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――Let us rewind the clock a little.
Gustav: [――From now on, you gentlemen shall be tested to ascertain if you are qualified to be gladiators on this Island.]
Subaru was taken out of the healing room and forced into another room, and Gustav crossed his four powerful arms, eyeing around the sight before him.
That mechanical, frigid stare was directed at a total of four people, Subaru included.
A lizardman with gray scales in filthy rags, a skinny man with tattoos all over his naked upper body and bald-shaved head, and a fearless-looking young man with rust-colored hair.
All of them had been crammed into the same room as Subaru had.
From what they had just been told, Subaru and the men were probably in the same situation, as far as Gustav was concerned.
However, there seemed to be some disagreement with that idea among those who had been pushed into the room.
???: [Wait, Governor Gustav! Are you going to start Sparka now? With this child in our ranks? We aren’t playing around here!]
Seeing Subaru, whose back was pushed into the room, the young man with rust-colored hair cried that out.
He had a reasonably good-looking face, but his stubble and exhausted expression, along with the frustration on his face showing his dissatisfaction, cut down its quality considerably.
However, his appearance was irrelevant here. Proving this, two more people also lashed out at Gustav, as if caught up in the heat of the moment.
Lizardman: [Yeah, man! How’s a brat gonna help us!? My damn life’s on the line here!]
Tattooed Man: [Not making gladiatorial combat a cruel spectacle. That was the Governor’s policy, or so I’d heard, but…?]
Rust-Haired Man: [It’s exactly as they say. We’re going to need a good explanation. In the first place, even if we were to add the child to the group, we wouldn’t have enough people. Five people per group, that’s what you said!]
The lizardman, the tattooed man, and the rust-haired man all raised their voices in unison, their anger directed at Gustav.
Not fully understanding what Sparka consisted of, nor how it involved them, Subaru was in a situation where he could not easily butt in. However, somehow or the other, he had been able to grasp some stuff.
Apparently, Subaru had seemingly betrayed their expectations, and they were directing their dissatisfaction to Gustav because of that.
Subaru: […Gustav-san, this is what everyone has to say, and yet…]
Gustav: [I heard them, Schwartz. In my capacity, I only have two ears like you, unlike the number of arms I have, but I intend on performing my duties to the fullest. Including this only head of mine.]
Rust-Haired Man: [If that’s――]
Gustav: [――Silence. If you interrupt me in my capacity, it is tantamount to obstructing the will of His Excellency the Emperor.]
With just those few words, any further remarks from the rust-haired man were shut down.
Gustav did not change his expression, nor the tone of his voice. Even so, the meaning carried in his words was much heavier than before.
The rust-haired man, as well as the other two, shut their mouths. Seeing this, Gustav nodded.
Gustav: [Very well, I shall continue. As I have declared, I shall now begin your Sparka. The audience is already set to be composed of the Island’s resident gladiators, with no visitors from the outside. This is a litmus test, to ascertain if you are capable of entertaining such important visitors.]
Quietly, with a sense of displeasure, Subaru muttered.
The fake Cecilus, who had been with Subaru up until he was pushed into the room, had told him “Good luck! I’ll be watching from up there!” as of their parting.
He did not confirm what sort of significance it held, but this gave him a rough idea.
Subaru: [Don’t tell me, you’re going to make us fight each other…]
Lizardman: [Ha! Ya really dunno anythin’, do ya, brat? If that were the case, surely, we’d be oh-so-happy to have someone like ya in the mix!]
As soon as he put his thoughts to words, the lizardman ridiculed him, letting out his long tongue.
But they had a point. If Sparka was to be conducted by the members present here, then a child would have been welcome amidst them.
Rather, what they were worried about, was that Subaru would not be a capable fighter――,
Subaru: [Rather, all of us are going to fight something?]
Tattooed Man: [Yer pretty clever, kid. Me, I’ve got a short temper. So shut yer trap for a sec…]
Rather than gently praising him for being correct, with bloodshot eyes, the tattooed man gave him a warning.
For now, it felt like their teamplay had definitely started off in the dumps. Though this was no situation for him to speak casually like that.
Rust-Haired Man: [Just what in the world do you intend on having us fight?]
Gustav: [It will not be trained gladiators. You would not stand a chance against them. In my capacity, that is all I can tell you. ――Because this enemy never appears in the light of day.]
Rust-Haired Man: [――? A riddle? That’s in poor taste.]
The corners of his mouth twisting into a grimace, the rust-haired man responded to Gustav’s words.
Then he took a small breath and continued, “So then”,
Rust-Haired Man: [Although you press me to be silent, let me at least ask you this. If that child is the fourth person, then what about the fifth person? Our Unit is…]
Gustav: [Your Unit, its fifth person is still asleep in the healing room. As long as that one does not awaken, only these people will undergo the challenge of Sparka.]
Rust-Haired Man: [Are you insane, Governor…!]
Gustav: [If necessary to abide as per His Excellency the Emperor’s will, I shall utilize either sanity or insanity.]
Faced with Gustav’s cold-hearted answer, the rust-haired man looked away, having gotten nowhere. Then, turning his gaze towards Subaru, he called out with a “You”.
Due to that threatening attitude earlier and being beckoned suddenly, Subaru’s cheeks stiffened,
Subaru: [W-what is it…?]
Rust-Haired Man: [From the looks of it, you’re just some poor kid, but what can you do? Any special skills? Any magic? Perhaps you’d have something strong and useful?]
Subaru: [U-useful special skills…]
Subaru’s eyes darted around in a panic as he was asked a series of questions.
Unfortunately, after shrinking, he did not feel like he could handle the whip properly, and he was helpless when it came to magic without the adorable Beatrice. Other than that, even his various little tricks could not be used properly while he was shrunken down.
Subaru, unable to respond, kept silent. The rust-haired man put his hand to his forehead,
Rust-Haired Man: [Really, he’s just a child… What a mess.]
And muttered in a voice terribly laden with disappointment.
Lizardman: [He, hehe, we’ve got a brat, and we’re lackin’ in people. It’s over. Over! OOOVEEER!]
Tattooed Man: [Don’t raise yer damn voice, scaly bastard. Ya wanna die ‘cause ya pissed me off…?]
Lizardman: [Ahhn? Can’t hear ya, yer voice’s way too quiet!]
The interaction between Subaru and the rust-haired man not to their liking, a big row began between the lizardman and the tattooed man. The two glared at each other, making it seem like a fight was only a few moments away from breaking out. Then, the rust-haired man broke in between the two, shouting “Wait!”,
Rust-Haired Man: [Why are we fighting!? I know you’re feeling sorry for yourselves, but listen to me! I used to be a warrior serving someone highly esteemed before I came here! If you follow my instructions, you’ll…]
Lizardman: [Shut up! Ya were a warrior? Then why the hell are ya here? Because ya were beaten and taken prisoner, yeah!? That’s not a good sign!]
Tattooed Man: [There’s nothing more idiotic than to put one’s life in someone else’s hands. I won’t let anyone control my fate.]
Rust-Haired Man: [Y-you bastards…!]
However, both the lizardman and the tattooed man did not listen at all to the words of the rust-haired man that stood in between them.
To make matters worse, with the two talking back, the rust-haired man turned red and started getting angry. Given that what lay ahead was unknown, this definitely was not a good situation.
Gustav: [Schwartz, there is nothing in my capacity left to be said. I, as the official, have already told you my intentions. Even a single drop of blood that is shed within the Gladiator Island shall be utilized for the prosperity of the Empire. Even a single drop.]
Subaru: [Even if you state it once more, I still don’t get it…]
The three had their scuffle, and the one remaining, Subaru, was unable to pick up on the meaning of Gustav’s words.
As he gazed down at the four of them in their immensely desperate situation, Gustav would not speak anything further.
――The relationship between the four of them remained at its worst, and thus Sparka, the problem at hand, commenced.
A circular field surrounded by high walls, that was the stage for gladiators called the gladiatorial arena.
On the other side of the wall, there was staircase-like seating for the audience. The seats were gradually filling up with the figures of people sitting down, and one could tell that a quiet enthusiasm enshrouded the whole venue.
What was eerie, however, was that those who overlooked the gladiatorial arena―― the so-called gladiators if Gustav’s explanation were to be followed, were doing so without complaint.
The way Subaru had imagined it, the audience in a place like this was expected to be a vulgar and boisterous bunch.
However, such a large difference from what he imagined was perhaps inevitable.
After all, it was Gustav the one who managed and controlled this island. ――It was unthinkable that the big, unbending man would tolerate any vulgar attitude from the gladiators.
Subaru: [Just running down the hallway would probably have severe punishments.]
Hence, Subaru was doing his best to put on a brave front while averting his eyes from reality.
Otherwise, he would have to force his trembling knees to run away at any moment.
――Slowly, from behind the opening iron gate, the glint of a Witchbeast’s eyes emerged.
Gladiator Beast: [――――]
The Witchbeast stepping out wore a lion’s face, and Subaru recognized its garish body.
It was the large Witchbeast that had been brought into the mansion by a girl wearing braids in the past, and it was also the monumental opponent that had become the material for Subaru’s whip. Although, its name did not come to him immediately.
Gladiator Beast: [――AROOOOOO!!!]
As if answering Subaru’s call, the Witchbeast, or rather, the lion Gladiator Beast, roared. The roar echoed throughout the gladiatorial arena, and Subaru could feel the sound reverberating within his body.
A Gladiator Beast larger than Gustav, even just seeing something of the sort at a distance was unbearably terrifying.
Rust-Haired Man: [If we don’t kill that thing, we’re not going to make it.]
Glaring at the lion, the rust-haired man spoke with an unpleasant voice.
Indeed, that was correct. That was the condition to end this Sparka, a challenge that Subaru and the three others had to work together to accomplish.
It was a dreadful challenge with no chance of victory in sight.
Lizardman: [Shit, damn it, why am I in this mess…?!]
Rust-Haired Man: [Enough with the whining! We need to do everything we can to survive! Look over there!]
Covering his face with both hands, the lizardman lamented as if it were the end of the world. Tapping him on the shoulder, the rust-haired man pointed to what appeared to be the edges of the gladiatorial arena―― to be more precise, to something affixed to the left and right edges of the venue, as seen by Subaru’s group located on the corner opposite to the lion.
There, they could see something stick at each of those corners――,
Tattooed Man: [――Are those, swords?]
Subaru: [Oh, it looks that way to me too…!]
Upon agreeing with the tattooed man’s words, what Subaru received was a cold stare. But even if his allies did not agree with him, it was not like what he saw disappeared like smoke.
There were indeed two swords lodged in the ground over there.
Rust-Haired Man: [They wouldn’t simply feed us to that Gladiator Beast without weapons. So our first priority is to secure weapons. However, only the sword on the right is viable.]
Tattooed Man: […Yeah.]
The tattooed man nodded in agreement to the rust-haired man’s words. Subaru was of the same opinion, though he remained silent, as he thought he would be stared at if he spoke out.
After all, the sword on the right was small, while the one on the left was too large.
The sword on the left was so large, its blade so thick, not to mention how unwieldy it was, that it made him wonder if that sword was possibly for Gustav’s use.
Even if Subaru had not been shrunk, it was so huge that it seemed impossible to lift.
Perhaps the rust-haired man and the tattooed man were also unable to use a sword that large.
Therefore, only the smaller sword could be used as a weapon. If they had a member who could use that large sword, it sure would have been reassuring.
Rust-Haired Man: [It’s too large. There’s no other way but to get a weapon, and aim for that Gladiator Beast’s eyes. We stir up the insides of its head, and finish it off. That’s our only way to win.]
Tattooed Man: […Can ya use a sword?]
Rust-Haired Man: [I told you. I used to be a warrior. I can use it better than you can.]
The rust-haired man answered confidently, and the tattooed man closed one eye and pondered. Coercively judging that silence as an affirmative from what it seemed, the rust-haired man turned back to Subaru and the lizardman,
Rust-Haired Man: [When he announces the start, I’ll go and secure that sword. In the meantime, as I’ll be defenseless, keep the Gladiator Beast away from me.]
Subaru: [H-how am I gonna keep it away?]
Rust-Haired Man: [You can draw attention by shouting or making sounds. At least figure that out on your own!]
Subaru: [G-got it…]
At the rust-haired man’s powerful retort, Subaru nodded meekly.
It was a pretty reckless and scary strategy, but it was not like he could think of any other method. And if the rust-haired man’s swordsmanship was as good as his confidence suggested, they could take down the lion.
He needed to get this dreaded Sparka over with so he could figure out his next course of action.
Gustav: [――Well then, LET SPARKA COMMENCE!!]
With that bold, stark proclamation from Gustav, the unleashed lion poised itself to pounce.
Pressured by its intimidating presence, Subaru took a breath in preparation to get the Gladiator Beast’s attention, so he could buy time for the rust-haired man to secure his weapon.
Rust-Haired Man: [Guaa!?]
Faster than he could shout, he immediately became speechless as he saw the rust-haired man collapse to the ground right next to him.
The rust-haired man, who had planned to start running right after Gustav’s declaration, collapsed onto the ground. That alone was a surprise, but what was even more surprising was that a kick struck him in the face.
The one who did that, was the tattooed man, who was supposedly his comrade.
He had swept the rust-haired man off his feet as the latter was about to sprint, and launched a kick as the latter fell. Then, after ascertaining that the rust-haired man had tumbled over and laid sprawled out,
Tattooed Man: [I told’cha. I ain’t putting my life in someone else’s hands…]
With that said, the tattooed man ran off at a brisk pace, heading toward the small sword.
Subaru’s eyes widened at the suddenness of the situation, and panicking over what he should do,
Lizardman: [N-not me! I-I ain’t gonna die!]
The lizardman screamed in a quavering voice and fled with his back to the lion. Like that, he stuck to the wall of the gladiatorial arena and slowly began to change the color of his scales.
His gray-colored scales blended in with the color of the wall, making his large body surprisingly difficult to see.
One person outmaneuvered his comrade, one person clung onto the wall, one person got beat up by his comrade, and the last person just widened his eyes in panic, completely confused by the situation.
――This was the worst possible start.
Subaru: [W-what can I…]
Possibly do, and as Subaru’s face went pale in shock, he looked towards the lion.
Looking at this group with zero sense of unity, just what kind of impression did the Gladiator Beast have? Or rather, Subaru was frightened that its fangs would pierce him the moment he turned around.
Gladiator Beast: [――――]
The start had been declared, and he thought that surely the Gladiator Beast would toy with them, foolish as they were. But the lion remained in the same poised posture it had made at the beginning, without even the slightest movement.
It was as if the beginning had not even been declared.
And, while thinking about that, Subaru realized it. ――That things were progressing just as it felt it would.
Subaru: [I-It’s no good――!]
Reaching his hand out, he tried to speak right away, but he could not continue beyond that point.
After all, Subaru did not know his name. He could not call out the name of someone he did not know, so even if he called out to them, just how much impact would it have?
Because of that, Subaru’s voice was lost of strength, nor could it stop what was to come.
Tattooed Man: [Now that I have this, I can…]
Outmaneuvering his companions, the tattooed man, who had run so vigorously, reached the sword lodged in the ground of the gladiatorial arena.
Chuckling to himself, he pulled the sword out from the ground and felt it in his hands. Just how much courage did the feeling and weight of the cold metal give him, who had been unarmed?
Jauntily, he turned his head, his face was as though there were no enemies.
Gladiator Beast: [――AROOOO!!]
The tattooed man’s face was blown off without mercy by the lion, with a swipe of its front paws.
Its sharp claws sent everything upwards from the man’s neck flying, and with his body not yet recognizing its own demise, it took a little bit before blood violently spurt out.
At the sight of this horrific scene, Subaru’s throat hitched.
At the same time, he cursed himself from the bottom of his heart for his stupidity in not realizing things sooner.
The lion had gotten up at the very moment the tattooed man gripped the hilt of the sword.
For the lion, that had been the true declaration that the event had begun. Up till then, Subaru and his team certainly still had time to refine their strategy.
However, through impatience, and through anxiety, Subaru’s squad had ruined it all.
Gladiator Beast: [――AROOOO!!!]
Along with the high-pitched clang that rang out when the sword hit the ground, the tattooed man’s headless body toppled over backwards. Indifferent to the death of its prey, the lion howled loudly, commencing a ferocious sprint using its four large legs. ――Straight toward the wall of the gladiatorial arena.
Lizardman: [Stop, stopstopstop, getawaygetawayGETAWAAAAAAAAY!!]
He did not know what method the lion had utilized to find the whereabouts of the lizardman camouflaged against the wall. Although he did not know that, what he did know for certain, was that the lizardman’s inability to bear the lion’s approach, as he let out a scream and ran away, was undoubtedly what caused the decisive blow.
Gladiator Beast: [――AROOOO!]
The lion plunged headfirst into the wall, its powerful headbutt crushing the lower half of the lizardman before the latter could escape, causing the contents of his body to spill out like a frog ran over by a car.
Although he had taken the color of the wall, the organs ejected from his squashed mouth took on a vibrant red and pink color, and Subaru absentmindedly thought about how his innards remained the same.
With those thoughts, Subaru also understood, without a shadow of a doubt, that the crushed lizardman in front of him was dead.
Rust-Haired Man: [What… What, a stupid thing to do…]
Shaking his head, the rust-haired man feebly grumbled at the sight of these two deaths.
He had been desperately trying to get through this situation and to get everyone to join forces in his own way. But one of his companions had outwitted him, the other had tried to run away, thus completely nullifying that possibility.
The rust-haired man did not expect Subaru to be capable of doing what he had expected from the tattooed man and the lizardman, as well.
Even if he had indeed expected something of him, Subaru himself did not feel that he could meet those demands.
Perhaps having understood Subaru’s inner thoughts, the man looked into Subaru’s eyes.
Rust-Haired Man: […Stay behind me.]
Upon comprehending just how hopeless their situation was, how many humans could put on such a brave front and face their demise head-on?
The rust-haired man, devoid of weapons, devoid of comrades, could only hope to at least face his last moments with integrity.
With the child Subaru sheltered behind him, he glared at the lion who had turned around.
In response to his stare, the lion let out a short roar, then rushed toward Subaru and the man, lifting a cloud of dust as its four powerful limbs kicked off the ground.
Subaru: [Uh, uhh…!]
He could not wrap his head around the events that had occurred in that split second.
If only one of his reliable friends were here, would he somehow find a way?
If Louis, Medium, Flop, Taritta, Al, Abel, Mizelda, Holly, Kuna, Utakata, Rem――.
If any one of his friends were here, then could he somehow do it?
Subaru: [In a place like this…]
Am I gonna, and Subaru tried to wring the rest out of his trembling voice.
However, he was unable to. Because before he could do so, the lion had caught up to Subaru and the man―― but not quite.
That was because Subaru’s shoulders had been grabbed, and forcibly thrusted forward.
Rust-Haired Man: [No, I don’t, I don’t want to die―― hk!!]
Screaming, the man with rust-colored hair pushed Subaru in front of the lion.
Staring in astonishment, he had no time to curse him out. Only, Subaru’s body flew as light as a leaf from a tree as the lion rammed straight into him.
What a frail body he had.
Subaru’s body was quickly shredded by the Gladiator Beast’s ramming attack. This did not mean he had been dismembered, but rather that his insides had been scattered into tiny pieces.
Bones, internal organs, all broke and crumpled, as if he had been hit by a truck.
Rust-Haired Man: [Save me! I made a mistake! I lied! Me being a warrior was a lie! I was just trying to make myself seem important! Let me out! LET ME OOOUT!!]
Below Subaru as he whirled around in midair, the rust-haired man screamed and shouted as he jumped against the wall. Desperately, he appealed to Gustav, high above the wall.
And yet Gustav, upon observing the man crying, snot dripping from his nose, stood with a nonchalant face, with nary a movement of his eyebrows.
Perchance, he was already aware of the rust-haired man’s lie.
Perhaps, he was not at all interested in whether it was true or false.
Whichever it was, it mattered not.
Rust-Haired Man: [Save――]
As the rust-haired man pleaded and clung to the wall, he was struck by one of the lion’s paws, thrust from right behind him, and he was squashed like a tomato thrown at a wall.
The tattooed man, the lizardman, and the rust-haired man, all had fallen before the Gladiator Beast.
???: [――su, Basu, can you hear me?]
Suddenly hearing a voice amongst the loud ringing in his ears, Subaru limply shifted his head.
Only then did he realize that he had been blown away and that, before he knew it, he had fallen to the ground, tumbling about. Even if he had realized it, he was powerless to stop it anyway.
In addition, the voice he had heard was coming from atop the wall, where a figure was watching Subaru tumbling on the ground.
A boy with tied-up blue hair, and a somewhat detestable face.
Cecilus: [My bad, it seems like I was wrong in my expectations! I thought I’d be able to, but it seems like I’m not as good as my dad. It appears that I’m not a good judge of character!]
Subaru: [Ah, ah…]
Cecilus: [In the meantime, is there anything you want to tell your companion once she wakes up? I thought how story-like it’d be to pass a message, so why don’t I seize this opportunity!]
While he observed Subaru’s groans, the fake Cecilus’s demeanor seemed completely steadfast.
Thinking back on it, his attitude had never changed. Not when Subaru woke up, not when he and Subaru talked in the healing room, and not when Subaru was like this, on the verge of dying.
He felt that this insane view of life and death was an element that made the fake Cecilus, though he was supposedly just a boy-who-cried-wolf, seem a tad more authentic.
If that much were to be assumed, then he truly would be the most powerful General of the Vollachian Empire.
Cecilus: [Huh? What? Basu, please speak louder, as these are your last words! If I get the message wrong, I think I’ll regret it forever.]
Subaru: [I hate, it…]
So he declared towards the fake Cecilus, who had cupped his hands around his ears to try and hear Subaru’s voice.
The fake Cecilus raised his eyebrows at these words. He would speak a bit louder, from the depths of his throat.
Subaru: [The Empire, I, really hate it.]
Cecilus: [――Yes, yes, for sure. I’ll remember that well and pass it on, Basu.]
Holding tightly onto his resentment, he cursed the fake Cecilus, whose face looked like he was dealing with someone else’s problem.
But whether that curse would destroy the Empire, Subaru could not be sure.
Gladiator Beast: [――――AROOOO!]
Of the four that had been fighting against it, only Subaru remained; and so, the Gladiator Beast approached him, opened its gigantic maw, and mercilessly swallowed Subaru whole head-first.
Though all the bones of his body were in pieces by now, the lion’s fangs tore every aspect of his body into ribbons.
The little mercy he received was that his body had become unable to feel pain due to how crumpled it had become, and so, he was incapable of feeling anything more than a slight displeasure at being devoured into nothing.
Then, he tried his best to raise hell and get stuck in the lion’s throat, but he was unable to do that either.
Because with one final bite, that sly head of his attempting revenge was crushed――.
???: [If we don’t kill that thing, we’re not going to make it.]
It was just after a few moments of being crushed by the writhing reddish-black flesh surrounding him.
Seemingly caught off-guard upon hearing that voice, Subaru was brought back to reality. However, it was a reality that was so hopeless that it was tempting to mistake it for a nightmare upon waking up.
The noisy sensation of that silent heat, and the dry sands were spread out the grounds of the gladiatorial arena.
The worst-case scenario had arrived right before his eyes, and his comrades―― or rather, those who had simply wound up in the same situation as him, were each plotting various ways to protect their own lives as their number one priority.
Were he not to think of them as that, everything that had just happened would have been very hard for him to accept.
Subaru: [Uah, ahh, ahhh…!]
Though he had no need to, he still thought about it.
Because of that, Subaru’s whole body remembered the Gladiator Beast’s ramming attack, the fear of being chewed up, and his reckless anger towards reality.
As these thoughts surged, he could hardly stand up straight.
???: [Damn, he’s just a child after all… Well, I’ve had enough! You guys, look over there!]
To the crouching Subaru’s side, the rust-haired man directed the tattooed man and the lizardman to look at the large and small swords that had been prepared for them.
However, their attention had naturally focused to the side of the smaller sword. Disregarding the larger, unusable sword, their strategy was set on securing the other, and defeating the Gladiator Beast.
Tattooed Man: […Can ya use a sword?]
Rust-Haired Man: [I told you. I used to be a warrior. I can use it better than you can.]
The same things he had heard earlier continued unabated, and anxiety began to simmer within Subaru.
But, even in a state of being seized by fear and anxiety, that was a remark he could not let slide.
Subaru: [――That’s a lie.]
Rust-Haired Man: […What?]
Suddenly, the men’s strategy meeting was interrupted by Subaru’s voice.
The moment he heard that, the tone of the rust-haired man’s voice changed. The man turned around, and looked down towards Subaru as the latter crouched. Kneeling, Subaru fixedly stared at the man’s face.
And so, he repeated himself once more.
Subaru: [That you used to be a warrior, it’s a lie. You’re just downright lying!]
Rust-Haired Man: [O-on what grounds…! You bastard, are you intending to insult me just because I called you a child!?]
Subaru: [Who’s the one insulting here!? Lying and trying to make yourself look like a big shot is a much greater insult! In a situation like this, what’s the point of playing the tough guy!?!?]
Rust-Haired Man: [Gh, gh…!]
Perhaps he had thought that he could silence the child by yelling in a loud voice, but, instead, the rust-haired man was visibly flustered at Subaru snapping back in opposition.
The tattooed man who had spoke earlier had probably perceived his shaken manner as well.
Tattooed Man: […Oi, is what that kid said true? That’cha weren’t a warrior for real, and that ya were trying to deceive me?]
Rust-Haired Man: [W-wait, that’s just a child’s ramblings! You can’t just go spouting such nonsensical things in a place where our lives are at stake…]
Tattooed Man: [Exactly, since our lives are at stake, why don’t’cha try and explain yerself…]
The tattooed man grabbed the rust-haired man by the collar, the skeleton-like tattoo on his face contorting with anger. The rust-haired man gulped down his spit at that threatening attitude, lowly panting as if suffocating.
Because he had thoughtlessly interjected, such a fight had broken out. The lizardman, not involved in the fight, was visibly stepping back slowly and beginning preparations to escape.
Although Subaru’s interruption had been the impetus, this team was once again in a state of disarray and fragmentation.
Moreover, whether Subaru and his team were in such a state or not――,
Gustav: [―― Well then, LET SPARKA COMMENCE!!]
Gustav would not procrastinate in his pronouncement of the battle’s beginning.
Tattooed Man: [Care to explain, ya―― Uh, AAHHHHHH――!!]
A deep voice boisterously declared the start of the battle, and immediately after, the cracking voice of a man cut through the gladiatorial arena.
Anyone looking over would see that the one who had cried out was the tattooed man, pressing the rust-haired man for an answer. Somehow, the rust-haired man had bitten the hands that were grabbing his collar, and he seemed to have bitten those fingers off.
While the rust-haired man’s mouth was stained with blood, he pushed off the screaming tattooed man’s chest and sprinted for the sword.
Lizardman: [N-not me! I-I ain’t gonna die!]
And so, in contrast to the rust-haired man running towards the sword, the lizardman did as he did before and stuck to the wall of the gladiatorial arena, then started to change the color of his scales for camouflage.
Having lost two fingers, the tattooed man was crouched down clutching his right hand, and Subaru’s knees were trembling in fear at the situation before his eyes, which was even worse than last time.
Rust-Haired Man: [Mind, your own…! If only you’d just done as I said obediently!]
Without care for Subaru or the others, the rust-haired man with bloodshot eyes had arrived at the smaller sword.
Cursing that his lie had been discovered and that the tattooed man had grabbed him, he reached out his hand and pulled the sword out of the ground, readying it like a warrior would.
Gladiator Beast: [――――AROOOO!]
Then, having received the “start” signal, the lion pounced ferociously.
The resulting incident was practically identical to what had happened just before once the tattooed man had taken the sword. The rust-haired man did not even have the time to swing the sword he had readied, and both his arms were completely blown off as he was hit by the paws of the Gladiator Beast.
With a firm grip on the sword, the rust-haired man’s arms were torn off from the elbows down; and just as he stared in astonishment and let out a thin cry of “Ah”, the lion forcefully hurled itself at the man’s armless body and sent him flying, throwing him against the wall head-first.
The rust-haired man became a stain on the wall, and the roaring Gladiator Beast, ignoring Subaru and the tattooed man, ferociously sprinted straight for the rear wall of the gladiatorial arena.
Lizardman: [Stop, stopstopstop, getawaygetawayGETAWAAAAAAAAY!!]
The lizardman, having disguised himself as a wall, shrieked at the intimidating air of the lion running toward him.
Having given away his position by yelling, the lizardman hurried to change positions, but he did not have enough time. The lion’s charge crushed the lower half of his body, mortally wounding him as he vomited out his own internal organs.
Then, the lion that had murdered the two men in a blink of an eye slowly turned to Subaru and the tattooed man, and let out a bloody roar.
Tattooed Man: [Shit, it just keeps getting worse…]
His brain numb, his paralyzed thoughts slowly began flowing anew. Because of that, Subaru’s body remembered the fear, his teeth clattered, and his internal organs tightened.
As the tattooed man grinding his teeth had stated, the worst kept piling on top of the worst, and as a result, it had become an even worse and hopeless situation.
There had been no significance in calling the rust-haired man a liar.
Although nothing good would have come from exposing the rust-haired man’s lie there, Subaru had still done it without thinking. Because of that, everything was a mess.
Tattooed Man: […Still wanna live, kid?]
Tattooed Man: [If ya wanna live, pick up the sword.]
The man with the tattoos spoke this to Subaru, the latter’s vision blurry, looking as if he was about to break down crying at any moment.
Gazing towards him, the tattooed man pounded the ground with his bleeding right hand, and stood up while breaking into a greasy sweat. As he did so, he jerked his chin to the sword lying on the ground―― indicating what had fallen to the ground together with the rust-haired man’s severed arm.
Tattooed Man: [I’ll draw that monster’s attention… Ya grab that sword, and throw it to me.]
Tattooed Man: [Even if I’m missing two fingers, I can use it better than ya, kid…]
Having been told so clearly, Subaru was at a loss for words.
There were two swords, one large and one small, and although he had been referring to the smaller one, it was still a sword too long and large for a child’s body to use. Just as the tattooed man had stated, even if Subaru were to wield it with both hands, the only outcome would be that he would tumble due to its length and weight.
However, when the tattooed man declared that he would take the sword and defeat the lion, Subaru thought of it as impossible, remembering his death last time.
Subaru: [I don’t… want to give up, either…]
Tattooed Man: […Yer better than that fraud and that scaredy-cat.]
Bearing the pain, the tattooed man contorted his lips, welcoming Subaru’s determination.
And with that, the tattooed man glared at the lion who was carefully observing them, and, bit-by-bit, widened the distance between him and Subaru,
Tattooed Man: [It’s Weitz…]
Weitz: [That’s my name, