The two silently stared each other down, a deadlock only broken when Marcos called out to Felt, having decided that she had had enough time to reignite old friendships.

Felt looked like she wanted to argue, but one look at Marcos’ stone-like expression made her reconsider. Reluctantly approaching the platform as Marcos requested, she asked, “Well, what exactly do you guys want me to do here?”

With a quip about wanting her to behave more like a lady, Reinhard offered her an insignia and asked her to take it. Already looking displeased by his joke, Felt’s frown momentarily deepened even further at the sight of the insignia; however, her expression immediately relaxed when the gem embedded in the insignia started emitting a white glow in her hand.

“These things really are strange, huh. I’ve wondered ever since I first stole one, why do they glow like this?”

“Stole?”

Felt’s slip of her tongue caught Marcos’ attention (and almost gave Subaru a heart attack, which would have been convenient since it would have allowed her to reset and prevent this from happening in the first place), but Reinhard immediately changed the subject by explaining that the glow meant that the Dragon acknowledged Felt as worthy. Marcos seemed suspicious for a moment, but he ultimately decided to prioritize the matter at hand.

Turning around to face the council who had been watching in silence, Marcos placed a hand against his breastplate and respectfully announced that with Felt’s qualifications proven, all five candidates had now been gathered and the royal selection could thus begin in earnest.

Chapter Text

The proceedings were once again interrupted when a certain noble spoke up, expressing his distaste for the current lineup of candidates in a somewhat roundabout manner. Starting off by complimenting the Royal Guard for managing to locate all five so quickly, he then suggested that perhaps following the Dragon Tablet so blindly was putting the cart before the horse. That they had gotten too distracted by the candidates’ qualifications as Dragon Maidens, and thus neglected to examine their suitability as rulers. Though lacking the courage to speak themselves, many of the nobles surrounding him raised their voices in support.

‘Y’know, I’ve gotta agree with this guy. Even as the one who discovered Felt myself, I can’t say she’s especially suited to ascend the throne. I get the feeling he’s also talking about Emilia here, though, in which case I would of course have to vehemently disagree.’

The tension in the room rose rapidly as Marcos asked if the man was saying that the Royal Guard had made a mistake in their selection, that because they had devoted all of their efforts to simply finding eligible candidates, they now mistakenly believed that said candidates were worthy of swearing their fealty to. The man then responded, with a fair bit of hesitation, that while that wasn’t quite how he would put it, that was in essence what he was saying.

Emboldened by the support of his fellow nobles, the man did not back down even now, even daring to speak up in the face of the captain of the Royal Guard. His courage caused a shift in the room’s atmosphere, and the nobles slowly started airing their grievances one by one. It began with one noble stating that perhaps the candidates lacked the awareness of what it meant to be queen, followed by another declaring that no matter how they were dressed up, their characters revealed their true worth, with yet another arguing that it would be impossible to revere as the kingdom’s ruler those lacking in both education and grace.

Subaru also heard Roswaal’s familiar voice briefly cutting through the chaos, jokingly suggesting that perhaps having such vastly differing personalities competing against one another would only make the royal selection more interesting, though she was immediately shot down and told to remain silent.

‘Yikes, that’s how they treat the Court Mage around here? No respect whatsoever, huh… I guess she kind of brought it on herself with her behavior, though. Still, to speak to someone so powerful that way… These guys really are getting pretty carried away here.’

The nobles were mainly addressing Felt here, but the other candidates ended up getting caught in the crossfire too. Emilia’s expression in particular had faltered considerably, and while Subaru would have loved nothing more than to rush over and comfort her, this was neither the time nor the place. Besides, this was probably just the beginning of what she would have to endure as the royal selection progressed, so it was just something she would have to learn to deal with.

‘But even so… Are these people ever going to settle down? They just won’t shut up…’

It was ultimately Miklotov who restored order to the room, instantly calming the increasingly raucous nobles with but a single word, “Silence.”

He then continued by stating that despite Rickert’s somewhat rude behavior, he did understand where he was coming from. Deciding that it would be best to first examine the candidate’s background, he asked Reinhard to explain the details of how he found her.

‘So his name’s Rickert, huh? Come to think of it, that guy looks kind of familiar for some reason…’

That aside, Subaru was a little nervous about how Reinhard would approach this. It would be problematic for the Emilia camp too if he went into too much detail about what exactly occurred in the slums. Fortunately for her, her worries would prove unnecessary. Kneeling before the council, Reinhard deftly avoided the subject of the theft as he recounted the details of how he encountered Felt over a month ago in the lower stratum, in an area commonly referred to as the slums. As for the matter of the insignia, he simply stated that Felt had the opportunity to touch it due to certain circumstances, at which point a certain knight was able to confirm that she too possessed the qualifications to serve as the Dragon Maiden and graciously passed this information along to him.

‘I wasn’t yet a knight then, technically speaking… Still, he managed to dodge the subject quite well.’

Naturally, the revelation that Felt was in truth a street urchin from the slums shocked and enraged the nobles, with Rickert even asking Reinhard if he had lost his mind. Emphasizing how absurd it would be to put a street rat on the throne, he then suggested that perhaps the Astrea household had fallen from grace if this was what the current Sword Saint amounted to when Reinhard offered to response.

Turning to Miklotov, Rickert urged him to reconsider the selection process, stating that it wouldn’t do to just haphazardly pick out whomever they had on hand, that it would take more than just being selected by the Dragon Gem to be worthy of the throne, at which point Roswaal interrupted him.

“Would you not say you are getting a biiit too heated, Rickert-dono?”

With his soul ablaze, now emboldened to such an extent that he was even willing to openly confront the current head of the kingdom, Rickert directed a terribly hostile glare at Roswaal in response to her interruption.

“How frightening. A coward such as myself can do little more than wither under such a haaateful gaze.” Roswaal joked.

“Jesting at a time like… Lady Mathers, let me make it clear that you too are among those I take issue with. We have tolerated your outlandish behavior thus far out consideration for the kingdom’s state of emergency, but that is a courtesy I can no longer afford given the absurdities taking place before my very eyes. Even setting aside the Astreas’ attempt to put a street urchin on the throne, to think you would be so foolish as to nominate a half-devil—“

“—Rickert-dono, I must recommend that you amend your statement immediately.”

An intense pressure suddenly filled the room, turning even the overly excited Rickert pale. Roswaal, however, looked as jovial as ever, calmly explaining to Rickert that referring to half-elves as half-devils was a terrible practice, to say nothing of the fact that Emilia was presently a candidate to the throne and for Rickert to refer to her in such a manner made her question exactly who it was between them that had forgotten their place. This overwhelming pressure was something she had produced with but the slightest tilt of her head to indicate her displeasure.

‘Holy crap, she’s so cool.’

Even though Roswaal didn’t show it very often, moments like this really made it clear that she truly was the kingdom’s foremost magician. Amazingly, even though he was clearly having some difficulties, Rickert somehow managed to withstand her intimidation and continued,

“E-Even so, I do not believe I am wrong. I will continue to insist that merely possessing the qualifications to serve as the Dragon Maiden does not in itself make one a suitable ruler. Miklotov-sama!”

He then turned towards Miklotov once more, once again urging him to reconsider, stating that it would be far too reckless to proceed with the selection as things stood; however, he was almost immediately interrupted.

“— Knight Reinhard.”

Ignoring Rickert’s pleas, Miklotov called the name of the knight before him, “Are you perhaps suggesting that this girl is…?”

“I cannot be certain, and we have already lost the means by which to confirm it. —However, with this many signs, I would be hard-pressed to call it a coincidence.”

“What would you call it, then?”

“— I would call it fate.”

Witnessing this vague exchange, Rickert exploded once more, stating that it was nothing more than meaningless wordplay and that Reinhard had strayed from the path of a knight; however, he was interrupted before he could get much further, by none other than Miklotov himself.

“Only seeing what’s on the surface, you lose sight of what is truly important; your eyes seem to be failing you, Rickert-dono. Or is it simply that the fealty you swore to the royal family was little more than meaningless bluster?”

His sudden interruption left Rickert and indeed most of the room dumbfounded. A period of silence descended upon the room as all present attempted to decipher the meaning of his words; and before long, it would be Rickert himself who spoke up, having managed to pull himself together.

“T-That is a rather cruel thing to say, Miklotov-sama. To question my loyalty to the kingdom, to suggest that there is something I have failed to see…”

“Then, have a look. Is there nothing that comes to mind when you gaze upon Felt-sama?”

Miklotov spoke as if testing him, and in accordance with his instructions, Rickert directed his gaze at Felt once more, carefully examining her to find whatever it was that he had apparently missed,

“What comes to mind when I look at her, hm… She is still quite young. At such an age, she would have much to learn before she could hope to ascend the throne—?!“

Rickert suddenly cut himself off as his eyes widened, “Blonde hair and red eyes—?!” he exclaimed in disbelief.

Miklotov nodded in response, with Rickert going on to note that that particular combination of hair and eye color was the characteristic trait of the Lugnican royal family. However, he then objected to this line of thinking, stating that the entirety of the royal family had most certainly died out half a year ago, and that there was no room for error there.

It was at this point that Reinhard interrupted him, bringing up a certain incident that had occurred fourteen years ago, the mention of which shocked Rickert even further, “Knight Reinhard… Do you truly mean to say…?”

Reinhard then went on to explain that the castle was invaded by an unknown foe fourteen years ago, and that the king’s niece, the daughter of the king’s younger brother, Ford, had been kidnapped during this incident. The abductor was unfortunately allowed to escape, as a result of which the child’s whereabouts remained unknown ever since.

“Hm, I recall that that was the incident that led to the dissolution of the former Royal Guard, and the creation of the new one.” Miklotov noted, “I believe your family had some involvement as well…”

“I have obtained information I shouldn’t normally have been able to obtain. Make of that what you will.” Reinhard’s reply was exceedingly vague, yet Miklotov seemed to understand and simply nodded in response.

RIckert, however, displayed no such understanding. His temper flaring even further, he insisted that it would be far too absurd a coincidence for Reinhard to happen upon the princess who just so happened to be living in the slums, even going so far as to suggest that Reinhard may have simply dyed her hair and changed her eye color with magic, “I should certainly hope you haven’t done anything so foolish?”

“I swear it on my sword.”

Reinhard’s solemn reply stopped Rickert dead in his tracks. To offer up their sword was the ultimate concession for a knight.

‘Well, there was also that time I offered my sword to Priscilla for a really silly bet… Eh, it’s probably a much bigger deal for the Sword Saint to do so. That’s the Dragon Sword Reid, isn’t it?’

“… The entire royal family has already died out, and we longer have any means by which to confirm her lineage. Given that the supposed circumstances of her birth are mere conjecture on your part, I do not imagine she will be so easily accepted by the kingdom at large.”

“That is only natural. However, I still believe that Felt-sama is the one most suited to ascend the throne. Regardless of whether or not her blood holds any significance.”

Hearing this, Rickert could only sigh in resignation, simply noting that it was unusual for the Sword Saint of all people to be so enthusiastic about this. Subaru, meanwhile, had her own thoughts on the matter,

‘What the hell, are you serious?! She’s a long lost princess?! If that’s true, isn’t this whole royal selection thing a farce to begin with? She’s the rightful ruler, isn’t she? Assuming Reinhard’s story is true, of course.’

But if Felt really was a descendant of the former royal bloodline, that would then raise the question of why Dragon Tablet had even issued such a prophecy to begin with.

‘Why even bother with this five candidates stuff? The covenant should still carry on through Felt, right? Maybe it’s because the bloodline is still in extreme danger of dying out, since she’s the last one?’

Either way, the story of the kidnapped princess, even if dubious, made Felt a much more formidable foe than Subaru had initially anticipated.

‘Man, we really can’t catch a break here. I assumed Felt at least would be an easy one to beat, but Emilia’s already back in dead last again… But I’ve gotta say, the Dragon sure knows how to pick ‘em.’

Every single woman the Dragon had selected was extraordinary in some way. There was no questioning that. Subaru couldn’t help but grin as her competitive spirit flared up.

While she pondered such matters, Rickert seemed to have come to terms with something.

“Even if the Dragon has acknowledged her as a potential maiden, it remains a fact that she hails from the slums; not to mention the possibility that she has the blood of the now lost royal family flowing through her. The hardships awaiting her down this path are beyond imagination.” Turning towards Felt, he posed the question, “Are you prepared to face them?”

“Huh? The hell’re you talking about, old man? I never said anything about wanting to become queen or whatever, don’t go making stuff up on your own.”

Chapter Text

Immediately after her shocking declaration that left even Rickert speechless, Felt started ranting about how she wanted no part of this, stating that Reinhard had dragged her out of the slums against her will and wouldn’t let her go no matter what, and that he would he hide her usual clothes and force her to wear these frilly ones, and so on. However, Reinhard showed no signs of backing down, simply smiling wryly as Felt yelled at him.

“— You just keep going on and on about the most trivial matters.”

Priscilla cut in on their argument, looking terribly bored. She then pointed out that whatever the circumstances, the five necessary to commence the selection had been gathered; therefore, they need only begin and the unworthy would be culled in due time. After all, since it was obvious that she would be the last one standing, it mattered little whether or not also-rans had the requisite qualifications to ascend the throne.

While Subaru agreed for the most part, though she of course had a different idea as to who would come out on top, this declaration really seemed to rub Felt the wrong way, causing her to start threatening Priscilla like some two-bit thug,

“I thought from the moment I first saw you that you looked like you had no idea what was going on around you, but are you seriously picking a fight in a dress like that? I’m pretty famous for my fast kicks, you know?”

‘Wow, you’re really reminding me of my three buddies from before… Also, this did not go well for you the last time you tried it, and I’m nothing compared to Priscilla. Or is it perhaps possible that you’ve improved dramatically over the past month?’

As far as Subaru was concerned, Felt was just one step above a common thug. Her speed was all that set her apart from the thug trio. She did consider the possibility that Felt’s combat ability had skyrocketed somehow, but she seriously doubted the girl could ever compare to Priscilla.

‘Not even with Reinhard’s training, which I doubt she’d even accept to begin with. The only possibility would be if she unlocked some sort of royal bloodline power up…’

“How arrogant. Just who do you think I am?”

“Hah, you think I care—“

As Felt attempted to laugh off Priscilla’s prideful response, her expression suddenly shifted into one of bewilderment as she stumbled backward.

‘Woah, her powers are insane! Just like that?’

“Princess, that’s—“ Debra immediately seemed to realize something when she saw Felt’s apparent dizziness. The room came alive the moment she exclaimed this, with several key players moving at once.

Reinhard appeared next to Felt in an instant, catching her collapsing body. And before him was Debra, forming a barrier between the Sword Saint and her mistress who seemed as sure of herself as ever. As the two of them faced each other down, Anastasia immediately starting backing away, making her lack of combat ability apparent as she groaned, “Seriously, give me a break here.”

Meanwhile, Crusch had lowered her stance, with her hand approaching her hip as if reaching for an invisible sword; but Marcos held his hand out before her, signaling her to stop before she could make any moves.

And finally there was Emilia, who had immediately wrapped her hands in a pale glow to start healing Felt—

“Overflowing yang magic— What are you thinking, using it like this?!”

‘Oh no, oh no, oh no.’

Emilia turned around to chide Priscilla as her healing glow enveloped Felt. This wasn’t a decision Subaru could approve of in the slightest.

‘While I admire your heroic spirit, Emilia-tan, she really isn’t someone you want to confront! Puck, pass the damn message along! Don’t let her do this! Actually, can you even hear me from this range?!’

Subaru knew by instinct that Priscilla was the apex predator here, and Emilia was little more than prey in her path. But there was little Subaru could do about this, she couldn’t just run up to Emilia and tell her to stop; that would make her look terribly weak, and showing such weakness would completely destroy all of their plans.

‘Actually, would this be a good time to bring out Puck, come to think of it? No, it’s still too early… But I suppose we might as well do it if she decides to attack. That would probably be the ideal outcome, even.’

Of course, the threat of violence wasn’t actually what Subaru was worried about here. Emilia could deal with that easily enough, and it would even play into their plans to show off Puck’s power in front of the council. The situation devolving into a brawl would be far preferable to the alternative, which would be Priscilla cutting Emilia down with her words—

“I simply shared with her a tiny portion of the blessing with which I was born. For her to collapse from so little only proves how little she is worth.”

“Don’t you know you’re supposed to apologize when you do something bad? Do you not even understand that much without being scolded?”

‘Emilia-tan! What the hell are you doing?!’

Subaru could hardly even imagine the sheer recklessness it would take to ask Priscilla of all people to apologize in such a manner, and Emilia had done it without a second thought, thereby bringing about her own doom.

Priscilla’s expression momentarily turned blank in response to Emilia’s words, but it then immediately shifted into one of overwhelming glee, as if she could barely contain herself,

“Aah, how amusing. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed myself to this extent. You have my praise.”

“What an unpleasant one you are. What are you…”

“You apologize when you do something bad. If that is what you believe, then surely you ought to apologize for being born, silver-haired half-elf.”

‘Oh man, there it is.’

Emilia’s posture immediately crumbled, her resolute expression vanishing at it was replaced by a look of pain. With her eyes and voice wavering, she replied, “I-I have nothing to do with the witch…”

“Your excuses are meaningless. You are the very image of the world’s greatest taboo, the mere sight of you inspires untold terror in all who look upon you. Is that not why you rely on that rag to hide your true appearance?”

‘Good lord, she’s absolutely ruthless! And Emilia can’t even refute her, it’s all true!’

This was exactly what Subaru had been worried about. With her face turning pale, Emilia was unable to even offer any sort of response, all she could do was shake her head weakly.

‘This is just bad… Perhaps even unsalvageable, should I just reset and do it over?’

“Can we leave it at that, princess?” Debra spoke up, “It’s gonna be a problem for me too if you make too many enemies, seriously.”

Looking at Reinhard once more, she continued, “The Sword Saint especially, having to face him is just a bad joke. Let’s just apologize and get it over with, okay?”

“It is unacceptable for my attendant of all people to speak such pathetic words. What about the Sword Saint, that title at best only means he is the strongest in this country. Do something about him.”

“I won’t even last a minute.”

Accurately judging the gap between them, Debra immediately surrendered. Reinhard and Emilia seemed shocked by this, while Priscilla’s reaction was simply one of exasperation. It seemed she had successfully defused the situation once more.

‘Well, I guess that’s just what it takes to be Priscilla’s attendant. She’d probably be long dead by now if she wasn’t so good at smoothing things over…’

It was at this point that Miklotov spoke up, “— Have you all calmed down?”

His dignified voice drew all eyes to him as he examined the attendees before him. With his eyes landing on Felt who was still being healed by Emilia, he called out to the groaning girl,

“Felt-sama, I trust you are alright?”

“… Yeah, somehow. Damn it, if only they hadn’t taken my knife, I swear I woulda…”

Responding to Miklotov’s concern in such a manner, Felt started throwing more threats Priscilla’s way. In her current state, they were clearly nothing more than the words of a sore loser; she really was acting like a common thug here.

Reinhard shot Emilia a look of gratitude, which she accepted with a nod, though she was obviously still perturbed by Priscilla’s words. Crusch dropped her combat-ready stance in response to which Marcos relaxed as well. Priscilla was the only one whose demeanor remained unchanged, not showing even the slightest hint of regret or reflection even now.

Watching all of this, Miklotov made an announcement: Returning to the subject at hand, the council of wise men would now discuss the matter of the royal selection. He also added that the candidates would be included in said discussion, in response to which the five candidates who had cautiously separated from one another rushed to gather before him. Anastasia in particular had to make a mad dash to make it due to the sheer distance she had retreated.

As for their knights, Debra and Reinhard had returned to their positions as well, with Reinhard standing to Subaru’s left and Debra to her right.

‘Well, this is awkward…’

Subaru was basically a living wall between them. This wasn’t the time to be thinking such shallow thoughts, however, for the royal selection was finally about to commence for real… Or so she thought.

With the royal selection now set to begin, a new problem came to light; namely, the fact that the prophecy never actually specified how exactly the kingdom’s next ruler was to be selected once the five candidates were gathered. Miklotov even joked that they could just have the five camps duke it out here for the throne, a suggestion that was promptly rejected since it was already obvious who would come out on top in such a scenario.

‘Hold on, do they seriously not even have a method in mind? I thought for sure it would have to be some sort of long and complicated process… If it’s the sort of thing that they can just settle right here, isn’t Emilia pretty much finished already? She’s got no chance whatsoever.’

Subaru was hoping to at least get a few extra months to turn things around for Emilia, but at this rate…

‘Well, I guess we just wasted a whole lot of time and effort for no reason whatsoever. They might as well just crown Crusch right away if that’s how it’s going to be.’

The half a year the Royal Guard spent scouring the entire kingdom to locate the candidates would have also been a complete waste since the winning candidate was already with them right from the very start. With Miklotov seeking his fellow council members’ opinions as to how they should proceed, Subaru could only hope that they would at least decide to give all five candidates some time to actually show their stuff before coming to a decision.

Fortunately, her prayers were answered. The council ultimately decided to start with a declaration of beliefs. The idea was to have each candidate introduce themselves and explain their views and positions, as well as what they would wish to do should they win the throne.

‘Alright, here we go. Finally.’

The first candidate to speak would of course be the Duchess Crusch Karsten—

Chapter Text

‘Hm, strange. That huge fellow isn’t in the tunnels anymore. Did he get captured or something?’

Now that the situation had calmed down and Subaru was able to focus properly, Subaru realized that the presence she had detected beneath the castle was no longer there.

‘Guess they have pretty decent security around here after all. That’s the least you’d expect for such an important day.’

Putting such thoughts out of her mind, Subaru focused on Crusch as she approached the stage with Felix at her side. She was the clear favorite to win here, and barring Priscilla’s bizarre luck, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that she would ascend the throne.

The people around her seemed to agree as well, she picked up numerous whispers praising the duchess. This was only natural; after all, she was the head of the Karsten family which had faithfully served the royal family since the kingdom’s inception. Furthermore, she had already proven her skill both on the battlefield and in politics at quite a young age, not to mention her unique blessing that made her practically unbeatable in negotiations.

‘In facf, I believe she’s only twenty even now? And she was 17 when she successfully repelled the Great Rabbit and took over for her father… Younger than me, huh.’

Priscilla’s domineering presence had somewhat overshadowed Crusch’s more reserved personality thus far, at least as far as Subaru was concerned, but now that the focus was on her, it was plain to see just how formidable an opponent she was. The royal selection had barely even begun and she already held such a massive advantage that it would be nearly impossible to catch up.

However, that massive advantage was something she would soon crumple up and throw away by her own hand; by declaring that contrary to the hopes of almost everyone in the room and indeed even most of the kingdom, she would not simply allow things to continue on as they had thus far, that she would not simply keep running things as the former royal family had. This in itself caused a wave of confusion through spread through the room, which then transformed into an uproar when she revealed that she intended to sever the kingdom’s covenant with the Dragon.

‘Unbelievable! To think she’d have the courage to so boldly proclaim such a thing here!’

Naturally, her bold statement was one that caused much argument. After all, it was only thanks to the Dragon that the kingdom had even survived to this day; the Dragon had graciously saved the kingdom from enemy nations, famine, disease, and so on time and time again. Crusch responded by stating that she would never deny that the covenant with the Dragon had been a huge boon to the nation, nor would she try to claim that her own household hadn’t benefitted from it. However, that was exactly why she intended to put a stop to it. Relying excessively upon another leads to stagnation which in turn leads to corruption, which would ultimately bring about the nation’s demise, she declared; if the kingdom could not survive without the dragon’s protection, perhaps it would be better for it to be destroyed.

‘That’s a pretty extreme point of view there… Not that I can’t understand the feeling of wanting to be independent. Given that nobody even knows what the Dragon even wants, and apparently only the Dragon Maiden is even capable of communicating with it, perhaps it is a little risky to keep relying on its protection. However, you also run the risk of angering it by severing the covenant, and that would be really bad too; probably much worse, even…’

When an outraged member of the council shot up from his seat and asked if she intended to destroy the country, Crusch responded that no, what she meant was that if the kingdom could not survive without the Dragon, then the kingdom itself ought to become the Dragon. Her proposal was for the queen, the nobles, and the people to shoulder the burden that they had offloaded onto the Dragon thus far. No matter what disasters awaited in the future, she wished to live in a way that did not bring shame upon her soul.

‘That’s really admirable, of course… And also far too idealistic, I think.’

She then concluded by stating that she had held such doubts about the kingdom’s way of doing things for a long time now, and that this royal selection must have been a chance granted by fate itself for her to finally change the way things are done. Miklotov responded by saying that she would be free to do as she pleased should she win the throne, after all, that was the choice of the ruler carrying the kingdom on their shoulders.

With a few extra words from Felix extolling her master’s virtues, the pair withdrew and made way for the next master and servant.

‘That was a real shocker to start off with… Probably a good thing for the Emilia faction, though. Crusch must have lost a great deal of support just now.’

On the other hand, those that still backed her would only be even more fervent in their support. After all, she had just proven the strength of her conviction; she was willing to remain true to her ideals regardless of how unpopular they may be.

‘I imagine this next one’s going to be just as crazy… Let’s see what you have to say for yourself, Priscilla.’

The next pair presenting themselves before the council were Priscilla and Debra.

“Hmph, finally. Looks like it’s Hyper Me time.” Priscilla said as Marcos signaled them to step forward.

‘What the hell, hyper? What have you been teaching her, Debra?’

“Hm, the vulgar gazes of the masses have gathered upon my gorgeous self quite quickly.” Priscilla noted, throwing in another English word, ‘gorgeous’.

Debra looked awfully satisfied as she walked over to join Priscilla, congratulating her on her usage of such words. Marcos then cleared this throat and asked Priscilla to begin,

“How bothersome, but I suppose I may as well play along.” Priscilla responded, “I need only show those old bones up there my brilliance and hence have them choose me. A simple matter.”

Her audacious declaration sent waves through the room, causing one person in particular to angrily mutter, “— The Bloody Bride’s getting carried away…”

The atmosphere instantly froze over as everyone waited to see how Priscilla would react. However, she simply responded with the utmost boredom, saying that such tactless insults were the height of tedium and that she was already so used to the envy of vulgar commoners that such scorn wouldn’t even serve as a lullaby at this point.

Miklotov stepped in before things could go south, politely asking Priscilla to introduce herself and her attendant, which she responded to by stating that she might as well make it quick; after all, she wouldn’t want to waste what little time the decrepit old men up on the platform had left.

‘Ouch, absolutely brutal. She really doesn’t hold back, huh?’

With this display of ‘magnanimity’, she then proceeded to introduce herself, “I shall now give my name. Engrave it into your souls such that you shan’t ever forget to the end of your lives. My name is Priscilla— Priscilla… What was it now?”

Like a scene out of a comedy, her grand introduction immediately fell apart when she forgot her own name.

‘I hear she’s been married seven or eight times already, so I guess it makes sense… And she’s only a year or two older than me, it would seem.’

“Debra, I am in distress. Aid me at once.”

“Wait, I wasn’t expecting you to stumble right out the gate either, so I’m in pretty rough shape too, you know? My heart was already pounding ‘cause I’d have to introduce myself right after you, you can’t do this to me.”

“I care not for the state of your heart. You must prioritize my will above all else, now proceed.”

“You’re so damned selfish! But anyway, I don’t want to think this is the case, but… Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that your current surname is Barielle?”

“Ah, that’s what it was.”

Turning to face the council, Priscilla continued, “I am Priscilla Barielle, your next ruler. You shall all bow before me.”

‘I guess that entire exchange really was the perfect introduction, it pretty much encapsulates everything about her…’

Hearing the name Barielle seemed to remind Miklotov of something as his eyes briefly scanned the room once more. Suggesting that Priscilla must have been related to someone called Leip Barielle, he noted that the man in question wasn’t present here.

“That lecherous old man suffered grievous injuries due to an unforeseen accident several months ago. He never regained consciousness, and ended up dying just recently.” Priscilla responded, composed as ever.

Shocked and saddened by the sudden news of an acquaintance’s death, Miklotov then asked about how Priscilla was related to him, to which she replied by stating that she was technically his widow, although since he had never laid a finger on her, it was a marriage in name only in the truest sense.

Debra interjected by suggesting that perhaps it was a bit too cruel to put it that way, to which Priscilla responded by saying that there was no point in dressing up the truth, and that Leip was ultimately just a fool with ambitions far beyond his capabilities who ended up dying because he bit off more than he could chew.

Even Subaru couldn’t help but feel a little pity for this man she hadn’t even heard of until just now, to be dressed down in such a manner by your widow was a sad thing indeed.

Priscilla would then continue, stating that if the man’s life had any significance whatsoever, it was in the fact that everything he had accumulated over his lifetime had now been passed down to her in the absence of any other inheritors, meaning the Barielle household was now hers. Miklotov accepted this, acknowledging her position as the head of the Barielle estate. He then directed the flow of the conversation over to her knight, Debra, noting her unusual appearance and her helmet in particular, which wasn’t one used by the knights of Lugnica.

Debra then revealed that the helmet was something she had picked up in Vollachia, and that she quite liked it since it was durable and long-lasting. Hearing that she was from Vollachia, Miklotov asked if she was perhaps not actually a member of the Royal Guard, to which she replied by stating that she wasn’t suited to such high collar positions and that she was nothing more than a wandering mercenary.

Her attitude seemed to anger the knights greatly, with one asking her where she thought she was; and another following up by stating that even if it was too much to expect knightly behavior from a barbarian, her current attitude wasn’t something they could accept; and then yet another knight declared that it was terribly rude to hide her face while standing before the council, and the fact that she was using a Vollachian helmet do so went beyond the limits of disrespect.

“Hey, chill out, don’t go barking at me like that. You’ll break my maidenly heart, you know.” Debra responded, “But well, it’s not like I don’t understand where you’re coming from. Hiding my face in front of a bunch of big shots, I guess it’s only natural that you guys would find it suspicious.”

“You would not have caught my eye if you were not so suspicious, Debra.”

“That doesn’t make me happy at all. That aside, I’d like you guys to forgive this transgression; I really would prefer to keep my face hidden, after all…”

Saying this, Debra slowly brought her hand up to her chin, gently pushing her helmet upward until the bottom half of her face was visible. Even though she hadn’t revealed very much at all, a wave of shock spread through the room as she turned around like a model, making sure everyone got a good look—

Chapter Text

‘Oof, that’s really rough.’

Even the small portion of her jaw that Debra had revealed was completely covered in gruesome cuts and burn marks. There were horrendous to a degree that made even Subaru’s scars look tame.

‘Thank goodness I was able to protect my face at least… I couldn’t imagine having to hide it permanently.’

Fortunately, Subaru’s uniform was able to cover up all of her scars, so that wasn’t something she had to worry about right now.

Having demonstrated the reason she hid her face, Debra asked for the audience’s understanding, to which Marcos responded by apologizing for his subordinates’ rude behavior. He then apologized once more before asking his next question, apparently a rather sensitive one: Whether she might have been a sword slave in the past.

Debra confirmed this, stating that she was a veteran of over ten years, while also noting that she was impressed he was able to guess at her past just from the helmet and the scars. This was apparently an especially hidden practice in the already secretive empire.

‘Sword slave, huh… From the sound of it, she was something like a gladiator?’

Suddenly realizing that she hadn’t even given her name yet, she then introduced herself as an escapee from Vollachia turned wandering mercenary, currently in Priscilla’s service, who went by the name of Debra.

The discussion then turned to the matter of how the two of them met, with the answer being that Priscilla had held a certain competition and Debra was the only competitor who caught her eye despite only having placed in the top four. She also gave Debra a good smack on the back as she revealed this, with such force that the woman was brought to her knees.

As for her reasoning, she simply stated that it was will of the heavens that always endeavored to make her shine more brilliantly, just as it was the will of the heavens that she should ascend the throne.

‘Well, she does have an absurd amount of yang magic flowing through her; she was able to knock Felt out by simply unleashing a sliver of it… And she mentioned something about a blessing too? Maybe there really is something to this whole chosen by the heavens business.’

Of course, Subaru didn’t want to believe that she was actually unbeatable.

With their relationship explained, Miklotov then questioned how Priscilla even learned of her qualifications as a Dragon Maiden to begin with, since it wasn’t a knight that discovered her. It was Marcos who spoke up here, apologizing for the interruption before going on to explain that around the time of the royal family’s death, Leip had apparently learned of the prophecy before anyone else since he was the one in charge of handling the Dragon Tablet at the time; however, he had neglected to reveal the prophecy until several days later. Hearing this, Miklotov surmised that Leip had immediately rushed out to find a candidate himself, but ironically met an unfortunate end not long after successfully doing so.

‘Overly ambitious indeed. So that was why he married her.’

Priscilla then threw some more insults his way, stating that he was an utterly boring man to the very end, and that his death was the only bit of humor that could be extracted from him. But that aside, she continued, such details were irrelevant. What Leip did or did not do was of little consequence, since she was standing there alone. Proclaiming that all other details were mere trivialities, she declared that they all need only revere her as queen without hesitation.

When asked by Debra to explain the benefit of doing so, Priscilla simply stated that those who followed her would become winners. Since the royal selection was a competition, the ultimately goal was clearly victory. That being the case, she was obviously the one to choose. The correct choice was for all to bow before her.

“Because you were chosen by the heavens…?”

“Of course. Everything that happens in this world is for my benefit.”

That was why she was the one most suited to throne, she said. No, she was the only one even capable of ascending the throne. There was nothing more to say, all they needed to do was gaze upon her brilliance in awe, she declared. Debra then followed up by explaining that despite the way she put it, everything she said was true. Those that chose to follow her would most certainly be rewarded, as long as they didn’t spoil her mood.

“Well, take your time. It’s just a matter of when you fall in line. I think it’d be best to submit to her right away, though.”

Having said their piece, the pair returned to their spot besides the other candidates. Strangely, as Priscilla lined up with the others, she suddenly looked over at Subaru and winked at her.

‘Huh? What’s that about?’

Having followed Priscilla’s gaze, Emilia seemed surprised to find Subaru at the end of it, though she immediately looked away before Subaru could do anything.

‘Wait, hold on! I’m being framed here! Puck, tell her I’m innocent! I’ve got absolutely nothing to do with that woman whatsoever!’

Since they had only made eye contact for an instant, Subaru couldn’t really tell what she was feeling. She could only hope that Emilia hadn’t developed any unfortunate misunderstandings.

That aside, it was now Anastasia and Julius’ turn to speak. The atmosphere in the room was tense as the pair stepped forward. This was only natural, given how shocking the prior two speeches were, the attendees couldn’t help but be anxious about what she had to say.

Turning around to examine the audience, Anastasia suddenly clapped twice, causing the tense atmosphere to waver as confusion and surprise spread through the audience.

“I’m not quite so strong-willed as the last two, so it’s gonna be a bit problematic for me if you expect that much of me. Rather, I’m here to emphasize my comparatively mild personality.” she said with a smile.

‘Comparatively mild personality, huh…’

In the face of her gentle smile, many in the audience seemed rather embarrassed to have been so anxious. Looking satisfied by this reaction, Anastasia continued, “Alright. I, Anastasia Hoshin, shall now speak if you wouldn’t mind. Since I’m an outsider, please do overlook a bit of ignorance on my part, yeah?”

Joining her hands with a cute tilt of her head, she had easily swayed the atmosphere in the room. The audience now seemed much more receptive to whatever she had to say.

‘What a cunning woman… She manipulates people with such ease. Still, I suppose that’s the least you’d expect from Kararagi’s greatest trader.’

Julius followed up by reassuring her that he would do his best to support her as her knight.

‘Right, speaking of which, it’ll be me and Emilia up there next… I’ll have to do my best too.’

With their opening statements out of the way, Miklotov decided to start off by asking by asking about her peculiar accent; suggesting that she might be from Kararagi, which she confirmed while also adding that she was born in the lowest stratum of the free trade zone.

‘The Kararagi City States… I’d heard it was quite capitalistic in nature, but they’ve even got a free trade zone, huh.’

And if her story about being born into the bottom stratum — probably the equivalent of Lugnica’s slums — was true, the fact that she now ran the most dominant economic force in the country was very impressive indeed. She was a rags to riches story in the truest sense.

Having learned the circumstances of her birth, Miklotov then inquired as to how she ended up Lugnica.

“I may have been born in the lowest stratum, but I’ve got a proper mansion in the city these days, you know.”

She then explained that she had opened up a bunch of stores in several other cities, which was also the reason she had visited Lugnica. Julius then added that she was the president of the Hoshin Trading Company, a company that had been growing at an extremely rapid pace thanks to her leadership. Given the company’s extreme success in Kararagi, there was talk of expanding into Lugnica which ultimately created the opportunity for Anastasia and Julius to meet.

‘She’s running a globalist enterprise, huh… Might be hard to get into Vollachia, though. Perhaps even impossible.’

Subaru spaced out briefly as Julius explained how the Hoshin Trading Company came to be, her focus drifting to her own debut with Emilia.

‘Probably only a few minutes left… Let’s hope it goes well.’

She couldn’t quite make out Emilia’s expression from where she was standing, but it was plain to see that she was rather nervous about this too.

However, Subaru’s attention was immediately drawn back to Anastasia’s introduction when Miklotov brought up Hoshin, the man who founded Kararagi, stating that Anastasia’s story seemed quite similar to his.

‘That’s the guy from the fairy tales! The one said to hail from beyond the Great Waterfall… So she named herself after him, huh?’

Anastasia confirmed this, explaining that she had always admired Hoshin, so she decided to take his name when she became a merchant. Miklotov seemed impressed that she had the guts to name herself after someone so great, someone held in high regard in all four great nations even now, but Julius responded by stating that it would be no exaggeration to say that Anastasia’s skill as a merchant was on par with Hoshin’s, and that someone as incapable as himself could only stew in envy before her.

Noting that Anastasia must have been truly extraordinary indeed for even the Finest of Knights to speak so highly of her, Miklotov’s gaze suddenly sharpened as he asked the question on everyone’s minds: Given that she was from Kararagi, what was it exactly that Anastasia intended to do once she ascended Lugnica’s throne?

‘Yeah, makes sense that they’d be hesitant to cede the throne to a foreigner, especially at a time like this… Unfortunately, Emilia probably has it much worse in that regard.’

They would probably much sooner hand the country over to someone from Kararagi than ever consider letting a half-elf claim it.

Anastasia sighed, “Aah, I guess you would be worried about that after all.”

She went on answer that while she didn’t have such noble ideals as Crusch nor did she believe she was fated to win the throne like Priscilla, she did have a definite motivation of her own: Her greed.

Delving into the depths of her avarice, she explained that she always wanted more, that her desire was far more ravenous than most. The more she obtained, the more she wanted. It was exactly this nature of hers that enabled her to rise from the bottom to the top, but even now that she was at the top, she still wasn’t satisfied. That was why she now wanted a country of her own, to see if perhaps that could be what finally brought her a sense of satisfaction.

Miklotov asked what would become of the country if it failed to bring her that sense of satisfaction, to which Anastasia responded that they didn’t need to worry about her discarding them or anything; after all, she considered every single thing she owned a tool she could use to further satisfy her greed. If the country was unable to satisfy her, she would simply use it to the fullest to reach even greater heights.

Turning around to face the audience, she smiled sweetly as she spoke, “So you can feel free to relax and become mine, okay?”

‘That’s one hell of a sales pitch…’

Now that Anastasia had said all that she wished to, it was Julius’ turn. He started by claiming that what Anastasia had called her greed could also be interpreted as her ambition and compassion; furthermore, he said, since she also had the ability to make tough decisions without being swayed by emotions, she would be the ideal ruler.

He then stated that Anastasia’s skill as a merchant could alleviate Lugnica’s financial troubles, a statement that caused a stir in the room. It seemed to be taboo to speak of such matters, and resulted in a minor argument with a member of the council who was unhappy that Julius had brought it up in public. However, Julius responded that there was no point in keeping it hidden since all present were well aware of the reality of the situation. Furthermore, such secrecy would only serve to further exacerbate the already long-lasting problem that had plagued the kingdom for decades now.

Julius continued by saying that while the Juukulius family would not be greatly affected in his generation, he could not overlook the fact that the royal family he was serving was in dire financial straits. It was for this reason that he had come into contact with Anastasia Hoshin, Kararagi’s foremost trader, in the hopes of breathing some new life into the kingdom. The fact that he then discovered that she was qualified to assume the throne, he said, could only be fate.

He then declared that if the heavens had chosen anyone, it would have to be Anastasia. He finally concluded by swearing upon his loyalty to the royal family and the kingdom that there was no one more suited to rule than Anastasia, after which he thanked the audience for their time.

‘Alright, here we go.’

As Anastasia and Julius returned to their positions, Marcos summoned the next candidate—

“Now, for the next candidate— Emilia-sama.”

Chapter Text

“Did you see that? She moves her limbs on the same side when she walks.”

“Could it be some sort of secret art passed down among the elves?”

“What devilish features. I just can’t take my eyes off her for some reason…”

Such were the whispers Subaru overheard as she approached the council with Emilia. Unfortunately, the girl had gotten so nervous that she had even forgotten how to walk properly; stepping forward with her right foot, she swung her right arm forward instead of her left. She caught on to her awkward gait rather quickly and corrected it right away, but it had already attracted the Royal Guard’s attention.

‘Anyone who actually knows her would realize in an instant she’s just nervous, but… Also, how come no one’s talking about me, huh? Am I that insignificant compared to her?’

All eyes in the room were focused so squarely on Emilia that barely anyone was even paying Subaru any mind.

‘And it’s not even the good kind of attention she’s getting… Except maybe that third guy, ‘for some reason’, ha.’

Subaru was well aware that people were extremely wary of Emilia, and for the Royal Guard, it could even be said that it was their job to be overly cautious. Still, for a mere nervous tic to trigger such wild conspiracy theories…

Watching the two of them as they lined up before him, Marcos briefly directed a glare at the gossiping knights behind them before addressing Emilia,

“Please proceed, Emilia-sama.”

