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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: JAPANESE WEB NOVEL SOURCE
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The『Non-Combatant』Team unanimously opted to take the left path in the fork.
It was evident that if they progressed down the right path, they’d end up being swallowed up by the miasma, resulting in discord arising that would develop into them killing each other. That’s why there was no mistake in that choosing the left path was the most natural thing.
That, and for Subaru, the questions were providing him answers too. Though, since the left path wasn’t exactly a safe bet either, the one who was setting him those questions was of ill nature.
If he labelled the right path as an emotional snare, then he’d have to label what awaited them on the left path as a physical snare. That grotesque Witchbeast clad in flames―― He would prefer to avoid meeting the Centaur, if possible.
Even if he engaged in battle with it, his odds of success were slim, that much was obvious. Their difference in strength wasn’t the only issue. The reason being that when the time came to encounter the Witchbeast in his current emotional state, he didn’t hold any belief in himself about whether he could fight alongside Ram and Anastasia.
Subaru:「To tell you the truth, there was a time back at the sand dunes where I saw a damn weird Witchbeast in the distance. It had a human body sprouting up from the neck of a body that looked like Patrasche’s, and it had a huge mouth gaping from abdomen to chest there. And finally, a huge horn sprouted up from its human body, where the head should be……」
Anastasia:「Eeeh…. What the hell. That’s soo gross…..」
Ram:「Honestly, that’s so off-putting.」
They followed the same flow of Witchbeast-related talk as last time in which he naturally included his explanation about the Centaur’s particularities. The reactions from the two female members of the group in response to his description―― Three, including Patrasche, were once again unpleasant.
It’s not as if Subaru wanted to give this explanation because he wanted to. Nevertheless, he had to consider that there was a 70% chance that they wouldn’t be able to avoid an encounter with that thing now that they were going down the left path.
Subaru:「I’d expected all of you to be charmed by it, but in any case, it definitely seems like a dangerous creature. For the time being, I’ll go ahead and call it a Centaur, but it ain’t just that its appearance looks disgusting, the mane on the back of its body burns up into flame…. It seemed crazy strong. To say the least, it doesn’t seem like we’d be able to beat it.」
Ram:「Why did you ignore a Witchbeast like that after spotting it? Do you have a death wish?」
He had explained it whilst keeping his emotions from billowing out as much as he could, however anger had welled up in him the moment Ram had replied in her usual frivolous manner. Despite him having expressly warned her, who did she think she was?
She always arrogantly looked down on others, thinking that, he felt his anger morphing into hatred. Subaru took a deep breath. He did everything he could to keep his violent emotions in check, to settle himself down.
Subaru:「Damn this…..! This place is the worst.」
Ram:「It sure is demanding, isn’t it? Even I have to pay attention to the words I choose.」
Subaru:「If you’re going to choose them now, then you know, perhaps, they ain’t gonna make anything better」
Both Ram’s voice and expression were tinged with sympathy for Subaru who was overwhelmed by his emotions. However, as her sympathetic attitude kept irritating him, he had to say that what she’d done too had ended up producing the opposite effect.
Anastasia:「It’s easy ta talk about the effects of the miasma, but that’s all that’s scary about it, don’tcha think? In reality, me ‘n Ram-san ain’t affected.」
Subaru:「What do you mean by that? If you’re thinking flowery thoughts like only we will be okay, then you’d better stop. If we scratch off the surface, me and you are the same.」
Anastasia:「What haaarsh words. I didn’ mean that even I’ve got that much self-confidence. One’s capacity for judgemen’ and determination, and so on, are different issues ta the strength of one’s mind and body……. Hooowever, goin’ about it like yer completely paralysed by the scariness of the miasma is pretty bad, don’tcha think?」
Anastasia offered her candid advice to him, phrased with an air of superiority. Though her words were rational, Subaru grew irritated that she hadn’t gotten the point. Standing at the head of the group, Subaru had pressed his prior point to her as he marched on through the passageway of sand.
On hearing that, Anastasia cleared her throat with a small Hem-hem, and said,
Anastasia:「What I have to say is related to the miasma…..Though since it’s not like even I know too well about it, can ya forgive me if what I say is gonna be rough?」
Subaru:「I imagine the only ones who really know all the details about it are the Witch Cult, right?」
Anastasia:「Indeed, but in the world, there’s also the kinda people who like ta poke into things which people despise. For example, there’s the weirdos who go aroun’ studyin’ stuff like miasma, eh? Though, what I know about it is somethin’ which barely resembles the truth from a rumour of a rumour of a rumour.」
Was what Anastasia had brought up surmised to be a Witch Researcher?
It had a strange ring to it, but it would be pretty silly to presume they didn’t exist, if he thought about it.
This world likely had people like researchers too. And of course, all such individuals who possessed this thirst for knowledge would rationally avoid searching for taboos and keep in line with the flow of the world――No, there was no way they’d have such an upright, pious nature.
There would be incarnations of curiousity who wouldn’t fit in with the mould, whatever world or era it may be.
Anastasia:「Though before I dive straight inta what I know from that rumour, we hafta ask first of all, what is『Miasma』?」
Ram:「It’s…… the contaminated mana which the Witch and Witchbeasts let off, right? I’ve also heard that Witch Cultists let off the same thing like that.」
Anastasia:「Ram-san’s answer is the prevailin’ view. The miasma’s somethin’ which the Witch gives off, so even the Witchbeasts which were created by the Witch emit it in a similar fashion….. However, have ya heard of this?」
Anastasia:「Have ya heard that Witch Cultists ‘n Witchbeasts in fact really detest each other.」
Anastasia = Eridna spoke without pause. Knowing what the creator was like, they were fond of flaunting off their own knowledge, perhaps. It looked like Anastasia’s gilded plate had been torn off and underneath it, the white fox’s true nature had showed through.
Ram’s eyes widened at Anastasia’s words, in stark contrast to Subaru, who had harboured that impression. Both Witchbeasts and Witch Cultists were creatures that she thought were leal to the『Witch of Envy.』Perhaps she was surprised to learn that in the truth they didn’t get along.
