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It was over.

Well, realistically speaking, it was only halfway there. Or was anything done at all? Subaru didn’t really know. It seemed a little too surreal.

He had just born witness to an old man who was obnoxiously skilled with a blade murder an equally obnoxious whale that was stuck under a massive tree. Granted, this was a massive oversimplification of what the last hours had borne, but it summed up the finale of what would come to be known as “the white whale subjugation.”

And now, what came next still awote him. The sin archbishop of Sloth.

Petelgeuse, as Subaru had unaffectionately come to know him, was the second and main threat that Subaru had to go through. The whale was simply a bribing method to obtain the assistance of the Karsten house and the Hoshin company, both of whom would be open to ridding the world of that beast.

With Crusch Karsten, the leader of the Karsten house, already preparing a massive arsenal to take on the whale, it was quite easy to convince her to assist. As for the Hoshin company, the whale had a history of interfering with their transportational methods. Give them a chance, and they would happily hop on a train to take out one of the most prevalent threats to their business.

And that whale had just been killed. Allowing Subaru to take point on the next assault.

Or so he thought.

“Felix, tend to the wounded. I will survey the rest of our troops.”

The valiant Crusch Karsten, who had fought with extreme grit and a blade of wind, had also borne witness to the engagement that had befallen Subaru’s eyes just now. And she was still all business as ever.

As the military lady turned around, Subaru saw something that he would not have normally seen outside of private conversations upon her face. A rather simplistic smile, with a meaning he was unsure of.

Following her turnaround, Miss Karsten walked towards Subaru. “Are you all right, Natsuki Subaru?”

Slightly grinning, the ashen-haired boy responded with a “Somehow or another… I’m glad you’re also safe, Crusch-san.”

“I am, yes. But our losses are not few.” Looking downwards in a silent remembrance of the fallen, only one of which remembered their faces and name, the pairing grimaced. “With the white whale’s defeat, those who have vanished will not return.”

The two stood silent for a minute more, before the more oblivious party broke the silence. “I think you did great, Crusch-san. Your popularity should shoot through the roof-wait, did I just give you a boost in the royal selection that I shouldn’t have?”

As a more lighthearted tone overtook the conversation, the two spoke of what was to come and what their current position was. Some comments praising the other, some made in speculation, Crusch couldn’t help but free her mind just a small bit from the events that surrounded her. This boy had a knack for causing that effect.

As she was caught up in her own thoughts, an offhanded theory about how Subaru would have joined the Crusch camp was brought up. To this, though she was sad to hear the news that he wouldn’t be joining her camp, there was a separate emotion that clouded her vision. One which she was neither familiar nor unfamiliar with.

As these troubling madders overtook her mind, Wilhelm approached as if on schedule to relieve her of continuing her conversation with the Natsuki boy, knelt in gratitude to Subaru. This momentary distraction brought crucial time for Crusch.

With her mind freed, she quickly regained her composure(not that she had visibly lost it). As she felt herself get drawn back to whatever reality she thought surrounded her, her mind made a rather odd fixation on one comment from the boy.

“If I hadn’t had a number #1 and #2 in my heart, that would have been a close call.”

Though she had been able to handle it relatively offhandedly, Crusch felt a growing dissatisfaction with that decision. For what reason, she was once again neither sure nor unsure, but boy was it frustrating. So much so that it was clouding her vision.

Thankfully, Wilhelm came in and took her out of that conundrum just a little while later. Or rather, gave her mind something to latch onto.

As he once gave his immeasurable thanks to the boy, Crusch seized her opportunity to fix up this matter of the heart.

“You should hold onto that treasured sword for a while. In the days to come, being unarmed will do you little good.”

The old man had a slight glaze over his eyes. Barely noticeable to anyone other than himself, but still there nonetheless. “Yes my lady. Thank you.”

Now, for the big question. How would Subaru approach the next issue? A majority of his manpower had either been lost or wounded by the whale, and he himself was nothing to be proud of in terms of fighting capability. He had learned that lesson all too well during the last few...loops.

A darkened cloud had managed to pierce through something that was absolutely supposed to be airtight: Subaru’s mind. In this sort of situation, going down a negative thought path would lead to nothing but wasted time, and there wasn’t exactly spare time that was available to him.

Well if worst came to worst, he could always-

“Felis, stay with our injured and take half the unwounded as protection. I will go ahead with the other half.”

Back on the move, Crusch had already taken stride and approached the now very surprised catboy. Whatever thoughts, be they of grief or other ill intent, had seemingly vanished as soon as she spoke those words to Felix.

The crossdressing demihuman, however, had more than a few things to say to that. “Crusch-sama!? You’re the leader of the subjugation force! You can’-”

“All the more reason I should go.” She interrupted. “As a leader, I would be failing my duty if I were not to lead my troops into battle, no? As I said earlier today, I will not just sit around idly whilst my men are thrusting themselves into danger, whether it be the whale, the witch cult, or any other threat.”

Her grand proclamation startled Felix, who had thought the original plan was to have Crusch go back with the carcass and the injured to the capital. The change of plans also had him disgruntled for more than one reason, but that was one selfish at heart. Which he would need to ignore.

