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Looking at his reflection in the crude mirror, Natsuki Subaru―― or rather, the being who used to call himself that, squinted their eyes and carefully inspected themselves over and over again.
Dark eyeshadow and carefully curled eyelashes reflected back. The texture of their skin, the greatest point of difference between men and women, was coated with white powder; his lips were painted with a vermillion color that made them look fresh.
The costume had been quite the challenge, but he had been able to disguise his physique by wearing a lot of loose clothing, despite struggling to achieve a style that matched the southern climate.
At any rate, this time he would have to act not as the daughter of a nobleman, but in a looser and casual manner―― that of a traveling entertainer. Therefore, aside from gestures, the appearance needed to be more “female” in order to fit the design.
Subaru: [I’m going to gather as much of my body to my chest and stuff it to the limit…]
He had utilized every technique he could think of, pictured the encounters he had so far in his mind.
Starting with Emilia, then Felt and the loathsome Elsa, followed by Ram and Rem, plus Beatrice and Petra, setting Meili aside. After that, Priscilla, Crusch, Anastasia, and Ferris, who he should look up to as a mentor, and then Frederica. Then there were the Witches, well-dressed only in appearance, annoyingly―― he had gathered his imagination of “beauty” from all the beautiful girls, beautiful women, and beautiful girl-like beings he had met in this other world so far.
――He must constantly imagine himself as the most beautiful version of herself.
He did not need to think about anything else beyond the vision he held.
He had made the best move he could with what he currently had on hand, and arrived at the place where he needed to be.
Subaru: [――This is me.]
His sight left the mirror, then he slowly took a deep breath and turned around.
Alone, after hours of trying to fight in solitude, he finally pushed open the door. Beyond it, he could see his friends with bated breath, waiting for the success or failure of this mission to take hold.
The women turned their attention to Subaru as he opened the door and stepped out.
There was silence, and he could feel the tense atmosphere.
His immediate anxiety refused to allow him to understand which emotion was causing the silence. Certainly, he was lacking a number of cards to play with. If he’d had that, if he’d had this, there would be no end to his regrets.
However, thinking about it, was it not about taking initiative?
One could not always go into battle in perfect condition. In any case, life was all about playing the cards one had been dealt, wasn’t it?
And it was when he found himself making excuses as if he had already lost the battle.
He heard the faint sound of air bursting and looked up.
There he saw that the true nature of this burst had been nothing of the sort. It was the sound of hands coming together. It was the sound of applause. The sound was a mixture of congratulations, admiration, and respect.
He looked at the person clapping and was about to call out in a manner unbefitting a lady, but stopped himself in time.
It was still incomplete. He gently put his hand to his throat and let the air bounce there in small puffs. Then, just as the gears clicked in his mind, he smiled,
Mizelda: [――Hk, no way, your voice? What in the world, what in the world, how in the…!?] 
Subaru: [Once I’ve decided to do something, it’s my duty to do my best. There are lives that can be saved if I don’t cut corners. If that’s the case, then there’s only one thing I have to do.]
The smile disappeared and he pointed one finger up towards the heavens.
The close thicket of trees prevented him from seeing the sun, but it was not the heavenly beings he had to show this to, only the many friends gathered here.
Look at them, from head to toe.
It didn’t matter if it was from the front, the back, the right, the left, or anywhere in between.
――He must constantly imagine himself as the most beautiful.
If he succeeded in tracing that image, succeeded in recreating the ideal, then he would have nothing to fear.
Here, with authority――,
Subaru: [――Natsumi Schwartz’s advent.]
That’s what Natsumi Schwartz heroically―― or rather, declared like a lady.
Mizelda, the woman who had stopped clapping in front of him, nodded deeply. She then lined up next to Natsumi, supporting his back with her hand,
Mizelda: [My world was too small. You were right, Subaru… No, Natsumi.]
Subaru: [You understand now, don’t you, Mizelda-san?]
Mizelda: [Ahh, it is frustrating, but I do understand now… Beauty can be made.]
Mizelda lowered the corners of her eyes and smiled gently, while Natsumi smiled back.
The People of Shudraq that were gathered there also looked at each other as they witnessed the beautiful scene. Then, applause rained down, coming as a belated blessing.
The applause continued to pour down, congratulating Natsumi on her unveiling.
???: [What is this?]
The ones who couldn’t quite get over it watched the scene with their cheeks contorted into a frown.
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Subaru: [And so, Natsumi Schwartz was born. I was a bit confused, since the different makeup tools and all, but I managed to get this much done.]
Rem: [Are you kidding me?]
After returning to the meeting place and setting up another assembly, Natsumi―― or rather, Subaru’s words were answered by Rem, her gaze gelid, her tone glaciated .
Rem’s chilly attitude did not change even after showing her the results. Subaru pointed to his face and said,
Subaru: [I need fake eyelashes after all… For the wig. I managed to borrow some black hair from the Shudraq…]
Rem: [I’m not talking about that. I think the makeup and wigs are well done. But you don’t have to talk like a woman forever.]
Subaru: [Yes, but… the state of mind is also important, isn’t it? If I’m not careful on a regular basis, I never know where I might fall apart. Besides…]
Subaru: [If I indulge in the fact that I’m a man, the goddess of beauty will turn her back on me and… Ouch ouch ouch!]
Just as Subaru was about to speak seriously, Rem pulled his ear quite hard.
He couldn’t help but get teary-eyed as he quickly moved away. Subaru decided to slip close to Mizelda, who was watching the proceedings.
Subaru: [Mizelda-anesama, I’m afraid of Rem-san…]
Mizelda: [Umm, don’t cry, Natsumi… Strangely enough, you look so cute, even though I know you’re Subaru. Taritta should learn from you.]
While her sister patted Subaru’s head, Taritta rolled her eyes at Mizelda’s ruthless comment.
However, Taritta’s face was much softer than it would normally be. That was because Subaru had rearranged the heavy make-up she usually wore, which could be called the war paint of the People of Shudraq, to make her look cuter.
The Shudraq were best known for their bravery and strength, but this time they were required to be both glamorous and dangerous, with a magical and sensuous quality that could drive men crazy.
Taritta and Kuna’s make-up was fun to apply once they decided to focus their beauty regimen in that direction.
Subaru: [You have a much younger face than I expected, Taritta-anesama. Your makeup looks great, it’s nice to show off your cuteness once in a while.]
Taritta: [Please don’t tease me! First of all, I can’t be as pretty as you…]
Subaru: [Well, your lack of confidence is also cute! Right, Mizelda-anesama?]
Mizelda: [Yes, dear.]
Mizelda’s cheeks relaxed as Subaru leaned up to her and spoke softly. Taritta flinched at the sight of the two of them, and turned over with a slight blush on her cheeks.
Her brown skin made it hard to see her cheeks redden, but the makeup on her eyes and lips gave the impression of a slight blush, so it was easy to see the adorable change in her appearance.
Rem: [When are you going to stop fooling around!?]
Rem shattered such a flowery scene with a single shout.
Subaru and Taritta shrank as if hit by a gust of wind. Rem glared at them with her pale blue eyes, then looked at Kuna at the edge of the room.
Kuna, who, like Taritta, also had her makeup done along with her hair, jerked away.
Kuna: [W-what is it, for the record, I have nothing to do with this…]
Rem: [Kuna-san, I’m counting on you. Looking at those two, I see you’re the only one who’s sane… Are you seriously going along with this plan?]
Kuna: [I know I’m the only sane one, but…]
Kuna, who had her hair in twin tails, looked at Subaru and Taritta with an unmotivated look in her eyes.
It was an unpleasant assessment, but Subaru could only wait to see what would happen. Her look told him that he was insane, and thus was different from Taritta, who was shaking in shock.
Kuna let out a small exhale at the reaction of Subaru and the others.
Kuna: [The reason why he couldn’t do the mission has disappeared, you understand that too, right, Rem? Natsumi… Subaru doesn’t have a problem. Yeah, he’s more of a woman than the Chieftain.]