Ram:「I can barely bring myself to believe that… But, is this for real?」
Anastasia:「Unfortunately, I don’t know for sure since I ain’t acquainted with either any Witch Cultists or Witchbeasts. That’s why I introduced it as somethin’ from a rumour. But, don’t ya think it’d be interestin’ if this was a true story?」
Subaru responded, having gotten the impression that she shouldn’t have described it that way to begin with. Anastasia replied to him with a curt nod, saying「Mhm」
Anastasia:「Everyone in the world thinks that the『Witch』’n the Witch Cultists ‘n the Witchbeasts are good friends, right? ‘N yet, it ain’t known that in fact, the two of ‘em under the Witch are hostile with each other. This misunderstandin’ has gone on overlooked for 400 years…… No one knows the actual truth. 」
Anastasia:「I apologise for bringin’ this rumour forward too, but it seems like there’s many misconceptions about the miasma too. For example, the relation between the Witchbeasts and the miasma is the exact opposite than what is known, in that the Witchbeasts loathe it. ‘N it’s said that they hate the Witch in their true feelin’s as well.」
Ram:「――No way could it be like that」
(TL Note: All throughout this dialogue, except where translated as such, they were referring to the term “Witch” with just 魔女 so to me it felt a bit unclear whether this meant Witches in general, or the Witch which the world knows too well about. I opted for the latter based on the context, but the world does have an understanding of the old Witches, so we can’t discount that they were using the term to refer to Witches in general.)
Ram kept piling Anastasia with her doubts, drawn in by her story. Behind the two of them immersed in this exchange, Subaru grasped that Anastasia = Eridna’s words were substantiated by a rather undeniable factor.
The relations between Witches and Witchbeasts were in fact poor, and Witchbeasts do hate the Witch.
That possibility made complete sense to him, considering how much he’d made use of the 『The Witch’s Lingering Scent』until now. If it wasn’t like that, then why would it have made the Witchbeasts seethe so much, making them frantically pursue him, who was covered in the Witch’s Scent.
He had used his lingering scent against the first Witchbeast Invasion after he had been summoned to this parallel world. And he’d even used it against the White Whale. It was impossible to disregard the relatedness between the Witch’s Lingering Scent and the miasma if he gathered all the evidence he’d seen up until now.
――『The Witch’s Lingering Scent』that surrounded him seemed to be miasma itself.
Subaru:「There’s no way that all of these Witchbeasts would have Petelegeuse-like yandere attributes. He wouldn’t be able to allow the Witch’s scent from these creatures, other than from the Witch. It’d be like having another woman’s scent.」
It was disgusting to think about, if that was the case, but the aforementioned possibility was suitable in regards to a logical explanation. In other words, the Witchbeasts hated the Witch’s miasma and strongly looked on at it in hostility.
And to start with, most people shouldn’t know that the theory which stated that『The Witch of Envy』created the Witchbeasts was actually incorrect.
The one who created the Witchbeasts wasn’t『The Witch of Envy』but rather『The Witch of Gluttony.』
Since that hadn’t been circulated around, it seemed like nobody noticed the relations between the Witchbeasts and the miasma as well. Anastasia’s source of knowledge―― Rather, he didn’t know whether there really was a researcher who studied the『Witch』but if they did exist, they sure did make a good point.
Subaru:「……What a complete farce, huh?」
Subaru sighed at his own lack of concern, having thought about it to this extent. It was more natural to think that she’d just spewed out the knowledge that Anastasia = Eridna had known from the start, rather than doubting whether said researcher existed or not. When Subaru’s train of thought moved to that, a different form of anger gradually started to take root in him.
Why did Subaru have to hide the circumstances around Anastasia being Eridna like this? There was his consideration towards Julius and the『Iron Fang.』In particular, Julius in his current state had completely slipped out from the memories of the world.
Julius tried to act his same old self as much as he could, but even in him, there was a part that was careless about it. Taking that into consideration, Subaru had decided that he should avoid any extra mental burdens.
He should avoid them, but why was it that he had to bear the burden instead?
Everybody was selfish.
Why was it just him who had to do everything to cover those guys’ asses?
It was irritating. It was annoying. He might as well just spill the beans about everything, shouldn’t he? He might as well tell them about Anastasia’s spirit, his『Return by Death』, everything――.
Ram:「……Barusu. Stop sticking your head in the sand all of a sudden, it’s strange.」
Subaru:「It’s just my natural defensive reaction to stop our relations from getting any worse. Phaaah.」
Since Subaru’s anger was reaching its boiling point, he had stuck his face into the wall of sand before he hurled abuse at them. The wall of sand was unexpectedly brittle, and it appeared like he’d be able to dig through it with his hands.
In return for finding that out, Subaru spat out sand from his mouth. There was something to think about in Ram’s cold expression, but since he was responsible for his own actions, he kept any retaliation to himself.
Anastasia:「Could Natsuki-kun’s eccentric behaviour also be from the miasma’s influence….. perhaps?」
Ram:「Nope, Barusu’s behaviour is as usual.」
Subaru:「It ain’t as usual! It’s just an aftershock from the miasma’s influence!」
Anastasia:「Well, regardin’ the authenticity of things there, if we get back to what we were talkin’ about whilst ya were cryin’ out…. The Witchbeasts in truth hate the Witch. If we presume that, then there’s gotta be an explanation for the Witch Cultists ‘n the Witchbeasts bein’ hostile with each other, no?」
Anastasia, who deliberately found a lull in their conversation to shift the topic back to the main point, ponderously inclined her head. However, Subaru’s like-minded opinion didn’t reach her words. Instead, Ram nodded, and said,
Ram:「Whether they’re hostile with each other or not, I’ve never heard….. of the two of them acting together. To begin with, there’s also that rumours of the Witch Cult don’t spread.」
Subaru:「I see…..Then it’s really the type of secret organisation where those guys keep it hidden and move about in secret. I wonder why they don’t leave any impressions at all, though.」
Ram:「Barusu and Emilia-sama come across those guys far too often.」
All the Witch Cultists which Subaru knew strongly craved the limelight, and were absorbed in an inflated sense of their own self-worth. He couldn’t even say that Petelgeuse’s movements had been kept surreptitious, and what’s more, the other Sin Archbishops had went all the way up to making a broadcast after having hijacked one of the Great Cities.