Whatever Crusch had planned was now changed to fit her newest plan, and he would have to accept that. And by taking a look at just how firm her initial argument was for going, Felix had a strong suspicion that he would be unable to interfere.

That said, he could still beg.

“Crusch-sama, couldn’t you at least bring Ferri-chan along? I know that I need to heal our wounded, but what if...what if you need me when you run into sloth? Or-or what if you-”

“Felix.”

Now in both a commanding and seemingly empathetic tone, Crusch lowered her voice just enough so that the lines would be exchanged only between the two of them.

“You said it yourself. Our wounded need to be tended to. And you are our most skilled healer. They will need you far more than I will.”

Now, the green-haired lady leaned down just enough so that Felix could stare into her honeydew eyes. “And I need someone to ensure the safety of our deal with the Emilia camp. We wouldn’t be good allies if we failed to nurse one of their members back to health, correct?”

Felix trembled for a minute, while contemplating whether or not he should push it further. He had every assurance that she would be fine. Seeing as Crusch was relatively unscathed from the battle with the white whale, and the fact that Wilhelm would be moving along with them gave him the utmost of confidence that she would be fine. Yet there was this aspect of him that still wanted to come along.

That said, it was his job as a healer to heal the people that needed it. And no matter how much he wished otherwise, his job was something that he had signed up for when he joined this camp.

“Ok…” With the appearance of a teenager who had just been rejected by his crush, Felix turned away to continue his work on the people who had been damaged by the whale’s attack. Crusch smiled, before turning back to her remaining troops.

And the Natsuki boy.

____________________________________________________________________________

“You’re coming with us, Crusch-san?” It appeared that Subaru was just as surprised as Felix was when she made the announcement.

Focusing her vision, Crusch responded to the same question for the second time today. “Yes. I do not wish to be so dishonorable as to not lead my men into battle whilst I am perfectly prepared for the coming engagement. I assume there will be no problems with such a decision?”

Having been taken aback by this new plan, Subaru tried to process this new information.

Firstly, Crusch would be a huge buff to their offensive strength against Petelgeuse. Her sword art would easily cut through any and all unseen hands, and could most likely do so from a range at which she would be safe. Furthermore, for dealing with cultists, the same logic applied, not to mention the massive amount of credibility she lent when dealing with the villagers and getting them to evacuate alongside the residents of the mansion.

This was of course only scratching the surface of all the things that Crusch helped him out with, but those would be reason enough to bring her along. Though he was certainly unsure as to why she was coming, as Subaru had thought she would go back to the capital with the subjugation force.

“Well, not exactly like I can complain…” The boy sighed, both in relief and exasperation. It would be nice to have an actual leader among their ranks.

Wearing an incredibly smug expression, Crusch almost immediately caught on to Subaru’s little whisper. “I assume this means I will be welcomed by my forces?” She pushed.

With a smirk and a light chuckle, Subaru stuck out his hand. “Welcome to the subjugation force, Crusch-san.”

“My pleasure.”

____________________________________________________________________________

Waving goodbye to their members that were departing for the capital, Subaru could have sworn that he heard a catboy’s voice screaming some obscure nonsense at Crusch, who was right beside him.

“Alright, now that were done with that-” Subaru, who had been in the beginning of his battle plans, had already been cut off by Crusch.

“We have another force arriving soon to assist us with the subjugation, Natsuki Subaru.”

Having been previously unaware of this, Subaru looked towards the militaress with complete confusion written in every corner of his face and mind.

Catching onto this, Crusch quickly elaborated. “The iron fang had another half of their force sent to guard the road as we fought the whale. That force numbers about half of the actual troops sent to aid us in our attacks.”

Catching himself up to speed, this time Subaru was not weighed down with information and instead asked a followup question. “And when will they arrive?”

Turning towards the now risen sun, Crusch pointed towards one of the many roads that led through the area.

“Now.”

As Subaru looked out at the dirt road, he began to see outlines. Originally he was unsure of how many there were, but as they approached he began to count them individually. They numbered around forty.

As they came closer to the group, both Subaru and Crusch caught sight of their leader. And neither was all too enthusiastic about who it was.

“Why is he with them?” Lacking the filter that the woman to his right had, the tracksuit-adorned teen was clearly more than just upset.

And if he had been allowed to, Subaru might have continued on with his disdain of the knight Julius, who led the members of the iron fang that had guarded the road.

Thankfully, the qualified leader among them had an ability to hold others tongues when need be.

Drawing closer to Subaru, Crusch quickly leaned next to his ear to ensure their conversation went unheard by those surrounding them. “I understand your less than cordial relationship with knight Julius, but he is a valuable ally to this party. You will have to put aside your pride for now and deal with your feelings towards him at a later date.”

Grumbling, Subaru managed a “Gotcha.” before muttering some obscure nonsense to himself. Whatever it was, Crusch was out of earshot to hear it.

As the iron fang made their final approach, the half that had dealt with the white whale came out and stood alongside Crusch and Subaru. Having put all their time into waving their injured comrades away to the capital, they simply remained there and stared out with grins on their faces as they awaited their friends arrival.

