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――The fortress city of Guaral.
That was the name of the first civilized town in the Empire that Subaru’s party had reached.
Because they had constantly been sleeping under the stars at the Imperial Soldiers’ encampment and the Shudraqian village until now, catching sight of civilization was especially exciting.
That said, it was not as though they could just let go and enjoy the wonders of civilization.
The reason being――,
Before their eyes, at the entrance to the city, they saw an inspection taking place, and Subaru wet his lips with his tongue.
Guaral was surrounded on all four sides by a protective wall, and entering or exiting to the east and west was limited to one at a time by means of large gates. There were permanent inspection posts at the gates, and even from a distance the gate guards’ grim faces as they kept a stern, watchful eye, could be confirmed.
Kuna: [They’ll be able to tell we’re Shudraquian with one look. So we can’t come with you friends, but as long as you’re not carrying anything shady you’ll be fine.]
Holly: [It’ll work out if you’re not timid and walk in boldly~. Take care of Rem and Louis-chan okay~?]
Before they arrived at the city, those were the parting words of Kuna and Holly.
Both had advised him not to get more worked up than necessary, but to forget his nervousness and anxiety so easily was a suggestion impossible to follow.
Since, at any rate, in the Empire they were foreigners with unknown affiliations and no identification either.
Subaru: [Anyways, even a foreigner with no common sense like me can tell Lugunican people aren’t welcome to wander around in Vollachia these days.]
It seemed that if he foolishly revealed his true identity, he would without a doubt incur the displeasure of the gate guards.
It was not just that they could literally be turned away at the gate, to be inadvertently arrested or something of the sort would be a terrible event if it came to pass. He had already gone through that back at the Imperial encampment.
――Subaru absolutely could not permit an end such as that, where many would burn as a result of his own mishaps, to occur again.
??? […People around you are going to get suspicious if you look too grim.]
Subaru had furrowed his brows, in reflection of how torn he was within; upon hearing her voice, his eyes widened in surprise.
The voice had come from his back―― And had belonged to Rem, who was riding along in the wooden backpack.
Because of the way the pack was structured, Rem should not be able to see Subaru’s face since their backs were up against each other.
Subaru: [And yet, how did you know I was wrinkling my brows?]
Rem: [Even if I can’t see it, I can hear your breathing. Your heartbeat too, since our backs are touching, although it is through the backpack… I can feel the tension from here.]
Subaru: [Oof… Sorry ‘bout that. For my wrinkled brow, and for my loud heartbeat too.]
Rem: [Yes. Allow me some quiet, please.]
Subaru: [By that, you mean “calm down”, not “stop breathing” right?]
In response to Subaru seeking confirmation just in case, Rem remained silent, sighing.
Rem’s long sigh felt like it was somewhere between being fed up with Subaru and being apathetic towards him. Since it was not born out of clear disgust or hostility, Subaru was a tiny bit relieved.
If one were to tell him his aspirations were low, there would be nothing he could reply back with.
Louis: [Ooh, ooh?]
Subaru: […I get it, so hurry up. You’re also one cause of my worries y’know!]
Pulling vigorously on Subaru’s sleeve and pointing at the line was the long-haired Louis.
The Witchbeast’s horn which Kuna had bequeathed to them――Louis was shouldering it in a white bundle, currently wondering why Subaru was not lining up.
However, he could not act thoughtlessly like Louis and recklessly line up in the queue.
Subaru: [Right now, we don’t have any way to give identification or bribes to the gate guards. So, it’s impossible to approach from the front.]
Rem: [Isn’t it possible to line up and talk it out with the gate guards?]
Subaru: [Being honest and talking it out is an option, but a situation in which it fails and we can’t recover from is scary… Cause, we don’t have anyone that we can rely on right now.]
Listening to Subaru’s concerns, Rem made a small noise and went silent.
It may have been difficult to imagine for the amnesiac Rem, but for every place to place, and culture to culture, there was no overdoing cautiousness.
――Surprisingly, ten days were about to pass, since the time the trio had been blown off into the Empire from the Pleiades Watchtower.
The initial chaos had subsided quite a bit, and the heated relationship between Subaru, Rem and Louis had been shelved away for the time being. Nevertheless, it was still difficult to say that everything was looking up.
In any case, the only time when Subaru and Rem – and also Louis – were acting together and by themselves, had occurred when they were running from the Hunter and Elgina. It lasted merely a moment after they had been blown off here.
Any other time, whether at the Imperial Soldiers’ camp, the Shudraqian settlement or during the journey to Guaral, there was always someone familiar with the Empire alongside them.
They were not on friendly terms with everyone there, but at least they were not lonely.
Subaru: [But, it’s different now.]
Antagonising Todd and his crew, splitting off from Abel’s path and even separating from the People of Shudraq.
From here on out, the trio would need to traverse the untrodden lands of the Empire without any crutches. Like it or not, taking care in their decisions would be the name of the game.
Rem: [So, what shall we do? No matter how troubled or hesitant, our goal is still the same, right? There’s no way we can just pass by through this city, I reckon…]
Subaru: [Even if we call it quits here because of this inspection, they might be doing the same thing in other cities. If only this were Lugunica, they wouldn’t be on such high alert…. No.]
Subaru shook his head, taking into account the situation in the Empire.