“Esteemed members of the council, it is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Emilia. I have no surname, please just call me Emilia.”

With her anxiety seeming to vanish into the either, Emilia spoke with a level of clarity and dignity that easily matched if not surpassed the other candidates. Her bell-like voice reverberated throughout the room and struck the hearts of all present.

‘Yeah, that’s how you do it.’

“My name is Natsuki Subaru, currently serving as Emilia-sama’s personal knight. We thank you for your time.”

“Hm, that uniform… It differs slightly from that of the Royal Guard, does it not?” Miklotov noted, eyeing her unusual cape.

“That is correct. As you have no doubt surmised, I am not actually a member of the Royal Guard, or any other division of the kingdom’s knights. I serve Emilia alone, and no one else.”

‘Tch, we’ve barely even started and I’ve already dropped the -sama from her name… Whatever, let’s just roll with it.’

Since Subaru had spent most of her time either training with Nox or pursuing more practical knowledge, she hadn’t had much time left to spare for knightly etiquette, an area of study she had regrettably neglected.

“Can you elaborate on how this came to be? What was it that led to such an arrangement?”

“There is not much to it, I am afraid. I simply helped to resolve a minor disturbance in the Mathers domain about a month ago, and the Marchioness graciously offered me a knighthood as a reward.”

“The Court Mage, hmm…” Miklotov briefly glanced at Roswaal in the audience before continuing, “Then, it was by her order that you became Emilia-sama’s knight?”

“No, that wasn’t quite how it happened. It was entirely by my own free will that I became her knight; in fact, my efforts during the aforementioned disturbance were in part motivated by a desire to prove myself worthy of this position.”

“She demonstrated both ability and loyalty beyond comparison in her adept handling of the situation, even going so far as to put her life on the line to defend the domain when she had no obligation to do so. It was clear then that there could be no finer choice, and the decision was made.” Emilia added.

“Very well, I believe I understand.” Miklotov responded, closing his eyes for a moment in thought.

“Now then, let us delve into the matter of Emilia-sama’s background.” he said, his eyes suddenly sharpening, “Please explain, in detail.”

‘You’re a pretty tough old man, huh. I can see why he’s the one leading the country in the absence of a ruler…’

“Very well. I should clarify, however, that it was not myself, but rather the Court Mage Roswaal L Mathers who first discovered her. What I am about to relay is merely a second-hand account.”

‘Alright, this is it… Let’s just hope this works; I’m counting on you, Puck.’

Their entire plan hinged on how effective Puck was as a threat. Subaru had heard the legends, but as far she saw personally he couldn’t even beat Elsa, so she couldn’t help but have some doubts.

‘But then again, I suppose that means Elsa was just that good. After all, even Reinhard himself failed to take her down…’

With the council’s assent, Subaru put her plan into action. She found it a little surprising that they wouldn’t just have Emilia speak for herself, but this worked better anyway.

“I assume you are all familiar with the Great Elior Forest?” she began. She hadn’t raised her voice at all, but her tone had clearly shifted; her authoritative voice easily captured the attention of every single attendee.

The mention of the forest’s name caused some murmurs to spread though the room.

‘Good, they’ve at least heard of it…’

“The eternally frozen lands… I believe it was known as an area of ever-encroaching cold, with the freezing winds consuming all around it, steadily expanding the frozen domain year by year…” Miklotov said.

“That is correct. The forest mysteriously froze over about one hundred years ago, and that cold has continued to spread ever since.” Subaru closed her eyes as she spoke in a solemn tone, “The forest is considered to be a domain of absolute death completely beyond the reach of ordinary people. A barrier of cold forbids all entry, and those who do enter do not return alive.”

“Due its position in the Mathers domain, Lady Mathers had been concerned that it would only be a few more years until the frost reached her fertile lands, thereby causing a devastating famine. It was for this reason that she undertook an exceedingly dangerous mission: Exploration of the forest, so as to discover the source of the cold.” Subaru continued, with the room’s atmosphere growing tenser by the second as she spoke, reaching a fever pitch by the end.

“It was while she was exploring the forest that Lady Mathers discovered a young girl living deep within it… That girl was Emilia-sama.” Subaru finished, her shocking declaration causing an uproar in the room, though Marcos immediately put a stop to it.

“What was Emilia-sama doing in such a place?” Miklotov asked, echoing the thoughts of the incredulous audience.

“It is said that a colony of elves once lived there long ago, before the forest froze over…” Subaru began, catching a twinge of pain in Emilia’s expression out of the corner of her eye.

‘She never did tell me the full story, and she always seems to get upset when I ask, so I can’t really press the matter…’

Subaru respected Emilia’s privacy, of course, but she just couldn’t help her curiosity. Perhaps this was a little hypocritical of her, since she herself always dodged the subject of her past.

‘That’s really not something I want to be reminded of at all…’

“As you have no doubt discerned from her striking features, from her silver hair that shines like moonlight itself to her gorgeous amethyst eyes that entrance all who look into them; her enchanting voice, lovely skin, and even those perfectly shaped elven ears of hers… Emilia too shares their elven blood.”

“But only half. The other half is human— Meaning she is a half-elf, isn’t that right?”

‘About time, I figured his patience was about to run out.’

Bordeaux had finally had enough, he looked like was about to pop a blood vessel as he shot out of his chair and addressed the other council members,

“The mere sight of her nauseates me. To welcome a silver-haired half-devil into the throne room is the height of absurdity, why do you not realize that?”

“Bordeaux-dono, you go too far.” Miklotov chided him, but Bordeaux wasn’t about to let anyone stop him,

“Miklotov-dono, do you not understand?! That half-devil is the very image of the ‘Witch of Envy’, as has been described for generations!”

Descending from the platform, he briskly walked over to Emilia and started yelling in her face,

“The incarnation of ruin that once consumed half the world, leaving all living things in a state of complete chaos and despair! I won’t let you say you don’t know of it!”

Emilia offered no reaction whatsoever to his words, simply looking forward with a blank expression, but Bordeaux continued unabated,

“Your appearance, your lineage, do you have the slightest idea how much terror they inspire in this world?! And you wish to claim the throne?! Unthinkable! Our neighboring nations and even our own citizens would think us mad, and that would be the least of our problems! To say nothing of the fact that this the Dragon Kingdom of Lugnica — The witch’s resting place!”

“I understand and sympathize with your point of view, but I really must recommend that you calm down, sir.” Subaru spoke up, interrupting his rant.

Bordeaux’s eyes instantly snapped over to her when he heard this, “You dare?! An upstart knight such as yourself thinks she can command a member of the council?!”

“Please allow me to humbly apologize for my indiscretion. However, I must once again recommend that you calm down at once, for your own sake.” Subaru paused momentarily, narrowing her eyes before she continued, “—Your life is at stake here, you see.”

“What?!”

“If you keep that up, you’ll make him angry.” Subaru replied, glancing at Emilia.

“It’s a bit too late to worry about that, Subaru. I’m already plenty angry as it is.” An androgynous voice echoed through the room as a chilling wind suddenly burst forth from Emilia.

“That’s—?!” Bordeaux exclaimed as a tiny gray cat took form within the ferocious wind.

‘Okay, this is it! Our make or break moment!’

Subaru was confident that Puck could take on anyone in this room, with the exception of Reinhard. Their plan would immediately fall apart if he decided to intervene.

‘He’s definitely pretty fast, but… Puck could probably wipe out almost everyone here in the time it would take him to cover the distance between them.’

Thinking back to the speed Reinhard had displayed when Priscilla knocked Felt out, Subaru felt fairly confident that the threat of mutual destruction would keep him at bay.

‘Sorry, buddy, but I’m really gonna need you to stay put. We’ll settle this quickly.’

It was an absurd plan, not much different from a terrorist act. Still, it was the best choice they had. If Emiila was to be treated fairly, she had to demonstrate her power here. And there was no better way to do that than by threatening the council of wise men in front of the entire Royal Guard, many of whom were currently quaking in fear as they beheld the presence before them.

‘Excellent, it’s having the desired effect. Even Miklotov looks perturbed.’

The torrential winds surrounding Puck were so fierce that most of the knights present here probably wouldn’t be able to approach him even if they wanted to, not that anyone seemed brave or foolish enough to attempt it.

“You lowly humans really have been mouthing off to your heart’s content in front of my daughter.” Puck said, his serious tone and grim expression a stark departure from his usual nonchalance.

Chapter Text

With his voice wavering, Miklotov muttered,

“… The Beast of the End, from the permafrost…”

”I may have been called that at one point or another.” Puck noted, “It seems you’ve done your homework, boy.”

“To be considered a boy at this age is an invaluable experience indeed.” Miklotov joked, managing to maintain his composure even in the face of such pressure.

‘He’s already managed to collect himself, huh… This guy really is made of tougher stuff.’

But the rest of the attendees were still in a state of panic, so it wasn’t as if all was lost.

“But what exactly you call me means little to me. I am simply a being that has lived for eons, you humans came up with those fanciful titles of your own accord.”

“If you would allow it, Great Spirit-sama, shall I explain your sole priority at this moment?” Subaru asked with a bow, to which Puck assented with a glance.

“On that day seven years ago, a day many of you may know as ‘The Day the Heavens and the Earth Turned Red’” Subaru began, speaking of a day the entirety of the Great Elior Forest was said to have turned red, along with the sky above it, as the result of a clash between two immensely powerful beings, “Which is to say, the day the Great Spirit-sama defeated the Arbiter Melakuera and thus claimed the title of the Great Spirit of Fire, he also became Emilia-sama’s contract spirit.”

“Impossible!” Bordeaux interjected, “For a Great Spirit to place themselves in service of another, and moreover a half-devil at that?!”

“It would be no exaggeration to say that Emilia-sama is his sole reason for existing, all he does is for her sake. Naturally, that means he can get quite protective. Even Lady Mathers barely escaped with her life when she first encountered him.” Subaru added, directing her gaze at Roswaal.

“Aah, what an exhiiilarating day that was,” Roswaal said as she wrapped her arms around herself and trembled, “Our battle raged for half a day, and dramaaaatically altered the region’s terraaain. I had never been pushed so far in my liiife.”

“It had been quite a while since I had last encountered a human, so perhaps I welcomed her a little too harshly.” Puck responded nonchalantly.

“And imagine my surpriiise when the ferocious Great Spirit-sama was stopped by the command of a single girl.” Roswaal continued, “When I reached my limit and all seemed lost, Emilia-sama graaaciously ordered her spirit to spare my life.”

“It is only thanks to my lovely daughter’s benevolence that Roswaal lives to this day… And that goes for the rest of you too. Her restraint is the only reason I haven’t already turned all of you into ice sculptures, so please do keep that in mind.”

Hearing that even the Court Mage herself was no match for the Great Spirit before them, the audience seemed to be on the verge of absolute despair, just about ready to submit completely, but—

“Hohoho!”

Miklotov’s laughter echoed through the room, cutting through the suffocating atmosphere.

‘Come on, man… You’ve gotta be kidding me.’

“A rather interesting scheme, I must admit. That personality of yours is quite similar to Roswaal’s.” Miklotov addressed Subaru, “You truly made this old man’s heart dance.”

“Damn it, Roswaal! You gave it away instantly!” With their plan already exposed, Subaru yelled into the audience with no hesitation.

“Ah, how terrible… But I baaarely even said anything.” Roswaal responded with a slight pout.

“That just goes to show how bad your acting was! Everyone here already knows what kind of person you are! Act more natural, damn it!”

Indeed, the standards for Roswaal were much higher here, since unlike Subaru and Puck who were still mysterious elements, almost every single attendee already knew what Roswaal was normally like. This was truly unfortunate, since she was easily the worst actor of the three of them.

“I told you not to overdo it, Roswaal.” Puck added, “You really got carried away there.”

“W-wait! What in the world are you people talking about?!” Bordeaux interrupted, still having failed to catch on to what was going on here.

“Ah, that whole exchange was basically the introduction speech we prepared. The format was a little different from that of the other camps, but it got the point across quite well, I think.” Subaru explained, “The general idea was to demonstrate the power Emilia was capable of wielding through her contract with Puck, so you’d think twice about messing with her.”

“An act.. An act, you say?! All of that was but a charade of your planning?! Just where do you think you are?!”

“Yeah, it’s only natural that you’d be angry. I’m super sorry, that was my bad. — But everything I said was true, you know.”

The way Puck’s half-hearted apology transitioned into a threat caused Bordeaux to freeze up,

“The fact that you aren’t ice sculptures right now is entirely due to Lia’s kindness, don’t forget that.”

With these words, Puck dematerialized and returned to his crystal as Emilia addressed the council once more, “I would first like to apologize to the members of the council for resorting to such deception.”

“No, no. That we failed to see through it immediately was the result of our own shortcomings. That incident amounted to little more than an old man behaving recklessly and thus being forced to rely on a Great Spirit’s kindness. Furthermore, given that this is a matter concerning the royal selection, you would be remiss not to use every method you have available to make your case.” Miklotov responded.

“Every method they have available…? For that to result in such open threats, she truly is a half-devil. Did you not hear what that spirit just said? He threatened to freeze us all if we do not comply with her demands. To make such a statement here of all places, before the country’s leaders— They can only be considered the words of an usurper.”

“— That is correct, I am threatening you.”

Emilia immediately confirmed his accusation, not even attempting to deny it, which left him speechless.

“I shall introduce myself once more, esteemed members of the council. My name is Emilia. I am a silver-haired half-elf who has spent most of her days in the permafrost of the Great Elior Forest, and is accompanied by the Great Spirit of Fire, Puck. Looking at me, the people of a nearby settlement would call me this—“

Speaking in a dignified tone, Emilia paused momentarily.

“She who lives in the frozen forest, the ‘Witch of Frost’.”

‘Man, that sounds cool. Maybe not so much in this world, though.’

Her declaration sent tremors through the room. The fact that a person with her appearance had so brazenly declared themselves a witch left all but one person completely unable to respond, the exception of course being Miklotov,

“To demonstrate your power and then state your demands, that is very much like a witch indeed. —Now then, what is it that the Witch of Frost wishes to accomplish by threatening us?”

“I have but one demand. —To be treated fairly.”

“Fairly…” Miklotov repeated under his breath.

“Yes,” Emilia responded with a nod, “I cannot change the fact that I was born a half-elf, nor the fact that my appearance resembles that of the detested witch. I am aware that this causes many to view me with prejudice. However, I absolutely will not allow myself to be robbed of every opportunity for such a reason.”

“In other words, you wish to participate in this royal selection as a candidate on equal terms?”

“Fairness has always been terribly important to me for all my life. Hence, that is my sole demand. To ask for more would be unjust.”

With Emilia having said all that she needed to, Subaru stepped forward and stood by her side, “It would seem that many in this room are in the habit of engaging in idle gossip, and from what I have overheard, I can only say that the so-called ‘suspicions’ you cast upon my lady are little more than paranoid delusions.”

Subaru’s stern tone and blunt rhetoric came as a shock to the audience and murmurs were already starting to spread through the crowd as she spoke,

“Whatever anxieties you might have about witches or silver-haired half-elves, cast them aside and look at Emilia-sama for who she is. She is the furthest thing from the imagined terror you detest so much, I know of no one with a nobler or fairer heart. For all her life, she has been tormented by the unjust prejudice of the ignorant; however, this has not tainted her generous spirit in the slightest. Despite shouldering the hatred of the world, despite how easy it would be to return that hate in kind, she has only ever wished the best for everyone, always helping out wherever she can, silently bearing their resentment, hoping that perhaps one day the world would not look at her so coldly.”

Subaru did not waver despite the clear signs of disapproval from the audience, continuing as confidently as ever,

“Now, I am well aware that prejudice isn’t something that just vanishes overnight. I could stand here all day extolling her virtues, but I doubt that will even make the slightest difference to the more bullheaded among you. That’s just fine— That’s why I intend to put her on the throne, where her magnanimous spirit can shine most brightly, where she can prove to the nation, and even the world, that she is not the witch they fear so. Of course, this isn’t just for Emilia’s sake, nor is it merely for half-elves or even demi-humans as a whole. Emilia-sama’s boundless compassion extends to all, regardless of race or social class, I am certain there is not a single person she would overlook. That is why I believe with all my heart that she is the one most suited to ascend the throne.”

Of course, Subaru herself was aware more than anyone that Emilia still had a long way to go before she was actually ready to ascend the throne, and she couldn’t help but feel that perhaps that honest and upright personality of hers really wasn’t suited to politics. But then again, from what she heard of the former royal family, they too were extremely generous people who happened to be somewhat lacking in political acumen. Maybe they weren’t the best example to take after, though.

“Naturally, I also understand that it takes more than just optimism and generosity to make a ruler. However, for whatever she may lack in comparison to the other candidates, she most certainly does not fall short in terms of effort. She always puts her heart and soul into correcting her shortcomings, and it is this earnest effort that she hopes can win her the throne. If even her best efforts prove insufficient, however, that will be that. Emilia-sama is not the sort of person who would ever resort to such insidious measures as using her contracted spirit to usurp the throne should things not go her way.”

Pausing briefly, Subaru turned to face Bordeaux.

“—Hence, I believe it would only be right to repay this sincerity with a fair chance at the throne. Bordeaux-sama.”

“My opinion has not and will not change. Whatever her intentions, it remains a fact that her appearance is reminiscent of the Witch of Envy, and that shall most certainly bring misfortune to the kingdom’s citizens. That she is at a disadvantage in this selection still goes without saying.” He began. Emilia looked somewhat discouraged by this, but the fact that he had calmed down to this extent was an achievement in itself. Besides, Subaru could tell that there was a ‘however’ coming.

“However, even if the way she is viewed cannot be changed, the fact that she chose to seek fairness despite possessing the power to force her will upon us is worthy of respect. For that reason, Emilia-sama—” Kneeling before Emilia, Bordeaux continued, “Please allow me to humbly apologize for my rudeness.”

‘Wow, he’s actually kneeling… Guess he’s better at putting his pride aside than I am. Well, at least Emilia’s happy.’

Emilia’s dazzling smile even entranced Bordeaux momentarily, though he quickly got a hold of himself and returned to his seat. Confirming with the council that neither of them had anything left to say, they returned to their positions.

‘Hm, there were some problems along the way, but that went pretty well all things considered… And it seems Felt doesn’t intend to participate, so we should be last ones.’

Chapter Text

As Subaru and Emilia walked away from the platform, the doors were opened once more and a soldier entered to report something to Marcos.

“You were amazing back there, Emilia-tan. I was seriously falling in love all over again.” Subaru cheerfully whispered to girl beside her.

“It kind of feels like you did most of the talking, though… I don’t know if I was able to make much of a case for myself.” Emilia replied, not quite as cheerfully.

“We both said exactly what we needed to, so there’s no point making that sort of comparison. Besides, I’m your knight, so I’m basically like an extension of you anyway. And also…” Subaru paused briefly, leaning closer with a grin, “Emilia-tan’s cute voice is for me alone to hear, so I’d have gotten jealous if you blessed their ears more than necessary.”

“Dummy.” Emilia replied with a smile, her expression having lightened.

Responding with a smile of her own, Subaru also got a good look at the soldier as he passed them; she couldn’t help but wonder what he had deemed so important that it was worth interrupting the proceedings.

‘Hmm, that guy’s probably here to report that they’ve caught whoever it was that was sneaking around under the castle. Is that really something you’d need to get the captain involved in, though? They could have just thrown the guy in jail for a bit and reported it after the meeting.’

Having received the soldier’s report, Marcos seemed conflicted. He reluctantly apologized to the council and left the room with the soldier to resolve whatever the issue was. It seemed that the meeting couldn’t proceed with Marcos gone, so they would just have to stand around waiting until he returned.

Subaru lined up with her fellow knights as she watched them leave, and she noticed that Julius was giving her a strange look. His eyes almost seemed to be glazed over, as if he was in deep thought, or had something he wanted to say.

“What’s the matter, Julius? Got something to say to me?”

Even Subaru herself was a little surprised she could address him so casually given how awkward she felt around the guy just yesterday. Now that she’d spoken before an entire audience full of the kingdom’s most important people, though, speaking to Julius alone just didn’t feel like a big deal anymore.

“Ah, no, it’s just… I found it a little interesting is all.” Julius responded vaguely, “It must have taken immense courage to carry out such a plan.”

“It really did, it would be no exaggeration to say I went up there prepared to die; not that I really wanted to, of course.” Subaru replied, then turning towards Reinhard, “The one I was really worried about was Reinhard. Thanks for not interfering, buddy.” she said, directing the conversation towards him as she approached him.

“I was certain neither you nor Emilia-sama would ever resort to unjust tactics, so I wasn’t especially worried.” Reinhard responded, his voice and expression as refreshing and genial as ever, “It seems quite like you to come up with such a plan, Subaru.”

“Setting Emilia aside, it sounds like you’ve got an awfully high opinion of me, even though we’re barely even met.”

‘Is this also the result of a blessing, I wonder? How many does he have, anyway?’

“I had heard a little from Emilia-sama about your actions in the capital, after I regrettably failed to capture or execute Elsa. The way you virtuously put your life on the line to help a stranger was of course worthy admiration, not to mention the fact that you continually made the ideal decisions at every turn to resolve the situation as smoothly as possible.”

‘Hm, I did do pretty well there come to think of it. I didn’t even know I could rely on this power of mine back then…’

“You also successfully discovered Felt-sama, for which I must thank you. Finally, the way you were able to support Emilia-sama in her time of need just now only further reinforced that opinion. That is exactly how a knight should be, I think.”

“That’s a hell of a thing to hear from the man known as the knight among knights.” Subaru responded, raising an eyebrow.

While Subaru certainly had a rather high opinion of herself, she definitely wouldn’t say she was what a knight ought to be like. Besides, it wasn’t like she really even wanted to be a knight, the only reason she even took the position in the first place was to support Emilia.

“I am afraid my actual capabilities fall well short of what that title would imply. I am quite confident in my skill with the sword, since I have never encountered anyone capable of defeating me; however, this world is not so simple that one can solve everything through combat ability alone. There are a number of other aspects that are crucial for any knight, and considering them as a whole, I cannot match up the likes of Julius or Felix.”

“I can’t help but feel that you’re underrating yourself a little there…”

“It is a fair evaluation, I think. There are a number of things I cannot do, and I admire those who are capable of what I am not. That includes you, Subaru.”

It was always great to have a handsome guy sincerely look her in the eye and tell her she was awesome, it was an experience Subaru was quite fond of. However, since the man presently speaking to her was far more than just a ‘handsome guy’, even Subaru couldn’t help but get a little flustered.

“Careful now, you’re going to end up going down my route at this rate.” she joked.

Subaru was confident that were she in a dating sim, her route would definitely have the toughest clear conditions.

‘I’d probably be the main heroine, and my route would be the game’s true ending…’

“I am unfamiliar with your use of that term, but I would not mind if it’s with you.” Reinhard responded with no hesitation, his expression unchanged.

“You really should be more careful saying that sort of thing to a young maiden,” Subaru said with a giggle, “There’s no telling how many broken hearts you’ll leave in your wake if you keep that up.”

It was at this point that Marcos returned, with a few soldiers following behind him. They were escorting a huge old man restrained by chains.

‘That must be the guy I sensed below the castle a while ago… They’re not about to have us witness a public execution, right?’

But try as she might, it was difficult to imagine any other reason they would interrupt such an important meeting just to bring some random criminal in here.

‘Reinhard does look pretty surprised to see this guy… Too surprised for it to be any random old dude, I think.’

Miklotov inquired as to who the old man was, to which Marcos responded by explaining that he seemed to have been caught attempting to sneak into the castle. Many in the audience were just as confused as Subaru as to why Marcos had brought him here, since he could have easily been dealt with elsewhere.

“—Rom-ji?”

‘Ah, that’s how it is.’

“— You know this man, Felt-sama?” Marcos asked.

“You’re pretty shameless, huh? It’s because you already know the answer to that question that you brought him here, isn’t that right?”

“I apologize for sounding as if I was testing you. This man mentioned your name when he was caught, and—”

“Like I care. Just release him already.”

“— Unfortunately, I cannot comply.”

The tension between Felt and Marcos shot up dramatically the moment he said this. The girl’s glare suggested that it wouldn’t be long before she snapped.

Reinhard attempted to mediate by suggesting that the captain ought to elaborate further, but Marcos immediately silenced him, stating that while he understood that Reinhard wished to help her since he had offered her his sword, that in itself meant nothing until the girl herself accepted said sword.

Marcos then turned to Felt and explained that by declaring that she had no intention of participating in the royal selection, she had forfeited the right to command the knights of the kingdom.

‘Wait a minute! Is this whole thing a plan to get her to participate?!’

The argument continued a little longer before it was interrupted by Rom himself,

“Who cares about any of that?! Hurry up and save me!”

He then started groveling in a rather unsightly manner, reminding her of all he had done for her and demanding that she repay her debts by saving him here.

“—This is bad.” Reinhard muttered, seemingly having realized something.

‘Does he know something? If this guy is who I think he is, I guess it’s possible that Reinhard might have captured him back then…’

Before Reinhard could make a move, however, he was kept in check by Priscilla, “Don’t move, Reinhard. Do not even think about doing anything strange here.”

Reinhard turned towards her with an unsettled expression, to which she responded by deepening the crafty smile she’d hidden behind her fan,

“That will not do, Reinhard. That desperate expression of yours almost suggests that you want to shut that old man up before he says something inconvenient.”

Hearing this, Reinhard could only withdraw with his shoulders slumped.

‘What the hell, she outplayed Reinhard that easily? Crusch is the only candidate she hasn’t yet destroyed, right?’

Felt, Anastasia, and Emilia had all been taken down a peg by Priscilla. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that even Reinhard was no match for her in a battle of wits.

Observing their interaction, Subaru suddenly realized what was happening here,

‘Seriously? How many layers of reverse psychology are we on right now? So the knights want her to participate and this Rom dude doesn’t, and they’re both trying to use his presence to advance their respective agendas…’

Rom was clearly putting on an act here so as to make Felt abandon him. That must have been what Reinhard was trying to stop. Subaru wondered just how close those two were, would Felt really participate just to save this old guy?

Though Felt initially pretended to fall for his trick, this turned out to merely be a prank. She made fun of Marcos when he moved to take Rom away and then declared that she would take part in the royal selection after all.

Using her position to have Rom freed, she had Reinhard break his chains.

“Well? Was all of that part of your plan?” she asked.

“Not at all. That was the guidance of fate itself.”

“Tch, fate again? Are you a slave to fate or something?”

“No. — I am but a servant of justice.”

‘That’s really cool and also really corny.’

It probably only sounded cool because he was the Sword Saint, it was difficult to imagine anyone else saying such a thing unironically.

‘I wonder if Julius would…’

“Well, that ends today. You’re my servant from now on. I’m going to use you for all you’ve got, so prepare yourself.”

“As you wish, my master.”

“What a boring guy…”

With this, Felt and Reinhard presented themselves before the council as the final master and servant. Felt’s introduction was of course just as outrageous as the other candidates’, perhaps even more so. She gave an exceedingly self-indulgent speech about hating knights and nobles and whatnot, stating that she’d tear this kingdom down to let some fresh air in and so on.

Miklotov commented that she was rather harsh and asked Reinhard what he thought of all of this, to which Reinhard responded that while Felt’s words were unfortunately still in the realm of fantasy, it was his duty to support her as best he could so that one day her words would reach everyone.

‘Well, I guess that’s that. It took a while, but we’ve got all five.’

After a number of digressions, the royal selection was finally set to begin.

 

Chapter Text

With all five candidates having declared their ideologies, Miklotov then explained the process by which they would select the kingdom’s next ruler. The royal selection would take place over the course of three years, concluding a month before the ceremony to reestablish the covenant with the Dragon. He also explained that the selection would take into account the collective will of the entire kingdom, and that for the next three years, the candidates would each have to do all they could in their own domains to benefit the kingdom.

‘Three years, huh… That’s a lot of time.’

While Subaru didn’t like to think about home, she did sometimes wonder if she would ever find a way back. If she was still here in three years’ time…

‘No, it’s not like I plan to ever leave Emilia’s side, so that’s not an idea even worth considering. If I do go end up going back, it would only be after I discover a way to freely travel between both worlds.’

Of course, finally meeting Satella properly would be a great step towards that, she thought.

‘That aside… The collective will of the entire kingdom, huh. Do they actually have democracy around here, or is that just a fancy way of saying all the nobles?’

Subaru didn’t know which would be better for the Emilia camp. Perhaps it would be easier to only convince the nobles, considering their much smaller numbers. On the other hand, they could also prove much more stubborn than the general populace.

Either way, now that Miklotov had explained the basic rules, the meeting had for the most part concluded. While everyone else left, it was decided that the candidates would move to a conference room to discuss the finer details of how they would compete for the throne. As for the candidates’ knights, they were free to do as they pleased while they waited.

‘Looks like Debra’s going to the meeting with Priscilla, so I could probably join Emilia if I wanted to… Doesn’t seem like the other three will be accompanying their masters, though.’

Subaru felt rather uneasy about leaving Emilia to face this alone. This meeting with the other candidates would surely be an important one, since they would be laying down the ground rules for they would compete.

‘They’ll probably all agree on the basic stuff like not resorting to assassinations and the like, but… Will she be able to stand up for herself if there’s something she doesn’t like, I wonder? Well, Roswaal’s gonna be with her so it’s probably fine.’

Subaru figured that Roswaal would most likely just handle everything on Emilia’s behalf anyway, so there was probably no need to worry. Besides, there was something else she really wanted to do right now.

“Yo, Felix.” she called out to Felix who was currently talking to Reinhard about what they would be doing while they waited, “Can I talk to you in private for a bit?” she asked, shooting Reinhard an apologetic glance as she did.

“You know I always have time for you, Subaru-chan.” Felix responded with a wink. The pair then exchanged a few words with Reinhard after which they set off, “So, where are we headed?” Felix asked as she followed behind Subaru.

“To find a free waiting room. Since we’ve got some time to kill anyway, I was hoping to get an early start on the whole healing process.”

“Hmm… Well, I suppose I might as well.” Felix responded nonchalantly, “This isn’t going to hurt one bit, so just relax, okay?”

“I wasn’t even worried about that to begin with, but now that you’ve said that… Well, regardless, I figure I’ll probably fine in the hands of the finest healer in the kingdom.”

Subaru hadn’t even considered the concept of healing magic ever hurting, but if Felix went out of her way to reassure her, perhaps that was a thing that could happen somehow. Or knowing her personality, it was just a bad joke to put Subaru on edge.

“Yes, exactly! I’m glad you’re aware of the privilege being bestowed upon you! I’ve always got my schedule swamped with an endless waiting list of patients, and it isn’t often that one gets to skip ahead in line like you are.” Felix said, cheerfully skipping ahead of Subaru and turning around to face her, effortlessly walking backwards down the hallway.

“I’m grateful, of course. I’m certain Emilia must have compensated you handsomely for the opportunity.” Subaru responded, subtly making it clear that it wasn’t as if Felix was doing her a huge favor here since she was indeed getting paid for her time.

‘But really, though, just what did Emilia offer her? She wouldn’t tell me at all and I doubt Felix would be more forthcoming…’

“I only hope that you don’t get carried away now that you have a tender young maiden all to yourself.” Subaru joked.

“Well, it definitely looks like your body got tenderized like a slab of meat, but I don’t think there’s very much tender about your personality if you’re the kind of the person who’d go and sustain such injuries in the first place.” Felix said with a smirk, as nonchalant as ever.

Subaru was a little shocked that Felix had so casually unleashed such a ferocious riposte.

‘I’m not about to let anyone call me unladylike, though.’

“That’s not a very nice thing to say, Ferris.” Subaru responded, her tone slightly colder as she emphasized the healer’s birth name.

“Ouch, she’s a fighter.” Felix said as she put a hand to her heart in feigned agony, “Sorry, sorry, just wanted to crack a little joke is all. That aside, it isn’t often that people come to me for cosmetic reasons, you know. Are you sure you really want to get rid of all of those scars? Aren’t they supposed to be a mark of honor for a warrior or something?”

“Maybe they would be for someone else, but as far as I’m concerned, they’re just a mark of failure. They just mean I wasn’t good enough to resolve the situation without getting injured.”

As far as Subaru was concerned, the true mark of honor would be successfully getting through deadly challenges without sustaining a single injury. How could getting scarred horribly possibly be more impressive than that?

“Hm, I guess I’ve gotta agree with you on that one; I don’t really think there’s anything particularly pleasant about scars either. I’d rather avoid them if at all possible. It’s nice to see that you’ve got some sense at least, I just can’t understand those battle-crazed maniacs like Wil-ji. But you know, haven’t you considered the idea of taking advantage of them to have Emilia-sama fawn all over you all day long?”

“Emilia already adores me so it’s not like I even need these scars to accomplish that. Also, I don’t want anyone hanging out with me out of pity. And finally, these things are just straight up grotesque and I don’t want my fine features marred by anything ugly. That’s the main reason I want to be rid of them.”

Subaru had never really thought that scars looked cool, even on guys. Naturally, as a girl, they were completely out of the question as far as aesthetics were concerned.

“Alright, princess. Just leave it to me! I’ll be sure to take care of your gate and your injuries too while I’m at it, just as Emilia-sama requested!” Felix proclaimed as the pair walked into an empty waiting room where Felix directed Subaru to sit on the bed as she snuggled up behind her.

“Is your heart beating faster?” Felix asked as she leaned against Subaru’s back, placing her chin on her shoulder as she coquettishly whispered into her ear.

“Well, a little. Is this part a necessary medical procedure or just what you call good bedside manner?” Subaru responded, tilting her head away slightly.

“That depends on which answer you’d prefer.” Felix replied, pressing against Subaru’s back with even more of her weight as she began the procedure.

‘Hmm, I see… So this is what it feels like to be healed by the best… I don’t really have much to compare it to, since I was unconscious most of the other times I got healed… Well, it’s a little different from Emilia’s healing magic at least.’

Felix’s glowing hands squeezed Subaru’s shoulders and she could feel the warmth they produced coursing through her body.

“Ah, is that a gray hair? Looks like you’re under a lot of stress too, Subaru-chan.” Felix commented as she worked.

“You’re joking, right?! There’s no way I’m actually going gray at this age, no matter how stressed I am!”

As far as Subaru was concerned, this was no laughing matter. If she had to start dyeing her hair as a teenager…

‘Or maybe I could just get some cool silver hair to match with Emilia. That might be nice.’

Felix simply giggled, neither confirming nor denying that she was joking.

‘That really is a terrible personality you’ve got there…’

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

“You really are pretty good, huh…” Subaru noted as she felt Felix work, “I can seriously feel the gap between us right now, I can barely even use water magic at all…”

“That’s pretty audacious of you, comparing yourself to the best in the world. That’s just how I like you, though.”

“No, it’s just… I never really had a good idea of what the ceiling for healing magic was like. It’s pretty easy to understand the extent of a person’s combat ability or destructive power, but healing magic isn’t something you can really get until you’ve experienced it yourself, you know?”

“Hmm…” Felix ignored Subaru’s words with a hum, “Alright, we’re just about done here. Should be another four or five sessions to get you back to perfect condition.”

“That’s great, thanks.” Subaru responded before narrowing her eyes, “By the way, I couldn’t help but notice that that was an awful lot of mana you were pouring into me…”

“Of course. It’s only natural that top class healing would require a huge amount of mana, after all.”

“Come on, you really think I’m falling for that?”

“I was hoping you would, but I guess the fact that you haven’t means it wasn’t working after all.” Felix responded as she shut an eye and stuck her tongue out in mock-guilt, “Guess I’ve been caught.”

As for what ‘wasn’t working’, it was Felix’s attempt to make Subaru more pliable to her suggestions by leaving a large amount of her mana in her. By accepting another person’s mana into one’s body, one would naturally become more open to that person.

Felix then followed up with a question, “That was awfully gutsy of you, though. You actually waited until I was finished even though you noticed?”

“Let’s just say I have my ways of mitigating that effect.”

“Hmm, I thought I felt a little interference… So you’re a spirit arts user too, huh?”

‘Tch, I was hoping to hide that… But I guess there’s no way she wouldn’t notice, being the greatest healer in the world and all that.’

Indeed, it was thanks to Nox that Subaru was able to maintain a stable state of mind despite Felix’s attempts to brainwash her.

“Well, anyway… Just consider all that excess mana a present from me to you, yeah?” Felix joked without a hint of guilt.

“That’s not a present I’m especially fond of, so let’s make it a one time thing… And just so you don’t get any funny ideas, I’m going to be accompanied by a pretty decent water magic user when I visit the Karsten residence, and she’s going to be sitting in on our healing sessions too. She’s going to be really upset if you try anything, you know.”

Felix threw her hands up in surrender, “Alright, alright, I get it. That was my bad, I’m not gonna do it again, okay?”

“I would hope not, for both Emilia and Crusch’s sake… Wouldn’t want to ruin their relationship over something like this.”

Of course, it wasn’t as if Subaru really blamed Felix for this, nor did she hold a grudge over it. Subaru herself was planning to use her sound magic to spy on the Crusch camp while she was there, so they were probably even. They were both just doing whatever they could to help their respective masters.

“But you know, it wasn’t as if I was trying to do anything bad…” Felix purred seductively, her eyes half-lidded, “You were just so cute I couldn’t resist…”

“That’s not something I want to hear even as a joke. Just admit you were doing it for Crusch, damn it.”

As Subaru got off the bed to leave the room, she noticed that her body already felt much lighter, and her movements came much easier.

‘I feel just about perfect already… Am I really going to need four or five more sessions? Or is that just for more brainwashing?’

Peeking under her uniform to check on her scars, she found that they had mostly faded as well. The deep gashes were now barely noticeable, having been reduced to slightly discolored skin. Most people probably wouldn’t notice them unless they were really paying attention.

‘Not that I intend to give anyone a chance to get such a good look just yet…’

If nothing else, Subaru had no choice but to acknowledge Felix’s talents as a healer. She truly was on a completely different level from even Beatrice.

‘At this rate, she really will get me back to perfect condition in no time at all.’

Chapter Text

“I was a little worried you might end up getting too handsy, but I hadn’t imagined that you’d go for my mind instead of my body.” Subaru commented as they exited the waiting room.

It wasn’t the attempt at brainwashing in itself that surprised Subaru, but rather the timing. She didn’t think Felix would be so bold as to try it right there in the castle, she figured she would at least wait until they were in the Karsten residence.

“We’ve still got time, I could feel you up a little if you want?” Felix teased.

“No thanks, I’d prefer to get through our interactions entirely unmolested if at all possible. Mental or otherwise.”

“Hmph, what a killjoy.”

Subaru smiled wryly as Felix pouted.

‘That took a while; they’re probably done by now, right? I’d better find Emilia before she gets worried.’

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

“How’d it go, Emilia-tan?” Subaru asked as the pair walked out of the castle.

“Hmm, it went well for the most part. We had already said most of what we wanted to say back in the throne room, so that meeting was just to work out the finer details. It basically ended with Roswaal just nodding along for most of it.”

Emilia’s expression and voice carried a tinge of sadness as she spoke. Since she was only just now starting to learn about all of this, her education regarding such matters must have been rather lacking compared to the other candidates. This seemed to be bothering her quite a bit, so Subaru decided to change the subject and leave this for later.

“Speaking of Roz, where is she anyway?”

“Now that she’s fulfilled her responsibilities as my patron, it seems she also has her duties as the Court Mage to attend to. Despite the way she is, they apparently rely on her quite a bit here… Not that I have any room to talk, since I couldn’t do anything without her.”

Emilia’s already melancholic expression darkened even further as she spoke.

“Hey, relax.” Subaru said, “We’ve still got three years ahead of us, remember? And we already knew from the outset that you’d be starting at a disadvantage compared to the other candidates. There’s no point getting discouraged this early on, we’ll just have to work harder than the rest of them to close that gap.”

“Yeah, you’re right. You’re right, of course, but…” Emilia lowered her gaze, her eyes wavering, “You and Roswaal are both doing so much for me, and you’ll have to keep that up for three years… If after all of that time and effort, I end up failing to get any results…”

“That would definitely be unfortunate, but so long as you just give it your best shot, you’d have nothing to blame yourself for. Besides…” Subaru smirked, “I’ve got a feeling that if we all do what we can, we’ll definitely end up winning.”

‘I’ve got a power that’s just perfect for this, after all. I can just erase any unfavorable results to ensure that things always go our way.’

“Also, I don’t consider any time I spend with you wasted, Emilia-tan, regardless of success or failure. Even if you fail to win the throne, I’ll just be happy to have spent three years by your side.” Subaru then stroked her chin in thought, “Just tagging along on your journey is more than enough for me, but if you’re really going to feel that bad about wasting my time should you fail… You can repay me by becoming my wife?”

“Huh?”

“That was a joke, of course.”

‘I don’t know if they’d even allow that sort of thing around here, anyway…’

Regardless, Emilia’s confusion had successfully wiped that wistful look off her face, so Subaru’s work here was done as far she was concerned.

“Anyway, Rem-rin must be getting pretty lonely right about now. What do you say we go and see her?”

“Yes, let’s do that…”

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Rem was too ecstatic about the prospect of having Subaru to herself for the next week to even care that they hadn’t gotten to spend much time together these past two days, simply declaring that they just needed to make up for all the time they had lost. More importantly, what Subaru was really focused on right now was—

“I don’t want to say goodbye…” she said as she pulled Emilia into a deep embrace.

Awkwardly wrapping her arms around Subaru, Emilia stuttered, “I-It’s only for a week, and you’ll have Rem with you, so it’s not like you’ll be alo—?!”

Emilia cut herself off with a yelp when Subaru nuzzled the crook of her neck, “S-Subaru?!”

“I’m just trying to maximize my Emilia Time before I have to let go…” Subaru murmured, slowly raising her face until she was whispering into Emilia’s ear, “I’ll never forget this sensation. I’ll be sure to remember what I’m feeling in this moment for the rest of my life.”