How could those guys claim that they were an evil organisation that operated in the shadows?
Subaru:「Ah, but wait up. What about the White Whale? That thing was cooperating with the Witch Cult……Though now it’s a bit suspicious whether it was or not, there was still that time.」
Anastasia:「Hmm? Even though I know that the Witchbeasts definitely do hate the Witch Cult, I’m not too sure whether the Witch Cult hate the Witchbeasts……Though, either way, even if it’s not like that, I ain’t gonna fuss over it.」
Subaru:「That’s what I’d told you..….」
Providing a suitable rebuttal to Subaru’s objection, Anastasia threw down her personal opinion straight away. That she didn’t cling to it was perhaps indeed proof that she’d heard it from the rumours of another’s opinion.
However, she’d thoroughly used it as the basis of her conversation. In the end, Anastasia closed one of her eyes, and said:
Anastasia:「In the end, we can just put it as that we don’ understand the connection between the miasma well. There’s also the way Ram-san looks at it, in which it’s like contaminated mana…..But, well, doesn’ it seem like there’s no one aroun’ who can explain what goes on for the mana to get contaminated like that?」
Anastasia:「Mana is mana, regardless of whose body it goes through. Even if its nature changes in magic or when ya craft with it, it ain’t possible for anyone to add a lil’ extra to the mana itself.」
Anastasia:「Why is it that the mana can jus’ get contaminated with the『Witch of Envy?』And also, why da heck do Witch Cultists acclimatise to that contaminated mana?」
Quite unusually, Ram kept her mouth shut as Anastasia launched this barrage of questions. It was rather strange that she didn’t raise any words of objection and kept silent. At the same time, Subaru was experiencing a sense of déjà vu along with his feeling of revulsion.
The way she had presented it made both her point and conclusion vague. Everything about her attitude felt like she was speaking in riddles. That she seemed to overlap with Echidna left him quite the sour taste.
Anastasia:「Alright, alright, alright, it seems like we’ve spent too much time idly gossipin’, don’tcha think?」
Anastasia suddenly spoke out without any consideration for Ram’s silence or Subaru’s cathexis. The tone she’d been speaking in up until now suddenly changed, leaving them behind with the abrupt change of subject. Leaving the two of them in her wake, Anastasia shone her lantern at the front part of the passageway. Subaru also stopped in his tracks, imitating her. And as he held his lantern up, he noticed what was up.
In front of them, the passageway gradually turned to the left, and a faint breeze blew towards them. The wall of sand still hadn’t changed in any respect, but he vividly remembered that『Smell of Burning』that mingled with the breeze, along with that sudden bend in the path.
Ram:「It smells like something burnt, like grilled meat, doesn’t it?」
Ram let out her candid impressions about the breeze which carried a tinge of hot-air to it. The smell of over-cooked, charred flesh streamed in from the depths of the passageway. Maybe it was possible that this aroma was proof that there was someone cooking, and that they’d be able to meet a friend party up ahead ――However well-intentioned his thoughts were, they were tantamount to ignorance.
Ram:「Emilia-sama and the others carelessly set up a fire and are taking a break….. I think something along those lines?」
Subaru:「I do agree that Emilia would be the one that’d seemingly set up a fire without any care, but with me mentioning the Centaur, I can’t at all imagine it being that. You too have to believe that this isn’t your head filling up with overly optimistic thoughts, right!?」
Ram:「I’m looking forward to how you’re going to come up with excuses for all these reckless remarks after the influence of the miasma is gone.」
Everytime he replied in a snappier manner than was necessary to Ram’s questions, he’d get toxicity scathingly thrown back from her too. Letting out a snort to that, Subaru reassured himself that the one he needed to turn his hostility to was not her.
There was no doubt about that, considering they’d already made it here. There would be a large cave up ahead, and right there, the blasphemous Witchbeast clad in flame would be awaiting them.
The time they’d spent getting here seemed to be a little quicker compared to last time. Nevertheless, considering that they were going to encounter it, perhaps that place was the Witchbeast’s burrow. He held no fleeting traces of hope that it would’ve moved from there. If possible, they would have to――
Subaru:「We’ve got no choice but to kill it to get past, huh?」
Ram:「I think it’d be productive of us to come up with a plan that can be put into motion with our current fighting strength.」
Anastasia:「We ain’t got any fightin’ strength even if I use my trump card…..and even then, I want ta keep that gruellin’ thing as a last resort if possible, since I can’t undo its effects.」
Both Anastasia and Ram opposed Subaru’s course of action. Though Subaru was annoyed that he’d been denied, even he had no intention of pushing his own opinion on them. In fact, it would be absurd. He hadn’t dubbed their group as the『Non-Combatant』Team for nothing. All the choices which entailed confronting the Witchbeast would probably end up being reckless.
Subaru:「On the other hand, there’s no way we can go back and take the right path.」
Ram:「After looking at all the different faces you’ve made up till now, Barusu, I can see that you wouldn’t have the guts to go down the right path, isn’t that right?」
Anastasia:「But, by sayin’ that it means we’re cornered. It wouldn’ work ta do such a laudable thing as ta go back to where we started from ‘n wait for the others to come look for us……. Right?」
Ignoring Ram’s flippant reply, Anastasia’s reply hit the nail on the head. If he still feared the Witchbeast enough to turn back, then he should have resorted to spinning those words from the beginning and stopping back there. Since he hadn’t, his conclusion had left him with just the option of passing by the Witchbeast.
Thus, that didn’t mean they couldn’t find a way to accomplish that.
Subaru:「First things first, we need to gather information on our opponent. If everything goes to plan, we have a chance.」
Subaru spoke out, reaching a conclusion before the other two, who were puzzling over a plan, did.
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――Subaru hardly knew anything anything about the Centaur Witchbeast’s mode of life.
That was due to the fact that he’d come across it for only a few dozen seconds before being burnt alive. All that remained pitifully carved into his soul from that experience was that its grotesque-looking figure made him feel sick to the core, and that it had tremendous firepower. If he briefly thought about it, his manner of death had been such that it felt unavoidable to perceive it as anything other than having been a death in vain.
