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Taking a look outside through the large hole in the saloon wall, Kafma twisted his lips in disgust.
Under him, in the raging wind, smoke lingered. He strained his eyes towards the building into which the three of them had disappeared to, having successfully escaped the hall. ——He could not see the fugitives anywhere.
The beam that had developed a crack crumbled with a loud sound, but as it was too far away, to hope that its debris would crush that insolent group would be folly.
Kafma: [I will not let you escape. I will do whatever it takes to avenge your disrespect towards His Excellency…]
Olbart: [No, no, we can’t do that. They bet their every card on this opportunity ta escape, didn’t they? If we chase ‘em now, wouldn’t we make it pointless?]
Kafma: [Master Olbart!]
Having been stopped from pursuing the fugitives, Kafma turned around, his teeth chattering. Receiving that gaze, the diminutive old man voiced a “Oh, scary”, and made himself smaller.
Seeing his reaction, Kafma’s eyes grew even sharper and angrier,
Kafma: [Why did you let those girls go in the first place? If it’s you, Master, you should have been able to seize them in the blink of an eye!]
Olbart: [Oh? I could tell ya the same thing. And I didn’t cut corners too much either. That young fellow with the helmet, he’s got some strange tricks up his sleeve.]
Kafma: […Young fellow, I got the impression that he really was not that young.]
Olbart: [That’s not really important. Most of ya look like waddlin’ kids to me, actually. I’ve been an old man since ya were born.]
Twisting his wrinkled face into a smile, Olbart pointed at himself. Kafma was about to point out this light-hearted attitude of his yet again, but Olbart continued with “And”,
Olbart: [Ya may’ve forgotten, but I got ta keep an eye on that foxgirl over there, don’t I? Ya never know when she might turn on Your Excellency.]
Kafma: [General First-Class Yorna… Indeed, I have been rash.]
Olbart: [Kakakakka, as long as ya understand.]
Once that was mentioned, Kafma sagged down as if ashamed of himself for losing his cool. At the exchange between the young man and the old man, Yorna, having been designated as a dangerous person, put her hand over her eyes and spoke,
Yorna: [That’s quite rude of you. How dare you speak of a delicate woman such as I as you’d speak of a dangerous animal… I’ve never been so humiliated in my life.]
Kafma: [Who do you think you…!]
She mocked them while faking tears, and Kafma’s anger was directed at Yorna. But Yorna cleared her throat while bathed in his gaze, then gently lowered her hand to touch her eyes.
As she did so, she brought her kiseru to her mouth, filled her lungs with purple smoke, and deeply exhaled, letting out a large plume of smoke. ——The smoke slightly wavered as it made its way to the big hole in the wall.
Once the fluttering purple smoke reached it, an astonishing change was born.
In nature very much like that of a hallucination, the demolished wall was mended in a spectacle.
The wood used in the areas where the collapsed walls of the Crimson Lapis Castle had been damaged, wriggled and mended akin to a creature’s wounds being healed. It was a building being repaired, but a strange and unearthly one; the impression it gave was more of a living being, rather than something inorganic.
That unrealistic scene caused Kafma, standing by the wall while tensing his cheeks, to retreat, and look back at Yorna.
Yorna: [With this, everything’s back to normal now… So if you could as well, please fix your mood.]
Kafma: [This is, General Yorna’s…]
Vincent: [This is why one cannot mess with the Demon City without proper care… But that is not the sole danger posed by this woman.]
After she finished repairing the outer wall, Kafma gasped towards Yorna, who produced a supple smile.
His shiver was complemented by Vincent, who had not even twitched during the earlier commotion. The man at the top of the Empire glanced at the wall, then focused on Yorna,
Vincent: [They have exited the castle. The conditions set forth by you and I have been met.]
Yorna: [So, if that’s the case, it’d be somewhat unseemly for us to deny their efforts. I hope you understand that, Your Excellency.]
Yorna: [Of course, you’ve got your own ideas, Your Excellency. I respect that. But don’t forget.]
The Lord of the Demon City, Yorna Mishigure, who had not made an effort to correct her posture against the Emperor from beginning to end, smiled as she looked at the silent Vincent.
Yorna: [This is the Demon City, my city. ——Even that blue youngster’s sword cannot reach me.]
Albeit that declaration was appropriate for the Lord of the Demon City, it was inappropriate to announce it to the Emperor.
For the Emperor of Vollachia, who carried out his rule across the entire Empire, for Yorna to act as if her control over even a single city was superior was more than just disrespectful.
However, the words of Yorna Mishigure could not be denied.
Because everyone knew it veracious, regardless of whether she was right or wrong to speak them.
In this Demon City of Chaosflame, Yorna Mishigure possessed absolute power.
Vincent: [I shall give you one night.]
To consider it a defeat for the Vollachian Emperor would disregard that very Emperor’s foresight and deep thinking. However, it was not easy for even those close to the Emperor to discern the intrigues the Emperor held within the depths of his dark eyes.
They must only believe that Vincent’s words were not unreasonable nor erroneous.
Yorna: [Thank you. Then I’ll take my time to examine the reply to the letter.]
And so answered Yorna to Vincent’s permission, and while her words were spirited on the surface, her attitude and face did not display any gentleness at all.
Both of Vincent’s guards, Kafma and Olbart, had their own opinions regarding Yorna’s attitude. But the reason as to why they allowed that from Yorna was their own guilt for letting those three escape.
