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——”Abel pisses me off”.
Subaru had believed this slogan to be a good strategy for conquering the Flamboyant, Yorna Mishigure.
After all, Zikr, a man of distinguished character, had branded her as an owner of a destruction wish, someone who had, time and time again, raised an insurrection.
Subaru’s pretext for requesting an audience with her, was that “a suitably powerful person wished to speak to her privately in order to rebel against the current Emperor of Vollachia”.
Subaru’s group of three were visiting the Crimson Lapis Castle with a missive from that powerful man.
In truth, he had not told a single lie.
The “current Emperor of Vollachia” was none other than the one who had ousted Abel, having usurped his name and position. The “suitably powerful person” who wanted to talk privately happened to also be the real Emperor, the one supposed to be sitting on the throne, so there was no falsehood in his words.
Subaru’s aim was to ensure that the letter from Abel was received no matter what. If necessary to achieve this goal, they would tell as many lies as possible.
Subaru: [This is what Natsumi Schwartz’s plan is all about…!]
In the end, he had been applauded by Al and Medium for his ingenuity.
Kafma: [——Rebels against His Excellency, you say?]
With what had been said to Yorna now laid bare, the atmosphere of the hall grew more gelid.
Kafma Irulux, Vincent’s bodyguard, who had been the most passionate person in the hall for a while now, exuded a hostility that could be mistaken for cold air.
Subaru could tell by the sternness of his gaze that a peaceful exit from this place was no longer possible.
——”A schemer drowns in his own tricks”, that phrase that had never before been more veracious for him.
Subaru: [But aren’t the timing and lack of shared information both Abel’s fault…?]
Kafma: [Keep your mouth shut. ——General First-Class Yorna.]
Kafma silenced Subaru, who cursed Abel for getting him into this absurd situation. With that, he then thrusted his steely gaze toward Yorna,
Kafma: [Did you knowingly allow His Excellency and these people to attend at the same time?]
Kafma: [I want you to answer!]
As Kafma raised his voice, his anger was not directed at neither the increasingly anxious Subaru nor his group, but rather at Yorna for having created this tense situation.
The reason for this was not because the blame lay with Yorna.
In simpler terms, it was a sign that they did not regard Subaru and the others as a threat.
In fact, the fighting spirit emitted by Kafma, now standing up vigorously, gave Subaru the feeling that he was as strong and threatening as Arakiya, whom he had encountered at the City Hall in Guaral.
At the very least, there was no doubt that he was powerful enough to be assigned to accompany the Emperor.
From his perspective, it was probably inevitable that Subaru, who went without saying, but even Al, and Medium would be judged as being unworthy of caution.
Al: [We’re the ones this concerns but we’re being excluded? Is that good or bad…?]
Feeling the same about Al’s dim complaint, the tense exchange continued, with Subaru and the others not included in it. Kafma questioned Yorna, who put her mouth on her kiseru and let out a puff of purple smoke.
Then she tilted her head with an “I wonder…”, as she shook her vibrant hair ornaments.
Yorna: [What do you mean by, “knowingly”?]
Kafma: [How shameless…! As I have repeatedly advised His Excellency, you are still dangerous.]
Yorna: [You’re stating the obvious. With all the disorder I’ve made… do you perhaps not know what I’ve done?]
Yorna’s words, that could not be thought of as anything other than a provocation, caused a vein to bulge out on Kafma’s forehead.
Albeit odd, from what he could gather from their exchange, Subaru found himself agreeing with Kafma. Yorna’s personality was honestly the worst, even from Subaru’s point of view.
Although they had readied themselves for a certain degree of viciousness based on her reputation, it had exceeded their expectations.
However, it seemed that she was not simply planning to give up Subaru and his group, who were plainly rebellious elements, to Vincent and his men, who happened to be visiting.
The air was too far tense for a scene in which traitors were being presented to the Emperor.
Most of all——,
Vincent: [——As usual, your taste is repulsive.]
And then, disregarding Yorna’s intentions, Vincent’s voice was loosed.
At Vincent’s cold words, Yorna raised her shapely eyebrows slightly,
Yorna: [Oh, does it not suit your taste, Your Excellency?]
Vincent: [Preposterous. If too one-sided, it is akin to letting a rabbit hunt a dog. I have not grown tired of the Empire to the point of making mere cruelty an amusement.]
