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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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――He felt like something, something horrible was swirling around him.
A vortex, indeed, it was a vortex.
The vortex was swirling round and around, spinning fast, swallowing everything.
Swirling round and around who knows where, actually, no, it was swirling around his core.
This horrible black vortex, as ferocious as a storm, as stark as a bolt of lightning, as scorching as magma, was going to end up swallowing everything in its path as it swirled around.
Perhaps it was the horrible malediction that had been sleeping for so long deep inside his body.
A malediction of “Death”, that had never been removed, always intertwined, tied together, linked forevermore.
A curse befitting greed, which would not sell his life over to anyone, as if saying: “it has already been pledged.”
These begrudged curses, which should by all means have eaten away at his life, meddled with each other, detested each other, refused to hand him over to the other, opposed each other, and fought with each other. ――And as a result, they reached a conflicting answer.
The curses would have it so they would not let this vessel perish.
The vortex was swirling round and around, spinning fast, swallowing everything.
Smack-dab at the core of this vessel, which had been cursed by Beast and Dragon, swirling round and around…
(TL Note: The term 呪印, which we have localised as: curse, to the best of my knowledge, has only ever been used by Tappei to describe the curse of the Ulgarm back in Arc 2, as well as Roswaal’s Curse Seal, when he made his bet with Subaru in the LN version of Arc 4. Meanwhile, as for the term 呪縛, which is also used, we have localised it as a “Malediction” here to differentiate. Also, the term 呪縛 is the one used in the title for Arc 5, Chapter 45.)
Tents with a red flag were for medical treatment. There were five of them in total within the encampment.
Tents with a black flag were for their stores. There were twenty-five of them in total within the encampment.
Tents with a white flag were for the top brass. There were three of them in total within the encampment.
The tent with a golden flag was for the commander. There was just the one within the encampment.
He’d been given the freedom to bustle around the place, acting as a handyman. So even though the time he’d spent there had been brief, he’d managed to pay attention to various areas, surprisingly enough.
The Empire marked the second time Subaru had seen an actual military encampment.
The first time was around the time of the White Whale Battle in the Kingdom of Lugunica.
Back when they’d set up around the Flugel Tree, to prepare for the White Whale’s arrival, they’d prepared something like an encampment. Though that one did not have the scale this one had.
Following that, he did have some more chances to set up camp, though on a much smaller scale. That said, all of them had been far simpler; hardly any of them had been a full-blown camp, like the one in the Empire.
Thus, he thought he’d take note of things here and there, with curiosity being a helping factor.
Naturally, the Imperial Soldiers bar one did not seem to hold favourable impressions of him, so had he made any attempt to enter anywhere possessing anything of importance, they would have probably separated Subaru’s head from his body, and that was just if he were lucky.
However, even having this much knowledge was…
???: […Plenty useful. There is a world of difference between having some information and having nothing… And most of all, knowing their formation should give us a rough idea of the enemy’s strength. All that is left now is…]
???: [To show our courage and strength. This I know, my brethren.]
???: [Indeed, then show it. Show the pride and valour of the people of Shudraq, the valiant warriors who once swept down enemy after enemy, standing alongside the Emperor lauded as the Martial Emperor.]
He felt exhausted, as if he were wearily drifting through warm water.
In the midst of this, the voices of a man and woman brimming with ambition became audible to him.
And many other sounds of breathing could be heard, apart from that of the man and woman the voices belonged to.
He could feel the presence of a great number of people.
He could feel something akin to the fervent, fervent zeal of a great number of people.
He could feel those things swelling up rather strangely, with him smack-dab in the middle.
???: […Then let us begin, Shudraq! We shall raise the beacons of our counterattack from here on!!]
A cacophony of battle cries echoed throughout, as if crunching the entire world into pieces.
Feeling something cold and wet squelched against his face, Subaru’s whole body jumped up in surprise. While wondering what had happened, his awareness swiftly rose, and his vision was covered in white as he blinked in surprise. ――Actually, no, this was the answer to the wetness he felt.
A wet cloth, that had barely been wrung, was what was covering Subaru’s face.
He’d once read in a book that there existed a kind of torture where someone would cover your face with a towel and pour water on top of it. All that was needed was a towel and some water, and then it would be easy to make someone feel like they were drowning, just like in the hellish waterboarding technique.
Subaru: [I-I’ve got nothing that I can tell you…!]