The sensation made Emilia twitch, her already flushed face reddening even further as she squirmed in Subaru’s arms, “Gosh, you’re always teasing me like this…”

“Subaru-sama.” Rem interjected, looking displeased.

“Right, right, I know. Both she and Roswaal are very busy and they need to get going right now. Then, at the very least…” Subaru trailed off, raising Emilia’s chin with her forefinger as her thumb brushed her lip, “How about I leave you a kiss to remember me by?”

“I-I’ll be going now!” Emilia declared in a panic as she wrested herself out of Subaru’s grasp, “Stay safe, be careful, and take care of Rem too!”

“Right, you too, Emilia-tan. Contact me right away if anything dangerous happens!” Subaru called after the girl as she ran off.

“Alright then…” Subaru turned towards the maid beside her, “Rem, I suppose we ought to head to the Karsten residence now?”

“Yes, at once, Subaru-sama.” Rem responded with a bow.

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Of course, the so-called Karsten residence they were heading to wasn’t actually Crusch’s main estate, that was off in the Karsten lands. The residence they were visiting was a secondary mansion Crusch had in the capital’s upper stratum, situated quite close to the castle so she could more easily deal with matters relating to it; the royal selection for instance.

‘Even in the nobles’ district, this area really does stand out.’

Passing through the garrison to enter the nobles’ district, the pair started heading in the general direction of the Karsten residence. Subaru could clearly see the houses around them steadily getting larger and fancier as they approached it, and by the time they actually reached it, the homes surrounding them were all better described as mansions than houses.

‘Of course, it’s not as large as Roswaal’s manor since that one’s off in the middle of nowhere and this one’s in the heart of the capital, but… It’s pretty fitting for a Duchess, I think.’

Since Crusch was too busy to see them personally, they were instead welcomed by Wilhelm who showed them to their quarters.

‘Man, she’s got the Sword Demon doing this sort of thing? She really is something else entirely…’

Though the mansion wasn’t quite as large as the Roswaal manor, its interior decor was no less extravagant. Well, at least as far as an amateur like Subaru could tell. Her accommodations here were also just as lavish as they had been back in the manor.

‘Not bad, I could definitely get used to this… Emilia probably wouldn’t be too happy about that, though, so let’s not.’

More importantly, now that Subaru was finally alone here, she could move on to her true purpose for coming here. Well, besides the healing.

‘I believe she’s even taking guests right now, too. That’s just perfect.’

Summoning Nox, she activated their sound detection magic.

‘Alright, Crusch. Let’s see what you’re up to these days…’

Plopping down on her bed, Subaru relaxed as she listened in on everything that was happening in Crusch’s office. Fortunately, unlike in the commercial district, there wasn’t much extraneous noise to distract her, so she could eavesdrop to her heart’s content.

‘Hmm, I see… So that’s how it is. Well, I figured as much.’

Subaru grinned as her suspicions were confirmed.

’So she really is after the White Whale…’

Chapter Text

It was presently Subaru’s second day at the Karsten residence and the sun was starting to set. As for what Subaru was up to at the moment—

“Ferris-sama, please refrain from teasing Subara-sama any further.”

“Sorry, sorry. It’s just so difficult to resist when she’s brought such a faithful maid with her.”

“Man, you guys are really…”

Subaru was currently sandwiched between two overly excited young women, with Rem in front of her and Felix at her back. Felix was up to her usual tricks while Rem valiantly attempted to defend Subaru’s chastity, which ultimately led to the current situation.

“Do we really have to go through this every time?” Subaru groaned, “Can’t we just have a normal healing session for once?”

“Come on, are you really trying to tell me you don’t enjoy the feeling of my warmth spreading through your body?” Felix purred as she suddenly poured a huge amount of mana into Subaru’s shoulders, causing her body to jolt forward and almost knocking her out.

Rem of course immediately caught her as she directed a cold gaze at Felix, “Ferris-sama, cease at once. Forgive Rem’s rudeness, but this can no longer be dismissed as a joke.”

Meanwhile, Subaru who currently had her head stuffed into Rem’s chest managed to force her face upward to speak, “Rem-rin, I really appreciate the save as well as this wonderful sensation, but isn’t that grip way too tight? You’re about to pop my head here.”

“Ah, Rem apologizes, Subaru-sama. It is just that it does not seem as if Ferris-sama intends to back down, so when Rem considered the idea of you being stolen away by someone else, she thought she would rather just…” Rem trailed off towards the end, though Subaru could imagine quite well what she was about to say.

“That’s a seriously dangerous line of thinking! Have you been upgrading your yandere points or what?! You were already pretty far up there to begin with!”

This reminded Subaru of the incident that had occurred just this morning, when she awakened to find Rem casually standing by her bedside and watching her sleep, the sight of which caused her to instantly shoot up from her sheets in shock. This was far from the first time Rem had done this, this was a regular sight back in the manor and Subaru didn’t particularly mind; however, she hadn’t anticipated that Rem would keep doing it even now that they were in another person’s home. More importantly, the experience of suddenly waking up in an unfamiliar bed to find Rem standing next to her had brought back some unpleasant memories.

‘That death was pretty rough, I thought I’d gotten over it by now, but… Well, whatever. No point dwelling on it.’

After breakfast, Subaru had spent the rest of her morning exploring the mansion. Wilhelm had informed her the day prior that aside from her afternoon healing sessions with Felix, she was free to do as she pleased during her stay here. That being the case, she figured she may as well use her time productively and try to gather as much information as she could.

However, her exploration had failed to yield very much of note. Well, she did run into that cool land dragon from before when she visited the stables, so there was that at least. She didn’t spend much time with it, however, since she didn’t want to disrupt its schedule or whatever, since it was apparently the finest land dragon this household had to offer.

Once she was done exploring the mansion, Subaru noticed that Crusch was in the garden practicing her swordplay with Wilhelm, so she decided to watch them from the terrace. Subaru figured she might be able to match Crusch in raw physical strength, but there was clearly a massive gap in skill between them. Well, that was only natural, Subaru hadn’t really trained very much with the sword at all. She also couldn’t help but wonder who would come out on top between them if they fought each other with everything they had.

‘Let’s see, I’m confident I could beat Felt and Anastasia pretty easily… Crusch could go either way, Emilia might be possible if I get lucky or take advantage of our friendship, Priscilla… Well, I doubt I’d have much luck against Priscilla, so that probably isn’t gonna happen.’

As Subaru evaluated her strength relative to the royal candidates, the appointed time for her treatment soon came and she returned to her room to find Felix already waiting there with Rem following shortly after, which led to their current predicament.

‘Man, I am not looking forward to several more days of this.’

When her healing session finally ended, Subaru once more reflected on her time here at Crusch’s mansion. While she still hadn’t had much opportunity to speak with the Duchess, Rem appeared to have spoken with both her and Felix at length regarding a certain matter Roswaal had sent her here to discuss the details of.

’They’re negotiating an alliance, huh… That feels like something I ought to be involved in given that I’m Emilia’s knight and all, but…’

Indeed, it was probably a little strange for Roswaal to have a maid from her domain representing Emilia instead of her knight who was right there. But then again, while Subaru had already completely mastered imoji and romoji, hamoji was still giving her a bit of trouble which would make it difficult for her to parse complex legal documents in a timely manner, so it was only natural to send Rem who was fully literate in her place.

‘With all of my training, I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to focus on reading… Well, no point making excuses. Guess I’m just not qualified at the end of the day.’

It didn’t seem like Rem was making very much headway, though. True to her reputation, Crusch was very firm indeed when it came to negotiations, she clearly wasn’t one to be swayed so easily. Subaru couldn’t help but feel that Ram would have been better suited to this, her personality and skillset were just a better match when it came to such matters. Knowing that Rem only insisted on coming in her sister’s place because she wanted to spend more time with Subaru…

‘I’d feel a little bad if this whole deal goes south because of me. Not that I would really even have much fault in the matter, since I’m barely even involved in the first place…’

Subaru then pondered the idea of looping to work on her reading ability, though she immediately dismissed it since she didn’t want to die for such trivial reasons.

‘Even knowing that I won’t actually stay dead, the idea of dying in itself is just unpleasant… Besides, I have no idea where I’ll end up resetting to once I come back. I swear, if I die and end up in that same bed with Rem trying to murder me again…’

Subaru hoped that Satella would be gracious enough to give her updating checkpoints instead of just leaving her stuck with just that one alone for all eternity.

‘Well, anyway, all of that aside, what do I do now? I’ve still got a few hours to spare before the sun goes down… Guess I might as well go and patrol or something, that’s what knights do, right?’

Subaru didn’t really have any obligation to do so since she wasn’t actually one of the kingdom’s knights, but she figured it might be fun to try. Besides, it basically just amounted to seeing the sights for the most part anyway.

‘And also, I couldn’t properly enjoy all that the capital had to offer both times I wandered around it with Emilia since the circumstances both times were far too stressful.’

After all, they were heading into a certain ambush to look for Emilia’s insignia the first time, and they had the looming dread of the royal selection meeting hanging over them the second time.

‘Might as well try it out once more now that things have calmed down. Wish Emilia was here to do it with me, but oh well.’

Informing Wilhelm that she was heading out for a bit, Subaru left the premises and headed for the garrison.

‘It’s kind of inconvenient to have to pass through here every time I want to enter or exit the nobles’ district. I wonder, what would happen if I were to just leap over the wall or something? Would they know? Guess I’d better be careful just in case, it’d be problematic for Emilia too if I got caught doing that…’

The wall surrounding the nobles’ district was fairly tall, but Subaru was confident she could clear it with ease. Still, for the sake of Emilia’s reputation, she decided against it.

‘Now, let’s see… Where do I go? I guess the slums might be alright.’

It was an area she hadn’t had much opportunity to explore, so she figured she may as well get another look at it. Of course, it would probably be rather unpleasant for the slums’ denizens if they saw a knight walking among them, so Subaru decided it would be best if she just hung around the outskirts. She wasn’t really in the mood to go after small-time criminals, anyway.

‘I wonder, do those three from before also live here? If I end up running into them again…’

Hopping onto a nearby building and racing across the rooftops of the commercial district, Subaru made it to the slums in no time at all. As she wandered around its perimeter, she noticed an area that stood out instantly. It consisted of a few buildings that seemed to be in an even worse state of ruin than the rest of the slums, but despite this, their construction seemed far more solid than the average shack she’d see around here. Subaru guessed that they must have been here since before the slums even came to be.

‘Maybe a construction project that was halted several decades ago? The demi-human war was around that time, so could it be related to that?’

As Subaru approached the ruins, she noticed a sea of brilliant gold on the other side.

“Woah…”

A field of beautiful yellow flowers extended before her as far as the eye could see. Well, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but there was definitely a whole lot of them.

‘They seem rather well kept, is someone taking care of them? I guess even the people the slums need their hobbies…’

It was a little surprising to see the flowers in such good condition, Subaru would have expected them to have been trampled and destroyed by now. It was hard to imagine anyone in the slums going out of there way to care for such a place.

As Subaru examined the field of flowers before her, a familiar voice suddenly called out to her. The voice calling her name was one she would recognize anywhere, and she turned in its direction to find the red-headed knight she was expecting.

“Reinhard…”

Chapter Text

From the moment she first met him, Subaru had always thought of Reinhard as exceedingly handsome; she would even go so far as to say he was the most handsome man she had ever met. But now, with the orange glow of the setting sun illuminating his flawless features, he truly did look like a work of art given form. The way his sky blue eyes and blazing red hair shimmered in the evening glow was truly captivating.

“Subaru?” Reinhard called out to her once more after a few moments of her simply staring at him without saying anything.

“Ah, excuse me, I was just thinking that you have wonderful eyes.” Subaru replied, shutting one eye bashfully, “I look beautiful reflected in them.”

“That was just a little joke, by the way. You don’t need to respond to that.” she then added, waving her own comment off before Reinhard could say anything.

“Anyway,” Subaru began, changing the subject, “I can’t say I was expecting to see you of all people around here. What brings you here, Reinhard?”

“As it happens, I will be needing to leave the capital shortly.” Reinhard responded, “I thought I might take one last stroll around the lower stratum before I go, and as luck would have it, I encountered you along the way. I was actually planning to visit the Karsten residence tonight to see you, so it is quite fortuitous that we could meet like this.”

“Oh? You were planning a little midnight rendezvous, eh?” Subaru teased with a smirk, “You’re welcome to do so at any time, of course… Is what I’d like to say, but I guess that’s Crusch’s decision to make right now.”

“I am certain Crusch-sama would not turn me away, so that is a needless concern.”

“Well, that aside, I assume the reason you’re leaving has to do with the royal selection?”

“That is correct. I will be departing from the capital with Felt-sama. There are many things that she must learn, and her newly employed servants will need training as well, so I will be taking them with me to my family’s estate.”

Subaru’s ears pricked up at the mention of newly employed servants

‘I wonder who they’ve got working for them, anyone special? If it’s anyone like the Sword Demon… Come to think of it, how come Wilhelm isn’t with them? Isn’t he Reinhard’s grandfather?’

Fearing that this might be a sensitive subject, Subaru decided to leave the matter be for now.

“The Astrea estate… If I recall correctly, it’s supposed to be near Flanders, on the other side of the Hyclara Plateau?” Subaru questioned, bringing her thumb and forefinger up to her chin in thought.

“Indeed, you should be able to find it if you look for a town called Hakchuri. You are of course welcome to visit at any time you please.” Reinhard responded, his smile brightening.

‘Hakchuri… From what I’ve read, that’s actually the only town in the Astrea domain.’

Indeed, Subaru had learned that contrary to one what would expect from the family that had produced the prestigious line of Sword Saints, they actually didn’t hold very much power at all as nobles. They only had one small town under their direct control, said town being Hakchuri where their main residence was located.

“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think Felt would be very happy about that given our history.” Subaru noted.

“I am certain Felt-sama will one day come to realize the great service you have done her as well as the entire kingdom.” Reinhard responded with a slightly troubled expression.

“And until that day comes, it’d probably be best if I just steered clear of her.” Subaru declared, then proceeding to change the subject, “That aside, you mentioned that you’d been wanting to see me before you miraculously ran into me here? Is this chance meeting also the guidance of fate, I wonder?” she asked mischievously.

“It very well might be.” Reinhard replied with a playful smile of his own.

“If you wanted to see me, I assume there must have been a reason? What was it that you wanted to see me about?”

Subaru recalled that Reinhard had mentioned wanting to see her back in the castle as well, and she hadn’t actually gotten an answer as to why back then either.

“I have no reason in particular. If I had to say, it is simply that I wanted to see a friend before my departure, since we likely will not have the opportunity to meet again for quite some time once we part ways here.”

‘I see, so he actually thinks of me as a friend, huh?’

The fact that Reinhard considered her a close enough friend that he would want to meet with her before he left made her quite happy.

“Yeah, I’m happy we ran into each other too. I’m glad you were able to make time to see me despite your no doubt busy schedule, and also…” Subaru directed her eyes toward the flower field as she spoke, “This is quite the place to meet. I don’t imagine there’s very many places out there with a view like this.”

Following Subaru’s gaze, Reinhard beheld the flowers as well. Subaru had been a little curious as to how he would react to such a sight, but his expression simply shifted into one of contemplation instead.

“Do you like flowers, Subaru?” he asked.

“Hmm, that would depend on the flower, don’t you think?” Subaru responded, her gaze drifting off towards the sky as she pondered his question, “I’ve never really been one to stop and admire the scenery, so it’s not something I’ve really thought about.”

Indeed, were she in her original world, Subaru wouldn’t have bothered to spare more than a glance for such a sight. There were far too many things to do back then for her to care about some flowers, no matter how beautiful.

Looking at the flowers once more, she continued, “I definitely like these ones, though. They’re wonderful.”

“And what about you, Reinhard?” she asked, meeting his eyes once more, “How do you feel about flowers?”

“These flowers are…” Reinhard began, looking at them with an unreadable expression before he closed his eyes with a faint smile, “… Yes, I think I am rather fond of them as well.”

“Incidentally, Subaru,” he continued as if he suddenly remembered something, “Do you recall that out of season snowfall that occurred just recently?”

“Ah, yeah, that was us. Puck was having his magic release period at the time, and I figured that would be the best way to deal with it. It shouldn’t have been too much snow, but was it inconvenient for you guys after all?”

“Ah, no, not especially. The reason I bring it up has to do with our talk about flowers, you see. Have you heard of the elusive white flower that only blooms during snowfall?”

“Can’t say I have, sounds pretty special. So, were you able to find it thanks to the snow?”

Subaru tilted her head slightly at the mention of this special flower, wondering where this conversation was going. Or maybe it wasn’t really going anywhere, and he just wanted to talk about it.

“Indeed, I suppose that is one more thing I must thank you for. It was quite beautiful, and it is said that it can grant any wish.” he explained.

“What, it can grant wishes?! Damn it, if only I’d known, I’d have been looking for that thing all day long! Alright, guess I’ve just gotta keep making it snow every day until I can find one for Emilia…”

Regardless of whether or not the legend was true, Subaru definitely wanted to find one for Emilia.

“While I admire your enthusiasm, Subaru, to make it snow every day would be…” Reinhard trailed off with an awkward smile.

“Ah, you needn’t worry about that, we’re going to limit its scope to the area around the manor.”

“But still…” she continued with a slightly more somber expression, “Felt’s still giving you that much trouble even after you found her something like that, huh?”

Reinhard had never actually mentioned that he gave it to Felt, but Subaru was certain that that was what he would have done.

“Felt-sama does not seem to place much stock in such legends. To her, it may have been no different from an ordinary flower.” Reinhard explained with a wry smile.

“Can’t say I blame her, since from her perspective you did technically kidnap her… Were I in her position, I don’t think I’d let my abductor buy my favor that easily either. Not that I’m saying it was easy to find that flower or anything.” Subaru replied.

“Well, just keep at it, buddy.” Subaru continued, patting him on the shoulder, “I’m sure you’ll get through to her one of these days.”

“I certainly hope so.”

Subaru glanced at the setting sun, which was now barely visible over the horizon. With its fading light illuminating them, their conversation seemed to be drawing to a close.

“Well, Rem’s gonna pout if I stay out for too much longer, so…” Subaru said, directing her gaze towards the nobles’ district, “I’d better head back now. Guess I’ll be seeing you around, Reinhard.”

“Very well. Farewell, Subaru.”

Saying their goodbyes, the pair parted ways. It would have been pretty awkward if they both ended up going in the same direction to reach the nobles’ district immediately after saying goodbye, so Subaru decided to travel by rooftop once more.

‘Man, the night sky really is beautiful.’

Without the light pollution of her old world covering them up, the stars shone far more brilliantly. Subaru had noticed this any number of times now, but the sight was just as intoxicating every time.

Passing through the garrison, she soon reached the Karsten residence where she immediately collapsed into her bed after a quick bath, signaling the end of another day.

‘That’s another day down. Three to go…’

Chapter Text

“Rem-rin, Rem-rin-rin!” Subaru called out to the maid who had her back turned to her, “Come on, don’t be like that.”

“Rem knows not what Subaru-sama is referring to, Rem is not being any particular way.” Rem responded, still refusing to face Subaru.

“Come on, I’m sorry I went out without you yesterday, but… That was something I had to do alone, you know? I was attending to my knightly duties and stuff, patrolling and all that.”

“Of course, Subaru-sama has many important responsibilities she must attend to. It is only natural that she would have to leave Rem behind, there is just no helping it.”

Rem’s pouting was of course incredibly cute, but while Subaru had initially thought that they were both just joking around, she was now starting to get the feeling that Rem was perhaps being a little serious after all.

‘Well, the entire reason she even came to the capital in the first place was to spend more time with me, so I suppose it’s no surprise that she would be upset when I do stuff without her…’

“Alright, I guess I have no choice.” Subaru declared as she wrapped her arms around the maid from behind and rested her chin on her head, “How about we go out today, just the two of us?”

Rem stirred in her arms when she said this, clearly receptive to the suggestion, “Where will you be taking Rem, Subaru-sama?”

“Well, I was thinking we could swing by the commercial district like we planned to when we first came to the capital. I did still end up going with Emilia that day, but the stress of the royal selection meeting being the very next day kept me from properly enjoying it, so we might as well give it another shot.”

‘I’ve probably gathered about as much information as I can from the mansion, anyway. No point hanging around here longer than I have to, might as well see what I can learn from merchant guilds and the like.’

“Very well. If that is what Subaru-sama wishes, Rem shall gladly comply.” Rem said with a smile.

It was still before noon, so they had a few hours before they would have to return for Felix’s treatment.

“Alright, then. Let’s go.”

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Heading down the same busy street once more, Subaru found a notice board with a number of pamphlets relating to the royal selection pasted on it, some of them containing some basic information about the candidates. Naturally, there was a sizable crowd gathered around to read about them.

‘Hmm, I wonder how long it takes for information to travel around here… Since this is the capital, they probably had these pamphlets ready the very next day, but what about people who live far away? They might not even know that the royal selection is happening right now.’

Perhaps the information could be communicated immediately using things like conversation mirrors, but for cities that didn’t have those, the news could take weeks to reach them as far as Subaru knew. This was yet another factor working against the Emilia camp. Anything they accomplished would also have a similar propagation delay before the entire country knew of it, and there was no telling how the news could be warped over its travels down the grapevine.

That aside, judging from the chatter she had picked up from the crowd, Crusch was of course the most popular candidate just as she had expected.

‘Makes sense, they weren’t there for her speech about breaking the covenant, after all; and her pamphlet doesn’t mention it.’

Subaru had to imagine that Crusch’s support would drop considerably once the people learned of her true intentions.

What Subaru found surprising, however, was that Anastasia was easily the second most popular candidate by far, and she and Crusch were the only ones most people would talk about for the most part.

‘Can’t say I was expecting that one. So Anastasia’s the only one they think can rival Crusch, huh… I can understand dismissing Emilia and Felt, not that I agree with it, but Priscilla?’

Priscilla was apparently rather unknown here, very few people actually knew who she was and most who did just recognized her by her surname. Perhaps that was only natural, since she apparently only made her way into the nobility by way of her most recent husband’s death, and that guy wasn’t especially famous either.

‘Guess people wouldn’t expect much from the wife of a dead baron… That aside, Anastasia’s support has gotta be overrepresented here because of all the merchants around.’

Indeed, Subaru doubted Anastasia would be quite this popular if she left the commercial district. It was obvious that merchants would look fondly upon the woman who was said to be the leader of the famous Hoshin Trading Company, but she didn’t think the general populace would be quite as receptive to a foreigner.

‘Well, Felt and Emilia are dead last as you’d expect… And it looks like Emilia’s half-elf heritage really isn’t doing her any favors here; I knew this would happen, of course, but…’

Even though she was already expecting it, it was still rather unpleasant to hear the hushed whispers about the half-elf candidate. She couldn’t imagine what it was like for the girl herself.

‘Alright, that’s enough of that. Time to move on.’

“I’m a little interested in what kind of merchant guilds they have around here, Rem-rin. What do you say we go and check them out?”

“Certainly, wherever Subaru-sama wishes to go, Rem shall follow!”

‘Man, this is great.’

Rem was content to simply walk by her side while Subaru did whatever it was that she wanted to do. Subaru truly felt that all the trauma Rem put her through was completely worth it in the end since she was able to obtain her very own super cute and super loyal maid once she made it through that loop. It felt good to have someone to utterly devoted to her at her side.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

‘Hmm, I see… Armaments and dragon carriages, huh.’

Subaru’s espionage proved fruitful, and she learned that Crusch was gathering weapons, armor, carriages, magic stones, things of that nature in extremely large quantities, to the extent that it was affecting the capital’s economy..

‘I’d already heard that she was planning to do so from her meetings, but…’

Hearing it from third parties really made the scale of the situation set in. It was somewhat surreal to see that Crusch’s big project was somehow maintaining its secrecy while its aftereffects were the talk of the town among the merchants.

‘If they’re gearing up like this, they must believe the whale is about to appear soon… They didn’t have any concrete information to base this belief on last I heard, is she going this far based on mere speculation?’

Although since it was quite likely that said speculation came from the Sword Demon himself, perhaps there was something to it. Subaru had learned from her eavesdropping that he had been singlemindedly researching the White Whale’s movements for the past fourteen years, and had come up with a number of theories regarding its appearances.

One that was particularly interesting was the possibility of the White Whale being linked to the Witch Cult, since its appearances would often coincide with the cult’s activities. This was apparently a theory shared by the kingdom’s knights.

‘Speaking of the Witch Cult… I don’t know how quickly those guys tend to move, but I’m a little uneasy about leaving Emilia alone at a time like this, immediately after her participation in the royal selection was announced…’

Being a half-elf who shared the traits of their beloved Satella, it was quite likely that she could end up getting targeted by them. Those in the Crusch camp also seemed to consider this a matter of course, as if it would be more surprising if it didn’t happen.

‘It gets on my nerves just a little how they don’t plan to do anything despite knowing what’s gonna happen in advance, but it’s not like they have an obligation to help out a rival camp anyway. Can’t hold it against them.’

What was especially concerning was that Emilia herself seemed to have no idea of this fact, and Roswaal made no attempts to warn her, or even Subaru for that matter.

‘I guess I understand not telling Emilia, I might not have told her either, since I wouldn’t want to worry her unnecessarily, but… Come on, not even a word to her knight? A quick ‘Hey, watch out for the Witch Cult, they might get up to some funny business now that Emilia’s participation has been publicly revealed’ would have sufficed. Maybe she expected me to just figure it out on my own.’

This probably wasn’t the time for jokes, though, Subaru was starting to get legitimately concerned.

‘If the White Whale and the Witch Cult truly are linked… If they really do move in sync… Then, if the White Whale appears, that would probably mean that the Witch Cult is going to make its move as well. And I can only think of one thing they’d want to do right now.’

Given the name, it was possible that they had powers similar to hers. She didn’t want to think that there was anyone else out there who also possessed the power to turn back time upon their death, but…

‘Shouldn’t we be able to get along, come to think of it? We’re fellow worshippers of Satella, after all. We already have that one commonality between us, so maybe we’re not so different after all? But then again, there’s all those atrocities they committed… Well, I guess there’s also that thing about Satella wiping out half the world, so maybe… Are any of those stories even true, though? Maybe the Witch of Envy and the Witch Cult were all just good guys all along who were unfairly slandered. You never know.’

“Subaru-sama.” Rem called out to her, snapping her out of her thoughts, “You are making a strange face.”

Looking at Rem, Subaru suddenly remembered something.

‘Right, how could I forget, it was the cultists who destroyed her village… Yeah, they’re probably bad guys after all. That sucks.’

“Ah, I was just trying to get a laugh out of you with my funny expressions, guess it didn’t work.” Subaru reassured her, after which she glanced at the sky, “Looks like it’s getting pretty late, Felix will be expecting us soon. We’d better start heading back.”

Rem’s expression soured slightly at the mention of Felix’s name, though she did not complain, “Very well, Subaru-sama. Let us return.”

With one last look at the setting sun, Subaru sighed as they made their way back to the Karsten residence.

‘Just two more days... Two more days and I’ll be back home, I just hope nothing bad happens in that time.’

Chapter Text

Subaru spent her fourth day at the Karsten residence simply reading complex texts for the most part, so as to refine her literacy; though she did also make sure to continue her espionage so she wouldn’t miss anything important. This turned out to be a very good decision indeed, because some rather troubling information had come to light.

‘Come on, is it seriously about to block our way home?’

Crusch had received some reports of the White Whale apparently being sighted near the Lifaus Highway. Since that was the route Subaru and Rem would have to take if they wished to return to the manor, it would naturally prove quite inconvenient for them if it were blocked off by the whale’s fog.

‘Tomorrow’s supposed to be the last day of treatment too, I doubt the fog will have cleared up by then… And since Crusch is monopolizing all the best land dragons for her war effort, we might not even have any decent ones left over to make the trip.’

If they were stuck with a mid-range dragon carriage and had to make a detour to avoid the White Whale on top of that, what was originally supposed to be a four hour trip would suddenly turn into a two day journey. While unfortunate, that wouldn’t be much of a problem on its own if not for the fact that—

’The Witch Cult… The whale’s appeared after all, just as Wilhelm suspected. All that remains to be seen is if the Witch Cult also makes its move. If they do end up targeting the manor and we’re unable to make it there until two days later…’

The White Whale’s sudden appearance along their path home had essentially left Subaru and Rem stranded in the capital for all intents and purposes, leaving them helpless to intervene should anything happen to the manor in the near future.

As Subaru puzzled over what do do, even pondering the idea of skipping out on the final day of treatment to head back right now,

‘Not that I intend to contradict the expert — though I’m still a little uneasy about her true intentions — but I feel like I’m in perfect condition already, so there might not even be a point to any further treatment. On the other hand, since Emiila’s already paid upfront, I suppose I ought to at least make sure she gets her money’s worth. To break their contract unilaterally would be…’

She had her train of thought interrupted when she heard Crusch calling out to her as she made her way up the stairs to the second floor.

“Excellent timing, Natsuki Subaru. Would you care to join me for a drink?”

Glancing in her direction, Subaru found that she had changed out of her usual formal attire into a thin black dress that emphasized her feminine features quite well. She also had a tray in hand, with two glasses and two bottles resting on it.

‘Wow, she barely even looks like the same person…’

The sun had already vanished over the horizon, and Subaru was just returning from her nightly bath. The chilly night breeze felt rather refreshing as it brushed against her damp skin and the clear sky offered an magnificent view of the stars. The offer was tempting indeed, however,

“While I appreciate the offer, I must decline. I do not drink, you see.”

This was an issue that had already come up not long ago, when they discovered a hidden stash of alcohol in the manor. That stuff must have been pretty good since it was apparently from the time of Roswaal’s grandparents, and Subaru would have been fine to drink it since she had learned that the legal age around here was fifteen, but she adamantly refused to do so.

The reason being that she wouldn’t ever want to consume a substance that would dull her mental faculties, and it was for this reason that she strongly cautioned Emilia against doing so as well. Although, she ultimately conceded that perhaps it might be necessary for Emilia to get some practice holding her alcohol since it was possible that she may someday have to consume the stuff along her path to the throne, perhaps at certain formal events and things of that nature.

The thought of seeing Emilia being all cute and tipsy was quite tantalizing as well, and so the decision was made. Subaru was a little worried that her immense magical powers could fly out of control and destroy everything, but fortunately, nothing of the sort happened.

‘Anyway, it might be fine for Emilia-tan as long as I’m there to watch over her, but there’s still no way I’d drink the stuff myself.’

Seeing how it affected Emilia only further reinforced this opinion of hers, the girl had fallen apart in a matter of minutes. Perhaps it was possible that Subaru could hold her alcohol better, but that wasn’t something she was planning to find out.

‘Wait, hold on, could she be sneaking a few sips now and then now that I’m not around to keep her in check? I don’t want to doubt my Emilia-tan, but… Nah, that can’t be, I told Ram to look after her, there’s no way she’d...’

Even now, Subaru wasn’t really sure how much she could count on Ram when it came to such matters, so her presence at the manor in itself failed to bring Subaru any comfort. Emilia did seem to be behaving herself whenever Subaru checked in on her over their conversation mirrors, though.

“You may content yourself with water if you wish, I do not intend to drink enough to get drunk myself.”

Saying this, Crusch went even further up the stairs to the third floor, with Subaru following behind her until they reached a balcony on the third floor.

Stepping out towards a small white table situated at the end of the balcony, Crusch commented that the weather was perfect to enjoy a drink as they gazed up at the night sky.

‘Well, she’s right about that. I get the feeling that there’s more to this meeting than just that, though…’

Subaru watched as Crusch took her seat, and then sat down on the opposite side herself.

‘This is weirdly intimate, facing each other like this… All the more reason I can’t let my guard down.’

“You needn’t be so cautious. It is not as if I intend to use this meeting as a pretext to interrogate you, you have my word that I shall not ever resort to such petty tricks.” Crusch said as she poured her drink into her glass and water into Subaru’s.

‘Hmm, seems like ordinary water, not spiked with anything… Alright, that’s good.’

“That’s wonderful to hear. I’m all about that sort of petty trick, though, so I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you a few questions if you wouldn’t mind.” Subaru replied as they clinked their glasses together.

Crusch’s eyes widened for a moment before she broke into a laugh, “I see, the moment I tell you that you needn’t be cautious, you immediately decide to turn things around and probe me for information. Perhaps I should have expected as much from a rival candidate’s knight; that is just how a political rival should be, I think.”

“I am grateful for the compliment and shall interpret that as consent. Now then, to skip the preamble and dive into the heart of the matter, what I wanted to talk about was all of those dragon carriages you’ve been gathering. Rem and I were planning to head back to the manor tomorrow if at all possible, so…” Subaru began.

Her expression shifting to one of surprise once more, Crusch responded, “Ah, so you noticed. Or rather, when we move at such a scale, I suppose it is impossible that you wouldn’t notice.”

Sighing with a wry smile, she continued, “As you have surmised, my house is undertaking a certain endeavor for which those dragon carriages will prove necessary. For this reason, we will be unable to lend out our best land dragons for the foreseeable future. Just as you fear, you will unfortunately have to make the trip back on a mid-range land dragon. It is regrettable that I cannot offer you the hospitality I owe you as your host, but…”

“No, that really isn’t something I can hold against you. I will admit that that wasn’t at all the answer I was hoping to hear, but it’s a noble effort that you’re undertaking, so I suppose I’ll just have to deal with it.”

“A noble effort, you say… Then, you are aware of what it is that we are attempting?”

“Given that you’ve got Wilhelm in your employ, that ought to be more than obvious to anyone, I think.” Subaru replied, smiling faintly, “Not to imply that you’re an unworthy master or anything of the sort, but I can only think of reason he’d want to put himself in your service.”

“True enough, I suppose.” Crusch responded with a nod, “Although I must say, perhaps that in itself would not suffice to claim with such confidence as you have that you know of our purpose.”

“There’s a lot more to it than just that, of course.”

Indeed, even if Subaru hadn’t been spying on her the entire time, she would have easily figured it out from the circumstantial evidence alone. The fact that she even had the treasurer of the capital’s merchant guild here yesterday, among her countless other guests, for instance.

“But that isn’t a point I intend to argue, whether or not you’re really after the whale is of little consequence to me right now. What does matter to me is the lack of available carriages, and that isn’t something that’s going to change either way.”

Pausing, Subaru then continued before Crusch could respond, “Of course, you’ve already given me your answer regarding the matter and it would be inelegant of me to press you on it any further, so allow me to make an offer instead. If Rem and I join your expedition, would you consider rewarding us with your fastest land dragon after we win?”

“How confident you are. You seem to treat victory as a foregone conclusion.”

“Well, I’m dead if we lose so there’s not much point planning for that possibility. If it happens, it happens.” Subaru replied with a shrug.

“Your courage is admirable. However, I cannot comprehend the logic behind your decision. Why risk your life to take a path that might not even prove any faster than the one already available to you?“

‘Well, she’s got me there. It’s not like I even know what the White Whale is capable of, even if we do end up defeating it, there’s no telling how long it would take. Still, if it doesn’t go well, I can always just do it over.’

“Well, so long as you’re planning to head out tomorrow, I do believe that I’ll end up saving a lot of time. As for why, I need to be back at the manor as soon as possible. And also, it might be somewhat interesting to face the White Whale.”

‘And if I can claim some of the glory for the Emilia camp, that would be ideal as well.’

"If you’re planning to do this any later than tomorrow, though, I suppose you’re right that I might as well just take the slower carriage you’re offering me.” Subaru continued.

“Tomorrow, is it…” Crusch muttered, closing one eye in thought.

Chapter Text

Subaru was a little surprised that Crusch was so easily entertaining her suggestion. After all, it wasn’t as if she knew anything about Subaru and Rem’s combat capabilities.

“Not as far as I’m aware, at least. Who knows if she’s somehow been carrying out some espionage of her own, though given her personality, I kind of doubt that.’

Of course, that fact that Crusch was even willing to discuss it at all did not in itself mean that she would ultimately accept Subaru’s proposition, far from it. However, it was still a good first step.

“Since you are already well aware of our objective, I suppose there is little point in attempting to hide it any further.” Crusch said, “Indeed, I too believe that it would be best to begin the subjugation effort as soon as possible.”

“However,” Crusch continued, “Our preparations are still far from complete. We have only just received word of its appearance, there are a great many things that must be done before it can be said that we are prepared to face it. Even with the greatest of haste, it would be rather difficult indeed to begin the expedition by the end of tomorrow. At the very best, we would only be able to set out by dusk at the earliest...”

“Well, that makes sense, I suppose.” Subaru replied, she had figured as much before she even asked, but still, it was worth trying. “Rushing off to confront it before you’re fully ready would basically just be suicide, after all.”

“Still, in the absence of any better options—“ Subaru was about to continue, but she was interrupted by Felix’s sudden arrival.

“Subaru-chan, I can’t believe you! How could you do this to me?!” she exclaimed, expertly feigning a distraught tone.

Subaru simply sighed deeply in response, shutting her eyes with a frown as if she had a headache coming on, “Could you please save the hysterics for our healing sessions? I’m trying to discuss something important here.”

“Welcome back, Felix.” Crusch greeted her servant, “My apologies. It seemed that you would be rather late coming home, so I thought that sharing a drink with Natsuki Subaru might make for a fine appetizer before you joined me.”

‘Did she just call me an appetizer? Ah, whatever, I’ve got more important matters to worry about.’

“You’ve gotta watch out for her, Crusch-sama. Really, Subaru-chan, to think you’d go behind my back with my own mistress…” Felix huffed, shaking her head, “I could tell through our healing sessions that you were a twisted girl at heart, but I never imagined you’d go so far…”

‘Right, that’s also fairly worrisome. I’m pretty sure she’s joking, but still, is it possible that she could have gotten a read on my personality through all of that prolonged contact with my mana?’

It would be awful if she had her secrets revealed in this manner. But the idea was also somewhat amusing to think about, since she had spent her entire stay here spying on the Crusch camp.

“By the way, Subaru-chan, you mentioned that you were talking about something important?” Felix asked, suddenly dropping her coy act. This unexpected shift in her attitude caught Subaru off guard, causing Felix to glance at Crusch for a response,

“Indeed, she had mentioned that she wishes to return to the Marchioness’ domain posthaste and expressed her dissatisfaction with the lack of available transport. She has even offered to participate in our effort to subjugate the White Whale in order to procure a fast enough land dragon as a reward.” Crusch explained.

“Sounds like you want to go back pretty badly, huh.” Felix commented as she returned her gaze to Subaru, “Well, given the rumors I’ve been hearing as of late, I suppose it’s only natural.”

“Wait, what are you talking about?” Subaru asked, her ears pricking up at the mention of these so-called rumors. This was the first Subaru was hearing of them, and while she wouldn’t claim to have absolute knowledge of everything that was happening in Crusch’s information network, she did feel like she at least had a decent idea. Then, the fact that Felix had information that Subaru didn’t know of could only mean…

‘It would have to be something she just learned of today, surely… Could that be related to why she came back so late today, or is it just a coincidence?’

“Hmm, I wonder, should I tell you?” Felix teased, coquettishly averting her eyes as she put a finger to her lips.

‘Great, she’s back to being annoying. That didn’t last long.’

While Subaru would normally be far more tolerant of Felix’s antics, the urgency of the situation had shortened her temper considerably. She really didn’t want to put up with this right now, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“No, you don’t need to tell me. I’ll be heading back to the manor as soon as possible regardless, after all. Whatever information you have isn’t going to have any bearing on my decision.” Subaru shot back,

“But while you have no obligation to help out a member of a rival candidate’s camp, if you don’t want a patient of yours to immediately go out and die on account of being unprepared, it would probably a good idea to speak up before I go.”

Subaru had decided to make use of Felix’s nature as a healer, surely someone who cared about life to that extent wouldn’t let her go and die just like that.

“That’s not very nice of you, Subaru-chan, taking advantage of my bottomless affection for you.”

“I hope that bottomless affection has loosened your lips a little?”

“Hm, well, I don’t think what I’ve heard is going to be of very much use to you anyway. All I know is that there was apparently some trouble brewing in the vicinity of the Marchioness’ manor, because of which that part of her territory has been placed in a state of high alert by her order. Supposedly.”

’Trouble, huh…’

“I don’t actually have any knowledge as to the specifics of what’s going on there, so that’s about all I can tell you.” Felix continued, “But since you were able to see through our plan to hunt the White Whale so easily, it should be easy enough for you to figure out, yeah?”

‘Well, I think it’d be obvious to just about anyone that the announcement of Emilia’s candidacy is causing some unrest… The question is, is it simply a civilian uprising or is it the Witch Cult that’s causing this trouble?’

“Well, thanks anyway, Felix.” Subaru replied as she stood up from her chair, “And good night, Crusch. I’ll need to think on this for a bit.”

Bidding the pair farewell, Subaru returned to her room.

‘Damn it, what the hell do I even do now? If I wanna get there quickly, my only option might be to steal a land dragon and then ride it straight through the fog. That black one seems like it might listen to me, but…’

The problem with this idea was that it would reflect poorly on Emilia if her knight resorted to thievery. Perhaps Subaru shouldn’t have cared about such matters since this was probably a doomed loop anyway, but until she had confirmation that the loops did not continue after her death, she could not act too recklessly.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

It was presently Subaru’s fifth day at the Karsten residence, and it was shortly before noon that Rem came running up to her, bringing her news that would finally set things in motion.

“Subaru-sama!” Rem called out urgently.

Realizing instantly that she had something important to discuss, Subaru formed a bubble of sound around them to prevent anyone else from overhearing and then signaled Rem to speak with a nod.

“Nee-sama has… Rem just now experienced a considerable shock through our shared senses.”

‘Right, their synesthesia… Although I believe it’s usually Ram who picks up on signals from Rem, pretty unusual for it to be the other way around.’