Vincent’s statement was one of indifference, but with a definite air of authority.
Taking it in stride, through the gaps of her tied-up hair, Yorna’s fox ears quivered. Subaru could not ascertain what sort of emotion she was expressing.
However, the same went for Vincent’s feelings.
What sort of storm would brew in his heart upon confronting rebels face-to-face?
Understanding the inner thoughts of the fake Emperor was even more difficult than imagining the thoughts of the real one, especially when he knew that the person in front of him was an imposter.
The fake must think badly of Abel, as he had driven the other away, but——,
Subaru: [Can’t be stupid enough to let it show…]
Subaru gasped for breath as Vincent’s black eyes pierced straight through him. In an instant, Subaru was forbidden even to avert his eyes, and while still unprepared, he locked eyes with his greatest foe.
His face was a replica of the real one, though how it had been made was unclear.
Both the genuine and the fake possessed the same sharp black eyes that attempted to peer through one’s every action. This made Subaru’s insides squirm——,
Vincent: [If you have something to say, say it now.]
Subaru: […Those are some annoying eyes.]
Subaru: [Ah! No, no, no! I didn’t mean it like that! It was just unintentional!]
At the most inopportune time, the questioning of the false Emperor coincided with a leak of annoyance.
Kafma was lost for words, his face one of absolute surprise, after Subaru hurled verbal abuse straight at the Emperor. Subaru then gave a hurried wave of his hand, to which Vincent closed one eye and became silent.
He was surprised, but at the same time, he regarded Subaru as if assessing him.
The look the real Abel had directed at Subaru in the Buddheim Jungle, the Shudraqian village, and the City Hall in Guaral—— this one was of the same kind as those.
Subaru: [Uh, anyway, we…]
At his back, Al and Medium were also watching the situation with bated breath.
Subaru’s shocking rant must have put them under a lot of pressure. The atmosphere in the hall was cold and tense, and one additional gaffe would shatter it into pieces.
The situation they had been put into was too painful to begin with.
Not just Yorna but Kafma as well were not the kind of opponents that Subaru and his group could compete with.
If that were the case, wouldn’t it be wiser to recant their opinion to Yorna, emphasize that them being rebels was outrageous, bow their heads, and leave? Even if it would make the scene bland?
With that in mind, Subaru tried to loosen the corners of his mouth in an attempt to put on an amiable smile.
——Subaru then realized Yorna’s gaze homed in on him, with nary a motion.
In silence, Yorna watched Subaru’s movements as she took a drag of her kiseru.
It was a very ambiguous look, neither disinterested nor indifferent. Uncertain as the rising purple smoke, it was like a phantom that disappeared even when one tried to grasp it.
He thought it would be deeply foolish to try to rely on it.
However, Subaru had a hunch that this was a turning point.
That gaze, on the verge of losing interest in Subaru’s group, was not as capricious as to consider taking back what had once been given up on. The opinions discarded here could never be scooped up again.
In other words, Yorna Mishigure’s cooperation could nevermore be obtained.
It was synonymous with blocking the way to an unreliable victory in the dark.
Vincent: [——Answer me carefully. What were you going to say to me.]
Subaru: [Well, um——]
At Vincent’s question, Subaru took a heartbeat too long to look up.
Kafma, beside the false Emperor, narrowed his eyes and turned his attention to Subaru. Behind him, Al and Medium’s tensions swelled, while Yorna sustained a mouthful of purple smoke in her lungs.
Seeing those changes at the corner of his eye, Subaru looked at Vincent, and declared,
Subaru: [It is as Yorna-sama said. We are declaring war on you.]
Yes, as if clinging onto a position that he should not withdraw from, a piece that he should not give up on.
Rem, who was waiting for his return in Guaral, Abel, who was absent, and Al and Medium, who were bracing themselves behind him, had entrusted Subaru with this decision.
In order for Natsuki Subaru not to misunderstand the significance and weight of this, and not throw it all away——,
Vincent’s dark eyes flickered slightly upon hearing the hostile declaration.
Subaru’s insightfulness was not able to decipher which emotion it corresponded to; joy, anger, sorrow, or pleasure. Instead, he experienced the rapid parching of his tongue, brought by the enthusiasm of his own words.
