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ALL RIGHTS BELONG TO TAPPEI NAGATSUKI, THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR OF RE:ZERO STARTING A LIFE IN A DIFFERENT WORLD FROM ZERO, THIS IS A TRANSLATION OF THE FREE JAPANESE WEB NOVEL INTO ENGLISH
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As Wilhelm spoke the name of a Witch he had never heard of before, Subaru shuddered.
He only knew about ‘witches’ aside from Satella from having met the six Witches of Sin in Echidna’s tomb.
That ‘witches’ other than those somehow existed was devastating news.
[Subaru: Then, Wilhelm-san, if that Sphinx witch is involved with this raid by the Witch Cult…… Are you saying, other than the Archbishops there’s another Witch too?]
If so, the main enemies numbered four Archbishops and two warriors. Adding to that a Witch joined to their forces made the already difficult power cost for the task become a desperate matter.
At Subaru’s concerns, Wilhelm, while raising his hand,
[Wilhelm: Pardon me, my wording was unclear. The existence of the Witch known as ‘Sphinx’ perished in the Demihuman War. That one could not have been involved in this raid.]
[Subaru: The witch’s dead? Is there no mistake? Pretending to be dead, and even after really dying having lots of freedom is the impression I have of witches.]
Satella was like that. Whenever Subaru violated the taboo it would draw her out, and in the Citadel of Dreams enjoying her afterlife, Echidna was the same.
Even hearing they were dead guaranteed nothing at all, that was a Witch.
[Wilhelm: What impression Subaru-dono has of witches I am unaware. But Sphinx is only named a witch, it is merely an existence which was called that. The fact is, the forces of the Kingdom referred to it as such, but the concerned party never called itself the same.]
[Subaru: Calling them a concerned party… Did Wilhelm-san ever meet them directly?]
[Wilhelm: There were many times during the civil war. For the end of the Demihuman War, the deciding moment may even have been the beheading of the Sphinx. Roswaal, Bordeaux, and his wife were leading figures of that time.]
An unexpected name popping up caused Subaru to open his eyes wide.
At that reaction from Subaru, Wilhelm slightly lowered his head for a moment and became immersed in thought.
[Wilhelm: I knew the Roswaal-dono of two generations ago. Although back then I wasn’t too friendly… she took care of me.]
[Subaru: Two generations ago… aah, is that that case? Then the name ‘Roswaal’ is inherited from generation to generation.]
[Wilhelm: Unfortunately, she passed away soon afterward, and after that I grew distant from them. the current lord Mathers is only a passing acquaintance… but this is all superfluous talk.]
He was now lending an ear to tales of surprising relationships, but the original topic was definitely not about that.
Subaru nodded his head, and then Wilhelm with “And so” continued his tale.
[Wilhelm: Not the Sphinx, but somehow a being using a spell that acts similarly, is my thought. The method of controlling the dead was at the time called cases of ‘Corpse Soldiers’.]
[Subaru: Corpse Soldiers……That… Does it have anything like weaknesses?]
[Wilhelm: From what I know, the Corpse Soldier is limited to a technique for moving the body. It is not such that it can bring back abilities possessed in life. It merely shames the dead while keeping the appearance, and actually reflects the skills of the culprit instead.]
[Subaru: But, the [Eight Arms] and…… That.]
He was at a loss for words.
The one turned into a Corpse Soldier whose very death was being profaned was Wilhelm’s wife. Nevertheless, at Wilhelm who had accepted it Subaru was speaking of it like he was hesitating.
Wilhelm made a bitter face at Subaru’s reluctance.
[Wilhelm: I thank you for your concern. But, it is necessary.――Mh, my wife and Kurgan’s skills are close to how they were in life. It simply exceeds the power Corpse Soldier can pull out.]
[Subaru: Then, isn’t possible that this is something other than Corpse Soldier? If so, then your wife might not even have died……]
[Wilhelm: My wife is dead. Because my strength was lacking.]
The side hanging onto a fragile hope here was Subaru.
That Subaru’s feelings Wilhelm’s clear voice cut down with a single stroke.
And the words Subaru could say to that elder swordsman’s profile were none at all.
[Wilhelm: Even at the time, that which could not simply be judged as merely a Corpse Soldier did very rarely exist. Whether it was due to aptitude in the procedure, or if rather another factor I do not know, but……We have to consider the strength of those two as such.]