With Vincent’s admission, there was nothing to be gained from backtracking.
Kafma: [But your attitude is inexcusable. I will continue to repeat this.]
Yorna: [Kuhu. If you look at me with such scary eyes I won’t stop shivering. Master Olbart, could you do something about it for me?]
Olbart: [You’re goin’ ta spring this on me? I’m an ol’ man with a short life ahead of me, it’s the duty of young’uns ta be kind to the older generation. Wait, maybe I’ve found the best idea ta get goodwill from most people? Is my era comin’?]
Kafma: [Master Olbart!]
Kafma raised his voice in anger at Olbart’s mischievous remark.
Watching it with a smile, Yorna shook the smoke fluttering from her kiseru. Squinting at the appearance of these Generals, Vincent gave a light snort of his nose.
Then turning, the Emperor regarded the final person accompanying him—— the one who, contrary to Kafma and Olbart, had not moved any more than Vincent.
Vincent: [You have been talking very little. It is unlike you.]
???: […It is, isn’t it? Well, it’d be complicated if I were to meet some people.]
The voice of a young man donning a wry smile responded.
The young man was wearing a blue robe over his head, which prevented his face from being seen by others. That in itself was a normal thing for him, but the fact that he had tightened the neck of the robe even more than usual apparently had something to do with the guests previously present.
The man sighed, and shrugged while being in the line of sight of the silent Emperor,
???: [I thought I had to clam up in this Demon City. ——The stars, too, seem to want that.]
Vincent: [Is that what the stars want? Nonsense.]
???: [I’d prefer if you didn’t call it nonsense.]
Shrugging, the man grinned at Vincent’s words of disregard.
With this bitter smile, he continued.
???: [If Your Excellency were serious and took heed of the stars’ desires, you wouldn’t have come all the way out here, would you?]
Vincent: [You fool, do you believe you know what lays within my heart?]
???: [Please don’t be absurd.]
The man’s shoulders shrunk as Vincent folded his arms and lowered his voice one note.
Vincent then looked away from the man—— from the Stargazer, and narrowed his eyes at the sky into which the three rebels had disappeared, beyond the wall that had already closed.
Vincent: [——The wishes of the stars are nonsense.]
That murmur that no one was capable of hearing remained as a whisper to himself, then vanished.
Subaru: [Coughk! Kahk! Atchoo!]
Coughing into the thick cloud of dust, he desperately worked his lungs.
His back aching from the impact, Subaru ran his hand over the affected area to check for injuries. He fearfully retrieved his hand to see it not stained by blood; it seemed it was merely a bruise. It was a miracle.
The probability that the building materials from the destroyed building or the pieces of the collapsed beams could have pierced him or tore his vitals was high. Just how much luck had he?
Subaru: [We don’t have time for this… Medium-san! Al!]
???: [I-I’m here… Ouchouch.]
Shaking his head, he quickly called out the names of the two people he was supposed to be with. And hearing a reply originated from beneath the rubble at his side, Subaru moved to push aside the debris in a hurry, as to search for those people.
The buried Medium coughed, then blinked her eyes.
Medium: [Uwah, I thought I was gonna die! Are you okay Natsumi-chan?]
Subaru: [I managed somehow, thanks to Medium-san’s and Al’s protection… Medium-san, are you hurt? Does it hurt anywhere?]
Medium: [Uhyahyahya, that tickles~! It’s okay, it’s okay! I’m fine!]
Checking Medium’s shoulders and back, she wriggled and pushed back against Subaru’s chest.
It was no bluff nor lie; it appeared she had no noticeable injuries either. It would seem that both of them had been blessed with a tremendous amount of luck.
Looking for Al, who did not respond, Subaru scanned his surroundings.
As the clouds of dust finally settled, Subaru noticed that he and the others had jumped into an empty stable. The building beside the Crimson Lapis Castle was apparently a warehouse where hay for Galewind Horses was stored.
The reason as to why Subaru’s party had been saved from their helpless fall off a great height was said hay, which had acted as a cushion. Had it not been for the hay, at a minimum Subaru would have died a horrible death; being crushed like a tomato.
In Vollachia, where healing magic was rare, Rem not included, there was a high possibility that those with serious injuries would not be saved. In that sense, the environment of the Empire was much more conducive to death than Lugunica.
Of course, it could be said that the Empire’s notion of survival of the fittest was what had caused all this danger in the first place.
Medium: [There he is! Al-chin!]
And then, as Subaru looked around the dimly-lit room, Medium next to him moved as if to jump out.
She bent down beside a cart that had been overturned by the impact of the fall. Under the heavy pile of hay the three had fallen upon entangled with one another, something had begun to stir.
Subaru hurriedly rushed over, and the two of them, him and Medium, shoveled through the hay. Eventually, a listless thick arm appeared from under the hay, and they pulled it up.
Al: [Yeoch! My right arm’s gonna come off as well!]
Subaru: [That’s not funny!]
Medium: [But Al-chin’s alive too! That’s amazing!]
Subaru scolded Al for his unfunny joke, but was relieved by Medium’s words.
Al was pulled out of the haystack; his body was in a terrible state. Unlike Subaru and Medium who had miraculously escaped with only a few bruises and scratches, Al’s body had numerous lacerations and bruises all over.
He had fended off Kafma’s thorns and, if only temporarily, Olbart as well. As of his jump onto Subaru and Medium at the very end, he was in a position in which he could easily be pursued by the enemy.
——Each of the wounds he had received, were wounds that were supposedly Subaru and Medium’s to receive, originally.
Al: [What’s the matter, bro… You got a depressing look on your face.]
Subaru: [Well, it’s…]
Al: [It’s a miracle that we all survived the no-rope bungee. Looking at me like that won’t make me feel better about the scars on my back, though. It’s a shame for a swordsman, you know?]
Turning his shoulders in a languid manner, Al ran his mouth, as to encourage Subaru.
That attitude caused Subaru to choke up, but he then nodded quickly, “I guess so”.
Al tried to act aloof and as if everything were someone else’s problem, but his efforts in the offense and defense so far were all due to his sincerity to Subaru.
He sympathized with Subaru’s goals, and promised to assist him.
To that end, the man who was even willing to fight for Subaru’s life, was Al.
Subaru: [I was wrong about you…]
Subaru: [I thought you were always aloof and irresponsible, unreliable and unserious about everything.]
Al: [Oi oi.]
Subaru: [But you risked your life for me. ——I won’t forget that.]
Putting his hand on his fake chest, he spoke of his genuine resolution to Al.
Without him, Natsuki Subaru, would not be alive, at this moment. Therefore, from now on, Natsuki Subaru would fight without forgetting the favor he received from Al.
Even if his life could come to an end the next moment——,
Medium: [Natsumi-chan, Al-chin, if you two mess around too much…]
Subaru: [Yes, I know, I know. Let’s get out of here as soon as possible. Otherwise, Al’s sacrifice will have been in vain.]
Al: [It ain’t a sacrifice!]
At Medium’s urging, Subaru wiped his face with his sleeve and gave a strong reply.
It was fortuitous that all three of them had survived, however it was still too early to be relieved. The conditions proposed by Yorna and Vincent had been met, at least, but whether Kafma and Olbart would back off was uncertain.
Until he knew that for sure, they would have to survive.
Subaru: [We need to leave now. Hide ourselves and get the answers over there at…]
???: [——No need to worry about that.]
He was about to walk out while lending his shoulder to Al, when a voice called out to him.
Surprised by this, he abruptly moved his hands away, and Al, who was leaning on his shoulder, tipped over and screamed, “Guoh!”. But he did not have the leisure to worry about him.
A confrontation had begun between Subaru’s group, and this new figure at the entrance of the stable.
???: [My apologies for the delay in greeting you. A servant of Yorna Mishigure-sama I am, called Tanza.]
The person to speak these words with a respectful bow of her head, was a person with a distinctive kimono and deer antlers—— the deergirl who had been beside Yorna.
The girl who called herself Tanza slowly looked up and faced Medium, who stood in front of her as if protecting Subaru and Al, and shook her head.
Tanza: [Do not be alarmed, all is fine. I mean you all no harm.]
Medium: [Really? But we broke the walls of both this place and your master’s castle, didn’t we?]
Tanza: [The castle and the stables will be fixed by Yorna-sama. ——Yorna-sama has accepted you as messengers. No one will interfere with you again.]
Medium’s anxiety was dispelled by the words Tanza had added at the end. That line caused Medium’s eyebrows to lower in relief, but Subaru’s impression was the complete opposite.
Aside from Yorna going to fix the walls and stables, the question was more, what would happen afterward?
Subaru: [To say that no one will interfere with us, is a big deal. We know His Majesty the Emperor was there, you know?]
Subaru stood behind Medium, protected by her, not worrying about looking good. Tanza’s gray eyes stared at Subaru as he stepped forward.
In spite of her pretty face, she was a girl whose emotions did not show. Amiability was supposed to be a crucial part of a kamuro, but her behavior reminded him of a doll.
Subaru: [At the very least, we are those who’d hurt His Majesty the Emperor… and you’ll all overlook that? Is that what Lady Yorna said?]
Tanza: [Yes. No one can stand against Yorna-sama here in the Demon City. I believe Vincent-sama too is aware of that.]
Tanza’s answer was matter-of-fact, but with absolute certainty. Hearing this, Subaru was taken aback, swallowing down the words he was about to continue with.
Following that, Subaru and the others looked up at the ceiling of the stables they had just broken through and confirmed that there was no movement in the Crimson Lapis Castle. Based on his short impression, Kafma would have followed them right away.
Subaru: [Not even that’s happening… Apparently, you’re to be believed.]
Tanza: [Vincent-sama will return as well. Your letter will be answered tomorrow.]
Subaru: […I understand.]
Tanza: [Then, have a safe trip back.]
Tanza bowed in response to Subaru’s sigh, and turned her back on the three of them.
She had performed the minimal amount of work precisely, and was now seemingly returning to Yorna’s company. Suddenly as her back departed, Subaru called her out to stop her with “Tanza-san”.
Tanza stopped and turned around; As he stared back at that motionless, doll-like expression on her face,
Subaru: [What kind of person is Yorna-sama to you?]
The pretext for that inquiry was because Subaru had too many inner impressions of Yorna.
As long as she remained unknowing that Vincent was a fake, the way she treated him should be the same as the way she treated Abel, the Emperor.
He did not believe it fair to overlook her disrespectful and rude behavior only because of the pretense that she was a powerful woman, but it was unclear to him as to why she was acting in such a manner.
What was it that Yorna had for Abel, affection or hostility?
Combined with the fact that she had encouraged Subaru and the others to struggle, the depths of her heart were almost unreadable.
Subaru: [I would like to hear it from someone who’s beside her. Their impressions of Yorna Mishigure-sama.]
Tanza: [She is a loving woman. Loves her allies and hates her enemies. ——Lover of all things that reside in the Demon City.]
Tanza replied without hesitation, and for the first time a hint of emotion flashed through her eyes.
It disappeared in a flash, but to Subaru’s eyes, it seemed to be filled with a faint passion, and he was unable to say anything else.
Unable to follow up, he could only watch the girl’s back as she walked away.
If asked if he had obtained the answers he desired, he would have to say that he had not.
Instead, the mysterious impression he had of Yorna had only been deepened. He could not detect falsehood in Tanza’s words. But it was difficult to believe that that woman was a loving person.
Ever since they had arrived at the Demon City, Subaru and the others had been toyed with at her mercy.
Al: [Good grief, she’s gone… What are we gonna do?]
Subaru: [… There’s nothing we can do but go back. For now, we have to trust Tanza-san’s word and wait for a reply tomorrow.]
In the stables from which Tanza had disappeared, Subaru again lent a shoulder to Al, who had fallen on his butt.
While supporting his weight, Subaru looked up at the Crimson Lapis Castle once more.
Subaru: [A showy, eye-catching castle… Is this what “flamboyant” had been referring to?]
While he muttered to himself, Subaru realized that Tanza’s words had been true.
This strange castle that edged between blue and red was devoid of the hole that he and the others had created. No matter how much he strained his eyes, it was nowhere to be found, not even a shadow remained.
Abel: [I see, so he came, huh.]
Subaru: [Do you have something to say? Maybe along the lines of I’m sorry, or I apologize, or please forgive me?]
After scrambling back to the inn, Abel received a report of the incident regarding the delivery of the letter. Frowning heavily at his first remarks, Subaru’s face filled with hatred, as he pressed for an answer.
Despite this, Abel, donning the oni mask, pushed Subaru’s forehead with his palm with annoyance,
Abel: [Why must I apologize? You guys did well. I was just about to praise you on a job well done.]
Subaru: [Praise!? Praise, you say!? Don’t give me that condescending attitude together with that phrasing! You don’t have to praise me, I’m just doing what needs to be done. Hey, you two!]
Al: [Don’t get me involved.]
Subaru stuck his tongue out at the dissatisfied Abel while protesting furiously, calling for backup. Al, however, sprawled his feet on the floor and waved his hand saying, “Gimme a break”.
By net content, Al was the one to display the hardest work of the job. Leaving the first aid of his body with injuries all over to Taritta, his body started to resemble a mummy from all the bandages.
With the combination of his black helmet and the bandages all over his body, the surrealness of his appearance was incredible.
Taritta: [I’m glad that Natsumi and Medium are okay. I really should have gone with you, I was so worried.]
Subaru: [Hey, hear that? This is the correct response. As Emperor, why don’t you follow the example of Taritta-san, who’s taking over as the Chieftain?]
Taritta: [Please stop, I’ll die…]
Having been appraised as a good role model by Subaru, the latter currently explaining what should be the mindset of someone of higher position, Taritta, shook her head, her face turning pale.
Even though her attitude was fearful, Subaru could not help but feel disappointed. Was there nobody out there capable of punishing Abel?
At times like this, he felt ashamed that he had no choice but to take advantage of someone’s vulnerability.
Louis: [Uu! Auu!]
Medium: [Ah! Louis-chan, you can’t do that! You see, Natsumi-chan and the others are in the middle of an important conversation!]
Louis: [Uu! Uu!]
And then, Subaru’s thoughts were disturbed by a high-pitched scream coming from the adjacent room.
Taking a glance at the doorway to the neighboring room, he saw that Louis and Medium were having a scuffle with each other. Of course, there was no way Louis could resist Medium, so it resembled a sumo wrestling match between an adult and a child.
Soon after, Louis was carried away and her figure once again disappeared into the other room.
Subaru: […Sheesh, what the hell’s going on there? Ever since I came back, she’s been trying to jump at me.]
Al: [For some reason, she seems to be attached to you the most, bro. She doesn’t even look at me. Not that I want her to be attached to me.]
Hearing Subaru’s sighs, Al let out a grumble in his final form, which looked like a cheap Halloween costume. Next to him, Taritta wiped her forehead with satisfaction, her aesthetic sense not too bad.
Subaru had found someone who would compete with Emilia and Beatrice, making him miss them all over again. ——No, it was not just the two of them that he missed, but everyone on the other side of the border.
Soon, it would be twenty days since Subaru was sent to Vollachia.
As long as Beatrice and Ram were around, they should be aware of Subaru and Rem’s safety, but that was all; that they would not be able to convey any information beyond that made it even more frustrating.
He wished to find a way to meet up with Emilia and the others as soon as possible.
Subaru: [And yet, this masked man keeps leaving all the important bits out…]
Abel: [Hmm, you can point at me and say I am the masked one? If I am masked, what are you? A fool and a clown, perhaps?]
Al: [I’d say we’re all wearing cheap Halloween costumes, ain’t we?]
