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The carriage moved slowly, but not to the extent of being idyllic, down the road.
The chestnut-haired Galewind Horse, swinging its huge body with a delicacy that belied its sturdy figure, was carefully escorting the carriage carrying Subaru and the others.
Subaru: [How predictable, we’ve got Leidy, who isn’t quite lady… Given it’s Zikr-san’s beloved horse.]
Subaru recalled this as he looked at the Galewind Horse as it dashed, its master in the forefront of his mind.
Zikr’s beloved horse, which they had borrowed, was named Leidy―― a name very close in meaning to “lady”, and a surprisingly fateful one for a person dubbed the Womanizer.
In any case, thanks to Leidy’s efforts, the group’s journey to the Demon City of Chaosflame had been progressing smoothly. If things continued at this pace, they expected to arrive in about four days.
Subaru: [But it’s not just about arriving, you know. Not only the reputation of member of the Nine Divine Generals we’re going to meet, but the sound of the name “Demon City” is also scary in the first place.]
The Demon City, a city bearing the word “demon” in its name. It seemed unlikely to be a simple matter.
He’d gotten word that it was a melting pot of a diverse mix of races, but was that enough to crown the city with the words “chaos” and “demon”?
With the fact that one of the Nine Divine Generals, someone who often caused a rebellion, was in charge included, there was the impression that they were only trying to urge on Subaru’s sense of danger. ――That was one of the reasons why he had not brought Rem along.
Subaru: [I wonder what kind of chaos awaits us…]
Al: [As chaotic as it sounds, it still confuses the hell out of me. That outfit and the bro I know don’t seem to go together quite as well, and it’s starting to look like a bug.]
Subaru: [Ah? You’re still saying these things?]
Subaru, who was in the front seat of the spacious carriage, looking out the window at the back of Leidy’s nimble running figure, turned around while gently using his hand to stroke his long black hair blowing in the wind.
Raising his chin as if he were exasperated was Al, sitting at the back of the carriage.
Al was occupying a three-seater in a slouched posture. He then hooked his fingers on the chin of his helmet, making his raised head look down.
Al: [You’re definitely doing that on purpose.]
With a bitter tone, he blurted that out due to Subaru’s behavior.
Subaru shrugged his shoulders, feeling disappointed at Al’s strong rejection. Surprisingly, Al was the second person after Rem to criticize Subaru’s crossdressing.
Abel, the Shudraqs, the O’Connell siblings, and Zikr, all of them naturally indulged him once they accepted it, but Al kept harping on it.
Subaru: [The same mouth that had said they were going to support me is now complaining… So that whole mysterious conversation was a lie?]
Al: [It was no lie, and my decision to help you’s genuine bro, but that’s not the same thing as this. I’m sure you’ll be able to understand why I ain’t happy with your crossdressing, bro.]
Subaru: [If you’re on my side, you’ll have to accept me as I am in the meanwhile.]
Al: [You sure you wanna keep being called bro when in that disguise? For real?]
Once someone reiterated this to him, even Subaru would feel that it was a bit unreasonable.
Natsuki Subaru and Natsumi Schwartz―― albeit the two names may share the same body, there was a clear difference in the way they were and the way they stood.
In other words, Natsuki Subaru was his grounded self, and Natsumi Schwartz was an idealized image of his own fickle self.
Subaru: [Of course, I don’t want to be a woman. It’s about self-confidence and all that.]
Al: [I didn’t ask!]
Despite being rebuffed out loud, Subaru looked down at his body and changed his perception.
Natsumi Schwartz had now been recreated with the use of a wig and makeup, but unlike the time he was posing as a dancer, his role in the future would be more intellectual.
Therefore, the costumes and makeup had been put together to reflect that impression.
The red-colored outfit with a collar was a one-of-a-kind design based on the uniforms of the Vollachian Empire’s officers―― the one worn by Zikr had a similar design. He didn’t normally wear a cloak unless necessary as it inhibited his movement, but he was proud of the fact that this bluff was working.
Further down were pants, on his feet were tough boots, and on his head lay a military cap with a bird’s feather on it.
This was the complete picture of the Female Military Strategist, Natsumi Schwartz.
Subaru: [Well, I guess I’m more of a female soldier than a female strategist. When you think of women in military attire, you’d expect them to be dressed as men, right?]
Al: [Even when I’m literally looking at the fact, of you, bro, crossdressing as a woman, who’s crossdressed as a man, my confusion is only getting worse.]
Subaru: [I don’t want to stand out, so it’s put together in the Empire’s style. It’s a male look, so I drew a bit of inspiration from Crusch-san’s taste.]
Al: [I ain’t sure if the Duchess’ll be pleased with that expression, saying that you got a little inspiration from your previous encounters with her… Am I the only one who thinks that this is strange? What do you think about it, Emperor-san?]
Al raised his right arm in exasperation to Subaru, who explained the concept. With that, Al then turned his lifted right arm to the front, pointing at the figure in front of him.
In the middle seat of the carriage, or in other words, the position where he was endlessly sandwiched in between their conversation, was Abel, looking out the window with a grim expression.
He seemed to be pondering something with a serious look on his face. He raised his eyebrows at the imprudent name Al used, and without turning around, he coldly voiced a “Clown”.
Abel: [I do not have the recollection of allowing you to call me that. Know that one careless word can jeopardize the very existence of the Empire. If you do not, you shall lose more than just your other arm.]
Al: [Ugh, gimme a break. I’ve gotten used to it, but an inconvenience’s an inconvenience. If I lose another one, it’ll be more than just an inconvenience.]
Abel: [Then you should bear that in mind.]
Al: [Hey, heeey, the imperial way’s not even funny. It’s hard for comedians like ourselves. Right, bro?]
Subaru: [I don’t want to be asked for my agreement.]
The atmosphere was tense, with no room for jokes or light-hearted conversation, but Subaru had no intention of criticizing the Empire, like saying that it was a problem of the country’s character.