Though they had since parted from him, Abel had conveyed to them his own situation, and how he had been ousted from his seat as Emperor. If that were true, then, currently, the Empire was in the midst of internal strife, one could say.
Though Abel had said that the matter of the Emperor’s absence was being kept from the populace, putting a lid on people’s mouths was pretty difficult, and the mood would be surreptitiously contagious.
On that, even Todd had looked like he had been holding misgivings at their dispatchment back at the encampment.
Subaru: [If that’s the case, then I guess it’s because of Abel that the inspections are so strict…? Shit, screw that guy.]
Though Abel had been of some help to them, he would rather place him as more of a negative, given the problems when you evened it all out, and mood-related ones.
Given his personality and attitude, it was easy to imagine a Nobunaga-esque reason as to why the people beneath him had rebelled. 
Subaru: [He seemed like a guy who would carry out the phrase, “The King does not understand human feelings,” for real.] 
Rem: […Are you perhaps wasting time by thinking about worthless things, instead of being worried in earnest?]
Rem’s voice hardened into ice as Subaru muttered that out while rubbing his chin.
Her tone harbored genuine anger, stretching beyond exasperation or indifference, causing Subaru to try and explain his previous remark in a hurry.
Subaru: [Nonono, wait a moment, relax. My Round Table-like comment was definitely worse than some idle chatter, but it’s not like I’m just absent-mindedly staring at the line without a plan. I do have an idea.]
Rem: [Don’t you feel embarrassed as a person, lying with such nonchalance?]
Subaru: [At least please show that you’re willing to trust me, even if it’s just a little bit! You’re being too hasty by deciding that I lied in a snap!]
Rem’s impression of him continued to decrease without ever reaching rock-bottom, and Subaru was desperate to restore her trust.
Truthfully, he did not make up lie after lie, since he did have an alternative plan to pass through the inspection process. If it were just Subaru and Rem, it would be impossible to bypass the gate guards’ check-up the proper way.
If so, it did not just have to be Subaru and Rem.
Rem: [That means…]
Subaru: [It’s time to demonstrate Natsuki Subaru’s hundred and eighth special skill ― “Relying On Other People”.] 
Subaru answered with a smile that showed his gleaming teeth, while holding a thumbs up.
For some reason, behind himself, he felt as if Rem had frowned at his response, even if he should not have been able to see her face.
Passing through the inspection, which had been packed with a unique sort of tension, they went through the towering main gate.
Like that, Subaru’s field of vision opened up. As he faced the stone-crafted cityscape that overflowed with exoticness, he thrusted both of his hands into the air out of a sense of accomplishment.
Subaru: [We passed through!]
Listening to Subaru’s zesty voice, Louis raised her hands up as well right beside him.
Subaru had some personal opinions regarding her, acting as if they were companions; but for now, the joy he felt at overcoming the first hurdle to enter the city washed those away.
Although he was immensely vexed about it, there was the truth that Louis’s existence had been useful in passing the inspection.
Subaru: [Speaking of which, this place really is completely different from Lugunica. Although there were tiny differences between the Capital and Pristella as well……]
While taking in the ambiance of the streets, in his mind Subaru compared it to the townscapes in the Kingdom of Lugunica.
To Subaru the most striking were the streets of Costuul near the new Roswaal mansion, but as expected, the variance was great when compared to a different country.
Each had their own idiosyncrasies, the Royal Capital, Costuul, and Pristella too, but they had something of a commonality in atmosphere, something characteristic of the Kingdom. That he could not sense in Guaral.
So to speak, compared to the parallel fantasy world noble-like feel of the Kingdom, the stores and houses in the streets of the Empire seemed more rustic and devoid of color. It gave an impression of valuing utility over showiness.
The entire street was unified in a sense, as they evoked a sense of power and refinement rather than splendor, and it felt like the leveled ground encouraged that impression.
Subaru: [If it were Lugunica this would be stone pavement, but here it’s kinda basic, huh?]
Considering the size of the streets and population, Guaral could be thought of as an above average city in the Empire.
On the whole, it was a pretty good measuring stick, to compare various places in the Empire.
Subaru: [Well, we don’t wanna stay too long, so I better not waste time using measuring sticks either.]
Rem: [――Um, could you let me down before long?]
Subaru: [Ah, my bad.]
Behind Subaru, strong feelings being evoked in him, Rem requested to be let down from her ride on the wooden rack, and Subaru apologized as he slowly got down on his knees on the spot.
She undid the fasten across her shoulders and got out of the carrier, and clutching her cane Rem stood on the ground.
While on the long journey, she had been carried in the wooden rack, but if they were going to walk through a street, she wanted to walk on her own two legs. There was no reason to hurry either, so there was no reason not to grant Rem’s request.
Rem: [This is…]
Using her cane, Rem turned around and finally gazed upon the same view as Subaru and Louis.
Eyebrows raised slightly, Rem’s pale blue eyes held an indistinct sense of wonder and excitement, and seeing Rem’s positive reaction Subaru’s face relaxed a little.
Subaru: [How ‘bout it, you surprised?]
Rem: [That is… Yes, I am. The queue was similar but… It’s because this is my first time seeing people like this, and a proper street too.]
Subaru: [Ah, it is, isn’t it? This is your first time in a normal human town, huh.]
As mentioned above, up until now, Rem’s experiences had been limited to exceptional places and treatment.