Rem: [I think that’s too rude to say about Mizelda-san…]
Kuna: [I don’t think it’s a problem. What’ll be a problem are our results over there…]
And just as Kuna was nearly done answering Rem’s questions,
???: [――It appears everyone is here.]
Kuna: [Oh, speaking of the devil…]
A pompous, undeceiving tone of voice enveloped the meeting hall, and a new figure appeared.
When Kuna’s gaze turned in that direction, Rem had no choice but to turn in the same direction. Naturally, Subaru, Mizelda, and the others’ gazes were drawn there as well.
At that moment, time stopped for everyone.
――No, to be precise, time stopped for everyone aside from the figure that appeared and Subaru, who had applied makeup to them.
Subaru: [I left the fine-tuning to you, but… you’re so good at it, it’s almost disgusting.]
Abel: [It does not elate me to be praised for my makeup skills. Nevertheless, your skills are impressive. So, even a finished product may become a whole new thing, huh. It looks even better than I imagined.]
Subaru: [Kuh, my margin for victory…!]
As he said this, Subaru gently bit his pinky finger in frustration.
Of course, there was no doubting his belief that beauty could be created. Subaru was also proud to say that he had proved this with his own body, using the few cards he had in hand.
However, there was still a difference in materials.
That was why――,
Rem: [Ah, Abel-san, right?]
Abel: [Who else would it be? Do not inquire such a silly question. No, if I have changed that much, then your surprise is appropriate for reference.]
In response to Rem’s trembling words, Abel―― or rather, Bianca, the being born from makeup, a wig, and a change of costume, clutched his five thin white fingers.
His raven black hair was long and lustrous, creating a perfect harmony with his beautiful face and slit eyes. The dancer’s costume bound his waist, splitting down his legs, showing just enough skin to attract attention.
Standing there was a beautiful dancer who had recreated extreme beauty, the best joker card in hand, that was essential to this plan.
Everyone else: [――――]
Bianca’s perfection was such that even Mizelda and the others had lost their voices.
That was different from Subaru’s Natsumi, where the shock was over the magnitude of the change. This was the pure shock that was brought about by the perfection of beauty that Abel’s Bianca had in spades.
The Shudraqian jewelry, which adorned the dancer’s costume and long hair, served only as a garnish to accentuate his real beauty.
Subaru remembered the smile on Mizelda’s face when she had lent them to him.
For some reason, Subaru’s heart ached when he remembered that smile. However, out of concern for Mizelda and the others, Subaru did not have the option of cutting corners.
How could he ruin this perfection himself?
Subaru’s ego as Natsumi Schwartz would not allow for such a thing.
Subaru: [It was surprising to me that you weren’t afraid of wearing makeup…]
Abel: [What, you think it a disgrace to dress up as a woman? For the record, this is not the first time I have done this. I have undergone such things many times in my childhood.]
Subaru: [As a child?]
Abel: [Yes. Considering my position, I would state it is a good idea to possess a wide range of ways to protect oneself.]
Subaru’s lips curved at Abel’s words, not Bianca’s, a beautiful woman who crossed her arms adorably.
Perhaps his past experiences were referring to the secret feuds he’d endured as a candidate to become the next Emperor, before actually taking up the seat.
In Vollachia, where the succession to the throne was apparently much more tumultuous than in Lugunica, it was easy to imagine the possibility of assassination being employed in the battle over who became the next Emperor.
In order to survive such a harsh life, he would have sometimes had to disguise his appearance and even gender.
Abel’s willingness to make sacrifices, including his own, seemed to have been shaped by his childhood, before he won the throne of the Emperor.
That was how it had come about, and now appeared in Abel’s Bianca, now dressed as a woman.
Subaru: [Still, it’s kind of annoying that you’re aware that you’re beautiful…!]
Abel: [That is exactly what is ridiculous. How can someone be in a position where they must be capable of looking at their country from a broad perspective, and not be able to see themselves objectively? Though you seem to have subverted that objective assessment of yourself through your own skills, I have no need for those kinds of petty tricks.]
Subaru: [Guh… Hk.]
Abel: [Do you know why tigers are strong? Tigers are strong because they are strong.]
Subaru was struck by a concept that he had heard from Garfiel as well.
The theory that tigers were strong because they were tigers, became attributed to the fact that Abel was beautiful because he was Abel. It was no longer the logic of violence.
It was the same as saying that Reinhardt was strong because he was Reinhardt.
In other words, it was a blunt view of the world.
Subaru: [Well, anyway… Flora’s thinking the same thing, isn’t she!?]
Flop: [Aren’t you jumping to conclusions there, mister?!]
Behind Abel followed an astonished Flop, now disguised as Flora.
He was also dressed up, and had the type of beauty that Subaru knew would make a finished product more complete just by fully utilizing the potential of his resources. In fact, unlike Subaru and Abel, he’d had his originally long hair only slightly tweaked, so it could be said that he was the one who brought out the most charm from the materials.
In fact, Subaru was confident that if they stood side-by-side, he wouldn’t be greatly inferior. But――,
Subaru: [There is a difference in the amount of time and effort that is put in… Must be divine favoritism…!]
Flop: [I’m sorry to hear you lamenting this, but you look great mister. You’re no longer mister, you’re sir!] 
Subaru: […I’m not satisfied with a compliment like that anymore.]
Flop: [Was that a compliment? I didn’t know it was.]
Flop’s frankness hadn’t changed even though he was now Flora. Anyway, that was fine in his case. Although he would need some acting guidance to follow the plan’s directions.
In this situation however, it was Abel who would be the most important.
Subaru: [Flora and I can play instruments. Therefore, your role is…]
Abel: [Dancing, huh. I do not require being told, I have the plan in my mind. The importance of my role alike. Besides…]
Abel: [I am not as excellent at dancing as my dead sister, but I am pretty close.]
His cheeks twisted, and even his triumphant, arrogant smile was beautiful.
Abel’s confident attitude was reassuring, and at the same time, it made Subaru’s heart burn with anticipation. In fact, Abel had demonstrated his devilishness without regret as a complete Bianca.
If Abel’s self-awareness was correct, Subaru could have high hopes for the dancing as well.
Subaru: [――. Alright then. If you have that much confidence, show me how good you are. After all, you can’t take back whatever you’ve spat out.]
Abel: [Whatever I spat out, huh…? Hmmm, as in, when one is being spat down upon by the clouds, you mean? That is quite a roundabout way of saying it, but that is fine. I shall display it to you.]
Abel: [It is the least I can do, to reward you for offering this plan.]
Abel’s arrogance did not diminish, even when dressed as a woman, as if he never doubted himself.
Feeling both reassured and threatened by this, Subaru softly looked at Rem. Unfortunately, he couldn’t let her accompany him for his plan.
Subaru: [Please pray for my safety. I’ll do my best for you.]
Subaru: [It took you long enough to pray, didn’t it!]
Subaru shouted at Rem’s late reply, who looked sincerely mystified.
Louis, beside Rem, pulled her head back in tightly as she heard this. It seemed that even she could not recognize Natsumi as Subaru.
For the moment, it was a good thing that the reaction convinced him that he had gained some momentum for the mission.
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――Operation “Kumaso Takeru”.
That was the name of the operation aimed at Zikr Osman, the Womanizer, and General Second-Class of the Empire.
Inspired by a tale out of the Kojiki, the name for the operation had been Subaru’s suggestion, fortunately, no one had not raised any objections.
It was uncertain if they had respected Subaru, the one who had come up with the plan, or if no one cared about the name of the operation in the first place, but it was a good thing that there had been no trouble over it. 
At any rate, there was no point in a plan in which the element of luck inevitably came into play.
Of course, they would spare no effort to improve their chances of success, but it was difficult to accrete luck. However, it was not a bad thing to gain a favorable condition, even if it was a small one.
――Leaving the Buddheim Jungle, the group set course for Guaral.
The five members of the party were Subaru’s Natsumi, Abel’s Bianca, Flop’s Flora, Taritta, and Kuna. The rest of the People of Shudraq were led by Mizelda in a separate party, with Rem, Louis, and Medium among them.
Hiding away from the city, they would need to attack the walls of the Fortress City and act as a diversion if the need arose. However, that was only an insurance policy.
A less-than-ideal insurance policy in case the plan fails. If the plan were to fail, Subaru and the others would be in a very dangerous situation by then.
Subaru: [Personally, I think the first checkpoint’s the most important one.]
Subaru muttered this, looking up at the main gate, in which the front was glaring down at them from high above.
They were going to challenge the main gate again, which they had once forced their way through, albeit that had passed a few days ago. Naturally, after what had happened the other day, the security level at the checkpoint was higher than before.
In preparation for another invasion by rebels, special emphasis had been placed on dragon carriages, ox carts, and other vehicles that could hide people in their cargo. He could hear the shouts of merchants and travelers as their tools of the trade were mangled, their carts turned over, and their straw carefully poked with swords.
To be honest, he felt quite bad for them. However, considering the chaos that would occur in the city ahead, he thought it might be wise of them to turn back here.
Of course, there was no way he could give them that kind of advice, but――,
???: [――Next, what about you guys?]
A stern man’s rough voice struck Subaru’s eardrums as he pondered.
Upon looking up, he saw a bald-headed guard with a strong physique beckoning toward him. The man called the group forward, and Subaru hung his head reverently at the head of the group.
Subaru: [We are a troupe of traveling entertainers. We come to this city from the north.]
Guard: [Oh, traveling entertainers…]
Raising an eyebrow in curiosity, the guard also looked at the group behind Subaru.
Flora, carrying a musical instrument on her back, waved; Taritta, carrying her luggage on her back, bowed; Kuna draped a parasol over the person next to her, whose face was covered by a veil, not allowing anyone to see her expression.
The guard’s admiration for this rather atmospheric group could be sensed.
On the other hand, while maintaining an amiable smile, Subaru’s insides were tense.
He was familiar with the guard. He was the one who had been in charge of the main gate when Subaru had first met Flop and Medium when entering Guaral.
In other words, he could not have been a better choice for the first obstacle.
Guard: [But coming from the north, that must’ve been tough. It’s rumored that the Lady Incandescent’s territory’s bustling with activity over there. Flocks of flying dragons are flying around.]
Subaru: [Yes, yes, that’s true. That’s why we couldn’t stay there for too long… On the other hand, this is a city protected by such a magnificent wall, so I’m sure it’s safe, right?]
Guard: [Uhhh, that’s…]
When Subaru flirted, with a faint smile on his face, the guard’s expression grew uncomfortable.
The reason for his reaction was probably that he too was aware that the Imperial Soldiers, whose camp had been burned to the ground, had fled into the city. On top of that, the commotion caused by Subaru and his companions the other day had probably made the Imperial Soldiers in the city more alert and the atmosphere tense.
That must have been the reason for the guard’s slurred speech.
That being the case, there was no reason not to take advantage of it.
Subaru: […Are you worried about something in this city, by any chance?]
Guard: […Yeah, kinda. It’s something that’s easy to find out even if you try to hide it. As a matter of fact, the Imperial Army’s stationed in this city right now, and they’re having trouble with the tribes to the east. So…]
Subaru: [Oh dear! That must be suffocating for the people of the city.]
Guard: [That’s right.]
Apparently exasperated, the guard leaned forward at Subaru’s words.
Although it was hard to distinguish between the two when not in contact with each other, guards and soldiers basically had different positions. Guards in a city belonged to that city only. Soldiers, on the other hand, belonged to the country, in this case the Empire. Their chain of command was also fundamentally different.
The guard in front of him was also a member of this city and had a duty to protect it.
However, the current situation was that the Imperial Army had taken over the City Hall, and the guards were being ordered to do this and that. The guards had no reason to be used as a toy by the Imperial Soldiers.
Guard: [In addition, they took over the city taverns by themselves, calling it “night patrol”. And since they don’t pay well, it’s not good for business. I can’t handle it anymore.]
Subaru: [Oh dear, oh dear, how terrible! My heart goes out to you. Between you and me, I’ve had my share of rough experiences with the arrogance of the Imperial Soldiers.]
Guard: [Oh, really? A beautiful woman like you…?]
After he threw in some agreeable reactions, the guard’s response softened at once at Subaru’s deep and loud approval. Actually, the man seemed to be quite friendly, so Subaru lowered his voice slightly, then said, “Yes,” and turned his head to look away.
Seeing that meaningful gesture, the guard said, “Oh, miss?” before he became flustered.
Guard: [Are you okay? If you don’t wanna talk, don’t bother…]
Subaru: [No, I’m fine. It’s an old, old story. It’s just that before, I was forcibly captured by the Imperial Soldiers and put in a cage and treated like a slave.]
Subaru: [They sometimes did things like intentionally extend their feet to make me trip and fall, and at other times they would even threaten me with blades…]
Guard: [Tha-that’s unforgivable…!]
The guard clenched his fists in righteous indignation as Subaru tearfully recounted his past.
Seeing the man’s ears reddening in fury, Subaru muttered softly, “You’re so kind.]
Guard: [No, no, I’m not trying to be nice. Anyone’d feel the same way you do.]
Subaru: [Then, hey, Guard-sama. If you feel sorry for me, please let me in. If you do…]
Guard: [Then what?]
Subaru: [Then I’ll give a makeover to the atmosphere of this city, which the Imperial Army has made so bleak.]
His voice was quiet, but the enthusiasm in his voice was passionate.
Hearing this, the stern face of the guard flushed with surprise. His gaze turned to the troupe of traveling entertainers lined up behind Subaru.
Guard: […Ladies, what arts exactly are you gonna show us?]
Subaru: [Of course, we have traveled around the world and learned many different arts. I also like to sing, play a bit of music, and do a little magic. But…]
Subaru: [The best part of the show is the dance of the troupe’s flower, the danseuse.]
With those words, Subaru pointed to a figure standing in the center of the group, protected by a parasol. Her face was hidden by a veil, and she was the main attraction of the troupe.
The guard’s eyes widened and stiffened as he took in the gaze from behind the veil.
His throat was frozen, even though not everything was exposed.
It was natural to be blinded and unable to move.
It was a masterpiece that would have frustrated even Subaru. “Beauty can be made”, he had boldly stated, but true beauty was a creation of God.
After all, Subaru‘s beauty was nothing more than touch-up work in comparison to that.
However, even that one step was enough to sharpen his devilish beauty even more.
Subaru: [In addition to the danseuse, we’ll also sing and play music for you. We hope you will allow us to stay in Guaral.]
Guard: […Ah, aah, that’s right. I don’t see anything suspicious among your possessions…]
The guard muttered to himself as he came back to his senses after being nipped in the shoulder with a little pinch. He then put his hand on his chest and looked around at the group, breathing softly to check the beating of his heart.
And as much as possible, while consciously averting his gaze in order to not become mesmerized by that fiendish visage.
Guard: [You can come in. If you’re gonna perform somewhere, it’s better to stay away from the main gate. The main street in the middle of town’s a good place to start. The City Hall’s too crowded with soldiers to be a viable candidate.]
Subaru: [Well, that’s very kind of you… When will Guard-sama be available?]
Guard: [Oh, me? My shift ends just before dinner at dusk, and then I’ll go eat…]
Subaru: [Then please let me know where that restaurant is. I’m sure that if you bring some of your colleagues with you, we’ll be able to thank them for their hospitality towards us.]
He gently leaned in and whispered so into the guard’s ear.
When the guard raised his eyes in surprise, Subaru smiled at him and moved away. Then turning to his troupe mates, impatiently waiting at the checkpoint,
Subaru: [Okay, here we go, folks. Let’s clear the atmosphere in this city as a gift.]
With that, Subaru led the people who had stopped in their tracks and passed by the guard.
With the guard holding his ears and looking on in amazement, Subaru and the others walked proudly and unhindered through the main gate into the city.
Watching them go, the guard exhaled quietly――,
Guard: […Let’s try to finish work as soon as possible for today.]
He blurted this out.
Flop: [Well, that was a thing of beauty, sir! I’m beginning to think that maybe you have more talent as a merchant than I do!]
A few moments after passing through the main gate with his luggage, Flop a.k.a. Flora praised Subaru’s behavior at the checkpoint with a twinkle in his eye.
There was no lie in his open-hearted words, and Subaru nodded cheerfully.
Subaru: [Yes! I’m honored by your praise. But I’m not a merchant by any means. I got my own business that I need to attend to.]
Flop: [Things you need to do? Like what?]
Subaru: [Of course, it’s not about being a lady…it’s about helping the people important to me.]
Flop’s eyes widened slightly upon hearing Subaru’s words. However, he quickly relaxed his gaze and nodded, “Well, yes”.
Flop: [Then we need to make this plan work, and reassure the missus as soon as possible.]
Subaru: [And Flora, we don’t want to make Medium-san feel uneasy, do we?]
Flop: [Hahahaha! My sister would never be worried. My sister is a very tough girl, both physically and mentally. I can’t imagine her feeling down!]
Subaru agreed with Flop, who smiled cheerfully, albeit unlady-like.
Like Flop, he could not imagine Medium feeling down either. The two siblings must have helped each other through many a rough times.
That was why Subaru had a responsibility to help the two people he had gotten involved.
Subaru: [It’s getting harder and harder to mess up, isn’t it?]
???: [Wait, please wait, Subaru… No, Natsumi.]
Subaru braced himself, as he heard a weak voice from behind.
He looked over to see that it was Taritta, who was carrying the group’s luggage. She was unlike her usual self, as, after leaving the jungle, Taritta had changed her makeup.
Instead of the amazon-esque Shudraqian attire, she wore more fluttery clothing, and her image now was that of an exotic ethnic dancer.
Rather, it was less revealing than her usual attire, but as Taritta glanced around, her cheeks dyed red with embarrassment,
Taritta: [Hey, isn’t this kind of attention grabbing? There’s something weird about Kuna and I…]
Kuna: [Don’t drag me into this, please. If you’re talking about something strange, there’s no one stranger than Natsumi. What the hell was that with that checkpoint just now? You’re too good with men.]
By the side of the flustered Taritta, Kuna touched Subaru with her usual low intensity.
After those words from her, Subaru put his hand on his cheek with an “Oh my”,
Subaru: [It’s not the first time I’ve dealt with a gentleman. And don’t worry, Taritta-san. It’s not that you or Kuna stand out. It’s all of us who stand out… Because we’re beautiful.]
Flop: [Because we’re beautiful!]
Nodding profoundly, Flop and Subaru both agreed.
In response, Taritta looked incredulous as she voiced out a “Beau… tiful…”
Taritta: [I-If you’re going to use words like that, then give them to my sister…]
Flop: [What are you saying, Miss Taritta? Your charm and your sister’s are two very different things. First of all, by no means am I disregarding my admiration for Miss Mizelda when I pay my compliments to you. She’s a different case, and you two are in entirely different categories!]
In an instant, Flop took Taritta’s hand and said this with a radiant smile.
Taritta’s eyes widened at the vigor of it, and her mouth slowly opened and then closed rapidly. As the blush on her cheeks grew, Subaru put his hand over his mouth and let out a “My oh my”.
Kuna: [Give me a break. Taritta’s particularly attached to the Chieftain, and has hardly ever left the forest. That’s why she’s not very tolerant.]
Subaru: [Well, she’s smiling. But you’re calm, right?]
Kuna: [I’ve been sneaking out of the woods more often than not, and I’ve never had a great and fearsome sister… I have a younger sister who’s quite a handful.]
In the back of Kuna’s closed mind, the person was probably Holly.
They were like sisters, like best friends, like parent and child. However, Taritta’s words could not be ignored.
Around them, attention was certainly focused on the crossdressing Subaru walking down the streets past the checkpoint.
In addition to their unusual attire, the entire city was on edge as the Imperial Soldiers were on high alert. Naturally, the citizens of the city would be very suspicious of strangers.
If that was the case, then――,
Abel: [――It is an opportunity.]
Subaru: [Only for curious eyes, isn’t it?]
Under the parasol, a sharp gaze pierced Subaru’s profile from within the veil’s shadow.
Nudged to stop talking nonsense, Subaru replied with a sultry, “Yes”. However, Subaru agreed with the danseuse that this was a good opportunity.
Subaru: [Let’s follow the advice of the guards and make our debut on the main street!]
Flop: [All right, si… No, Miss Natsumi!]
Flop followed along as Subaru decided to start the performance off with a bang right on the spot.
They took off part of their costumes, exposing their shoulders, stomachs, and backs. They then stepped out, each holding an instrument in their hands, poised at the sides of the main street.
Subaru: [Come on, come by and take a look! I will now show you a song and dance that has been handed down through time and across the world, from beyond the Great Waterfall of the far East! This is from a traveling troupe that has come to the city today to perform!]
Subaru intoned a promotional line loudly, and then Flop, who had received eye contact, began to play the lyulyre, a stringed instrument held in his hand.
The light sounds combined to form music, which drew even more attention from the people who heard it.
???: [Oh, what’s going on?]
???: [They say they’re traveling entertainers! Music, music!]
???: [Wow, that’s quite a collection of beauties…]
The people walking down the street, lured in by Subaru’s words and Flop’s music, stopped or peeked out from the inside of buildings, having their attention drawn by the troupe.
Subaru and Flop were on the lead instruments, as Taritta and Kuna followed with simpler percussion instruments, such as castanets.
Subaru was grateful enough that since Flop was more skilled than expected, so he had no qualms with the music. More importantly, the odds of victory were roughly fifty percent.
Subaru: [From now on, we will sing and dance a story from a different world, far, far away! It is a story of people, dragons, demons, and strange beings that cannot be expressed in words. Please, everyone, relax and enjoy to your heart’s content!]
With a smile on his face and an excited tone of voice, the anticipation built up as Flop’s performance with Subaru reached its first climax.
Everyone was in love with their performance and the beauty of the musicians, but the real deal was right after this.
And just as the music crescendoed into its apex――,
A black-haired dancer slowly removed the thin silk she was wearing, and stepped out into the street.
Upon lifting the veil with one hand and revealing his face, the people who had been listening to the music turned their gazes towards him, as a shock feeling like a punch to the gut permeated them.
Yes, that was it. He wanted that reaction, that look, and yet, he was upset.
Subaru: [It’s so frustrating.]
As he played his instrument, Subaru expressed his inner frustration of being beaten.
Deep in his heart, he felt defeated. But it should feel good to be beaten by something of such high caliber. But that was a lie. A sense of defeat was ultimately a sense of defeat, and it was frustrating.
However, this calmness just before it all turned into a frenzy was the key to this plan
Then, to the fullest extent, they could charm the people of Guaral with this dance.
Subaru: [Now, you’re up, Bianca――!]
After glancing at Subaru with a flushed look, Abel a.k.a. Bianca slowly raised his arm.
One fluid movement, of merely raising an arm. In spite of this, his gestures had an elegance that exuded from deep within his being. It melted into the air and instantly dominated the main street.
A flowing, beautiful, and solemn dance began.
The dance that accompanied the music was something that Abel had originally mastered, but with Subaru’s own twist, was probably new to everyone.
Yet, it even dispensed a need for any sort of manipulation or petty tricks.
With Subaru’s tweaks, what had been a solid dance was now far superior.
The audience forgot to breathe as their gaze was enraptured by the beautiful dance. It was a cry of beauty that appealed to their instincts, it told them not to take their eyes off it even for a moment. To put it bluntly, this was what the eyes were meant to behold.
Abel’s dance was arrogant and pompous, confronting his audience with such thoughts.
――It said, “Look at me”.
The sight of the mesmerized and stunned crowd was frightening to Subaru, even though he had been the one to come up with the idea.
If there were a thief here, the people standing around would have their pockets openly searched and would not even notice if someone took their wallets. ――No, that assumption was not valid, since even a thief would not be able to take their eyes off Abel’s dance.
It was only one song and dance, lasting less than five minutes of time. The performers had been concentrating on not making any mistakes, but Subaru wondered if anyone would have even noticed if they had messed up. To be honest, Subaru’s true thoughts were that it would be doubtful.
Once the performance ended, Abel’s heels and toes made ground.
Seeing this posture, the audience finally realized that the dance was already over and Abel was just standing there.
Immediately, the main street was filled with applause and cheers.
Just as Subaru had hoped, just as he had aimed for, it was a resounding response.
However, unlike Flop, who was holding up his instrument and responding to the cheers, Subaru was smiling to the crowd with mixed feelings.
At any rate――,
He had no idea what to say to Abel, who smiled triumphantly at him.
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
The reputation of the troupe in the Fortress City of Guaral had been determined by the great success of their first performance.
A demonstration of sorts set on the principal avenue, but the response had been far greater than they had expected, and so the troupe’s activities after that became much easier.
Subaru: [Don’t forget that we were only brought into the spotlight because of our novelty. Our performance is just a hasty effort… Our act now is merely a passing fancy.]
Flop: [I see! In other words, we need to work on our skills steadily, don’t we, mister?]
Subaru: [Yes. That’s why we need to work tirelessly and be alert every day!]
Subaru clenched his fists firmly while Flop, who sat upright, nodded with a smile.
In contrast to his loud voice, Flop was a very good listener and responded quickly. Admirably, Subaru’s speech gained momentum thanks to Flop.
Anyway, it was not Flop that Subaru really should be talking to.
Subaru: [You two! Don’t let your guard down.]
Taritta: [Uh-oh, now we got caught in the crossfire.]
Kuna: [W-we did…?]
When Subaru pointed at them, Taritta and Kuna immediately looked displeased.
Inside the inn, the two of them had taken off the clothes they’d dressed up in, and gone back to their Shudraqian style, which appeared almost like underwear. While working as members of the troupe, they were properly dressed, but as soon as they entered the secluded inn, they looked like this.
Subaru: [You’re slacking too much.]
Taritta: [I’m not saying we’re not relaxing, but on the other hand what about her…?]
Subaru: [What do you mean? Actually, what are you even talking about? You know, I find these conversations without a clear subject pretty annoying.]
Taritta: [Natsumi, that’s what. Why you would pretend to be something you’re not, even when no one’s looking, is beyond Kuna and I. Is it really necessary?]
Subaru: [Pretending to be something I’m not…?]
Having no clue, Subaru replied questionably, and Taritta and the others were taken aback.
Naturally, “It’s a joke,” Subaru said, as he dispelled their surprise.
Subaru: [Nevertheless, I can’t accept that notion. You know why? “The devil is in the details”, as they say, and it’s the seemingly useless details that bring about the reality of the situation. That’s precisely why it’s essential to…]
Flop: [Not cut corners in places outside the public eye, is what you’re saying. Hhm hhm, as expected, mister… No, Miss Natsumi! I’m learning a lot!]
Flop was truly a student worth teaching, as that was an answer worth one hundred points.
That said, in regards to the point that he couldn’t correct himself from using “Boku” as his first person pronoun, no matter how much he tried; Kuna looked in protest at Subaru, but he passed it off with a smile.
――At that moment, Subaru and his troupe of traveling entertainers were staying at an inn in Guaral.
It had already been three days since they had begun their infiltration, and in that time, they had performed a total of ten times, receiving a more-than-adequate response.
He had not been in need of money to begin with, as he had the proceeds from the sale of the Elgina’s horn, but a good amount of money continued to come in for each show, so he thought it to be a really profitable venture.
Subaru: [I think it’s time to move on to the next phase.]
Gently placing his finger on his chin, Subaru hoped for a change in their stagnant situation.
In fact, their current situation was going so well that it was almost too good to be true. Every show was a great success, and the citizens, including the guards, displayed a lot of interest.
This was due to the perfection of Bianca’s dancing, as well as the conversational skills of Natsumi and Flora.
Bianca’s mysteriousness was also a selling point, and since she rarely appeared in public except to dance, Natsumi and the others naturally took over the role of gathering information.
Initially, the plan had been for Subaru’s Natsumi and Flop’s Flora to take over the task, since Abel a.k.a Bianca was unable to speak in a female voice.
Subaru: [Strangely enough, no one’s suspicious of Flora, right? She hasn’t even changed her voice.]
Flop: [Haha, I don’t have any special skills like Miss Natsumi. But I’ve been traveling alone with my sister for a long time. Maybe I’ve picked up some of my sister’s habits or something, and that could’ve given me this feminine-like aura.]
Subaru: [So it’s from Medium…]
Flop happily proposed his new theory, but the Medium that appeared in Subaru’s brain was beautiful in appearance, and her ever-changing facial expressions were adorable and charming. However, the theory that her presence’d had an effect on Flora’s current perfection was something that could be debated.
Abel: [――You have a lot of time to waste, do you not?]
A cold, icy voice interrupted the conversation between Subaru and the others.
It was Abel, the dancer of the troupe, who was sitting on a chair by the window without the wig on his head, that had finally decided to join the conversation.
Abel had danced in various places as the star of the show day after day, and although he attempted not to show it, a slight hint of fatigue could be seen.
Of course, he would never admit it, but spending time in Guaral placed a heavy burden on the body and mind. They were always keeping their guard up being behind enemy lines. Subaru, as Natsumi, was also constantly reminding himself to not lose his calm demeanor.
One never knew what tragedy would await them if they became discouraged behind enemy lines.
At first, this strategy had been regarded as a joke by both Rem and Mizelda.
However, Subaru had proposed the plan in a serious manner, and they had discussed it together to increase the chance for success. He was not so pessimistic as to give up and lament that the plan had failed.
Subaru: [Bianca, why don’t you get some rest? After all this time, I’ve never seen you sleep.]
Flop: [I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Miss Natsumi. It’s impossible that… huh? Huh? Now that you mention it, I don’t remember seeing Miss Bianca sleeping either.]
Flop tried to laugh at Subaru’s point, but then went serious upon noticing how that rang true. Not paying attention to Flop, Abel snorted and ignored it.
Abel’s strong sense of caution was ongoing, and he did not lower his guard with Subaru and the others.
Of course, Subaru understood that it was not easy for a man in his position to be able to open up to others.
But the fact that he could not show any signs of relaxation, even to his comrades who were undertaking this life-threatening mission alongside him, was more than a little tiring.
As usual, he would not even blink both eyes at the same time, Despite the fact nobody here would do anything were he to close both of them.
Subaru: [That way of life is tiring, isn’t it?]
Abel: [――Are you really the one telling me this?]
Abel frowned back at Subaru, the latter conveying his honest thoughts.
Hearing this, Subaru was unable to comprehend it all. It was true that Abel’s way of life was definitely suffocating, and Subaru’s was not.
Abel: [It is especially pathetic that you are not aware of it, but I forgive you. Keep doing your best.]
Subaru: [You don’t have to tell me, I’ll keep living. As for you…]
Abel: [Closing both eyes signifies surrendering the right to life and death to the other. I do not take myself lightly enough to allow that to happen, even for a moment.]
Abel: [Do not lose your sense of tension, I am sure you have touched on it before.]
With those words, the ones Subaru wished to retort with were blocked.
Subaru stared at Abel’s profile with a bitter feeling, but he was no longer being taken seriously. Abel, who had taken off his wig and jewelry, wore feminine outfits at the inn, so that he could change into Bianca as soon as something happened. That was the justification as to why he looked so good without his wig, even though he should be in an unbalanced state without it.
This was the beauty of the tense atmosphere that was the result of the “ever-present battlefield” mindset Subaru had told the others, Flop included, to maintain.
And while he was thinking about Abel’s cold profile――,
Abel: [――There is movement.]
Muttering this, Abel stood up from his chair and went to his bunk. Subaru was taken aback as he witnessed how quickly he had put on the wig that had been left there. However, the meaning of that action was made clear immediately.
Loud and uninhibited footsteps came up from downstairs, and the door to Subaru and the others’ room was violently slammed.
???: [So this is where the traveling troupe is. Open up. It’s a messenger from the City Hall.]
Subaru: [Ah, j-just a minute, sir!]
???: [Haha, don’t make me laugh, I ain’t waiting. We’re soldiers.]
A hoarse voice mocked the panicked Subaru, and the door of the room opened unceremoniously. Then, a man dressed in the red and black uniform of a soldier strolled into the room.
The man had two swords on his back, his face twisted with joy as he hid his violent impulses, one that Subaru had already seen―― Jamal.
Jamal: [Don’t be so frightened, I ain’t gonna eat you.]
Jamal snapped his teeth at Subaru, who involuntarily gasped and stiffened. With an eye patch over his right eye, he glared over the room with his left, not bothering to hide his unrefined attitude, chuckling “Heh heh”. He then looked at Taritta and the others in their underwear, who had been slow to react.
Behind him, other than Jamal, there were four other soldiers. Apparently, it was Jamal who led them, and no one dared to interrupt his rough and brutish demeanor.
With his men following behind him, Jamal nodded his head in agreement.
Jamal: [I see, we got some beautiful ladies here. When I heard those lovestruck bureaucrats talking ‘bout it, I thought they were exaggerating…]
Subaru: [Soldier-sama, what can I do for you…?]
Jamal: [――I’m talking right now, woman.]
The tension in the air made Subaru chew the inside of his mouth. Jamal suddenly grabbed Subaru’s neck with his hand.
Not with the intention of breaking it, but with a soft touch to stop him from speaking―― still, the agility of his movement and the strength of his grip made him feel just how vast the difference of their abilities was.
After all, Jamal, despite his appearance and bad attitude, was very good at what he did. Up to that point, he was probably the most skilled person Subaru had laid eyes upon in the Empire―― although scary and strong were two different things.
Jamal: [You’ve got a nice, defiant look in your eyes. I like those sharp eyes, too.]
Subaru: [Ah, I’m flattered by your compliments… Kh.]
Jamal: [I also like the fact you don’t talk too much. How ‘bout I invite you to my bedroom tonight and…]
Jamal’s face was close to Subaru’s, as he looked at him with a lascivious stare.
Even at such a close distance, he did not seem to have noticed Subaru’s true identity. That in itself was welcome, but it seemed to have tugged at his heartstrings in the opposite sense.
He had received such invitations before, but he had always been able to avoid them with a smile and a good story. But when dealing with Imperial Soldiers, it became hard to refuse.
――It was then that a strong wind blew.
Unexpectedly, a breeze more forceful passed through the room, and Subaru’s black hair flew up and tickled Jamal’s cheek. After a moment of annoyance, Jamal turned his attention to the window and saw a figure standing there.
It was the black-haired dancer who was causing a stir in Guaral, standing there, wig back on and holding his elbows in a relaxed manner. Catching the figure head-on, Jamal whistled in surprise.
It was a great show of boldness, whereas most of the people were stuck admiring her.
Jamal: [Haha, so this is the danseuse I’ve heard so much about. No wonder you could pull it off.]
After Jamal released Subaru with a breath of surprise and admiration, he quickly approached Abel. He then grabbed him and made the danseuse face him.
Even though he was unaware, he was holding the Emperor’s precious face in his grasp, giving him a crude smile.
Subaru thought that was exactly what someone had meant when saying ignorance was bliss.
Jamal: [You’re a thick-skinned woman, unlike that one. But that’s also okay.]
Abel squared his jaw and quietly stared at his opponent. While Subaru was on edge, Jamal sniffed as he engaged in the Empire’s utmost level of disrespect.
Then, Jamal turned around with his grip still on Abel’s chin and――,
Jamal: [Rejoice, traveling entertainers! I’m here to invite y’all to a feast at the City Hall. Zikr Osman, General Second-Class, who runs this city, requests your presence.]
Subaru: [Zikr Osman, the General Second-Class…!]
Jamal: [Ah, ain’t it an honor? For a traveling entertainer to be invited to join a General Second-Class of the Empire.]
――Subaru clenched his fists subconsciously, as if to say So it begins.
Jamal’s pompous words overcame the disrespectfulness of the scene and sent a shock of surprise and joy through Subaru.
Zikr Osman, General Second-Class! It seemed as though they had caught the exact fish they were trying to hook.
Jamal: [No way you traveling entertainers are gonna turn me down, right?]
Flop: [Of course not! We’d hoped to bring song and dance to the Imperial Soldiers! It was the true meaning of our trip!]
Jamal: [Good answer! I like that.]
Subaru’s hesitation was overshadowed by a more immediate answer from Flop.
Flop’s charm, which allowed him to open himself to any opponent, was on full display here against Jamal.
Jamal, feeling good about Flop’s crisp answer, quickly and roughly released Abel’s face, then staggered to the entrance of the room.
Jamal: [Get ready to go. I’m taking y’all to the City Hall.]
Subaru: [What? If you’ve invited us, we’d like to join you lat…]
Jamal: [Hahaha, don’t worry ‘bout it. We’ve been told to bring you there. This is our job, too. You can change right now. I’ll also have my men in the back carry your belongings.]
Jamal: [It’s a Generals-only banquet tonight. We lowly soldiers can only hope for more after tomorrow. So…]
With no intention of letting them go, Jamal’s vulgar gaze harassed everyone in the room
Apparently, they could not afford to ruin his good mood. Fortunately, Subaru, Abel, and Flop were all at least dressed as women.
Taritta and Kuna, who were in most danger, were clearly women, so there was no need to worry that their lack of preparation would derail the mission. That said――,
Jamal: [Take your time.]
But the humiliation of having to clean up the room while they watched them unceremoniously change their clothes and pack their bags was hard to shake off. However――,
Flop: [Got it! Come on, everyone, let’s get ready! We don’t want to keep the soldiers waiting! Let’s get this done right!]
Subaru: [Flora …]
Flop: [This is so unlike you, Miss Natsumi! Neither blood nor tears suit you.]
His boiling anger disappeared at Flop’s words, who then smiled at him.
The words which he had taken the trouble to add at the end, were taken as a dare to remind Subaru of the purpose of the Bloodless Siege.
Subaru: [――. Yes, you’re right. Here, you and Bianca prepare yourselves! Especially since Bianca is a clod who can’t do anything but dance!]
Taking advantage of Abel’s inability to speak, Subaru delivered a scathing assessment of Bianca. Abel’s gaze stabbed him, but Subaru brushed it off.
He quickly cleared up the luggage in the room, changed his clothes to go up to City Hall, and forced himself to behave as Jamal wished.
At best, he could only whistle and enjoy watching them change.
Subaru was sure the biggest shock and regret of Jamal’s life would be waiting for him at the time the operation went according to plan.
That was the reason why――,
Flop: [No! I don’t think you have to go so far as to need to shake your butt, Miss Natsumi!]
△ ▼ △ ▼ △ ▼ △
Even to the untrained eye, there was nothing in the City Hall that looked like military equipment
Since the building was used for the management of the city during peacetime, it was only natural that no military equipment was prepared here. Even so, there were currently more than three-hundred Imperial Soldiers in the city, and more than five-hundred if the guards were included, so the defensive power was sufficient.
Subaru: [We’ve succeeded in sneaking into their bosom, but…]
Inside the building, Subaru chuckled as he took a look at the map in his mind.
Operation “Kumaso Takeru” was progressing unexpectedly smoothly.
He hoped that if the beautiful traveling entertainers became the topic of conversation in the city, the General known as the Womanizer would take an interest in them―― and ultimately invite them to a banquet which would allow Subaru and the others to seize their target.
By being invited directly to the City Hall, Subaru could see an opportunity to realize their plan.
At the same time, however, another problem surfaced.
Subaru: [We’re going to have to carry out the operation tonight…]
There was no time to tell this to Mizelda and the others in the second squad.
Jamal, who had come to pick up Subaru and the others at the inn, had not allowed them to make contact with the outside world, not out of caution, but because of his perverseness.
There was no mistake that Jamal was a troublesome person, as he had bad intuition, yet compensated with good skills.
Even inside the City Hall, Subaru and his team’s activities were restricted, and since they could not take separate actions for any reason during the course of the meeting, they had yet to inform the other team of tonight’s plans.
Subaru: [We need to contact the outside world from inside the City Hall.]
There was also the possibility of failure, but if Subaru and the others’ operation succeeded, it would be necessary to disarm the other Imperial Soldiers inside the city.
Naturally, this would require a certain amount of strength, so regardless of the success or failure of Operation “Kumaso Takeru”, they needed to be in a position to cooperate with the outside world.
That was why he was undergoing a lot of trial and error.
Subaru: [I don’t know what she’s thinking, but Bianca’s unreliable…]
It sounded good to say that he was concentrating on this evening’s banquet, but ever since they had been invited to City Hall and isolated in confinement within the waiting room, Abel had been silent.
Of course, he understood that cooperation with the outside world would determine the success or failure of this plan, but he had not responded to Subaru’s advice.
Flop was also extremely supportive, and to be honest, he had been a great help, but he did not pose as an appropriate person to discuss the plan to bring down the City Hall with. First of all, Subaru did not want to do something that would cause him any more trouble.
In other words――,
Subaru: [I have to do something about it.]
Clenching his fists, Subaru fired himself up in the bathroom he was led to.
Subaru and the others had been ordered not to leave the waiting room, but as expected, they would never forbid them from going to the bathroom. Nevertheless, they could not act recklessly, as the City Hall would immediately be flooded with Imperial Soldiers if they showed any suspicious behavior.
Subaru glanced at the windows, but unfortunately could not even try to go outside, as they had been fitted with iron bars, and because the waiting room itself was located on the third floor of the building.
He did not think the soldiers were particularly wary of Subaru and the others. However, the idea of leaving them completely unguarded was out of the question. That may be the manifestation of imperialism.
In the worst case scenario, the idea of reconsidering the decision to go ahead with the operation tonight at the banquet came to Subaru’s mind.
Subaru: […Even if we could miss the banquet, we wouldn’t be able to avoid the invitation afterwards.]
They were a troupe of traveling entertainers with beautiful women.
In the first place, when it came to bringing down the so-called Womanizer, it was easy to imagine that the goal was dancing, performing arts, and the nightly fun that lay ahead.
Even if he could avoid the advances of the citizens, it would be difficult for him to refuse the advances of an Imperial Soldier, and a General at that. And there was nothing he could do if they took him to the bedroom.
After all, this was still just crossdressing, and there was no universal guide to what to do from there on out.
Subaru: [I mean, if that happens, it’s game over with a bad ending.]
So, he needed to settle things tonight at all costs.
Besides, even if by some miracle they were able to avoid tonight’s invitation, if Jamal’s words were true, there would be a banquet tomorrow that would be attended by ordinary soldiers, rather than the Generals.
Common soldiers―― that would, of course, include the one Subaru wanted to meet the least.
To be honest, when Jamal had come into the inn, Subaru thought his heart would stop.
He was relieved that he had not recognized Natsumi as Subaru, but that didn’t erase all of the danger―― there was still a chance that he could have been killed by that arrow.
Subaru: [I don’t want to call that too high a hope, do I?]
It was a difficult state of mind to be in.
He did not want to see him again, yet he also did not want him to be dead. It was complicated.
Even Subaru knew that there was evil in this world that could not be allowed to live. The Sin Archbishops were one of them, and they all stood for unforgivable sins.
So, if it were a Sin Archbishop, Subaru would be willing to let them die without hesitation. But he was not one of them; he was only the object of Subaru’s fear, not evil.
First of all, if he were to put it that way, what about Louis, one of the Sin Archbishops, who he continued to overlook without a second thought?
Subaru: [――. It’s no good. Right now, I need to focus on the plan in front of me.]
It was ridiculous to be worrying about his foundation collapsing now.
Generally speaking, it was not just his foundation. Although he was now wearing makeup, his body and mind were still in tatters everywhere.
Subaru was good at making use of what little he held in hand, and that was what made him special.
Subaru: [I can’t stay here much longer, can I?]
After a thorough search of the bathroom, he concluded that, unfortunately, there was nothing there that could be used. He needed to think about other methods of contacting the outside world.
There was also the guard waiting in front of the bathroom, the watchmen who kept them from wandering around inside the City Hall, and besides, Subaru really didn’t want to be suspicious.
They may have to rethink the plan. If the situation became more pressing, Abel might understand this viewpoint.
Subaru: [I’m sorry to keep you waiting. I’ve been a little nervous.]
Guard: [Hmm, oh, don’t worry. I just found someone to talk to.]
Subaru: [Someone to talk to?]
As Subaru quietly walked out of the bathroom, the soldier on guard duty who had been waiting for him responded. He seemed to be talking to someone who was passing by, who, with a twitch of their chin, looked over and said――,
???: [――Oh, so you’re the dancer invited as this evening’s entertainment.]
――Subaru’s heart froze as he saw a face there that he definitely did not want to see.
Subaru: [Ah, ku…]
???: [Hm? What’s the matter? You look so startled. Oh, come on, I’m not going to eat you.]
Seeing Subaru’s throat tremble, the other person laughed and cracked a joke.
It was a quip that he had heard from Jamal at the inn only a short time ago. But unlike Jamal, who had delivered it because of his dirty mind, he couldn’t brush it off this time.
He wanted to ask if he really did not want to eat him.
Guard: [What, did you do something, Todd?]
Todd: [Me? Don’t be ridiculous, there’s nothing I can do. My wounds are so severe that I’ve been bedridden for quite a bit. I’m barely able to walk around.]
Guard: [That’s true, too. So it’s like she hated your face physiologically?]
Todd: [That’s rather hurtful…]
The man scratching his head and having a friendly conversation with the soldier on guard―― Todd.
The object of fear that made Natsuki Subaru most wary, and the one that made him question the morality of killing those outside of the Sin Archbishops. That was the nightmare personified that was chatting in front of him.
He needed to say something; Subaru thought, his brain revolving at high speed.
Silence was not good. He must not give even a hint of suspicion. Todd would find out and use it as an excuse to attack.
He did not need evidence or proof. If he had a suspicion, he would try to crush it.
Todd: [Hey, seriously, what’s wrong with you? Wait, have we already…]
Subaru: [Ah, I’m sorry… it’s just that…]
Todd: [It’s just that?]
The same words were repeated quietly, but his heart felt like it was going to flip over.
He wanted to end the conversation by saying he just didn’t feel well. But just before he said it, he wondered if it was really okay.
Illness was a common excuse, but it would be a lie. He felt like Todd could see through a lie.
If Subaru tried to use his knowledge gained from Return by Death, Todd would understand his intentions and thrust a knife into him. Lies would be found out. Definitely.
Lies must be avoided.
He was not just feeling bad, Subaru was having a hard time breathing right now――,
Subaru: [I’m a little, well, scared…]
Todd: [Scared? Of me?]
Subaru: [Not just you. I hate to say this, but… I was brought here a little too forcefully.]
He averted his gaze, and tried not to look Todd in the eye.
Each and every movement caused doubt to swirl in Subaru’s mind, as he tried to ascertain if he had succeeded or failed. He felt like if he were to be looked in the eye, his lie would be found. He felt like if he lied, they would see through him.
He was not lying. He was definitely afraid of Todd. There was no twisting that fact.
Hearing Subaru’s desperate answer, Todd closed one eye.
Todd: [When she says they were forced to be brought here, who was it that took them?]
Guard: [Uh, I thought it was Soldier First-Class Aurélie.]
Todd: [Oh, Jamal. That makes sense, then. Well, sorry if he scared you.]
Todd, who was convinced by the exchange with the guard, said so and apologized to Subaru.
When Subaru peeled his eyes away at his unexpected attitude, Todd scratched his cheek with his fingers.
Todd: [I wouldn’t say he’s a bad… guy. Jamal’s got a bad mouth and personality, and he’s not very smart. But he’s not a bad guy. He’s just being himself.]
Subaru: [Ha, ha…]
Todd: [If you could, would you please be open-minded and forgive him? It looks like he’s going to be my brother-in-law. His angelic sister, who looks nothing like him at all, is my fiancée.]
Subaru was puzzled by Todd’s words that came with a wry smile.
From the looks of it, Todd did not seem to be distrustful of Subaru’s words or actions. Rather, he seemed to be sympathetic and concerned about Subaru’s involvement with Jamal.
Here, Subaru was unable to hide his astonishment at the skill he had mastered for the art of crossdressing and the fact that he had been saved by Jamal, who was usually crude and problematic.
His days of pursuing beauty, having thought they were for nothing, had not been in vain.
Even the sexual harassment he had received from Jamal proved itself useful.
???: [――Oh! Hey, Todd, what the hell are you doing out here!]
While Subaru was thinking about it, a shout of anger echoed through the corridor.
It was Jamal, raising his voice and making rough footsteps. Upon noticing Jamal’s approach, Todd put his hand on his forehead.
Todd: [Oops. You found me…]
Jamal: [I didn’t find you! The guy with a hole in his stomach should rest! You thought you can’t trust what you don’t see with your eyes, didn’t you?]
Todd: [No, no, no, I trust you. I trust you. You’re surprisingly diligent and you do your job well. But even if they work diligently, screw-ups are always gonna be screw-ups, right?]
Jamal: [That’s what I mean when I say you only trust your eyes…!]
Jamal clicked his tongue at Todd’s reply, who raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders.
But when Jamal, who was approaching with a snort, noticed Subaru beside Todd, his expression changed from anger to a smile.
Jamal: [Oh, you’re that sideshow girl, aren’t you? You’re the one I like the most out of all of them. Hey, if you don’t get invited tonight…]
Todd: [Ah, yes, yes, enough enough.]
Jamal, with a fond look in his eyes, reached out and tried to grab Subaru’s shoulder. However, of all people, it was Todd who stopped Jamal’s hand.
Todd grabbed Jamal’s wrist and gave him another “Enough” as his cheeks contorted.
Todd: [You’re scaring her with your attitude. This girl who I’d never met before got scared all of a sudden, and that stung.]
Jamal: [I didn’t do anything at all. I don’t know why you’re interrupting me in the first place… No way, you… with that woman…!?]
Todd: [Don’t joke about it, Jamal. Your sister’s the only one for me. You know that, right?]
Jamal: [It’s complicated for a brother to be told that his sister is someone’s only love…]
Jamal muttered with a venomous look on his face, as he shook off Todd’s hand.
He then glanced at Subaru, but the way his cheeks were drawn together seemed to dissuade him from messing with him any further.
Surprisingly, Jamal also had some sense. Or perhaps he had the heart to be hurt by being scared by someone he thought was a little too nice.
Todd: [Anyhow, let’s get going. We’re not going to be able to attend today’s banquet anyway.]
Jamal: [That said, I’m getting tired of trying to close the holes in the city’s defences.]
Todd: [It won’t be boring. It’s a guarantee, a guarantee. ―― That’s where the enemy will come from, absolutely.]
With a chuckle, Todd’s sharp words scratched Subaru’s chest.
He praised his choice in his heart, thinking that the idea of using a secret path had been seen through. Then, after praising himself――,
Todd: [By the way, what’s your name?]
Subaru was not sure if Todd had seen his distraction.
The feint-like question made Subaru seriously think that he was going to lose consciousness.
He had been asked for his name. Why, why, why, the questions raged.
Wouldn’t he at least ask his name? ――No, Todd wouldn’t ask. That was why Rem had been wary of Todd from the beginning. Because of his bad relationship with him, Subaru had not exchanged names with him this time. Should he give his name, or not, what should he do?
Todd: [Please, just tell me.]
The request was repeated, and Subaru gasped.
Resigned to not being able to pull off an answer, he smiled as nonchalantly as possible and reluctantly said his name.
Subaru: [――Natsumi Schwartz, that’s my name.]
So he voiced his name.
He could not think of any other choice but to do this. He hoped and prayed that it was the right answer, and waited for the other person’s response.
When he heard the reply, Todd nodded his head, stroking his chin with an “Hmm”,
Todd: [You heard her, Jamal. Aren’t you happy you got her name now?]
Jamal: [Shut up! I’m getting the fuck outta here!]
Todd: [Okay, okay… Oh, can I follow you outside too?]
Jamal: [You’re a really untrustworthy guy… Do what you want!]
Todd followed, shrugging his shoulders upon perceiving Jamal’s angry voice, the latter barking with a red face.
With that, the two men disappeared from Subaru’s sight, never once looking back. They turned a corner in the hallway and disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind.
Guard: [Hey, are you okay? You’re looking really pale.]
Subaru exhaled as he looked away, wondering if he would ever come back. The only remaining soldier on guard was concerned about Subaru, as he saw how exasperated he was.
There was no time left for Subaru to respond.
However, he managed to make amends with the soldier on lookout duty, and accompanied him back to the waiting room to join Flop and the others, who were standing by inside.
Flop: [It took you long enough, Miss Natsumi…! Are you okay? You look really pale.]
Subaru: [I’ve already heard that… For the moment, the storm has passed. But the problem remains.]
Back in the waiting room, seeing the worried look on Flop’s face, he finally had time to worry about his heartbeat and his breathing.
Slowly, Subaru calmed himself down by taking deep breaths to correct his rough physiological reactions.
Yes, he had escaped the storm he had suddenly encountered. Probably.
They could not let their guard down until the very end, but for now, the tempest should be over.
However, they still had not overcome the big obstacle that was their initial problem.
Subaru: [We have to find a way to contact the outside world. If we go on like this, even if our plan succeeds…]
Taritta: [Ah, then don’t worry, Natsumi. Kuna and I left a signal that my sister will understand.]
Subaru’s eyes widened as he was told that the problem he had been facing had been solved just like that.
Taritta looked apologetic for his reaction, while Kuna seemed unconcerned. His gaze, directed towards them, was asking what was going on wordlessly.
Taritta: [Well… Natsumi will be the bait, and I will signal the others, so get your job done. That’s what Bianca said.]
Subaru: [Wha, wha, wha…?]
Subaru’s eyes widened and he looked at Abel in the corner of the room.
Then, noticing his leer, Abel narrowed his eyes, shook his head loosely, and declared――
Abel: [Rather than telling you and having you move unnaturally, I used you as a natural decoy. Fortunately, you seem to have performed your task reasonably well. I shall praise you for that.]
Subaru: [Shut up! Do you know what I’ve had to deal with…!?]
Flop: [Oh, calm down, Miss Natsumi! You’re ruining your pretty face!]
Subaru: [Shut up!]
He was about to get mad at Abel’s attitude, but Flop stopped him from behind.
He really wanted to punch that arrogant demonic face, but Subaru had no choice but to remain calm. As this strategy would not be possible without that face.
It was unbelievably terrible that he would use his own face as a hostage.
Subaru: [You, I’m definitely going to hit you when it’s over…!]
Abel: [If you have so much time to think about what you shall do after its terminus, then I am sure you shall be able to perform without fault.]
Subaru: [Flora! We’re going to rehearse until it’s time!]
Flop: [Okay, okay, okay.]
Subaru gritted his teeth in anger, as if saying “you are the very epitome of always having a comeback for everything I say.”
Whatever the case, if they had made contact with the outside world, all they had to do was wait for the time in question.
At most, yes, at most――,
Subaru: [――It’ll be awful if the plan doesn’t work.]
He muttered in defeat, but Subaru had been convinced over the course of the past few days that it would definitely work.
It was really frustrating, because it seemed as though there was nothing that would not fall in love with this arrogant danseuse, except perhaps a Sin Archbishop.
 – Mizelda’s reaction here is because of how much Subaru’s voice and speech mannerisms have changed. Keep in mind that, for most of the time from now on, Subaru is using feminine and polite speech.
 – Flop switches his honorific for Subaru temporarily, using “旦那さん” (danna-san, localized as “sir”) instead of “旦那くん” (danna-kun, localized as “mister”).