However, it’d be bothersome if he got worked up about it over that. When it came to unexpected『Deaths』Natsuki Subaru was a veteran.
Subaru:「First of all, we need to pay attention to the Centaur’s appearance.」
Its repulsive appearance was something which you couldn’t forget once seen. Though he’d seen it only for a few seconds, its grotesque appearance was seared vividly into his mind. That would give him a helping hand in his reflection.
It had a human body on top of a horse body, with its head transformed into a horn. In addition to that, it had a gaping maw across its body. It looked shoddy, like something half-assed a child would have made out of clay whilst playing. However, there was something he’d taken notice of when he racked his brain without averting his eyes from his memories.
Subaru:「It definitely didn’t have eyes.」
In essence, it didn’t have a head in the place where you’d usually find one. Thus, he was certain that there hadn’t been any organs on that Witchbeast’s body that provided it with a sense of vision.
Or, since there was no light down in the cave systems underneath the sand dunes without being in possession of a lantern, perhaps the negative effects of moving about down there had caused it to de-evolve.
Subaru:「Something like a mole? It adapted to living underground and lost its eyesight.」
Or, he wasn’t sure whether it had an eyesight to begin with; but at least that Witchbeast probably didn’t rely on it and went on about its business without it. Back then, the Witchbeast didn’t seem to have noticed him due to the lantern light. It had noticed him from the noises and indications he’d let off from his own carelessness.
Namely, from either a sense of smell or hearing which the Witchbeast would have developed instead of eyes.
Subaru:「If I’m recalling correctly, I once heard that moles have a good sense of hearing to make up for their rather poor noses.」
It wasn’t something he’d heard from Anastasia earlier, but rather surely some odd knowledge he’d picked up somewhere. However, Subaru’s guess ended up far more useful than what he clung to in his groundless thoughts. The Centaur’s forte was in its sense of hearing; having come to that conclusion, Subaru sprung into action.
Without uttering a single word, Subaru swung his arm up and down as quietly as he could. From the moment he’d stepped onto the sand, he’d taken care so that his footsteps wouldn’t make any sound from crunching against the sand.
The thing he’d thrown from the extremity of his arm was one of the flasks of water that they’d put in their survival kit. Without any particular aim, the flask flew straight forward to the end of the large cave―― Drawing the attention of the fiery Witchbeast in the middle of the cave to where it had landed.
Centaur:「――――ϡ ϡ !!」
As soon as the flask of water landed on the sand with a quiet clunk, the reaction of the Centaur, who heard it, was dramatic. Shaking its blazing mane, the Witchbeast leapt up with its horse body and galloped forward to the source of the sound. It ferociously rammed its body there with no trace of hesitation.
Sand billowed up, and flickering sparks flew about around the cave. Thrashing about violently, the Centaur skidded around. It gnashed the fangs inside its huge gaping maw together and continued to let out a shrill yowl which sounded like the cries of countless babies crying.
It stamped on the flask of water, crushing it flat, and set it aflame over and over again. Once the Centaur reduced its original shape to nothing, it let off more flames which were brimming from its mane onto the sand. And when everything other than the parched sand had been burned to a crisp, the Witchbeast stopped in its tracks with a hint of satisfaction.
It did seem to look satisfied. Whilst looking at its handiwork from the corner of his eye, Subaru shook the string he had attached to his waist and motioned them forward. The sound of them carefully stepping on the sand was drowned out by the shrill cries of the Witchbeast that permeated all across the cave. Taking absolute care with each step, they crept on forward one step at a time――
Subaru tugged at his string, indicating a halt to their march, stopping his advancing Earth Dragon in its tracks. To his surprise, the Earth Dragon, who shouldn’t have been able to understand human speech, had faithfully followed his instructions. It had slowly trodden along the sand with a prudent gait that was not befitting of its large build.
―― Subaru and the others were conducting a march along the precipice of death in the cave that was coated in darkness.
Come to think of it, the width of the cave was probably around the size of a school gym, or thereabouts. They were in an area where the charred corpses of the creatures that had been incinerated by the Witchbeast had fallen just about everywhere.
Subaru and the others were trying to move across and get past the Witchbeast by trying to silence their footsteps and breathing.
The area wasn’t such that only quietude like that of the grave would descend upon. The Centaur’s ridiculously large maw was panting wildly over and over again. The sound felt like the awkward sort you’d get from air coming out of a balloon.
It wasn’t just its appearance, but also its behaviour that was repulsive―― Nevertheless, he was thankful that it was behaving so plainly right now. Thanks to that, he’d managed to come up with a plan that wouldn’t involve fighting.
Once again, Subaru took out another flask of water and threw it behind the Centaur. The simple-minded Witchbeast reacted to that sound and once again fiercely assailed the empty flask.
Flames and the cries of babies permeated the cave, and the flask of water burst open thanks to the Centaur’s immense heat. With a parched sound, the flask turned to black charcoal.
Regardless of that kerfuffle, Subaru and the others moved forward and managed to shorten their distance to the passageway during that time.
――This simple diversion was the conclusion Subaru had reached from observing the Centaur’s mode of life.
Having deemed that it didn’t have an eyesight, Subaru determined that the Centaur relied on its sense of hearing. Leaving Ram and Anastasia behind him, he’d attracted the Witchbeast’s attention by using the same method of throwing stuff. He’d repeated this demonstration a few times until he won over their confidence.
The Centaur was a Witchbeast that sought its prey using its sense of hearing. And on top of that, it was a simple-minded creature that could be tricked a bunch of times with the same method.
So long as he’d been able to ascertain that, the rest came easy. He’d made Ram gather the items for the diversion as well as made her read where the exit was using the wind, for after they made their escape past the Witchbeast. After that, he’d scrupulously told Patrasche about their covert plan, and the need to keep a strong heart so not to succumb to stress or anxiety, and to just put her game face on.
In actuality, Subaru’s tactics were working really well to the point that it felt anti-climatic. The distance between the cave and the passageway had already been half-cleared, and the time they’d spent stressing wasn’t all that much. Since it had no capacity for intuition, the Witchbeast would probably be clearable by repeating the same thing over and over.