“Go on.”

“Nee-sama was feeling a great deal of anger and no small measure of anxiety. Rem does not believe Nee-sama even intended to allow these emotions to reach Rem, but…”

“So whatever it was that she had experienced caused to lose control of her emotions to that extent, huh.”

‘That’s some amazing range they’ve got there… That aside, the Witch Cult seems like a perfect fit for what could have her so unsettled. Alright, guess I’ve gotta get going. The question is, how?’

“Rem, I’ll be heading back to the manor. As for you, I’d like for you to stay here a little longer.”

“Eh? Why?!”

“You’re trying to negotiate an alliance with Crusch, isn’t that right? I want you to see that through if at all possible.”

Since Subaru was probably about to die here, she at least wanted to leave the Emiila of this world with a powerful ally that could take her side.

“You knew…?”

“There’s no way I wouldn’t, I always know what my Rem-rin is up to.” Subaru said, patting the maid's head

‘Exceptionally creepy and not something I’d say to almost anyone else, but since she’s into it…’

Subaru then pondered the matter of how she would actually make it back. Stealing a fast land dragon was out of the question, and she wasn’t yet good enough at flying to use it to cover long distances.

‘I guess I could just run, but I don’t want to waste more mana and stamina than I have to… I’d at least like to battle whoever it is that has Ram so spooked, so I’ll know what they’re capable of for next loop.’

The best option she had, then, was to take the land dragon Crusch was offering and then switch it out for a better one at a nearby town.

“Rem, tell Crusch I’m leaving. She offered me a mid-range land dragon last night, so please make the preparations as quickly as possible. I’ll be riding it to Fleur.” Subaru paused, frowning for a moment,

“Actually, since this is going to be my first time driving a dragon carriage, I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to control it. Looks like you’ll need to tag along for the first leg of the journey, Rem. It’d actually be more convenient to do things this way, come to think of it, since you’ll be able to bring the carriage back to Crusch right away once you drop me off in Fleur.”

“Very well, Subaru-sama.” Rem responded with a bow, after which she headed off to meet with Crusch.

‘Alright, she might take a while, I should use this time to plan out my next move…’

As for the reason Subaru had picked Fleur as their destination, it was because it was commonly used as a stopover town by merchants heading to or from the capital. Subaru was certain there must have been any number of merchants rushing towards the capital right now due to the fluctuations in the economy caused by Crusch’s exorbitant spending. If they set off now, they would be able to make it there by nightfall, perhaps even while the sun was still up if they rushed their land dragon. If Subaru could then find a merchant on the verge of bankruptcy, she would only need to convince them to ride through the night to get her into the Mathers domain.

‘But even then, I’d only make it by tomorrow morning at the earliest… Is that enough time? Will the cultists really just sit around waiting for an entire day?’

Pulling out her conversation mirror, Subaru opened it up and activated it with her mana.

‘Might as well check on Emilia before I go…’

Chapter Text

It had been four days since Subaru parted ways with Emilia, though she did make sure to check on her every evening over their conversation mirrors. Emilia clearly hadn’t been getting very much sleep these past few days, and this was only natural given how incredibly stressful her life had become all of a sudden. After all, she was now officially the leader of her own political faction. In addition, Roswaal had apparently left the manor immediately after they returned, her stated reason being that she had to negotiate with various influential persons in the area, which meant that Emilia was now also in charge of part of her duties.

This also meant that she now had to handle all matters relating to the manor and the village for the foreseeable future, since she was technically acting as the lord of the manor in Roswaal’s absence.

Subaru did feel bad about the fact that she had left Emilia alone while she was dealing with such sudden changes to her lifestyle, but there was just no helping it. Besides, her current challenges were merely a fraction of the responsibilities she would have to bear as queen. This was exactly the sort of thing she would have to learn to deal with if she wished to ascend the throne.

‘Do your best, Emilia-tan. Don’t give in.’

“Ah, Subaru.” Emilia’s voice emanated from the mirror as it reflected her fine features, “It’s unusual for you to contact me this early. Did something happen?”

“I just wanted to see my sweet angel for a bit; I was feeling a little lonely, you see.”

‘Well, at least she’s alright… For now at least. Looks like she’s even more stressed out than usual, though, does she know something?’

“Right, I, um… Miss you too.” Emilia replied, slightly flustered, “Say, Subaru… You’re coming back tomorrow, right?”

“Sure. Since today’s the last day of treatment, I could even be there by tonight… Is what I’d like to say, but unfortunately, it looks like that won’t be happening. They say the White Whale’s blocked off our path home, and there’s not many decent dragon carriages available in the capital right now, so… It might take two days at least to make it back.”

Subaru decided not to mention anything about the apparent emergency situation occurring around the manor just yet, she wanted to wait and see if Emilia would say anything about it first.

‘It can’t be that bad if she’s just sitting at her desk, right? Surely Ram would have told her something if… Wait, is Ram dead? Nah, there’s no way. Rem would know, I think.’

It was of course possible that Ram was out there fighting for her life as they spoke, but… Given her lack of stamina, she would probably be dead already, so Subaru felt that it was probably safe to dismiss that possibility.

Furthermore, what about that state of high alert that Felix had mentioned? Since Roswaal was away, it seemed quite likely that such an order would have had to come from Emilia who was acting in her place right now.

“I see…” Emilia lowered her eyes, her expression dimming briefly before she forced a smile back on her face and met Subaru’s eyes once more, “Well, it’s been five days already, what’s another two? There’s not much you can do if the White Whale’s in your way, after all. Stay safe, okay?”

“Hmm… Well, if my Emilia-tan misses me that much, I guess I could just charge straight through the fog to make it there by tonight…” Subaru noted in a teasing tone, although this actually was what she was planning on doing.

“Please don’t! Seriously! Honestly, since it’s you, I can’t even tell if you’re being serious right now… You have Rem to take care of too, so don’t do anything crazy, okay?”

Seeing the pleading look in Emiila’s eyes, Subaru realized anew just how concerned the girl was for her safety. And that gave her an idea,

‘Don’t tell me it’s the sort of thing where she’s keeping whatever’s going on over there from me because she doesn’t want me to end up getting worried and rush back?’

“Emilia, is everything alright over there?”

“Eh?”

Dropping her lighthearted demeanor, Subaru asked this question in a completely serious tone. This sudden shift surprised Emilia, momentarily leaving her unable to respond,

“… Why do you ask?” she finally replied.

“I’ve just got a feeling; it’s my duty to know when my Emilia-tan is in trouble, so if there’s anything bothering you, please tell me.”

“It’s… Nothing you need to worry about.” Emilia averted her eyes as she responded, her tone somewhat nervous.

“If it’s nothing I need to worry about, why not just tell me what it is? I’d worry a whole lot more not knowing.”

“Nn… Okay, so… The day before yesterday, Ram detected some sort of weird presence in the forest. But even with her clairvoyance, she was unable to determine exactly who it was.” Emilia seemed like she had more to say, but she cut herself off.

‘Seriously, two days? So they’ve been staking the place out for a while now… And they’re capable of dodging Ram’s clairvoyance, too.’

This was evidently some sort of organized operation. Subaru was fairly confident by now that it must have been the Witch Cult behind all of this.

“… And where is she right now?” Subaru asked.

“Ah, Ram? She went out to investigate some more, and to instruct the villagers to come and take shelter in the mansion…” A twinge of pain flashed across Emilia’s expression as she mentioned the villagers.

‘Hmm, I wonder what that’s all about… Is she worried that the villagers are going to hesitate because she’s in there? Well, she’s probably not wrong… It would be pretty ironic if the villagers ended up getting massacred by the witch cultists because they hesitated to take shelter with a woman who looks like the witch, talk about putting the cart before the horse.’

“I see. Well… Can you pass the mirror to Ram when she returns? I’d like to speak with her for a bit.”

“Ah, okay, sure.” Emilia replied awkwardly, her eyes flitting about.

Subaru then sighed as she went over their situation in her head.

‘So if the White Whale really does act on the Witch Cult’s orders, they probably had it block off the Lifaus highway so as to ensure that any possible aid wouldn’t reach the manor in time… That’s pretty meticulous of them.’

Whoever it was that was behind this operation had clearly planned it out thoroughly. The question then was when they would attack. If they knew about Puck, it could potentially be as early as tonight.

‘I don’t know if Beako would even bother to interfere… Without Puck around, Ram and Emilia would be the only ones around to defend the manor. I don’t know what the witch cultists are capable of, but I seriously doubt those two alone could deal with them on their own.’

“You know, this definitely sounds like the sort of thing I should be worried about.”

“Subaru, please! This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you…”

“No, seriously, what do you even want me to do here? Do you seriously expect me to just sit around waiting in the capital while my lady might be in danger?”

“That’s exactly what I want you to do! If you come back here, I just know you’ll do something crazy again, like you did back then…” Emilia trailed off, though it was already more than obvious what she was talking about.

‘Damn it, to think my failed suicide attempt would come back to bite me like this!’

Emilia hadn’t mentioned anything about it since, but the events of that day had obviously weighed heavily on her mind ever since.

“That’s…” Subaru began, “I had a plan there, you know. Like I told you, it’s not like I just gave up on life. Besides, it all worked out in the end, didn’t it? We were all able to pull through thanks to our combined efforts, now that’s what I call the power of teamwork.”

“You… You can only say that in hindsight, there was no telling what might have happened if I arrived just a little later! And… You may have said that you weren’t planning to die, but when I got there, you were… You almost…” Emilia choked up towards the end, unable to finish her sentence.

“I almost… But I didn’t, because you heroically saved me. And I would have been fine regardless, but there’s no point in us arguing about this now. I doubt either of us will convince the other even if we scream ourselves hoarse, so let’s just spare our throats the effort.” Subaru said, “Perhaps surpassing even her looks in importance, there’s nothing more crucial to an idol than her voice, you know.”

Even on the verge of tears, Emilia couldn’t help but smile wryly at Subaru’s jest, “You’re always joking around, even at a time like this…” she said with a sigh, shaking her head as she giggled. Her rapidly building emotions had suddenly fizzled out before they could explode, and it all seemed so silly now.

“That was no joke, my lady.” Subaru said with a smile, “Anyway, your gallant knight is coming to save you, so please rest assured.”

Emilia sighed once more as she responded, “… I can’t stop you, can I?”

“Nope.”

“Yeah, I thought as much… I guess it was already decided the moment I told you, huh.”

“Nah, it was already decided before I even spoke to you. I was going to come rushing back no matter what, so you don’t need to blame yourself for anything.”

“… Alright.”

This led to a brief lull in their conversation, one that ended when Emilia seemed to catch sight of something out of the corner of her eye,

“Ah, it looks like Ram is back. You wanted to talk to her, right? Hold on just one moment.”

‘She’s still alive after all, good. I was a little worried I might have to kill myself right away…’

After a short pause, Subaru was greeted by Ram’s cold and dignified voice.

“… Barusu.”

That was a nickname Subaru hadn’t heard in a week. Even though they hadn’t been separated for very long at all, the sight of Ram’s face on the other side of the mirror brought her an odd sense of nostalgia.

“How goes it, Ram? Working hard or hardly working?”

“Cease your foolishness. There is a reason you wished to speak with Ram, is there not?”

Ram’s tone and expression seemed to retain their usual calmness, but there was a subtle sense of urgency behind them. Subaru hadn’t seen Ram this worked up since they rushed into the forest to look for Rem, or perhaps even since her first death.

Ram also made sure to distance herself from Emilia before she addressed Subaru, so it seemed that she was already aware of what Subaru wished to talk about.

“Yeah, I think you’re already well aware, but… The presence in the forest, do you know who they are?” Subaru asked.

Ram shut her eyes for a moment, and Subaru could clearly see the smoldering hatred in them when she opened them once more,

“… Witch cultists.”

Chapter Text

“Yeah, that’s what I figured…” Subaru muttered, “Do you have any way to evacuate the villagers?”

“Not over a long distance, no. We lack the means of transport.” Ram responded.

‘Tch, so all they can do is hole up in the mansion and hope for the best, huh…’

Of course, it was probably too much to expect that the mansion might have enough carriages on hand to transport the perhaps one hundred or so inhabitants of Irlam. Subaru had expected as much, that was just another problem she would have to fix in her next life.

“I see… I don’t know much about what the Witch Cult might be capable of, but do you think you guys can take them?”

“Ram finds it highly unlikely that we will survive a direct confrontation. The best we can hope for is a defensive battle using the manor’s fortifications to hold them off, but even then our odds of success are slim at best.” Despite her even tone, the subtle cracks in Ram’s expression betrayed her anxiety.

This again confirmed Subaru’s fears. Considering the sheer terror they inspired across the land, it was highly unlikely that the Witch Cult would be a bunch of pushovers. Without any of the mansion’s powerhouses around to defend them, Ram and Emilia were essentially little more than lambs awaiting their slaughter.

‘Tch, what the hell is Roswaal doing, leaving the mansion at a time like this? She was also gone the last time something important happened, come to think of it…’

“Has Roswaal returned yet?” Subaru figured she might as well ask, even though she didn’t actually have any faith the lady of the manor.

“Roswaal-sama’s business has not yet concluded, it would seem. She will remain absent for some time yet.”

Subaru didn’t even bother to react to this statement, it was exactly what she had come to expect from Roswaal. She would have been far more shocked if Roswaal actually showed up to defend the manor.

“And Beatrice? Is she willing to help out at all?”

At this point even Beatrice seemed far more reliable to Subaru than Roswaal. She did at least step in during the witchbeast incident, after all. Even if she only kept her involvement limited to healing and refused to do anything more.

“Ram does not possess the means to meet with her and confirm her intentions.” Ram replied after a moment of consideration, “Even so, Ram can say with confidence that Beatrice-sama most likely does not intend to intervene beyond what is necessary to protect the library.”

‘I’d rather you weren’t confident about that, but… Well, I guess it’s true regardless.’

“However, that might change if Barusu were to speak to her.” Ram added, “For reasons Ram does not comprehend, Beatrice-sama appears to be rather fond of you.”

“I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you, that brat really isn’t as sweet on me as you might think. I doubt she’d listen to a word I say.”

“A very wise choice on her part if that is so.”

The fact that Ram’s quips hadn’t ceased even now brought a faint smile to Subaru’s face.

“So… There isn’t much you can do besides sit around and wait to get massacred?”

“That is a very Barusu way of putting it, but yes, that is the gist of it. There is a secret passage in Roswaal-sama’s office by which Emilia-sama might be able to evacuate in the chaos, however…”

Ram’s suggestion of at least ensuring that Emilia got away safely was of course where Subaru’s thoughts had headed as well. Subaru prioritized Emilia’s safety above all else at the moment, even though she already knew this was a failed loop. If Subaru could at least guarantee her safe escape, she could die at peace knowing that she had achieved all she wanted to in this life.

“What are their numbers looking like? Will it actually be possible for Emilia to get away like that?”

“Ram was unable to grasp the full scope of their activities, but there must be dozens of cultists at least by her estimate. Once again, Ram must say that she believes the odds of success are exceptionally slim.”

‘Yeah, they’ve been staking the place out for two days at least, after all… They’ve probably already mapped out all possible escape routes.’

If the cultists were being so thorough about this, it seemed quite likely that they had already completely surrounded the mansion and thus blocked off any possible means of escape, even going so far as to have the White Whale block their path to the capital.

“Alright, got it. I’ll be there by tonight, so try to hold out until then.”

“And just what does Barusu believe her presence here will accomplish?”

“More than you might think, let’s just say that much.”

Subaru wanted to settle this with just one death if at all possible, so she had to gather as much information as she could. By rushing back to face the cult head on, she hoped to discover some sort of weakness she might be able to exploit in her next life.

“… And what of Rem? Will you bring her with you?” Ram asked, her tone even sharper than usual.

“Ideally, I’m hoping to leave her behind in the capital, or perhaps one of the towns along the way.” Subaru responded, “Speaking of which, we’ll have to continue this discussion later. There she is.”

Advising Ram to keep the conversation mirror on her since she would need to contact her again not long from now, Subaru shut her mirror and slipped it back into her pocket.

She then directed her gaze at Rem who had just emerged from the entrance of the mansion carrying their luggage. There wasn’t very much of it since they had brought little more than the clothes on their backs here, thanks to which she was able to gather it all quite quickly.

Subaru also noticed that Wilhelm was riding up to the gate behind her in a dragon carriage, presumably the one she was to use to get to Fleur.

“Ready to go, Rem?” Subaru called out as the maid walked up to her.

“Yes, we shall depart at once.”

Bidding farewell to Crusch and Felix who had emerged from the door after Rem, Subaru then walked over to Wilhelm with Rem at her side.

“This is the fastest land dragon our house can offer at the moment.” Wilhelm announced as he descended from the driver’s seat, “Even so, given that it no doubt pales in comparison to the fine land dragons the Marchioness has at her disposal, we must beg your forgiveness.”

“I’m grateful you’re offering us any transport at all, to be honest. I’m hoping to have Rem return it as soon as possible, but… I guess that might be a bit complicated, huh.”

Subaru was hoping to have Rem return here under the pretext of continuing her negotiations with Crusch, but without Subaru around, there was no telling if they would actually take her back.

“Indeed, that could prove to be rather difficult.” Wilhelm responded with a hint of displeasure, “The relationship between our masters is unlikely to remain a favorable one once you depart.”

Crusch’s final words to her hadn’t seemed to suggest anything of the sort.

“I wish you luck. May you proceed in a manner that does not bring shame upon your spirit or your pride.” she had said.

But even so, Subaru figured that things would probably turn out that way regardless.

“Well, while unfortunate, I suppose there’s just no helping it. If we meet again, I hope it is on good terms.” Subaru said, “And if not, let us each compete to the best of our abilities. We should be able to get along three years from now at least.”

“Certainly.” With a gentlemanly smile, Wilhelm saw Subaru off as she climbed into the back of the carriage.

Rem seemed to have finished disciplining the land dragon while Subaru had her chat with Wilhelm, and she too ascended into the driver’s seat as she gripped the reins tightly, proceeding to then urge the dragon forward.

With the shifting scenery around them steadily picking up speed, Subaru looked back at the Karsten residence as it faded into the distance.

‘Still bowing until we’re completely out of sight, huh… These servants really are pretty amazing.’

With Wilhelm’s dedication putting a small smile on her face, Subaru then turned around to face Rem, “Rem, I’m coming out to the front. I’d like to try my hand at driving the carriage if you wouldn’t mind,”

“Of course, as you wish.”

Using Murak to eliminate the effect of gravity on her, Subaru made her way around the outside of the carriage and landed next to Rem on the driver’s seat. Taking the reins from her, she then proceeded to direct the land dragon with the maid’s guidance.

‘Well, this is easy. I probably shouldn’t get too cocky this early on, though.’

“Um, Subaru-sama…” Rem murmured once it seemed like Subaru had gotten the hang of it.

“What’s the matter, Rem?” Subaru asked, calm on the surface though she was anything but beneath. Rem’s hesitation made her wonder if there was yet another catastrophe on the horizon that she would have to deal with.

“Rem apologizes, but she will not be able to return to the Karsten residence as you ordered her to.” she said, clearly distraught, “The negotiations were a failure. Rem is sorry.”

“Ah, that? Well, I figured that might happen. It’s not really something you can be blamed for, though, so while unfortunate, you don’t need to concern yourself over it.”

With Subaru’s departure, the term of Crusch’s contract with Emilia had concluded. That being the case, she no longer had a reason to entertain their presence any further.

“If only Rem hadn’t insisted on coming, if only Nee-sama had—“ Rem began, but Subaru immediately cut her off before she could beat herself up any further.

“Come on, that’s enough of that. Like I told you, there’s no point agonizing over the past; you can’t change the decisions you’ve already made. Besides, your Nee-sama was able to detect the threat to the manor because we left her behind, so that was a great decision as far as I’m concerned.”

“The threat to the manor…” Rem whispered, “Subaru-sama, since Rem cannot return to the Karsten residence, would you allow her to accompany you to the manor?”

“No, I’d rather you didn’t. Once you drop me off in Fleur, I want you to ride this carriage to Hanumas and wait there. I’ll be sending Emilia and the kids there if I evacuate them successfully, so I’d like you to be there to look after them once they get there.”

“Rem understands, but… Subaru-sama, would it not be wise for you to come to Hanumas as well? It would be much easier to secure a replacement land dragon there, Rem thinks.”

Rem was right, of course. Or she would be, if Subaru intended to take this detour the entire way. While Rem was correct in that it would be much easier to switch out their land dragon in Hanumas given that it was a much more flourishing town than Fleur, actually getting there would be a huge waste of time as far as Subaru was concerned since their trip would already be halfway over by then. Her real plan was to just rush through the fog with her next carriage once she separated from Rem in Fleur.

‘I’d save hours of travel time if I just cut across the Lifaus Highway, that’s not an opportunity I can afford to pass up.’

“I’d rather just try my luck in Fleur. I’ll be taking half our travel expenses to negotiate with, Rem.”

Rem seemed rather uneasy about Subaru’s decision, but she did not argue.

“By the way, Rem-rin, just so you don’t get any strange ideas… Don’t try to follow me or do anything reckless, okay? Just stay in Hanumas like I told you to.”

Subaru figured that there was a strong possibility that Rem would attempt something outrageous given her personality, and it seemed she had hit the bullseye. Rem flinched at Subaru’s words, falling silent for a moment before she could respond,

“Rem would not…” she began, but immediately gave up on attempting to deny it, “Very well. As you wish, Subaru-sama. Rem shall await your safe return in Hanumas.”

Chapter Text

They made it to Fleur about five hours later, meaning they had some time to spare before the sun fully disappeared over the horizon.

As they approached the town, Subaru caught sight of a fairly large caravan of merchants also pulling in from the opposite side. Their group rode in on perhaps a dozen dragon carriages in total, which was excellent.

‘Capital-bound merchants… Surely at least one of them must have screwed up big time just recently, just need to find some poor sap in desperate need of some cash…’

“Subaru-sama… Will you be alright?” Rem asked as Subaru stopped the carriage and descended from it.

“I would certainly hope so. Now get going.”

Having said their goodbyes, Subaru walked into town as Rem departed with the carriage.

‘Let’s see, where do I start? The tavern’s probably as good a place as any, there might be some unfortunate fellow in there drinking away his sorrows…’

Having decided on her destination, Subaru made her way over to the tavern and entered it. The sight of a knight entering the establishment dulled the cheery mood within it, with most of its patrons quieting down as they surreptitiously snuck glances at her.

Subaru paid them no mind as she surveyed the location; her eyes wandered around until they landed on a gray-haired young man dressed in green who was presently being consoled by a rather skinny man as he downed copious amounts of alcohol.

‘That fellow over there looks exceptionally distraught, looks like I have my guy.’

Sighting her target, Subaru walked over to him.

“Excuse me, good sir.” she called out.

“Who-?” the merchant began to grumble as he turned around, but his face immediately turned pale when he saw her uniform. As for his buddy, the man immediately slinked away as soon as he saw Subaru approaching.

“They’re sending knights after me already?!” The merchant blurted out as he stood up in a panic, waving his arms around frantically. “Please wait, I swear I’ll do something about the oil, so—!”

“Calm down, I’m not here to arrest you or anything of the sort. I just wanted to chat for a bit.” Subaru said, cutting him off.

Examining him more closely, Subaru noted that he was about as tall as her, perhaps a little shorter. His boyish features were rather pleasing to the eye, Subaru might even call him handsome if he wore a calmer expression. Although perhaps his anxiety was charming in its own way.

Thinking on his words for a moment, Subaru came to the conclusion that he must have purchased a large amount of oil that he was then unable to sell off at the price he hoped for, leaving him in a massive amount of debt and a potentially worthless product. The fact that he was worried that he might have knights coming after him suggested that his debt must have been colossal indeed, and since he appeared to spending the last of his money on booze, perhaps it wasn’t a debt he thought he could ever recover from.

“Funny you should mention oil, though.” Subaru continued, “I’m guessing you got screwed over when they closed the border to Gusteko?”

While such quantities of oil wouldn’t prove especially profitable in Lugnica given its generally temperate climate, Gusteko was a different story. The terrible cold that persisted throughout the year there would have made Otto’s oil a valuable commodity in the country, had he been allowed to take it across the northern border to sell it there.

And as Otto explained to her, that was exactly what had happened. To make matters worse, he had sold off all of his iron goods which were essentially worthless at the time to purchase the high quality oil he currently couldn’t get rid of, which was especially ironic given the sudden boom in the value of metal goods in the capital. The timing of his decision was almost comically bad, selling off goods that immediately shot up in value to purchase a product that instantly became worthless.

Subaru placed a hand on his shoulder as he lamented his financial woes,

“Looks like today’s your lucky day, buddy. I might just be willing to buy up your entire stock at asking price if you do me a little favor.” she said as she jingled the bag of coins she obtained from Rem. This was a bit of a bluff since she had no clue how much his oil was actually worth, but she had to sound confident. Besides, the amount she had with her wasn’t exactly chump change, it could conceivably actually cover his entire debt.

Otto’s eyes lit up at the prospect of being able to sell his oil at long last, and his drunken demeanor vanished into the ether as he corrected his posture in an instant,

“I have been terribly rude, please allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Otto Suwen, I am but a humble merchant who makes his living by peddling various goods along his travels.” he said, introducing himself in a tone so professional it was as if he was in a job interview. Perhaps he actually was, in a certain sense.

Rubbing his hands together, he continued with an ingratiating smile, “Now then, what can a lowly merchant such as myself do for my most valued customer?”

“Right. All I want you to do is to get me to the Mathers domain by dawn.”

“The Mathers domain, is it…” Otto responded, his expression faltering slightly, “There are some unsettling rumors surrounding that area at the moment. Why is it that you wish to go there, miss?”

Subaru turned around, showing him the emblem on her cape, “I am a knight in the service of the Marchioness of the domain. Those unsettling rumors are exactly the reason I need to be there, I’m on my way to investigate their veracity.”

Even though it was actually Emilia whom she served and not Roswaal, Subaru didn’t want to complicate matters by mentioning that here.

“The Lifaus Highway is currently unusable because of the fog spreading over it, and the land dragon I rode in on doesn’t have the stamina to take the long way around in one trip. I was hoping you as a merchant might be in possession of a sturdier land dragon capable of making such journeys.” she continued.

“Well, Frufoo is certainly more than capable, so that shouldn’t be a problem.” Otto replied, “Her breed is famed for their endurance even among long range land dragons, she could run for three days straight if she had to.”

“Well, I certainly hope she won’t have to run for anywhere near that long. I don’t have that kind of time.” Subaru joked.

“Certainly, certainly. I shall get you there by dawn as you requested, but… Might I confirm the payment first?”

“Sure, here you go.” Subaru responded as she passed him the bag containing the coins. She also reached for the hilt of her blade with her other hand as she did this, subtly letting him him know the consequences if he decided to try any funny business.

Otto’s eyes bulged when he opened the bag to examine its contents. “This is… This is just about what I paid for the oil in full…” he said as he gawked at the sea of gold and silver coins within.

“Well, I did say I’d pay the asking price, didn’t I? That’s a pretty interesting coincidence, though.” Subaru had a feeling that perhaps he wasn’t being entirely truthful there, but she didn’t really care. If the money in that bag would suffice to get her to the Mathers domain in time, the details didn’t matter.

“Very well, I shall accept your request. Allow me confirm the terms of our contract. The destination is the Mathers domain, with the goal being to get you there as quickly as possible. As compensation for my services, you will purchase all of my oil using the contents of this bag. If we are in agreement, miss…” Otto trailed off since Subaru had never actually introduced herself, meaning he still didn’t know her name.

“Yeah, all of that sounds fine to me.” Subaru responded, “It’s Natsuki Subaru, by the way. You can just call me Natsuki-sama, though.”

“Just—?“ Otto seemed like wanted to offer some sort of retort, but he immediately thought better of it and calmed himself, “Very well, Natsuki-sama. Please follow me.”

Subaru had intended it as a joke, but she wasn’t about to complain if he was going to address her that way for real. Following him with a smile, her cheer faded when she thought of Emilia and Ram who might be assaulted at any moment. She had instructed Ram to contact her immediately if anything of the sort happened, so the situation shouldn’t have devolved to that extent just yet, but…

‘Hold on, guys. Just a little longer.’

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

“I apologize for the lack of proper seating. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d be taking passengers.”

Subaru was presently sitting next to Otto on the driver’s seat as they set off. As Otto said, this carriage wasn’t one designed to take passengers. Its sole purpose was to transport cargo and its build reflected that, it was larger than any other carriage Subaru had ever been in (which wasn’t that many, but still), but the back consisted of just one sizable platform intended to hold goods, covered by a canopy and a curtain. And matching the carriage’s size was the land dragon Otto had called Frufoo. Subaru was certain the animal would be classed as a heavyweight in land dragon terms, her large torso and powerful legs generated incredible amounts of force as they pushed against the ground, more than enough to rapidly accelerate a large carriage full of cargo.

“Eh, it’s fine.” Subaru replied, “It’s not like you needed to look for that sort of excuse to sit this close to me, though. You could have just asked.”

“That was not my intention-!” Otto responded, flustered.

“I know, I know.” Subaru said, “But that aside, I guess you must be pretty relieved to have solved that whole oil problem.” she continued as she cast him a sidelong glance.

“Yes, more than you could ever know. I had even thought that perhaps my life was over, until I met you. You really saved my neck there, I am truly grateful.” Otto replied with a bittersweet smile.

“Incidentally…” he continued, “You mentioned that you are a knight in the service of the Marchioness, yes?”

“That’s right, what of it?”

“The Marchioness’ tastes are well-known, and there are the rumors surrounding the royal selection as well… I was just wondering if they might be true.”

‘Ah, there it is…’

“If you’re referring to the rumors about her backing a half-elf, they’re completely true. Well, except for the parts disparaging Emilia. She’s the sweetest girl you’ll ever meet.” Subaru said, deciding to just be upfront about it.

“I see, so her name is Emilia-sama, is it…” Otto replied, seeming oddly cheerful, “Ah, please excuse me. It is just that ever since I first heard the rumors… I ended up wanting to support her for some strange reason.”

“Oh?” Subaru raised an eyebrow at this unexpected declaration.

“After all, being a half-elf, her circumstances must have been quite difficult thus far. Her path certainly isn’t an easy one, but she did not give in and was even able to enter the royal selection… That is a wonderful thing, I think.” Otto said as he gazed off into the distance, his eyes filled with a strange sort of admiration.

“Perhaps it would be rude of me to compare my troubles to those of Emilia-sama, but I too have experienced what it is like to be shunned by the people around me…" he continued, "So I suppose I sympathize in a weird way. I do think it will be quite difficult for her to ascend the throne, but if she just does her best, I thought… Well, I just wanted to confirm it.”

“You know what, you’re exactly right, Otto. You really are a decent fellow after all.” Subaru said as she patted his back, “Most people tend to be blinded by their unfortunate prejudices when it comes to my lady, so I’m always happy to see someone who has their head on straight.”

“Your lady?”

“Correct, I’m actually her personal knight, you see.” Subaru said, “And you know what, I’ve decided that you deserve a little reward for your generous support.”

‘Or rather, this is just the excuse I was looking for to do this. Sorry, dude.’

With her hand still on his back, Subaru slowly started pouring water mana into him. She still wasn’t especially good at this, but Felix had done this to her enough times over the past four days to make her feel like she at least had the gist of it down.

“N-Natsuki-sama? What are you doing?” Otto asked, his tone somewhat nervous.

“Just a bit of healing magic. I don’t have much talent for this, but I thought I might at least be able to ease your troubles a little…” Subaru replied, drawing closer to him and whispering into his ear towards the end.

Her words were all true, but her real goal was to put him to sleep and then take control of the carriage, after which she would have his dragon run straight down the Lifaus Highway through the fog.

‘Frufoo here seems like the reasonable sort, she’ll probably listen to me…’

“I… I appreciate the kind gesture, Natsuki-sama, but there is no need. You’ve already done more than enough for me by just buying my oil, to ask for more would be…” Otto said, his face starting to flush as his eyelids grew heavier.

“Just relax, I’m doing this because I want to. You don’t need to worry about a thing.” Subaru said, “Look at how tired you are… You must have been so worried…”

“I really was… I actually thought it might all be over for me…”

“It must have been so difficult… But all of that is behind you now, so why not rest for a bit?”

“I cannot… I have to take you… To the Mathers domain…” Otto responded, already on the verge of nodding off. He could barely even keep his eyes on the road ahead of them

“That’s alright, I can take over for a bit.” Subaru said, placing her hand over his and gently loosening his grip on the reins, “You just relax, okay? Sweet dreams.”

With this, Otto’s consciousness finally faded and his body started to wobble, though Subaru immediately wrapped her arm around him and held him close to keep him from falling off. Letting his head rest against her shoulder, Subaru used her other hand to control the reins.

“Alright, your master’s really tired so he’ll be taking a little nap for now. I’ll be taking over in the meantime, so… Let’s go, girl.”

Changing course, the carriage plunged straight into the fog, the land dragon running into the jaws of death with only the slightest hesitation.

‘Thank you… Well, here we go.’

Chapter Text

Subaru did of course feel some measure of guilt over the fact that she was risking an innocent man’s life here, as well as that of his land dragon. Naturally, she intended to keep them out of harm’s way as much as possible, in the event that they encountered the White Whale, she intended to hop off the carriage to face it alone while the other two escaped.

‘I’d probably die immediately, though… Well, I’m hoping I can at least buy you guys enough time to get away. If not, I’m sorry.’

But she wasn’t about to let any amount of guilt stop her now, not when Emilia’s life was in danger. She probably wouldn’t ever get a chance to apologize to the Otto of this loop for deceiving him, especially considering the possibility of her imminent death to the White Whale, to say nothing of the fact that she most likely wouldn’t survive her encounter with the Witch Cult. But that was just something she would have to deal with.

’But even if I do get that chance, I doubt I’ll actually end up apologizing… I’d rather just keep this secret forever.’

Subaru didn’t want to reveal more information than she had to, after all. This was for the sake of the Emilia camp too, half their power lay in the exclusive information they alone possessed.

Despite the land dragon’s initial anxiety, their ride through the fog seemed to be going fairly smoothly. Subaru’s thoughts started to wander as they traversed the endless fog, and she began to ponder what would become of Otto in her next loop.

‘If I don’t meet him in my next life… What’s going to happen to him, I wonder? Will he be able to find another customer for his oil? Or if he can’t, will he end up…?’

He seemed to be a rather decent fellow from the brief time she had known him, and moreover, he was one of the few people in this world who did not discriminate against Emilia. What’s more, he even stated that he admired her and wished to support her. Subaru would feel really bad if someone like that ended up bankrupt or even dead.

‘Depending on how things go, I guess I could hire him as my personal carriage driver or something… Rem might get mad about that, though.’

Subaru’s thoughts were interrupted when Nox drew her attention to a massive presence shifting through the fog ahead of them. The visibility in the fog was so poor that she couldn’t even make out a silhouette, but she could still very clearly perceive what it was through her sensory abilities.

‘Ah, there you are… You know, you’re even bigger than I’d expected.’

The thing was easily several times the size of a blue whale, perhaps fifty or so meters in length by her estimate. It was also quite plump, Subaru didn’t know much about whales but she would describe it as most similar to a sperm whale.

‘More importantly, what’s with the direction you’re headed? Don’t tell me you’re actually on your way to the Mathers domain?’

It wasn’t simply that the whale had been lured here by Subaru’s scent, it was already headed in this direction long before Subaru even got here.

‘So after the cult finishes up with whatever they’re planning to do, they’re going to have the whale deliver the coup de grace?’

She had heard the legends of it swallowing up entire towns, the manor and the village would surely be history if it actually made its way over there. Of course, that was assuming the Witch Cult didn’t already eradicate everything there first.

‘Or perhaps they wouldn’t even be left to history, if the rumors about its fog are true…’

From the intel Subaru had picked up from Crusch, the White Whale had two types of fog it could unleash. The first was the diffuse fog she was currently riding through.

The second was a much denser blast of fog, supposedly capable of erasing things from existence so completely that no one would even remember them. Of course, given the very nature of the ability, to prove whether or not the White Whale could actually do such a thing was rather difficult.

And of course, the idea of this second ability did give her a little pause, since there was the possibility of it even overriding her power to resurrect, however—

‘There’s no way Satella’s favor would lose to some oversized witchbeast. Her blessing would definitely win out, I think. I’ve got nothing to worry about.’

Convincing herself of this fact, Subaru waited as the White Whale approached. She had changed course to avoid it, but the White Whale of course immediately followed. A witchbeast was a witchbeast at the end of the day, her scent was just irresistible to them.

‘Alright, I’ve managed to get it behind us, at least. That’s the ideal position. Sorry, Otto, this might get a little rough.’

Subaru was at quite the disadvantage here since she had to hold on to Otto to keep him from falling out of the carriage. She couldn’t just toss him in the back either, since she was hoping to make use of all the oil back there in this battle. She would be able to fight properly if she just threw him out, but—

‘I’d rather die than do that. Now, let’s go.’

As the White Whale steadily closed in behind them, it suddenly unleashed a colossal wave of concentrated fog.

“Murak.” Subaru reacted instantly, launching the carriage into the air mere moments before the tsunami of fog could consume them. The sea of pale white they had just barely avoided carved the ground open as it passed below the carriage and the White Whale was already on their tail once more, increasing its altitude to catch them in the air.

However, that was exactly what Subaru wanted it to do.

“Fula!” she incanted, firing a blast of wind into the back of the carriage as the White Whale drew even closer. All of the jars of oil Otto had stored in the back were immediately blown right out of the cart, flying straight into the White Whale and splashing their contents all over it as they smashed into its snout.

“El Goa!” she immediately followed up, igniting all the oil splashing against the White Whale in an instant, producing a gargantuan explosion that dispelled all the fog in the area and lit up the entire plain.

The fireball this produced was so large that it almost consumed the carriage itself, but they escaped disaster by an inch when Subaru released her anti-gravity spell and let the carriage descend back to the ground, just barely beyond the blast radius.

In the meantime, Otto seemed to have woken up because of all the commotion, “Buh-wha-?” he sputtered as he looked around groggily, trying to understand where he was.

“Natsuki-sama?” he called with uncertainty as he looked at her, “What-?” he began, but was immediately rendered speechless when he caught sight of what was behind them.

With the fog having cleared up, he was greeted by the sight of the White Whale thrashing around in the air with its face melting off in an enormous blaze.

“Excellent timing, Otto.” Subaru said, “I’m going to need you to take over the reins again, I’m not done with that thing just yet.”

Handing him the reins as she said this, she then hopped out of the carriage before Otto could even respond and rushed back towards the whale, intending to incapacitate it before it could recover.

“Shamac.”

She cast what might have been her signature spell, producing the largest cloud of shadow she had manifested yet. Some part of her couldn’t help but note that her dark shadows made for a fitting contrast to the whale’s white fog, an observation she found rather amusing.

The whale was still writhing in agony, and the sudden loss of its senses caused it to lose its bearings and crash into the ground spectacularly. The sheer impact with which its head struck the ground produced a miniature earthquake, and it seemed that both the whale’s skull and the terrain had been split open in equal measure.

‘I guess even the Great Witchbeasts still fall for the same tricks. You’d better thank me, Crusch. I’ve already done half the work for you.’

Subaru had successfully grounded the White Whale, and it didn’t seem like it would be getting back up for a while. She didn’t want to push her luck, though, so she decided to just run away while it was still disoriented.

‘That thing defeated the previous Sword Saint, after all. There’s no telling what it might be capable of, I’ve gotta get out of here fast.’

Subaru then raced back to the carriage, easily catching up to the galloping land dragon and hopping back on to her seat next to Otto, who simply stared at her in astonishment.

“Natsuki-sama… You defeated the White Whale?” His voice quivered, and it seemed as though even Otto himself could not believe what he was saying here.

“Defeated is a strong word… It’d be far too much of an exaggeration to put it that way. I bought us some time, let’s just say that much.”

It would be the height of foolishness to get carried away just because she got the better of it with a surprise attack, after all.

Still in a daze, Otto did not say much of anything in response as the carriage continued onward to the Mathers domain.

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

It was in the dead of night that they reached their destination. Looking at the sky, Otto determined that it was perhaps a little before midnight, though it was difficult to be certain due to the poor visibility.

Even now, he could hardly believe the sight he had seen before his very own eyes mere hours prior. A single knight defeating the White Whale, it was the sort of legend one would expect to hear about the Sword Saint and not… A knight he had never even heard of until today. Well, she did claim to be the personal knight of a royal candidate, and the girl herself stated that the she hadn’t actually defeated the whale, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise.

Even so, her still pristine uniform and calm demeanor were a sight to behold. One would never think just from looking at her that she had just faced the White Whale. The ease with which she brushed the whole incident off almost made it seem as if this sort of thing was an everyday occurrence for her.

As they made their way towards the lush green woods ahead of them, Otto’s anxiety suddenly spiked.

‘The mist keeps getting thicker ever so slowly… Is it coming back? And the woods up ahead… Frufoo doesn’t want to go any further.’

The encroaching mist and his land dragon’s hesitation both contributed to his nervousness. He didn’t want to continue any further, but his agreement with Natsuki Subaru was—

“That’s far enough, Otto.” she said, interrupting his thoughts. The look in her eye suggested that she was being considerate, perhaps having noticed the fear in Otto’s expression. “You can drop me off here.”

“Thank you, Natsuki-sama… I apologize.” Otto responded, his head hung, “I cannot accept the compensation in full, I shall return half, so…”

“We are technically past the border of the Mathers domain, so I can’t really complain. That was what we agreed on, so just keep it all.” She replied.

She then continued with a grin, “But honestly, what am I even paying you for? You fall asleep midway, I have to drive the carriage myself and then even protect you from the White Whale… And now you’re leaving me in the middle of nowhere, just terrible service all around.”