???: [Oh, Suu, you’re up. Uu too is glad you’re in good spirits.]
Subaru: [A… Ah…?]
Subaru could hear a voice, that for a torturer, was rather young. He shook his face in surprise. Following that, the cloth that had been covering his face slid off, allowing him to recover his normal vision.
It didn’t seem like it was torture, and in his unobstructed field of view he could see the sky, with the leaves of some large trees slightly clogging his view. And then, suddenly poking her face around, as if hiding the sky was…
Subaru: [Y… You’re…]
Utakata: [Utakata! Uu’s your guard, Suu! And nurse! And babysitter! Thank goodness you’re awake!]
Subaru: […I still don’t get what you’re on about.]
A black-haired girl with the ends dyed pink let out a shrill cackle and asserted herself ― Right, it was Utakata.
This girl was one of the people of Shudraq, someone he’d met in their village. ――The one who’d once killed Subaru with a poisoned arrow.
However, from the smile on her face, it looked like currently they’d established an amicable relationship, so he probably didn’t need to worry about having his life snuffed out by a poisoned arrow like that one.
Subaru: [Of course, there’s no sign of me being waterboarded… Is there? Umm…]
Utakata: [Suu, the Lifeblood Ritual, you finished it. Elgina, you beat it. Uu and Mii and Hoo, everyone and everybody surprised!]
Subaru: […It’s starting to come back to me. That’s right, I was forced into the Lifeblood Ritual.]
To get the people of Shudraq to acknowledge Subaru and Abel, they had challenged the Lifeblood Ritual.
It was a traditional Shudraqian rite of passage and it was used to recognise one’s coming of age. The then-caught Subaru and Abel had challenged it together.
The opponent for the ritual had been a giant snake that inhabited the Buddheim Jungle, the Witchbeast Elgina.
Subaru and Abel had put their lives on the line to try and break the Snake Witchbeast’s horn――,
Subaru: […It’s no use. Dunno if it’s because I was super absorbed during the fight or not, but I can’t recall anything from the last half. If I’m alive, does that mean Abel managed to pull it off…?]
Utakata: [――? Suu, you don’t remember? Mii, was in stitches.]
Subaru: [In stitches as in laughing at my pathetic self? Gimme a break… Wait.]
Frowning at Utakata who had her head tilted in puzzlement, Subaru tried to sit upright. In the process of doing that, Subaru felt a weird sensation as his right hand touched the ground.
It was not a normal kind of weird sensation, like touching a floor that was wet or walking over something rocky. No, the source of this weird sensation felt much closer to home than usual.
To put it frankly, it was not the ground, but more likely, Subaru’s arm that was the source of the sensation.
Subaru: [――. Um, Utakata-san? Is something happening with my right hand?]
Utakata: [Suu’s right hand? Oh yeah, it was cool! It went all like guju guju and bwahhh.]
Subaru: [Guju guju and bwahhh!?]
Only getting bad feelings from those onomatopoeias, Subaru widened his eyes in surprise.
Repeatedly taking deep breaths, he settled his heart down, before readying himself for his next course of action. First, he turned his neck towards his left hand. Three of his fingers were broken. They hurt, but he felt relief from that.
Then slowly, he moved his gaze towards his right hand and――,
Subaru: [… What the heck is this.]
For a moment he questioned what he was looking at. That was how unnatural the circumstances were.
Originally, Subaru’s right arm was covered in an unnerving, mottled, black pattern. That was an outcome of the fight with the Sin Archbishop of Lust, at the Watergate City of Priestella.
The Sin Archbishop of Lust Capella declared her own blood to be dragon’s blood and had dripped it on Subaru and Crusch. As a result, Crusch received an injury that could not be healed and Subaru had a black pattern etched onto his right arm, as he took in the repulsive blood that ran over her body.
Despite all of that, it did not seem to have any negative side-effects. Subaru would wear long sleeves to hide the black pattern as they showed no signs of special behaviour.
But now, that black pattern――,
Actually, this was not the time to talk about the pattern.
Subaru’s right arm, from his fingertips to wrist and wrist to elbow, the distal half of his arm was clad in black, as if he were wearing a black glove.
Swallowing his saliva, Subaru tentatively touched his black right hand with his left hand.
His left hand contacted something with a soft and flabby elasticity. On the other hand, he could barely feel his right hand being touched. It felt like he was wearing a rubber glove, so its movement was sluggish as well, and――,
Subaru: […Hang on, actually, is this?]