And as long as she remained without Memories, Rem would possess no recollection of living with anyone either. Life with Subaru, Louis, and the Shudraqians amounted to the entirety of the experience Rem had.
Rem looked deeply moved, smiling with her whole face, and Subaru closed one eye.
For now, he folded up the wooden rack Rem had gotten out of and waited for her excitement to subside.
――It was hard to say Guaral was brimming with life for a city.
The queued checkpoints, and the boorish dark colors of the streets stood out. Altogether, the place’s impression was a far cry from gorgeous. The size of the city too, appeared to be in the thousands.
And yet, that did not detract value from the excitement in Rem’s eyes it seemed.
Subaru: [So then, shall we look around a bit?]
Rem: [――. No, it’s fine. I don’t want to take up too much time.]
Subaru: [If it’s for you, I wouldn’t say it’s too much…]
Rem shook her head, and Subaru scratched his cheek as he answered.
Really, if it served as a promising sign regarding Rem’s inner feelings, sightseeing around town wouldn’t be a problem. If a pressing matter arose, he would want her to hold back, but for now the outlook was positive.
After all, it was because of Rem’s quickwittedness that they were so fortunate.
Subaru: [If it weren’t for Rem, I wouldn’t have managed successfully with Flop-san and his sister. It’s okay for you to be a little selfish, y’know.]
Rem: [… What I am saying is that it’s not good to keep them waiting. Even though you’re already relying on their kindness, are you going to incur more debt beyond that?]
Subaru: [Oh… When you put it like that, yeah, sorry…]
Turning away from the buildings, Rem’s sharp gaze pressed down on Subaru’s heart.
Behind Subaru’s group, slowly with the sound of heavy wheels, came an oxcart ―― a Falo-cart, pulled by a Brave Oxen Falo, came along.
Falos, like ground dragons and the large canine Ligers, were a type of animal used for labor.
Like ground dragons and Ligers, many pulled carts, and many were used for things like transporting cargo. Their pace was slow, and they did not have the Divine Protection of Wind Evasion like ground dragons either, and he’d heard they were generally utilized in cities.
???: [Hey hey hey, kept you waiting, huh? They took their sweet time checking the cargo. Honestly, those officials’ task is such a pain.]
Speaking with a shrug from the coachman’s seat of the falo-cart was a young man with long bangs.
A character with dazzling golden hair and a fair-skinned complexion, his slender form wrapped in wide sleeved clothing, it was the person who had assisted Subaru’s group with entering the city.
At the appearance of the young man on the falo-cart, Subaru gave a “Glad you made it”, and bowed his head.
Subaru: [I’m sorry, Flop-san. Next time I’ll get them to let you through ahead of us.]
Flop: [Nah, I don’t mind really. Things like cargo inspection are tedious work. So it’s not especially worth coming along to see, I must say.]
In response to Subaru’s words of apology, the youth in the coachman’s seat―― Flop gently shook his head.
With his flowy gesture his long bangs swayed like the mane of a lion, and Subaru felt like he could envision a sparkling effect there. He was a quirky guy, but since his responses were relatively forthright, the gap was large.
That sort of mental image before Subaru, he once again smoothed down his own bangs,
Flop: [Yeah, it’s a boring task. In the future, travelers like you should leave that sort of thing to me… Actually, I’m sure my sister can handle it.]
???: [Big bro, big bro, I can hear you though!]
Flop: [Hahaha, it’s not as if you weren’t supposed to hear what I said, dear sister. Don’t underestimate an older brother’s volume.]
Walking alongside the slowly advancing cart, was the woman whom Flop had let overhear his slightly out-of-focus response.
She was a woman of high stature with hair the same color as Flop’s, her features very much resembling his. Her shoulders and legs were exposed by a daring attire, and her voluminous hair was parted into many segments in an avant-garde style.
Even with that kind of peculiar outward appearance, the two barbarian swords attached to opposite sides of her waist were probably what stood out the most.
It was clear these were not weapons for mere show or vain threats, since their condition was that of having been well-used.
This woman was called Medium, and along with her older brother Flop, the two traveled together as the friendly O’Connell siblings.
They had made their acquaintance in the inspection line, and they had helped Subaru’s group, for whom providing identification or bribes would have been difficult, pass through inspection. So they were partners that ought to be called benefactors.
Of course, it wasn’t just out of kindness that they had cooperated with Subaru’s party. To begin with, it had been Subaru who had laid his eyes on the O’Connells with the objective of passing the inspection.
As they were without money or connections, cooperating with another party was a requirement to get through the checkpoint.
So when Subaru saw them, he thought there might be room for negotiations.
The reason he thought so was――,
Medium: [Wowie, Big bro! So, you saw through everything I was thinking!]
Flop: [Of course, naturally. You can’t win in business if you can’t predict someone’s thoughts. Our O’Connell company is viable because of my brains and your brawn, y’know!]
Medium: [That’s my bro! Though I don’t really get what you’re saying!]
Flop: [Hahahaha, it’s great that you seem to be enjoying life dear sister!」
Both their chests puffed up with pride, the O’Connell siblings laughed together uproariously. Their trade was peddling.
To be precise, Flop was responsible for the business of peddling, and Medium was the one in charge of guarding her brother and their goods while on the road and inside towns.
Well, actually, for Subaru to pass the inspection, that was the selection criteria for companions to depend on.