Al’s words had guessed Subaru’s innermost thoughts from just a moment before, and that expression, coupled with Abel’s point, caused Subaru to gnash his back teeth with a “Grr”.
In fact, Subaru, dressed as a woman, Abel, donning his oni mask, and Al, as a man wrapped in bandages and wearing a helmet, all looked like participants in a costume party. It somewhat mirrored Chaosflame; in this place where many different races were mingled, it seemed as if they were all trying to keep their individuality from being buried.
Of course, Subaru’s crossdressing was for practical purposes, that it was something that could not be avoided.
Subaru: [Anyway! I was able to meet Yorna-san at the castle, but I also ran into the Emperor’s entourage… That was your body double, correct?]
Clapping his hands, Subaru corrected the flow of conversation by force.
He was careful to keep his voice low to avoid being overheard, but he wanted those in front of him to hear exactly what needed to be heard.
In response, Abel nodded his head sporting the oni mask with a “Yeah”,
Abel: [Even if there are many who may resemble my appearance, there is merely a single person in a position able to perform an impersonation of me. ——Chisha Gold.]
Subaru: [Chisha Gold… One of the Nine Divine Generals. If I remember correctly, the White Spider, right?]
Abel: [That is correct. Quite wise, and excellent at commanding a large army. And…]
Al: [The first person who betrayed Abel-chan.]
Following Al’s last comment, Abel, his arms crossed while sitting on the bed, silently affirmed it.
He had been the first one among the treacherous Nine Divine Generals, a person who Abel must have trusted very much. That was Abel’s substitute—— no, rather than a substitute, he was now in the seat of the Emperor.
Subaru: [Chisha… Why do you think the fake Emperor came to the Demon City?]
Abel: [He understands the conditions of victory in a battle against me.]
Subaru: [The one with more Nine Divine Generals on their side wins.]
Securing the Nine Divine Generals, the symbol of strength in the Vollachian Empire, was the decisive key to victory.
To obtain this key, Subaru and the others had taken the trouble to go to Chaosflame. However, based on Abel’s current answer, there was only one possible purpose.
Subaru: [So, are they also trying to get Yorna Mishigure on their side?]
Abel: [That is difficult to imagine. Yorna Mishigure… He is not reckless enough to believe that she would listen to persuasion or negotiation.]
Subaru: [——? Then what are they doing here?]
Abel: [That much is obvious. ——He knew that I would come to the Demon City.]
After hearing Abel’s answer and being unable to comprehend it, a question mark popped up above Subaru’s head.
Equally puzzled, Al raised his hand voicing an “Abel-chan”,
Al: [Are you really saying that fake Emperor was able to predict that Abel-chan was gonna come to Chaosflame? If that’s for real, ain’t we in trouble?]
Abel: [He can follow my thoughts with considerable accuracy. After all, starting with where I would show up after having left the throne and the capture of the Fortress City, plus the arrangement of the Nine Divine Generals… Naturally, the Demon City would be narrowed down as a critical location.]
Subaru: [Knowing that… No, no way!]
Subaru widened his eyes as he processed Abel’s nonchalant words. Then he pointed at Abel, who looked at him quietly, with a trembling finger.
Subaru: [You were expecting us to run into the fake Emperor, weren’t you? To avoid running into each other in person, you stayed at the inn by yourself…]
Abel: [Fool. What is the point in doing such a thing? If you have the number of pieces under your control reduced without resistance, you shall spoil the path to victory even in an already-won match of Shatranj.]
Subaru: […Well, I guess that’s true, but.]
The only point that did not make sense, was that Abel would make a move detrimental to himself.
The only problem was that he could not disprove it; and as long as that was the case, Subaru’s conspiracy theory that Abel was a malevolent mastermind would end up being labeled as quite literally just a conspiracy theory.
In any rate——,
Subaru: [Anyway! Back to the point, what do you mean? That the false Emperor knew that he couldn’t convince Yorna-san to join his side. Yet, he still showed up at the Demon City because you’re coming…]
Abel: [He will take the initiative, and ruin the relationship between Vincent Vollachia and Yorna Mishigure. Do you think it would be so easy for me to reach the top of the tower of the Crimson Lapis Castle after such an event?]
Al: [Oh, that’s kinda… What a devious guy, oy!]
Once Al nodded his head in agreement, Subaru became annoyed and agreed as well.
At last, Subaru understood what Abel intended to say. In other words, Vincent’s goal was to make Yorna neither friend nor foe, but to keep her cut off as an invalid vote.
To do so, he had personally gone to the castle and had planned a decisive breakdown of the negotiations with the Emperor.
Subaru: […So, if we had arrived one day later.]
Abel: [Their plan would have been in place. Hence why I stated it. That it was troublesome.]
Motionless with surveying eyes, Subaru stared at Abel without blinking.
In other words, the previous exchange had been his way of displaying appreciation. If that was the case, a boss could only be so bad at praising his subordinates.
Even patting himself on the back would be more effective than the compliment from Abel.
Subaru: [Well done, me… Al and Medium-san too!]
Al: [Oh? Oh, yeah, well done, us.]
Medium: [Yeaaah~. Natsumi-chan’s cutting remarks were awesome!]
The three of them, who had overcome death together and become more united, praised each other. Unlike Abel, Subaru felt pity for Taritta, the latter feeling lonely for having been left out of the group.
Subaru: [But there are many things I wish you’d told me beforehand. For example, the fact that Yorna-san has feelings for you.]
Al: [Oh, that’s something I’ve been meaning to say as well. I’m begging you Abel-chan. It can’t be helped that you’re a lady-killer by nature, but in that cast you gotta pay the ikemen tax.] 
Abel: [I really do not understand what you are talking about, clown. Furthermore, you too misunderstand.]
Al: [What do you mean misunderstand? I’m just looking at the actual interaction.]
Despite saying “actual”, it was Yorna and Vincent’s interaction, but the fact that she was directing flirtatious glances at Abel was true.
However, Abel heaved a deep sigh upon Subaru and Al’s persistence,
Abel: [I am not one towards whom Yorna Mishigure’s thoughts are being directed at. It is the Emperor of Vollachia.]
Subaru: […So that’s you, right? You’re not going to tell me now that you’re actually the fake, and the other Emperor’s the real one, are you?]
For a moment, the suspicions born in him back at the Crimson Lapis Castle were rekindled, and Subaru glared at him as if he were telling a joke. However, Abel dismissed him with a “Preposterous”,
Abel: [Do not take it at face value. It is true that I am the Emperor of Vollachia, however, “Emperor of Vollachia” does not refer to solely me. There have been Emperors of Vollachia in the past, and there will be Emperors of Vollachia in the future.]
Subaru rolled his eyes after digesting Abel’s concise explanation. Next to him, Al let out a dumb-sounding “Huuuh~?”,
Al: [So you’re saying that Yorna-chan’s goal’s Abel-chan’s wealth or status?]
Abel: [I shall not delve into the details, but I am pretty certain that is what it is about. What she desires is the pinnacle of the Empire… to be the most favored mistress of the Emperor of Vollachia. It does not necessarily mean me.]
Subaru: […I kind of feel sorry for you.]
Abel: [Do not pity me based off your own advancing narratives.]
In a sense, it was a clearly-defined prerequisite for love.
The Emperor’s most favored mistress—— In other words, Yorna’s goal appeared to lay in becoming the Emperor’s wife. Certainly, in that position, she could rule the Empire both in terms of power and financial strength without becoming the Emperor.
To rule the Demon City of Chaosflame was not enough to satisfy the greed of that beautiful foxwoman.
Taritta: [Now that you mention it, what did you write in your letter?]
Al: [Well, maybe that he’ll take her as a wife if she comes to us or something. I think that’s the quickest way to do it, and she’s so beautiful.]
Subaru: [I wonder if her beauty’s enough to make up for the fact that she was so difficult to handle…]
Subaru believed that it was possible to tolerate some selfishness and bad character provided it was a beautiful woman, but only up to a point.
Priscilla and Yorna were undoubtedly beautiful, but Subaru would not take either as his wife. No matter how many lives he had, he could not handle living in a state of constant anxiety like that.
Abel: [I have no intention of revealing the contents of the missive. However, it shan’t disappoint your expectations. I can assure you of that.]
Subaru: [Guarantees can only be established when there’s trust… Oh no, let’s not go there. There’s no point in saying it. Stop, stop!]
Clapping his hands together, Subaru forced the topic to end there.
Abel looked at him disapprovingly upon witnessing that unsatisfying conclusion, but Subaru, looking at Al and prefacing with “By the way”, continued with a new topic of conversation,
Subaru: [A Divine General was there, you called him Olbart. Vicious Old Man, was it?]
Al: [Yeah, he was there. That old man’s bad news. I’ve met a lotta guys in my time, but he’s on a class of his own among those I’ve come across.]
Subaru: [Do you think that old man’s already been recruited by our opponent? If that’s the case, then Arakiya, Chisha, and a third person have already been taken.]
To have the majority of the Nine Divine Generals, five must be held.
But whereas Subaru and the others were still struggling to recruit the first one, there were already three Nine Divine Generals on the opposing side.
Al: [By the way, from what I heard before, that old man’s ranked Third. They also got the Second, Lil’ Miss Arakiya, and the Fourth, Chisha.]
Subaru: [They’ve got the biggest numbers pretty much covered!]
Upon hearing Al’s bleak report, Subaru shouted aloud.
If the ranks were in order of strength, the difference in strength seemed hopeless already. Since Yorna held the rank of Seventh, Subaru’s distress was to be expected.
Abel: [Do not bellow… It is likely that Olbart has not allied himself with the other faction. Currently, he is merely obeying the orders of the Emperor as a Divine General.]
Subaru: […And your basis for that is?]
Abel: [Olbart Dunklekenn is too, a man whose following plays cannot be read. If one wishes to shift the current situation, the path to victory must be rectified. Influencing Arakiya might be trivial, but Olbart is not as easy to ensnare.]
Subaru: [So what you’re saying, is that the Nine Divine Generals can’t be controlled completely after all…?]
In other words, since he had been unable to hold the reins of power, the body double who had taken his place would be unable to hold the reins of power either.
It was a conversation that he believed there was nothing to be happy about, one that made him feel uneasy about the future to come.
Taritta: [Then, the old man named Olbart has room to be on our side.]
Abel: [Naturally, adequate leverage must be brought to the negotiation table. He is a crafty old man with needs and expectations. Once the situation becomes clearer, we can decide what to bring.]
Subaru: […Oh, by the way, you knew him Al, didn’t you? What’s your relationship with him?]
If they wished to negotiate with Olbart, Subaru believed Al to be the best choice.
The conversation between Al and Olbart at the castle tower had revealed this possibility.
Subaru: [Gladiator Island, was it? So you played a role in resolving a case that happened there…]
Al: [Oh, yeah. There ain’t much to add, though? Eight years ago, when I was still a gladiator in Vollachia, I got caught up in a rebellion on the island. Gladiators from the island took a High Countess hostage during a deathmatch, and gave demands for his release.]
Subaru: [That sounds like a major incident to me… And you solved it, Al?]
Al: [To be exact, it was me and Lil’ Miss Arakiya when she was still a loli. And then there’s the High Countess who was supposedly being held hostage… We can talk about those details later.]
Clouding the second half of the story, Al scratched his neck awkwardly. It seemed to be something difficult to speak of, but even without the hidden details, the gist of it could be understood.
Al had resolved an incident in the Empire and eight years later sought a reward for his achievement. That had permitted Subaru and the others to fulfill their purpose and return with their lives.
Subaru: [Did you really want to use it that way?]
Al: [I don’t think I’d ever have a chance to use it anywhere but there, so why not? To be honest, I didn’t think it’d be such amazing foreshadowing. I wanna thank the lethargic me of the time.]
Al gave a cheerful chuckle, apparently wishing to avoid making Subaru feel any more self-conscious.
At the same time Subaru felt grateful for his concern, Abel, voicing an “Is that so”, nodded his head in assent.
Plucking the chin of his oni mask and gently flipping it upward, Abel exposed his bare face to Al, and,
Abel: [I had gotten word that a gladiator of the Gladiator Island had labored in the turmoil immediately after my accession. I too had heard that he had requested no reward… Would that be you, clown?]
Al: [Seems like it was. I’m more surprised that it reached the Emperor’s ears and that he was able to remember it. Feels like he’s also gonna remember later all the frivolous talks we had during our travels.]
Abel: [It was a great deed. ——I shall reward you for your service. No matter what happens.]
Abel’s words were grave and adorned with an unmovable sincerity as he showed his true face.
Abel’s creed of “definite punishment or reward” once again gave him the appearance of an Emperor. Abel’s upbringing as an Emperor would not overlook those who did not seek rewards for their achievements.
Al too, would not be able to escape this time without receiving a reward.
Abel: [Whatever the case, now that the missive is in her hands, we cannot avoid waiting for tomorrow’s response.]
Subaru: [That’s right, isn’t it? There’s nothing more we can do… In the meantime, Yorna-san’s attendant girl said that the fake Emperor’s group would not lay a finger on us.]
Abel: [If that is what Yorna Mishigure said, there is no reason to cast doubt onto it.]
Abel accepted Tanza’s assurance of safety without hesitation. It seemed that there was something hidden there that Abel had yet to tell, something that had not been conveyed to Subaru and the others.
Subaru: [Even if I told you to tell me about it…]
Abel: [I am the one who shall choose what information to relay to you. The information you shall get is what you are capable of handling. ——At least for the time being.]
Subaru: [At least for the time being… Huh.]
For a moment, Subaru’s manner of speaking returned to its original form, and he admonished himself for the discord that had formed in his heart.
It would be easy to dismiss this as uncooperative from Abel. But, he himself wished not to be defeated. Just like Subaru was doing his utmost, Abel too was doing his utmost.
That approach might be something desired by Subaru, but he was still not in step with Abel.
Al: [So, that’s it for today, huh? Fortunately, we were able to save our lives and be able to connect them to tomorrow. In addition, we’ve thwarted our opponent’s goals, so I’d say we’ve done well.]
Al spoke in a loud voice, breaking the delicate atmosphere between Subaru and Abel.
Taking this into consideration, Subaru nodded and said, “I guess so”.
Despite the unusual circumstances, the first step toward winning over Yorna Mishigure had been taken, thanks to Al and Medium.
There was no option but to wait for Yorna’s response the following day.
Subaru: […As expected, I’m very tired.]
As soon as he concluded that there was nothing else to do today, his body became heavy.
The tension must have dissipated, and so his body had become aware of his fatigue. From having to go up the castle right after their arduous journey, to meeting with Yorna and encountering the false Emperor, it was the conclusion of an important bout.
His right arm was sore from the strain he had put on it, and he had to take care of his whip, which had been utilized quite recklessly.
After the completion of a large task, it was important to maintain your body and tools.
Subaru: [Nevertheless, I’m sleepy…]
Holding his wobbly head, Subaru muttered to himself in a daze.
Seeing Subaru’s condition, Taritta supported him while saying, “Natsumi”,
Taritta: [You’ve finished an important mission. I’ll take care of your equipment, so please rest early tonight. I’ll also take care of the night watch.]
Subaru: [Being wary of night attacks in the city’s so post-apocalyptic…] 
With a small smile at Taritta’s concern, Subaru decided to take her word for it.
Exhaling deeply, he went to his assigned room. However, as he did so——,
Subaru: [It’s you again…]
Louis, who was supposed to have been separated from him in the adjacent room, jumped on Subaru as if she had been waiting for him. At Louis’s behavior of grabbing onto Subaru’s arm, Subaru put his hands on her head, utterly fed up.
Were it not Louis, he would not have minded the childish pleas for attention. However, it was hard to let his guard down considering it was Louis, particularly so when he was tired.
Wordlessly putting his finger on Louis’s forehead, Subaru flicked her white forehead prompting an “Ua” from her.
Subaru: [I don’t have time for you. Now, please step aside.]
Louis: [Aa, uaa!]
???: [Oh, she’s out of bed again! I’m sorry, Natsumi-chan. Hey, Louis-chan, come here! You’re with me!]
Louis’s body, as she clutched her forehead, was carried by Medium’s arms stretching out from behind her. After that, Louis continued to flap her legs, struggling to jump towards Subaru.
Her figure disappeared behind the door again, and this time Louis’s misdeeds came to a definite end.
Subaru: [Sheesh, what was that…]
Al: [She’s gotten even more attached to you, bro. Ain’t that it? Even if she hasn’t followed the story, she feels that you almost died.]
If Al’s point was right, then Louis’s attitude was out of concern for Subaru.
It was hard for Subaru to accept that, emotionally. Louis was acting like an innocent child, but deep down, an evil and unforgivable malice was present.
Stubbornly believing this was the basic premise of the relationship between Subaru and Louis.
Subaru: [Abel, I’m going to go to my room to rest. You can…]
Abel: [Do not bother. You being present would not be of much use to us in a crisis.]
Subaru: [Don’t just leave it to Taritta-san. Be on the lookout for night raids all night.]
Upon obtaining a response devoid of any concern, Subaru replied with a scathing remark.
He was sorry that Taritta, who had to mediate all this, was in a panic, but for the time being, he was relieved that everything that had to be done before he went to rest, was now over.
Subaru: [I’m going to take off my makeup, undress… and sleep like a log.]
Returning to the room he had been assigned to, Subaru bobbed his head as he undressed.
Now that he had left the Shudraqian village, it was not possible to repair his wig easily. It needed to be treated with great care and attention, so the process was very delicate.
He washed the wig by pressing it into a fine mesh net, then carefully washed his clothes and shoes after taking them off.
After the minimal treatment, Subaru sunk into bed.
Closing his eyes, he slowly drifted away from consciousness.
Subaru: [Tomorrow, then…]
The circumstances had evolved again.
If the situation changed, what he saw would change. If what he saw changed, a path would open. If a path would open, he could get closer to his goal. That was where everyone he had been separated from was.
Subaru: [Rem, Beako… Emilia, tan…]
With an ache in his heart, Subaru called out the name of his loved ones in another country.
As he dreamed of his loved ones’ names and his reunion with them, his consciousness faded——,
At a slow pace, the awakening of his consciousness came, and Subaru opened his eyelids atop the bunk.
He was not one to fall asleep easily, usually, but last night he had been so tired that he slept very well. So deeply that he did not even remember having dreamt.
He’d thought that would have been enough to rid him of much of his fatigue, but——,
Subaru: [What?] 
However, it was not sufficient rest that prompted Subaru’s awakening, but a noisy presence.
In the bedroom where Subaru slept, some kind of lively voice and presence came from the other side of the door. This had served as an alarm, having pulled Subaru out of sleep.
——A noisy atmosphere upon waking, was never a good sign.
Outside the window, the morning sun was leaking through the closed curtains, indicating that it was a little too early in the morning.
Feeling the already-noisy atmosphere of the Demon City, Subaru looked at the wig drying in the shade, at a loss what to do with it.
Considering what he had done so far, he should dress like a woman with his Natsumi Schwartz persona.
But if the situation on the other side of the door was dire, there was no time for crossdressing. Mulling it over for a moment, he decided that first priority went to finding out what was occurring.
There was a high likelihood that he was jumping into the wrong conclusion. If it was indeed important, Al, Medium, Taritta, or someone other than Abel would have woken Subaru up.
With this thought in mind, Subaru attempted to get out of bed, and fell from his shoulders to the floor.
The impact sent sparks flying in front of his eyes, causing Subaru astonishment at what had happened to him. It was not that he was sick, or that he had stepped on the clothes he had taken off.
It was, however, that his foot had missed the floor entirely as if he had misjudged the height.
——Subaru’s legs had been unable to cover the distance from the bed to the floor.
Subaru: [That’s ridiculous…]
Subaru, too, was troubled by the fact that his legs were short, but not to the extent that it interfered with his daily life in any way. Even with his short legs, he had been with his body for eighteen years.
He sat up, only to realize that he could not have messed up that badly.
——Strangely, compared to last night, everything in the room looked bigger.
Subaru: [Hey, heyhey, what kind of joke’s this…]
His cheeks tensed and his voice quivered, as Subaru touched his face. Gasping at the loud sound of his heartbeat, he crawled, his arms and legs clutched by his bulky clothes.
Just like that, Subaru headed for the mirror in his bag. A mirror was essential for fixing his makeup and getting dressed, so he reflected himself in it to see what had happened and——,
Subaru: [What the hell is this…?]
Looking at what was reflected by the mirror, Subaru muttered in dismay.
The mirror trembling in his hand, its reflection was none other than Natsuki Subaru.
——However, there he was, young Natsuki Subaru, as a boy around ten years old.
 Ikemen (イケメン) is modern slang used to call someone a good-looking man.
 The expression used here is “世紀末”, which might be something Subaru got from Hokuto no Ken, as it is used there as well.
 Subaru stops using his Natsumi style of speech (feminine, more polite), and starts using his usual style again after this, for the most part.