He felt something familiar within the weird sensation. To help that feeling take shape, Subaru strongly dug his left hand’s fingernails into the black hand. Forcing his fingers in, he made a motion like clawing it.
At which point, the black parts of his right hand peeled off like paint.
Yelping in surprise, Subaru bore his fingers into the peeled pieces. He then continued to peel off the remaining black areas with enough fervour to make others think that he was possessed. In the end, he peeled off all the black spots from his fingertips to the front half of his right arm, and out came a clean, fresh new right hand for Natsuki Subaru.
Subaru: [Oh, oh my gooooddd!?]
Witnessing the shocking event unfurling just before his very own eyes, no less on his own flesh, Subaru yelled out. Surprised by his yell, Utakata fell on her bottom.
However, Subaru had no time to spare to even give a helping hand to the fallen girl.
Subaru: [Wh, wh, wh… What’s going on with my hand! This is my hand… right?]
Still in a state of shock, Subaru opened and closed the new right hand. He also hesitantly touched his own face and prodded the ground with it.
In terms of its sense of touch and movement, there were no problems. It was completely normal.
The black pattern originally on his right arm was also gone. Subaru’s clean right hand was unmistakably the same as the one which had been tossed and knocked about during his year in another world. It was the right arm of the Lolimancer.
Subaru: [Wait, who’s calling who a Lolimancer!?]
Abel: [――I thought I heard you talking, what nonsense are you spouting?]
Confused, Subaru confirmed his right hand was in good health, and somebody came along. ――No, it was not just somebody. He knew only two people with such a haughty and arrogant way of speaking, and it was easy to distinguish between the two since they were separated by gender.
This was the voice of a man, namely――,
Subaru: [Abel, huh? Guess you lived.]
Abel: [Naturally. I am much more level-headed than you.]
Speaking with a snort, it was Abel, wearing his unchanged disguise. Subaru was becoming used to seeing it.
He had challenged the Lifeblood Ritual with Subaru, but somehow survived the battle with the Elgina. Rather, it should be said that it was thanks to him that Subaru had survived.
Because, most likely, it had been him who had brought down the Elgina.
Abel: [――Mm. You, how is your right arm? Are you done looking repulsive?]
Subaru: [Can you please stop talking like I can change the color of my right hand at will? This isn’t a Western-style video game character creation screen y’know, I don’t have that kind of freedom… The black part came off cleanly when I picked at it. Right, Utakata?]
Utakata: [Yep. Suu’s right hand peeled off dry and crumbly! Gross!]
Subaru: [I get it but geez!]
His cheeks stiffened from Utakata’s straightforward reaction, Subaru stuck out his right hand to Abel. Abel scrutinized it and muttered, “I see”.
Abel: [In any event, I do not care if it is returned to its previous state. I certainly had not expected a strike using the entirety of the magical sealing stone ring. Everything below the wrist was gone, and I believed you to be beyond saving.]
Subaru: [Wait wait wait, are you trying to scare me? Everything below who’s wrist was gone?]
Abel answered with his arms crossed, and Utakata cheerfully thrust his right hand into the air.
Subaru shuddered at their answer, and stared at his lovely right hand. Not only had it been blown off, his right hand was now in brand new condition.
Subaru: [Th-there you go again, saying that sort of thing. If it was gone, then what’s with this right hand?]
Abel: [It was a disgusting and curious phenomenon. Your arm was gone, and on the verge of death I had you speak your last words. I thought you were a dying man but… from your hand, black sludge flooded out.]
Abel: [In the blink of an eye it took shape, and formed a black arm. If you wish to ask me what happened, I would have to inquiry you back about the meaning of what you were doing to yourself.]
Pierced by his sharp look, Subaru’s breath caught in his throat.
His eyes returned to his right hand immediately, but no matter what Abel said, even Subaru did not understand what had happened to cause this result. However, the black pattern that had been engraved on his arm for some time――its disappearance was not unrelated, that much was certain.
Perhaps it was really the effect of the dragon blood at work but――,
Subaru: [Still, it becomes a question of why it wasn’t triggered up until now…]
That being said, close to three months had passed since the incident where Subaru had been showered in dragon’s blood.
Afterwards, during the journey through the Augria Sand Dunes and in the midst of the deadly struggle at the Pleiades Watchtower, Subaru had walked the line between life and death more times than ever before, and in the end entered the Empire.