Even if she was joking, everything she said was true, so Otto simply stayed quiet in response. There was nothing he could say in his defense here.

“Relax, I’m just kidding. I couldn’t possibly have made it this early without you and your land dragon, so I’m extremely grateful.” she said, her expression shifting to a gentler smile, “Well, I’ll be going now. Make sure you don’t end up bankrupt again, okay? See you later.”

“Please wait, Natsuki-sama!” Otto called after her as she bid him farewell, “You mustn’t go! The fog is approaching, and Frufoo senses danger up ahead!”

“So the White Whale wants a second round, does it? Well, I’ll face it any day. As for the danger in the forest… That’s what I’m here to investigate.”

Otto wasn’t sure why he was even trying to stop her, she did say that that was her purpose when he first asked her why she even wanted to go to the Mathers domain in the first place given the unsettling rumors surrounding it. She was also clearly more than capable of handling herself as she proved not long ago, but even so…

“Won’t you reconsider, Natsuki-sama? I can take you back—”

“I’m a knight, Otto. This is what I do.” she said, turning away from him as she gazed into the forest. The movement caused her cape to flutter before his eyes, and her gallant figure looked very much like a knight out of a storybook.

“I appreciate the concern, truly.” she continued, “But there’s no way I could ever back down when my lady might be in danger. Now get going before you get caught up in this too.”

Saying this, she ran off into the woods, and Otto could only call after her helplessly as she disappeared into the forest.

Even if it was her knightly duty to put herself at risk like this, the idea that he might have brought his benefactor to her death didn’t sit right with Otto. Still, there was nothing he could do about it now. With a heavy heart, he ordered Frufoo to turn around.

‘I wish you the best of luck, Natsuki Subaru.’

Wishing for her wellbeing from the bottom of his heart, he set off—

Chapter Text

The forest around her was deathly still, and there was nary a sound beyond the gentle rustling of the leaves above her. What should have been lush and beautiful greenery now felt terribly suffocating. Subaru had never been especially claustrophobic, but the dense vegetation surrounding her now almost felt like it could reach out and strangle her at any moment.

‘No signs of life whatsoever, huh… Looks like the birds and animals knew when to book it.’

Calling upon her spirit, she sharpened her senses to the limit and started forming a mental map of the forest through echolocation.

‘There’s dozens of them just like Ram said… And I haven’t even found all of them, there could be over a hundred in total depending on where they’re hiding.’

Most of the witch cultists she detected were just as still as the atmosphere they created, they barely even seemed to be breathing. There were a few among them that were moving, however, and the manner in which they did so was somewhat disturbing. They slipped through the forest with such ease that it almost seemed as if they could pass straight through physical space with no regard for barriers, those frightfully mechanical movements did not seem human in the slightest.

‘Well, not quite perfect, though… Guess they’re still human at the end of the day like the rest of us. Better contact Ram before I approach.’

Taking her conversation mirror out of her pocket, Subaru activated it and waited for a response,

“… Barusu.” She was greeted by Ram’s somewhat strained voice almost immediately. Subaru was relieved to find that the cult hadn’t attacked just yet.

“I’ve arrived at the forest surrounding the manor, Ram.”

“I see. And what is it that you intend to do now that you’re here?”

A good question, Subaru hadn’t actually explained this when they last spoke.

“First of all, what’s the status of the villagers? Did you evacuate them to the mansion?”

Of course, Subaru’s answer would depend on how things were looking here.

“Only the children and a handful of adults.” Ram said, “The rest were rather firm in their position that they did not wish to take shelter in the mansion, with the young men indicating that they wished to fight to defend the village.”

“I see, well… I guess that’s kind of brave if nothing else, though extremely foolish.”

Ram snorted, “How ironic that Barusu of all people should say that.”

“Hey, what I’ve got here is pure bravery, okay? That aside, we’ve gotta have at least one dragon carriage available, right? I want you to get Emilia and the kids away from here. I’ve instructed Rem to wait in Hanumas to receive them, so take them there if at all possible. I’ll cover your escape.”

“An unworkable suggestion, Ram cannot abandon the manor in its time of need. Should it not be Barusu who leads Emilia-sama away from here?”

Of course, that wouldn’t work. Subaru had to be in the thick of battle, so she could die immediately if anything went wrong.

“As much as I’d love to do that, I’m probably the one best suited to face the Witch Cult right now, I think. You’ve got no stamina and Emilia’s their target, and moreover doesn’t have Puck by her side right now… She could probably summon him by force by draining her Od, but I wouldn’t want her to do that.” Subaru replied. “Also, I would hardly call leading the evacuation effort abandoning the manor, it’s probably the best thing you can do right now for Roswaal’s sake. So long as you get Emilia away safely, all is not lost, right?”

Ram did not seem convinced, so Subaru continued with a joke that was perhaps in poor taste, “Besides, I hear you fared pretty well against them as a kid? Who knows, I might be able to beat the entire cult in one go or something.”

Her jest earned yet another derisive snort, “How foolish you are, Barusu. You cannot even compare to Ram as she is now, several steps down from her prime. What hope do you have against a cult that even Ram at her best…”

Ram cut herself off before she could say ‘could not defeat’, “… Had some difficulty against.” she finished.

“It’s kind of sad that you think of that period as your prime; what were you, eight? Well, more importantly, you’re just going to end up dead if you stay here, as I’m sure you’re well aware. Are you planning to leave Rem without a sister?”

Subaru’s question caused a momentary stir in Ram’s expression.

“Then let me ask you this in turn, Barusu. Are you planning to leave Emilia-sama without a knight? Despite your foolish behavior, it is more than obvious that you are aware of the consequences of facing the cult here.”

Subaru sighed, “It’s not like I want to throw my life away, but knights can be replaced. Emilia can always find another one. Not so for a twin sister, Rem isn’t getting another one.”

This response seemed to irk Ram, “That is a terrible answer, even for you, Barusu. Emilia-sama will not be pleased to hear that.”

“So keep it between us, for now at least. Besides, I doubt Rem will be very pleased to find out that you’re dead either.” Subaru shot back, “These sorts of things are just unavoidable sometimes. Besides, it’s not like I’m asking you to just run away. Once you evacuate them to a safe distance, you can always just come back to hold off the cultists with me while someone else drives the carriage. Who knows, we might even win with our combined powers.”

Ram closed her eyes contemplation, and then sighed deeply, “Very well.”

“However,” she continued, “Barusu should know better than anyone else how stubborn Emilia-sama will be. It is exceedingly unlikely that she will agree to be evacuated given the threat to the manor.”

‘True, it would be especially difficult to make her leave without Puck around to talk her into it.’

Subaru was already well aware that even if Emilia did agree to take the carriage away from the manor, she would hop right out and run back here at the first sign of trouble.

“That’s part of why I’m telling you to take the kids with her. If you charge her with protecting the kids, she won’t be able to act too recklessly.”

“I see, so you intend to use the children as a means to bind her.” Ram noted in understanding, “How very like you, Barusu.”

“The kids will need a talking to too, to make sure they watch over Emilia and don’t let her do anything unreasonable… That’s something I’d like to handle myself if possible, though that would mean making it to the manor…”

“Does Barusu believe she can safely do so?”

“Well, who’s to say… I’ll give it a shot, though. If I’m not there in a few minutes, or if you notice anything off, make a run for it immediately. I’m about to try something.”

The witch’s scent that hung upon Subaru was the main factor concerning her at the moment. If it was truly the mark of a cultist, surely they had some way of detecting it. Perhaps they could smell it like Rem could. If so, it was possible that it could agitate them if they could tell that she was an impostor. But if not…

“And what absurdity is it that Barusu is about to attempt?”

“Ram…” Subaru began, about to reveal her power to resurrect. Of course, this had the usual consequence.

‘Woah, there’s two hands now?’

The now even more defined right arm was accompanied by a barely formed left hand this time. Despite its lack of structure, it was the left hand that reached her first. However, it did not punish her as the right arm always did. Rather, it gently caressed her chin, running its fingers along her jawline with a terribly nostalgic sort of affection.

‘Oh yeah, that’s the stuff…’ Subaru purred with delight at the heavenly sensation. As was to be expected from Satella, her mere touch could raise Subaru to the heights of pleasure. ‘Finally decided to- Hey, wait—‘

While Subaru was distracted by the left hand, she suddenly noticed that the right hand was steadily making its way towards her heart as usual. And once it made it there, it filled her with the usual excruciating pain.

‘Ugh, damn it… Thanks for making it a little easier on me, I guess? I think I’d prefer a whole lot more of that left hand, and much less of the right, if you wouldn’t mind…’

Subaru had thought that she was started to get used to it, but after more than a month apart, she couldn’t help but feel that the pain was worse than ever before. Perhaps it was the contrast to the loving caresses that made it feel so terrible.

Regardless, this had had the desired effect, and Subaru could sense that many of the cultists in the forest had reacted immediately and were now making their way over to her.

‘So they do react to the scent, just like the witchbeasts…’

Remembering that she was speaking to Ram, she continued, “… I just wanted to say, good luck. If all goes well, we’ll be seeing each other soon. Keep Emilia distracted while I’m there, would you? My plans might fall apart if we see each other right now.”

Shutting her conversation mirror and pocketing it, she advanced into the forest to meet the cultists halfway.

‘They haven’t drawn their weapons, nor are they preparing spells… I should be good.’

She soon had several cultists lining up before her. They had slithered in so smoothly that were she paying less attention, it would almost seem to her that they had teleported before her.

“I’ve got some business to attend to in that manor. Step aside.” she commanded.

Might as well go big or go home she had thought, and her bet paid off. The cultists did seem to obey her commands, they got out of her way just as she told them to. She wondered if she could just order them to leave, but she didn’t want to push her luck here.

‘I guess I could try once I’ve gotten Emilia away from here…’

Realizing that the cultists were about to head past her, in Otto’s direction, Subaru stopped them once more, “Don’t worry about that trader, he’s with me. As you were, gentlemen.”

In accordance with Subaru’s order, they returned to their posts as she rushed over to the manor.

‘I don’t know how long my bluff will last, or if they’ve actually even fallen for it… Better make this quick.’

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

“Subaru!”

The children called out her name, their voices filled with trepidation. Thankfully, Ram had arranged for Subaru to meet with them away from the Emilia and the adults. Subaru just didn’t have time to deal with them right now.

Incidentally, she had also been hoping to find Beatrice to speak to her, but the girl had hidden her presence to a far greater extent than usual. Even Subaru wouldn’t be able to locate her as things stood now, not quickly enough to matter at least.

‘Another thing I’ll have to save for my next life, I suppose.’

Subaru crouched down as the kids rushed up to her, drawing them into a hug, “Hey there, kiddos. It’s been a while.”

Calming them as they barraged her with questions about what was happening, Subaru continued once they had settled down to some extent, “Listen, there are some very bad people waiting to attack us in the forest, okay? It’s kind of like that incident with the witchbeasts. To make sure you kids don’t end up getting hurt again, I’m going to have you ride away from here on a carriage with Emilia.”

Her declaration seemed to heighten their anxiety, though perhaps feeling guilty about that incident, none of the children spoke up immediately.

“Um… Are you going to fight too, Nee-chan?” Luka asked.

“Of course. I’m always doing my best to protect all of you, you know.” she said, affectionately ruffling his hair, which he immediately brushed off as his face flushed.

“I’m not a little kid, you know…” he said, averting his eyes.

“I’m well aware. That’s exactly why I’m entrusting you with a mission this important. Like I always tell you guys, Emilia’s a super sweet and selfless girl, so she tends to push herself way too much if she’s left alone. I don’t want her doing anything unreasonable, so I’d feel a lot better if I had you guys watching over her, okay?”

“That sounds a lot more like you, Subaru…” Petra pointed out, her worry clear in her gaze, “Will you… End up like that again?

“Well, maybe a little. She’s on a completely different level from me, though, so imagine how bad it must be for her! As for your question… Well, I hope not, but even if do end up severely injured, I do know a great healer so I’ll be just fine.”

She then sighed, donning a more somber expression, “But I don’t want to give you false hope. There’s a chance I won’t make it through this, and maybe your families won’t either.”

A wave of shock ran through the children as they comprehended the meaning behind her words,

“Then… Then let us fight too!” Cain yelled, “If it’s going to be like that, then…”

“No.” Subaru responded, firmly denying his suggestion, “You’re all wonderful kids with bright futures ahead of you. I understand how you feel, but you can’t throw your lives away here.”

“But… It’s just so unfair…”

“I know, it really is.” Subaru said, “But that’s just the way of the world. All we can do is adapt to it.”

She then closed her eyes for a moment in contemplation, before smiling gently, “Perhaps this is a little too soon for you guys, and the circumstances are as terrible as they could be, but… We all have to leave the nest eventually, you know? I was suddenly separated from my parents too when I first came here, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again…”

Subaru hated bringing up her past, but just this once… She would be overwriting all of this soon enough anyway.

“Besides, aren’t you guys always telling me how you’re all grown up?” she continued, carefully examining each child as she spoke.

“T-That’s…”

The kids were of course too distraught to respond, with many of them tearing up.

“Listen, I am so proud of all of you. I’m telling this because I know you’re strong, and you can handle it. You’re all more than capable of making it on your own out there, even if you don’t think so yourself.”

Descending to her knees once more, she drew Cain and his brother Dyne into a hug, “I know you guys are always competing over who’s gonna marry Petra… But girls tend to like responsible guys, okay? So instead of doing anything reckless, you can show her how cool you are by protecting Emilia.”

They simply nodded in her arms, after which she made her way over to Petra, embracing her as well, “You wanted to become a seamstress in a big city, isn’t that right? Rem-rin can take you anywhere you want to go. I know it’ll be hard leaving your parents behind, but do your best out there, okay?”

Next up was Mild, “Mild, you’re always been such a sensitive boy, so this might be especially hard for you… But I know that caring heart of yours can help so many others, so just try to hold on, alright?”

She then moved on to Meina, whose mother would be accompanying her, “Things are going to be hard with a newborn baby sibling, so don’t make too much trouble for your mother, got it? You’re a good kid, so be sure to help her out.”

And finally, she spoke to Luka, “You’re plenty strong just like your dad, so who knows, maybe you can become the best woodcutter in all of Lugnica. Make sure to grow up big and strong so you can protect the others when I’m gone.”

The boy writhed in her arms, his face red, “I will, Nee-chan…”

He then spoke a little louder when she released him so all could hear, “You’re really worried about that lady, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“The one who always comes with you to the village.”

“You’re exactly right. She’s pretty shy, so she doesn’t show her face.”

Luka then turned to face the other children, “You all saw the way Nee-chan talks about her. She won’t be able to focus if that lady is in danger, so… The best thing we can do for everyone is watch over her, so Nee-chan can fight to the fullest!”

“Good boy, Luka.” Subaru said, ruffling his hair, “Yes, I know she’ll be just fine as long as I have you guys taking care of her. Make sure she doesn’t get too lonely, okay? And I’ll do my best here too.”

“Well, alright…” Petra was the first to respond, “You’ve saved us once before, and now you’re trying to do it again… We owe you that much at least.”

“Send them packing, Onee-chan!” Cain followed, “We’ll take care of that girl, so you don’t need to worry about a thing!”

“Thank you. All of you.” Subaru responded as a smile spread across her face, “I’ll crush them to bits, okay?”

“Are you finished, Barusu?” Ram asked as she entered the room.

“Yeah, just about.”

‘Alright, I suppose it’s about time I head out.’

“Ah, by the way, Ram.” Subaru continued, drawing closer to Ram and whispering into her ear,

“The White Whale’s on its way too.”

Chapter Text

“… Are you serious?” Ram whispered back in disbelief as they walked out of sight of the children.

“Completely.” Subaru replied.

Ram sighed, shaking her head, “Did your scent draw it here?”

“Well, not exactly. It was already headed here long before I was, if anything, I might have bought us some extra time by grounding it. That aside, it seems to me that that thing works for the Witch Cult. The way it blocked off the Lifaus Highway seemed rather deliberate, as if it had done so specifically to ensure that aid from the capital would not reach the manor in time. The fact that it’s now coming for the manor only proves this further.”

“So we will have to contend with one of the Great Witchbeasts as well…” Ram muttered with a frown, “How much time do we have?”

“Well, Crusch was planning to hunt that thing down, so ideally, her guys will have it taken care of before it even gets here, but… I’d say maybe a day or two? It doesn’t travel all that fast.”

Indeed, it seemed to only move at high speeds in brief bursts, and only while it had prey right in front of it at that. The speed at which it actually traveled wasn’t especially fast, as evidenced by the fact that Subaru and Otto had caught up to it within a couple of hours despite it having an entire day’s worth of a head start on them.

“The Witch Cult is the more immediate concern, then.” Ram said, “I intend to evacuate Emilia-sama along with the children as you suggested, but… How will you handle the Witch Cult in the meantime Barusu?”

“By doing my best, of course. But seriously, here’s the plan: I’m going to blow up part of the mansion with a fire spell to create a smoke cover for you guys, as well as to convince those guys that I’m on their side since they apparently think I’m one of them. After that, I’m going to use Murak to make the carriage weightless, so you’ll be able to float up above the clouds while hidden by the smoke. You can then use your wind magic to propel the carriage around once you’re far enough up in the sky. Thanks to the mist, the visibility is poor enough that you should be completely invisible up there. Well, unless they can track you through means other than sight… Of course, I can use my sound magic to ensure that your carriage is completely silent too, just to be safe.”

While blocking out sound was simple enough on its own, it would be Subaru’s first time attempting it over such a long range. It would be a lot easier if she just went with them, but she didn’t want to meet Emilia right now, and more importantly, the cultists would just be able to track them by scent if she was with them.

‘Even if we hide Emilia’s true identity using her cloak, I seriously doubt I could get the cult to spare people escaping from the manor… Still, if the cloak can help out at all…’

While Ram lowered her eyes slightly, mulling the plan over, Subaru continued, “By the way, I’m sure you won’t forget, but make sure Emilia has her cloak on, yeah?”

“Very well. Though undeserved, the kind and gracious Ram shall place a sliver of faith in you.”

Saying this, Ram turned around and returned to the children to take them to the carriage, leaving Subaru alone.

‘Alright… I’d better not screw this up.’

Subaru took a deep breath and then released it. She repeated this process a few times to calm her building anxiety as she headed over to the bathroom to extract the mana stones of fire from under the bathtub.

’The Witch Cult is led by Sin Archbishops… The ones most favored by the witch. This seems like a big enough operation that they’d have one of those around.’

Subaru thought back to how strangely calm she was when she first encountered the cultists. Despite her apprehension beforehand, and of course even now, she had barely even felt anything when she actually met them. She was a little amused by their black robes that made them look like a palette swapped KKK, but that was it.

Perhaps that was because she instinctively recognized herself as a superior existence to the likes of them. They were just common cultists, after all, they couldn’t compare to someone loved by Satella like she was. She almost felt like she was in her element ordering them around, like it was the most natural thing for her to do.

‘But it’s not… It’s the archbishops who give them orders, and I have no idea how I’d compare to one…’

Ultimately, it was the thought of meeting an archbishop that made her so uneasy. She was confident that she could overcome any other obstacle as long as she had Satella’s favor, she could just try as many times as she wanted to, after all; however, she couldn’t take any of that for granted when she was facing someone who was supposedly also loved by the witch.

‘Worst case scenario, they can cancel my ability to resurrect… That would just suck.’

If she no longer had the guarantee of a failsafe in the event of her death, her mental state could end up spiraling once more; just like it did back during her first loop at the mansion, before she knew the timeline would reset if she died.

As an aside, it was also somewhat unpleasant to her to imagine that she was ultimately just a part of the witch’s harem.

‘Makes me kinda jealous, or something… I guess that’s what makes you the Witch of Envy, eh?’

Quipping to no one in her mind, she hoped Satella would hear it. She was apparently always listening to make sure that Subaru would never speak of their secret, so maybe she did.

Subaru then sighed as she left the bathroom, having gathered all the mana stones of fire she needed. Even attempting to distract herself like this had failed to calm her down. It wouldn’t do for her to head out with her nerves in this state, so she decided to have a brief chat with her spirit. Her talks with Nox did always help her back in her first loop.

‘Hey there, little fella… We’re going to be going up against the Witch Cult soon enough, and maybe even an archbishop… That’s pretty scary after all, huh.’

Nox sent back feelings of reassurance in response, which made her feel even more terrible for the Nox of this world, since she was already planning to die and leave this timeline behind.

‘Thanks, Nox. You always know exactly what to say at times like this. I don’t want to end up like Emilia is with Puck, but maybe I ought to rely on you a little more.’

Subaru was of course already almost completely reliant on Nox in terms of combat since she performed all her spell casting through him, but emotionally, she tried to maintain a bit of a barrier between them. The reason for this was of course Emilia and Puck’s relationship, which she found somewhat distasteful and would rather not replicate with her own spirit.

Besides, it would only make it harder for her to die if they got too close. Unlike the others, Nox was always by her side. She would either have to do it right in front of him, or forcefully break their contract beforehand and separate from him. Either way, dying intentionally would be much harder on her emotionally.

But maybe it wasn’t fair to treat her trusty partner this way, he was devoting everything he had to her, after all, perhaps she owed him the same… However much she could, at least.

‘Well, archbishop or not, I’m sure we’ll be fine either way, isn’t that right? You’ve gotten plenty strong, after all, you even took on the White Whale!’

Indeed, they had both improved dramatically over the past two months. Nox was even starting to become too powerful to dwell in her gate for very long, which was where he usually resided when they first met. Subaru had picked out a particularly pretty mana crystal to keep him in, and he would alternate between it and her gate throughout the day. She would probably need a higher quality crystal soon enough, though.

‘Like that green one Emilia wears… Definitely wouldn’t display it so openly, though.’

Subaru preferred to keep such things hidden away, so perhaps she would just keep it in her pocket like she did her current crystal. As Subaru pondered such matters, she finally arrived at the carriage to be used to evacuate the manor. Examining it briefly, she then set up the fire stones nearby while hiding herself behind a wall.

It wasn’t long before Ram arrived at the carriage as well, with Emilia, the children, and Meina’s mother in tow. Ram took the driver’s seat at the front while the others entered the back of the carriage.

‘Looks like the kids are getting along with Emilia after all, and she isn’t even hiding her true self right now… That’s good; unfortunate that the situation had to devolve to this before it could happen, though.’

“We are about to set off the distraction, please remain calm and proceed according to the plan.” Ram announced to the passengers in the back, reading Subaru’s intentions.

‘Alright, Nox. Ignite them.’

The fire stones she had hidden out in the front immediately exploded, scorching part of the garden and producing a huge plume of smoke. Subaru had the urge to tell everyone to hold their breath if they didn’t want to die of cancer later in life, but she suppressed it as she eliminated gravity and launched the carriage into the air using the smoke as a cover.

‘Alright, Ram, the rest is up to you now.’

Applying her sound blocking magic to the carriage as best she could, Subaru waited until it was over the clouds before she headed out into the forest herself, to confront the cultists once more.

‘Better not allow myself to die before they touch down beyond the forest… Here we go.’

Chapter Text

Stepping back out towards the forest, Subaru carefully monitored the cultists ahead of her. They still showed no signs of hostility, in fact, they barely even reacted to the explosion at all, besides one who headed deeper into the woods, presumably to inform their leader.

‘If that’s where he’s headed, I suppose I might as well just follow him.’

“Out of my way.” Subaru ordered as she passed the tree line and encountered a few cultists stationed there, “I need to have a chat with your boss, leave us be.”

Dispersing the cultists around her, Subaru then continued to follow after the cultist she was trailing. He soon arrived at some sort of cliff face that seemed to have been hollowed out, though the entrance to the cavern was blocked off by a huge rock. Perhaps this was their main base of operations around here. Subaru watched as the cultist spoke to a man who was clearly different from all of the cultists she had faced thus far, in that he didn’t have his face covered.

Perhaps it would be better for everyone if he did keep it covered, though, for his appearance was grotesque. Despite being so thin that he looked like he was starving, his sickly pale skin gave off the impression that it was stretched to the limit, as if it could just rip apart and fall off at any moment. His hollow cheeks and eyes that almost seemed to be bulging out only served to further emphasize his excessively gaunt build.

‘Well, at least his hair doesn’t appear to be doing too poorly just yet.’

The only part of him that might be called normal was his short green hair, which wasn’t in quite as poor a state as the rest of his body.

‘So that must be the archbishop… Can’t say I was expecting him to look so repulsive.’

Subaru wasn’t really sure what she was expecting, but she imagined that the leaders of the Witch Cult would at least have to be cool and charismatic.

Ignoring all of her instincts telling her to back away, Subaru immediately stepped forward once she saw that the cultist had finished his report and left.

“… I have been waiting for you, believer in love!” the man declared with an insane sort of glee, his arms spread wide apart, the moment Subaru appeared before him.

Subaru had been a little worried as to how exactly he would react to her arrival, but this wasn’t at all what she was expecting. Although, since he could presumably detect the witch’s scent on her, he would have had to have known that she was there the entire time, and the fact that he hadn’t done anything about it would then mean her presence was one he approved of… Probably.

“I am a Sin Archbishop of the Witch Cult, representing Sloth, Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti!” he announced with a mad gleam in his eye as he cackled, leaving his tongue extended as drool dripped from his mouth.

‘I really don’t know what Satella-tan’s into, but it’s very difficult to imagine that she’d prefer a freak show like this guy over a lovely lass such as myself…’

Since he hadn’t turned hostile just yet, however, Subaru figured she may as well speak with him to learn all she could. After all, being an archbishop, it was possible that he possessed the answers she had been seeking.

‘Gotta ease him into it, though…’

“Greetings, archbishop. I thank you for the warm welcome.” Subaru replied, “I had sensed that you had a great purpose to serve here, so I preemptively assaulted the manor to block off their escape route, but…”

Subaru paused for a moment, unsure as to how she should proceed. While she was mostly certain that they were here for Emilia, she couldn’t actually be sure. Maybe they were here to finish the job with Rem and Ram or something. And even if they were here for Emilia, Subaru didn’t know what they would actually want to do with her. Killing her may have seemed like the obvious choice to make, but…

‘She is supposed to look like their idol, who knows if they love her or hate her for it… The people in the capital seem to think it’s hate, but if these guys suddenly get mad the moment I start talking about killing Emilia…’

If they did, they would truly be people after her own heart. After all, even Subaru herself would get upset if someone suddenly started talking about taking Emilia’s life. Jokes aside, Subaru decided to leave her purpose here vague for the moment, until she knew what it was that they actually wanted to do.

“How splendid! How diligent! How wonderful!” Petelgeuse hollered with his nails digging into his cheeks, “Unlike our slothful selves who were slow to act, plagued by indecision, lacking in foresight, you immediately took decisive action to serve the will of the witch before anyone else! Truly, truly, truly, truly, truly… An act befitting the dense love that hangs upon you!”

Petelgeuse had started to lean further and further backward as he spoke, and he was already well past the point physics dictated that he should have tipped over and fallen on his head.

‘Pretty impressive balance on this guy. Might have a future on the big stage as a dancer if he cleans his act up…’

More importantly, the so-called love he was referring to was most likely the witch’s scent. If so…

“Love, is it…” Subaru muttered, then continuing with a bright smile, “Yes, I am loved. Ever since that day, I have been keenly aware of the witch’s love for me. Tell me, archbishop, what is it that we can do to repay her favor?”

His already bulging eyes seemed like they might fall right out as he widened them further, staring at her in astonishment, “How magnificent! What a loyal, pious heart! Yes, it is just as you say, her favor must be repaid! It is only through the utmost diligence that our slothful selves can repay the affection she has bestowed upon us! It is for that purpose that we must carry out the Trial!”

Excellent, it seemed like she could get him to talk after all. If she could just figure out what exactly they were planning here, her next loop would be a breeze… If she even had a next loop. She still didn’t know if the archbishop possessed some way to counter her ability, so she would have to be careful.

“The Trial, archbishop? Would you mind explaining in a little more detail?”

“My brain… Trembles.”

The archbishop’s demeanor shifted instantly, his erratic movements suddenly intensified as he started biting down on his fingers, crushing them to bits. Still, Subaru intended to carry her bluff through to the end. No matter how hostile or insane he seemed, she wouldn’t give up until he actually attacked her.

Suddenly calming down, he responded, “Yes, the Trial… I will of course explain it to you.”

“The dawn of the Trial is upon us!” he declared, “With the highway sealed off, none may interfere with this most holy, most sacred of rites! For love, all for love! On this day, we shall condemn the newly discovered half-devil girl for her sin! She, who through her existence alone commits an intolerable sin against this world! We shall put her to trial, to see if she can bear the depth of that sin! Yes, she must be tested! To see if she can be not slothful, but diligent! By my hand, before anyone else…”

“A trial to condemn her for her sin, and see if she can bear the depth of it?”

Subaru wasn’t really sure if this was a metaphor for something since there was that whole thing about Archbishops and Witches of Sin.

“Yes, A Trial for that purpose! Sin for that purpose! A Sin Archbishop! That is why she must be tested! To see if she can be a worthy vessel, taking in the witch factor…”

‘Witch factor…?’

Having established that they planned to use Emilia as a vessel, the next step was to find out what exactly it was that they wanted to put in her.

The archbishop seemed to be getting overly excited, however, so not wanting their conversation to end just yet, Subaru changed the subject,

“Then, what would you have me do, archbishop?”

“Indeed, you, you, you! What is your purpose here?! The favor bestowed upon you is far too dense for me to add you to the ranks of my fingers at this moment! Such affection would surely be the envy of Wrath or Lust!” His bizarre movements and frantic tone suddenly ceased, “Might it be that you are Pride after all?”

‘Hold on, is this guy asking me if I’m a Sin Archbishop? And actually… Am I? How do you even tell?’

Subaru had often wondered why exactly it was that she was even summoned to this world in the first place. And she had naturally ended up thinking of the Witch Cult as her enemy over the course of her life here, but what if she was meant to be one of them all along?

Chapter Text

While Subaru did wonder about what the qualifications were to be a Sin Archbishop, she was also curious as to what made him decide that she had to be Pride specifically.

‘I mean, I guess I’m fairly prideful in terms of my personality, but… I’m probably also guilty of all of the other sins, I would think. Heck, you could even count those two extra ones.’

Perhaps Pride was the one she indulged in the most or something?

“Pride? What makes you think that?” She decided she might as well just ask.

“Among the six Archbishops of Sin, only the seat of Pride remains vacant! The present generation of Sins is to remain incomplete until a suitable person appears, but… The witch factor should have already reached the next Pride. You have received your gospel, yes?”

‘Ah, so it was just the process of elimination. Guess there wasn’t actually anything pinning me as Pride of all things. More importantly, there’s that term again, witch factor…’

Something seemed to click in Subaru’s mind at the second mention of the term. If they wanted to put whatever a witch factor was in Emilia, and it was also what determined who would be the next Pride…

‘There’s probably one for every sin. It’s likely also the source of their unusual abilities?’

Subaru had heard that the leaders of the Witch Cult possessed bizarre abilities that violated the laws of magic, special powers that were different from blessings. Surely, it must have been the witch factors within them granting them such powers.

‘And speaking of bizarre abilities that violate the laws of magic…’

There was of course her very own power to reset the timeline upon her death. Even Beatrice at her best could only stop time, to reverse it was unheard of. It therefore seemed quite logical to think that this power that defied the Od Laguna itself was in fact the product of a witch factor.

‘If that’s true, then I guess I really am a Sin Archbishop after all, but…’

As Petelgeuse alluded to, she had never actually received a gospel. From what she had heard, those were cursed books delivered to anyone who had the potential to join the Witch Cult, and reading one would instantly turn them into cultists or something.

‘Hold on, was everything I’ve done in this world until now all the result of a simple misunderstanding? Just because I somehow misplaced the cult’s sacred text, or never got it in the first place?’

If Subaru truly was a Sin Archbishop and it was indeed Satella that brought her here, it was probably no coincidence that she was dropped off so close to Emilia, especially considering the fact that the girl was in a rather precarious situation at the time. Just not for the reasons Subaru had initially thought.

‘I had kind of imagined I was put there to save her, but… And I guess I kind of was, but if my ultimate purpose was to deliver her to the Witch Cult to undergo the Trial, then…’

Petelgeuse had mentioned something about Emilia having to take in a witch factor, presumably Envy. Since all the other sins were accounted for (Pride was still a bit uncertain, though), Envy was the only one left. And it would be rather fitting, given Emilia’s apparent resemblance to the Witch of Envy.

While this was all great for the Witch Cult, it left Subaru herself in a bind, since she wasn’t yet sure where her loyalties lay.

‘What even happens if Emilia actually takes in the witch factor of Envy, anyway? Presumably there would be more to it than just getting cool powers… Probably wouldn’t end very well for her. And also, shouldn’t that witch factor still be with Satella?’

According to the legend, Satella had defeated all the other Witches of Sin and consumed their powers. That presumably meant that Envy had to be the most powerful witch factor. Furthermore, it also meant that she once possessed all seven witch factors, but then decided to hand six of them down to these cultists for some reason.

‘And now she’s even about to give away her original and sole remaining witch factor? More importantly, how is she even able to do that while sealed away? Well, I guess since she can appear before me whenever she wants, she’s not especially restricted…’

She would need to know more about what it meant for Emilia to be a vessel before she could make a decision.

“Setting aside the matter of the gospel, about the vessel, if she is deemed to be worthy…”

“If she is deemed to be worthy, the fated day of the witch’s resurrection will be upon us!” Petelgeuse declared, throwing his hands up into the air as he tilted his head backwards, gazing up at the sky, “It is for that reason that we must test the half-devil! We must learn whether or not she can hold the witch’s love! So that we may bear witness to the moment Satella walks this world once more! That is my love, the reason I endeavor alongside my fingers!”

‘Ah, I see, it’s not just the witch factor they’ll be putting in her, it’s the witch herself… Well now, that changes things quite a bit.’

Subaru was starting to have an unpleasant feeling that her purpose in this world was to deliver the witch a spare body in the form of Emilia.

‘I’d have really appreciated clearer instructions on that front… I guess they would have been in the gospel, had I received one…’

While the thought of having to sacrifice an innocent girl was rather unpleasant, Subaru felt that she most likely would have done it in exchange for immortality. That is, assuming there was no other way to win Satella’s favor. If it was simply about allowing her to freely wander the world once more, if Subaru could just break her out of wherever she had been sealed away, presumably there would be no need for a vessel or anything of the sort.

‘But then, I’d have to ask her to pretty please not wipe out half the world once more… She might still do that with Emilia’s body, come to think of it.’

Even now, Subaru didn’t really know anything about Satella. She didn’t understand her, and she hadn’t the slightest clue as to what kind of person she actually was. All she had to go on was hearsay, and their very brief encounters.

‘Even so, I can’t help but feel that she’s a good girl at heart… Surely, she must have had some sort of reason for whatever it was that she did.’

The half the world that had apparently been massacred four hundred years ago probably wouldn’t be very happy to hear this, nor would the vast majority of people alive today, but this was Subaru’s decision to make. She did feel a little sorry for the denizens of this world, however. After all, they were blissfully unaware that their fates now lay in the hands of a girl most of them hadn’t even heard of, one who hadn’t even been part of this world two months ago.

In the end, the only thing actually giving Subaru pause here was Emilia herself. While Subaru might have not have hesitated all that much to offer her up to the witch back on her first day here had she known of her mission back then, they had gotten close enough over the past two months that Subaru really didn’t want to betray her, even if it was for Satella. Besides, Subaru had pledged to serve and protect her no matter what on the day she became her knight, and she didn’t want to be the sort of person who would break her promises. Well, unless she was lying when she made them, which wasn’t the case here.

‘But then, I do distinctly recall telling Satella that I’d offer her just about anything if she’d just bring me back once more back when I was about to die to Rem… Guess that’s why you don’t swear fealty to two people at once.’

Perhaps Subaru could wiggle her way out of that one by saying that ‘just about anything’ did not encompass Emilia’s life, but still, she was directly opposing Satella’s will by interfering with the Witch Cult here. Whichever side she chose, she’d be breaking a promise and betraying someone.

This was in essence the worst case scenario that she had both feared and expected for so long, that the two dearest to her heart would some day find themselves in conflict, and she would have to pick a side.

This was also the natural consequence of her shallow thoughts regarding the matter, she had put it off endlessly until she finally had no choice but to address it immediately and decisively.

If by protecting Emilia she was turning her back on Satella, potentially earning her ire and therefore giving up her power…

Chapter Text

If Subaru had to choose between Satella and Emilia, her choice would obviously have to be Satella. While she liked Emilia well enough, she quite literally owed everything to Satella. Were it not for her, Subaru would have just died to Ram and that would have been the end of her.

‘Although, technically speaking, it was the witch’s scent that indirectly caused my death in that first loop… I’d have probably died somehow regardless, though.’

Her life without the witch’s scent hanging upon her would have been far too different to even conceive of, so there was no point thinking about it. Regardless, the point was that the power Satella had granted her was far too precious to give up so easily. That being the case, Subaru’s answer was obvious. Or it should have been, but—

“Present the gospel.”

Petelgeuse’s command interrupted her train of thought. With yet another pause in his erratic behavior, he was now eerily calm. The way he was looking at her now felt far more terrifying than anything he had done in the throes of insanity.

“Present the gospel.” he repeated, “The proof of her favor—”

And it was at this moment that Subaru realized something,

‘Wait a damned minute, I don’t need some stupid book to prove that she loves me! I know it from the bottom of my heart! This guy’s a total fraud!’

Having returned to a more rational state of mind, Subaru decided that it probably wasn’t very wise to base her life choices on the words of a man who was so clearly mentally unstable.

‘This guy’s obviously off his damned rocker, I can’t believe I almost let him convince me to turn against Emilia…’

Besides, Satella could very clearly come and let Subaru know personally if anything she was doing displeased her. After all, she did just that whenever Subaru attempted to speak of their secret.

‘Satella-tan, if you don’t want me to get in this guy’s way, give my heart a quick squeeze, would you?’

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. The fact that Satella hadn’t interfered with Subaru’s actions thus far meant that she couldn’t possibly disapprove, regardless of whatever the madman before her claimed.

‘This whole Trial business might just be this guy’s delusion… Or maybe he’s thinking of the wrong witch or something.’

“Ah, the gospel, is it…” Subaru said, “Of course, I have it right here…”

Subaru reached into her pocket, pretending to search around for it as Petelgeuse stared at her. Of course, what she was actually doing was stalling to prepare a spell.

‘Ul Fula.’ she incanted in her mind, and Petelgeuse was instantly turned into fine mincemeat by fierce blades of wind; though she did make sure to spare his gospel so she could examine it later.

“El Goa!” she immediately cast a second spell, hoping to utterly incinerate the remains so as to ensure that he wouldn’t regenerate or anything of the sort. Still not relenting, she kept casting spell after spell to destroy his body as thoroughly as possible, while simultaneously sharpening her senses to the limit to ensure that she would immediately notice if anything was off—

Despite her best efforts to destroy it, Subaru definitely felt something leaving his corpse, or rather, the ashes scattering in the wind.

‘Tch, damn it, did he seriously make it out after all of that?’

Some part of her noted that that was her first time actually killing a person, but then, it didn’t even count because he apparently didn’t even actually die.

‘But what the hell was that thing? Am I going to have to fight his ghost or something?’

Retrieving his gospel, Subaru immediately retreated from the area, massacring any cultists she encountered along the way. Though they were initially slow to react, the cultists soon realized that something was off and started fighting back. Most of them weren’t especially skilled or powerful, with the majority not even using magic, instead simply wielding cross-shaped daggers. Subaru could wipe them out easily enough, a simple Fula could shred several cultists in one go.

However, there was one among them that clearly stood out from the rest. They possessed combat ability easily on par with even a knight of the Royal Guard, and Subaru struggled quite a bit facing them, especially since they had several cultists backing them up.

‘Hm, looks like they’re mainly a fire magic user…’

They wielded fairly powerful fire magic, more than capable of blocking or deflecting most of Subaru’s attacks. This on its own wouldn’t have been very troublesome, but what made this enemy even more dangerous was the skill and speed with which they moved. They could dodge even her fastest spells, and if Subaru wasn’t careful, they could very easily sneak a fire spell past her guard.

‘I’m at a disadvantage here, the more time I waste on this guy, the more cultists gather around us… I should back away for now.’

Subaru did of course make sure to pay attention to where the extra cultists were coming from, so she would more easily be able to determine their hiding spots in her next loop.

As Subaru ducked under a wave of fire, she almost had her face skewered by large spike that suddenly exploded out of the ground. Barely dodging it and several boulders and fireballs that followed after it, Subaru realized that yet another exceptionally skilled cultist had arrived.

‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, there’s two of them?’

Eliminating gravity, Subaru immediately launched herself above the trees and wrapped herself in a cloak of wind to control her trajectory mid-air. It was her own rudimentary form of flight that she had invented since Roswaal’s variant was still too complex for her to pull off.

The dense canopy hid her from the cultists’ sight while she could still track them through echolocation. Moreover, any attacks they launched at her would necessarily have to make their way through the leaves, rendering sneak attacks impossible since she would notice instantly. With a position like this, she could easily dodge their spells no matter how many of them there were.

‘Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. They’re definitely not getting me with just two, though.’

As Subaru thought this, she suddenly sensed some bizarre tentacles approaching her from behind. Immediately slicing them apart with her wind as she turned around, Subaru raised an eyebrow.

‘Shadowy tentacles… With hands attached at the end?’

She was of course familiar with the sight of such things, they looked exceedingly similar to the hands she would encounter whenever she attempted to speak of her power. However, time hadn’t stopped, the world wasn’t wrapped in shadows, and she could move freely.

Tracing them to their source, she found that they originated from the back of a certain cultist. They weren’t especially fast and Subaru could get rid of them easily enough, but they were definitely proving to be quite hindrance since she also had to dodge spells from the other cultists at the same time; not to mention the fact that the woman could instantly replace any hands Subaru destroyed, and in fact kept increasing their number. There were now about thirty in total chasing Subaru around the air as she dodged and deflected the various spells the cultists on the ground cast her way.