[Subaru: Do you have a way to take them down?]
[Wilhelm: Thoroughly destroying the body, or cutting away too the curse mark somewhere on the body. Then the Corpse Soldier will return to a simple corpse. It must be done this way.]
The deeply thinking Wilhelm’s voice could not easily be heard.
Searching for what he should do, coming to conclusions with effort he was searching for it.――His trembling voice, his clenched fist, his scrunched eyes, he was hiding nothing.
[Wilhelm: I apologize for holding you this long. Crusch-sama cannot be made to wait any longer. Now, this way.]
Wilhelm bent his back and indicated the door at the room they had come up to. On the innermost part of the 4th floor, with a crumbled plate labeling it as a lounge was the room.
Inside, Crusch who had called Subaru was waiting.
Passing Wilhelm’s side, Subaru with the sound of footsteps headed for the door.
Definitely, the distance to the door felt awfully long. The soles of his shoes stuck to the floor and interfered with Subaru’s progress, that was the impression he got.
That it was his defeated self’s weakness, Subaru was clearly aware of it.
[Subaru: ――It’s me. Natsuki Subaru. Is… Crusch-san?]
He knocked on the door, and with a voice so quiet he wondered if it reached the other called out. Like that, after a moment’s brief silence, the other side slowly opened the door.
The face that appeared was Ferris’. But, his appearance had changed entirely.
Red eyes puffed up from crying and disheveled brown hair. Covering his body was, not his, but someone else’s blood staining black, and with his white skin splattered he must not have had time to clean. His cheek and neck was also smeared with fresh blood.
At that miserable appearance, his breath inadvertently caught in his throat.
[Subaru: Crusch-san called me, I heard. So.]
[Ferris: Yeah. Inside, she’s on the bed…….Definitely don’t do anything unnecessary please.]
A firm voice, with some hatred near the end.
However, that hate was not directed at Subaru. It could be said to be directed at everything. Hating everyone in this world, rage with nowhere to go was now controlling Ferris.
Taking a deep breath, Subaru followed Ferris inside.
Even calling it a lounge, it was not a very spacious room. Long tables and chairs were arranged in two rows, and further back, the small room was divided by a threshold. The bed was past it.
And, on that shabby bed lay her.
[Crusch: Na, tski-sama?]
The conscious Crusch recognized Subaru had entered and called him by name.
Reacting to that girl’s voice, Subaru’s neck grew rigid. Readying himself, feigning calm, calling out assuring words.――To be unable to even do something so simple..
[Crusch: My appearance is not presentable… My apologies…..]
[Subaru: …..No, that’s not, like that…… It’s. Not like that.]
Seeing the frozen appearance of Subaru, Crusch apologized in a lethargic voice. At that girl’s sorrowful attitude, the shaken Subaru spoke with vague words.
――Having been drenched in Capella’s blood and clothed in its curse, Crusch was in a wretched state.
Her neck, the back of her hands and feet, over all skin that could be seen dark-blackened veins shone. It was not difficult to imagine that under the towels and blankets and clothes the skin there would be afflicted with the same. These black blood vessels that pulsed instead of circulating blood, as if a writhing serpent seemed to be strangling the thin Crusch’s body instead.
That formerly white, unblemished skin of hers was now being violated horribly.
Of course, the damage was not limited to below the neck.
The gallant Crush’s clever visage, reminiscent of a long drawn sword――Its left had received disfiguring stains. Compared to that, the right side of her face retained her beauty. That rather emphasized the contrast between the two sides, and made the unfairness of a noble person being defiled more apparent.
As if covering the left eye, a patch was hung there, and the sight underneath it was difficult to imagine.
[Subaru: This is…..The same curse of dragon’s blood as on me?]
If it was just the same, then that much was not cruel at all.
Knowing Crusch Karsten, Subaru’s worry did not end at that.
He looked down at his own right leg. Like Crusch’s skin, it also was mottled and wrapped with blackened veins. However, Subaru’s leg, terrible sight notwithstanding, was otherwise unaffected. Neither pain nor feelings of soreness were felt by him at all.
But Crusch was definitely different. Her breathing was labored, and whenever the dark veins pulsed, she sighed as if resisting pain.