During that time, numerous literally deadly situations came about, however, nothing conveniently happened to heal his wounds.
So why here, why now――,
Subaru: […There’s no point thinking about what I don’t understand. Besides, except for my right hand, my wounds haven’t healed at all.]
Subaru grumbled, as he checked his whole body. The broken fingers of his left hand, the wound on his back by his scapula, the strange burns overlapping on the nape of his neck, the numerous other bruises as well, none had healed.
Honestly, since only his right hand had been healed, it raised the possibility that, much to his misfortune, it had only been healed because of the black markings.
Subaru: [And what was on my right hand is gone too, so it probably won’t heal again… If you asked me to blow off my hand once more to test it, I couldn’t do it.]
Abel: [Ultimately, you are saying it is a situation you cannot speak of. You have a considerable amount of secrets it seems.]
Subaru: [I don’t want to be told that by a guy who hides his face…]
Subaru answered while making a bitter expression, and exhaled with an “ah”.
He had been leisurely thinking about the strangeness of his right hand, and checking on Abel’s safety, but he remembered there was something he had to prioritize over that.
He had participated in the Lifeblood Ritual, and if the end of the ritual had proceeded without him dying, that meant time had kept on flowing even while Subaru was unconscious.
That is to say, a number of hours had passed since then――,
Subaru: [――Rem. That’s right, Rem! I can’t sit here like this, I need to…]
His goal from the start was to bring back Rem, whom he had left behind.
For that reason he had challenged the Lifeblood Ritual, but if too much time had passed for her to be rescued, the meaning of risking his life in battle would be lost just like that.
Utakata: [Ah! Suu, don’t be silly! You’ll die!]
Subaru: [Fuck that! Even if I don’t die, if Rem dies there’s no――Gghh]
Compelled by the anxiety in his heart, Subaru shifted his posture to get out of the bed.
It was at this point that Subaru noticed the apparent strangeness of the bed――He had been sleeping in a portable shrine-like box made of crossed logs seemingly taken out of a building.
From there Subaru came down with great force, groaning as pain pierced his entire body.
Subaru: [Gah, haah… hh]
Abel: [What foolishness. Did you truly think your body would recover from the verge of death simply because your right arm grew back? I told you. I witnessed you as a dying man. Do you think I erred in my judgement?]
Looking down at Subaru balled up in pain, Abel’s cold voice came down like rain.
As if to affirm Abel’s words, Subaru noticed a sensation deep within his own body, as if something was slowly but steadily oozing out.
Having experienced fatal injuries many times, Subaru knew this was a bad sign.
Like a balloon or a bucket with a hole where it should not be, with water or air or whatever else inside, it was a feeling as though what had been keeping him inflated was spilling out――,
Subaru: [But, Rem needs…]
Abel: [――. In this situation still, rather than yourself, you worry about that woman? Well, fine. I knew as much. Since that was what you desired, even at the cost of your right hand.]
Abel: [This way.]
Subaru cared more about the safety of Rem, who was not here, than about his own life.
Abel let out a sigh of exasperation at Subaru’s words, and jerked his chin. Immediately, he walked off without a second glance at Subaru. As if to say “Follow me”.
Utakata: [Suu, can you walk? Need my shoulder?]
Subaru: [Nah, I can walk… If I used your shoulder, the height difference would just make it harder.]
Seeing her expression, seeing that Utakata was worried for him, Subaru forced a smile for her sake.
And then, Subaru took a deep breath and somehow managed to stand up. Limping, he caught up with Abel walking ahead.
Abel was a little further ahead, waiting for Subaru to catch up with him.
Using rocks covered in green grass as footholds, he had a good view, looking out from near the cliff’s edge. With a great deal of effort, Subaru also clambered over the large rocks and stood next to him.
Once more, in accordance with the small jerk of his chin, Subaru raised his eyes.
Like that, his field of vision increased, from the high ground Subaru swept his eyes over the unbroken view and opened his mouth.
As in open-mouthed astonishment. Because over there――,
Black smoke rose up, the camp engulfed in flames――The Imperial Soldiers’ campground was swallowed up by the blaze.
――He could hear battle cries. They reverberated through the air along with songs of victory.
The people who were shouting war cries, or otherwise loudly singing a song Subaru had never heard of, were a group of olive-skinned female warriors. They ran freely through the battlefield, carrying bows on their back.