‘It looks like there’s only a single cultist that can use that power… And it seems they’re only looking to restrain rather than kill me…’

This wasn’t a confrontation Subaru could win on her own, she would eventually get overwhelmed if they kept this up, so she decided that if she was going to go down regardless, she might as well just let the hands get her rather than any of the common cultists’ spells.

Slowing down, Subaru allowed herself to fall into the tentacles’ clutches. The moment a hand grabbed a hold of her, several others followed after it and started wrapping around her, binding her tightly and turning her upside down as they pulled her down out of the air.

She was brought down before the woman producing the arms, still hung upside down as she faced her. Interestingly, the woman before her also left her face uncovered just like Petelgeuse.

“You… Could it be that you are able to see the Unseen Hand?” the woman began, staring at Subaru with frantic eyes, “No, it cannot be. It is not possible. It is a mistake, an error. It is strange, it is wrong, it is inconceivable that my authority, the Authority of Sloth granted unto me by her favor, the Unseen Hand should be seen by anyone else! It is unforgivable!”

The woman shrieked into Subaru’s face, her ranting becoming more fervent by the second as she contorted her body into strange shapes.

‘Man, this style of ranting really feels familiar… Could she be? Since she’s talking about the Authority of Sloth, surely…’

Unless this was some sort of bizarre situation where the Archbishop of Sloth was actually this woman all along and the guy from before was an impostor, she could only think of one person whom this could be.

Pausing briefly, the woman hollered anew, “Who are you?! What is your purpose here?! The favor bestowed upon you is equivalent to that of a Sin Archbishop, and yet why do you…?!”

“You know, it’s generally considered polite to introduce yourself before you ask someone who they are.” Subaru replied.

The woman froze, still in the middle of her eccentric gestures, as she suddenly glared at Subaru with the same sort of calm intensity Petelgeuse had between his fits of madness,

“I am a finger.” she declared.

“A finger?”

‘Petelgeuse mentioned that he wanted to make me one of those, but the witch’s scent on me was apparently too dense for him to do it…’

“Yes, a finger! One who reciprocates her favor! Who follows the guidance of love! A loyal and diligent disciple! Aah…” A grin of psychotic pleasure spread across her face as she titled her neck sideways with a sickening crack, “You, on the other hand… You are slothful, are you not?”

Subaru could feel her bones starting to creak as the hands around her tightened their grip. She was about to be crushed to pieces. Of course, it wasn’t if as she had allowed herself to captured without a plan.

‘Phew, just in the nick of time.’

The instant before the hands could reduce her to a pulp, a blast of wind tore through the forest on her left and ripped the woman apart before she could even react, simultaneously also wiping out all the cultists in the area. Wind magic of this scale could of course only come from one person.

“Nice one, Ram-chi!” Subaru called out as she flipped around to land on her feet. Unfortunately, Ram was already panting by the time she got there. It seemed she had killed a fair few cultists on her way here, and there was of course the fact that she had to fly the carriage all the way out of the forest before she ran back here.

‘She’s just about gassed out already, huh… Well, that’s to be expected.’

“Barusu, what’s the situation here?” Ram asked, her voice strained.

“I’ve slain the archbishop, but it seems he can resurrect by possessing his subordinates’ bodies. That woman just now was most likely his second coming, and also, he can manifest a bunch of invisible tentacles; thirty at least. I was wrapped up in them before you took her out.” Subaru replied, rapidly listing off all the important information.

“… What?” Ram frowned, bewildered.

“It’s all exactly as I told you, just take a moment to think it over.” Subaru said, “Anyway, I also managed to snag that guy’s gospel after I killed him. I reckon there might be some useful information in here, so I was thinking I might check it out since we’ve got a moment of respite. Be sure to take me out immediately if it drives me crazy or something, okay?”

“At a time like this, Barusu?” Ram seemed somewhat exasperated, but interestingly, she did not put up much resistance to Subaru’s suggestion. She was entirely willing to take Subaru’s life if necessary.

‘That’s my cool and reliable Nee-sama… That cold attitude is gonna make me fall in love all over again.’

“This is probably the best time to do it, I would think. We’ve already got many more cultists on their way over here, you’re just about at your limit and I can’t beat them on my own. It’s rather unlikely that we’re going to survive this encounter unless I discover some sort of secret in this thing.” Subaru said, holding the gospel up between her fingers and waving it back and forth.

“Very well, go ahead. Ram shall see to it that your death is painless.”

“Thanks a bunch, Nee-sama.”

Flipping the book open, Subaru realized… That it was completely unreadable.

‘Ugh, damn it, they use code? Well, so much for that…’

“Goodbye, Barusu.” Ram said, pointing her palm at Subaru.

“Hey, wait! I’m still just fine, see?!” Subaru yelled back, feigning panic. That they could still engage in their usual humor even at a time like this put a smile on her face. “Wasn’t anything useful in there, unfortunately.”

“I see. Well, it is not as if Ram expected anything more from you.” Ram said with a sigh as she prepared herself for battle.

“Any possible aid is at least hours, likely days away… Probably far too late to do us any good.” Subaru noted, “Looks like we’ll just have to hold out on our own for as long as we can.”

Kneeling down to examine the dead cultists around her, Subaru found that they all looked like ordinary people for the most part. Without the hood and robes, there was nothing about them that really stood out. Perhaps this was how the Witch Cult remained so secretive, most of its members probably led normal lives when not engaged in cult activities. The average person would most likely just walk right past them on the street without a clue as to their true identities.

‘Ah, but what’s this? Magic crystals?’

When Subaru had Nox take a look at them, they discovered that every single cultist there had a magic crystal embedded within them. Subaru wouldn’t have much time to ponder the purpose of these crystals, however, for the next wave of cultists was already upon them.

Chapter Text

Rising to stand back to back with Ram, Subaru prepared her next spell as Ram readied her own.

‘If this is our last stand, I suppose I might as well go out looking good…’

Subaru was fairly certain she would die here, but she was also somewhat worried that she might somehow end up surviving like in that last loop with the Wolgarm which she really hadn’t been expecting to live through either. In fact, she had been hoping to reset for a better shot back then, too.

‘I’ve gotten Emilia away from here, and there’s no else especially powerful around, so it should be alright… Well, except for Beako, but I doubt she’d show up all of a sudden.’

Beatrice did save Rem last time when Subaru pleaded with her to do so, and even came to see to the village children at Puck’s request, but Subaru didn’t think that they were close enough that the girl would leave her library just to save her.

‘And of course, she wouldn’t do it for Ram either… Kind of cold, considering she’s known her for a decade. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to a spirit that’s lived centuries, though.’

Perhaps now wasn’t the best time to be pondering such matters considering she was in the midst of battle, but it wasn’t as if Subaru cared even that much if she died; and she could wipe out the average cultist easily enough anyway, even if they came in groups. She was slightly concerned about Ram, however.

‘I suppose I do owe it to her to stay focused, at least until she can safely retreat to the mansion and take up a defensive position there…’

The maid was being quite efficient with the use of what little mana she had left, cleanly bisecting the cultists assailing her with as little wind as possible, but she was presently tangling with yet another super cultist that wasn’t about to allow things to go quite that smoothly for her. Of course, they were dealt with easily enough when Subaru ripped apart the cultists surrounding her and aided Ram in her battle. Even the extraordinary cultists were no match for Subaru and Ram’s combined might.

Moreover, Subaru didn’t have to be nearly as conservative as Ram since her mana supply was much larger to begin with thanks to the mana crystals she always carried with her, not to mention the fact that she could always rely on the mana in the atmosphere to fuel Nox once the crystals had run out. This meant that she could cast large spells freely.

‘These special cultists that are way stronger than the regular ones… Could they be the fingers Petelgeuse was talking about?’

Thinking back, Subaru did recall Petelgeuse referring to that first cultist, the one that had gone to report the explosion to him, as the right middle. Subaru had initially thought that that was simply the position he was assigned, but thinking on it further, it now seemed much more likely that that was actually the title bestowed upon him.

’So that guy must have been a finger too… If that’s the naming scheme they’re using, unless they have repeats, it’s probably safe to assume there’s ten in total? Unless he’s also got toes in his back pocket.’

Since they teamed up, Subaru and Ram had killed over twenty cultists between them; not to mention all the ones they had each taken out individually before then. Subaru noticed that the cultists tended to come in waves of about ten each, and each group of ten generally had one unusually powerful cultist leading it. They had encountered three such cultists thus far, two of whom attacked Subaru and one of whom went for Ram.

‘So if the fingers lead groups of around ten each, and there’s ten fingers… There should be a little over a hundred cultists in total. We’ve gone through almost half of them already…’

The cultists’ death toll must have already exceeded forty by Subaru’s estimate, and they had likely taken out over half the fingers by now. If they just had Puck, Roswaal, or Beatrice fighting alongside them, this would probably be an easy win. As things stood, however, they were starting to get overwhelmed.

‘Not that I’d even want Puck facing the Witch Cult, since that would mean bringing Emilia with him…’

Despite her best efforts to conserve her mana, Ram’s forehead had started to bleed and it was clear that she was on the verge of collapsing. What’s more, Subaru sensed that the dark tentacles had appeared once more, this time near the spot she had first killed the original Petelgeuse. He seemed to be aimlessly thrashing his arms around in a rage, tearing down the forest around him. Perhaps he was trying to bait her over there for some reason?

‘I’d better go and deal with that… I’ve got to get Ram and the villagers out of here first, though.’

Using an Ul Fula to get rid of the cultists between her and Ram, Subaru took a few mana crystals out of her pouch for her own use before tossing the rest to Ram,

“Ram-chi, catch!” she called out, “Can you press one of those crystals to your forehead to absorb the mana or something?”

“Are you serious?” Ram asked as she turned around and caught the pouch flying her way while simultaneously decapitating a cultist attempting to sneak up behind her.

“I figured I might as well ask. It seemed like the sort of thing that might work.” Subaru replied as she leapt away from the chasm a cultist opened up beneath her, nullifying a fireball headed her way as she landed, “Anyway, you should at least be able to hold out a little longer if you use them to cast your spells, so get the villagers and retreat to the mansion. With Emilia gone, they should no longer have any reason to hesitate.”

Subaru was manipulating her voice with her sound magic to ensure that her words would only reach Ram, and the same applied in the other direction. It would be quite disastrous if the cultists picked up on their conversation, after all.

‘Let’s hope they don’t have good lip readers among them… Guess I’ll have to work on my light manipulation too if I want to fix that.’

Subaru and Ram were at the moment already quite close to the border between the forest and the village. The battle had been steadily shifting in that direction as they kept hunting down cultists attempting to sneak past them to attack the village. They had been rather lucky that Petelgeuse hadn’t yet spawned in a body especially close to the village, but there was no telling how long that luck would last. It would be wise to evacuate them right away.

“You intend to face the rest of the cultists yourself?” Ram asked as she finished off the last of the current wave.

“I should at least be able to hold them off for a bit, I think… Until you’ve established a secure position in the mansion at least. Anyway, what I really want to do is confront the Archbishop. He’s starting to run wild right now, so get going quickly, before the next group arrives.”

Issuing her final command, Subaru took off in Petelgeuse’s direction.

‘Is it only the fingers that he can possess, or does he just prefer to use them because they’re the strongest? Our odds change drastically depending on whether or not he can use the normal cultists too…’

As she approached, Subaru noted that Petelgeuse’s tentacles seemed much more powerful and numerous than before. She now counted about fifty, and they were strong enough to easily fell trees and carve up the ground like butter. Dodging between the hands as they obliterated the forest around her, Subaru soon found herself face to face with Petelgeuse once more.

She decided not to go for a sneak attack since it was highly unlikely that he would fall for the same trick again, and since he could smell the witch’s scent on her, it would probably be impossible for her to actually sneak up on him anyway. Besides, there was no telling where he would reappear if she killed him here, so it would be unwise to kill him off right away.

‘He’s a fair distance from the village and the manor right now, I’d better keep him here as long as I can…’

“You!” Petelgeuse bellowed the moment she appeared before him, immediately attempting to crush her with several of his hands, “You traitor! Backstabber! Betrayer of the witch’s love!”

Using his already bloodied hand, no doubt crushed by his own teeth judging by the blood in his mouth, to point out the burnt crater that was all that was left of his original body after Subaru was done with it, he continued, “You’ve destroyed it! The proof of her affection! The guidance that allows my insignificant self to repay her favor!”

He was so incensed he had blood pouring out of his eyes. Casually weaving through all of the arms reaching for her, Subaru pulled the gospel out of her pocket and taunted him with it, “You wouldn’t happen to be talking about this old thing, would you?”

The sight of his gospel momentarily rendered Petelgeuse speechless.

“Well then,” Subaru continued with a grin, “I guess you’d better be careful how you handle me, or you might end up destroying it yourself.” she declared as she hid it away once more.

Chapter Text

“You thief! You stole it?! Return it at once!” Petelgeuse screamed.

“You know, I don’t really feel like doing that. I guess you’ll just have to come and get it.” Patting her pocket, Subaru winked at the archbishop.

“Most vile of sinners!” Petelgeuse screamed as his arms shot towards her, “Fall before my diligence! The manifestation of the greatest love! The most sacred love! Die, so that I may offer up your corpse to the witch!”

Even though he wielded nearly twice as many tentacles as his predecessor, and they were all more powerful and sizable to boot, it seemed that he couldn’t control them quite as well. Unlike the female Petelgeuse whose arms pursued her in a fairly controlled manner, the man before her only used them swing at her wildly, hoping to swat her down.

‘Or maybe he’s just so mad he can’t fight properly.’

Launching herself into the air again, Subaru wrapped herself in a cloak of wind once more as she flew around to avoid his arms.

“El Fula!”

Her chant manifested a deadly stream of wind that tore through the atmosphere towards Petelgeuse. However, the impact was completely absorbed by the dozens of arms he coiled around himself as a shield.

‘So he can layer them thick enough to stop my wind spells, huh…’

Her wind had successfully ripped through many of his tentacles, but said tentacles reformed almost instantly, before Subaru could hope to follow up with a secondary attack.

At their current level, Subaru and Nox could at most wield three spells at once. Since they had already used up two of their allowance to maintain Subaru’s flight, they only had one left over for offense.

‘Meaning I can’t attack him with multiple spells at once, unless I allow myself to descend to the ground. But if I do that, I’m dead in an instant…’

In that scenario, she would just have to hope that she could kill him before he could kill her. However, that would be a terrible plan since he would just resurrect elsewhere and pose an even greater threat to the village and the manor.

‘He’ll probably be able to manifest even more arms next time… He’s enough trouble as it is, better keep him this way.’

Frustrated that his arms could not catch her, Petelgeuse had switched to a much more brutish method of fighting. He started ripping large trees right out of the ground, using them as clubs to swing at Subaru. As he did this, he also picked up large boulders and started flinging them towards Subaru.

Flying past what was essentially an artillery bombardment, Subaru attempted her next spell,

“El Jiwald!”

Firing an extremely focused ray of heat at the madman, so hot it ignited the atmosphere in its wake as it pierced his layered tentacles. Subaru watched as it easily ripped right through his defenses— However, before it could hit him, he managed to toss himself out of the way using his own tentacles.

‘I see, so he can also use them for mobility. It’s starting to look like a much more useful ability than I’d initially thought.’

“Why do you continue to live on?!” Petelgeuse shrieked as she continued to weave through his relentless assault, “Why, why, why, why, why do you not fall before my diligence?!”

“Interesting question. If I had to say, it’s probably because I don’t feel like dying just yet.” Subaru replied, acting as though she was genuinely pondering his question, “I could ask you the same thing, though. You don’t seem very slothful to me right now.”

“The Unseen Hand granted by her favor! It allows even my slothful self to enact my will without effort! How truly, truly, truly, unsightly! Aaah…”

As Petelgeuse went into yet another one of his fits, clawing at his face with his broken hands, Subaru considered his words,

‘I see, I guess that is rather slothful… You can use those hands to do whatever you want while your real body relaxes… Yeah, that’s pretty fitting. But I wonder, are they flammable?’

“El Goa!”

Subaru’s third attempt consisted of her launching a wave of fire at his tentacles. Though flames indeed started to eat away at them initially, Petelgeuse effortlessly quelled the blaze by momentarily dispelling his arms and then reforming them.

‘Come on, you’ll have me go through my entire arsenal at this rate…’

She did still have a few spells left up her sleeve. Minya, for instance, which was actually the first offensive spell she had ever learned. However, she later learned from Beatrice that she hadn’t been using it properly, that the arrows of stagnant time weren’t merely projectiles. Beatrice told her that if she really mastered it, she would even be able to use it to stop an opponent’s time, essentially leaving them forever frozen in that moment.

Subaru had started to get the hang of it, but the spell was still too complex for her to use while also maintaining her flight. That being the case, it probably wasn’t an option right now.

She could try to blind him with Shamac, but she wasn’t sure if that would even work on him. Furthermore, she would have to expend a huge amount of mana to get him from this range. Since she had already handed most of her mana crystals off to Ram, that wasn’t an option either.

Incidentally, her lack of mana was also why she had only been using El-class spells thus far, rather than going up to Ul.

‘In that case, what I have left is…’

“El Huma!” she incanted, and Petelgeuse was instantly surrounded by a dozen spears of ice. Subaru then launched them all at him simultaneously, but his hands easily caught them out of the air before they could even reach him, crushing them into pieces.

Of course, this was exactly what Subaru had planned for. She had intentionally produced icicles that would be easy to shatter, which would then spread tiny particles of ice through the air once they broke. Petelgeuse was momentarily left bewildered as the air around him started to glitter, and that moment of hesitation was all Subaru needed.

“El Jiwald!”

She unleashed her best yang spell once more, this time in the form of a barrage of lasers— However, none of them were actually aimed at Petelgeuse. The lasers seemed like they might all fly right past him, however, they instead refracted off the ice particles surrounding him, changing direction mid-air and assailing him from every direction.

With nowhere left to dodge, and with his arms unable to block them, Petelgeuse screamed in agony as he was skewered by blazing hot rays of light.

“Aah, this sensation…! This pain, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts!” He exclaimed in a mixture of pain and joy, “Truly, this is what it feels like to be alive!”

“I kind of knew it already, but you really are a masochist, huh?” Subaru commented, slightly disturbed.

‘Alright, that’s something to note for next loop. If I just use a little more force, that’s a strategy I can use to kill him even when he’s got all of those super-powered arms…’

Subaru had intentionally held back this time to merely cripple rather than outright kill him.

“Give it up, Petelgeuse. It should be clear by now that you can’t defeat me.”

Petelgeuse simply stared up at her with a mad glint in his eye when she said this. Those eyes then lost their light, as the body collapsed like a lifeless husk.

Subaru of course immediately understood what this meant.

‘What the hell, he can jump out of a body just like that?!’

This was immediately followed by an explosion in the direction of the village.

‘Ugh, just great! So much for that!’

Subaru could only hope that she had stalled him long enough for Ram to complete the evacuation, but she really doubted it.

Immediately flying over to the village, Subaru found that it had been decimated, with most of the homes there being crushed to rubble or reduced to flaming wrecks.

There were many cultists attacking it even now. Of course, Petelgeuse himself was among them. He thrashed his now sixty— No, seventy arms around with glee, each swing carving the landscape or crushing a building.

Subaru could also see that several of the villagers had been gruesomely murdered, having failed to escape. There was an aura of death and destruction no matter where she looked. Burnt alive, crushed to pieces, ripped apart, stabbed relentlessly, the corpses below her had all clearly died exceedingly brutal deaths.

However, that wasn’t what Subaru was thinking about right now. Rather, she was simply glad that the one she was looking for wasn’t among them.

‘Ram-chi isn’t there, thank goodness… Looks like she managed to make it.’

While the horrific scene before her did of course strike at her heart, she was at the same time terribly relieved that Ram at least had survived, along with however many of the villagers she had managed to evacuate before the cultists arrived.

As Subaru examined the state of the village, Petelgeuse suddenly looked up at her, having noticed her.

Subaru expected that he would once again attempt to attack her with his tentacles as he usually did, however, he instead launched himself up towards her with incredible speed.

‘—?!’

The madman hurtled towards her like a bullet, spreading his arms out before him to smash her. He was flying towards her much too fast for her to possibly dodge all of those tentacles, and if they made contact with her at this speed, she would without a doubt be turned into a bloody paste in an instant—

That must have been what Petelgeuse was thinking, for he was extremely shocked when Subaru instead floated away harmlessly when he hit her.

This was the result of her having further increased the potency of her Murak, completely eliminating all of her remaining inertia. As a result, instead of his tentacles smashing her like they should have, they instead simply pushed her out of the way with minimal resistance.

‘Now then, it’s my turn. If there’s anyone still alive down there, I’m sorry—‘

Subaru could see that the cultists attacking the village were now starting to head towards the manor. She had to stop them, no matter the cost. Even if there were still survivors in the ruins—

‘This next move’s a little beyond our pay grade, but just try to bear with it, Nox.’

Subaru could feel her gate starting to crack as she and her spirit summoned forth every last bit of mana they could for their most powerful spell.

‘Here it comes!’

“Al Fula!” Subaru yelled, expending all of her remaining mana to cast her ultimate wind spell.

Her incantation produced an explosion of wind so powerful that even all of Petelgeuse’s arms combined offered him no protection whatsoever. He was turned into a bloody mist instantly, with the windstorm then descending towards the village, completely obliterating most of Irlam and massacring every single cultist in the vicinity.

Subaru’s spell had completely leveled the area; where a village once stood had now been reduced to a deserted ruin, with the stench of blood wafting through the air from the countless minced corpses scattered around it.

‘Well, looks like that’s it for me… I’m leaving the rest to you, Ram-chi.’

Having used up all her remaining mana, Subaru could no longer even maintain her flight. Thus, she could only fall helplessly towards the ground, down into the carnage she had wrought.

She landed on her head, with a terrible crunch—

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

Subaru awoke to darkness, with a terrible ache in her head.

‘Ugh, when is this…?’

As she tried to get her bearings, Subaru found that her vision was blurred. All she could see before her was a bizarre pale white, with splotches of red on it.

When she attempted to raise her hand to rub her eyes, she found that her hand would not move.

‘What is this, sleep paralysis? Am I back in the Karsten residence…?’

Subaru was still feeling rather lightheaded, but this definitely didn’t feel like any bed she had ever slept in—

With her senses returning to her, Subaru suddenly realized that it wasn’t simply that her vision was blurry. Rather, whatever it was that was in front of her was so close that her eyes couldn’t focus on it.

Backing away slightly, Subaru found that she was looking into an old man’s face— A face covered in blood, staring straight at her with mere inches between them. It was a look she recognized instantly, a glare of insane hatred she knew all too well.

‘Petelgeuse?!’

The shock of realizing who exactly it was that she was facing jumpstarted her brain, kicking her thoughts into overdrive. With her brain finally working properly, Subaru realized that she hadn’t died at all. She was still in that same doomed timeline, chained up to the wall of a damp cave—

Chapter Text

“Can’t say I was expecting to see you again.” Subaru said, keeping her tone even, “So, why bother taking me prisoner? Didn’t you want to kill me?"

“My gospel contains no record of you.” Petelgeuse responded, holding his gospel up.

‘Ah, so he managed to retrieve it. Man, the idea that this guy felt around my unconscious body to find that thing is seriously disgusting…’

Subaru didn’t even want to imagine what all might have happened to her while she was blacked out to ultimately lead to her current position here, chained up and stripped of her possessions.

“Who are you? What is your purpose here?! Even I myself have not been blessed by such dense love as you have, yet you for reasons beyond my comprehension continue to act so vilely, so callously, so impudently! How cruelly you slaughtered my devout fingers! That you can see the Unseen Hand only furthers my suspicions! Might it be that you truly are Pride after all, here to carry out the Trial in Sloth’s place?!”

‘Ah, yes. Come to think of it, why is it that I can see the Unseen Hand? Is that just something archbishops can do?’

Subaru considered the possibility that in much the same way that she could see his Unseen Hand, this guy might in turn possess the ability to retain his memories whenever she reset the timeline.

‘That would be an absolute disaster, let’s hope that isn’t the case… That almost completely negates the sole advantage I have over him.’

Subaru hadn’t done all that poorly in this timeline; depending on whether or not Ram survived, perhaps she could just go on living here. It wasn’t worth taking the risk of resetting if everyone she cared about was still alive.

Of course, she would first have to defeat Petelgeuse and the remaining cultists here for that to be a possibility. It was interesting to note, however, that when Subaru examined the rest of the cave behind Petelgeuse, she found that the two of them were alone.

‘He hasn’t brought any cultists with him… Are the rest of them all dead, or just away doing something else?’

Attacking the mansion, for instance.

“It seems you do not intend to respond…” Petelgeuse muttered, displeased, when Subaru continued to maintain her silence.

‘Just give a moment, man. I’m trying to think here.’

“So let’s say I am Pride,” Subaru said, “What do you plan to do about it?”

“Even among fellow Sins, it is considered an unspoken law that we must not interfere in each other’s activities! If that should result in us fighting amongst ourselves, that only calls for even further diligence after the fact! The one who continues to persist despite any and all obstacles, the one who strives for love above all else shall prevail! After all, it is not unusual for those among us to act without reason and brutalize one another!”

‘I see, so it’s not unusual for Sin Archbishops to engage in death matches, huh…’

Perhaps that was only natural; after all, if the rest of them were anything like this guy, it was terribly difficult to imagine that they could possibly get along.

‘Or rather, what I’m really surprised about is that they’ve even got five of the six seats filled. Guess they just stay out of each other’s way for the most part…’

“If you truly are Pride,” Petelgeuse continued, “The Sins will at long last be complete! Once we have seen this Trial through, we must convene with the other Sins so that we may together demonstrate our Love for the Witch! And it is for that reason that I must ask—“ Petelgeuse’s eyes that seemed to be rolling into the back of his head as he spoke suddenly snapped back towards Subaru.

‘Yeah, I don’t know about that one, pal. Demonstrating our love together? Doesn’t sound like something I’d be into.’

If Subaru were to ever ‘demonstrate her love’ for Satella, it would most definitely be something she would do in private, without any of these other freaks around.

“What have you done with the vessel?!” Petelgeuse demanded as he twisted his neck ninety degrees with a disgusting crack, “Where have you taken the half-devil?! How have you hidden her away from our slothful eyes?!”

“How come you’re so sure I haven’t just killed her myself? Maybe I just put her to Trial myself, and she came up short. Ever think of that?”

“There was no corpse! There was not the slightest trace, not even a mere hint of her presence! Despite my relentless pursuit, despite my subordinates’ most diligent efforts to hunt her, the vessel continues to elude us! Where have you put her?!”

The implication that the cult had already thoroughly searched the manor birthed a terribly unpleasant premonition in Subaru’s mind. What sort of state had they left it in?

‘Wait, if he’s taken my stuff, he should have my conversation mirror too… Did Ram return hers to Emilia, or does she still have it on her?’

The thought of Emilia opening up her conversation mirror to find this monster on the other side chilled Subaru to the core. All the more if he could make use of it to track her down.

‘But since he’s resorted to questioning me like this, it doesn’t seem like he’s been able to do that…’

Subaru could only hope that Ram had kept the other conversation mirror with her when she returned to the battle.

“Alright, you really want to know what I did with the vessel? I suppose I might as well tell you.”

Subaru’s declaration caused Petelgeuse, who had leaned so far backwards that his head was touching the ground, to shoot up towards her instantly. He started at her with rapt attention, eagerly awaiting her next words.

Of course, it wasn’t as if Subaru actually intended to tell him how she had Emilia escape. She just wanted to bring him a bit closer. After all, even if she was in no condition to use magic herself—

‘Do it, Nox.’

The very moment she thought this, the archbishop was sliced clean in half at the waist. Petelgeuse’s expression turned into one of shock and bewilderment as his upper body collapsed to the ground with a wet thud.

“What?! Impossible!” he exclaimed, coughing up blood as he screamed.

Subaru then had her spirit freeze her chains, shattering them with a pull as she stood up.

“It seems you’ve underestimated me. That’s just too bad.” she said, looking down at him with a smirk.

‘Alright, that should be finger number eight at least… Depending on how many Ram’s taken out on her end, we might have even finished off every single one of them.’

“You…! You…!” It seemed as though Petelgeuse had more that he wanted to say, but Subaru cut him off by crushing his throat under her boot.

“Well now, I wonder, do you have any other bodies to jump into? You’d better hurry it up if so, this one doesn’t seem like it can hold out for very much longer.” she said as she ground her heel into his windpipe.

The rage in Petelgeuse’s eyes suddenly vanished as they turned blank, in much the same way as she had seen once before.

‘So he really does have more bodies, damn it…!’

As Subaru moved to gather her belongings and leave the cave, she suddenly felt a dark presence overcoming her as something revolting attempted to slither into her gate.

‘What the hell, me…?!’

Instantly recognizing what was happening to her, Subaru prepared to end her own life on the spot, however—

The dark presence suddenly dissipated as the invader was expelled from her body.

The corpse on the ground suddenly came alive once more, gasping, “A spirit user…?!”

‘Hm? So it was Nox that prevented him from possessing me, huh… Man, you just keep saving me, little buddy.’

“Ah, so you finally figured it out. I’m honored you actually thought that I was that good of a spell caster on my own, but…”

Subaru held out her palm, having Nox manifest over it, “In truth, it’s all thanks to this little guy. I just prefer to keep him hidden away is all.”

“Anyway, now that you know…” Subaru continued in a disinterested tone, “I suppose you can just go ahead and die now.”

Saying this, she crushed Petelgeuse’s skull underfoot.

‘Ugh, gross! I’ve got brain matter all over my boot!’

Subaru didn’t want to waste any more mana on this guy since she was already running low to begin with, but perhaps it might have been worth it. Or maybe she should have just been more careful with the way she killed him.

‘That’s what I get for trying to look cool, I guess… Let’s hope that’s the end of him.’

Retrieving her possessions, Subaru exited the cave to find that the area was completely covered in fog. Even so, she could make just barely make out the position of the sun over the horizon, suggesting that it was right around daybreak.

‘Looks like I’ve been out for hours… More importantly, the thickness of this fog…’

The density of the fog in the area suggested that the White Whale had already arrived here.

‘You’re here a lot earlier than I’d expected. Guess you just couldn’t wait to see me, huh? Our rematch is going to have to wait a bit, though.’

Subaru wasn’t planning to face the White Whale again in this loop. Still, she was rather surprised to see that it had arrived so far ahead of schedule. Had Crusch failed to catch up with it, or had she just lost?

‘Since I can still remember those guys, I suppose that at least means they weren’t consumed by the fog…’

Subaru started making her way over to the mansion. The visibility in the area was so poor she could barely see a few feet ahead of her, and her current mana reserves were too low for her to use echolocation over a wide range. She was essentially walking blind towards the manor.

The fog cleared up slightly once she reached the mansion. Or rather, what was left of the mansion. The once grand estate was now little more than a pile of burning rubble, the sight of which sent shivers down her spine.

‘What the hell, what happened to Beako?!’

Subaru was certain that whatever happened, the mansion at least would be safe. After all, she know just how powerful Beatrice was. There was no way she would lose to guys of this level, the entire cult combined couldn’t hope to match up to her. Had Petelgeuse somehow caught her off guard with his ability?

‘No way… No way, that’s impossible…’

Subaru walked past several horrifically murdered corpses as she made her way through the gates, bodies of villagers who hadn’t managed to evacuate in time. The scent of blood and death overwhelmed her senses, mixing with the smoke rising from the charred bodies and flaming wreckage surrounding her.

The mansion’s garden was now an ocean of blood, with countless limbs and organs scattered all over it. There must have been dozens of bodies there, however, most of said bodies came from the cult.

Lying at the core of all of this endless gore was someone familiar— Ram.

The girl’s body was barely recognizable; she had several cross-shaped daggers sticking out of her, with many more open stab wounds that had already run dry of all their blood. She lay face up, her pink hair clumped up and darkened by the bloody mud sticking to it. Her clothes had been stained by the endless blood and dirt as well, her once pristine maid uniform now reduced to tattered rags, ripped to shreds by the blades that had so cruelly taken her life.

‘Ram-chi…?’

The sheer number of wounds covering her entire body made Subaru’s head spin. No doubt, she had fought to the very end. The cultist corpses surrounding her were proof of how valiantly she had faced them. Even out of stamina and on her last legs, she hadn’t hesitated in the slightest to lay down her life to protect those behind her.

— But it was all for naught, all that she had sought to protect had been mercilessly destroyed. Annihilated beyond repair.

Subaru’s thoughts had ground to a halt. She could barely even comprehend the sight before her. Or rather, her brain refused to comprehend it. Slowly stumbling over to Ram with shaky steps, Subaru collapsed to her knees beside her.

“Ram…” Subaru’s lips moved on their own, mouthing the fallen maid’s name without her even being conscious of it.

She extended her trembling hand, hesitantly reaching for Ram’s face. It was cold to the touch. Subaru absentmindedly stroked her cheek as she stared blankly into her face.

It was a face she had come to know well over the past two months. After all, it was Ram who had taught her how to read and write. It was Ram who had taught her wind magic. She was someone whom Subaru had come to respect and admire as an instructor, and cherish as a close friend.

The image of Ram’s usual, self-satisfied expression flashed across her mind. Compared to the look of agony she now wore—

Subaru did not know how she had been in that spot, she had already completely lost track of time. However, she all of a sudden found that her eyes were burning. Her cheeks felt hot, her entire body was trembling, her chest was heaving with every breath.

It was then that she realized— She had never actually seen someone precious to her die.

“Ram, I… Next time, I— I won’t, I swear I’ll…”

Her words had no meaning to them, she wasn’t even consciously intending to speak. After all, there was no point apologizing to a corpse. The Ram of this world was already long gone. Her mouth simply moved out of instinct, attempting to spout worthless platitudes and failing at even that.

Subaru knew that she could undo all of this, that she could create a better timeline— But that meant nothing to the people of the worlds she left behind. They would have to live on with her failures. Rem had lost her sister, and that wasn’t something that would ever change.

Subaru had always known from the very moment she discovered her ability that this was a possibility that she would one day have to confront, a sight that might someday become all too familiar to her. But even so, she hadn’t been expecting it to affect her to this extent.

‘That’s just another thing I’ll have to work on, I suppose.’

Subaru wiped her tears away, shaking her head to clear her mind.

Subaru had hoped to at least close Ram’s eyes for her, but her body was already far too stiff to allow that. As she lamented this fact, she suddenly sensed a group of cultists pouncing from behind her.

‘You’ve gotta be kidding me, you guys are still around?’

Immediately leaping up from Ram’s corpse, Subaru spun around and decapitated the cultist closest to her with a high kick, proceeding to then use his corpse as a shield against his comrades before whatever was left of his head could even hit the ground.

Since she was already running low on mana and had no mana crystals left, she and Nox would have to rely solely on the mana available to them in the atmosphere. That being the case, they couldn’t fire off spells nearly as freely as they had been thus far.

‘And that means I’ll have to fight with my bare hands for the most part…’

There were ten cultists assailing her, presumably the final group, now reduced to nine. The cultists in front of her used their daggers to rip straight through their comrade, desecrating his body with no hesitation in order to get to Subaru. Meanwhile, two of them had circled around behind her to cut off any avenue of escape.

‘Guess I’ve only got one direction to go then.’

Subaru immediately shot up into the sky, kicking a cultist’s jaw into his brain on her way up. Because she no longer had enough mana left to fly, she had essentially made herself a sitting duck by taking to the air. She had no way to dodge the cultists leaping after her, their daggers drawn—

“Fula!”

Producing a blast of wind to propel herself out of range of their attacks, Subaru also eviscerated two of the cultists before her.

The cultists behind her reacted immediately, moving to preempt her landing and slice her right out of the air— However, by slightly reducing her weight, Subaru was able to just barely backflip over their slashes. Restoring her weight to normal, she then caved their skulls in by smashing their heads with her knees, kicking their corpses at their brethren to delay their advance.

Yet another cultist who had separated from the pack attempted to stab at her from the side, to which she countered with a kick straight into his chest. With his blade already sailing towards her, it seemed as though his attack would land first; however, Subaru was able to blow a hole in his chest before his attack could reach by manifesting a burst of wind from her boot.

“Shamac!”

Producing a small cloud to blind the three remaining cultists, Subaru backed away as she panted.

She had managed to take out seven of them, but she wasn’t used to this sort of physical combat. Even this brief skirmish had taken a lot out of her. She wasn’t in especially good condition to begin with, so she could already feel her limit approaching.

With the cloud of shadow already fading, Subaru braced herself as the cultists charged her once more. However—

“—?!”

Subaru suddenly felt a swarm of tentacles tunneling through the ground beneath them. Immediately launching herself into the air, Subaru just barely avoided catastrophe as the entire garden was ripped open.

Over a hundred Unseen Hands burst forth from the ground, destroying the terrain and crushing everything in their path, even Petelgeuse’s own cultists.

’Tch, so he still had a body left… That should be the last of the cultists, though, so this really is the final battle.’

“You again!” Petelgeuse bellowed.

‘Thanks for doing my job for me. Now then, it’s about time we settled this.’

Subaru would ordinarily never draw from her Od, but since she was about to leave this timeline behind anyway,

“Ul Shamac.”

Subaru felt as if her soul itself was being scraped off, being converted into immense mana as it flooded out through her gate in the form of her ultimate yin spell.

Subaru wasn’t sure if even a spell of this level would affect Petelgeuse in the slightest. After all, he was a Sin Archbishop. Moreover, he was some sort of parasite that could take over people’s bodies. Still, she had nothing left to lose, and if the spell worked—

Just as she hoped for, the madman’s body suddenly went completely limp, her spell completely erasing its consciousness.

’I see, so yin magic does work on him…’

Not wasting a moment, Subaru immediately charged him, drawing her sword and slicing his head off in one clean motion. As she took his head off, she recalled something she had once said to Priscilla, about only cutting that which was worth cutting with this blade. She had completely made it up then, but the thought now brought a smile to her face.

Subaru immediately collapsed to the ground, completely exhausted. However, her pain and exhaustion were completely overpowered by the pure satisfaction she felt in this moment. Sloth was no more, she had prevailed over the cult.

‘Huh, what…?’

As Subaru rejoiced, she felt something dark slithering into her once more. However, it was a rather different sensation from when Petelgeuse had attempted to possess her. And most importantly, whatever this thing was hadn’t been deterred in the slightest by Nox’s presence.

Subaru recalled Petelgeuse talking to her about the succession of witch factors. Perhaps this meant that she was now in possession of his witch factor?

‘I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly… If this truly is the witch factor of Sloth, I guess that means I really did kill him… That’s good to know. Now then…’

Subaru turned towards Ram’s corpse, or rather, whatever was left of her after Petelgeuse’s hands obliterated the area,

“I’ll be seeing you soon, Ram-chi.”

‘And goodbye, Nox. Sorry about this.’

Apologizing to her spirit, Subaru brought her fingers up to her temple and blew her own head off.

Chapter Text

With the darkness parting before her, Subaru’s eyes were immediately singed by the scorching sunlight pouring down on her.

‘Looks like I made it back properly this time. I was a little worried, but… Thanks a bunch, Satella-tan.’

Some small part of Subaru had been worried to the very end that there would be consequences for the actions she had taken against the Witch Cult, but fortunately, it appeared that everything was just fine.

‘Let’s see, this is…’

As Subaru looked around, examining her surroundings in to determine where she returned to, she found—

“Subaru-sama?”

Rem standing beside her, tilting her head. It seemed that the two were currently wandering around the commercial district, and the way Subaru suddenly came to a stop in the middle of the busy street left the maid confused.

‘I see, so this should be my third day at the Karsten residence… Looks like I’ve got a bit of time.’

That was the only day Subaru had gone out with Rem. The fact that she did something different every single day of her stay there was now proving rather useful, since it allowed her to immediately determine the timeframe of her reset.

Rem’s expression slowly took on a tinge of concern as she reached for Subaru’s sleeve, drawing her attention. It was only then that Subaru noticed the faint warmth running down her cheek.

‘What, a tear? What do I have to cry about? Everything’s just fine now…’

Subaru herself could see no reason for this, so she was just as confused as Rem was. Maybe the sun was just that bright?

“Subaru-sama…” Rem repeated, “Why are you…?”

“Ah, this?” Subaru began, wiping the teardrop away, “Sorry, I was just overcome by how cute you are.”

“Eh?”

“Come on, let me get a closer look at that pretty face of yours.”

Ignoring Rem’s confusion, Subaru took her hand and led her away from the street.

“Where are we…?” Rem asked, her face slightly flushed.

“You’ll see.”

Walking past the crowds, they left the busy trading streets lined with stalls and arrived at an area with not many people around. There was a canal cutting them off from the other side of town, with the only way across being the few arched bridges over the canal connecting the two sides.

‘This place looks alright…’

Subaru took Rem over to a bench overlooking the waterway and sat her down. She then plopped down next to her and gently pulled the maid’s head towards her, down into her lap.

Now thoroughly bewildered and beyond flustered, Rem looked up at her with pleading eyes, “Subaru-sama, what are you—?”

“Well, I was just thinking that you’ve been a really good girl. I guess you could call it a reward for your hard work?”

“Rem is always happy to receive your praise, but any time Rem gets to spend with you is already more than enough of a reward in itself. And also…” Rem’s eyes flitted across the street, “To do this in such a public place…”

“That just makes it even more exciting, doesn’t it?” Subaru said with a smirk. “Hmm, I get the feeling that my witch’s scent’s probably pretty damned strong right now, though, so this might be somewhat unpleasant for you. If that’s the case…” she continued with a more thoughtful expression.

“No!” Rem immediately cut her off, “Rem does not mind at all, please do not concern yourself with such matters!” she declared as she buried her face in Subaru’s thighs.