How is it not cured, he turned to gaze at the greatest healer in the kingdom. However, that Subaru’s brief thought only served to hurt Ferris, who was gritting his teeth helplessly, even more.
Biting down on his lips, stabbing his own arms with his nails while bowing his head was Ferris. Ferris understood his lack of power and was dismayed by it more than anyone else there.
Knowing the relationship between the two, Subaru had no reason to doubt all possible methods beyond his imagination had been exhausted already.
[Subaru: Crusch-san……To me…What is it?]
Why, in such a painful situation had she called out for him?
That there was something he could do, he didn’t think so. Maybe there was something she wanted to say. To ask for revenge on the [Lust] that had made her this way. Perhaps even some resentful words would be directed towards Subaru.
Even if fed insults, even if curses are poured on, he’ll accept it all.
At Subaru’s question, Crusch opened her mouth as if it pained her to do so.
Lending those lips his whole body, not missing the feeble sigh she gave, he focused and listened.
[Crusch: ……Un…Unharmed…I’m relieved.]
[Crusch: The same……As me…Were cursed too…..I heard……]
Subaru felt a burden lift from her in the softness of her relieved sigh.
At the same time, he understood the true feelings in his heart, and he grew so angry at his own stupidity he wanted to die.
He had been thinking it would be easier to be criticized.
So he had doubted Crusch’s integrity, and cut down in his view her noble heart. And she had just been truly worried, that Subaru had been afflicted with the same pain as herself.
[Subaru: Sor……I’m sorry…Crusch-san……]
Having suspected her feelings, the result of things having been her suffering, being unable to suffer instead on her behalf, in a voice mixed with all those feelings he squeezed out.
Without realizing what he was doing, he stretched out his hand and grasped the hands Crusch had weakly laid over her stomach. The black blood vessels had no special texture even if touched. That the feel of skin with this ruined of an appearance did not change was even more pitiful. But,
[Crusch: Fu, u…..?]
The suddenly falling sound of Crusch’s sigh, and at the same time a pained noise from Subaru’s throat overlapped.
Agony as if he had grasped a hot iron stabbed into him from his palm. In an instant, Subaru released Crusch’s hand and stared at the palm the sensation had come from.
That blackened erosion was spreading over it.
[Subaru: Wh-, at……!?]
[Ferris: Show me, Subaru-kyun!]
Grasping the groaning and hurt Subaru’s hand, Ferris inspected the erosion. The light of healing blanketed the spot, but there was no sign of either the pain or the affliction fading away. Instead――
[Subaru: Ferris……Crusch-san’s hand!]
The wide-eyed Subaru’s gaze pulled Ferris to where he was looking. And those yellow eyes, seeing the same thing as Subaru now widened too.
Subaru had grasped Crusch’s left hand――On that hand, though slightly, the blackened erosion had thinned.
That change, and looking down at his right hand, what was passing through Subaru’s mind was.
[Subaru: No way, it moved from Crusch’s body to mine……Is that it?]
It could only be thought of like that. The touched hand and the change on his own was directly a plus and a minus. That the lightened curse had traveled to Subaru’s body from Crusch, there was no reason to doubt.
[Ferris: Bu, but, I haven’t changed at all? I examined Crusch-sama’s body, I touched her many many times since…… Me, for me……]
At Subaru’s hypothesis, Ferris shook his head.
That was not joy at a possibility for healing being found, but rather an appearance of suspecting that the hypothesis was false. No, his own feelings were definitely different.
[Ferris: I can’t make Crusch-sama feel better……]
[Subaru: Then let’s try it one more time.]
Pushing aside the taken-aback Ferris, Subaru once again stood before Crusch. Crusch, with a face that was unaware of what had occurred yet was directing glistening eyes at the approaching Subaru. To not show a frozen face for that eyepatch-wearing single-eyed gaze, Subaru took a deep breath.
To check it again, this time, he lightly brushed Crusch’s cheek.
[Subaru: ――Gu, euh!]
Immediately after, Subaru’s brain was stabbed. With pain as if magma spilled into his veins. Through the tips of his fingers, the body-violating curse in Crusch’s body flowed in and burned his senses.
[Subaru: Ga, aaaah!]
Feeling stabbing pains which were difficult to bear, Subaru loudly screamed and yanked his body away. Like that, falling back with the momentum, the hand which was touching Crusch fell away.