Subaru: [The experience of talking about this and that with Otto and Anastasia-san came in handy…]
His close friend Otto, and Anastasia, with whom he had embarked on a long journey. ――The latter was not really the person herself, but Echidna who had been acting as her, although the knowledge she showed ought to be the same as the person in question.
He had mainly received instruction from those two, and that was the seed of Subaru’s faith in merchants.
Even across national borders, if someone were a merchant, they would be willing to listen to a partner who presented benefits.
Literally ready to take a chance on a strong offensive gambit, after they’d struck out on four groups of merchants, Subaru’s party encountered the O’Connell siblings.
And then, they won over that somewhat quirky pair, and successfully earned their cooperation in crossing the checkpoint.
As the leverage for negotiation, the item that captured their interest was――,
Subaru: [By the way, is this wooden rack really enough as compensation? Though I did put effort into making it, the crudeness of its craftsmanship still makes it very obvious that it’s handmade?]
Flop: [I can’t deny that it’s very minimalistic. However, the fact it can be assembled from parts, as well as the way it’s designed and made for carrying were what piqued my interest. It’d be useful even for transporting heavy baggage, no?]
Subaru: […Well, as long as Flop-san’s fine with that.]
Feeling somewhat unassured, Subaru handed the folded wooden rack over to Medium.
After receiving it, Medium let out a “Woah~” as she checked it out, then turned around and shoved it inside the cargo bed of the falo-cart. It seemed like she had not seen much value in the rack.
In truth, even Subaru himself didn’t know what exactly Flop had seen in it.
The handover of the wooden rack made by Subaru had been the condition for the O’Connell siblings’ assistance.
After seeing Rem being carried by use of the wooden rack, Flop had felt it was a unique and fascinating creation, and promised to help break through the inspection with the object in exchange.
Honestly, as far as Subaru was concerned, who had been prepared for something like a mabeast’s horn to be brought up to the negotiation table, he could say this had been a rather unexpected proposal.
Subaru: [I was thinking about remaking it with better materials after arriving in town anyways, worst case scenario, it was possible that Rem wouldn’t want to ride on it anymore.]
Rem: [It’s true that I want to walk with my own feet whenever possible. Because if I ride on the wooden rack, your stench will come drifting along with the wind.]
While leaning on the cane, Rem dished out a jab on the matter of the witch’s scent in a low voice.
Nonetheless, enduring this whole time during their travels and only saying so after reaching their destination was considerate of her, or so Subaru told himself.
Watching this back-and-forth between Subaru and Rem, Flop shrugged his shoulders as if saying “This won’t do”. Although he displayed a completely rueful reaction, there was a reason behind that attitude.
Flop: [Try to get along better, you guys. To be husband and wife means to be each other’s support. The way you relied on each other earlier was absolutely beautiful.]
Medium: [Well, the one who took away their wooden rack was big bro though.]
Flop: [Exactly! What right do I have for saying that, silly me!]
One held his palm against his forehead, and the other holding her stomach, Flop and Medium bursted out in laughter.
Affected by the sibling’s guffaws, Subaru’s tensed face eased while taking a quick peek at Rem. Without a hint of laughter on her face, was Rem, to whom Louis was holding on to with one arm.
Directed at the girl’s profile, Subaru voiced a “Umm~” timidly.
Subaru: [You know, erm, Rem-san? Are you perhaps upset right now?]
Rem: [Huh? Why would I be upset? Do you have a clue as to why or something?]
Subaru: [Oh no, I was just wondering if it was against your wishes to play husband and wife with me, even if it’s just made up for the sake of our disguise…]
While poking his index fingers against each other, Subaru tries to tend to Rem’s mood in trepidation.
From Flop and Medium’s perspectives, the relationship between Subaru and Rem was that of husband and wife.
That had been the result of Subaru’s sudden speechlessness at the abrupt demand for an answer regarding their relationship the siblings had put out, while having a discussion for passing the inspection. ――No, it was not because of speechlessness.
They did have an answer prepared beforehand, however the credibility of that answer was doubted, so there was nothing that could be done about it.
Subaru: [To think that the story of traveling siblings was not believable enough…]
Rem: [Flop-san and Medium-san are not only under the same situation, but the two of them are also very similar in terms of appearance, that’s why. It’s an impossible feat to pull off for me, you, and this child.]
On the matter of deceiving them, as merchants living in a world filled with deception and honesty, there was no other choice but to say that Subaru was simply too inexperienced to succeed.
In the first place, the one who had seen through their lie had been Medium, who had blurted out “they look nothing alike, right big bro?” in a loud voice.
Anywho, after being defeated by those keen eyes, the spectacular story (derived from the brother-sister setting Subaru had prepared beforehand) of how they had traveled far from their hometown with the goal of throwing away a cursed ring in a far-off mountain had been rendered useless. 
The shock received from that was another reason as to why Subaru had entered a state of stupefaction when the time came to supposedly answer their question. The one that had saved him from that predicament had been Rem, who made use of her quick-wittedness and explained, “I’m his wife”.
Subaru: [So the story is that Rem and I are husband and wife, and this kid is the child of Rem’s elder sister, who left her in our care…]
Rem: [Wasn’t it you who told me I had an older sister? Although, since we’re supposed to be twins, I don’t think she’ll have such a grown kid… but I’ll turn a blind eye to that.]
