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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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Faced by that conceited and prideful smile flashing through his mask, Subaru held his breath.
There was no difference between this arrogant man and the man who had shown Subaru the way and given him the knife, when he had gotten separated from Rem at the grassland. Subaru could not say for sure because of his masked appearance, but he remembered his voice as well as his attitude. The fact that the man knew his name also proved it.
Laid on the bare ground inside the wooden cage, Subaru’s fate seemed to be continuing onwards instead of being cut off, even though his whole body was worn out, not just his hands and feet.
He had entered the forest, bringing Todd and the Imperial Soldiers together with him, summoned the Witchbeast by luring it with his miasma, tried to escape by taking advantage of the opportunity that had arisen after making the Witchbeast attack the soldiers, and――,
Subaru: [And then, I…]
Masked man: [From what I have heard, it seems like you had been caught in a trap while loitering around the forest. Those of the village were making a great fuss over a human being caught in a trap meant for capturing beasts.]
Subaru: [A trap, and village…?]
Receiving an explanation from the masked man, Subaru shook his pounding head, as he directed his attention outside of the cage.
The wooden cage that imprisoned him was of poor construction, compared to the ones he had seen in the Imperial Soldiers’ camp, which were in turn made out of iron. It looked simple, or more like it had been built in a rush.
And then, outside of the cage, he saw groups of tall trees, and land that had been created by clearing a part of the forest ― Subaru’s impression was something close to the village in the Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary was also a village built deep inside a forest, called the Forest of Kremaldy. However, unlike the Sanctuary which had buildings such as houses and a church despite existing in a forest, the village here only had log cabins, putting it nicely, and primitive dwellings, if put in a bad way.
Subaru thought it would be better to beat around the bush by saying they preferred being naturalistic.
Besides, what was more important to Subaru was not the shabby-looking village, but who lived here.
Subaru: [――The People of Shudraq?]
Masked man: [Huh, so you did know. Well, looking at your unsightly state, I suppose you were burdened with hardships all within a single day. Have you found the woman you had been separated from?]
Subaru: […Yeah, thanks to you.]
As the man questioned him after hearing what he had mumbled out, Subaru breathed out a deep sigh.
The masked man did not soften his confident attitude. However, he was also inside the cage, much like Subaru. Unless he was an important member of the village and had a commendable preference of entering the cage together with his captive, they would be in the same exact position.
Subaru had already been held captive at the Empire’s camp, but he had gotten captured here as well.
However, there were a few points that told him that wasn’t all it amounted to.
Subaru: [――The wounds on my shoulder and back… did they treat my injuries?]
Touching his shoulder and back, Subaru knew the bleeding had been stopped, judging from the sensation of something being fastened tightly against his wounds. The pungent scent that stung his nostrils felt similar to a sort of liquid medicine, such as disinfectant.
The masked man sniffed at Subaru’s doubts with a, “Hmph,”
Masked man: [You would have died just like that had your injuries been left untreated. Those of the village must have been confused with how to handle you. Wondering what is the correct choice, similarly to myself.]
Subaru: [Where do you get your composure from…]
Masked man: [If I must say, then it is from my soul. Rather, when will you stop exhibiting such disgraceful behavior? Natsuki Subaru.]
Subaru: [It’s none of your――]
Business, he tried to retort, before grinding the back of his teeth together from the pain brought by his wounds.
His injuries had been bandaged only the bare minimum as to not let Subaru die, not to close his wounds rapidly, nor to get rid of the pain. In contrast to what he had received at the Empire’s camp, he was in an inferior environment.
As he thought about the Empire’s camp, Subaru had a realization.
He had a reason for having to arrive at the camp as soon as possible.
Subaru: [Damn… how long has it been since I was brought here!?]
Masked man: [――. Hmm, around two hours, perhaps. I will tell you beforehand, but I am being lenient enough with you already. If I did not think much of it, then I would have woken you s――]
Subaru: [Why didn’t you wake me sooner!?]
Masked man: [――――]
As Subaru sank down on his trembling knees complaining, the man narrowed his eyes.