Of course, they had dropped the lantern-light, and the only thing they could see was the Centaur’s blazing mane that was crackling in the distance.
The lantern-light likely wouldn’t have affected the sightless Witchbest, but still, they’d made the bourgeois decision of narrowing down anything which could trigger its senses as much as they could.
Feeling the string being pulled, Subaru’s attention, which had wandered off in thought, was brought back to the present. He was holding two strings as he put the diversion into effect. One of them was fastened to Patrasche, whilst the other was held by Ram who was riding on her.
The instructions he’d set to Patrasche were “Stop” and “Go”. However, its connection between him and Ram hadn’t been particularly well stipulated. It was just there to get each others attention.
Even so, their connection using the string that merely conveyed their presence, without being able to look face to face or exchange words, was something that settled Subaru down a rather surprising amount.
Having this for now made it so that Subaru wouldn’t bear any ill feelings towards Anastasia or Ram. He was in a state of mind where it felt easier for him to not look at someone else’s face.
On the other hand, it didn’t mean that there wasn’t any anxiety in his heart, which had grown at ease to such solitude. Subaru had convinced himself that it was partially due to the miasma’s influence―― However, many parts of the story which Anastasia had told them earlier regarding “What Miasma is” had become cloudy.
Would he be cured from its effects when they left this place? In truth, that also felt doubtful now.
Supposing he wasn’t cured from it, would he end up being unable to get rid of these unpleasant feelings even when he met Emilia and Beatrice…
The string was suddenly pulled with strength, causing Subaru to unintentionally pitch back. The string that had been pulled was the one that was fastened to Patrasche. The Earth Dragon had made a snap decision to stop him by force.
And right as he lifted his face up, he immediately saw why――
A clump of fire hurled past a step ahead of Subaru. The clump of fire was approximately the same size of a football, but it hurtled past spraying waves of heat to its surroundings. It crashed against a wall of sand a few metres away, letting out a violent booming noise, followed by an explosion.
A hot wind gusted out that scorched Subaru’s cold body; he barely managed to stop himself from screaming.
It would definitely have landed a direct hit if Patrasche hadn’t stopped him. He didn’t know whether it had enough power to kill him, but he was sure that it had enough firepower to injure him. Subaru gritted his teeth realising that he’d barely escaped with his life as a shiver ran down his spine.
Why had the fireball been thrown at him?
Subaru reflexively turned to look behind him. The Centaur should have been deceived by his diversion, and should have been messing around with the water flask on the other side of the cave. However, the Witchbeast now had turned its horned head to where they were, snarling.
Just like it knew that Subaru and the others were standing there.
No way could that be it, Subaru shook his head.
Subaru unfastened a water flask from his waist and took hold of it so he could set up the diversion again. The string which connected him with Ram was constantly being tugged, calling him, but he took no note of it. His highest priority now was to lure the Witchbeast’s attention away from them.
He swung up the flask of water into an arc and threw it far to the left of the Centaur, where it dropped onto the sand. And just as he’d expected, the Witchbeast’s attention turned to that spot and the clumsy beast was attracted to the obvious diversion.
Once again, flames gushed out and the lament of crying babies echoed out. And whilst the shrill echo reverberated across the cave, Subaru urged Patrasche onwards towards the exit.
(TL Note: The exit is another passageway by the way, sometimes I just translate it to “Exit” because it sounds more clear in English than using the ambiguous word “Passageway” that could refer to where they came from.)
They just had to keep repeating this predetermined routine over and over again. With just that, they ought to be able to break past, however――
Once again, the fireball thrown by the Centaur hurtled past next to where Subaru was walking. It had gotten even closer than last time, with the shot being so accurate as to graze his skin.
Subaru’s breath was instantly taken away from him by the fireball’s explosion, and he was buffeted by the wave of heat.
Bathed in the illumination of the newborn orange lightsource ahead of him, Subaru locked eyes with the Witchbeast in the distance. Their eyes didn’t actually meet, through, so saying they locked eyes wasn’t quite right.
However, the Witchbeast’s attention was clearly focused this way. The Witchbeast had no way to track them except by sound, so why was it able to find them in the middle of its own cry――
Subaru:「It’s own… cry…」
Ram:「Barusu, the echo…」
As the question and answer came together in Subaru’s mind, Ram, who was still pulling the string, finally called to him and made a sound. At the moment they both came to the same conclusion, the Centaur kicked the sand.
Its hooves kicked the surface of the sand, and the Witchbeast, which was so large they had to look upwards at it, flew lightly through the chilly air. The heat of its blazing mane increased as it moved, and all at once was streaking towards Subaru’s group.
The human torso attached to the horse’s body raised its arms, and pulled away pieces of its own flaming mane. While held in its hands, those pieces changed into balls of fire, and after the blink of an eye, became explosive flaming bullets.
At this point, avoiding a fight with the Centaur was no longer possible.
Discarding the plan to move with as little noise as possible, Subaru slapped Patrasche’s haunches, ordering her to run immediately to the corridor.
Subaru’s group was currently in the exact center of the cave, far from both the corridor they entered from, and the one they were moving towards; a position so advantageous for the Centaur that it seemed likely this had been the Witchbeast’s plan.
Subaru:「Was it playing about with us…!?」
Subaru’s mind froze in amazement, but the Witchbeast didn’t let up. Hurling the fireballs as it created them, the Centaur blew clouds of sand into the air around its fleeing targets, as if playing with them.
The Witchbeast had expected that they would run straight for the corridor. Having said that, even if they tried running a zigzag course to confuse it, its hearing captured every sound, and wouldn’t fall for such a trick.
Grazing their lowered heads, the fireballs were thrown one after another.
Out of sight, the Witchbeast ran circles around them as they fled, not letting up with its explosive barrage, hurling bursts of sand into the air.
The heatwave of an explosion at his feet lifted Subaru easily into the air, and sent him flying.
He quickly protected his head with both arms, but the rush of hot air burned the inside of his nose and throat. Breathing was painful, and with the inside of his nose scorched, he temporarily lost his sense of smell.