Having been stroked on the head by Rem, Louis let out a tiny groan with a content look.
Louis’s harmless presence and mannerism had been one of the reasons why Flop and Medium had not become cautious around Subaru’s group, apparently.
Leaving aside Subaru and his nasty-looking eyes, there was the debilitated Rem and the vulnerable Louis. This trio did not seem like bad people who would commit crimes in the city to Flop and Medium.
Rem: [Why did you fumble your words in that situation? It’s not like you’re incapable considering how you normally chatter on and on.]
Subaru: [That feels like a complaint disguised as praise…]
Nevertheless, it was true that Subaru’s incompetence had almost caused trouble for Rem.
If it weren’t for Rem’s quick response, the three of them would most likely still be stuck outside the gate, gawking at the line helplessly.
There was a limit to how far he could get by just fooling around.
Subaru, wanting to avoid damaging his trust with Rem any further, let out a faint “Ah,” when Rem casted her eyes towards him.
Subaru: [I was surprised myself but, the moment they saw through the lie, my body tensed up like crazy. Maybe it was because I was traumatized by the campground from before.]
Subaru: [I thought that if we gave a sloppy answer, Flop and Medium might’ve changed their attitude or something. I’m ashamed to say but, that was why my train of thought suddenly stopped. My bad.]
After conveying the self-analysis of his incompetent self, Subaru lowered his head towards Rem sincerely.
A brain full of smart little tricks coupled with an articulate tongue, that was one of the few weapons Natsuki Subaru possessed. That was why, once both of those stopped working, Subaru would be reduced to nothing but a mere nuisance.
He was responsible for Rem’s well-being. ――Careless failures cannot be afforded.
Rem: [――. I understand now. I guess it is what it is.]
Subaru: […Really? Even though I messed up like that?]
Rem: [Anyone would freeze up after having experienced something unpleasant. That’s what I think, at least.]
Subaru, who had thought he was totally going to be yelled at mercilessly, was surprised by Rem’s response.
Of course, it was because Rem’s very core was kind, so he was already aware that she would spare her consideration for other people. The fact that Subaru was among those who she directed her consideration towards, however, was a surprise.
Subaru: […So you’re not mad?]
Rem: [I’m not angry. But, just discuss with me beforehand next time. Because I don’t think I’ll be able to spin up believable excuses every time.]
Subaru: [Ohh, okay, understood. You sure you aren’t mad though, right?]
Rem: [I’m not mad.]
Subaru: [For sure for sure?]
Rem: [Haven’t I been saying I wasn’t mad…!]
Out of excess worry, Subaru had fueled Rem’s anger instead.
Hugging his head from Rem’s sharp gaze, Subaru cowered and begged for forgiveness in the end.
With that interlude, Subaru’s group finally entered the stage called Guaral.
Subaru: [――I can finally relax!]
Said Subaru who threw himself onto the bed at the inn, stretching his arms and legs, enjoying the freedom.
The bed and sheets which possessed decent quality, and the ambiance of the room let off a decent sense of cleanliness; both these aspects indicated the quality of the inn was above average.
Given their situation, although it was not like they should indulge in too much luxury, this was a necessary expense to ensure safety.
Otto: [If we are to stay somewhere, I believe it is best that we eliminate the options of cheap inns and camping. Leaving people who have the power to protect themselves aside such as Emilia-sama and Garfiel, people like me or Natsuki-san would be easy pickings for those harboring ill intents.]
Such was one of the topics brought up in conversations over alcohol, which used to take place in Otto’s room.
Thinking hard about it, being that cautious was necessary, but in the case that the traveling budget wasn’t very high, safety would be something that would slip out of mind easily.
However, considering the situation that Subaru and the rest were in at the moment, it was a needed expense.
Although, speaking of which――
Subaru: [We sure spent a considerable time fighting over who gets which room…]
While saying so, Subaru rolled over on his bed, and began staring at the wall.
Beyond that wall, in the adjacent room were Rem and Louis.―― They had decided to rent an inn in Guaral and divided the rooms based on gender, but Subaru felt disappointed with the results.
Albeit a while had passed, Subaru had yet to fully shed his suspicions of her. He was still opposed to them being together outside of his personal supervision.
That said, Rem had refused his proposal for all of them to share one room. Thus at present, he had no choice but to settle in with the current state of affairs but――
???: [My oh my, mister, feeling quite sullen today aren’t we. Wonderful, simply wonderful!]
So spoke Flop as he entered the room quite belayed.
Inside, he tossed his luggage onto the bed Subaru was not mulling on, then winked at him as he caressed his own long bangs.
While Flop was indeed being Flop, he did have an actual reason to be present.
This room had been rented with the intention that Subaru and Flop occupy it, and Flop’s sister, Medium, would occupy the other room with Rem.
Subaru: [Ahhh, I’m sorry. For leaving everything to you…]
Flop: [It’s all fine and dandy. You protected yourself with wit. The saying that “Citizens of the Sacred Empire must be the strongest” does not refer exclusively to the art of war.]
Subaru: […That makes me feel a bit better, thank you.]
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, Subaru smiled at him bitterly.
Even after overcoming the checkpoint at the gates, the siblings Flop and Medium had continued to help Subaru and his friends in various other ways.