To him, it would look like Subaru was picking a fight with him, something that was uncalled for. As for why he had let Subaru stay asleep for two whole hours, who had been on the verge of death, covered with cuts and bruises upon being brought in, it was because he had deemed rest to be necessary, probably.
After that, if his act of stepping on Subaru’s head had been an offense carried out by his impatience, then it could be said he was also the owner of a Vollachia-like nature. However, if so――,
Subaru: [You should’ve reached the end of your patience sooner.]
Masked man: [What a strange thing to say. Do you understand what you are saying? You are telling me that you wished I had stepped on your head sooner.]
Subaru: [Yeah, that’s what I’m saying! What else… ugh, kh…!]
As he continued blurting out unreasonable, irrational logic, his vision flashed red.
His whole body was aching, but what caused him the most pain was on his back, the newly created stab wound in the vicinity of his shoulder blade ― the blow from Todd using the knife, who targeted the escaping Subaru the last time they met.
Thinking back, the knife he had been stabbed with was the same one he had been given by the masked man in front of him. Reuniting with him, in an injured state, due to the wound his knife had inflicted on him, seemed like an unfortunate chain of events.
Subaru: [I left Rem at the Empire’s camp… Before the Imperial Soldiers I sicced against the Witchbeasts return there, if I don’t go back, then Rem will…]
There was no time until Todd’s group left the forest, returned to their camp, and finished reporting everything to the higher-ups.
When the giant snake broke the soldiers’ formation into disarray, Jamal and the others had naturally dealt with the Witchbeast as a priority. However, among them, only Todd had made killing Subaru his first concern.
Todd might have suspected it had been Subaru who had drawn the Witchbeast towards them. And then, in order to make sure another would not be attracted, Todd had attempted to dispose of him immediately on the spot. His judgement and his ability to get things done ― what he had demonstrated within that single moment could not, and should not be underestimated.
At least, Subaru had put emphasis on how he was not even related to Rem and Louis in the slightest, having intended to place the impression that any information on him could not be gleaned from them, but――,
Masked man: [If there is no definite evidence, then they are capable of trying out torture.]
There was a certain terrorizing aspect to Todd and the Vollachia Empire that led Subaru to believe it.
To make sure they could not carry out such a thing, Subaru had to go back and save Rem.
Subaru: [In a place like this…!]
Masked man: [――. I see. Judging from your words, that “Rem” is the woman you were searching for. It seems like you have gone through a considerable experience after you parted ways with me. Is it about the Imperial Soldiers outside the forest?]
Subaru: [Yeah, that’s right! I was held captive by them! And then, I played a trick on them so I could run away… but, I couldn’t bring Rem with me. So…]
Masked man: [So that is the origin of your desperation. No wonder you appear to have grown accustomed to being a captive.]
Subaru: [Who looks accustomed to being a captive!? In the first place――]
The masked man was in the same predicament as him, wasn’t he?
Although Subaru was indebted to him, he nearly shouted in anger as he did not have the mental capacity to think about anything else at the moment. However, a sudden realization stunted his rash behavior.
Amidst that exchange of harsh words, having been focused on his argument with the masked man, Subaru felt a new pair of eyes boring into the side of his face.
When he turned around, he saw two specks of light outside the cage, peeking inside from between the bars. Building a picture of the person, Subaru saw that those were green-colored eyes.
The owner of the pair of eyes blinked when Subaru’s gaze turned towards them,
???: [――Ah, he noticed Uu.]
???: [Need to tell Mii.]
Saying that, the person swiftly distanced itself from the wooden lattice. Subaru tried to stop them, calling out, “Wait!” but his words did not make it in time.
By the time he threw himself at the bars of the cage, the person had already vacated the area, sprinting away without taking any notice of him.
Subaru: [Just now, that was…]
Masked man: [A Shudraqian girl. She must be very inquisitive. Even when I was by myself, she paid a few visits and even peered inside. “Show me your face!”, “Take off your mask!”, she was saying. Her irksomeness knows no bounds…]
The masked man grumbled as he crossed his arms, seemingly dissatisfied by the attitude of the sneaky person.
Unfortunately, Subaru did not have the mind to respond to his complaints. That was because his focus had been stolen away by the person who had just left――the young girl.
She was a young girl with brown skin, somewhere around ten years old.