Naturally so. Unlike Abel, who had been deprived of his real power as the Emperor of the Vollachian Empire, which boasted of a vast territory, the fake Emperor in front of him was the one who definitely held it as leverage.
Had Vincent not raised a hand to halt Kafma after hearing the gaffe from earlier, the latter would have exploded in rage and Subaru’s life would have been cut short.
But that had not come to pass. Vincent would not allow it to happen.
Looking down at the confrontation between Subaru and Vincent from her high seat, Yorna let a faint sound slip out from her throat.
A chuckle escaped from the corner of her mouth as smoke leaked out of her mouth, and her shoulders trembled with amusement. It seemed that Subaru’s life-threatening pronouncement had taken an effect in relieving her boredom, at least.
Vincent: [What are you laughing at, Yorna Mishigure?]
Yorna: [First of all, these guests have not retracted their words. In addition, the three of them might possibly put His Excellency’s life in jeopardy… What do you think?]
Vincent: [Do not taunt me, woman. Even you, who believes in disobeying me, understands my intentions.]
Vincent’s expression did not change as he met Yorna’s provocative gaze.
Like that, he once again cast his dark eyes to Subaru, who had declared his hostility.
Vincent: [This is the land of the Sword Wolf. Only if you possess the mettle to aim at my head can you truly be called a citizen of the Empire.]
Subaru: […That’s very sweet of you, isn’t it?]
With a snort, Vincent dismissed Subaru’s sarcasm with a laugh.
Vincent’s behavior, the way he responded included, was a perfect facsimile of the real thing. If Abel were here, he would have responded exactly the same way.
That Abel was together with Subaru and the others made the latter suspect the possibility that he was the false Emperor.
Although in that case, Subaru and the remaining people would be at a complete impasse, so he wished for it to not be the case.
Vincent: [But the value of my head is not so low that I can hand it to you that easily.]
Subaru: [——. Then, what do you intend to do with us?]
Vincent: [Well, that’s the problem.]
The statement acknowledged Subaru and the others who had shown outright defiance to the Emperor by getting the better of Kafma, who was on the verge of a violent outburst. However, the following words showed that there was no change in the cold gaze Vincent directed at his opponents.
Even if he valued their spirit, there was no reason for him to give allowance to those who sought to harm him.
Subaru’s and Vincent’s black eyes met, the atmosphere of the room an infernal blaze.
Yorna: [Oh, I’m a sinful woman, too. When I see men fighting over me like this, it makes me quite excited.]
Kafma: [As if it were someone else’s problem… First, there are more women over there than men. Saying men is not accurate.]
Yorna let out her impressions, which really stuck out like a sore thumb, about the staring contest between Subaru and Vincent.
In reaction, Kafma’s face grew increasingly angry.
Kafma: [My Excellency! Order me! Those people are…]
???: [——Kafma, ya did that thingy… You’ve been makin’ a bit of a ruckus for a while now.]
Fed up with the stalemate, Kafma attempted to appeal directly to Vincent. However, it was not Vincent who interrupted him, nor was it Yorna, but someone else.
Subaru’s mouth involuntarily let out an exhale as he turned to the direction of the voice.
The voice had been so far outside of Subaru’s consciousness that the very fact that it had been uttered startled him.
It was one of the three people Vincent had brought along as escorts—— a small figure sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, someone other than Kafma.
???: [Ya know, most things work out better when His Excellency’s the one ta do the thinkin’ rather than us. We’re seriously goin’ to be in the way if we keep yappin’, really.]
It was a wrinkled old man who spoke those words, his hair colored white, donning long eyebrows.
He was an old man who had carefully crafted an atmosphere of annoyance in both the tone and content of his speech. His appearance was so striking that it was hard to understand why he had not been seen before.
——No, he had been in sight. It was just that he had been out of awareness.
Perhaps that is what it meant to truly be out of sight.
Once the old man pointed this out, Kafma turned to him and said, “But”,
Kafma: [It would be the duty of a loyal subject to remove His Excellency’s troubles, Master Olbart!]
Olbart: [When ya call yerself a loyal subject, doesn’t it sound like a prelude ta someone bein’ purged for bein’ self-servin’? I don’t like the idea of choppin’ off the head of a promisin’ young man.]
Kafma: [Guh… Hk.]