They had helped in finding an inn where they could procure safety as well, but the biggest help Subaru had received regarded the Witchbeast’s horn.
Subaru: [Who knows how we’d have been taken advantage of if we were on our own.]
The horn of the Witchbeast that Louis had carried was already no longer in their possession.
This was because, following Kuna’s, along with many others’ advice, they had liquidated the horn into currency. For some reason, Flop had come along and helped in the selling price negotiations for it.
All they could do was witness the unfolding of a fierce battle between Flop and the shop owner, like people watching a court trial in progress while being ignorant of the law.
Regardless, they had managed to convert the Witchbeast’s horn into Imperial Gold Coins.
That adequately heavy bag of coins would provide funds for Subaru’s ‘campaign’ in the Empire. It would have to cover their future traveling expenses, so they had to be careful about it.
Subaru: [I can’t afford to get swallowed whole again like before after all.]
Flop: [Hahaha! The first move should always be an attempt to be imposing. Straighten your back and stand tall, and you’ll see your opposition won’t come to make their move so easily. Your baseless confidence may just become the only truth in the meantime. Doesn’t profit only exist beyond that!]
Subaru: [Yeah, when you put it like that, it definitely sounds really convincing…]
For better or worse, Flop was full of confidence.
Subaru could imagine circumstances where his unreserved way of speaking would bring about unnecessary arguments, but seeing as he had made his way in the world to date, his way of life was evidently correct.
In fact, Subaru had been saved by those very mannerisms of his, so he was quite honestly impressed.
Flop: [That said, it was quite the long trip with the missus, correct? Would you prefer to continue that conversation of ours tomorrow?]
Subaru: [It… It’s a pretty tempting suggestion, but I’m good. We need to get to our destination as soon as possible. We can’t afford to waste even a single day.]
Tempted as he were by the softness of the bed, Subaru managed to tear himself away from it.
As Subaru got off the bed, Flop exclaimed “Truly fantastic”, with his hands thrown out,
Flop: [There are times when dragging along one’s feet for the sake of one’s loved ones, even if they are heavy as iron, is truly a necessity. For me, that’s my sister. For you, mister, it’s the missus.]
Subaru: [Don’t put it like that, it makes me feel awkward!… So, may I ask you to show us the way?]
Flop: [By all means. I was the one who proposed the idea in the first place!]
He smacked his fist on his chest as he willingly accepted.
Having received his answer, Subaru pulled his will to lie down back into him with renewed vigor, and headed off to the next room with Flop in tow.
He knocked on the door and called out to Rem.
Subaru: [Is everything good on your end, Rem?]
Rem: [Yes, everything’s fine. Medium-san and I were just having a discussion on whose bed Louis-san should sleep…]
Subaru: […I see.]
Rem: [You thought that we should put her to sleep on the floor just now, didn’t you?]
Subaru: [I didn’t say anything because you’d get mad at me…]
Considering how dangerous Louis was, he could not suggest letting her sleep on the same bed as Medium.
If he were allowed to speak his mind, Subaru would’ve opted to stay up all night to keep an eye on her, but given his current physical condition, he’d end up falling asleep within the first few hours after starting.
He had no choice but to put faith in her, seeing as she had done nothing worth being on guard for in the last ten days.
――Trusting an Archbishop would be just a stupid idea all around, though.
Subaru: [Remember that talk we had earlier? Yeah, I’m heading out for a bit with Flop-san. I’ll buy dinner on the way back, so let’s eat together.]
Rem: [I understand… Well, now that I think about it, there are lots of people around here now, so I don’t really have to rely on just you anymore.]
Subaru: [Why, of all times, did you have to say something like that now!? That just makes it harder for me to go out!]
Rem: […Why indeed. I just said whatever came to mind.]
Even though Rem had just filled him with incredible reluctance, Subaru strived to prioritize his original goal.
He waved his hand to Medium, who was playing around with Louis, letting her pull on her hair,
Subaru: [Medium-san, please look after these two for me. If she bothers you too much, just hit her with everything you got.]
Medium: [Reallyyy~? My punches hurt lots and lots, y’know?]
Subaru: [Exactly. Sometimes pain’s a great teacher.]
That said, Rem would definitely step in should something go wrong.
Vexing as it were, Louis was helping Rem gain mental stability. He was thankful for that. Were she present with no purpose, he would surely be unable to find even a shred of justification to carry her around with them.
Flop: [What a tumultuous journey it must have been, mister.]
Once he had left Rem and Louis behind at the inn and stepped out onto the streets, Flop tapped his shoulder.
Being offered consolation like that had given rise to an urge to begin spewing complaints inside Subaru, but even if he had given in to it, it would only put Flop in a difficult position.
Especially with how he was indebted to him and Medium.
He wished to not pile anything else on top of them.
Subaru: [Relying on others might be one of my hundred and eight special moves, but even that has a limit.]
Flop: [Certainly, so long as you do not put your full weight on them, relying on others is not at all a bad thing. My sister and I are traveling together, so we make up for each other’s shortcomings. Otherwise, both of us would surely have perished long before. That too is the Imperial Way.]
Subaru: [The Imperial Way…]
As Flop waved around his hands, patting his own bangs once more, Subaru thought about the words he spoke of. The Imperial Way. They lay heavy on his chest.
Perhaps, that was the source of Subaru’s intangible fear―― The difference in values of life.