She wore a light outfit that exposed her skin, having white clothes wrapped around her body. It was probably a choice of attire that had been made to adapt to this land, which gave off the feeling of a subtropical zone.
The reason for the pink tips of her uniquely colored, bob cut-esque hair was because it had been dyed, most likely. The roots of her hair were black, matching Todd’s explanation of the Shudraqians having black hair.
However, what shocked Subaru the most about the girl’s appearance was not how peculiar she looked, but the fact that was not the first time he had seen her.
The one who killed me, Subaru’s memories insisted.
She was the girl who had used a poisoned arrow to shoot Subaru in the back, resulting in his death.
With the jungle having been set on fire because of Subaru’s careless remark, the girl had escaped from the land where those spreading flames blazed, glaring at Subaru with hate-filled eyes――.
Subaru connected the dots together.
Back then, the girl had been glowering at Subaru with an expression of pure abhorrence for only a single reason. ――Retribution towards the cause that had incinerated both her land and allies into ashes.
Masked man: [Why did you suddenly become so meek, as if just doused with water?]
As Subaru bit his lip with his head resting against the wooden lattice, the voice came out from over his shoulder.
The masked man had been sitting in the same position from the start, and watched Subaru and his violently fluctuating emotions intently.
Masked man: [You are a difficult man to grasp. In any event, it’s good if you rant and rave. It will be troublesome if it gets quiet here. Idleness is a waste of energy too. Without each and every shout――]
Subaru: [Without shouting…?]
Masked man: [――From over there, they shall arrive to hear our conversation. Look.]
In the direction the man had jerked his chin, Subaru turned around and opened his eyes wide.
A flame slowly illuminated the gloomy view ― It was the light of a torch. The figures of several people appeared, holding the torches in hand, headed towards the cage Subaru and the man were inside.
Leading them was a woman of tall stature with a strong, well-trained body. The woman appeared to have hair originally black in color, but had been dyed red, and her dark-brown-skinned face and body were covered in designs of white paint. Her green eyes conveyed a strong sense of purpose that left a powerful impression.
Hiding behind such a woman, happened to be the little girl from before. A group of about ten people had come their way, and all of them appeared to be women.
However, Subaru was involuntarily overpowered by that feeling of oppression.
The wild air of the group was unlike the chivalric Order of Knights of Lugunica, or even unlike what he had seen of the Vollachian military; it had a beauty like that of a troop of beasts that were commanded by instinct.
The impression was one of a group built on instinct at its core, rather than logic.
Subaru held that sort of impression on their development, and as they stood before the cage in which they had imprisoned Subaru, the women ― The People of Shudraq, fixed their gazes on the two people inside the cage.
???: [Looks like you’re up huh. ――You lot, who the hell are you lot anyway?]
The question was asked of Subaru and the masked man together.
(T/N: The Shudraqians have a unique speaking style that places emphasis on the last syllable of each sentence. We’ve chosen to represent this using italics.)
――Who are you?
It was relatively common in stories, but in practice, it was the kind of question that was not often asked.
A situation where someone was suspicious of your identity and questioned you was not exactly a normal event in real life. Whether on the side of the questioner or the listener, with the exception of businesses such things needed to be asked, you could potentially go your whole life without having said those words.
In that sense, it was a question Subaru was not familiar with.
Nevertheless, he could still clearly recall the first time in his life that he heard that question.
Who is Subaru and what is his purpose?
The first time Subaru was asked that, the question had come from none other than Rem, who had doubted his identity at the mansion.
Subaru: [Not you, but you lot…?]
As he tried to shake off those memories, he questioned the question.
Although they were put in the same prison, the connection between Subaru and the masked man was flimsy. Or rather, it was for convenience that they had been put in the same prison, and Subaru’s level of involvement was equal to zero.
Was it not a rather careless way of thinking, to treat them as if they were the same because of that?
Masked man: [Do not get caught up in trivial matters. I have informed them that you and I are acquainted with each other. That is the sole reason for the inquiry.]
Subaru: [You…gh! Saying we know each other… That’s taking it a bit far no?!]
Masked man: [I did not lie. If we looked upon each other, you and I would both know the identity of the other. What more is required to consider someone else a person you are acquainted with?]