Finally, coming to a stop, it was Julius who took the initiative and hopped off his Riger.

Greeting him, Crusch stuck out her hand. “It is a pleasure to meet with you once again, Knight Juukulius.”

An ever prideful smile on his face, the purple-haired swordsman received her hand quite complementarily. “As it is mine to reacquaint myself with you, Miss Karsten.”

“Though I must lose my name for the time being. A man with a knights status must never lower himself to the rank of mercenary, no matter the task at hand.”

This comment caused a wave of smirks and a few snickers amongst the crowd, though the majority went silent as to respect the knights absurd vision of how he could remain above all of them and yet be no more than a “mercenary”.

What was soon to come however, would have them quite gracious that this “mercenary” was on their side.

 

“I see. And what might this mercenary standing before me go by?” The green-haired leader of this bunch had little to express physically to this now unnamed mercenary, though his being unnamed would be resolved shortly.

“Hmm...Perhaps I shall go by Juli.”

This, surprisingly, elicited very minimal response from the crowd. Either that or they were simply holding their tongues in order to have a small fit about this somewhere else.

Whatever the case, the only person who made any audible noise was Subaru, with a simple “Bull…” before cutting himself off as to avoid a second coming of what occurred at the palace a few days ago.

Crusch, who had remained ever steadfast, simply finished up her greetings with Julius and went off to greet the new troops and get them up to speed on the current situation.

Julius, on the other hand, had an reintroduction to attend to.

Approaching Subaru, the purple-haired mercenary wore yet another one of his unbearable smiles. Whatever he was smiling about, Subaru was getting tired of it. Sooner or later, he has to resort to a resting face.

“It seems you’re better than I expected.” Catching Subaru off guard, Julius initiated his conversation with genuine concern, causing him to recoil. “How are you feeling?”

Assuming he was referring to their humiliating “duel”, Subaru let his hotheadedness get the best of him. “Well, there were only some scratches. A little spit fixed them right up!”

Ditching whatever formalities had tried to force their way into the talk, Subaru continued his rash assault against Julius. “What about you? Been busy writing apologies for fighting so seriously with an amateur?”

Ever the one to remain polite even when being so brazenly mocked, Julius took Subaru’s miniature rant in stride and continued. “I didn’t mean that...I meant the damage to your honor by the mabeast subjugation.”

Turning the situation completely against Subaru with his own brand of posh trash talk, the knight turned mercenary had won against Subaru in a field that should have been his own to dominate. Not that it mattered much, but it still frustrated the poor boy.

“But I’m glad your wounds from before seem to have healed.”

____________________________________________________________________________

Meeting up in a circular formation around Crusch and Subaru, the restless crowd that surrounded them was quickly shut up when Crusch stood up and yelled “Troops! Because of your valor and skill, we have defeated the white whale!”

This brought cheers amongst the crowd, some of which had been busy at the fight which had seen such things and had proven them to be true.

“However!” Still calling to their attention, Crusch continued on her introductory speech. “We have not won yet. Thanks to intelligence provided by Natsuki Subaru, we now must subjugate not only the whale, but those who worship its creator.”

A rushed murmur overtook the crowd, before a small demihuman with two large cat ears and a monocle stepped up.

“I assume that means we will be fighting the witches cult, then?”

Sitting back down, Crusch looked towards the childlike figure. “That is correct.”

Signaling Subaru to begin speaking, Crusch nodded her head in an affirmatory gesture before looking at him, awaiting what their next plan might be.

“Thank you, Crusch-san. Yes, we are going up against the witch cult.” With Crusch having said all the introductory statements for him, it would make sense to get planning right away. This however, did not deter some of the crowd members from interfering.

The small one who had spoken up at the beginning, who went by the name of Tivey, immediately fired up a question. “Can we trust the allegations that the White Whale and the Witch’s cult are connected? We only came as reinforcements for the White Whale’s subjugation-”

Before he could continue his grilling of Subaru, Tivey was hit over the head by a large staff. This staff was wielded by his sister, Mimi.

“What was that for?” The boy exclaimed, having a hard time believing that he had just been bonked over the head by his own sister.

“If you can’t believe him, then you just need to believe me!” She went, not really screaming as much as she was mimicking a child having a meltdown. This she did to surprising efficiency, which managed to shut Tivey right up as he took his seat back down on Ricardo’s lap.

Though Subaru would have preferred it if Tivey trusted him, he could make it work if he had Mimi’s full attention. Getting that trust would have to wait for another time. For now, he needed to remember a large bit of information pieced together across all his loops. With Crusch here, he would have to take extra care in what he said in order to not appear as a spy for the cultists.

 

“I don’t like to recall it, but I’ve run up against the witch’s cult before. I learned about the relation between them and the whale then.” This was somewhat true. Though never mentioned directly by any members, the fact that the cult had only attacked after the whale descended upon the tree was more than enough evidence to Subaru to suggest some connection, and thankfully it was enough to fool Crusch’s divine protection.

This unexpectedly though, prompted said woman to speak up. “Wilhelm-dono, I recall you were part of an investigation to determine whether or not the cult is involved with the whale. Are you able to add towards Natsuki Subaru’s conclusion?”