In that sense, Flop’s trains of thought were easy to digest as they hit closer to home. His manner of being was definitely different from what Subaru had experienced so far in the Empire of Vollachia, however.
Flop: [Not everyone can adopt a martial way of life. What is important is to come to terms with oneself within our own outlines of life.]
Subaru: [Come to terms with oneself, huh.]
Flop: [As I said a moment ago, if we were to look at Medium and myself as individuals on their own, our numerous weaknesses would be quite apparent. However, should we come together, we can cover up each other’s flaws, and they become quite trifling. In fact, one could say my sister and I have made it alive to the present day because of this, and that’d indeed be the whole truth.]
Flop: [Always keep this in mind, mister. We, my sister and I, you and your missus, we have all won all of life’s challenges so far only because we went at them head on.―― Do I seem like a man of the Empire more now?]
His cheeks loosened, Flop waited for praise.
Subaru stared hard at him, when he was hit with an epiphany. To make up for one’s lackings with the help of others; that was no different from his own values.
He had thought there would be none in the Empire with whom his ideals would be shared.
Subaru: [Not everything’s that hopeless, huh.]
Flop: [That said, when most of the Empire’s residents speak of the Imperial Way, they do indeed refer to brute strength! My ideals are laughed at. The flapping of a chicken’s wings, they call it! My way of thinking is by no means common.]
As Subaru came to his own conclusions, Flop once more reminded him to not be too trusting.
Flop: [That’s precisely why, putting a price on that skill also holds true. Like how I’m referring you to someone.]
Subaru: [Yup, thanks a bunch.]
Nodding, Subaru reaffirmed his gratitude for Flop’s referral.
On top of Flop’s help on getting past the security check and finding them an inn, he was thankful to Flop for the reason of this outing――A meeting with a referral that could help smooth out Subaru’s group’s journey by securing them a mode of transport and an escort.
Just like how Kuna and Holly had escorted them on their way to Guaral, they required a skilled bodyguard to protect them from the dangers of the road. Otherwise the journey would be difficult.
There was a limit to how much Subaru could travel by foot while carrying Rem on his back. Ideally he’d opt to acquire an Earth Dragon, but if that proved to be a difficult task, a Brave Ox or Large Canine would do. In any case, a riding beast was necessary for transport.
And for both of those, they had to get by with their limited funds.
Subaru: [That’s why, we’ve been seriously saved because Flop has someone in mind.]
Flop: [You say someone in mind, but I just know about the bar where someone with that occupation regularly visits. Now, if you’re talking about riding beasts, then we’ve got something to talk about. ――That’s right, like a Falo Cart!]
Subaru: [You’re really pushing Falos, aren’t you?]
Flop: [I’m not kidding when I say I grew up on Falo milk, ‘cause I’m a Falo fan.]
Laughing loudly, Flop strongly recommended Falos in a passionate tone.
Subaru did not know about the circumstances of travel for those who had large amounts of cargo, but at least for Subaru’s group, who wanted to travel long distances, Falos were not a good match for them. Their speed was rather slow, and so, Falos would be their last resort.
Flop: [Anyhow, you should take any little precaution you can when on the road… Just between us, things at the Imperial Capital seem to be pretty rowdy at the moment. It’s not guaranteed that those sparks won’t spread.]
Subaru: [――The Imperial Capital is rowdy.]
Subaru’s eyebrows twitched. However, Flop did not seem to notice his reaction and crossed his arms, replying with “That’s right”.
Flop: [The Empire’s known to constantly have spots of smoldering embers somewhere all year round, but the possibility of an ember sparking and spreading is being feared right now. I didn’t want to worry your wife, so I’m telling this only to you.]
Subaru: [Thank you for the consideration… By the way, is that related to the Emperor or something in any way?]
Flop: [To the Emperor, Vincent Vollachia?]
Flop widened his eyes in surprise, as if he had heard something that one would never dream of. He then immediately shook his head saying “Nonono,”
Flop: [Something happening to his Excellency is unheard of. Besides, the Emperor has superbly managed to settle the country’s affairs so far.]
Subaru: [But you said those embers are still smoldering, didn’t you?]
Flop: [The reason they stay as embers is due to the Emperor’s prowess. The current Emperor rose to the throne about seven or eight years ago. Before then, the Empire was in a much more chaotic state.]
Flop: [The Emperor himself is taking control of the situation regarding these current quarrels. I’m sure our homeland will return to its smoldering state very soon.]
Their homeland smoldering with embers, boasted Flop.
However, something Flop had asserted caught Subaru’s ears. ――How he said, that the Emperor himself was taking direct control of the situation.
Subaru: [The Emperor is trying to do something about the Imperial Capital’s troubles?]
Flop: [His own turf… Well, I guess if something happens very close to home, even the Emperor’d start taking action. Anyone who takes advantage of the situation will be spared no quarter, that kind of statement was issued.]
Subaru: [A statement from the Emperor…]
There did not seem to be any indication of a lie from Flop’s matter-of-fact explanation.
In any case, Flop would have absolutely no reason to try and deceive Subaru on the troubles going on inside the Imperial Capital. So at the very least, he spoke what was the truth for him.
Nevertheless, that was why Subaru’s ears had gotten hung up on it.
Subaru: [If Abel really is the Emperor, then he was the one that gave out that statement…?]
――No, it was strange considering the timing.