Subaru: [W-what an unreasonable tone…]
It was an excessively high-handed way of speaking, but Subaru remembered that high-handed tone.
There was one person he knew in particular, a character who would wield that sort of logic to talk down to Subaru and other people.
Such troublesome people, the thought as to whether there were many more like them made Subaru’s head dizzy but――,
???: [Oi, what are you talking about all sneaky-like. Answer the question.]
Subaru: [Ah, ah, my name is Natsuki Subaru. As you can see, a pitiful, worn-out and miserable lost child! And next, the one behind me is… umm?]
Masked man: [――Abel.]
Subaru: [Right, Abel! He wears a mask to hide his face and has an arrogant and disagreeable personality, but he also hands knives to people who are lost. He’s a playboy who’s made many girls cry due to the gap brought about by that element of unpredictability, so at this time please go ahead and introduce yourself!]
(T/N: Subaru uses the english word gap here which is a reference to “gap moe”: the unexpected cuteness of a character when they do something completely different to their usual personality.)
???: [Oh, ohh…? I’m Mizelda but…]
Overwhelmed by the energy with which Subaru pressed for an answer, the lead woman ― Mizelda gave her name.
As Subaru took the time to look properly at the opposing party, starting with Mizelda, an extremely fitting word to describe the aura of the women came to mind. Amazons.
They were of a small tribe composed mainly of women, with strong, disciplined bodies and body paint that seemed to fit the image, and some even carried bows.
Subaru definitely recognized the People of Shudraq as Amazons.
Subaru: [To be honest, I was actually surprised that Mask Man’s name turned out to be Abel but…]
Subaru: [Let’s put that off for now! Listen to me, Mizelda-san, and everyone of Shudraq!]
Having put off the allusion to the masked man ― Abel, Subaru raised his voice to the assembled women.
Judging from appearances, it was no use arguing with the women, as they seemed to have no intention of killing Subaru. That much could be surmised from how they had treated him and the fact that they showed willingness to listen to what he had to say.
In that case, if he talked with them sincerely and earnestly, they might understand.
Subaru: [You might already know this, but outside this forest an encampment of Imperial Soldiers is being established. A girl who is very important to me is being held captive there, and if I don’t return immediately it could be dangerous! So please, let me go!]
Subaru: [After that, the soldiers are aiming for the People of Shudraq. They said it’d be fine if they could talk but, in the worst case, they are also prepared for battle. If that happens, I…]
Will help smooth things over, he was going to say, but he shut his mouth.
If it could be achieved, there might not be a battle between the Imperial Soldiers and the People of Shudraq, but most likely, it would be impossible for Subaru to help with that.
Todd and his group recognized Subaru as the main culprit who had sprung the Witchbeast trap on them. Since he could not be trusted, that would be asking too much.
Subaru had precisely weighed the options of Rem and Todd.
And he chose to harm them in order to help Rem. He could not escape the responsibility of that choice.
Subaru: [Sorry, let me correct myself. The truth is the soldiers are targeting everyone in Shudraq. There are quite a number of people in the camp, so even if you fight…]
Mizelda: [――You saying we’d lose?]
Because of the discrepancy in resources and strategies that could be taken, it was undeniable that they were at a disadvantage.
Interrupting Subaru as he tried to convey that, Mizelda spoke bluntly in a quiet voice.
Hearing that reaction, Subaru understood he had chosen the wrong words.
The People of Shudraq were likely a tribe of hunters.
Those who honed their skills and were constantly improving their abilities. The method of trying to persuade them with the point that they would lose the fight could easily set them off. It was an argument that should not be made.
Mizelda: [About the Vollachian soldiers coming, we know. But there is an old promise between those guys and us. There shouldn’t be conflict.]
Subaru: [――hk, no, wait! I don’t know anything about that promise but, even so, those guys are serious about you…]
Subaru tried to get closer, but was struck through the wooden lattice and fell over from the impact. Mizelda had banged her fist against the bars, but it was her eyes that conveyed her indignation.
Once again, Subaru had chosen the wrong words.
Just like taking pride in a fight, old promises and the like were important to them.
Subaru had trampled on that, rudely and unknowingly. Again.