At most, as an individual, he found Abel to be difficult to get along with. The answer itself was light-hearted, so it was a complaint that he had never felt on the surface.
Of course, when it came to issues of beliefs and values, it did not stop at that.
Al: [So, what do you think of bro’s outfit, Abel-chan?]
For a moment, Abel’s brow creased at the new name.
Subaru was surprised by Al’s daredevil approach, but after a few moments of silence, Abel snorted roughly at the insolence and disregarded him.
Was it better than being called “Emperor-san”? Unsure of Abel’s thoughts on this, Subaru suppressed an inner chill with a sigh.
In the meantime, Abel looked at Subaru again to answer Al’s question,
Abel: [Yes, it is a ridiculous look, but I do not care as long as it pays off. You should separate your abilities from your hobbies.]
Subaru: [Don’t stab me in the back under the guise of backing me up. How many times do I have to tell you that it’s not a hobby, but a necessity? Do you think I dress like a woman because I like it?]
Subaru: [Don’t just say nothing!]
Because of the suggestive silence, Subaru’s suspicions were unfairly intensified.
Naturally, this was a very unpleasant understanding for Subaru. He did not want to dress as a woman at all, if it was not required.
However, if there was even the slightest possibility that it would resolve the situation, he would not exclude crossdressing as an option. That was all there was to it.
Subaru: [Everyone has a proper… argument prepared by them, listen.]
Al: [You said you were armed with an argument. Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s a cliché. The Emperor who was expelled from the throne recruits allies to regain it… In that case, it‘s only natural that there’s a position for a mysterious woman to accompany him.]
Subaru: [Yeah, that’s right. Like a strategist or a mage. And usually in those stories they have that sort of position be the heroine… I’m not the heroine!]
Al: [Don’t get mad even though you said it yourself. You’d surprise everyone, not to mention me.]
Subaru was indignant, but his intentions were not understood by anyone other than his fellow countryman Al.
In the first place, there were many phrases that would not be understood even in their homeland. Al’s knowledge was quite close to Subaru’s, as evidenced by the fact that he could even employ it.
Subaru: […I never asked about which time period he came from, or anything in depth.]
So far, even though Subaru had shared the information that he and Al were from the same place, they had never talked about which period they had arrived from.
Al had once told Subaru that he had been summoned to this other world nearly twenty years ago.
Furthermore, his experience had been so terrible, that he had even lost one of his arms.
Though the confession itself had been done without a care, the reality of it was not so frivolous.
The anguish and despair that Al had endured must have been a constant part of his everyday life. Al was a man who had been tormented by the harshness of this other world much more than Subaru.
Now that he was speaking about it, he realized how blessed he was compared to him.
At the same time, he was wondering what the difference was between himself and Al.
Because of this fear, Subaru had not tried to have deep conversations with Al, and Al had not tried to go any further either.
However, considering the language used and the sub-cultural topics that they could understand, the original world where Subaru and Al lived must have been in the same time frame―― If he had been summoned twenty years ago, he must have been the same age and from the same epoch.
The current age difference between Subaru and Al was merely a function of the time in this other world they had been summoned to. Henceforth, despite the age difference, he and Subaru were on the same wavelength in their conversations.
――That seemed to be the cause of the vague tingling sensation Subaru felt when interacting with him.
Al: [――I hate clichés.]
Al: [A suspicious mage beside the Emperor… Ain’t that a cliché? What about that?]
Al’s light-hearted comment snapped Subaru, whose thoughts had gone astray, back to reality.
Blinking his eyes, Subaru nodded his head in agreement with what he called “a cliché”, with a “Yeah”.
Subaru: [It’s a cliché, indeed. A bewitching female mage seduces the Emperor and slowly turns him into a puppet of her will… And then the prosperous country collapses.]
Abel: [I shall not allow it to collapse on its own. I shall take it back no matter what. It just――]
Abel: [It was neither a mage nor a woman, but it is true that there was one dubbed the Stargazer.]
Subaru & Al: [――Stargazer?]
The words from Abel’s mouth were met with overlapped doubts from both Subaru and Al.
It was a word they had never heard before, but they thought it strange.
Subaru had never heard of this word before, but strangely enough, he held an idea of the characters in his head. And once the characters fit, the role of the word also came to mind, vaguely.
Subaru: [Maybe they’re a Feng Shui master, or something of the sort… kinda like the position of a fortune teller?]
Al: [It’s more like a prophet, ain’t it? I mean, that’s what the stone tablet does in the Kingdom.]
Subaru: [Yeah, the Dragon History Stone, they called it…]
Convinced by Al’s words, Subaru retrieved the knowledge of the prophetic tablet passed down in the Kingdom from his head.
Although Subaru hadn’t laid eyes on the actual artifact, it seemed that the tablet contained information about future events that would occur in the Kingdom of Lugunica, and was said to be a useful artifact that also provided solutions to said problems.
However, having forecasted that the Royal Family of Lugunica would succumb to illness, the Tablet had presented an approach for the selection of the next Monarch―― In other words, the Royal Selection, in which Emilia and Priscilla were partaking.
Honestly, it was a result that made him tilt his head at the idea of being grateful to the prophecy tablet.
Subaru: [If it was serious about giving advice on how to save the Kingdom, it would tell them how to cure or stop the disease in the first place…]
As he deepened his knowledge as a knight of a Royal Candidate, he learned that the Royal Family of Lugunica possessed no tyrannical behavior or imbecility, and were, at the very least, loved by their people.
Many of their subjects and citizens had been saddened by their deaths, but none had been happy about it. ――It was still a mystery as to why the Dragon History Stone had forsaken them.
Subaru: [If the other party’s a slab of stone, it’d be a pipe dream to get any answers.]
Al: [If they’re a stone slab, then sure, but the Stargazer ain’t one, right? What role did he play in the court, Abel-chan?]
Abel: [――. Not too far from all of your perception. Because the power of the Stargazer was to peer into the future, to preserve the Empire.]