“I see. I’m glad to hear that. Well then, it’s not too often that we’ll get to do this sort of thing, so enjoy yourself to the fullest, okay?”

Of course, it wasn’t as if Rem even needed to be told this. She probably knew better than anyone that the time she could spend alone with Subaru was limited, and there would be no further chances to do such things once they returned to the manor.

‘Alright, that should keep her pacified for the moment. Now, let’s see…’

Gently running her fingers through Rem’s hair, Subaru thought back to events of the previous loop. She needed to carefully go over every single thing that had happened to form a proper timeline of events, and only then could she act.

‘So I’m starting on the third day, and from the look of the sun, it’s still fairly early in the afternoon…’

Subaru recalled her conversation with Emilia around noon of the fifth day, in which Emilia had mentioned that Ram had detected some sort of strange presence in the forest the day before yesterday.

’So that would be today… Meaning the Witch Cult should be setting up camp around the manor right about now.’

However, Ram would not actually realize the true nature of the threat in the forest until the morning of the fifth day, when that disturbing signal reached Rem through their shared senses. Her clairvoyance was currently rendered ineffective against them since their very presence had driven away all animals, birds, and even insects in the area. With nothing left to see through, Ram would remain unable to grasp their true identities for some time yet.

’It’s kind of insane how all forms of life in this world know that you don’t want to tangle with the Witch Cult… Even Otto’s land dragon was hesitant to approach the forest, come to think of it.’

Subaru recalled the way Frufoo trembled as they entered the Mathers domain, stopping in her tracks and refusing to proceed any further.

‘Speaking of Otto, I hope the version of him from that timeline made it out okay… The White Whale reached the Mathers domain much faster than I’d initially anticipated, if he ended up getting caught…’

It would be Subaru’s fault entirely, for knocking him out and recklessly forcing his land dragon to run down the Lifaus Highway, straight through the fog. Still, it did save her a lot of time; so despite the guilt, it was worth it as far as she was concerned. And given the choice, she would most certainly do it again.

‘Of course, the ideal would be to avoid having to make such a choice in the first place. Let’s see, I made it around midnight and then fought the Witch Cult through the rest of the night…’

Since Petelgeuse had referred to that day as the dawn of the Trial when she first spoke to him, it was probably safe to assume that they planned to begin their attack on the morning of the sixth day.

‘Sorry, Otto. But if I hadn’t hijacked your carriage, I really might not have made it in time…’

With the hours she would have lost by taking the detour, it was entirely possible that everything would have already been over by the time she made it.

‘Speaking of the detour, it only becomes necessary after the fourth night, when the White Whale first appears over the Lifaus Highway and blocks off the path to the manor. It then starts making its way over to the Mathers domain, over the course of about two or three days… Though my presence can make it go a lot faster.’

Having collated all of the relevant information, Subaru established the time limits she was working under. She had about a day and a half until the highway was sealed off, and then another day after that before the Witch Cult would begin their attack.

‘Two and a half days in total… What can I do in that time?’

This was even less than time than she had gotten in her previous loop, in which she at least had three and a half days to find a solution.

‘And in truth, I’ve actually got less than a day here… Crusch doesn’t have any decent land dragons to lend us at the moment, so I’d have to set off by tomorrow morning at the latest if I want to make it before the fog descends upon the highway…’

With most of the capital’s best land dragons being dedicated to Crusch’s White Whale subjugation effort, the matter of transport was also a grave one. Subaru would be wasting most of her time just getting from point A to point B.

‘But even supposing that I do make it in time, what do I do then? Ram-chi and I did manage to take out all of the cultists on our own, albeit at a heavy cost… Maybe if we fight with Rem and Emilia at our side too…’

Indeed, perhaps it was possible that even the minuscule Emilia faction on their own could deal with the Witch Cult with no major casualties. However, Subaru would ideally prefer to settle this without any of the manor’s residents having to fight at all, least of all Emilia.

‘It would be great if they could all just relax at the manor while I handle things somehow, but… Since that probably isn’t going to happen, it would be best to evacuate them along with the villagers.’

As for the method of evacuation, that caravan of merchants she encountered in Fleur towards the evening of the fifth day would do just fine. Their large carriages could easily support several people each, and given that Irlam’s population amounted to less than a hundred in total, there would be no problems fitting them all in there.

‘The problem then becomes how to get them to offer us their services. I could just purchase everything they have on them at asking price and then have Roswaal foot the bill… That’d solve Otto’s money troubles too, if he’s among them.’

But with the highway blocked off, it would be very difficult indeed to carry out a proper evacuation of this scale. Even if she set off right now, there just wasn’t enough time.

‘So it comes back to the White Whale once more… I’m going to need to get that thing out of the way.’

Perhaps she could try to ground it like she did last time, but she didn’t want to take that sort of risk with so many lives at stake.

‘Temporary measures won’t do us any good. I’ll need to take it out on the way home, but the question is how? I could only damage it thanks to Otto’s oil, and even then it wasn’t anything significant… If it can withstand an explosion of that scale and then immediately get back up to fly to the manor at record pace, none of my attacks are going to have much of an effect on it.’

Even having it smash its head into the ground while its face was melting off didn’t seem to be enough, that only dazed it briefly.

‘It did defeat the previous Sword Saint, so I suppose it only makes sense that it would be so resilient… But that means it’s way out of my league.’

It would probably be impossible for Subaru to take it out on her own unless she was prepared to loop a thousand times or however many it would take. But since she would prefer to settle everything in this loop if at all possible…

‘I’ll need allies. Crusch seems like the obvious choice, since she’s already preparing to face the whale.’

Contributing to the White Whale’s subjugation would also be a great way for the Emilia camp to claim some glory. It was exactly the sort of boost they needed to turn things around.

However, that would put Crusch — who was already the favorite by far — even further ahead. After all, it would mainly be her achievement. She even had the Sword Demon working under her, and that guy had a legendary epic written about him.

‘Might as well consider my other options too. Let’s see, I’m sure Anastasia would be interested… She does have her own private army in the form of the Iron Fang, and as a merchant, it would be in her best interest to bring the White Whale down given how frequently it cuts off supply routes and destroys inventories…’

Subaru could even use the Iron Fang to help her take out the cultists attacking the manor once they were done with the whale, so Anastasia definitely seemed like an excellent option.

‘Furthermore, she’s definitely a contact we’d want to have, being Kararagi’s foremost trader and all…’

Next up was Priscilla. Subaru didn’t know all that much about her military prowess, though she had heard rumors that the Baroness also had a private army of her own, a special force dressed entirely in red.

‘Well, she on her own is already a lot stronger than me or Crusch… With that luck of hers, maybe she can just bring down the White Whale by herself or something.’

But that luck was also exactly why Subaru didn’t want to get involved with Priscilla. Any advantage she could get in the royal selection would probably would work out much better for her than it would for anyone else. If they let her get too far ahead, it would be impossible to catch up.

‘And then there’s Felt… Reinhard’s all she’s got, really.’

But that in itself probably made her camp the most powerful in the entire selection.

‘It’d be nice to give Reinhard the chance to avenge his grandmother, and he does seem like he’d be strong enough to take down the White Whale and the cult by himself, but…’

Reinhard had already departed for Hakchuri last night. Subaru had no way to get a message to him a timely manner, and even if she set off towards Hakchuri at this very moment, she would have already blown past her time limit by the time she made it back.

‘I guess the best I can hope for there is to send a letter, and just hope the messenger gets there in time…’

Such a strategy would only work if Reinhard immediately rushed over on foot the moment he received her letter, much faster than any land dragon could run. There was no way he would otherwise make it in time, and while this was perhaps possible…

There was the concern that maybe Reinhard couldn’t beat the White Whale after all. He definitely felt far stronger than anyone else she had ever met — besides Satella, of course — when she first saw him, but she didn’t fully know what the White Whale was capable of either. What if she sent the late Sword Saint’s successor after the whale only to have him fall to it too?

‘Perhaps I could just send him a letter as a backup, while I choose someone else as my primary ally…’

Subaru gazed off into the distance, still playing with Rem’s hair as she contemplated her choices.

‘Let’s see, who to pick?’

Chapter Text

While saving the manor from the immediate threat of the Witch Cult was Subaru’s primary concern, it wouldn’t do to get so caught up in it as to lose sight of her long term goal.

‘Though I’d prefer not to, I can do this over any number of times… So there’s no need for me to get desperate and do something that would hurt Emiila’s chances in the royal selection.’

The secondary goal here was to advance the Emilia camp’s position without also putting any of her rivals too far ahead.

‘But not all of our rivals are equal… Priscilla and Felt are probably our biggest threats.’

Though Crusch and Anastasia may have been in the lead, it could be said that they were competing ‘normally’, in comparison to Felt and Priscilla who basically each had instant win conditions.

Since the Dragon Tablet had never actually specified how the next ruler was to be selected, it was entirely possible that Felt might automatically end up winning once the three year period was up by virtue of her connection to the former royal family, should it be proven.

As for Priscilla, that ever-present good fortune of hers could cause a victory against the White Whale and the Witch Cult to snowball into absolute domination over her competition, leaving her with a completely insurmountable lead. But since luck wasn’t something Subaru could plan for, it was also possible that her attempting to keep Priscilla out of this would in itself work out in her favor somehow.

‘No point thinking too deeply about that, we should just try to stay out of her way as much as possible.’

Though as Debra said, it would definitely be best to fall in line with Priscilla if it looked like she was going to win. Her subjects did tend to lead good lives, after all. Perhaps she truly was born to rule.

‘That aside, besides the candidates, who else would be capable of getting me a capable fighting force in less than day?’

She considered Marcos Gildark, the captain of the Royal Guard. However, she didn’t actually have any proof for her claims and given how commonly sightings of the Witch Cult were reported, it was unlikely that she would be able to get him to send out more than a preliminary scouting group on such short notice, even using her position as Emilia’s knight.

‘Crusch would be much better to speak to in that regard. I wouldn’t even need any proof to begin with, since my words on their own would serve as evidence thanks to that blessing of hers.’

Another option was Russell Fellow, the man in charge of the capital’s merchant guild. He was a rather shrewd fellow who generally had his fingers in almost every financial transaction in the capital, be they above board or otherwise. Perhaps he could get her in touch with some sort of band of outlaws should that become necessary. She would prefer not to get involved with criminals, though. But even setting that aside, as a man in charge of a vast amount of capital, he could definitely prove useful to her in other ways.

‘He’s going to be Crusch’s final guest for this evening. He’ll be leaving empty-handed after their negotiations break down, that would be the ideal time to get a hold of him. Or if I’m fast enough, I can get to him before he even enters the mansion…’

And finally, there was Roswaal. Since she was off visiting important figures in the domain or whatever, perhaps it would be possible to get in touch with her and enlist her aid. Because she was already in the Mathers domain, it wouldn’t take her very long at all to make it back to the manor, or so Subaru hoped.

“Rem-rin, do you have any clue as to where Roswaal might be right now?”

Subaru’s sudden question caused the maid in her lap to jolt upward. It seemed she had completely lost herself under Subaru’s ministrations and was only now returning to reality.

“Ah, Roswaal-sama is…” Rem began in a hurry as she regained her bearings, “I believe she was planning to visit Garf— The Sanctuary. Her intention was to stay there for a few days.”

‘Damn it, the Sanctuary again?! Wasn’t that where she went during that incident with the witchbeasts too?’

It seemed that Roswaal had a habit of disappearing to that place whenever something important was about to happen. Subaru cursed herself for not looking into it further, but she just had too many other matters to attend to over the past month.

‘Or could it be that this is some sort of test?’

Subaru thought back to her final moments before she passed out in the forest after facing the Wolgarm. Roswaal was there, up in the sky, just watching her. Perhaps she had predicted that crisis would once more befall the manor, and decided to leave it to Subaru?

‘No, that’s an insane gamble… This is the Witch Cult we’re talking about. Even as eccentric as she is, there’s no way Roswaal would take a bet like that without knowledge of my ability.’

After all, despite her behavior, Roswaal did seem to be a competent enough lord. But then, her motivation remained inscrutable. There was no way Roswaal hadn’t foreseen this sort of thing happening given Emilia’s lineage, so why had she left the manor undefended at such a time?

‘Maybe she really does just have that much confidence in me… And decided to leave me an opportunity to claim some achievements for myself?’

If so, even Subaru herself did agree that it was about time she made a name for herself as Emilia’s knight. If Roswaal’s idea was for her to do so by taking down the Witch Cult, Subaru had no complaints. That would surely be a massive help to the Emilia camp in the royal selection, but once again, this line of thought only made sense if she knew of Subaru’s power.

‘No matter how much faith she has in me, I can’t imagine that she seriously thinks I’d be able to wipe out the Witch Cult just like that… And yet, I can’t think of any other reason for her behavior.’

Deciding to leave the matter of Roswaal’s true intentions for later, Subaru formulated her plan of action.

“Rem-rin, I’ll be taking over negotiations with Crusch.”

“Eh? You knew?”

“Of course I did. So, you’re basically offering a share of the mining rights to the mana stones in the Great Elior Forest, isn’t that right? Could you explain that to me in a little more detail?”

Subaru doubted she could even do much with this information, she was mainly hoping that her information relating to the White Whale would prove sufficient to seal the deal, but she figured she might as well hear the maid out.

Receiving a brief summary from Rem, Subaru raised an eyebrow, “What, are you serious? What’s up with those terms? Is Roswaal really that desperate to form this alliance?”

The agreement Roswaal proposed was one in which she only kept a nominal amount of the mining rights for herself, leaving the lion’s share to Crusch’s faction. Perhaps it wasn’t much of a loss for her since the rest of her territories were also rather rich in mana stones, but even so, it just seemed strange coming from a woman who had built no small amount of her wealth on the extraction and trade of mana stones.

‘Well, if that’s what she wants, I suppose I might as well see it through. I will of course have her compensate me for my efforts later on.’

“Alright, Rem-rin. I want you to go and find Anastasia Hoshin, and tell her that Emilia’s knight Natsuki Subaru wishes to make her an offer that would be of great interest to her. If she agrees, tell her I’d prefer to meet her at the Karsten residence in about three hours’ time if at all possible. She should understand what that means.”

“Anastasia-sama? Did you have some business with her?” Rem asked with a slight frown, clearly displeased by the idea.

“I do now. It’s kind of urgent, so I’d like you to go right now, Rem-rin.” Subaru replied, disregarding her concerns.

Rem shut her eyes with an expression of resignation, “Will you not at least tell Rem what it is that you wish to offer her?”

“I’ll explain everything later. You’ll be there too when I negotiate with her, so don’t worry. I’ll keep you right by my side.” Subaru said, patting the maid’s head.

Somewhat pacified, Rem stood up and offered Subaru a courteous bow, “Very well. Rem shall deliver your message at once.”

Saying this, she took off.

Watching her leave, Subaru then took her conversation mirror out of her pocket and contacted Emilia,

“Ah, Subaru!” Emilia’s voice emanated from the mirror, full of cheer though also tinged with exhaustion as her image appeared on the mirror’s surface, “I wasn’t expecting you to call this early.”

Seeing her reflected in the mirror, a random thought suddenly crossed Subaru’s mind. Emilia did not like the sight of her own reflection, she recalled. She tended to avoid reflective surfaces if at all possible. Perhaps having to use a conversation mirror was a little unpleasant for her.

‘Of course, I suppose she can always just continue to avoid her reflection by simply averting her eyes when we first call each other and then again when we hang up. It’s me reflected on the other side the rest of the time, so it’s really only a moment of discomfort for her…’

“Well, I’ve been feeling a little homesick so I figured I might as well call a little early. Speaking of which, is Ram-chi around? I haven’t seen her in almost a week.”

Emilia put a finger to her lip in thought, “Hmm, I think she was planning to head out to do something soon. Do you want to speak to her?”

“Yeah, that would be great, thanks.”

Emilia seemed a little sad that Subaru had immediately brushed her off in favor of Ram, but there was just no helping it.

“Alright, just hold on a moment. I’ll see if I can find her.”

After a short wait, Ram’s lovely voice greeted her through the mirror,

“Barusu. Ram hopes you have an excuse for making her waste her precious time like this.”

Her caustic words warmed Subaru’s heart to no end. Her already fine features seemed lovelier than ever. She was alive and well, with a future ahead of her.

‘And I’m not going to let that change this time.’

“Nice to see you too, Ram-chi.” Subaru replied with a wry smile, “Just wanted to give you a little heads up. You might notice a strange presence in the forest when you head out today. But don’t worry, it’s nothing to be concerned about— Or rather, it is, but I don’t want you to do anything about it.”

Subaru paused briefly to gather her thoughts, thinking over what exactly she wanted to say here.

“… Ram sees that you are as incompetent at explaining yourself as ever.”

“Hold on, I’m not done just yet. I was just thinking for a moment, give me a break here, jeez. Anyway… As I was saying, you don’t need to do anything about the presence in the forest, act like you don’t even notice it. And definitely don’t tell Emilia about it, she has enough to worry about as it is. I’ll be heading back home soon enough to deal with it, so just relax and leave it to me.”

“And what of your treatment? According to Emilia-sama, it is supposed to last for two more days yet. Do you intend to waste the kindness she and Roswaal-sama have so graciously bestowed upon you by breaking the contract prematurely?”

“I’ve actually got a plan to deal with that too, so don’t worry. I’ll be contacting you again in a few hours depending on how things go, so keep that mirror on you.”

While Ram surely had many more questions to ask, Subaru didn’t have time to continue this conversation any further. Saying goodbye, she shut her mirror and started making her way back to the nobles’ district.

‘Alright, Russell’s up next…’

Chapter Text

It wasn’t long before Subaru arrived at the Karsten residence, where she was welcomed by Wilhelm at the gates.

“I see you have returned, Subaru-dono.” he greeted her as his eyes momentarily wandered in search of the maid that was supposed to be accompanying her, “Is Rem-dono not with you?”

“Not at the moment, no. I’ve sent her on a bit of an errand, she won’t be returning just yet.” she replied, “Incidentally, Wilhelm, is Crusch just about done taking guests for today?”

Subaru of course already knew the answer to her question from her previous loop, but she needed to ask it anyway to build up to her request.

“She will be before long, I believe. Her final guest should be arriving shortly, but it would appear that you have something to say to her as well?”

Living up to the profound intellect she had sensed in his eyes, Wilhelm immediately discerned her purpose and fixed her with an inquisitive gaze.

‘That’s what I like about this guy, he’s quick to catch on.’

“That’s correct. I’d appreciate it if you could head in and tell her that she isn’t done taking guests just yet, since I want to see her too. It’s rather important, you see.”

“Subaru-dono…” Wilhelm began with a hint of hesitation in his tone, “Has something happened while you were in the lower stratums?”

‘A little too quick to catch on, perhaps.’

The tinge of concern in the way he looked at her made it clear that he knew she wasn’t quite the same person she was when she left here just a couple of hours ago.

“If I had to say, it would be that I realized something.” Subaru replied, keeping her tone casual, “It isn’t unrelated to why I want to see Crusch, in fact. So, allow me to ask once more…”

“Certainly, it shall be done.” Wilhelm said, solemnly closing his eyes as he offered her a slight bow, “Please do forgive my repeated rudeness in asking such untoward questions.”

‘Ah, come to think of it, he did bring up my scars with no hesitation back when we first met… Man, this guy just doesn’t hold back.’

As Wilhelm headed back into the manor, Subaru remained at the gates. She was awaiting a certain carriage, which she fortunately found turning around the corner towards the Karsten residence at that very moment.

“Excuse me, Russell-san.” she called out as she approached the carriage, stopping it before it could get any closer, “Might I borrow a moment of your time?”

“Well now, if it isn’t Natsuki Subaru-dono.” she heard an elegant male voice call from the back of the carriage as the door opened, and a tall and somewhat skinny man with dull blonde hair and a well-kept goatee descended from it.

He was evidently the one who had spoken to her. The man before her clearly took his grooming seriously, which in combination with his orderly clothing and tasteful adornments even Subaru could tell at a glance were exceptionally expensive gave him a certain air of importance anyone would recognize.

‘He’s not the sort to hide his status, I see.’

“I certainly was not expecting you of all people to welcome me here.” he added once he was safely on the ground, facing her directly.

“How rude of me, I haven’t even introduced myself.” he continued, having examined her briefly in a manner that suggested he was evaluating her worth, “My name is Russell Fellow. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

‘He’s sized me up already, has he…’

“I’m glad to hear that, since my goal here was to get acquainted with you. It is quite flattering to know that even the treasurer of the capital’s merchant guild already knows of me. Am I that famous already?”

“You are Emilia-sama’s knight, after all. With the advent of the royal selection, the happenings in the castle on that day have become fairly well-known, to those in certain circles at least.” Russell replied. He then sharpened his gaze, his eyes taking on a predatory glint as he continued, “Now then, would it be safe to assume that you wish to speak to me on Emilia-sama’s behalf?”

“That’s correct, yes. And let it be known that I also speak for Roswaal while I’m at it, it could even be said that her purse strings are mine to control these days.”

“The Marchioness, hm… I haven’t known her to be quite so generous with anyone in the many years I have known her.” Russell noted, “She must be quite taken with you indeed if your relationship is as you claim.”

‘Ah, that’s right, weren’t Roswaal and this guy once buddies or something? Maybe they still are.’

“Well then, Natsuki Subaru-dono, what is it that you wish to discuss? I have an important meeting with Crusch-sama I really must be getting to, so please do make it quick.”

“You needn’t worry about being late to that. I intend to accompany you to said meeting, you see. It is where our deal shall be sealed, should it come to fruition, with Crusch-sama as a witness. Surely, with that blessing of hers backing our words, it cannot be said that either of us are deceiving the other.”

“Oh? Now this I have to hear.” Russell’s voice was colored with a certain enthusiasm at Subaru’s absurd proposition.

“Now, it is a well-known fact that Crusch-sama’s policies tend to be rather harsh on the mercantile class, as well as all others dealing in large sums of money. There is no better evidence of this than the unusually high rates at which her domain taxes commercial activities. Such policies have made her somewhat unpopular with the merchants of this nation, despite her overwhelming popularity with the general populace. Given that it now seems quite likely that Crusch-sama may end up on the throne and thus enact her ideas across the nation, as the representative of the capital’s merchant guild, it is only natural that you would seek to discuss the matter with Crusch-sama and hence reach a compromise that would be agreeable to you both. Am I correct thus far?”

“Indeed, it is as you say. It is my hope that Crusch-sama will come to understand our point of view on the matter, in which I case I would of course be willing to lend her my support with no further hesitation. However, strict as she is, it does seem rather unlikely that I will encounter success in this endeavor.” Russell replied, stroking his beard.

Russell appeared to be employing a sort of push-and-pull strategy here. Make her anxious by stating that he would support Crusch with no further hesitation if their deal went through, while also throwing out some bait by suggesting that the deal would likely fall through.

‘I already know that it does from the previous loop, though, so I’ve got nothing to worry about.’

Deciding to ignore his mind games, Subaru continued on undeterred,

“While Crusch-sama does appear to be the favorite as of this moment, that in itself is no guarantee that she will end up winning. After all, this is a competition of three years, there is no telling what might happen in that time. That being the case, would it not be ideal for you to build a positive relationship with all five camps beforehand, to ensure that you are left in a profitable position regardless of who wins?”

“Certainly, that goes without saying. Now then, how exactly do you propose that I build such a relationship with Emilia-sama’s faction?”

Obvious as it was, Russell of course immediately understood that everything Subaru was saying was merely a lead-up to her asking him to partner with the Emilia camp.

“Well, to begin with, I’d like for you to aid me in my upcoming negotiations with Crusch-sama. It is for this purpose that I will be joining you. You see, I have information that could prove quite vital to her quest to subjugate the White Whale, in exchange for which I intend to have her form an alliance on equal terms with the Emilia camp.”

“The White Whale’s subjugation, is it… I believe Crusch-sama had been making an effort to keep that secret.” Russell noted, continuing with a sinister smile, “I see you haven’t been wasting the days you’ve spent at her residence.”

“That is quite the untoward implication, Russell-san.” Subaru replied with a smile of her own, a much more innocent one she hoped, “To suggest that I’ve been spying on Crusch-sama who has so graciously taken me in… It is simply that it was more than obvious what she was up to given the circumstances.”

“Hm, I suppose that much is undeniable. Although I am certain you know much more of her plans than just that…”

Ignoring Russell’s implication, Subaru changed the subject, “That aside, it is somewhat discomforting to learn that it is known that I am staying here. I see your information network is not one to be looked down on.”

“Worry not, Natsuki Subaru-dono. It is only a rare few who are aware that you are being treated here. That fact is for all intents and purposes still a well-kept secret.”

‘This guy…’

Russell was of course intentionally provoking her by letting her know that he knew exactly why she was here, and what she was doing.

“In the interest of saving time, allow me to at once make it known what I have to offer you for your aid. In addition to my information that will lead to the defeat of the White Whale, a scourge to merchants all over Lugnica, we are also offering up a share of the mining rights to the mana stones in the Great Elior Forest. I am sure I needn’t explain just how valuable those untouched veins in an area so rich with mana are. Finally, what I have to offer you personally is this…”

Russell’s eyes narrowed as he examined the object Subaru pulled out of her pocket and held out before him.

“This is…?”

“A little something called a smartphone, a special device which I believe is the only one of its kind in Lugnica, or even any of the four Great Nations. Of course, given its immense value, it is not the smartphone itself that I wish to offer you, but rather, the method of its construction.”

“A smartphone…” Russell repeated as he carefully observed the mysterious object, “I can tell at a glance that it is of exceptional build quality, but what is its function?”

“Several things, really. It’s a really nifty little thing, universally useful. It can instantly take and store images, for instance.” Subaru said as she snapped a picture of Russell and showed it to him.

“Such lifelike colors. It would be a life’s effort for even the greatest painters to match this.” Russell said, an undertone of awe evident in his tone, “However, you claim there is even more to it?”

Subaru decided not to mention the phone’s ability to store video and audio, since Russell might not speak quite as freely if he knew of its potential as a spying device.

“It can also perform complex calculations, in addition to contacting other devices of the same kind in a manner akin to a conversation mirror. But unlike conversation mirrors which generally work in pairs, this thing can contact almost any other device similar to itself. That function is at the moment useless in Lugnica, however, since this is presently the only phone in the nation.”

‘And also, there’s no cell towers or satellites around here.’

Subaru continued to quickly list off various features, finally concluding, “Well, that’s the gist of it. So, what do you think?”

“What you are offering me is not the device itself, but the method of its construction…” Russell muttered in thought.

“Correct. I should also note that since the technology to create such devices does not yet exist in Lugnica, it will take many years of development to create something of this level. The early prototypes likely won’t be able to perform much more than basic computations.”

“That could in itself prove rather useful to merchants and peddlers, depending on the price point and ease of manufacture…”

“I should also add that the device does not run on mana, but on an entirely different power source, one not commonly used in any of the Great Nations if at all. It is an exceptionally useful form of power, and I can show you to generate it as well. It’s something anyone can use, even if they haven’t opened their gate. You can think of it like a method to mass produce metia if that suits you.”

Subaru really wished she had downloaded a copy of Wikipedia or something. While being an excellent student she did of course know a fair bit about semiconductors, modern fabrication processes were perhaps a bit too complex even for her.

‘What are they on now, FinFETs? I think I have a general idea of how those work…’

Subaru had always been a bit of a hardware geek, so it hurt to be whisked away right as the world was right on the brink of yet another innovation in semiconductor manufacturing.

Incidentally, Subaru had confirmed through various experiments shortly after the witchbeast incident that barring the existence of magic, the laws of physics here were essentially the same as back in her old world; she was even able to produce an electromotive force across a copper coin using a magnet she had made, confirming that electricity was also usable here. Well, the fact that her solar charger even worked at all already proved that, but still.

‘That being the case, field effect transistors should work just fine too, if I can just make them properly…’

Perhaps if she just worked hard enough, she would be able to invent FinFETs herself someday, and even whatever came next.

“A unique form of power as well, that allows for the mass production of such devices and powers them as well? Very generous, Subaru-dono… Although with you offering so much, I cannot help but feel that you expect more from me than a little aid in your coming negotiations.” Russell replied, his expression and tone slightly stiffening as he made his caution evident.

“Correct. Naturally, I expect a share of the no doubt colossal revenue such devices would generate for you, just a modest sum I assure you. We can discuss the exact details of our contract later on. Incidentally, I’ve invited Anastasia-sama as well, so she’ll be your competition on that front. Be sure to make me a good offer, yeah?” Subaru said with a subtle grin, reveling in the subdued shock on Russell’s face when he heard this.

Subaru didn’t want to spend the entire rest of her life financially dependent on Roswaal. After all, if things went wrong somehow and she for some reason lost her job as Emilia’s knight, she would be in quite the predicament. This was an excellent opportunity to make huge amounts of money, so naturally, she was going to take it.

“How shrewd of you, and quite resourceful at that. To summon Anastasia-sama herself to the negotiating table so readily and then use Crusch-sama as a witness…” Russell’s eyes burned with a deep fascination as he gazed at her, “It seems you are not one I can overlook, Natsuki Subaru.”

‘Hmm, this guy’s married, isn’t he?’

“It is an honor to be evaluated so highly by one so accomplished as yourself.” Subaru said with a smile, “Well then, here’s to a long and profitable partnership.”

Just as Russell thought their talk was at its end and thus started to move towards the gate, she leaned in towards him and whispered into his ear, “And also… There’s just one more thing I want from you.”

Chapter Text

Russell was not simply the treasurer of the capital’s merchant guild. According to the talk circulating in the slums, which she had picked up on shortly before she encountered Reinhard there, he was also essentially the kingpin of the underworld. Furthermore, she had also learned while she was wandering around the commercial district with Rem to gather information just earlier today (or rather, in her last loop) that he supposedly had a habit of forcing people in massive debt into lifelong servitude under him, essentially using them as slaves to do his dirty work.

‘Given his position, it’s entirely possible that he was somehow involved in the theft of Emilia’s insignia and the subsequent attempt on her life. If I’m right…’

“I want you to bring me Elsa Granhiert.” she declared, keeping her voice low as she met his eyes with a sharp gaze.

The look in Russell’s eyes changed as well, though much more subtly. There was a dangerous glint behind them that he immediately played off by laughing off her suggestion,

“That is a rather absurd request, Natsuki Subaru-dono.” he said, “It seems to me that you expect a little too much of a mere treasurer, to capture such a dangerous criminal would be the work of the kingdom’s knights—“

“Oh, I’m not asking you to capture her.” Subaru cut him off, she wasn’t planning to let him worm his way out of this one, “I think you’re well aware of what exactly I am asking of you here. Isn’t that right, Russell-san?”

“I am unsure as to what exactly you are implying.” Russell replied, still intent on dodging the question. His eyes told her to drop the subject immediately.

“Is that so? In that case, I suppose you wouldn’t mind if I asked you that same question again in front of Crusch-sama?”

This was no idle threat, Subaru was entirely willing to do just that if he did not cooperate. After all, she could just loop after obtaining the information she wanted.

A slight frown had started to crease Russell’s brow at this point, “Allow me to repeat myself, I haven’t the slightest inkling of what you might be referring to. Such an act would only disrupt our negotiations with Crusch-sama, which by this point I am hesitant to accompany you in. I must say, this sort of behavior is quite unbecoming of a royal candidate’s knight, Subaru-dono. You may one day face grave consequences if you continue to act so flagrantly.”

Russell was clearly making a veiled threat here, but Subaru didn’t let that stop her for a moment.

“I’ve been known to act with a blatant disregard for my own well-being when necessary. It’s how I ended up needing to get treated here in the first place, you know.”

“That is quite the thing to hear from a prospective business partner… It does not inspire much confidence. You really must work on your approach, Subaru-dono.” Russell said with a bitter smile. It seemed he had finally resigned himself to having to answer her questions.

“However, I suppose it is understandable that you would be so anxious regarding her capture. After all, having done a bit of research into the matter myself, it would appear that Emilia-sama had been involved in some way…”

‘A bit of research? Don’t make me laugh…’

It seemed Russell was still unwilling to admit his involvement, he continued to talk around the matter even now. However, that didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things as long as he answered the rest of her questions. It wasn’t as if Subaru personally held a grudge against him, nor did she especially despise Elsa. They were just doing business, after all. She just wanted to find out who it was that gave the order in the first place, so she could prevent that sort of thing from happening again by confronting them.

‘It seems quite unlikely that Russell would have ordered such a thing himself, so it would have to have been someone else…’

Russel continued after a brief pause, his tone grave, “Even so, I hope you will accept a word of advice for your own sake, as well that of Emilia-sama’s. Abandon your pursuit. Nothing good will come of it.”

“… What?”

“You know not what her employer is capable of. They are far too dangerous a foe to confront. It would be wise to leave the matter be.”

‘He knows who her employer is?’

“That’s for me to decide, I would think. How about you just tell me who it is and allow me to decide what to do about it myself?”

“I am afraid that will not be possible.” Russell said, solemnly shaking his head, “Provoking that person could well endanger the entire nation, that is not something I can allow.”

‘They’re that powerful? Who could possibly…?’

“You don’t seem nearly as worried about the White Whale as you are about whoever this employer of hers is.” Subaru tilted her head, raising an eyebrow, “Are they even more dangerous than a Great Witchbeast, then?”

“In a certain sense, I suppose that is true. Indeed, they could pose a much greater threat than any Witchbeast. That is why it will not do for you to recklessly challenge them.”

While Subaru was unsure as to how truthful Russell was being here, it at least didn’t seem like he was outright lying to her. If his words were true, if there really was someone that powerful giving Elsa orders, Subaru was left puzzled as to who it could possibly be.

‘I mean, more dangerous than the White Whale? That’s a pretty short list… You could maybe count the Sword Saint, though the previous one did lose to it. Then there’s the Four Great Spirits, the Archbishops… And that’s about it? And Puck did lose to Elsa, so maybe even the Great Spirits aren’t actually all that strong.’

Having thought about it, however, it seemed quite likely that the employer in question was an archbishop. There was no way Reinhard was behind all of this, and that just wasn’t the way the Great Spirits tended to operate. Surely, only an archbishop would be sick enough in the head to run such a twisted operation.

‘According to Petelgeuse, there’s four others besides him… Potentially a fifth if I’m not Pride.’

It probably wasn’t Greed, since that guy was apparently the strongest among the Archbishops and thus tended to act on his own, without any underlings. There was even a legend about him singlehandedly bringing down a massive fortress city in Vollachia that had thousands of soldiers stationed within it.

‘Petelgeuse kind of seems like a weakling compared to that, even with all of those subordinates… Though maybe he could match that sort of destructive power with all one hundred hands?’

Subaru recalled that Petelgeuse was somehow getting stronger each time he resurrected. By the end, he was capable of wielding over a hundred Unseen Hands in total, though his ability to control them also seemed to decline with each death.

‘Perhaps that’s because his fingers leave traces of their personality intact even after he possesses them? The behavior of each one did seem subtly different…’

And also, there was the fact that the first finger he possessed introduced herself to Subaru as a finger. Perhaps that was simply Petelgeuse trying to deceive her, which was an absolutely terrible plan if so, since it only screwed him over.

‘I’ll have to think about how to deal with that guy too, but the White Whale comes first. That aside…’

Returning to the subject at hand, Subaru once more started pondering who exactly Elsa’s mysterious employer could be. Petelgeuse had mentioned that Wrath or Lust would be envious of her witch’s scent, perhaps one of them?

‘Come to think of it, Petelgeuse seemed pretty disturbed that his gospel contained no record of me… If so, those things must tell the future, and let him know what’s gonna happen. Since everyone in the Witch Cult apparently has one of those, with it being a membership requirement and all, it stands to reason that the other archbishops would too…’

If so, was it possible that the mastermind behind all of this knew that Subaru would be accompanying Emilia that day thanks to their gospel, and thus Elsa’s true target was Subaru all along?

‘Or perhaps it was both me and Emilia. But then, if Petelgeuse’s gospel didn’t say anything about me…’

Subaru had initially assumed that that had been Satella doing her a solid by keeping her out of his future-telling text, but if that was the case, surely she must have been absent from the other archbishops’ gospels as well.

‘Actually, wait, if they’re all supposed to have gospels… How come no one besides Petelgeuse did in the last loop?’

None of the bodies Subaru had examined then had a gospel on them, in fact, they barely even had anything at all on their persons. They had only brought their weapons and nothing more, as if they weren’t even planning to make it back alive.

‘The only thing that stood out was that one finger that had a conversation mirror, but I never did find the other one…’

It remained a mystery even now where that mirror connected to. Subaru unfortunately couldn’t even activate the mirror to check who was on the other side since it blew up along with the finger’s body upon their death.

‘Those suicide traps were pretty damned annoying, that explosion could have been devastating if I was a close range fighter…’

Subaru’s thoughts continued to wander, but Russell suddenly called out to her, drawing her back to reality.

“It seems WIlhelm-dono has returned. We will have to leave it that, I am afraid.”

Subaru turned around, and indeed, she found that Wilhelm had just emerged from the entrance to the mansion.

“My answer may not have been to your satisfaction, but I trust you will not cause an unnecessary scene before Crusch-sama?” Russell asked in a tone that suggested he already knew her answer.

‘Well, he’s right… I don’t want to waste a loop on that alone.’

Even if she could reset infinitely, Subaru wasn’t yet comfortable enough with the concept of death to risk it just to ask a few questions. Well, that would of course depend on how important the questions were, but in this case, she felt that she already knew what she needed to know.

‘If they really are an archbishop, they’re sure to come for us once more… And when they do, I’ll kill them and claim their witch factor.’

Indeed, there was no need for Subaru to actively go out and hunt them just yet. She just needed to wait for them to come to her, and offer up their authority on a silver platter.

“Certainly. I apologize for my callousness, Russell-san. Now then, let us proceed.”

Russell Fellow still gave her all sorts of bad vibes, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d somehow been testing her the entire time. She especially couldn’t forget about Otto, who could potentially end up as this guy’s slave if nothing was done about his excess oil.

‘Right, I’d better make sure Otto’s taken care of too…’

As Wilhelm led them towards the mansion, Subaru’s thoughts turned back to the Witch Cult. More specifically, the final moments of her previous loop, in which she felt that ominous presence settling into the depths of her soul. It was a terribly unpleasant sensation, but it was at the same time intoxicating, since it meant that she had obtained a new power. She wanted to feel it once more. A new desire started to burn even brighter within her.

‘I’ll kill them all. I’ll destroy the entire cult, and claim all of their authorities…’

And she was serving just the woman to make that possible. Surely, as long as she remained by Emilia’s side, the Witch Cult would continue to come after them. And each time they did, Subaru would have them pay a toll in the form of their witch factors.

‘You’ll be the first to go, Petelgeuse. Consider it my way of thanking you for giving me this new goal.’

Chapter Text

“Russell Fellow. I cannot say I was expecting you to bring a guest of mine as an aide.”

They had just entered Crusch’s parlor, where Crusch sat awaiting them on the other side of the table set in the middle of the room, with Felix at her side. Her usual dignified presence did not waver, though she did seem slightly surprised that Russell and Subaru had entered together.

“I’m not exactly his aide, per se. It is true that we share a purpose in coming here, though.” Subaru replied as she took the seat across from Crusch while Russell lined up beside her. Meanwhile, Wilhelm who had guided them there joined Felix at his master’s side.

“I had the opportunity to speak with Natsuki Subaru-dono while at the gates. Brief as our conversation was, we learned that we share a common interest.” Russell added.

“Oh?” Crusch raised an eyebrow, “A common interest, is it? I did not imagine you would be especially interested in the monetary policy of my lands, Natsuki Subaru.”

She then narrowed her eyes slightly, “Or is that you have a different motive in accompanying him?”

“I actually do have a bigger goal here, but that’s going to have to wait a bit.” Subaru replied, “Rem should be arriving shortly with another guest, you see. I’d prefer not to repeat myself, so I’d like you to wait until we have everyone here before we broach the main subject.”

“Rem, you say…” Crusch repeated under her breath as her eyes searched Subaru’s. Of course, Subaru knew what she wanted to ask about.

“If you’re wondering if this is about our proposal for an alliance, I’m just going to go ahead and tell you that yes, it is. It seems the negotiations haven’t exactly been going well thus far, but allow to me assure you, I have a much more attractive offer in mind.”

Russell’s ears pricked up at the mention of this deal. He seemed quite happy that Subaru was actually going to allow him to sit in on her negotiations with Crusch.

“I see.” Crusch said, interlocking her fingers before her, “So you intend to take over negotiations in Rem’s stead. Very well, given that you are Emilia’s knight, I shall acknowledge your right to negotiate on her behalf. The words exchanged between us shall be treated as if I were speaking with Emilia herself.”

Crusch now projected an even more fearsome presence as she readied herself. She was now prepared to speak with Subaru on official terms, as the Duchess of Karsten and a candidate to the throne. Subaru did not let this sake her in the slightest, she was fully confident that she could get exactly what she wanted out of her.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Subaru replied with a self-assured smile, “For the moment, let us hear what Russell has to say about all of this.” she said as she glanced at him.

“While I am quite interested in the details of the alliance you wish to negotiate, let us for the moment speak of the matter I originally came here to discuss. Which is to say, Crusch-sama’s monetary policies…” Russell trailed off as his eyes wandered over to Crusch.

“I believe I have already made myself clear.” she responded, her tone and gaze firm, “I do not intend to change my stance on the matter.”

“That is very unfortunate indeed.” Russell said with a wry smile, “As the representative of the capital’s merchant guild, that is not the answer I was hoping to receive. Allow me to implore you once more, if you would only change your mind, us merchants would not hesitate to lend you our support.”

“As I said in the castle, before the council of wise men, I wish to live in a way that is true to myself, which does not bring shame upon my soul. And I wish the same for this nation. I shall not compromise my values just to garner your support.” Crusch replied, still unflinching.