Mizelda: [The Vollachian soldiers moved their troops outside the forest to train. They have done that many times.]
Subaru: [Moving troops to train… What, like a military exercise?]
It seemed that term was unfamiliar, and Mizelda frowned at Subaru’s words. However, Subaru was gradually beginning to see the big picture of the trap that had been set by the Vollachian side.
It was common for Vollachian soldiers to set up encampments around the Buddheim Jungle, in the name of military exercises. The People of Shudraq were accustomed to it. By taking advantage of their inattention to those exercises, the Vollachian military was going to surround the Buddheim Jungle, and capture all of the People of Shudraq in one fell swoop.
If that was their concern――,
Subaru: [Why go so far to aim for these people?]
Of course, much like Mizelda, who stood before his eyes, the People of Shudraq were an undoubtedly powerful tribe.
However, Subaru had no idea why Vollachia would have to send an army to siege the jungle and capture them.
With the current state of affairs, they looked like they would be unwilling to leave the forest. They lived, breathed, and laboured here.
Mizelda: [Neither Natsuki Subaru nor Abel speak the truth. In which case they do not suit us.]
Subaru: [――gh, are you serious?]
Mizelda shook her head back and forth, signalling the end of the conversation.
None of the People of Shudraq offered any counter-arguments against her dispassionate rejection. It seemed as though she was the leader of the current group of Shudraqians, if not the entire settlement.
Obeying her commands, the People of Shudraq turned their backs on Subaru’s accusations and decided to leave him and Abel be.
Still carrying their torches, the group started to leave.
Subaru: [Wait! It’s not a lie! It’s not a lie! Everyone’s in danger! The promise… The promise will be broken! Everyone’s in, Rem’s also in danger!]
Watching them disperse, Subaru desperately tried to warn them.
However, having already received the decision of their leader, the People of Shudraq would not stop. The only one who acknowledged him in the slightest was the little girl, who glanced at him periodically. Even then, she did it as she walked away.
Subaru shouted himself hoarse, hacking up bloody phlegm. Still, no one would listen to him.
Subaru: [Khoff… Damn, it. Why, is it always like this…!]
Sinking down into the ground, Subaru bemoaned his situation as he hit his forehead against the bars.
He could not even vent out his anger on the cage. His right hand was unusable due to the injury on his shoulder and his left hand still held broken fingers. Subaru was a useless person, riddled with wounds, and his speech could not even be persuasive.
If that was the case, what worth did Natsuki Subaru have left?
Subaru: […Is it just how bad I am at giving up and my slyness?]
His eyes clouded over as he tasted despair. However, Subaru determinedly refused to admit defeat. He would grit his teeth and rise above.
If it were the Subaru of the past, he would have set his limits on a whim.
Looking back at the events that had happened until this point, he recognised that the path he had walked to get here had not been an easy one. The Subaru of the now was a little different.
He got slightly worse at giving up. That was the light that guided him on his pitch-black path.
Abel: [That was a rather pointless discussion that was had.]
Those words mixed with disdain and scorn reached Subaru, who was currently gripping on to the bars, scheming for a way to create a gap where he could slip through.
Though it was irritating, he could not retort. Subaru had in fact splendidly stepped on a taboo landmine and failed the negotiations. He was surely at the peak of thoughtlessness.
Subaru: [If that was pointless, wouldn’t that mean there was no point for you too? Anyway, didn’t I tell you? There are dangerous people in the jungle, so don’t go inside.]
Abel: [Yes, that is correct. Those instructions became my guidance. I shall give my thanks for that.]
Subaru: [But you still got caught even after being told that. I feel so helpless… Dammit, isn’t it loose anywhere?]
Even after hitting the wooden cage with his body, there were no signs of breakage anywhere. The log-like bars had been inserted deep into the ground individually and were sturdy enough to believe that heavy machinery had been used in its construction.
Of course, since no such machinery existed in this world, it had to be the product of manual labour. Either they had done it with a large number of people, or they had someone among their ranks with superhuman strength somewhere on the level of Emilia and Garfiel.