Shaking his head lazily, the old man—— the one called Olbart, picked at his ear. Kafma’s cheeks tensed up, making one wonder what kind of pressure he had felt from that gesture.
However, Kafma was not the only one who had caused their cheeks to stiffen. Upon hearing the name mentioned, Subaru’s cheeks tensed up as well.
Subaru: [Master, Olbart…]
Olbart: [Oh? Ya know me? I’m kinda well-known after all.]
Subaru: […If you’re aware that you’re a celebrity, then yes, I’m sure of it.]
His lips trembled as he spun the name that Olbart reacted to.
If he had that reaction upon witnessing Subaru’s look of shock, then there was no doubt about it. In the City Hall of Guaral, and then on their journey to the Demon City, he had heard of Olbart’s name.
From here on out, the Nine Divine Generals would be an inevitable part of Subaru’s strategy to conquer the Empire. One of them was Yorna, and the other was——,
Subaru: [The Vicious Old Man, Olbart Dunkelkenn…!]
Olbart: [I don’t really like that name, ya know. Vicious Old Man sounds awful. Do I look like such a vicious ol’ man? Well, if someone asked me directly, I wouldn’t be able ta say that I do. I wouldn’t be able ta say it, kakakakka!]
The old man smiled, as he opened his mouth wide and displayed his beautiful white teeth, which looked great for his age.
However, Subaru was in no laughing mood. ——They had encountered Vincent, the false Emperor, as they worked towards their goal of getting Yorna on their side, and in the end, he had brought Olbart with him.
This meant that, at this point, Olbart too was a member of the other faction.
Subaru: [Arakiya and Chisha, and also Olbart…]
Subaru felt like he was reaching his wits’ end; members of the Nine Divine Generals they were aiming for had seemingly been secured by the enemy already. And furthermore, they were just going for those said to be high ranking.
The problem was that not only the future, but also the situation in front of them was getting worse at an accelerating pace.
Even if it had been just Kafma by himself, he’d have been way too much to handle, and now Olbart of the Nine Divine Generals had joined the fray.
It was not they could have arranged all those terrible conditions thus far, even if they’d planned to——,
Al: [——Hey, old man, do you remember me?]
Olbart: [What’s that?]
Sweat flowed down Subaru’s forehead, running down his cheeks and dripping from the tip of his chin.
Amidst all this tension, an unexpected voice made Olbart raise his eyebrows. It was Al, who had called out from behind Subaru.
Al leaned forward, Subaru’s eyes widening in surprise at that action.
Subaru: [Al? What are you… doing all of a sudden, when every move we make’s being questioned right now?]
Al: [Natsumi-chan’s still talking like a woman for the most part in this situation, but I didn’t just butt in without thinking. No, I didn’t think about it, but… Hey, old man! It’s me, hey hey!]
Subaru: [It sounds like you’re a phone scammer talking like that…] 
It would be rash to think that just because he was an old man, he would be able to pull off such a scam. In fact, in response to Al’s call, Olbart leaned forward and snorted, “Hmm?”.
Olbart: [Well, that’s quite the eccentric look ya got there, boy. Even tho’ I’m an ol’ man, I wouldn’t be able ta forget someone who looks like that. Do we really know each other?]
Al: [Maybe I don’t know you that well, and the last time I saw you, I wasn’t wearing my helmet. But I didn’t have an arm, and we chatted a bit.]
Olbart: [You’re the armless one who talked ta me at…?]
Al: [Oh, right. ——Lil’ Miss Arakiya was with me, too.]
Lowering his voice slightly, Al mentioned Arakiya’s name, the fearsome girl who had stirred up so much trouble for Subaru and the others and, like Olbart, was a member of the Nine Divine Generals.
Al’s words were something Subaru could make no sense of; but as soon as Olbart heard them, his eyebrows shot up and he shouted, “Oh!”.
Olbart: [You’re that guy! You’re the guy who took back the island with Araki! Now that ya mention it, ya look similar ta him. Kakakakka, I can’t believe you’re still alive!]
Al: [Oh, I’m alive, I’m alive. Somehow, my stars have come full circle.]
Olbart: [So, by some chance, you’ve become an enemy of His Excellency. Maybe I should’ve talked to ya earlier to make His Excellency’s reputation better. I messed up, I messed up.]
Al and Olbart exchanged words, the former speaking in an easy-going tone, the latter with a broad smile.