He rolled on the ground from the agony in the center of his face, then raised his teary-eyed face.
The mouth in the Centaur’s torso was open wide, and the toothy maw was emitting an ear-splitting noise, almost looking like it was laughing. No, it was actually laughing.
Laughing at the weak human plaything, that couldn’t even win a battle of wits with a Witchbeast.
Hatred boiled in him, and gave Subaru the strength to stand.
Compared to suspicions and mistrust, what a wonderfully healthy feeling it was to hate the vermin that opposed him. As he was swallowed up in a blackness of distilled fury, Subaru snorted at the Witchbeast that looked so pleased with itself.
Acting like it had won was laughable.
How could a lowly miasma-hating Witchbeast think it could ever hope to beat Natsuki Subaru?
Putting a hand to his waist, he took out his whip.
Letting his hand remember the feel of the handle, he lightly flicked the sand with the end of the whip; the Centaur immediately stopped its roaring laughter, and intently turned its ears towards the crack of the whip.
Most likely, it was the first time it had ever heard that sound.
However, that wasn’t Subaru’s real plan. The whip was nothing more than a diversion.
In response to the Witchbeast’s violence, a roiling, seething black emotion formed in Subaru’s heart.
Given direction, it turned into strength to tear the Centaur limb from limb. Using it this way made him look like a one-trick pony, but he didn’t care. It was a trick that would work on anyone.
Swinging the whip above his head, he let the Witchbeast listen to the sound of it splitting the air.
Taking care not to alert the Centaur, which was paying close attention to the first sound, the invisible magic hand advanced like it was slipping through the darkness, infiltrating the Witchbeast’s shadow, aiming for the horn atop its human torso.
Between the human body and the horse body, he couldn’t tell which one had vital organs. With its head being a horn, if there was a brain stuffed inside it or not was a mystery. Despite that, there had to be a vital organ of some kind inside. With that decided, he would crush the horn in the palm of his invisible hand.
If the loss of the horn happened to make the Witchbeast obedient, he’d simply have it kill itself. That would be much more pleasant…
Subaru:「…!? Gu… agh… Gah!?」
With that thought, it happened just as he was about to carry out his plan.
Focusing on the Centaur, his『Unseen Hand』reaching for its head, Subaru’s own head was filled with a burst of unimaginable pain. Feeling as though something had stripped away his scalp and was drilling directly into his skull, his eyes rolled back and yellow foam frothed from his lips as he fell to his knees.
Bringing both hands to his head as he knelt, he struck himself on the side of the head to try and fight off the pain. Rubbing his head, holding his head, nothing else helped with the pain. To fight the pain, he tried to inflict a sharper, stronger pain. He struck himself again, and again, but no matter how hard he hit himself, he couldn’t overcome the pain.
He rolled on the sand while his head felt like a hell full of thorns piercing his brain, and nearly fainting from pain, he ended up swallowing sand without understanding why.
Subaru:「It hurts! Augh! It hurts it hurts it hurts! It hurts!」
He shouted like he was spitting blood.
With a mouth full of sand, chewing it with his back teeth, Subaru thrashed on the ground, fighting against the mysterious pain to keep it from blocking his throat. He couldn’t fight it, he was losing.
Of course, Invisible Providence had vanished instantly.
With that dispersed, he had no way of affecting the Centaur. The Witchbeast, as though disappointed with his lack of resistance, prepared to turn him into a smoking corpse.
A huge ball of flame drove away the chill in the air as the explosive heat warmed the world around them.
Just like that, Natsuki Subaru would be changed into charcoal…
At the last moment, the jet-black Earth Dragon charged in fiercely, tearing away the Witchbeast’s arm.
With a body colour that blended into the darkness, the Earth Dragon had soundlessly approached the Witchbeast, and landed a biting attack. Losing its balance along with its arm, the Witchbeast dropped the fireball it had raised above its own head.
In other words, the heat of the fireball the Witchbeast had created exploded at its own feet, and the point-blank blast wave blew it into the air.
As it was thrown away by the explosion, blood dripped from the Centaur’s wounded arm, and it fell over on its back. Without sparing it a glance, Patrasche sprinted over the sand, and, holding Subaru’s clothing with her teeth as he thrashed in pain, she immediately began a sprinting retreat.
Held by Patrasche’s teeth near his waist, swinging left and right as he dangled, tormented by poor circulation and the continuing headache, Subaru looked behind him.
Behind Patrasche, the Centaur unsteadily rose to its feet.
The wound on its human torso foamed, and the left arm that had been bitten off grew back in an instant. Its monstrous regeneration ability was at work on its other injuries as well. The wounds all over its body, inflicted by the explosion moments ago, closed one after another. The Centaur returned to full health in a matter of seconds.
With that done, there was nothing left to slow it down.
Screaming viciously at Patrasche, who had struck it by surprise, the Centaur sped up to pursue the madly fleeing Earth Dragon, and its mane blazed brighter as it leapt.
Patrasche’s running ability was impressive in even the worst terrain, but the Centaur’s was in its own habitat, and its acceleration was a step ahead. Along with their difference in size, Patrasche was weighed down by Subaru, and the Witchbeast was soon running side by side with her.
A burning fireball appeared in the Witchbeast’s hand, but this one was stretched tall. Looking closer, the fireball changed in the Witchbeast’s hand to a long-handled weapon, and in the blink of an eye, it had become a spear, covered from end to end in flame.
Raising the flaming spear, the Centaur drove the tip towards Patrasche. The black Earth Dragon ducked as the spear approached, almost diving into the sand to avoid the attack and using that as an opening to speed up further.
However, just when it looked like they could get away, the Witchbeast’s hoof drove straight into the Earth Dragon’s torso from the side. The force of the attack passed through her hard skin, and she cried out as the impact smashed into her guts. Even then, she refused to drop Subaru, still dangling from her teeth. The heat he could feel near his waist was from the blood Patrasche was coughing up from her internal injuries.
That was the only sign she was badly injured.
However, she still wouldn’t let Subaru go, and Subaru had no way to care for his loyal dragon’s wounds. All he had was the seemingly eternal torture of the unending pain in his head.