‘I suppose her unwavering sincerity is definitely admirable in itself, but…’

“Excuse me.” Subaru cut in, raising her hand, “Simply put, the problem is that Russell and more importantly the merchants of the nation at large are dissatisfied with the taxes you levy in your lands, isn’t that right?”

“That would be the gist of it, yes. I shall not deny that I exact a heavy tax on commerce in the Karsten lands, but it is only sensible to draw money from those who have the most of it. It is my intent to pay all of it back in full through the maintenance of public order, but I understand that it would be quite difficult to convey that to those looking in from the outside.”

While Subaru had little doubt as to Crusch’s ability as the head of her territory, she also agreed with Russell that it would be best to lower those tax rates. While it was probably true that Crusch was putting all of that money to good use, as she said, those not residing in her lands would not see much benefit from it. Perhaps one could simply call the taxes exacted from them the cost of doing business in the Karsten lands, a price they had to pay even if they didn’t live there.

‘But you know, for the sake of my future business ventures, I’d ideally like to avoid taxation as much as possible… I can just have Emilia give me a special tax exemption once I put her on the throne, but for the three years until then…’

Some might call her plan unethical, but then, Julius showed no hesitation in attempting to put his business partner Anastasia Hoshin on the throne, and everyone still called him the Finest of Knights.

‘No, this isn’t the time to be worrying about taxes and profits, I’ve still got the White Whale and the Witch Cult to deal with in less than two days…’

“Ah, I see. It’s certainly a rather complex problem, isn’t it.” Though Subaru had initially intended to argue her point, she decided to give up on that for now. Besides, she would likely have a lot more sway around here after their mission’s success.

“Please continue, Russell-san.” she said, dropping out of the conversation for the moment.

Crusch and Russell continued to discuss their views on taxation for a time, though much the same as in her last loop, Russell failed to make any headway with her. Subaru simply watched on from the sidelines as she considered various plans to bring down the Witch Cult and the White Whale.

‘Hm, is it possible that Petelgeuse’s authority might have come back with me when I looped? If my power to resurrect is in itself an authority, it seems like it might be possible…’

Subaru had no idea how to actually use it if so. The timeline reset seemed to occur automatically whenever she died, but it appeared that the Unseen Hand required some sort of activation on the user’s part.

“Hold on just one moment.” Subaru suddenly interrupted them once more as she turned around towards the door, “Isn’t it about it time you came in, Rem-rin? Bring our guest too, of course.”

Subaru had noticed that Anastasia was simply waiting on the other side of the door, not intending to actually enter any time soon. She was no doubt planning to listen in on everything they were discussing, but unfortunately for her, there wasn’t much interesting happening in here, and nothing interesting was going to happen until she joined them. Subaru didn’t have time for her games regardless, so she decided to hurry things up.

“You’re an impatient one, aren’t you.” Anastasia said as she walked in with a smile, with Rem following behind her.

“Sorry, but I really need to move things along here.” Subaru said, “As they say in Kararagi, time is money.” she added with a cheeky grin.

Meanwhile, Rem quietly made her way over to Subaru and silently met her eyes, seeking approval.

“Great job, Rem-rin. You did exactly what I asked of you.” Subaru whispered, giving her hand a quick squeeze. But Rem did not let go, and Subaru was forced to leave her hand in Rem’s care for the foreseeable future.

‘Yeah, really should have seen that coming.’

Either way, now that she had finally gathered everyone she wanted here, the negotiations could begin in earnest. And with Rem standing by her side and comfortingly(?) holding her hand, she couldn’t lose.

She had a number of reasons for specifically choosing Crusch and Anastasia to partner with. For one, they were the most popular candidates, in addition to which they had the most readily available combat forces backing them.

But that wasn’t it. She had also chosen them to disadvantage Priscilla and Felt. As mentioned before, those two had ‘instant win’ conditions by which they could potentially end up automatically winning the royal selection. That being the case, Subaru didn’t want to legitimize them in any way. She could not allow them to be a part of something so big.

This was just as much to help the Emilia camp as it was to disadvantage their camps. It was Subaru’s hope that by having the three camps present here work together to progress far ahead of them, she could leave Felt and Priscilla in the dust, too far behind to compete.

‘Probably impossible in Priscilla’s case, but if we can at least make Felt a non-competitor…’

“Anastasia Hoshin.”

Crusch mouthed her name as she eyed the new entry.

“In the flesh.” Anastasia replied casually as she took a seat between Crusch and Subaru.

Meanwhile, Subaru found herself just as surprised as Crusch. Not by Anastasia herself, but by who she had brought with her.

“Julius? You’re here too?”

At Anastasia’s side was the Finest of Knights, Julius Juukulius. In hindsight, perhaps it should have been obvious that she would bring him with her, since he was her personal knight and all.

“It was evident that this discussion would be an important one, given the other participants sitting around this table.” Julius replied, “Of course, it is unthinkable that I would not be at my lady’s side at such a crucial time.”

“What an exaggeration.” Anastasia said, waving Julius’ words off, after which she turned her gaze towards Subaru, “Still, it isn’t as if that’s entirely untrue. I did go out of my way to get here in a hurry because I trusted that you wouldn’t waste my time, so I do hope you have something that can match that expectation.”

Indeed, Subaru was glad for Anastasia’s trust in her. It would have been very easy for her to just turn Rem away immediately, especially since they were asking her to join them on such short notice. That she even showed up here proved that she believed Subaru had an offer worth listening to.

‘Well, I definitely do.’

“Yeah, don’t worry about that.” Subaru replied with a confident smile as she let her eyes wander across all present in the room, “I’ve got an offer that should satisfy everyone, I think. We’ll all walk away happy if this deal is sealed.”

“Hm, so Anastasia Hoshin was the guest you spoke of.” Crusch said with a slightly awed smile, before her expression suddenly turned much more stern,

“However, let me first say this. If you believe you can pit us against each other to—“

“Ah, hold on just one moment. It’s not as if I brought her here to compete with you.” Subaru immediately interrupted her since she was clearly jumping to the wrong conclusion, “Rather I’m hoping we can all work together on this. A three-way alliance, if you will.”

“Careful now, Crusch-san. If you get that worked up, it almost looks like you’re worried I’ll end up beating you.” Anastasia added with a teasing grin.

Crusch simply looked at her for a moment, after which she sighed and returned her attention to Subaru,

“I see. I apologize for jumping to conclusions. It seems I had misjudged you; please proceed, Natsuki Subaru.”

“First of all, Crusch-san.” Subaru began, “Our current offer of a share of the mining rights to the mana stones in the Great Elior Forest is not sufficient for you to form an alliance with us on that basis alone, is that correct?”

In all honesty, Subaru thought it was extremely attractive offer. That Crusch didn’t jump at it immediately showed how seriously she was taking the royal selection; she couldn’t so easily ally with a rival camp, even if it meant turning down such an enticing proposition. Russell and Anastasia were of course interested in this offer as well, though they did not speak up just yet.

‘Just wait your turn, fellas. You’ll have your share soon enough.’

“That is correct. As one would expect of the Marchioness Mathers, she has secured an adequate quantity for her own camp while being more than generous in the offer she has made us. The potential profit we could reap is certainly alluring, I would under ordinary circumstances send out a letter of agreement right away. However…”

Crusch paused for a moment, and Subaru took the opportunity to say a few words herself.

“Well, that’s fine. Here’s the gist of the new deal I’m proposing: We’re dropping your share of the mining rights to a third.”

Quite a large drop, considering Roswaal initially offered her the majority.

Crusch’s eyes widened slightly, “Oh? Your strategy is to significantly decrease your offer once it is declined? How interesting.”

“You really are a bold one, Subaru-nyan.” Felix said, her ears twitching with amusement.

“Watching her negotiate, even I feel like I might be in a little danger.” Anastasia added with a giggle.

Even Rem seemed shocked by Subaru’s proclamation, though she refrained from actually saying anything to that effect.

“As I told you before, I have a much more attractive offer in mind. One I’m certain you won’t turn down.” Subaru declared.

With all eyes on her, Subaru shut her eyes for a moment, allowing the tension to build up before she spoke.

“Right, let’s get to it. What I have to offer you is the time and location of the White Whale’s next appearance.”

Chapter Text

An aura of overwhelming dread washed over the room the moment she uttered the White Whale’s name. The source was of course the legendary swordsman standing to Crusch’s left.

‘He’s this passionate about it even fourteen years later, huh. The former Sword Saint was a lucky gal.’

Subaru could feel Rem’s grip on her hand tightening ever so slightly.

“Wilhelm-sama…” Julius murmured with a slightly pained expression as he watched the old man’s rage boil over.

The oppressive atmosphere only lasted an instant before Wilhelm calmed himself, slowly shaking his head,

“… I have been terribly impolite. It would seem I still have much to learn.” he said. He then addressed Crusch directly, “I have no excuse for having interrupted the proceedings. If you would have me excuse myself, I shall do so at once.”

“No, you shall remain here. I wish to hear you out as well.” Crusch replied, glancing at Subaru for her approval.

“Yeah, of course. I’d prefer to keep him around too.” Subaru said.

“It’s like the meeting in the castle all over again, you people are just a bit too strong-willed for me.” Anastasia added when Crusch looked to her, fanning herself. “But I ain’t gonna complain about it. Go ahead.”

“Right, as I said, I know when and where the White Whale is going to appear next.”

As Subaru expected, her offer had caught the attention of all present here.

“I think this information’s going to prove invaluable to your effort to subjugate it, Crusch-san.”

“Wait.” Crusch said, “That is quite the claim to make all of a sudden. On what basis do you claim that I intend to subjugate the White Whale?”

“I think it’s obvious enough that it hardly even merits an explanation, but I suppose I might as well.” Subaru replied, sighing briefly. “For one, a simple look at whom you’ve got in your employ already made it clear to me. In truth, I had my suspicions from the very moment Wilhelm van Astrea visited the Mathers domain on your behalf.”

“I don’t mean to imply that you’re an unworthy master or anything,” Subaru continued with a wry smile, “But I can only think of one reason he would wish to serve you. I hear he’s lived the past fourteen years of his life for just one purpose, after all.”

A flash of emotion ran across Wilhelm’s face once more, though he was able to keep himself contained this time.

“After that, it was the events of the past few days that really sealed the deal for me. You’ve been buying up weaponry in such large quantities that it’s actually affected the price of metal goods in the capital. The sheer number of visitors you’ve been taking during all hours of the day also made it clear that you’re prepping for something big.”

“I understand.” Crusch replied with a nod, “Certainly, I can see why you would arrive at the conclusion you have presented. However, are you truly so certain that it is the White Whale I am preparing to battle? Have you not considered that I am gathering military might in order to seize the throne regardless of the results of the royal selection?”

“The words you spoke in the castle that day did not strike me as lies. And if any part of them was true, that most certainly is not something you would do. That possibility isn’t even worth considering as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well, that’s all really great.” Anastasia interrupted, “And if you’re speaking of the Witchbeast of Fog, I’m definitely interested as well. Can we get to the point now?”

“Certainly, Anastasia-san. That’s just what I was intending to do. In fact, what I’m about to speak of next has to do with why I called you here in the first place.” Subaru said with a smirk.

“You see, I’m actually hoping we can all work together on this one. Like I said, this is a deal that has something in it for everyone.” she continued, “As fellow merchants, Anastasia-san and Russell-san will of course be glad to be rid of the whale, given that it is a scourge to merchants everywhere, with its unpredictable appearances constantly destroying trade routes, schedules, and inventories.”

“And considering the immense destruction it has wrought over the past four centuries, the nation at large would rejoice upon its death. All three camps present here stand to gain tremendously should we be successful in our effort. If we just work together here, we all walk away happy.” she concluded.

“And also,” she added as an afterthought, smiling gently at Wilhelm, “None would be happier than the Sword Demon to see the White Whale fall, I would think. Our combined efforts can make that dream a reality.”

“And by splitting the glory across three camps, you prevent mine from claiming too much of an advantage… Is that what you are thinking?” Crusch asked.

“Not necessarily. Because if you try to do this alone, you’ll fail. You can’t beat the White Whale as you are now.”

The fact that the White Whale made it all the way to the Mathers domain last time proved it. Crusch had failed to stop it.

“Hah?!” Felix piped up, indignant, “And just who are you to make such a claim? What makes you so sure Crusch-sama can’t do it?”

“And before that,” Crusch added, “How is it that you claim to know when and where the White Whale will next appear?”

“The answer to both of those questions is the same.” Subaru answered, “I’ve faced the White Whale before.”

The expressions of shock spreading around the table were quite satisfying. Rem’s increasingly tight grip on her hand wasn’t quite as satisfying. She would even describe it as somewhat painful at this point.

“I managed to learn a bit about its capabilities and movement patterns through that battle.” Subaru continued, “Anyway, the point is I know exactly where it’s going to be and thus where we can fight it.”

“Wait, wait, wait!” Felix called out in a frenzy, “You’re saying you fought the White Whale? One of the Three Great Witchbeasts? The Witchbeast of Fog?”

“Yep, that’s the one. Big flying whale, nasty looking, shoots fog all over the place. I fought it to a draw.”

Indeed, that was technically a draw as far as Subaru was concerned. It wasn’t as if she lost, after all, she just made a tactical retreat.

“Incredibly, I sense no lies in that statement.” Crusch said, somewhat befuddled.

“That’s quite a tall tale, but if Crusch-san’s confirming it, I suppose there might be something to it…” Anastasia followed up, her tone casual. “Unless she’s found some way past that blessing of yours?”

‘Oh, I wish. How useful that would be.’

“I find it quite unlikely that my blessing has failed me.” Crusch replied, before facing Subaru once more, “Speaking of which, I suppose I must explain—“

“There’s no need, I know all about that blessing of yours. It’s fairly common knowledge these days, if you just bother to look.”

“Is that so? I see.” Crusch closed her eyes with a small sigh.

“Then, what of you, Rem?” Crusch addressed the maid by Subaru’s side, who had been growing increasingly anxious, “Do you know anything about Natsuki Subaru’s supposed confrontation with the White Whale?”

Rem looked at Subaru hesitantly before she responded, so Subaru spoke in her stead, “She wouldn’t know, nor would anyone else in the Emilia camp. I tend to not to reveal my escapades unless necessary.”

“Oh? How humble of you.” Felix replied sarcastically, “You fought the White Whale to a standstill and didn’t even brag about it to anyone?”

“It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say I fought it to a standstill, I would think. I would have lost if I didn’t retreat.”

“Still, if you’re getting up to wild adventures like that, I suppose it makes sense how you ended up so beat up by the time you came here…” Felix muttered, her eyes drifting off to the side in thought.

‘Actually, every single one of those injuries was from one single incident… No reason to let them know that, though.’

Indeed, the Wolgarm had done far more damage to her than the Witch Cult and the White Whale combined. Of course, she was also much weaker back then. She doubted she would any trouble at all with them now.

“Even so, the fact remains that it is only your own testimony you can provide as proof.” Crusch said, “Though it appears to me that you are not lying, I sense an air of duplicity about you…”

“Well, just to be safe, why don’t we confirm whether or not your blessing works on me the same way it does everyone else? I’ll try saying something outright false now. Let’s see, hmm…” Subaru pondered for a moment, and her eyes wandered over to Anastasia.

“Anastasia-san isn’t cute.”

“Certainly, I felt a strong wind of untruth blowing from you in that moment. My blessing continues to function as normal, it would seem.” Crusch noted.

“What kind of example was that?” Anastasia said, beaming with amusement, “Are you trying to hit on me here?”

“It was just the first thing that came to mind.” Subaru said with a laugh, “In hindsight, I really should have just said Rem-rin’s name instead.” she continued as she glanced at the pouting maid beside her.

“It is exactly as she says, Anastasia-sama.” Julius added, “You are like a beautiful flower in full bloom.”

“Oh, stop it.” Anastasia waved him off once more, “That aside, Crusch-san’s blessing only proves that you believe what you say is true. It doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Who knows how well you can actually predict the White Whale’s movements from having faced it just once?”

“Indeed, my opinion for the most part aligns with that of Anastasia Hoshin.” Crusch added, both royal candidates now looking straight at Subaru as they awaited her response.

“I’m willing to stake my honor as Emilia’s knight and even my life itself on the accuracy of my information.” Subaru replied, increasing the seriousness of her tone to match the atmosphere.

She then pulled out her phone, holding it out so all could see it clearly, “And in addition, I’d be willing to offer up a certain unique device I own. Only one of its kind in this world, I reckon.”

“Natsuki Subaru.”

“Yeah?”

“What in the world is this?”

Crusch’s question was an obvious one, and Subaru glanced at Russell, signaling him to answer on her behalf.

“It appears to be something akin to a metia, though it is more versatile than any I have encountered.” Russell explained, “Natsuki-dono called it a ’smartphone’. She had demonstrated a number of its functions to me beforehand — for instance, instantly capturing lifelike images or performing complex calculations — and I confirmed the quality of its construction with my own eyes.”

A thin smile then appeared on his face, “Even if her information regarding the White Whale proves to be unreliable, I believe it would be more than worth it to move your forces as she requests simply to obtain such a device.”

“That’s all well and good, but what about us?” Anastasia cut in, “You want me to mobilize my Iron Fang, isn’t that right? How do you intend to compensate us if this mission turns out to be a bust?”

“They’re mercenaries for hire, isn’t that right? I’ll just have Roswaal pay them for their time if nothing comes of this. In fact, I’ll even have her pay double if that makes you feel better.”

“Subaru-sama?!”

Rem, who already looked rather uncertain about the fact that Subaru was offering up such a valuable possession, now couldn’t help but call out to her in surprise.

“Relax, Rem. It’s not going to come to that. I’m absolutely, definitely, one hundred percent correct here. Like I said, I’m willing to stake my life on that.” Subaru replied, after which she donned a sly smirk, “And as you know, I don’t die easy.”

“Anyway, Crusch.” she continued as she stood up and offered the Duchess her hand, “That’s the deal I’m offering. Are you in?”

Chapter Text

Rem could only watch in amazement as Subaru so easily negotiated the alliance that she herself had been failing to for the past two days. But thinking back to the instructions her master had given her, perhaps Roswaal intended for things to go this way the entire time. Her thought process was for the most part incomprehensible to Rem, after all. It was only her sister who was privy to their master’s true intentions, her innermost thoughts.

But what really shocked Rem was the manner in which Subaru had done it. She claimed to know when and where the White Whale would show up next, because she had fought it once before. And according to Crusch, her words were entirely truthful.

But the question was, when could she have possibly done it? Rem remembered how weak she had been when Emilia first brought her to the mansion, with a young spirit she had only contracted just earlier that day. It was difficult to imagine that Subaru could hold up against a Great Witchbeast that had even slain a Sword Saint as she was back then. In fact, Rem could hardly believe that Subaru could manage it even as she was now.

But then, the girl did always seem to surpass her expectations. No matter the situation, no matter how desperate things seemed, she always seemed to find some way through. Her timing and judgement were impeccable, so perhaps it should have been no surprise whatsoever that she could even find a way to live through an encounter with the White Whale.

But again, when? Rem had been watching Subaru closely over these past two months, and as far she knew, the girl had never once even left the Mathers domain. It was difficult to imagine when she would have had the opportunity. So surely, it must have been before she met Emilia? When she did not even have a contracted spirit at her side, and apparently knew nothing of magic according to Emilia’s story?

Though Rem had always maintained a professional distance between herself and Emilia, given that the half-elf was rather difficult for her to deal with emotionally speaking due to the circumstances of her birth, the two had started to interact much more as of late. Casual conversations when they encountered each other in the halls, long talks over tea when it was Rem’s turn to serve her, occasional late night discussions, and of course, whenever they got paired up for whatever extraordinary idea Subaru happened to have that day.

All of this was of course the result of Subaru’s arrival. Her presence seemed to influence all the other residents of the manor, and generally made it a much more cheerful place to be. Although perhaps part of that was Rem’s own bias speaking. Ever since that fateful day, when Subaru had spoken the words that set her free from a decade of torment, the world itself seemed much more vibrant. Rem had always been the devoted and giving type exactly suited to being a maid, but she now truly enjoyed her work. She was no longer going through the motions mechanically, simply trying and failing to meet an unreachable standard. The thought that she through her efforts could make the lives of her beloved sister, Subaru, and of course the other residents of the manor as well a little easier warmed her heart.

She had also come to learn a lot more about Subaru over the time they had spent together. Or rather, the time Rem had spent observing Subaru. She had initially thought of Subaru as a far too kind and gentle soul, exactly the sort of person that would get taken advantage of by all sorts of bad people. It wasn’t simply that she was naive, even knowing precisely the sort of risks she was taking, her goodhearted nature simply would not allow her to stop pressing forward when it came to helping others. After all, what other explanation could there be for her so easily forgiving Rem after she attempted to kill her, and then very nearly cost her her life again in the forest?

But Rem now knew that Subaru wasn’t really that sort of person at all. If she had to say, she was in fact quite similar to Rem’s own sister, Ram. In terms of personality, at least. Though they generally preferred to act rationally and could even at times be cold should the situation call for it, they each had a special few that they could not help but fawn on. In Ram’s case, she had Roswaal. And though it was perhaps arrogant of Rem to think this way, she thought she would count too. Her sister truly did love her, after all.

In Subaru’s case, it was of course Emilia. She seemed to have developed some sort of strange fascination with her from the very moment they met. This was in part what had fueled Rem’s suspicions of her being a witch cultist, after all, who in this world would so casually approach a half-elf with such affection? That she also smelled of the witch seemed to confirm it, though Rem’s suspicions ultimately turned out to be utter nonsense, slander of a completely innocent girl.

Then surely, the reason Subaru had chosen to forgive Rem back then had little to do with Rem herself. It was most likely simply because Subaru’s affection for Emilia led to her being soft on the people around her as well. It seemed quite probable that she had simply wanted to avoid creating a disturbance for Emilia, and so just chose to keep the entire matter under wraps, letting Rem off the hook just because she happened to be working for Roswaal who had taken Emilia in as a guest.

Though it pained her somewhat to realize this, it also made it easier to accept that mercy. After all, it wasn’t as if Rem herself had done anything to deserve it. That Subaru was only ever kind to her after the fact and even allowed her to hold her hand like this was already more than she deserved. The memory of the moment Subaru suddenly put Rem’s head in her lap could make her whole body heat up even now. The girl had been concerned that her witch’s scent might have been unpleasant for Rem, but that hadn’t been a concern in a long time. Though Rem still detested the scent itself, she now found it almost intoxicating coming from the woman she…

But the fact remained that Subaru was still an enigma to her even now. She was a rather secretive person, and would promptly refuse any attempts to discuss her past or where she came from. And what little she did tell them about herself amounted to tiny morsels she would give out very rarely. When she would talk about stars, for instance. Apparently they each had various names and stories associated with them back in her homeland.

Emilia had initially thought that perhaps she was a Vollachian noble who had fled the country on account of the instability there. Her features did match, and there were a fair few people of that sort seeking refuge in Lugnica at the moment. Her sister suspected that perhaps she was simply born to a well-off family in some isolated town. As for Rem herself, she really had no idea. The more time she spent with Subaru, the more she came to realize just how little she knew about her.

But even so, regardless of what sort of past she may have had, regardless of what it was that drove her to aid Emilia to the extent that she had, none of it would change the words she had said and the actions she had taken on that day. They would forever remain engraved into Rem’s soul, she couldn’t forget even if she wanted to. That was why she believed that no matter what happened from now on, she would continue to lov— admire Natsuki Subaru. After all, she was Rem’s hero.

And that was exactly why Subaru’s declaration that she had fought the White Whale without any of them ever knowing almost made Rem’s heart stop. Rem knew Subaru was a rather reckless person, the girl almost seemed convinced that she was immortal, and so far, it seemed like she was. Even so, Rem couldn’t help but dread the day Subaru’s confidence would finally fail her. It almost seemed blasphemous to Rem for her to doubt the girl, but the revelation that she had apparently had been on all sorts of dangerous adventures without ever telling anyone made Rem’s blood run cold. She had been fine thus far, but what if one day she just didn’t come back?

And more importantly, how could Rem have failed to notice it? She was always watching Subaru, and yet clearly she knew nothing about her. Meanwhile, Subaru always seemed to know what was going on with her even though it often looked like she was far too busy to pay Rem any mind. In the end, she would always come and help her whenever she was in trouble. The way she decided to negotiate with Crusch in Rem’s place when Rem failed to make any headway on her own was just another example in a long list.

Rem felt no small measure of guilt over how one-sided she felt their relationship was, though Subaru would try to convince her that she was already doing her part through her work around the manor.

“I’d drop dead if I had to do all of those chores, seriously.” the girl would joke.

And now, she was about to go off to face the White Whale, apparently for the second time. Rem would of course be by her side the entire time, hoping that her meager strength could keep her beloved safe.

Right now, however, having forged an alliance with Crusch, Subaru moved on to an entirely different deal with Russell and Anastasia. As part of the terms she had apparently agreed to with Russell beforehand, she was offering up the design to something she called a transistor, among other things. Russell and Anastasia were both getting rather heated as they competed over who would have the rights to manufacture the various items Subaru described, and they were currently in the process of deciding who would receive which designs.

Rem found herself astonished once more at how easily Subaru had gathered so many important people, and how confidently she negotiated with them as an equal. It was not even two months ago that she appeared to be a random nobody, but she continued to prove herself time and time again, claiming the position of Emilia’s first knight in a matter of weeks, and she now sat at the same table as two other royal candidates just a couple more weeks after that.

“While I’d love to discuss deal this further, we’ll have to stop here for the moment, Anastasia-san, Russell.” Subaru said all of a sudden, signaling a halt to their talks, “For now, we’d better talk about how we’re going to deal with the White Whale. We’ve only got a little over a day until it shows up, you see. As for the location, it’ll be showing up over the Lifaus Highway.”

Subaru’s declaration, so casually spoken, left Rem even more shocked. How could she be so calm with such a massive threat only a day away?

“Only one day…?!” Crusch exclaimed under her breath, gritting her teeth as she narrowed her eyes in frustration. Meanwhile, Anastasia seemed more interested in the location.

“Relax, we’ll be fine. You’ve already been preparing to face it for a while, isn’t that right? Is that not why you were staying in the capital in the first place, even before the royal selection began? As for whatever preparations remain incomplete, we’ve got Russell and Anastasia-san to count on.” Subaru turned to face the pair she had named, “Isn’t that right?”

“Of course! Whatever you need, look no further than the Hoshin Trading Company!” Anastasia replied cheerfully.

“Please wait. It is only natural that the capital’s merchant guild should take precedence here given the nature of this expedition. I would advise you to consider the circumstances before you interfere, Anastasia-sama.” Russell jumped in as well.

After a bit of discussion, it was decided that they would both work together to make up for whatever shortages the expedition might have been facing. And then, it was decided that the group would disperse for now so that they could each report the details of their discussion to their forces, and reconvene later that night for a strategy meeting with each faction’s military leaders present.

“Since our entire combat force is just us two to begin with, I guess we’re already good on that front, Rem-rin.” Subaru said, still as jovial as ever.

But she then suddenly looked at Rem with a much more serious expression, with eyes that almost seemed pained. Rem’s breath hitched when she saw this, she waited anxiously for her next words, wondering what in the world could have Subaru looking so troubled—

“Can you let go of my hand now? I’ve already lost all sensation in it…”

Chapter Text

“Why not?!” Rem exclaimed, shocked by Subaru’s suggestion.

“Like I said, there’s already a lot of super strong people joining me on this expedition. There’s no reason to put you at risk too.”

They were presently standing before the rails of a balcony overlooking the front yard of the Karsten residence, watching as the people below rushed around gathering supplies and making preparations.

This suddenly turned into a debate about whether or not Rem would be joining the hunt for the White Whale when Subaru out of the blue suggested that perhaps it would be better if Rem just remained in the capital while Subaru and the others went to fight the whale. It wasn’t as if Subaru thought Rem was weak or a burden, she just happened to be one of the few people Subaru would be willing to immediately reset for should something happen to her.

‘I’d really feel a whole lot better about this if she just stayed in the capital.’

“Subaru-sama, please reconsider.” Rem pleaded, looking at her with upturned eyes, “Rem is well aware… Of how weak she is. Perhaps her lacking strength cannot be of much aid to you at all. Even so, Rem cannot bear the thought of leaving your side when you might be in danger.”

“Hey now, it’s not like I’m really in any danger myself, you know? You should know by now that I’ll make it out just fine somehow. It’s the others around me that I’m worried about, and that goes for you especially.”

“Perhaps that is true…” Rem said, casting her gaze downward for a moment, though she immediately met Subaru’s eyes once more, “But even so, Rem wishes to be at your side when you confront the White Whale. If there is even the slightest chance that Rem can do something for you, she cannot bear the thought of simply—“

“Well, fine.” Subaru casually cut her off, “I’ll take you with me.”

“Really?” Rem asked, in equal parts surprised and overjoyed that Subaru had given in so easily.

“Sure. If you want to come that badly, I guess I’ll just have to keep you safe myself.” Subaru said patting the maid’s head.

‘Right, I can always just reset if something goes wrong… It should be fine. No point worrying too much, that’ll just screw me over when the time comes to act.’

“But there is one condition, though… Your presence could definitely help out with a certain strategy I’ve been meaning to try, so I’d like you to help me out with that one.” Subaru brought her thumb and forefinger up to her chin in thought as she pondered the possible tactics they could attempt.

It was at this moment that they were joined by Wilhelm, whom Subaru noticed walking up to them out of the corner of her eye.

“Wilhelm.” she called out, “Is something the matter?”

“Subaru-dono…” His voice sounded terribly solemn as he spoke her name, his eyes filled to the brim with deep emotion as he looked upon her.

“I thank you.”

With just those few words, he descended to one knee before her. The sight of the Sword Demon himself lowering his head before her left even Subaru a little shaken.

“I offer you my deepest gratitude, equal to that which I offer my lady, the Duchess Crusch Karsten. Thank you for granting my unworthy self the opportunity to exact vengeance upon that accursed beast.”

“Raise your head, Wilhelm.” Subaru addressed him in a dignified tone, “To be able to help the Sword Demon achieve his long-cherished dream is an honor as far as I’m concerned.”

Of course, if everything went as she planned, the White Whale wouldn’t even end up dead…

“And also…” she added as she approached him, placing a hand on his shoulder, “Save the thanks for after we win, yeah?”

“Regardless of the outcome of this battle,” Wilhelm replied as he stood up, “My eternal gratitude to you shall not waver. Such is the boon that you have bestowed upon me.”

“Well then, I suppose I’d better make sure you make it through in one piece, so you can express that eternal gratitude properly.” Subaru said, walking past Wilhelm back into the mansion.

“It’s almost time.” she continued, “Let’s go.”

※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※

“So, I was thinking, how about we just break its horn off instead of killing it?” Subaru suggested, “It might be possible to turn the White Whale into a powerful ally if we do that, isn’t that right?”

She was currently seated in a conference room, with most of the important figures from the other camps present as well. They had all gathered together for the strategy meeting they had scheduled a few hours prior.

“Of course, Wilhelm might not be too happy about that idea.” Subaru continued, glancing at the aged swordsman, “If you’d prefer to just kill it…”

“No, please do not concern yourself with this old man’s grudge.” Wilhelm replied, sounding slightly despondent, “I would not be so impudent as to protest a decision of such importance.”

“Our opponent is the White Whale, one of the Three Great Witchbeasts… Can it truly be subdued like any common witchbeast, I wonder?” Crusch asked. She did not seem convinced this could work.

“Well, it did for the most part just seem like a very big witchbeast back when I faced it.” Subaru said.

Indeed, it was even affected by her Shamac, after all, just like the Wolgarm.

“Besides,” she continued, “Isn’t it often rumored that the Witch Cult actually controls the White Whale? I have reason to believe that that’s true, and if they can do it, we ought to be able to too, wouldn’t you think?”

“If that is true, it only makes the possibility even slimmer.” Crusch replied, “It is not a given that we can so easily replicate the Witch Cult’s methods, should we even desire to do so. Furthermore, is it not possible that they have already broken its horn themselves? One might even consider that the natural assumption, supposing it truly does obey their commands.”

“That’s a good point, of course. But the horn seemed to be intact when I last saw it.” Subaru said as she thought back to her encounter with the whale. The horn was pretty twisted and irregularly shaped, but it was definitely there.

And Subaru didn’t know much about what happened when the person who broke a witchbeast’s horn died, would the witchbeast just run wild forever? Could the person appoint someone as their successor? If it was the former, whoever it was that first dominated the White Whale would still have to be alive even now, four hundred years later, to keep it under control.

‘Well, since it’s the Witch Cult, I guess that’s not even that unlikely.’

“Besides, isn’t it at least worth trying? I’ve got a great idea in mind, too.” Subaru began, but immediately stopped herself as if she just thought of something, “Ah, by the way, is Flugel’s Tree very important to keep around? Does it perhaps serve some great purpose?”

“It serves as a landmark for those traveling down the highway,” Crusch responded doubtfully, “And there is of course its cultural significance, given its presence in various myths and legends. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I was thinking we could set up camp near there and just wait for the White Whale to show up. If the plan to force it into submission by breaking its horn doesn’t work, we can just drop the tree on it to crush it.”

“You intend to use the tree as a weapon…?” Crusch’s expression soured slightly.

“I’d think it’s worth it considering the foe we’re facing. And it almost seems like it was planted for that very purpose, doesn’t it? Surely the Sage in all his wisdom must have foreseen this day, and planted that tree there to ensure our victory against the White Whale. Indeed, it could even be said that fate itself has guaranteed our victory.”

Subaru didn’t really believe this at all, but it sounded cool to say. Besides, it really was a neat coincidence.

‘And maybe the Sage really did know. How cool would that be?’

“Setting aside this talk of fate and prophecies,” Anastasia interjected, “I’m not exactly opposed to either plan. Why don’t you explain in a little more depth how exactly you intend to break its horn off?”

“Right, we’ll start off with Rem shooting me up to the White Whale, where I’ll cut off its senses with a massive Shamac — I already conirmed that my Shamac works on it, by the way, hence my insistence that it’s not much different from a common witchbeast in the grand scheme of things — and after that, Crusch’s guys are going to use their mana cannons to fire a bunch of harpoons into its sides, which they will then use to pull it down towards the ground next to the tree. Once we have it safely bound to the ground, we can have someone cut the horn off and see if it works. If not, we drop the tree on it.”

Rem herself was rather uneasy about this plan given the immense risks involved, especially for Subaru. But that was the condition Subaru had set for allowing her to accompany them.

“Setting aside the viability of the plan for the moment, who do you propose it should be to actually do the deed?” Julius asked, “Surely, the camp that claims the White Whale for their own would thence be at a distinct advantage in the years to come. Given the dramatic shift in the balance of power this is sure to cause, it is not a decision to be made lightly.”

From a sentimental perspective, perhaps it was only right to recommend that Wilhelm be the one to slice off its horn, however—

“I wouldn’t mind nominating Julius for the job.” Subaru instead picked Julius, surprising most of the meeting’s attendees. Anastasia, however, had already anticipated that that was the choice Subaru would make.

“Nyanya?!” Felix interrupted, “Even though Crusch-sama’s faction is going to be doing most of the work?”

“An interesting choice.” Crusch noted, ignoring Felix’s objection, “Your rationale?”

“For one, he’s generally trusted by most as the Finest of Knights. I think we can all agree that he’s qualified without too much bickering. Furthermore, since he serves both Anastasia, a foreigner, and also the Royal Guard, it’s quite unlikely that he would misuse the power of the White Whale for untoward purposes. Of course, given his admirable character, that is hardly a possibility even worth considering. And finally, given that he is quite young still, he will be able to keep the White Whale under Lugnica’s control for a long time to come. A fitting role for the man most likely to become the next captain of the Royal Guard, wouldn’t you say?”

Julius’ eyes widened slightly as he heard Subaru list off her points. He was already rather surprised when his name was the first she brought up, the manner in which she spoke of him after that only heightened that surprise even further.

‘Well, it’s all true, so it can’t be helped. Even though he’s a rival candidate’s first knight.’

“Well, I don’t have all that much to complain about if it’s Julius, but…” Felix muttered with a pout.

“Certainly, your words have merit…” Crusch said, narrowing her eyes in thought.

She finally sighed after some consideration, directing her gaze towards Julius,

“Very well. Julius Juukulius, the duty of relieving the White Whale of its horn shall fall to you. Any objections?”

“Of course not.” Anastasia replied, glancing at Julius, “Ain’t that right, Julius?”

“Certainly.” Julius said, offering a courteous bow with his hand on his chest, “It would be an honor.”

‘Alright, with all of that settled… I suppose I should get a good night’s rest with Rem?’

It was now almost exactly one day until they were to face the White Whale.

Chapter Text

Though Subaru had initially indicated to Rem that they would be returning to her room immediately after the meeting, it turned out that the girl still had one last thing that she had to do before she could actually call it a night.

Her final task for the day was a private rendezvous with Anastasia, immediately after the strategy meeting.

“It’s gone exactly as you hoped, Anastasia-san. I trust you will hold up your end of the bargain.” Subaru said.

“Well, you did do a pretty good job back there. Sure, I don’t mind lending out my Iron Fang for a day or two. I’ll throw in Julius too, of course.” Anastasia replied, before continuing with a calculating smirk, “I’ve already got an idea as to what you want to use them for.”

Their exchange left Rem somewhat confused. She did find it rather strange that Subaru immediately nominated Julius to be the one to subdue the White Whale, so had it been part of some deal with Anastasia after all? The girl had spent some time speaking in private with Anastasia and Russell regarding their future plans shortly after their original meeting with Crusch, so it must have been there that they came to some sort of agreement

More importantly, what was this secret task Subaru wished to use the Iron Fang for? Was it related to that notice she had sent out down the Lifaus Highway requesting transport?

“There’s a lot of glory in this for you too should all go well, so it’s not as if you’re doing me a huge favor there.” Subaru said, “What of my proposal? Have you thought it over?”

“Hm, about that… Well, just give me a month to prepare and then we’ll see.” Anastasia replied thoughtfully, “I’ll meet you in Flanders in about two months if the plan looks viable.”

“Sounds great. I’ll see you there, then.” Subaru replied, after which the two bid each other farewell and parted ways.

“Subaru-sama…?” Rem asked in a whisper, still confused as to what was going on here.

“Ah, don’t worry about that, just laying the foundations for a certain business deal.” Subaru replied cheerfully, “Just wanted you there as a witness is all.”

“Um, Anastasia-sama mentioned that you wished to borrow the Iron Fang’s services for a time…” Rem continued hesitantly.

“It’s looking like there’s going to be just a bit of trouble in the forest around the manor again.” Subaru responded, nonchalant as ever, “It’s like that situation with the Wolgarm. I wanna play it safe this time, so I’m taking a trained mercenary force with me, just to make sure everything goes well.”

There was something happening in the forest around the manor? Subaru hadn’t mentioned anything of the sort to her. Subaru seemed to be treating it like it was no big deal, but Rem knew her well enough to know that that didn’t mean a thing. Subaru had even said to Anastasia that there would be glory in this endeavor if it went well, so surely the opponent this time had to be quite a formidable one.

Rem also remembered seeing Subaru speaking with Emilia(?) over her conversation mirror about two hours ago. Ever since she invented her sound magic, Subaru had formed a habit of forming a bubble of sound around herself whenver she had an important conversation so as to prevent others from overhearing, so Rem had no idea what they were actually talking about, or if it was even actually Emilia on the other side. Rem had initially assumed that Subaru was simply reporting the fact that she had successfully negotiated the alliance with Crusch, but the conversation was just a bit too long for that. As fond of Emilia as Subaru was, she wasn’t the sort to spend all day whispering sweet nothings to her, so surely, that she spent that much time speaking to her must have meant that she had something important to say.

Perhaps she was relaying instructions as to what to do about whatever it was that had invaded the forest? As Rem realized anew when Subaru suddenly revealed that she had fought the White Whale while negotiating with Crusch, she was the kind of girl that really preferred to keep her own efforts secret. Therefore, it was impossible as far as Rem was concerned that Subaru was telling Emilia about her plan to face the White Whale for the second time.

And in the same vein, Subaru was most likely downplaying the significance of the threat encroaching on the manor to keep Rem from worrying. Of course, knowing this made Rem even more anxious. Was Subaru seriously planning to rush off to face another enemy immediately after the battle with the White Whale?

As Rem’s thoughts became increasingly chaotic and disorganized, the pair reached Subaru’s room.

Plopping down on her bed, Subaru thought out loud, “Let’s see, I’m not forgetting anything, am I? I’ve done everything I have to do?”

“As far as Rem is aware, Subaru-sama has seen to all of her responsibilities.” Rem answered dutifully. She did make sure to emphasize the ‘as far as Rem is aware’ part, though, since she barely knew anything about what the girl was really planning.

“I see. Still, let’s go through the important stuff just in case. Let’s see, first, the notice requesting transport…” Subaru began.

“It has been sent out as you requested. The messenger should be entering the Lifaus Highway around this time.”

Subaru had requested that a messenger go down the Lifaus Highway, informing any traveling merchants they came across that Roswaal would purchase all the cargo they were carrying at asking price if they would just lend out their carriages for a brief period. Subaru had even put in a special request for oil, specifying that she wished to personally meet anyone carrying large quantities of oil tomorrow.

“Incidentally, Subaru-sama… Those carriages will be used to evacuate the inhabitants of Irlam, is that correct?”

“Ah, yeah. I said as much in the message I sent out, didn’t I?”

Indeed, the message stated that the merchants would simply have to take the villagers to the capital for a brief period while Subaru’s forces investigated a minor disturbance in the forest, possibly a witchbeast infestation.

“Well, yes, but… Rem wonders, is it truly just some witchbeasts again?”

“You’ve gotten awfully bold, haven’t you Rem?” Subaru teased, “Calling them ‘just some witchbeasts’ after all the trouble they gave us last t