Due to the surprise attack by the People of Shudraq, the Imperial Army’s camp fell into a state of ruin. The Imperial Soldiers lost the ability to counterattack and could only hope to run and escape, only to get shot one after the other.
Subaru: [This, is…]
Abel: [Go on the offensive, steal their weapons, burn their medicine and pierce a hole in their command. After losing their fingers and head, all they can do is turn tail and run without a thought of how they look. ――How unsightly for so-called Sword Wolves.]
Below, the scurrying figures of the Imperial Soldiers could be seen as they were evicted by black smoke and drawn bows.
However, escaping from the Shudraqians, whose livelihood was to hunt beasts in the jungle, would be impossible. Their arrows, which could fly far and beyond, struck the fleeing soldier’s backs, piercing their hearts with deadly accuracy.
How many had managed to escape? How many had managed to survive?
Just how many people had died?
Abel: [Why do you look bewildered, Natsuki Subaru? This is what you wished. The information you brought forth helped your brethren achieve these results in battle. When do you laugh, if not now?]
Looking down at the battleground-turned campsite, Subaru felt faint. On top of that, Abel strongly pushed the reality of the situation in Subaru’s face, declaring that these were the acts Subaru wished for.
Unable to bear those words, Subaru stood up with great force and grabbed Abel by the collar.
Clutching Abel with his newly-healed right arm, he glared Abel closely in the eye.
Subaru: [I wished for this? This, this kind of scene!? Don’t be stupid…]
Abel: [――Then, did you think you could fulfill your wish without any blood being spilled?]
Against Subaru’s angry outburst however, Abel snapped back. Cut deep by his sharp tongue, Subaru could not retort.
Being questioned if he thought that he could fulfill his wish without bloodshed, Subaru could not say anything in return.
He thought he could achieve it without bloodshed. He thought it was possible.
Abel: [Let me rephrase, Natsuki Subaru. ――You thought you could realise your wish without any blood being spilled, aside from your own.]
Abel: [That thought process is moronic. A foolish and incorrigible assumption. Did you seriously think that, by spilling your blood, the warring third-party would stop? That hero mentality you strive to hold up is nothing but a ridiculous and negative quality. They are delusions of heroism.]
Abel: [You are human, Natsuki Subaru. You are neither a Hero nor a Sage. Therefore, humans like you will repeatedly bleed, die, take and be taken.]
Still having his collar clutched, Abel showered Subaru with metaphorical blows, as Subaru’s grip slowly weakened.
Hit by those words, Subaru’s jaw trembled. He half-heartedly shook his head.
That was probably true.
That was a reality he could not deny. He understood that. Even so, Subaru could not accept it.
Until now, he had not lived in this world accepting things like that.
Even after coming to another world, Natsuki Subaru’s morals were still that of a Japanese highschool student.
He could not acknowledge the tenets and commonsense of the battlefield as obvious, everyday facts.
Abel: [I do not desire to be a Hero. Nor do I cling to them, rely on them or entrust them. To shoulder various matters and advance towards a bountiful future. ――A Hero cannot do that.]
Subaru: [Wha, what… You, what do you want…]
Losing his strength, Subaru fell to his knees once again, unable to comprehend Abel.
Having challenged the Lifeblood Ritual together, he was the person Subaru had wrenched victory with. They unexpectedly matched each other’s wavelengths and Subaru thought they had had some good chemistry between them. But now, he could not understand what he was thinking.
Of course he was unable to. ――Against someone who refused to show their face, how could one come to understand the other.
Subaru: [From someone who doesn’t even show their face, what do you…]
Abel: [My face, is it? ――Then, let me show you.]
He was not even given time to finish wording his question.
Hearing Subaru’s thin, desperate retort, Abel put his hands on his face. As he undid the frayed knots on his wrapped mask with his fingers, a wind blew.
Blown by the strong winds, the mask energetically came undone, flying far away.
Flying, flying, flying past the battleground-turned encampment. Riding the outbound wind, it would travel elsewhere, anywhere, flying far and beyond――,
Abel: [We will go to the Imperial Capital. ――To the Capital where the throne I ought to be sitting in is.]
Watching the flying rags, Abel proclaimed those words of hyperbole.
Looking at that man, his face exposed, Subaru’s breath quietly hitched, unable to look away.
He saw an attractive black-haired young adult with memorable slit eyes.