[Subaru: Ah, ha, haa……]
His lungs shivered, and his eyeballs cramped.
Like a fish on land, parting his lips Subaru desperately sought oxygen.
[Ferris: Su, Subaru-kyun……Are you ok?]
Seeing his breathing start to calm, Ferris spoke to Subaru. Barely able to spare enough feeling to notice the hard floor he had landed on, he raised his body with difficulty.
And gazing up at the face of Crusch lying in bed
[Subaru: How is it, Ferris. Was it a little effective?]
With a plop, Ferris who had confirmed Crusch’s condition sat back down again.
He too would have seen with his own eyes. The cheek which was eroded by the curse was, from that curse, relieved a little bit. If such treatment was possible, then saving Crusch was also――.
[Crusch: You can’t, Natsuki-sama……]
To try once more Subaru rose. However, it was none other than Crusch herself that stopped him.
Not understanding the meaning of her words, Subaru asked.
[Subaru: Did you not…notice? Your hand is……]
Hearing this, she looked down at her right hand. And it was then that she finally realized the change that had occurred.
Just like the right leg blackened veins spread over the skin. That much was fine. If it was that much, his resolve to take on Crusch’s curse would not be shaken.
But, there was definitely something strange here.
Compared to the erosion which had been taken from Crusch, the extent was much greater.
The erosion on her body, the darkened parts of her left hand and cheek had grown a shade lighter due to Subaru’s touch.
However, Subaru who had taken it up onto his right arm from the elbow down to the back of the skin had been completely covered by the blackened erosion. The degree of it was definitely not comparable at all.
The ratio the curse was transferred at was not one-to-one. It was more on the level of ten-to-one.
[Subaru: No, even then……]
Whether that was cause to hesitate was another matter.
There was pain in the moment of transfer. But, once it had been accepted onto the body, there was no sign yet that the curse would actually hurt Subaru.
Compared to Crusch’s constant hellish suffering, what Subaru received was but for a moment. There, between man or woman, which side should bear the burden of its torture, there wasn’t even any need to consider it.
Whether it was his right leg or right hand blackening, if it was for the sake of saving Crusch it didn’t matter.
[Crusch: Natsuki-sama, that cannot be……I am unable to accept those feelings.]
[Subaru: Don’t be silly. It only stings a little so it’s fine. Compared to getting a tattoo while showing off and regretting it later, let’s think about it as dirtying a body that was like that in the first place. I can take away the pain too. It’s strange, but it doesn’t give me any trouble. So.]
[Crusch: Can you guarantee that will be true in the future? ……It could be that both Natsuki-sama and I become unable to fight. In this current situation that would be a fatal blow……]
Worrying more for the city and the people than her own body, that was Crusch’s judgment. It was logically sound, but not everything should be pressed forward with just that.
[Crusch: Ferris, please stop Natsuki-sama……]
[Ferris: I, I am……]
[Crusch: Please. Because Natsuki-sama is now one who is needed by others than just myself……]
[Ferris: If Subaru-kyun resolved to help…… K-Krusch-sama’s suffering..]
The hesitating judgment of Ferris was one which kept Crusch first. That nobody could blame him for. None of those present was in the wrong, after all.
The notion that ‘whatever is not wrong is right’ was mistaken.
[Crusch: You must not be overwhelmed by the emotions of a single moment. Natsuki-sama, I ask of you……]
[Subaru: Crusch-san, even then I am.]
[Crusch: Didn’t…You say so before.――What’s left, leave it all to me.]
Crusch’s pleading eyes took hold of Subaru and would not let go.
Had those reliable words come from his mouth? Hearing that, for Crusch to say all that, was she telling him to..?
[Crusch: Please say that to…Me as well……]
[Crusch: ‘All that’s left, to leave it all to me.’]
A pained smile was awaiting Subaru’s words.
Swallowing his breath and shifting his tongue in his dry mouth, Subaru quietly closed his eyes.
Without thinking of the future, only immersed in what was in front of him, he was making her say things that didn’t need to be said, so at least――.
[Subaru: Crusch-san, calmly rest here, please.]
[Subaru: Because everything that’s left, you can leave it all to me.]
If it was just filling the needed role and saying the desired words, then it just had to be done.
Hearing Subaru’s reply, Crusch took a deep breath and seemed to relax.