In turn, Wilhelm turned his head towards a middle point between the two and addressed them both. “I would not term the evidence definitive, but the distribution of the Whale appearances and the cult activities coincided in several respects.”

Sufficiently backed up by two of the most respectable members of the force, Subaru happily exclaimed “That makes it doubly credible!”

And now that everyone was satisfied with his explanation of how he knew that the cult was here, they eagerly awaited their next words from the strategizer.

With everyone looking at him with a slightly more intense view than earlier, Subaru chose to continue his rousing speech. “On that note, we’re going to head for the Mathers domain. The Witch’s cult is hiding in the forest there.”

Now getting in quite the speaking stride, Subaru found it within himself to keep pushing onwards. Whether that was due to the strong leader beside him or the equally strong who were willing to follow him, stopping this kid from giving his speech would be harder than reinventing the wheel in a meaningful way. “The way we defeat them is as simple as it gets. Raid them before they can read our movements, and crush them!”

His plans seemingly announced to everyone, Subaru began to strike a leading pose to invigorate the troops, but this was quickly shut down by an elderly soldier by the name of Conwood.

 

Conwood was someone who had been brought as a part of the Crusch faction, and had been hand-picked by Wilhelm himself in order to serve against the white whale. Old as he may seem, the elderly man was extremely skilled, enough so to capture Wilhelm’s attention. This alongside him knowing Wilhelm from the early days of his career solidified his position in the expedition. And now he wanted to ensure something.

“Is there a way to protect the villagers?”

Momentarily caught off guard, Subaru paused for just a second, giving Crusch ample time to respond to Conwoods question. Seeing as she was now standing alongside the lanky boy, there was no reason to pretend that they didn’t share leadership over this army of theirs.

“Natsuki Subaru has thought of this beforehand, Conwood-dono. Before he met with me, he discussed the evacuation of the villagers first and foremost with Russel Fellow and Anastasia Hoshin.”

Crusch had to think to herself the foresight of this plan. It was not exactly marvellous, but given that she had been the one to buy all the carriages from the capital, the duchess couldn’t help but be amazed at the leadership skill this boy possessed. Along with him finally revealing how he planned to assault the cult, she also managed to get a read on his ability to lay out a plan and make it functionally easy to understand. Whether or not it was intentional was anyone’s guess.

“Under conditions that the merchants on the highway have their products bought from the margrave at asking prices, they will serve to evacuate the villagers.” She finished up.

Pitching in as he saw fit, Subaru injected himself back into the conversation. “Also, a messenger sent by Crusch-san’s household is headed for the mansion with a handwritten letter. If we don’t notify Emilia and the rest about the alliance and such, there’s going to be chaos.”

MIffed that she had failed to manage the letter to further assert command over her troops, Crusch was also quite glad that the Natsuki boy had caught her slip-up. If so much as one detail was left unchecked for the troops, there could be worry amongst them.

With a courageous grunt, Ricardo lifted one of his massive paws. “Sounds like we’re all ready.”

“Yeah!” Mimi and Tivey called out.

“We have never enjoyed such an advantage in a battle against the Witch’s Cult.” Wilhelm, who was also enjoying the thoroughness of the pairings plan, chipped in with his own piece of rousing speech.

“Yeah.” Though he was disturbed by the memories he was having to recall in order to form this plan of his, Subaru couldn’t help but be excited. He might finally have a chance at winning this thing. “With Crusch, Julius, and his crew, we don’t have to worry about being outnumbered.”

Satisfied with his final words, Subaru began to survey the men surrounding them until he heard the voice of one who he had been saving for last.

“I would like to offer one correction.”

Swiveling on his feet, Subaru looked at Julius expectantly. Crusch on the other hand, already knew what was going to happened and instead waited for the unexpectant boys reaction to what Julius was about to say.

With a completely straight face on himself, Julius looked right back at Subaru before spewing one of the most bullshit lines ever to grace this land, “My name is Juli. Please take care to use it.”

At a moment's glance, a look of complete deadpan had gone over Crusch's face, while Subaru had gone into a rantlike state yelling about how that would be a hassle in casual settings.

Though what was most interesting was neither of these reactions, but those of the soldier surrounding them. Most likely due to the bizarre interactions between the greatest knight and the hero who brought down the white whale, their morale had gone noticeably higher, with even those who were the most affected by the white whale bearing light grins.

This was obviously not intentional but nonetheless was more than effective and well beyond a satisfactory result. What still had yet to come through, was a boost even more effective and intentional than the first.

Catching the attention of the troops under his command, Subaru began a small speech. “The battle with the white whale was so tough, I thought I’d die.”

If you were to look around, the mood had immediately soured at this comment. Not only did many share the sentiment, some had legitimate knowledge of the fact that many of their comrades did not suffer the same fate. Even though they couldn't put a name or a face to those who they so desperately wished they could, the honor shared among those under the same banner was a mainstay of any cohesive army. And this one was no different.

“Some of us did die. Some others vanished, never to return.” As if mimicking the thoughts of the soldiers around him, the tracksuit-wearing boy put all the pieces of his speech into play, reaching a sort of climax to his declaration.