He seemed to be in his early to mid twenties, an age higher than that of Subaru. His features were enchanting enough to steal your gaze. And although his hair was unkempt and his cheeks were dirtied, likely due to his time spent in the jungle and the settlement, they only served to amplify his natural beauty.
His arms and legs were long and slender. And on top of that slim body rested that face, so you could say that his existence had been made to be perfectly attractive.
Even so, his most defining characteristic lied in his black eyes.
Eyes that seemed to make anything prostrate before him. Their gaze extruding an air of overpowering supremacy and intimidation.
Feeling the full frontal assault of those eyes, Subaru, already down on his knees, became consciously aware that there was another reason that made him unable to move, besides being injured and fatigued.
He understood it. That his soul knew he must submit to the person in front of him.
The reason for his overpowering presence was because of――,
Abel: [――Vincent Abellux]
Vincent Abellux: [That is my name. At least, until I sit on my throne once again, that is my name. Though, I believe using Abel is most sensible, going forward.]
Saying that, Abel curled his lips in response to Subaru, struck with dumbfoundment.
Subaru realised too late that his smile was a terribly villainous and wild one.
Unable to understand the significance behind that name――,
Mizelda: [――Abel! Subaru!]
What woke Subaru from his stupor was a sharp voice.
Snapping his head to the voice, he saw a figure swinging their hands as they walked towards them. The figure was an amazon with red-dyed hair, the Shudraq’s leader, Mizelda.
Mizelda relaxed her belligerent face into a friendly one.
Mizelda: [The takeover of the camp is complete. The casualties on our side are minimal and… oh? Abel, it’s my first time seeing your face but, you’re quite the lady-killer aren’t ya…]
Mizelda: [Ahem… Subaru, I’m glad you’re up. Dying back then, even as brethren, it did not come to mind.]
Coughing away her momentary enchantment by Abel’s true face, she looked at Subaru with kind eyes.
Her smile was warm, directed to those living, yet at death’s doorstep. Seeing that smile, Subaru’s heart and body shrunk. Like Abel, she had come to the conclusion that Subaru did not have long to live.
Additionally, her being able to put on a happy demeanor, even while he was dying, was because their viewpoints on life and death was different.
However, her stances on life and death were not the sole reason she could stay cheerful. Her next action confirmed it for Subaru.
Mizelda: [Holly, bring them here.]
Holly: [Yeah yeah, I will~!]
When Mizelda beckoned, she received a cheerful reply in return.
Lumbering towards was the young woman with blonde hair, the one who’d effortlessly lifted a huge boulder―― Holly was her name.
She strode forward with a smile on her face, in her arms was――,
Holly: [Come on, stop being so fussy~. Poor little Kuna, she hasn’t even woken up yet after you sent her flying~]
Rem: [Like I’ll stop struggling…! Let me go! What do you want to do with me!?]
Holly: [Aww, come on, you’re not listening at all~]
Though Holly only pouted, the girl locked in her arms showed no signs of stopping her struggle.
He had been wanting to reunite with her, to hear her voice, to look at her blue hair and her lovely face, which was currently puffed up in anger. It was none other than――,
At that moment, Subaru forgot everything; the awe he felt for Abel, the pitiful condition he was in and even the sea of flames that this battlefield had been turned into. He tossed it all away and broke into a sprint.
He was painfully slow. Unable to simply leap off the boulder, he dragged his feet behind him, running barely faster than a toddler.
He dragged himself over to Holly, who had been carrying Rem and――,
Subaru: [Rem! Thank goodness you’re okay…]
Rem: [You, you were behind this? You scum!]
The moment he stretched out a hand to her, she slapped him across the face.
The sudden, sharp sound startled Holly, Mizelda and even Utakata. That slap had been strong enough to blow him off his feet.
But he did not crumble, nor did he even utter a sound of complaint.
After all, what was there to be dissatisfied about.
Rem was here. She was alive, awake, talking. That was all he wanted.
Rem: [――tch, you, you and your…]
Even though he had been slapped with quite the force, Subaru nevertheless held Rem in an embrace. He took her from Holly as if he were snatching her away into his chest, much to her initial surprise, but immediately after her face reddened with rage.
And to punch him with her back put into it, she closed her hand into a fist and――,
She stopped, seemingly having noticed how he was covered in wounds.
Relief took away the strength in his knees, so Subaru plopped down to the ground right then and there, with Rem still held in his chest. And while in his chest, Rem looked―― and was left speechless by the injuries on his shoulders, at his torso, legs, left hand and many other places.