Subaru: [What a thing they’ve built, considering the whole place is full of girls…]
Abel: [Do not underestimate the People of Shudraq. They are a matriarchal tribe that birth only women, and have lived in this jungle for hundreds of years as descendants of war gods. They have no need for males, except to birth their children. It is even customary to abduct those males from elsewhere.]
Subaru: [They’re Amazons for real… Wait, don’t tell me the reason we’re caught is…]
Capturing males, using them as tools to make offspring.
That notion and line of thinking only existed in places like poor, mountainous villages of old. Even so, being that he was in a foreign country in another world, where Subaru’s normal would not apply, this could be a very real belief held by people.
Abel mockingly laughed at Subaru’s words however,
Abel: [Calm yourself. They choose their children. ――Any child of a person who speaks falsehoods to attempt to deceive them would only end up a disgrace. That kind of offspring is not desired, I imagine.]
Accepting Abel’s statement, Subaru cursed his incompetent attempt at an explanation.
The reason Mizelda and the other Shudraqians had not believed him, though in part due to his impatience, was because of his poor setup of an argument.
If one did not understand what the opponent’s characteristics were, and where did their pride lay, even an argument full of sincerity and seriousness would not be any different from an insult or physical offense. It would not be different at all.
Subaru: [But, it’s no lie. The Empire’s soldiers are targeting the Shudraqians. And…]
Subaru: [As a last resort… Actually, no. As a first resort, they’ll set this whole place on fire.]
At Subaru’s declaration, Abel for the first time quietly held his breath.
The flaming jungle had been an event that occurred after Todd had learned of the Witchbeast lurking in the woods. Last time, the Imperial Army had chosen to burn away the Buddheim Jungle going off Subaru’s testimony only.
If they confirmed the Witchbeast’s existence themselves, the forest being burnt down would be difficult to avoid.
Subaru: […Though, if Todd and the others got wiped out, that’d be a different story.]
He had already heavily considered that possibility after deciding to incite the Witchbeast.
Calling upon an potentially deadly enemy was tantamount to indirect murder. Knowing this, Subaru had gone ahead with his bait plan nonetheless. In reality, people might have actually died.
Thinking about this, a lump grew heavy in his chest. His heart pained like it was being stuffed.
Nevertheless, setting aside the feelings of aversion and guilt for those murders as ones he would carry for life, he focused on another, more important point ― Todd and the others had, most likely, not been completely wiped out.
Todd’s group was around twenty people strong, all with little to no experience fighting Witchbeasts.
Even so, adding together Todd’s decision-making to Jamal’s surprising assertiveness, it was impossible to hope for that one Snake Witchbeast to destroy the entire group.
Naturally, it was better to believe that Todd’s group had survived, and were retreating back to the camp from the jungle.
After getting back to the camp, Todd’s group would report on Subaru’s betrayal and the existence of the Witchbeast. Depending on the situation, they could still believe that Subaru was one of the People of Shudraq and have concluded that the Shudraqians had taken an offensive course of action against them.
If that were to happen, it would be the same as last time. Wanting to minimise casualties, the Imperial Soldiers would set the jungle ablaze without hesitation. ― The People of Shudraq would no doubt be burnt to a crisp.
Abel: [――What is that, that look in your eye.]
Abel commented on Subaru’s gaze. Subaru immediately looked away, but was still preoccupied with thoughts on Abel’s end in the last loop.
Most likely, Abel had been captured by the People of Shudraq, similar to the current situation. In those circumstances, considering the jungle had been set on fire, he had probably perished in flames alongside them.
It was a stretch to think that the People of Shudraq would help someone like a prisoner escape from that inferno. Worst case scenario, he had not been able to escape the cage in time and burned to death.
If that were the case――,
Subaru: [――The People of Shudraq, Abel. I basically killed all of them.]
His own life, Rem’s life, Abel’s life and the People of Shudraq’s lives. He did not want to lose any of them.
That was why Subaru would stand up and devise a way to break out of his current predicament.
Abel: [Do you not understand it is useless? They are not a group so lacking that they would leave an opening for someone of your strength. Much less someone as injured as you are. Why do you exert yourself that far for just one woman?]
Abel said to Subaru in exasperation, the latter continuing to grip onto the wood, still fervently resisting.
Those words lit a fire in Subaru.