A second strike from the flaming spear was aimed at Patrasche, who was clearly slowing down.
However, before it reached the Earth Dragon’s body, it was interrupted from two different directions.
From one side came an invisible blade of wind, from the other was a convergence of white-hot rays of heat.
Both of the incantations came from familiar voices, but that was all Subaru could say for sure.
Both spells landed direct hits on the Witchbeast, blowing holes through its body and cutting through the human torso at an angle… those wounds, too, closed instantly.
Ram:「Barusu…! Oh, fine, if you’re dead, you should say so!」
Anastasia:「That’s a nasty one, that Witchbeast……I won’t be able ta do much ta that thing.」
Even though it sounded normal, one of the girls’ voices carried a trace of desperation. On the other hand, despite being in a desperate situation, one of the girls’ voices lacked any sense of stress.
Feeling his loyal dragon’s breath and blood on his skin, Subaru was on the verge of falling unconscious. If he was going to go through this much pain and torment, maybe dying wasn’t so…
Ram:「Don’t you dare die, Barusu! Rem would cry!」
That voice, shouted right in his ear, cut through the pain and reached his brain. What the voice awakened was a hatred no less than the one he held for the Witchbeast.
They had forgotten.
Not a single one of them remembered that girl.
…Don’t talk about Rem and I like you know anything about it.
Releasing his feelings of anger towards the Witchbeast passing through the edge of his tear-stained vision, Subaru struck at it with a pitch-black magical hand in an outburst of rage.
Partway there, another raging pain tore at his skull―― before he was swallowed by it and lost consciousness, Subaru’s『Unseen Hand』hit the Witchbeast’s spear head-on, breaking it as a token act of defiance.
…That was all the resistance he could muster.
The reward for his angry counterattack was another burst of furious pain.
The Centaur planted its front legs in the sandy ground and pivoted on them, turning itself around forcefully, and then its rear legs lashed out like a catapult.
Its solid rock-like hooves kicked sand into the air as they sped towards Subaru’s group―― himself, Patrasche, and Ram and Anastasia who were likely nearby as well, intending to tear through them all at once.
In an explosion of leg strength sufficient to bring down part of the cave, everyone was sent flying different directions by the wave of sand. Subaru was even torn away from Patrasche’s jaw, rolling helplessly on top of the sand, and thrown by the aftermath of the impact against a destroyed, burned body.
A headache that couldn’t be described, and a body trampled by the Centaur’s kick.
Assaulted by continuous pain from the inside and out, Subaru could no longer hold on to his consciousness. Somehow, as he rolled loosely on the sand, he could feel the approaching darkness of death.
Destruction, annihilation, futile death, death in battle.
Heartless words like that roamed the back of his mind, but…
In a situation where his lungs had forgotten to even breathe, Subaru saw someone standing in front of him.
It was a small, delicate shadow. In a world with too little light, he couldn’t see it clearly. Even then, it was a familiar shape that he knew immediately. It was Ram. She was wobbling as she stood.
She had both arms outstretched, to protect Subaru.
Stop it. It’s stupid, impossible, useless…
He tried to say it, but his throat would no longer listen to him, as though it was filled with sand. ――No, it actually was filled with sand. Because of the sand he’d stupidly swallowed trying to fight the pain in his head, Subaru could no longer even speak clearly.
With all his strength, Subaru managed a weak cry. Despite all the pent-up dissatisfaction and anger he had felt towards Ram and his other friends, that surely they must have known about.
Ram:「――Rem would… cry.」
Ram made only that quiet response to Subaru’s words.
For the little sister she couldn’t remember, for the person most dear to that unremembered sister, Ram stood.
What pushed her to go that far, Subaru couldn’t understand.
He couldn’t understand that, but there was one thing he did understand. At this rate, Ram was going to die. Subaru would die too. There was no way to avoid it.
The Centaur bellowed, swinging both its arms and creating a blazing sword in each of them. They didn’t really look like swords, though, so perhaps it had meant to make hammers or axes.
Regardless, they were both weapons wrapped in flame. It stood on the verge of using them to cut Ram’s much smaller frame into pieces, and roast Subaru as well.
Subaru:「…come, come on. There’s gotta be…something.」
Staring death in the face, Subaru reached down through the depths of his pain.
Fighting against the relentless pain was like diving deep into himself. Looking outside himself – to Ram, Patrasche, or Anastasia―― was unrealistic.
Even if it would be derided as a dream or delusion, Subaru looked inside himself for something, anything. This unrealistic approach was the most realistic hope he had left.
Diving inside, reaching into the murky depths of his body, pulling aside the writhing black thoughts, Subaru looked inside himself for anything that could help. Not the『Unseen Hand』 he had overused. Something different, something, something new, some way to pull through this mess.
His last-ditch search yielded…
Nothing, and Subaru watched as the Witchbeast in front of him raised its swords. The flames crossed above the Witchbeast’s head, and after a moment’s pause, descended towards Ram.
Burning the very air, the oncoming slashes would heartlessly cut a burning path through the girl’s slender body, burn her away, leave nothing of the path she had walked, the memories she had held, or anything at all except black charcoal…
At that scene, Subaru cried out against his own powerlessness.
The next moment, white light unleashed with tremendous speed blew away the Witchbeast’s upper body.
※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※ ※
The body of the Witchbeast which had wielded those swords of flame vanished from the world thanks to that tremendous light. The light didn’t bring forth such simplicities like crushing or severing its body, but rather it was the literal meaning of annihilation.
The Centaur was a monster that had a human body on the head part of a horse’s body. And the light had blown away, the part which was construed as its human body from chest up. Of course, that included the arms on its shoulders, the horn which was in place of a human head, and the fanged maw that gaped across its chest.
Blood soundlessly gushed out from the Witchbeast’s wounds from the impact―― And immediately after, its wounds started to foam, readying itself to use the same hyper-recovery technique it had used thus far.
Its squirming flesh swelled up, and its obliterated human body re-formed anew. The human body regenerated right away and explosive balls of fire quickly surged into life on both of its arms.