“Let’s all win the war without losing anyone here! Let’s all return home alive!” And finally, there came an end to this surprisingly effective mishmash of a speech.

Even though Subaru had never even addressed people in a professional way outside of school projects, he somehow had managed to deliver an incredibly well received and memorable series of lines, managing to unite all the troops under one single banner. How he did it, not even those surrounding him knew.

Shortly after everyone had dispersed, the group set off for Arlam.

____________________________________________________________________________

The lightly moisturized wind that flowed around the Natsuki boy’s body was surprisingly pleasant to pair with the speed he was moving at. The tracksuit, which had an uncanny ability to regulate his body temperature, had recently been trapping a little too much heat for his liking, though this was probably due to exhaustion from the battle with the white whale.

That said, it would be completely false to say that it would even hinder him in the assault on Petelgeuse. In contrast, it only provided motivation to finish the job faster so he could get some rest.

As he rode, he heard a ground dragons footsteps grow gradually closer and closer to him. Turning around to greet his unknown approacher, Subaru’s normally stern thinking face turned into a much more neutral one when he realized who his approachee was.

“That was quite a magnificent speech, Natsuki. I’m impressed.”

 

Yet again, he met with Crusch. Though this encounter was entirely on her behalf, it felt odd to meet with her after they had already discussed the fact that she would not be present for the subjugation of sloth.

That prompted a question from the boy.

“Thanks, Crusch-san. You were pretty impressive back during the fight too.”

As he returned the compliment, the necessity for some sort of lead up was necessary to ask her why she had decided to come along. The problem was, such a lead-in was unknowingly difficult to come up with.

But of course, we’re dealing with Natsuki Subaru here. Not exactly some run of the mill kind of guy.

“So, Crusch-san. What made you decide to come along with us instead of going back with your men? I thought that was your original plan.”

The bluntness of his question caught Crusch off-guard, but to say that she hadn’t been expecting the boy to act in such a way would be false. He had been just as blunt if not more so with Julius.

Nonetheless, now Crusch faced a bit of a challenge. Mostly because she herself didn’t know why she had changed that decision.

There were good guesses here and there, but her inability to pinpoint the singular changing factor was troubling to her. So much so that it was making her slightly irritable in her unableness to come up with a satisfactory answer to herself.

Shoving this frustration down for now, Crusch decided that she would come up with one of the many answers that flew into her head that made logical sense to her.

“If so much as one member of this force were to fall after I took my leave, I would feel as if I failed as a leader. As I said before, I will not simply sit around and wait for my men to do my job for me, be it fighting the whale or the witch’s cult itself.”

Though it took her a few seconds longer than expected, Subaru attributed it to the length of the response alongside it’s accuracy. If she felt like it were a direct hypocrisy on her part to only take part in one battle, then her joining him was just as much for her personal honor as much as it was for the public perception.

“A woman of honor as always, Crusch-san.” The boy happily chipped in, smiling as he rode his ground dragon. It gave him a sense of ease, though this was probably because this ground dragon had saved his life more than a few times during the fight. And of course, the ride was much more comfortable than walking.

Laughing just about as much as anyone else would at a boy smiling while riding his ground dragon, Crusch took interest in the breed that he had chosen.

“That breed of dragon is unusually hard to tame. I’m surprised we’ve finally gotten someone to take her reins.”

The truth was, Crusch barely had any hope for Patrache ever being tamed. When they originally acquired her, training for the saddle was difficult enough, and getting her to let anyone ride her was even more so. It had gotten so bad that apparently there were rumors spread around about the Diana had begun having worse rumors spread about her than most demihumans, though these were reportedly only heard by a few.

Surprised without knowledge of the dragons history, the completely oblivious Subaru took interest as to why the Patrasche he knew to be so incredibly easy to interact with surprised Crusch.

“Hmm? Patrasche and I were best buds at first sight. I don’t know how anyone couldn’t get along with her.”

This response was so completely contradictory to everything that Crusch knew about the ground dragon that she nearly fell off her own ground dragon due to the shock that the boys statement brought.

Firstly, the fact that he had tamed her on sight was a feat not accomplished by many of the greatest tamers in the industry. Secondly, the fact that he was so casually able to call what was recognized as the most prideful ground dragon his “best bud” without facing any repercussions from the dragon at all. She momentarily forgot who she was dealing with, evidently.

Regaining her composure for the second time after losing it to the Natsuki boy again, Crusch reset her seat on the ground dragon before speaking again.

“That is quite impressive, Natsuki Subaru. That ground dragon has a history of being nearly untameable. To do it in one day is unheard of,” She thought for a moment before continuing while wearing that same smile Subaru saw at the tree, “But I suppose defeating the white whale was unheard of until today, so there is always a first time for everything.”

“Oh, uh...thanks?” Completely clueless on how to respond, mostly because picking Patrasche was just dumb luck, Subaru just looked at Crusch with the most peculiar face that she had ever seen. Assumedly, it was from his own form of shock.

Now in a light laugh, Crusch lightened Subaru’s mood. “It’s a good thing, don’t worry. I wish to see how you two pair up in combat.”