Abel’s answer to the question was roughly in line with the impression Subaru had gleamed from the name “Stargazer”. Nevertheless, there was one problem.
Subaru: […But they weren’t able to predict things. You were driven out, after all.]
Abel: [As I told you before. The Stargazer’s power is for the preservation of the Empire. ――It does not necessarily coincide with my safety.]
Subaru: [That would mean… that it’d be better for the Empire if you were chased away.]
Abel: [At least, I suppose that is what the Stargazer has settled upon.]
Abel crossed his arms quietly as he answered nonchalantly.
It could be argued that the Tablet and the Stargazer, two objects with similar roles, had both overlooked the plight of what should be the most noble position in their respective countries.
To suspect a connection between the Kingdom and the Empire was tempting, however――,
Subaru: [Before that, I’m starting to feel that there’s a problem with you, who got abandoned by the Prime Minister, your right-hand man, and this prophet. You sure it’s okay to put you back on the Emperor’s throne?]
Al: [Oioi, that’s too straight of a fireball, bro.]
Subaru: [No, don’t you feel concerned when hearing the situation surrounding this as well!?]
Al: [But that’s it. Afro General approved of Abel-chan, didn’t he?]
Subaru: [Yeah, that’s right. Then I guess it’s okay…]
With the mention of the Afro General, Zikr, Subaru was peacefully convinced.
Zikr was on Abel’s side, which was a relief, although it made him worry about a lot of other things. On the other hand, without Zikr, it was highly doubtful that he could have gone along with Abel, given his suspicions.
Regardless of how much he wanted to get himself and Rem back to the Kingdom safely, it did not mean that he did not care what happened to the Empire.
To be honest, Subaru held more bad memories of the Empire than good ones, but there were many people he wished to see happy, including the People of Shudraq and the O’Connell siblings.
Subaru: [I’m starting to get pretty worried about including you in that, but…]
Abel: [Whatever you say, no matter what the Stargazer sees regarding the future, I have my answer.]
Abel: [If the Stargazer decides that I cannot remain on the throne, I shall not comply. If the Stargazer declares that my presence shall destroy the Empire, then I shall disprove that with my own hands.]
Abel’s declaration was a little too passionate to be casual.
Abel’s fervor was equal to the fervor with which he had stated he would take back his throne on numerous other occasions. This was Abel’s unyielding position and his unshakable heart.
Subaru did not doubt Abel’s last line, because he could feel that it was not merely revenge or rebellion, but a larger and purer belief.
Other than that, he really wished more of the surrounding parts could be embellished to make it believable.
???: [――Ah! Guuuys! Look ahead a little bit, look ahead~!]
Just as the conversation was coming to a close, from the front of the carriage―― from the coachman’s bench suddenly came a boisterous voice, and Subaru and the others turned their attention to it.
Medium, who was holding the reins of Leidy on the coachman’s bench, was the one to raise that lively voice.
It seemed she had not been allowed to take the reins during her travels together with Flop, so she had taken the initiative by speaking up, “I want to!”.
Medium, her tall, slender frame tucked into the platform, grasped the reins in one hand while pointing to the path ahead with the other.
Medium: [I see a lot of hustle and bustle up ahead! Can you see it too, Natsumi-chan?]
Subaru: [Uh… Barely looks like anything, I guess.]
Subaru leaned out of the window of the carriage, but he could not be sure of what Medium had been talking about with “hustle and bustle”. Maybe it was the angle, or maybe it was just his eyesight.
Subaru had believed to be in possession of good eyesight, but in this other world, that was no longer the case.
People from this other world had eyesight of a different level. Emilia probably had a visual acuity of 5.0. Subaru had the impression he had seen a TV program in his original world that said people in Africa had exceptionally good eyesight.
In this regard, Taritta’s eyesight, as one of the amazonesses of this other world, was quite impressive.
Subaru: [So, what about you, Taritta-san? Can you see it?]
Taritta: [Wait a minute, that’s…]
She answered Subaru’s call, but Taritta was neither inside the carriage nor on the driver’s platform.
Leaning out of the window, Subaru beckoned her; she was atop of carriage, of all places.
Positioned on the roof of the moving carriage, from which Taritta served as a sentinel keeping watch of all directions.
Al: [Is it just me, or is it kinda uncomfortable to have people on the roof like that?]
Subaru: [I don’t know about Abel, but I’m used to it with our Garfiel.]
Al mentioned Taritta whose task lay atop the horse-drawn carriage, but Subaru, familiar with Garfiel who wished to play the same role, was not particularly uncomfortable with it.
In fact, in this other world, it was essential to be vigilant while on the move, so it will have proper effects rather than just a chuuni thing. The fact that Abel did not halt her was proof of that. 
Taritta: […Looks like Imperial Soldiers are gathering. Looks like an Ox Cart or something is being stopped in front of us.]
Abel: [――A checkpoint.]
So muttered Abel to himself after receiving Taritta’s report and understanding the situation.
The checkpoint that came to Subaru’s mind was the one at the main gate of Guaral. However, the fact that the checkpoint was not at the entrance to the city, but in the middle of the road, seized his attention.
It was natural to check the comings and goings in a city, but the impression given by checkpoints on the roads was different, in that they were in response to some kind of anomaly.
In short, they were most likely looking for something specific.
Subaru: [No way, us? Arakiya got away from us, and that’s how things got spread?]
Abel: [Of course, it is inevitable that information shall eventually leak out from Arakiya. But I do not believe it can move as quickly and accurately as this. In addition, the Demon City is in the opposite direction of the Imperial Capital.]
Subaru: [So location-wise, they shouldn’t have any reported information?]
Abel: [Yes. ――Although there is the matter of her companion, is there not?]
With his arms crossed, Abel was concerned not about Arakiya, but about her companion.
Arakiya’s companion was the person who had retrieved her from Guaral.
Al: [The guy who dragged Lil’ Miss Arakiya away? He’s the kinda guy who’d fearlessly ride into the middle of enemy territory in the situation, he’s prolly a sharp and able person.]