Of course, giving out an official statement did not necessitate the Emperor themself to be present. A minister could have easily ghost written it, and deflect blame by saying “The secretary did it.” First and foremost, if he were to believe Abel’s words, the people remaining at the Emperor’s Palace were none other than the people who chased him out.
They would stomp on their respect towards the Emperor and would use his name and anything else for their under-handed tactics.
Subaru: [Abel could just be a crazy dude. I’ll keep that in mind, just in case.]
To see and believe something as presented was a sure-fire way to a quick death on the stormy oceans.
Even if this place were the ocean, that did not mean it would always be stormy. Subaru just wanted to assert his conviction that he needed at least this kind of mindset to face the Empire.
Most of all, as a person who had confronted and talked to Abel himself, there was a part of him that thought that his intensity was not something a self-proclaimed Emperor could give out but ――,
Flop: [――Mister, it’s no good to have a scowl on your face.]
Flop spoke as he circled in front of Subaru, mulling over his expression.
Pointing to his own forehead, Flop directed words at Subaru, who unconsciously stopped moving,
Flop: [Good fortune won’t come to anyone who doesn’t have the time to smile. You’re going to try and find companions for your journey now, aren’t you? Then, you need to find someone good.]
Flop: [If that’s the case, then erase those wrinkles on your brow and warm those cheeks up. That’s what we call the merits of a successful man.]
Flop rubbed his fingers in between his eyebrows and then proceeded to warm his face up with his hands.
Seeing Flop’s act, Subaru caught his breath. Next, he slowly loosened his brow and cheeks with his fingers as he was told.
Subaru: [Yeah, I forgot. The look on my face is already nasty so I should at least carry with me a light and gentle atmosphere, shouldn’t I?]
Flop: [Sorry! My ability can’t do anything about your looks!]
Subaru: [You don’t have to take it that seriously! It’s something I got from my parents so I actually don’t mind it as much as I say it!]
Flop’s lament was overdramatic, and so he responded in an overdramatic fashion as well. Maybe that was part of Flop’s concern for him and he was just trying to relax Subaru’s stiff nervousness.
Exchanging quips like that, Subaru and Flop approached the street to their destination.
What Flop pointed toward, was a hideout-like bar at the end of the alleyway.
Flop: [Were it a lot of people, you’d normally hire a bunch of guards, but since mister, the missus and the niece-y only amount to three people, it’s not like you can say you’re a large family. After all, me and my sister can’t follow you out of Guaral!]
Subaru: [But, I got the feeling Medium-san’d stick with us if we played our cards right…]
Flop: [If my sister’s taken away, I can’t cover for my weaknesses, so I guess I’ll die!]
If one were to weigh trustworthiness and security on a scale, Flop and Medium were genuinely not a bad option. However, Subaru could not burden them more than he already had.
Subaru: [Hang on, worst-case scenario, we escape the country to Lugunica with the two of them in tow. And then, we could grant them the successful merchant life that Otto couldn’t achieve. That’s also a possibility…]
Flop: [Heyyy, mister? Are you alright?]
Flop waved his hand in front of the deep-in-thought Subaru, checking on his well-being.
Subaru scratched his head, replying to Flop with a “My bad”. It was just a thought, but he felt that it was not a bad proposal.
He felt bad that Flop had gone out of his way to show him the way here but――,
Subaru: [Hey, Flop-san? Medium-san and you, there’s a favour I――]
It was at the moment he tried to say “want to ask of you two“.
――Somewhere, something faintly hard-sounding reverberated.
Flop: [――Mister, it’s no good to have a scowl on your face.]
Abruptly, his field of view shifted in a blink and Subaru’s mind went blank.
In front of Subaru, Flop was pointing at his own forehead. He was loosening the space in between his eyebrows by rubbing it with his fingers, and as if he were lecturing the frozen Subaru.
Flop: [Good fortune won’t come to anyone who doesn’t have the time to smile. You’re going to try and find companions for your journey now, aren’t you? Then, you need to find someone good.]
Flop: [If that’s the case, then erase those wrinkles on your brow and warm those cheeks up. That’s what we call the merits of a successful man.]
Continuing on, Flop started warming his cheeks up with his hands.
That action was something Subaru recognised as one he had seen before. Of course he recognised it. Because, it had occurred a sparse few minutes ago.
It was an exchange that had happened a mere few minutes ago, and the same conversation was repeating.
Subaru: [Oi, hang on, wait a second…]
Subaru was suddenly assaulted by cold sweat and covered his face with his hands.
Seeing that, Flop loudly exclaimed “Don’t hide it, relax it!”. However Subaru’s ability to reply to his words had vanished.
Looking around, he recognised the surrounding street too.
This was his first foray into this town’s streets, and he was not well-acquainted with Guaral. Yet, his memory was not as faulty as to forget the scenery he had just witnessed.
Subaru: [――Did I Return by Death?]
In an inconspicuous situation, in which he did not know what exactly had happened to him, Subaru hardened his cheeks for a completely different reason from before, with that mutter escaping his lips.
 – Read more about Nobunaga here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oda_Nobunaga
 – “The King does not understand human feelings” and “Round Table” are references to Fate/stay night.
 – “Hundred and eighth skill” is probably a reference to My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU.
 – This anecdote is most likely a reference to the Lord of the Rings saga.