Her eyelids weakly blinking shut not a moment after proved that, up until now, by any means possible she had been holding onto attentiveness. At that moment breathing a quiet sigh, Crusch once more began her time of battling with the effects of the curse.
[Subaru: Sorry, Ferris. But I have to go now.]
[Ferris: I’m……What should I…Is it alright?]
Draping a towel like a blanket over Crusch and standing up, Subaru heard a small voice as he was leaving. It was the first time Subaru had seen Ferris showing weakness.
In his innermost thoughts, what he wanted now was to remain at Crusch’s side.
But in the current situation, Ferris’ ability would not allow for such a thing.
[Subaru: I need your strength. I’m not saying to leave City Hall. But if something happens, I’ll let them know to evacuate the wounded here. So, I’ll leave that that to you.]
[Ferris: ……The one I wanted to save most…And I can’t help them.]
[Ferris: Sorry. I said something silly……Just give me a moment, please.]
While looking away, Ferris sat down on a chair next to the bed. Subaru finally lightly patted his shoulder and stepped out of the lounge.
Unchanged from when he had entered, Wilhelm remained waiting in the hallway.
[Wilhelm: Thank you very much for considering Crusch-sama’s feelings.]
Towards the returning Subaru Wilhelm said this. Did what happened within leak out outside, or perhaps Subaru’s expression was just easy to read?
[Subaru: It isn’t some noble tale like I considered her feelings. Since it’s more a story of how I was encouraged…….My body, what’s up with it anyway?]
Taking on Crusch’s curse, and its effect being weakened against him in the first place. Going back even further, the so-called witch factor and [Return by Death], all of it was really vague.
One day, would he get to see their reasons and their end?
[Subaru: Crusch-san will leave it to Ferris. When everything is solved, I’m thinking of trying what I did before once more.]
[Wilhelm: Is that right arm all right?]
[Subaru: At first glance it’s a bit iffy. If I wore long sleeves and wore gloves it might be ok……For the sake of rescuing a pretty girl, just one scar that doesn’t fade away isn’t any trouble at all.]
Even though he had some aversion to it, that was Subaru’s true feelings.
If there wasn’t any other solution, then taking on Crusch’s curse fully was also fine. Even if his body became pitch-black because of it. Emilia, Rem, and Beatrice, he would have to beg forgiveness from all of them.
[Subaru: But, that’s all talk for after we pass this hurdle and live. Wilhelm-san, let’s head down. They’re probably talking about the plan to retake the control towers right now.]
Probably, all the top-class powers that this side could muster would already be gathered there.
What followed after would depend on the cooperation and abilities of the Archbishops of Sin, as well as the timing and execution of the plan of attack. From the deadline imposed by the Witch Cult, only six hours were left.
[Wilhelm: Subaru-dono, regarding that matter I have a request.]
[Subaru: A request?]
Wilhelm’s words stopped Subaru as he headed for the stairs――The elder swordsman nodded his head with the lobby door behind his back, showing concern in his eyes for his mistress within.
[Wilhelm: If it is possible, please recommend for me the task of subjugating [Lust]. Since I understand well its powers of mutation and super-regeneration, I will request this of you.]
[Subaru: Is that revenge for Crusch-san?]
[Wilhelm: It is so, but beyond that, it is essential to capture [Lust] alive and hear from it about what was done to Crusch. For that I will even become a demon. Before cutting off its head, I will definitely pry from it the truth.]
The killing intent given off by the Sword Demon felt like a wave of heat to Subaru.
Furiously, darkly, having been unable to do anything, Wilhelm’s ardor to avenge his mistress now rose up like flames.
[Subaru: That spirit is fine……But are the corpse soldiers alright?]
[Subaru: Your wife, wouldn’t you know her best? No matter what happens, Wilhelm will be needed to make judgments.]
[Wilhelm: Subaru-dono, has Reinhardt arrived below?]
Wilhelm suddenly interrupted as he spoke of his concerns.
Awkwardly, Subaru nodded. Reinhardt’s powers could not be left out of the attack. However, that the warriors would be there as obstacles for him was certain.
[Wilhelm: The true nature of the corpse soldiers, could you avoid speaking of it to Reinhardt?]
The perplexed Subaru was unable to grasp the reason for the abrupt request.