Subaru: [It’s because that girl to me, isn’t just one woman. That isn’t nearly enough to describe her. There’s no replacement. Rem is, the one and only Rem.]
Subaru: [And you. Do you have the time to be picking on me constantly? I don’t know why you’re here, but surely you’re not going “Yeah I’m finished, I’m done”, after being caught are ya?]
Upon first meeting him, Abel had worn his concealment cloak and looked as though he had come to the jungle to fulfill some task. Even if that were not the case, he was the type of person to readily give away a knife. Which, according to Todd, was the sort of knife that would only be gifted by an Emperor.
To say that he was here for no reason at all would be a fact difficult to imagine and quite frankly unbelievable.
Subaru: [Sitting on the cold ground over there, what do you want to do?]
Abel: [――I was merely waiting for an opportunity.]
Abel responded deathly quietly to Subaru’s question.
His response had been unlike the goading and mocking comments previously made to Subaru. It held a different tone, sounding more like Abel’s true feelings, spilled out into words.
Subaru: [Waiting for an, opportunity? Opportunity as in, a chance? What chance were you waiting for…]
Abel: [I do not know of this chance you speak of, but I was waiting for the pieces to be set. Until they had been organised, any unnecessary action by myself would have muddied the waters. That is why I was forced to observe. Actually, I believed having the group outside the jungle make their move first was the correct move, however…]
Abel: [If they are willing to burn down this jungle, I cannot be sitting here cross-legged forever.]
Saying that, Abel uncrossed his arms and slowly stood up.
Looking at his long and slender posture, Subaru froze stiff in surprise at his words.
Abel: [What is the matter? That stupefied face of yours. That is quite a disrespectful face you are presenting me with.]
Subaru: [Dun-dunno about disrespectful but… You, believe what I said? Cause, the People of Shudraq…]
Abel: [I did not believe you. Tainting their pride, rejecting the age-old promise which is held with great respect, saying it amounts to nothing. Truly, it was a failed negotiation for the ages.]
He knew that there was no defense for his choice of words, so it left him no choice but to be pummeled by Abel’s assessment.
As Subaru frowned, Abel continued his speech with, “But…”. And then, through his disguise, he gazed at Subaru, who raised his head――,
Abel: [I am not a part of the Shudraqians. Their pride and meaningful contracts are as good as dust. What is necessary is the truth you brought about, free of any falsehood.]
Subaru: […What will you do if I am lying?]
Abel: [It is obvious. ――You shall pay with your life.]
His words were heavy, carrying a clear distinction from those who spoke of death in jest.
Abel was earnestly telling Subaru to atone with his death, should he make a wrong move. This was neither a game, nor was it said on a whim, but it was a scene that would put his real determination to the test.
Getting that feeling from Abel, Subaru subconsciously straightened his posture.
He stopped fighting the bars of the cage before he knew it, facing Abel, who was right in front of him. Staring into Subaru’s black eyes, the menacing look inside of the piercing light in Abel’s eyes intensified.
Abel: [You are to choose each and every one of your words with utmost care, Natsuki Subaru. ――Do you have the resolve to sacrifice everything, in order to save what you desire to save?]
His question had been straightforward, unforgiving of any hesitation to answer, as well as any lies being stated.
If Subaru answered it by interweaving truth and fiction, he would be a dead man. Yes, the man called Abel held a certain power in his voice, enough to make Subaru put his trust in him.
Subaru received Abel’s question in his heart.
Did he have the necessary resolve to save everything, to save what he wanted to save, at the cost of sacrificing everything else?
His answer to the question would be――,
Subaru: [――I don’t have the resolve to do that.]
Subaru: [All I can offer is myself. ――If it’s just that, then I can put all of it on the line.]
Instead of his right arm that had been stabbed, Subaru put the arm with broken fingers on his chest, responding to the inquiry.
It was Subaru’s answer to Abel’s question, containing not a speck of dishonesty.
Even if he were told to forfeit everything and everyone, there was no way he would be able to accept that.
In order to do so, this world had too many things important to Subaru, and too many radiant things he had not witnessed yet.
That was why――,
Abel: [You gave me a presumptuous answer, you vexing jester.]