Subaru: […You were the one who broke my left hand, remember?]
Rem: [I know! But, everything other than that… You’ll die! We have to treat you right away…]
Mizelda: [It’s useless.]
Rem fretted over his wounds as Subaru gave her a weak smile. However, her request was instantly denied by Mizelda’s curt answer.
Rem’s breath caught, startled by how sharp Mizelda’s denial was.
And as she raised her face to look, Mizelda met her gaze, then shook her head slowly.
Mizelda: [His wounds are deep. Too deep. Even if we tend to them, they won’t heal. Only his will is keeping him with us here right now, but even that looks to be fading away.]
Rem: [Fading away… But why! Why now, why all of a sudden…!]
Mizelda: [――? Because he got the woman he was fighting for back. Why else?]
She tilted her head to the side, slightly puzzled, then spelled it out for her as if it were the most natural conclusion.
Hearing that, Rem’s breath caught in her throat, and Subaru, unable to even lift his head, smiled bitterly.
Subaru: [Mizelda-san, that phrasing’s kinda…]
Mizelda: [Did I misspeak? It’s a comrade’s final wish. Of course we’d do our best to comply. You’ve earned that, Subaru.]
Subaru: [Haha, much obliged…]
Half of him found Mizelda’s frank display of trust refreshing, while the other half of him found it detestable.
He knew all too well that their appearance and words held no lie; they were to be taken at face value. Thus, he made Rem shoulder everything else, including his heavy legs.
Though in the end, he made his own heavy legs even heavier――.
Rem: [Why, why why why…]
Unable to even lift his face, he silently listened to Rem’s voice.
He noticed her voice crack, and at some point, their positions had been flipped. He realized he was being lifted up by her shoulder.
Her blue eyes dart to him, watching him carefully. In them rose suspicion, distrust and sadness.
Rem: [Why, why do you have to go so far? Why, do you…]
Rem: [Why? Tell me.]
She inquired. She sought his reason. His purpose.
He recalled a memory of this, of being asked the same question once before.
What had he replied back with when she first asked him? This important person was asking this of him yet again.
But being so close to losing consciousness, he could not recall the rest of that memory.
So, he thought, he would give this girl, this girl who was on the verge of breaking into tears, the answer that was in his heart, at this moment.
He had been asked.
Subaru: [――Because, I want you to be happy.]
Subaru: [I want you to laugh, to smile… That’s all I really want. That’s all I need.]
I want you to be surrounded by your loved ones, in a place where you’re accepted. There, I want you to be happy.
I want you to smile like you always do, that smile like a blooming flower, like the stars that twinkle in a clear night sky, far far away.
I just, want you to be happy. That’s all I ask.
Rem: [――Eh? Wha… Wait! Wait…!]
Subaru’s body slowly grew limp.
His head hung low, his neck became unable to support it, and his upper body was about to tumble over. Rem immediately pulled him closer to herself with a firm grip, calling out to him as his head drooped down by her side.
There was no answer.
Mizelda: [――Dear comrades, may we bring peace to the spirit of this warrior.]
Mizelda straightened her posture, expressing respect and furthering it with a melody that began flowing out of her lips.
Following her song, Holly and Utakata, as well as the other People of Shudraq, the women who had previously been singing a song of victory, all started to sing in unison.
It was a requiem to bid farewell to a warrior, who had fought until his last breath, who had upheld his dignity to the very end――,
Rem: [Wait… That’s, but… to me, he’s…!]
Sent off by that requiem, Subaru was on the verge of relinquishing his hold on his life. Rem shook her head at his peaceful face, unable to accept it.
She did not know why. She did not understand it, either.
In the end, what he told her had not answered her doubts.
But, she knew the answer would be lost forever at this rate, so――,
Rem: [Please, don’t die in a place like this… Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die…!]
The man who had looked at her so tenderly and compassionately, despite being encased in such an unbearable, repulsive smell that she wanted to instinctively avoid. You must not lose him here, it begged and pleaded to her soul.
Like that, Rem bit her lip, longing for salvation――,
???: [Aa, uu?]
Suddenly, simultaneously with the child’s groaning voice, Rem felt a hand on her shoulder.
Turning around with tear-filled eyes, Rem saw that the golden-haired girl had placed a hand on her shoulder. Still looking as if she was zoning out, the girl stared at the unconscious Subaru.