Had she been aware of the maneuvers that Subaru and Patrasche had pulled during the fight against the white whale, it was quite possible that she would have flat-out lost it when speaking with the boy.

A different problem though, was what crossed Crusch’s mind. Having seen Julius approach earlier, and then seen Subaru go into some kind of fit after exchanging words with him. Though humorous, it could spell disaster for the coming fight if some of their most prominent members were still at odds with one another.

“How is your relationship with Sir Ju-I mean, Juli?”

The name earned a loud snort from the boy which she spoke to, who afterwards put on one of the most trying faces that she had seen in recent times. It was clear enough that he harbored a fair bit of hatred towards Julius.

And his words only confirmed it, though he was much more reserved with her than he would others. “He beat me half to death. It’s not exactly great.”

Understandably, Subaru wasn’t on pleasant terms with his associate. Given the fact that almost all of his reputation had been destroyed by Juilius during their duel, and people generally holding malice towards those who cause harm to them, it made sense that he would despise Julius to his very core.

This was unfortunately, not permissible for much longer.

“Your disdain for Julius, though justified, is not suited for one such as yourself, Natsuki Subaru.” Crusch, who understood what happens when a conflict between leadership occurs, attempted to give Subaru some sort of initiative to repair his relationship with Julius. Whether or not it would work would only be indicated when Subaru took his own initiative.

“Yeah, I know, I know. I have to get over myself sooner or later.” Surprisingly solemn for some reason, Subaru decided to go the brutally honest route. This didn’t catch Crusch off guard, as he had been this way with her before, though she was unsure of the reason.

“I’ll do it in a bit. I just need to...sort myself out.” An understandable reaction. If he wanted time, Crusch would have to give it to him. There was definitive need to hurry this along, but at the same time legitimately forcing people to be friends never works. Once again, her experience in leadership came through on this matter.

“Very well. I won’t interfere any further,” Pulling out of the conflict almost as soon as she had entered it, Crusch instead wanted to know something entirely different about the task at hand.

“What do you plan to do against the Witch’s Cult?”

____________________________________________________________________________

As he walked into the lush forest, Subaru could already hear the faint sound of footsteps surrounding him. Even he couldn’t believe how effective the witch’s scent was becoming at attracting his enemy. Though he was using it as an upside today, the downsides it brought with it were unsettling, and that was barely scratching the surface of its potential issues.

Though as he pushed forward, he momentarily shoved those thoughts out of his mind in order to deal with a more immediate threat.

“This feels like the time I found a cockroach in a quiet corner of my room.” A bizarrely odd memory to come up at a time like this, especially when he could feel those presences getting much, much closer to him. It was much more like he was the cockroach instead of them.

“You were drawn to the smell, huh? Perfect cockroach bait…” Obsessing over his brilliant analogy over a cockroach and quiet room corners, Subaru came to a standstill as several hooded figures emerged from the darkened forest surrounding him.

The tall...people, if thats what they were, had adequately adjusted their footsteps so that they would be quiet, but the slackers in the group had given away their approach. If they had been trying to sneak up on Subaru, they would have almost certainly lost their advantage.

Thankfully, they were not trying to sneak up on him, but rather came to receive orders from someone who was doused with the witch’s love.

As they stood completely still around Subaru, he could swear that he heard whispers from all of them, but as he tried to listen in, the conversation swapped to two other hooded figures.

This would have to be a problem solved another day, as he currently had one of his own to take care of.

“Thanks for coming to meet me.” He tried showing gratitude to the people he so much detested, but it didn’t really work outside of phony words. In terms of legitimate hatred, these people harbored more in him than Julius did, which was saying quite something considering his conversation with him a few hours ago.

“Sorry to say it when you just arrived, but I’ll leave you to work out the details yourselves, so don’t get in my way.” As he finished up ordering his new small sect of the cult, the robed men bowed to him before disappearing in what could only be described as if they were being pulled out of view by some unseen force.

As he realized just how much power he held over those who he just ordered around, Subaru silently regretted not telling them to pack up and go home. The job would have been made at least somewhat easier on himself and the men which he lead.

Subaru, approaching the mouth of the cave which he had been subject to one of the worst tortures in his lives so far, instead of seeing Rem’s corpse, saw the man who would cause such a gruesome scene.

Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti.

“I have been waiting for you, believer in love.” The madman, who was by this time well known to Subaru, almost immediately began rambling towards him in the normal ecstatic, crazed fashion that was sparked by his obsession with the witch. Whatever piece of sanity remained in the green-skinned man had long passed, leaving what was essentially no more than a husk of a man in his place.

This of course, was why he kept on going about his witch and his delusions of love. “In the witch’s cult, I am the sin archbishop representing sloth,”

Subaru waited for the name he dreaded so much to come from his mouth.

“Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti...DES!”

That absolutely horrid introduction out of the way was one thing, but Subaru knew better than to think that was the end of anything. Going by how the majority of their “conversations” had gone so far, this was going to lead into something either very disturbing or just him trying to get Subaru to join the witch’s cult. Though the fact that he knew both possible outcomes was nice in an odd way.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Or it could not be either of those outcomes whatsoever. Subaru forgot who he was dealing with, evidently.