Subaru: [A sharp and able person…]
Abel’s concern and Al’s point of view made Subaru imagine something unpleasant.
As far as the Imperial Soldiers in the Fortified City were concerned, Subaru had an idea of who the “sharp ones” were. And amongst the Imperial Soldiers who had surrendered after the fall of the City Hall, the object of Subaru’s fear could not be counted.
Perhaps they had mixed amidst the soldiers who had abandoned the city and fled.
Subaru: [No way.]
He did not want to think that it was that man who had taken Arakiya away, no matter how much he wanted to.
He wished that the fate of their relationship would not grow any deeper.
Subaru: [――. Right now, we need to focus on the problem at hand. What do we do? Do you think we can bypass it?]
Taritta: [Right now, I don’t think they’re even aware of us yet…]
Medium and Taritta, two people with excellent eyesight, had been the first to spot them.
Before the Soldiers ahead of them noticed, they could go off the road and avoid the checkpoint. If nothing about them was found to be amiss, they could pass through brazenly, but if they had contraband or something, they would have no choice but to evade.
Abel: [――Hold it, do not take detours.]
And just before he gave the order to get off the road, Abel, of all people, stopped him.
In response to his call for restraint, Subaru turned his suspicious eyes to Abel.
Subaru: [You tell us to not take a detour, what else do you want us to do? If they find you, we’re in trouble.]
Abel: [I want to know their goal. If the fall of Guaral is the matter, the developments would be too swift. If it is my whereabouts, I would like to learn what the Soldiers say they are searching for.]
Subaru: [Sooo, what’s going to happen when they find you? You’ll poke the beehive and we’ll end up getting into a raging car chase.]
Of course, the possibility existed that they would be caught on the spot.
Of the five people in the horse-drawn carriage, only three, excluding Subaru and Abel, were capable of fighting, but their total strength was not much different from that of the dancing troupe that had ridden into Guaral. In the event that they were to escape in their carriage, it would be extremely difficult to shake the enemy off on the wide-open road.
Subaru: [The conditions are too bad. Or do you have a better plan?]
Abel: [There is. ――You.]
Subaru was stunned as he weighed the risks and rewards and decided that the odds were not in his favor.
They were supposed to be talking about the odds of taking on a dangerous bet right now.
Subaru: [What do you mean, you want me to be the one to appear out there?]
Abel: [There is already a precedent for this in the Fortified City. The carriage is disguised so as not to be recognizable as one from the army. It shall be as we agreed upon in advance.]
Subaru: [Wasn’t that just preparation for small talk while on the road!?]
Abel’s brash statement had been a set-up for making conversation with other vendors and travelers along the way, not a premise to fool the carefully watching Imperial Soldiers.
Yet, Abel turned a deaf ear to Subaru’s complaints that sounded like screams,
Abel: [I shall hide at the bottom of the wagon. You get the Soldiers to talk.]
Subaru: [Wait, wait, wait, are you serious?]
Abel: [Do not allow the soldiers to look into the bottom of the carriage. You too might lose your life.]
Subaru: [I don’t know why you’re so high and mighty…!]
With that said, Abel stood up from his seat and put his hands on the floor. There was a slight gap in the floor underneath the seats, and the floorboards flipped up, allowing him to descend onto the bottom part of the carriage.
The horse-drawn carriage had been originally intended to be pulled by the Galewind Horse of General Second-Class Zikr.
The exterior of the carriage had been replaced to disguise the fact that it was related to the Imperial Army, but this did not mean that its functions had been disabled. The carriage, designed to be used by people of high rank, had a mechanism which allowed the floorboards to come off, so that they could hide in case of emergency.
Subaru was sure the one who had crafted this horse-driven carriage had never imagined that it would be the Emperor who would be hiding there.
Anyway, Abel quickly lifted the floorboards and twisted his thin body into the narrow space. In earnest, he had entrusted the rest to Subaru.
It was not so much daring as it was pride.
Al: [Good grief, Abel-chan’s so pushy. Nevertheless, we got no choice but to do it, bro.]
That was Al’s comment about Abel, who had only made his point and quickly made his retreat. His words after that were based on the reaction of the checkpoint in the carriage’s path.
It seemed that their presence had become known to their side as well.
Taritta: [Natsumi, they’re aware of our presence.]
Medium: [Then, it looks like we have no choice but to go! Alriiight~, good luuuck~, Natsumi-chan!]
Courteously, Taritta’s and Medium’s shouts eliminated the option of a detour. Changing direction at this point would be like advertising “It’s inconvenient to have the carriage inspected”.
Therefore, they had no option but to proceed as His Majesty, the Emperor, desired, even though it was annoying.
Al: [Bro, you ready?]
Subaru: [――Yeah, yeah, I know right! It’s nice to meet you!]
Al: […Well, that was some switch.]
Delivering a light tap to his cheeks with both hands, Subaru flipped a switch inside himself.
If he slapped his cheeks hard enough, his makeup would be ruined. If he scratched his head, his hair would get messy. If he did not shelve his inner irritation, his words would become rough. ――He could not fool the Imperial Soldiers with that.
He had to play the part that was required of him, and accomplish the duty that was expected of him.
That was the first step for Natsuki Subaru to regain the lost trust.
Subaru: [Oh, thank you for your service, gentlemen of the Army. What can I do for you?]
Subaru said, as he leaned out of the window, smiling as dainty and charming as he could, and waved cheerfully to the Imperial Soldiers who stopped the carriage.
――The Imperial Soldiers who had halted the carriage did not take the presence of a carriage carrying only Al, in addition to the three “women”, Medium, Taritta and Subaru, seriously.
What they had requested, was the identity of the group and the purpose of the trip.
As they had agreed upon beforehand, Al and Medium had been hired to guard Subaru, the daughter of a lower-ranking count, and Taritta was to be Subaru’s servant.
Before leaving Guaral, Taritta’s style had undergone trial and error, and been changed from the Amazoness style that was instantly recognizable as that of the People of Shudraq.
Currently, Taritta was dressed in the style of a male butler, which was Subaru’s preference. Al given rave reviews, his words being “Bro’s dressed as a woman who’s dressed as a man, and Taritta-chan’s dressed as a man… I don’t understand anything anymore”.
Anyway, the Imperial Soldiers at the checkpoint had not been suspicious of Subaru and the others’ kind of behavior.
Only when being told that their destination was Chaosflame, did they display a meaningful hesitation, saying, “Well, that’s…”. Even among them, the Demon City’s impression seemed to be poor.
Soldier: [I wouldn’t really recommend visiting the Demon City, young lady.]
Subaru: [Even if you say so, I’m afraid my father will be angry with me. Even though I’m a noble, it’s not a luxury the family of a lowly Count can afford…]
Soldier: [Hmm, I see. Well, you seem to have a good head on your shoulders, so I guess there’s nothing to worry about.]
Subaru: [Oh my, you flatter me.]
Smiling with the back of his hand over his mouth, Subaru elegantly sidestepped the Soldier’s suspicion.
In general, there seemed to be no problem in getting through the checkpoint. The only thing left to do was――,
Subaru: [Well, there appears to be quite strict security… Has something happened?]
Soldier: [Oh no, it’s nothing serious. There’s deserters from a recent skirmish up north near Buddheim, so we’re looking for them… And we’re also looking for a wanted criminal.]
Subaru: [Wanted, is it?]
Careful not to let his voice waver, Subaru frowned at the sound of that.
Fortunately, the soldier did not seem to notice Subaru’s surging inner thoughts and nodded, “Yeah”.
Soldier: [There’s talk of a man wanted in the Imperial Capital being sighted around here. It’s said that he’s about fifty-years-old and has blue hair, do you have any knowledge of him?]
Subaru: [――. No, I’m afraid not. But to have deserters from the Imperial Soldiers, who are renowned for their strength, makes me worry that the mantra of the Empire is being disturbed.]
Medium: [It’s okay, Natsumi-chan! We’re here for you, so don’t worry, don’t worry! Let’s hold our chests out strong!]
Subaru: [Well, that’s reassuring, Medium-san. Ohohoho.]
Subaru had not meant for that to happen, but Medium’s blunt words made the Imperial Soldiers lose their composure.
There was the possibility that by probing into it, they would become suspicious, but it seemed that they had been successful in evading that worry. Taritta, too, was silent and played the role of a butler who did not interrupt her master unnecessarily.
She had a tendency to be shy, though, so the silence may just have been natural.
And, except for the women, the most worrying person was Al and his suspicious appearance――,
Al: [My oh my, thank you Soldiers for all your hard work. It’s thanks to your hard work that a half-wit like me’s allowed to work so lazily.]
Soldier: […We are only working for the well-being of the Empire. Definitely not for someone as weak and lazy as you.]
Al: [I know, I know. I understand where I stand.]
Al, too, had perfectly handled the disrespectful move from the Imperial Soldiers, having been met with scorn.
It was hard to discern if he was acting or not, but he had a good point. The unnaturalness of hiring the one-armed Al as a bodyguard was also quashed ahead of time by Subaru.
Subaru: [It wouldn’t look good if I didn’t say I hired him as a bodyguard, would it? With his arm like that, I’m sure he used to be a Soldier serving this country as well.]
Soldier: […If he resigned his position because of his injuries, there’s nothing for us to say. Just be very careful, because it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have evil intentions.]
Treating Al’s arm as a strength rather than a weakness reinforced the rationale for his frivolous attitude.
The Imperial Soldiers, with their aversion to weakness and their respect for the strong, were also considerate of those who had retired from the front lines due to unhealable wounds.
――With that, they had been capable of getting through the checkpoint without any major problems.
Medium: [Well, Natsumi-chan was really good. I’m so impressed with you!]
Medium praised him as he waved from the platform towards the Imperial Soldiers in the distance. At her words, Subaru shook his head with a, “No, no”,
Subaru: [It’s no big deal. If the checkpoint had been set up for a more pressing reason, we would’ve had to use a lot of finesse to get through… In that sense, I guess you could say we were lucky.]
Medium: [Yeah? Then I guess so. I’m often told I’m lucky by big bro too! I feel that way too.]
Subaru: [Hehe, both Medium-san and Flop-san are naturals at finding happiness, aren’t they?]
Subaru smiled at Medium’s pleasant answer as he put his hand on his cheek.
At this exchange between Subaru and Medium, Taritta, who was sitting in the front seat of the carriage with an exhausted look on her face, turned around. Subaru tilted his head at her meaningful gaze, as she was relieved of her tension and patted her chest in relief.
Subaru: [What’s the matter, Taritta-san. Is there a problem?]
Taritta: [No, I don’t have a problem, but… Natsumi, how can you be so bold? I’ve been wondering that ever since you planned to dress as a dancer.]
Subaru: […Yeah, I guess.]
Taritta had found Subaru’s transformation into a woman hard to get used to.
The time Taritta had spent with him in women’s clothing was the same as Abel’s; ever since they had entered Guaral. And yet, it seemed strange to her.
In a way, Abel and Flop had been able to pull it off with zero effort―― Bianca and Flora were able to overcome all problems with their natural good looks.
Of course, Subaru’s character, Natsumi Schwartz, had no such sort of grounding.
There was a quality that could not be disguised by clothes or makeup alone, and it was a problem that inevitably arose for those who were not in its possession. ――It took effort to compensate for that.
Subaru: [So, I just tried my hardest, that’s all.]
The perfection of Natsumi Schwartz was part of the results of humanity’s accumulated quest for beauty.
Were it not for these pioneers, Subaru’s crossdressing would not have been accepted even at a school festival. Behind its success, were the forefathers’ many wishes and efforts.
Because of this, he also had a sense of being unable to disregard what had been established.
Taritta: [I’m jealous of your confidence… I don’t have that.]
Subaru: [Confidence… What I have is trust in Natsumi Schwartz, but confidence is a different thing.]
Taritta: [Eh? Eh? Eh?]
Al: [Oioi, bro, don’t do that. You’ll confuse Taritta-chan. That level of thinking’s a bit too much for us to follow, y’know?]
In place of Taritta, her flickering to and fro, Al interrupted Subaru’s self-assertion.
He was unaware that he was talking about something so difficult that it would confuse the two of them. He had merely stated that even though it was difficult to believe in himself, he could believe in the ideal image he had created in his mind ― one that he could believe in.
Subaru: [I always envision myself as the best version I can be―― you know?]
Taritta: [I-I find that a difficult concept to understand…]
Subaru: [But I’d recommend trying that mindset, you know? Comparing yourself to the person you admire can be painful, but… you can envision your ideal self.]
Taritta’s eyes widened slightly as Subaru put his hand on his chest and spoke.
Something about it seemed to resonate with her in no small manner.
Taritta: [Envision, your ideal self…]
Resonated such, that it seemed that she had quietly stored it within her heart
Al: [Deserters aside, dunno what the wanted guy did. Even if it’s a big help that Abel-chan’s story hasn’t spread, that was a pretty big deal.]
Subaru: [Well… A blue-haired man of about fifty years of age, I’m sure there are many gentlemen who fit that description, and I can even think of one in my memory, you know?]
In his original world, blue hair did not occur naturally, but in this other world, it could be seen as a not-so-uncommon hair color, Rem at the forefront.
The wanted man at the checkpoint earlier also fit that description, as did the heavy drinker who had once helped him in the city of Guaral―― the mercenary named Rowan also possessed said characteristic.
Unfortunately, Rowan’s demonstration of his abilities had been foiled by Todd’s surprise attack, but Subaru believed that he would have been quite good were he able to do battle in a proper fashion.
However, Subaru did not believe him to be a wanted man, one that would require the mobilization of so many Imperial Soldiers. So it was possibly a matter of someone else, with similar characters, that was wanted.
Subaru: [In any case, Abel’s situation hasn’t been reported to the ordinary soldiers yet… As long as there’s no disorder in the Imperial Capital, it seems safe to assume that a body double’s acting as Emperor.]
Al: [Dunno if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Honestly, I think it would’ve been more convenient for us if the Emperor’d been absent and that there was a lotta commotion.]
Subaru: [I feel like it has its advantages and disadvantages. Setting handling things if he’s discovered aside, the gravity of finding Abel remains unchanged.]
If the Emperor’s absence were to become public and the Empire thrown into turmoil, it was currently unknown whether Subaru and the others would be able to handle it effectively. At the very least, Abel’s perception was that they were still lacking in strength to claim the throne, and Subaru was of the same opinion.
However, the insistence of going through the checkpoint had made him very nervous.
Al: [At any rate, now that we’ve escaped the checkpoint, let’s get Abel-chan outta there.]
Subaru: [Right. Besides, I want to complain about something.]
Nodding at Al’s suggestion, Subaru crossed his arms over his fake cleavage to assert his indignation.
The reason for Subaru’s indignation was, of course, the unreasonable reason given so they would go through the checkpoint. But beyond that, it was the reckless flailing by Abel during the checkpoint.
While talking with the Soldiers, noises had echoed from the bottom of the carriage several times, which had been disguised with great difficulty.
Ultimately, it was settled that Subaru, posing as a woman, had a stomachache, saying, “It’s not easy being a lowly count…”. But it was an outrage that damaged the reputation of the elegant Natsumi Schwartz.
Subaru: [It seems that His Majesty, the Emperor, isn’t fully aware of his position.]
Al: [Oh bro, you seem angry. Well, guess I should be mad too.]
Al agreed with Subaru, who was eager to complain to His Majesty, the reckless Emperor.
Then Al flipped up the floorboard, and Subaru peered into the bottom of the rocking carriage to complain bitterly to the face that appeared――,
Subaru: [Hey, Abel, what’s going on? You have no idea how hard it was for us to cover up for you after you did that――]
Subaru: [Uhyaahhh―― Hk!?]
Subaru’s “Or at least I think”, which was about to come with his candid advice, was swallowed by a shout, causing him to jump away landing in Taritta’s arms. All of a sudden, Taritta was holding him in a bridal carry, but he did not have the leisure to admire her core strength.
What appeared was not Abel breaking into laughter―― but a young girl of golden hair.
The girl was more than familiar to him, and he had more than enough bad memories of her.
It was Louis, a girl who should not be present.
Louis Arneb, an irregular representative in the Empire, burst cheerfully out from under the floor.
Louis: [Aa, uu?]
Subaru: [Why! Why are you in the carriage…?]
??: [――Apparently, she had been hiding under the floor all along. I cannot believe no one had noticed it until now. It was probably the work of Utakata.]
His eyes going wide, Subaru’s voice quivered. Following up Subaru’s question was Abel, his figure emerging from the bottom after Louis.
He patted the dust off his dirty traveling clothes and hand-combed his wildly-disheveled sable hair. Then, regarding Louis leaning in towards Subaru, the latter still being held up by Taritta,
Abel: [Hmm. It appears that she missed you a lot. So much that rather than being with Utakata or your woman, she opted to be with you.]
Subaru: [W-what are you so composed for… were you okay with being under the floor with her?]
Abel: [How could it have been fine? She was unnecessarily rampaging at the bottom, and even I was chilled by it. I mulled over about how it could be explained away once the Soldiers discovered me due to her.]
Shutting the floorboards and returning to his seat, Abel’s words made sense to Subaru.
It seemed that the cause of the commotion that had distracted Subaru’s mind so much during the Imperial Soldiers’ inspection of the carriage was none other than Louis.
Perhaps Louis, hiding in the bottom of the carriage as she was, had jostled with Abel, who had come down there to hide. He did not seem to have any talent for caring for children, although it was unclear how Abel was treating Louis.
Subaru: [Then, what the hell can you do…?]
Abel: [You have been speaking disgracefully about me to no end, but what are you planning to do with that thing?]
Subaru: [What should I do…?]
Abel: [I am telling you now, that there is absolutely no way we can turn back anymore. That checkpoint and time both, shall not allow it.]
Al: [Well, Abel-chan’s right about that, ain’t he?]
Touching the clasp of his helmet, Al nodded his head in agreement with Abel’s words.
Meanwhile, an anguished Subaru had Taritta put him down on the floor, then held down Louis’s forehead as she giggled with “Auu”, and snuggled up against him.
Subaru: [Why did this happen…?]
Confusion and bewilderment swirled within his head.
On the other hand, there was a part of him that felt relieved that Louis was here―― that he did not have to deal with this uncertainty being beside Rem who had been left behind in Guaral.
However, the fact that Subaru had been followed did not make him any less cautious about Louis’s true nature and what could be in her plans.
Taritta: [Subaru, there’s nothing we can do, we’ll take Louis with us.]
Subaru: [Even you are saying that, Taritta-san?]
Taritta: [Abel’s right, we don’t have a choice but to keep going now. But we also can’t leave Louis behind. I know that you and Louis have a complicated relationship…]
Looking at Subaru and Louis alternately, Taritta timidly offered a neutral opinion.
In addition to their mission to infiltrate Guaral, they had also spent time together in the People of Shudraq’s settlement. The majority of the Shudraqian, though not as much as Rem, were aware of Subaru’s wariness and hostility towards Louis and her existence.
Even with that in mind, Taritta had stated that leaving Louis behind was not an option.
And, much to his own chagrin, Subaru agreed with her.
Subaru: [We can’t just leave her here and let her cause trouble for people who don’t know anything about her…]
Inclining her neck, Louis looked clueless.
As things stood right now, ever since they had been sent to Vollachia, Louis had never shown her true face as the vicious Sin Archbishop of Gluttony. But that did not mean it would not happen in the future, and Subaru would be responsible for any damage that may occur once her true nature surfaced.
Subaru had enough conviction that she was dangerous and countless opportunities to preempt a lot of damage from being done.
That was exactly why he felt he should strangle her thin neck this very moment, and sever her future.
With that and that alone, many seeds of anxiety would wither and die without sprouting.
Al: [Oh man… I dunno what’s going on here, but that lil’ girl’s fond of you bro, right? I’m sure you understand that she might slow us down in the future, but we’ll have to consider how to use that too.]
While saying this, Al tried to help the anguished Subaru reach a decision.
Walking over toward Louis standing beside Subaru, he took some steps upon the floor of the horse-drawn carriage with a casual gait. Then, trying to stroke the girl’s blonde head gently――,
Al: [Maybe with a child it’ll be easier to have them look away in case there’s another checkpoint like that. Traveling with a child ain’t so bad after all… Ouch!]
Just as Al’s hand was about to stroke her head, Louis suddenly bared her fangs, literally.
Louis opened her mouth wide and chomped at Al’s outstretched hand as hard as she could. With a scream, Al pulled his hand away and Louis hid behind Subaru, snarling like an animal.
It was an ingrateful act, like an unwanted stray cat biting the person who had tried to feed it.
Al: [Whoa, that shit really hurt! I tried to help you out, but that was wrong!]
Subaru: [Y-you’ve done it, haven’t you…! I knew it was your style to prey on others like that!]
Louis: [Uu! Aa! Aauu!]
Subaru: [I can’t understand you with your uhhs and ahhs!]
Louis was clinging to Subaru’s waist, shaking her head. Subaru was struggling to pull her off, but the pressure was too tight for him to wriggle free.
Luckily, Subaru knew Al’s “Name” and who he was, and Al himself did not appear to have lost himself due to having his “Memories” snatched away. But the damage was yet to be confirmed――,
Taritta: [――Please calm down!]
Once Subaru and Al began raising a ruckus, Louis started screaming like a child with a tantrum.
To interrupt them, Taritta had intervened by raising her voice.
Putting her hands under Louis’s arms, she picked up the child, shooting Subaru and Al both with a potent gaze, her eyes like those of her sister’s, conveying a strong impression.
Taritta: [You’re a grown man and you’re acting like a child! Even more, why don’t you behave like a calm adult? The little ones will mimic you.]
Subaru: [Uh, kuh… bu-but, Taritta-san, the girl’s…]
Taritta: [No buts, Natsumi. I know your relationship with this girl is complicated. But even if that’s the case, what are you going to accomplish by making a scene?]
He was reprimanded directly, and the simplicity of the reprimand was the most effective reply for Subaru.
How many could win against the argument that they had been acting immature towards a child? However, such naïve theory would not be applicable to a Sin Archbishop.
If only she was privy to the dangers posed by Louis Arneb, Taritta would surely possess a different opinion――
――Then, why didn’t he just tell everyone who Louis was here and now?
The black emotions echoing from within his own heart caused his throat to clog.
Subaru’s cheeks tensed up, and Taritta and Al reacted in a quizzical manner.
In the end, the whole situation had been brought about by Subaru’s vague decision-making abilities.
The only way to make them understand Subaru’s wariness of Louis, was to disclose the fact that Louis was the Sin Archbishop of Gluttony. Unlike Rem, who had lost her wariness of the Witch Cult along with her Memories, the people in this room would be able to understand the threat.
Once they realized the gravity of the situation, they would not treat Louis as the child she seemed to be. And to get rid of the disturbing threat――,
――What could be done to get rid of her?
Louis tilted her head at Subaru’s expression while being held by Taritta.
Immediately once Subaru and Al stopped being rowdy, Louis calmed down as well. As they had found out in the time so far, Louis would only make noise if there was a lot of it in her environs.
If her surroundings were quiet, Louis, by her lonesome, would not make a peep. The reason as to why Utakata was such a good match for Louis was because she was an exceptionally calm child.
Perhaps this form of behavior was another way for Louis Arneb to blend in with her surroundings.
That girl, so vicious and irredeemably evil, that Subaru had come into contact in the white world he had arrived at the Pleiades Watchtower; was this the guise she had adopted?
He was aware he must consider that way, and deal with it. And yet――,
Abel: [――I shall tell you this, our purpose here is neither pleasure nor amusement.]
Abel, alone in the seat, coldly said this to a Subaru still agonizing over the situation.
For a moment, Subaru could not make out the true meaning of his words, but quickly realized that it was Abel’s opinion on how Louis should be treated.
This road trip was no game, Abel asserted. As soon as he voiced that and regarded Louis with his dark eyes, Subaru gasped at their coldness.
Abel’s eyes, directed towards Louis, were devoid of any warmth.
This was a sign that Abel had not found any value in bestowing Louis with any consideration or warmth, and that he did not distinguish between Louis and a stone by the roadside or a wildflower.
The warmth of his eyes made Subaru understand the consequences of revealing Louis’s true identity.
Subaru: [――Let’s take her.]
Immediately after making his decision, the dark eyes looking at Louis were turned to Subaru. The sharpness of his gaze felt like it was burrowing into Subaru’s chest, but clenching his molars, he drove that out of his mind.
Subaru: [Since this isn’t a pleasure trip, show them you’re useful… That’s how it works, isn’t it?]
Abel: [Yes, it is of no consequence. ――I had a feeling you would state such a thing.]
Subaru: […That’s a difficult evaluation to interpret.]
Whether it was disappointment or some other sort of emotion, it was hard to tell.
Naturally, Abel wished to have his real intentions go unrevealed, and Subaru was afraid that rehashing them would lead to a different conclusion.
Medium: [Hey, hey, are you done with that? Louis-chan, come here when they are finished talking!]
Taritta: […Is that okay?]
Feeling the tense atmosphere between Subaru and Abel, Taritta asked for permission to respond to Medium’s voice coming from the driving platform.
Abel was already unconcerned, and although he had decided to take Subaru with him, he did not want to take Louis, so he decided to take advantage of their generosity.
Medium: [Alright, Louis-chan, you want to hold the reins? Try to steer Leidy-chin!]
Taritta: [Let’s not do that!]
Louis was welcomed by the two women, although there was a lot of noise coming from the driver’s seat all of a sudden.
Subaru was the only one who had originally been quite wary of Louis, so there was nothing surprising about their reaction. If something had to be said however, was that Louis’s disappearance may have caused Rem, who had remained in Guaral, to panic in search of her.
Abel: [I do not believe that girl could have gotten into the carriage by herself. If there is someone who assisted her, that one should reveal the situation.]
Subaru: […Well, I guess that’s true.]
Perhaps sensing the nature of Subaru’s anxiety from his expression, Abel dispelled without emotion.
If he was right, and Utakata had helped Louis stowaway, that information would have been shared with Rem and the others back in the city.
With him and Louis together, Subaru wondered if that would help with Rem’s anxiety.
Subaru: [Which would be better, her not knowing where she is or knowing where she is…?]
Al: [――? Of course it’s safer to have her with you, bro. I mean, from what Taritta-chan said, it sounded kinda complicated.]
With Al having overheard his muttering, Subaru’s feelings were further muddied by Al’s words.
The relationship between Subaru, Rem, and Louis was not as simple as it appeared.
Subaru: […But, that’s right.]
With Rem’s figure behind his eyelids, Subaru found an excuse within himself.
Regardless of Louis’s identity, Rem would be concerned for the girl. Even if he told her the truth the next time he got the chance, it would be one-sided without Louis’s presence.
For that reason, Louis must be kept safe.
Subaru: [No, nothing unless… Al, do me a favor ――Please, pay as much attention to Louis as you can.]
Al: […What’s with the out-of-the blue request, anyway? What’s with that little girl?]
Al, who’d just had his hand bitten, seemed to have some difficulty with Louis, and responded to Subaru’s request in a reluctant voice, questioning his intentions.
It was a natural question, but for a moment, Subaru hesitated to answer.
When it came to Al, he would believe Louis’s identity more frankly than the others.
However, how would Al act upon learning that Louis was a Sin Archbishop? Would he understand the danger and become an advisor that held the same worries as Subaru?
Subaru: [――. If she gets hurt, Rem will suffer. Please, I beg you.]
Subaru was troubled, but, a moment later, he kept the truth to himself much like he had done with the rest of the group.
Hearing Subaru’s answer, Al went silent for a moment, and,
Al: [Yeah, sure. I’m worried she might eat my remaining arm, but I’ll deal with it.]
With that as his reply, Al settled into the front seat of the carriage as if he had heard Subaru’s request. He threw his legs out lazily as he listened to the voices of the three girls bustling around the driver’s platform.
It could be said it was his typical way of accepting a request.
Subaru: [――? What is it?]
As he directed his gaze towards the back of Al’s head, Subaru noticed Abel’s own trained on himself.
He folded his arms and slumped in his seat, his unreadable black eyes reflecting Subaru, frowning with just a hint of displeasure.
This made him feel terribly anxious, so Subaru’s question had ended sharply.
Abel, however, gave a small “Hmm”, and said nothing.
Subaru: […You still haven’t thanked me for successfully getting us past the checkpoint in the first place.]
Taking out his frustration on Abel’s attitude, Subaru stroked his long black hair and settled into a seat a little farther away from both Al and Abel.
The journey to the Demon City of Chaosflame continued with a sense of uncertainty about the future.
However, upon hearing the bustling voices from the driver’s platform, especially that of Louis…
Subaru: [Really, who do you think is the cause of my suffering?]
The sound of the horse-drawn carriage swallowed his words of complaint up entirely, and so they did not reach anyone.
 “Chuuni”, also known as “chuunibyou” (中二病), or literally translated as “middle two disease” or, alternatively, “middle-school second-year disease”. Well-known term to describe kids in middle school who have delusions of grandeur, like special powers.