[Subaru: Then……Don’t tell that guy about Wilhelm’s wife……Is that what you mean?]
[Wilhelm: Yes, it is so. For Reinhardt…… For my son, I want to avoid him meeting my wife in the form of a corpse soldier. He will surely blame me. Because the fault is none other than my own.]
[Subaru: Wilhelm-san’s fault, to say that kind of thing..]
It’s not true, he wanted to say, but Subaru could not carelessly remark so.
Because the image of Heinkel’s appearance ruining the mood earlier in the morning had appeared in his mind.
There was no credibility. But it could not be denied.
Wilhelm considered Reinhardt the cause of his wife’s death. And such a difficult and unbelievable past he did not deny.
[Wilhelm: Does Subaru-dono think that the [Blessing of the Sword Saint] as something special?]
[Subaru:……Honestly speaking, I would say I know little about it. Maybe the people called [Sword Saint] all had it and if you have it you become incredibly strong, I only have an impression like that……]
[Wilhelm: To know of it as that isn’t wrong. But if there is a difference between the [Blessing of the Sword Saint] and other blessings……Is that, it can be inherited.]
[Subaru: An inherited…Blessing……]
At Subaru’s breath, Wilhelm nodded.
The elder swordsman closed his eyes as if recalling sorrowful memories.
[Wilhelm: That blessing has passed down without fail from the time of Reid Astrea. The blessing became the inheritance of the Astrea family, and always a member of the clan was chosen to be the next Sword Saint. My wife’s blessing definitely passed down to Reinhardt.]
[Subaru: So a blessing that is inherited down the clan…..Is it…Is that so. And when your wife passed away, the blessing transferred to Reinhardt.]
While understanding that too, something caught in Subaru’s head as he was growing convinced.
After the Sword Saint was slain by the White Whale, the line of succession led to Reinhardt. It was a sad past, but one that could also be described a proper passing on.
That flow did not fit at all with what had been said in the argument between Astreas this morning.
Wilhelm’s heartbreak, Heinkel’s mockery, Reinhardt’s silence, was interfering with the idea of a proper succession.
And the answer is――
[Wilhelm: It was, at the time of the White Whale subjugation.]
[Wilhelm: Reinhardt received the blessing while my wife was in the middle of the expedition against the White Whale. During that conflict, my wife, abandoned by the sword, could only take on the battle as an ordinary woman.]
――That was the truth of the Astrea family division.
In the midst of the battle to subjugate the White Whale, the blessing had suddenly passed down during the fighting. And, on the battlefield, the result was that only the now-former Sword Saint remained.
Now left a predecessor and an ordinary person, to defend many other soldiers she had still fought with the Witchfiend――And they had lost contact with her.
[Wilhelm: The one that took away the sword from my wife was none other than me. Overruling my wife who was loved by the sword, forcing her to cast it aside, and turning her into an ordinary woman, it was none other than myself. That, was what called forth the death of my wife.]
[Wilhelm: The sword that my wife betrayed did not forgive her, and so her blessing was taken away on the battlefield. She could rely only on a single blade, I think of how she must have felt then……It was true that I could not accept it, and defamed Reinhardt whom the blessing had chosen. As he was weeping over the death of his grandmother and bearing the heavy new burden, I impetuously could not forgive him…I, regret that now.]
Last night, the regret that Wilhelm had revealed to Subaru――It, was that mistake.
Even knowing that Reinhardt had not done anything wrong, Wilhelm had been mourning his wife’s death and was unable to accept it. As a result, the Astreas had split apart.
[Wilhelm: I do not want to repeat it again. Reinhardt has no blame in my wife’s death. I have no reason to blame my grandson at all.]
And so, instead of revealing it to Reinhardt he was saying he would bring this to a close himself.
That feeling, he now understood painfully well from this talk. If Subaru could do it, he wanted to as well. But, the burden Wilhelm bore was too high.
[Subaru: About Crusch-san and your wife……It will be buried there, Wilhelm-san. Even if I don’t talk about the corpse soldiers, the question of where they might appear is..]
[Wilhelm: That is definitely a needless worry, Subaru-dono.]
Wilhelm shook his head at Subaru as he was about to point out that it was not certain.
And the Sword Demon spoke as his expression twisted into a fearsome grimace.
[Wilhelm: ――Because, there is no chance of my wife not coming to meet me.]