Quickly realizing he needed to take charge over this conversation to keep Petelgeuse’s attention on him, Subaur spoke up before the maddened man caught up with him.

“Hey, I really appreciate the unexpected welcome,” Though he was almost certain that one of the members of the group he encountered earlier told the green-haired man from hell about his presence, he was also quite positive that said man could also smell the witch’s scent on him, quite possibly from miles away.

“But I’m not really sure I feel this ‘love’ you keep on bringing up.”

That was perhaps one of the worst sentences to say to this particular kind of obsessive man, but Subaru didn’t know this. And he wouldn’t find out either, as Petelgeuse was rather ecstatic to remember the day when he first experienced “love”.

“It always begins suddenly.” Clutching himself for no reason in particular other than to express his obnoxious feelings for that time when he began his journey in this sect. Reliving it was bringing him obvious joy, which he struggled to contain.

“Everyone, on a certain day, realizes they are loved.” As Subaru was about to inquire about what he meant, Petelgeuse decided to go on another random tirade about whatever topic was at hand.

“They feel the love! The love! The love! The love! The love! The love! The love! The love! The love!” Endlessly screaming about “the love” that everyone would supposedly feel one day, the now completely mindless Petelgeuse started flailing his arms wildy as he continued to just keep on yelling “The love!” Until either he felt like stopping or someone stopped him.

Which Subaru did. “Um, and what am I supposed to do now?”

“Ah, the witch’s generous love.” Stopping his rant almost as soon as it had started, Petelgeuse turned towards Subaru in a fashion that somehow managed to be both fluid and snappy. Obviously, it was incredibly creepy.

Leaning in towards the tracksuit-wearing boy, the man in blackened robes asked “You wouldn’t happen to be pride, would you?”

Pausing for a moment, Subaru tried to register what this clearly out of mind buffoon was asking him. First off, he didn’t even know what it meant to be pride. Assuming he was going off of the seven cardinal sins, that would mean he was also a sin archbishop of some sort. Of course, Subaru was not a witch cultist and had vehemently denied anyone that supposed otherwise, the most significant of which was Rem.

But, with Petelgeuse being Petelgeuse, before he had time to sort out his thoughts the grass-haired adult was already going on about something else.

“Of the six Sin Archbishops,” This confirmed that they were using the cardinal sin system, assumedly with the 7th seat being reserved for the Witch herself, “Only Pride’s seant remains vacant…”

 

Barely letting any time get in his way, lest this random child decide to actually speak, Petelgeuse continued, “You have received the gospel, haven’t you?”

This question was on such short notice that Subaru was caught completely off guard by it, and in doing so accidentally let “The gospel?” slip out of his mouth.

Fortunately, the response this elicited from Petelgeuse was very much in Subaru’s favor. For now.

“My brain...trembles!”

Whipping out a black book out of seemingly nowhere, the hands which belonged to Petelgeuse seemed to attack the book, opening it so incredibly fast that Subaru was unsure if a certain page had been opened or if it was just a completely random one. Judging by how he was turning the pages, it seemed to be an estimated guess of where he last left off in the book.

“Presentation of the Gospel, proof of love...Proof! Proof! Proof! Proof!”

Aaaaaaaand of course it had to be something relative to the cult. Not one damn thing about this guy wasn’t. Subaru wasn’t entirely sure why he had expected to see something that wasn’t a religious object of worship come out of that oversized coat.

“Huh?”

Snapping his view between Subaru and the Gospel, Petelgeuse seemed to be stuck in some sort of conundrum, the likes of which would most likely not strike someone who was reading from a normal book. There was now something very off about the look in his eyes, which was saying a lot considering the general inability that existed in trying to read Petelgeuse.

“My gospel has no account of you.”

“That book is the gospel?” Two very confused minds met eachother, as one who didn’t entirely understand how his magical future predicting device could fail, and the other didn’t even know that the book predicted the future.

As the two went at it, another party watched from the treeline, waiting and ready to begin her assault.

Back when she and the Natsuki boy had been discussing their plans to take on the witch’c cult, Subaru had brought up a plan to take out the leader of the group they were dealing with and how he planned to have Wilhelm grant him a death from above. When she heard of this plan, Crusch asked why she didn’t just use her sword art and cut him down from behind Subaru with a vertical slash.

“That’s...a really good idea, Crusch-san! Would you be up for it?” Having something that wasn’t as much of a flaw as it was an optimization being heard out was a nice change of pace for Subaru. The fact that this was the only thing that the militaress had chosen to point out so far was relieving to him.

The further discussion involced setting up Wilhelm as a backup plan in case Crusch should feel her strike was not precise enough, but currently, the archbishop was just far enough from Subaru that he was easily strikable.

As she readied her blade, she saw Sloth completely freeze up while Subaru was speaking, before screaming “Proof of love! Authority of Sloth, Unseen hand!”

That was enough of a signal for Crusch, who had already been disturbed enough as is by the cultist.