The Centaur roared, and the alluring voice of countless babies filled the chilly air. Turning its body around, the Witchbeast paid no heed to Ram or Subaru, and instead leapt straight up towards the dangerous enemy that had blown away its upper body.
The Witchbeast summoned a heapload of fireballs on its arms and cast them one after the other as it rushed forward. Consumed by its heated frenzy, the Witchbeast prepared to unleash its own battle cry. However――
The fireballs brought into existence by the Witchbeast were all intercepted from in front of it one by one. The things responsible for that were the flashes of white light that pierced the fireballs head on with tremendous accuracy. The speed of the flashes of light were out of the ordinary, and its strength was clearly superior to that of the fireballs.
The lumps of flame were struck by the light dead on, pulled in by the power of it, and clashed against the body of the Witchbeast itself. Immediately after Subaru had thought the Centaur had ended up like a hedgehog with quills of white light, the flames exploded all around the Witchbeast’s body.
The Centaur’s arms were obliterated to nothing, its maw was torn to shreds, its horse body was burnt and finally it had collapsed. It thrashed about on top of the sand, letting off a shrill cry in sheer anger.
However, the Witchbeast’s wounds squirmed over, and it refused to die. It was as if it was telling them to grow stronger, to change their approach, and that they should evolve their manner of bestowing death, since they couldn’t achieve it by blowing away parts of it into nothing.
The Witchbeast’s appearance transformed as it regenerated its lost parts.
The human part of its body changed, now its arms had increased from two to four, and sharp, long fangs jutted out from its maw. Its lower horse-half also had more legs, numbering eight in total. Doing a simple calculation, they had doubled in quantity.
As well as that, its charred skin had hardened, now shining with a black lustre to it. At a glimpse, it maybe looked like a being that was clad in armour.
And it held an axe, a hammer, a spear, and a sword of flame in each of its newly added arms. The Witchbeast had managed to evolve itself in an unbelievably short period of time, all to alter itself so it could face the being casting the white rays of light.
Raising its four forelegs, the Centaur thunderously let out a roar. It clacked its raised hooves together with a piercing clang and began to spur forwards.
Its huge figure was similar to that of an armoured train decked in steel. Its weight and acceleration would easily turn any opponent to mincemeat, causing them to meet a vicious end.
The being that had put the Witchbeast to shame would end up being completely annihilated if it was treated to a fiery finishing blow.
Kicking sand up into the air『A white light pierced it』and trailing up『A white light pierced it』a plume of fiery heat, the Witchbeast fiercely『A white light pierced it』broke through.『A white light pierced it』The heat of its flames『A white light pierced it』had flared up『A white light pierced it』hotter than ever before, it was like『A white light pierced it』the hellfire『A white light pierced it』of the abyss. Its grotesque and atypical figure『A white light pierced it』made it so that you couldn’t avoid『A white light pierced it』breaking into shudders when『A white light pierced it』you caught a mere glimpse of it,『A white light pierced it』regardless who you were;『A white light pierced it』that was what the King of the Sand Sea was.『A white light pierced it』『A white light pierced it』『A white light pierced it』『A white light pierced it』『A white light pierced it』『A white light pierced i』『A white light pierced i』『A white light pierced i』『A white light pierced』『A white light pierced』『A white light pierced』『A white light pierc』『A white light pierc』『A white light pierc』『A white light pi』『A white light pi』『A white light pi』『A white light』『A white light』『A white light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』『White light』――
There was nothing left behind anymore right after the crazy amount of light had streamed out. The Witchbeast, which had wielded such menace, had been completely obliterated by the light all the way up to the smithereens of its flesh. The Witchbeast had completely been blown away somewhere far out of this world.
The only thing that was left on the sand was the countless number of light rays which had been fired at the Witchbeast to erase its existence―― The source of that came just from those white, elongated stingers. Those too instantly turned to powder as if they’d effloresced away.
(TL Note: Opting to TL 針 as stinger this time instead of needle. Literally, it can refer to any needle like object.)
Subaru had even forgotten his headache as he gazed aghast at the spectacle with his own eyes. He realised that a feverish, slender body had happened to leap in between his arms. It was Ram. He didn’t remember what had happened, but it seemed like he’d been embracing her body in their final moments.
Though it should’ve been a meaningless gesture, it looked like Ram wasn’t conscious.
Subaru could hear the sound of someone stepping on the sand. That someone was ever so slowly approaching Subaru and the others; they were definitely approaching them.
The inside of the cave was still enveloped in darkness along with a frigid silence.
The only source of light came from the scattered fiery scraps that had been spewed out by the Witchbeast earlier. There was one such fiery scrap right next to Subaru that allowed him to look around a few metres.
Someone’s foot entered the very edge of his field of vision.
Lifting his face up, Subaru looked up to where the owner of those feet―― And perhaps the one behind that light was. Gradually lifting up his field of vision, what he saw reflected in his bleary eyes was… a human being.
It was… a woman. A woman with a rather queer air to her.
Her legs were audaciously bare all the way up to her thighs, and the only thing that covered her crotch was the hem of her shorts that were just barely cut down for that task. Above that, her waist and belly button were exposed. A piece of cloth was wound above her slender waist like a muneate to keep her breasts concealed.
(TL Note ― Muneate: Literally a device that acts as a chest protector for women. E.g. Female archers may wear a chest protector called a muneate to prevent their breasts being struck by their bowstring.)
However, she wore something akin to a cloak from her shoulders which barely protected the greater part of her body (exposed from her pale shoulders) from the wind.
Her hair was a brown that was closer to black to the point that it seemed to blend in with the darkness around them. Her long hair was tied into a ponytail that collected all of it together.
She gazed at Subaru and the others with moist eyes which were chock-full of thick emotion. Her thin lips curved up, breaking into a rather bestial smile.
???:「――I found you.」
At least I can understand what she’s saying, Subaru thought to himself. And just as he thought that, his consciousness reached its limit.
Tasting the feeling of sand, Subaru let go of his consciousness still without uttering a single word. At least, it didn’t seem like he’d have to let go of the girl wrapped inside his arms; he held her tight.
He only had enough willpower left to persevere to that point.