Unknowing of the relationship between the two, Subaru could only stare blankly. As for whether things were getting better or not, even that was difficult to gauge.
Vincent: [——. Olbart, you know that man?]
The one person to intervene to put an end to such doubts was Vincent.
Olbart, with crossed arms, replied, “Oh, yes!” to the false Emperor’s query,
Olbart: [Two or three years ago when you’d just ascended ta the throne, there were revolts all over the place, weren’t there?]
Kafma: [Master Olbart, His Excellency ascended to the throne eight years ago now…]
Olbart: [Huh? Thought it’d have been ‘bout three years ago. Dangnabbit, it’s been ‘bout ten years, which ta me seems recent, guess I just screwed up.]
Vincent: [Never mind that, just proceed. Eight years ago, what happened?]
With Olbart going off on a tangent, Vincent set him back on track. In accordance with that correction, Olbart pointed to Al and said, “So,”.
Olbart: [There was a rebellion on Ginunhive back then… and the ones ta stop it were this guy with the helmet and Araki.]
After hearing Olbart’s story, for the first time, Vincent’s interest turned to Al.
It was difficult to ascertain which way the pendulum had swung, good or bad, but it seemed that his effort had not immediately led to him being punished for his rudeness.
On top of that, Al stepped forward so that he was alongside Subaru,
Al: [Your Most Gracious Excellency the Emperor, as Old Man Olbart over there is seemingly aware of… Actually, eight years ago, I was of service to His Excellency, and I have yet to receive my reward.]
Olbart: [Altho’, ya said ya didn’t want anythin’.]
Vincent: [Olbart, keep your mouth shut. ——You may resume, clown.]
Al: [——I was hoping to get my reward today.]
Subaru imagined a sound that seemed to silently freeze the air in the hall.
Al’s fearlessness in demanding a reward for his own achievements over eight years ago, coupled with the presence of someone who knew of Al’s deeds, was certainly a gamble worth taking.
The fake Emperor who had not opted to execute them immediately after hearing Subaru’s declaration of war—— Vincent possessed both reasons and resolution to act as the Emperor of Vollachia.
And, if Abel’s words were true, then his beliefs would include “definite punishment or reward”.
Vincent: [What do you request? My head?]
Al: [It would be a massive victory for me if I could get you to give it to me, but it would take a lot of courage to ask for it. So…]
As he said this, Al turned his head to look at Subaru. Realizing what he was being asked to do, Subaru pulled out an envelope from his pocket.
All along, their objective had been to deliver Abel’s missive.
Subaru: [It is our purpose to give this missive to Yorna-sama. If you would like to reward my companion for his service, please allow it.]
Vincent: [A missive?]
Subaru: [A love letter from our… Master, to Yorna-sama.]
Hesitant to call him “Master”, Subaru stuck his tongue out internally and continued to speak.
Hearing the expression “love letter”, Yorna, who was sitting at the head of the room, laughed and cleared her throat with a “Kuhu”. Her interest seemed to have been piqued. And Vincent’s reaction was not an undesirable one either.
As he squinted his dark eyes, Vincent pondered for just a few seconds,
Vincent: [Over eight years have passed, but the Gladiator Island incident was troublesome.]
Vincent: [You may have your reward if you so desire it. You may deliver the missive to Yorna Mishigure.]
Gesturing with his chin, Vincent indicated Yorna.
It took Subaru a moment to comprehend the intent of Vincent’s words. But upon realizing that it meant that Al had won his bet, Subaru and the others looked at one another.
It had been a high-stakes gamble, and Al’s decision to go for it had been the correct one——,
Just as they were about to burst in jubilation, Vincent held up one finger and spoke up.
To Subaru and the others turning to look at him, the false Emperor closed his black eyes, which felt like darkness itself, and said,
Vincent: [The only thing I shall allow you to do, is to hand her your missive. You know the meaning of that, do you not?]
And thus, the words spoken were processed.
Subaru’s eyes widened at this, and he quickly turned around, gnashing his teeth as his gaze fell on Yorna, gazing over the situation with a grin.
The goal of Subaru’s party, though, was to give her a missive and get her to respond.
Subaru: [If I were to give you the missive, when should I expect a response from Yorna-sama?]
Yorna: [Yes, I see…]
Upon that question of Subaru’s, Yorna cast her gaze towards the void.
Then turning the kiseru upside down, dropping the ashes into a jar prepared by the attending kamuro.
Yorna: [I’m a woman, after all… I don’t want to be seen opening a love letter as soon as I receive it. That’s why… I’ll carefully read and respond to the guests after they have left the castle.]
Subaru: [——. So you will read it once we leave the castle, won’t you?]
Yorna: [As the Lord of the Demon City, I won’t speak lies in front of my attendants.]
Subaru could not tell whether the light in her blue eyes was sincere or naive, as he was unfamiliar with her. However, he no longer had a choice.
For example, were he to alter Al’s reward, instead saying that the reward would be to exit the castle safely, Vincent probably would have allowed for that as well.
However, much like the previous one, that plan would terminate the possibility of joining forces with Yorna.
Subaru: [Al, Medium-san.]
Before he completely made up his mind, Subaru called out the names of his two companions.
What was going to happen and what needed to be done required the cooperation of both of them. So, it made sense to get their approval before taking any action.
Subaru turned around and met their gaze, as Al and Medium nodded to each other.
Al: [Well, I told you bro, that I’d lend you a hand.]
Medium: [Big bro asked me to take care of you, too! He said to take care of Natsumi-chan for him!]
Al tilted his head, and Medium exclaimed with powerful words.
Encouraged by the answers of those two, Subaru nodded back at them.
Then Subaru slowly walked towards the front of the hall—— towards Yorna leaning on the armrest in the seat of honor, while she puffed on her kiseru.
With her bewitching beauty in close proximity, Subaru presented her the missive amidst a sweet scent.
Subaru: [Here you go, a missive from our Master.]
Yorna: [Thank you for your hard work. But it’s going to be a lot harder from here.]
Subaru: [Yes, I am aware.]
Supple fingers took the missive, and the words expressed with a smile, cursed the future of Subaru and his friends.
But Subaru responded to her words with dignity and turned around.
Subaru: [——Your Majesty the Emperor, I’m afraid we’re going to have to take your throne.]
And so, right in front of him, he announced a declaration of war even more clearly than before.
The events that took place at that moment were dramatic.
Kafma: [How dare you, you insolent little——!!]
Immediately after their declaration of war, Kafma’s eyes went wide open.
Following Subaru’s proclamation, the height of rudeness and disrespect, Kafma Irulux wished to prove his loyalty to the Emperor with his own power.
——As a result, Kafma’s clothes exploded as his arms were extended, and countless thorns rushed towards Subaru.
Dark-green-colored thorns like slithering snakes surged toward Subaru, their overwhelming mass blanketing his vision. The ivy of thorns, each of which in possession of needles as thick as Subaru’s arms, was a deadly weapon that would squeeze its prey out of every last drop of life.
It was a strike that would not permit for any reaction from Subaru, and akin to a snake swallowing a rat, it engulfed Subaru’s body in thorns with no effort.
Al: [——Well said, bro.]
The thorns pierced through his entire body, and he prepared for the fierce pain to come.
However, it was not the pain that struck Subaru, who had tensed up his body, but rather the shock of him being pulled backwards and falling on his buttocks. Stepping before Subaru was Al, whose words had reached him from the side, taking the thorns on with his Blue Dragon Sword.
Al, with Subaru behind him, drew out the thick blade and parried the enemy’s attacks. Incapable of blocking their entirety, his shoulder and side were stained with blood.
Nevertheless, Al had been able to protect Subaru from this overwhelming mass.
Subaru: [What about Medium-san!]
Medium: [Uuaah! That was so close! If I hadn’t done what Al-chin said, I would’ve died!]
Subaru turned around hurriedly, and right beside him was Medium answering in a loud voice, having pulled her twin swords.
Glancing over, she was swinging her twin blades up and down, slashing away, or catching, or stepping on, preventing some of the thorns approaching her from all directions.
Subaru breathed a sigh of relief at the certainty of her skills, and the fact that she was safe. However, relief was too premature. After all, this was merely the first wave——,
Yorna: [What an extravagant magic trick.]
To the rear of Subaru’s group putting themselves on guard, was Yorna, who would have been within range of the thorns as well. She pulled her kamuro into her arms and exhaled purple smoke, while remaining in the same posture as when she had accepted the missive.
There were signs of thorns closing in on her from all sides as well, but they avoided her as if by design, the thorns twisting unnaturally as if there were a circle of space around only Yorna.
It was impossible to speculate whether it was Kafma who had intentionally bent it or Yorna who had done something about it, but——,
Subaru: [I apologize for the disturbance. We will leave you to it.]
Yorna: [Have a safe return home. If the three of you fail to leave the castle…]
Subaru: [You won’t read the missive. I understand.]
When explained once again in simple terms, Yorna’s intentions could be understood without doubt, no matter how hard to grasp they may be. Vincent too, had made it clear that the game was on——,
Subaru: [Game’s on ‘til we leave the castle. ——Al, Medium-san!]
Subaru: [To the right!!]
Immediately after the strong replies, Subaru barked loudly.
Hearing this, his two companions comprehended Subaru’s decision that very instant, and three blades were brandished.
The Blue Dragon Sword of the one-armed man, and a pair of supple swords furiously cut through the thorns, blowing away the mass that blocked their vision and their path, and the three figures flew out of the greenery.
Just like that, they pressed down on the wooden floor to gain speed and momentum.
Kafma: [You think I am going to let you escape?]
However, after one step forward, a needle as thick as a thumb snagged the tip of Subaru’s nose.
As it flashed across his vision, it appeared to be more akin to a piece of white bone to him a rather than a thorn. It was not a shot intended to deter Subaru, but a blow that should have pierced his temple.
He would have died had Al not swiftly placed his blade in the path of the launched needle.
Subaru: [Thorns and needles, along with a freak show!?]
Al: [It’s the Insect Cage Tribe! They attack with the insects they carry inside their bodies!]
Subaru: [This isn’t the Aburame clan!] 
While having a dispute over something trivial, Subaru kept his stance low and moved forward with Al and Medium providing support. It was not the exit of the hall that they were headed for.
Even if they headed that way, they would have had to retrace their steps the long way back down the castle tower. There was no way they could continue to be exposed to Kafma’s attacks for that long.
In other words, Subaru and others would need to take a significant shortcut.
Subaru: [Do your best!]
Medium: [——I’ll do my best!]
The moment she received that encouragement, without exaggeration, Medium’s whole body bounced and her momentum increased.
With her long hair billowing, she swung the twin swords in her hands, fiercely dispatching the thorns that rushed forth in complicated and bizarre trajectories.
Of course, this was partly due to Medium’s own skills. But in addition to that,
Al: [Right! Right knee! Nape of the neck! Sexy hips!]
Medium: [Uh! Ha! Take this!]
Al’s blood-curdling shouts told Medium of the aim of the approaching dangers, and Medium responded instantly, successfully guarding against and handling the thorns just before they hit.
Subaru wondered how far he could see, but Al’s high level of survivability, which had also been demonstrated against Arakiya, apparently applied not only to himself, but to others as well.
Taking advantage of this, Medium reached the window of the hall. With a single swing, she destroyed the wooden railing, and her long, leaping legs blew down the wall.
Beneath their gaze, the hall of the castle tower, which was more than thirty meters above the ground, had opened up. The blue sky of Demon City spread out in full view, and a wild wind greeted Subaru and the others.
It was not a matter of all or nothing, but——,
Subaru: [——If we get out of the castle!]
Yorna put her hand on the missive.
Since they’d accepted these terms, Vincent’s group would cease from doing anything further. Perhaps, it wasn’t like they had made such a promise explicitly.
But with nothing else to believe in, it was the only way to see things through——,
Medium, who had smashed through the wall, beckoned him, and Subaru ran as fast as he could.
He was grateful for not having worn a skirt carelessly. If the cause of death were crossdressing, Subaru would not be able to face the efforts of his many predecessors.
At the last moment, Subaru, while even forgetting to keep his appearances up, kicked the floor as hard as he could.
He would then catch up with Medium, and exit through the wall with her——,
Olbart: [Sorry, but I got a job ta do too, ya know.]
Subaru: [Kah… Hk.]
At the same moment, intercepting Subaru and Medium, the old man appeared in front of them as if from out of nowhere, and his piercing hand struck them both squarely in the chest.
His breath caught in his throat as he was struck by the impact. Subaru’s consciousness cracked, everything seemed to shatter after he took the blow from the Divine General.