Subaru, who could actually see the unseen hands, had dodged well out of the range of unseen hand and Crusch’s sword art pathway. This opened up a massive opportunity for her, and she took it by the neck.

Swinging her sword, she quickly yelled out “Attack!” to signal Mimi and Tivey to initiate their run on the cave entrance.

With Subaru still taunting Petelgeuse, or rather playing the judge in this odd case, the twins ran straight up to the cave and let out a magically enhanced scream.

This scream was not you typical “Cause everyone to go deaf” scream, but rather a concentrated burst of energy targeted directly towards the rocky entrance. The direct impact with the rocks above the mouth of the cavern caused several boulders to fall down and completely seal the entrance, leaving the cultists inside trapped with it.

What was more important was Crusch’s strike, which she had already primed and had put her swing into action while signaling “Natsuki!” to get Subaru out of the way.

Perfectly understanding her warning, Subaru quickly backed away from the enraged Petelgeuse, who had also come to a standstill.

“Fine..Fine. I understand. Let’s do this. I’m ready to do this. The time has come to lea-rgbh?!”

His rant was immediately cut off by a very fed-up Crusch, who had been preparing her strike for long enough that she immediately swung as soon as Subaru left the radius which she feared she may hit him.

The blade of wind went clean through the very few unseen hands that would have gotten in its way before striking Petelgeuse, who was so focused about ranting about the witch’s love that he completely forgot that there were other troops surrounding him at this very moment.

This would prove to be his downfall, as he only just realized that he was being attacked before the blade cut his chest and skull clean in half.

As his corpse fell to the ground, the unseen hands that he had summoned disappeared, which meant nothing to anyone but Subaru, who was the only one that could see them. This would confirm to him that at the very least, Petelgeuse was incapacitated.

Admiring her handiwork, Crusch stepped out of the treeline in order to meet up with Subaru, who was looking at a very dead Petelgeuse with a face full of shock.

“So that's it, right? He’s dead?” Evidently caught off guard by just how easy it was for Crusch to cut down Petelgeuse, Subaru was desperately trying to ensure that what he was seeing wasn’t an illusion.

Sighing as she chuckled, Crusch took the liberty of responding to the boy’s question. “If he survived my strike from such a range I will take full responsibility and face him myself. Rest assured, he is quite dead.”

Still, even with confirmation that was both physical and verbal, for some reason Subaru couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t dead. The people that surrounded him though, were not so cautious around a man who had basically been split down the middle still being alive.

As the tiny soldiers looted the corpse, Subaru made a comment about how quick they were to loot it. The two responded with it being their right to search the spoils of battle, which was a point that Subaru couldn’t really argue against, mostly due to the fact that he had participated in a whale hunt in which the carcass had been taken as a spoil of war.

And so, he backed away to continue his conversation with Crusch.

“So, Natsuki, was this according to your plan?” Asking in a rather smug tone, Crusch seemed rather satisfied with her handiwork. Considering she was more or less throwing a blade of wind at someone who may or may not dodge it, said source of satisfaction was understandable.

Subaru, who was not put off by this in the least, looked back at the now rotting corpse of Petelgeuse.

“Yeah, it all went incredibly well thanks to you, Crusch-san. Thanks.” Though it was seemingly a standard thanks as long as they would usually go, the empathy behind Subaru’s tone was quite present. Crusch could tell that it was far more genuine than most people would at a glance.

Stepping forward to look at the enemy they had downed, Crusch’s face twisted into one of cold disgust, with evident displeasure aimed towards their recently fallen enemy.

Just then, as the two stared at the fallen enemy, the twins screamed from the side “Get it away from me!”, which prompted both Crusch and Subaru to get battle-ready.

Running towards the two, Subaru noticed no threat in sight, and more importantly, that the kids didn’t seem to actually be scared at all.

Rather, a look oddly similar to Crusch’s just a few moments ago was upon their tiny, adorable faces.

Completely ignoring this, Crusch took charge and immediately asked the two, “Are you alright?” before also noticing that there was no threat in the immediate vicinity. That was, until she noticed Subaru picking up the threat.

Thankfully, she was not as paranoid as the others were about these sorts of things, and instead of letting Subaru have the mother of all verbal lashings, Crusch came at him with a far more relaxed tone than others would have.

“Natsuki, I wouldn’t be trying to touch that book. I haven’t confirmed them, but that gospel is most definitely the book that those cultists worship as their sacred text. A danger could be posed by it.”

Confused by the sudden outburst from Crusch, Subaru wasn’t entirely quick about his response verbally, but pocketed the book after wondering for a few seconds.

“Well, you’re right Crusch-san. I still want to hang onto it though. Might help us deal with the other sects of the witch’s cult.” With his own analytical skills, the thought that the gospel of an archbishop could be used to their advantage was a thought that hadn’t occurred to Crusch.

It would have been her preference to destroy the item outright, but if it could provide a tactical advantage against the cult, then she was not going to be the person who prevented such an advantage from falling into their hands.

Shrugging to herself, Crusch walked up to Subaru instead and offered her hand.

“Shall we go, then?”

Taking it, both militaress and strategist walked towards where they would meet up with the rest of the subjugation force.