When the girl mumbled out an, “Uauu,”
Rem: […This is…?]
Little by little, a warm sensation seeped into Rem from her shoulder, where the girl had touched her.
It was soft, a feeling that slowly tickled at the depths of her heart. Rem found it difficult to breathe, unable to hold back her tears from flowing down her cheeks.
Whatever it was that seeped into her from the girl’s palm, it was stimulating a strange sensation that laid within her.
It was swelling up, and she must not bottle it up like this. She had to set it free somewhere. Commanded by her instincts, Rem released it from her whole body.
It streamed down the girl’s palm, overflowing into Rem, like that――,
Pouring into Subaru’s body, who she had been holding, with his life in the balance.
????: [――Healing Magic, I see. Even I had not anticipated this.]
A man’s voice reached Rem’s ears, leaving her dumbfounded, unable to understand what exactly had occurred. Upon raising her head, she saw a black-haired man gazing at her through narrowed eyes, his arms folded together.
Rem was about to open her mouth to question him, and――,
????: [Close your mouth, woman. Although you are doing it subconsciously, it is a type of miracle, one that has been activated due to the conditions having been met. Should your mind wander, it will be broken off and lose its effectiveness.]
????: [Leave your doubts and anger until you have finished what lies in front of you. Do not let this opportunity go to waste.]
There was a weight to the man’s words that Rem could not deny, so she closed her mouth right as she was about to argue back at him.
And then, just as the man told her, she focused on sending the warmth into Subaru’s body, placed in her arms.
She had no idea what sort of effect the heat would bring forth. However, Subaru’s breathing, which had been growing weaker as he laid in her arms, had regained a little bit of its stability.
That alone was enough for the current Rem.
Rem: […I still don’t know what you are, for now. But,]
But, she took a pause there and then, hesitating to continue what she was about to say, and closed her eyes.
I want you to be happy. Those words she had heard did not seem like a lie.
Rem: [If you don’t stay alive, then you won’t be able to see me smile.]
She called to him, almost as if she were whispering.
――The healing light had been activated, and Natsuki Subaru’s fatal injuries were being treated.
While folding his arms, the man who gazed down at the scene ― the person who had called himself Vincent Abellux let out a sigh, as Subaru’s life was just barely sustained.
The man considered Subaru to be terribly unlucky, but also extremely lucky at the same time. He had won over the hearts of the Shudraqians while on the verge of death, regained what he had wanted to regain on top of that, and he had also narrowly escaped from his own death.
He could also theorize that Subaru could be shrewd, having calculated that he would survive if he took back that blue-haired girl ― Rem, although the chances were narrow.
Vincent: [If he were truly that clever, then he would have had the broken fingers on his left hand healed to begin with.]
Despite having his fingers broken by Rem, and leaving them without any treatment, Subaru was a man who had wished to take her back, whilst being covered in blood and mud.
If he did all of that to make his ambition come true, it had to be admitted that Subaru’s ploy was unfathomable and otherworldly. However, the brilliance of a wise man could not be felt from him, neither did he appear to be one.
Not a slightest bit, not even a glimpse of the “hero” who was mentioned in various rumors, could be seen in that man.
Vincent: [It was supposed to be an offering to a man who would have been killed in action, however… If he survives, then I suppose that is fine as it is.]
Having lost the sensation that covered his face, the man narrowed his eyes while touching his face, the wind caressing his skin for the first time in a while.
Natsuki Subaru had narrowly escaped death, and a pledge of blood had been made with the People of Shudraq. It seemed as if the group of Imperial Soldiers had not been notified of anything, but that was also within the man’s expectations.
The people on this land ― no, the majority of the people in the Empire had yet to realize it.
They had not realized the grave crisis, the unprecedented, political upheaval that had arrived to the great power known as the Sacred Empire of Vollachia.
Vincent: [Prime Minister Berstetz, you traitorous Nine Divine Generals, and you foolish Imperial Soldiers who are ignorant of the apex.]
Standing on the hill where the heat-laced wind was blowing, the man ― Abel turned around towards the Imperial Capital, which was located at the far west.
The heart of the Sacred Empire of Vollachia, the Imperial Capital Lupghana, the land that held the throne, ought to be reclaimed――,
Vincent: [――Shiver and tremble as you await my return.]
Vincent: [Since you have survived, after all… I shall have you accompany me, Natsuki Subaru. ――To take back the Vollachian Empire into these hands of mine.]