Medium: [Natsumi-chan! It’s nothing!]
A loud voice called out next to him, and Subaru regained the consciousness he had almost lost. Looking down at his chest in a panic, no damage from Olbart’s piercing hand could be seen.
There was no blood, no sign that his heart had been removed without bleeding.
Medium: [Let’s go, Natsumi-chan! Don’t bite your tongue, okay?]
Medium grabbed Subaru by the collar as the latter looked around in confusion. With a large step, she then crossed the wall she had breached, and threw herself out of the Crimson Lapis Castle without hesitation.
Subaru and Medium leapt into the blue sky, intertwined with each other; the sensation of rising through the air caused by the jump disappeared in an instant, only for them to be thrown into a falling trajectory a second later.
Subaru: [Uh, kyaaaa——!]
With a high-pitched scream, Subaru pulled Medium close into him and then felt around his own waist. Following that, he pulled out the familiar feeling in his hand and held up his weapon—— a whip, while in midair.
Had he simply jumped without any preparation, it would merely amount to an act of suicide.
Albeit the preparations performed towards their odds of success had not been many, Yorna’s provocation, their declaration of war on Vincent, plus the offense and defense with Kafma and Olbart, had all been a series of gambles.
He had barely picked up everything that was there, so he just had to trust that he could pick up the very last one as well.
Subaru: [Don’t miiiss!!]
While hugging Medium’s thin waist, Subaru swung his arm and unleashed the whip. The tip of the whip extended not into the void, but towards one of the beams that stretched throughout all parts of the Demon City—— stretching like a spider’s web all throughout the city, reaching likewise one of the outer walls of the Crimson Lapis Castle.
Hooking the whip onto that place, and utilizing it as a stepping stone to get out of the castle grounds. That was the best move Subaru could come up with amidst the chaos of the hall.
Feeling the tug on his arm, Subaru wrapped the whip around his wrist with all his strength. He thought that this would support his body even if his grip were not strong enough; at worst, the damage would shatter the bones in his wrist.
Subaru: [Al is… Gyahk!]
Al: [My bad!]
The moment the whip came taut, Al came crashing upon Subaru’s back. Apparently he had been able to jump out of the castle, just like Subaru and Medium.
As a result of having crashed into each other in midair, the three of them clung to each other and hung down, entrusting nearly one hundred and fifty kilograms of weight to a single arm of Subaru’s.
The bodies of Subaru and the others arced around one of the beams outside the Crimson Lapis Castle, using it as a pivot, while the screams of his arm and wrist, elbow and shoulder, of his entire right arm, were replaced by real screams.
As it was, the best thing to do was to wait for the recoil to subside, and have everyone climb up the whip and return to the beam one-by-one. Subaru clenched his molars, as he compared the time it would take to get there to the time it would take his right arm to necrotize——,
Al & Medium: [——Ah.]
And just as he was about to exert all his strength, Al and Medium’s voices overlapped.
Before he could see what was up, the burden on Subaru’s right arm vanished. ——No, to be precise, the burden had not vanished, but the beam onto which the whip was attached had snapped.
By the thorns extending from the breached walls of the keep, by their fierce mass.
Subaru: [Uh, AHHHHH——!]
With screams trailing behind them, Subaru’s group of three flew through the air in a tangled heap. Their bodies flew in a parabola, recoiling from the whip on the beam.
Even though it was better than jumping from the castle tower, Subaru and Al, as ordinary people, would not be able to survive being knocked down a height of more than twenty meters.
As he searched a way out of the situation, while screaming his head off, the faces of Emilia, of Beatrice, and of Rem popped up one after another in Subaru’s mind——,
——With a ferocious crash, the three of them crashed through the roof and into the castle stables, entangled with one another atop haystacks.
 The way Al addresses Olbart is reminiscent of an infamous, common telephone scam in Japan, called the “ore-ore” scam, which is often played on older parents. For more information, see https://japantoday.com/category/features/kuchikomi/%27ore-ore%27-and-related-scams-become-increasingly-elaborate.
 The Aburame clan is a reference to the Naruto series. At birth, members of this clan are offered to several special breeds of insects as a nest, residing just under their host’s skin. These insects will then live in symbiosis with their host from that point on. Because of this, its members are characterized by their use of insects as weapons.