Abel: [However, you did not state any falsehoods. In that case, you will not be incinerated.]
Subaru realized his life had been spared, after Abel stated that as a result of hearing the answer to his question.
Cold sweat suddenly began flowing out of his body, and he understood that his life was in the palm of Abel’s hand.
As Subaru had evaluated Abel earlier, when they first came across each other at the grassland, he was not extraordinarily strong.
Comparing the masked man to the powerful people Subaru had either seen, or interacted with in the past and to this day, his strength did not step over the bounds of an ordinary person. However, even considering that, Subaru felt as if he just had narrowly escaped death.
A power dissimilar to pure physical strength and sword skills resided within Abel. That was what Subaru thought.
Abel: [Then, that will save us time. ――Hey, you. The girl over there.]
Ignoring Subaru, who was sweating heavily from having his life spared, Abel suddenly called out to someone. Immediately, a small cry was emitted from the shadows, reacting to the tone of his voice.
When Subaru spun around in surprise, he saw a girl staring shyly at them under the shade of a tree ahead of Abel’s line of sight.
The girl, with the tips of her hair dyed pink, hurriedly tried to escape from the gazes of Subaru and Abel, but――,
Abel: [You will lose your opportunity if you run, girl. Surely, that must not be what you intend.]
Beaten to the punch by Abel, the girl groaned softly. After that, with an embarrassed look on her face, she walked towards them with dejected steps.
And then, her lips trembled as she said, “Uu is, Uu is…”
Girl: [Mii said not to listen to men. But, Uu is curious. Curious about you.]
Saying that, the girl who had called herself “Uu” pointed a finger in Subaru’s direction. Receiving the unexpected indication that she was curious about him, Subaru widened his eyes while the girl nodded at him.
Girl: [You were doing your best. We are in danger. But, Mii won’t listen.]
Girl: [Why were you trying so hard? You have nothing to do with us.]
Why were you interfering, even though you have nothing to do with us?
Subaru’s breath hitched for a moment, wondering if his nosiness was being pointed out. However, the girl’s words did not seem to have that purpose. She was genuinely inquisitive.
Why was Subaru desperate about not only himself, but the People of Shudraq as well?
The answer to that was something not even Subaru himself knew, but――,
Subaru: […I think, I don’t want you to have that expression on your face.]
Subaru: [I don’t want you to have that… feeling of having to loathe your enemies, clouded by hatred.]
The girl who had shot her opponent with a poisoned arrow, watching his death to the end with hate-filled eyes.
To this day, the girl’s feelings of loathing, and his guilt from the extreme events that had led her to that point, still remained in his eyes. They were surging up and whirling around. They had morphed into thorns, causing him pain.
That… must not be piled on top of one other. It must never recur.
There was nothing better than not Returning by Death.
However, by losing his life, in a world where he had to start over, if there was a way he could bring the people involved with him onto a better path――,
Subaru: [I think… the purpose of me trying my best with all my might lies there.]
Girl: […Uu doesn’t understand.]
Despite hearing his answer, what he had really meant had been not conveyed to the girl. It was only natural. Speak of this to someone who did not know of Return by Death, and they would not understand a thing.
And Subaru was not thinking of having her understand that, either. Knowing that such a reality had existed was an unnecessary addition to the girl’s life.
Abel: [――Are you satisfied? It should be the same for me and you, to not have the time for a long chat.]
Subaru: [Ye… yeah, sorry.]
Uninterested in the conversation between Subaru and the girl, Abel cut it off without any hesitation.
When he turned to face the girl, she grew tense and gazed up at him, perhaps perceiving the same pressure Subaru had felt previously.
Abel: [I do not plan on blithering on with you, girl. The woman from earlier… Mizelda, was it? Bring that one here. That is the chieftain, no?]
Girl: [Mii? What will you talk about with Mii?]
Abel: [It is trivial. I merely have a suggestion to make.]
Stared at by Subaru and the girl, who were tilting their heads, Abel nodded deeply.
And then, he smiled just as Subaru had expected, although it could not be seen under his mask,
Abel: [――Tell her that we will be undergoing the Lifeblood Ritual. It is the fastest way to persuade them.]
He told her, just like that.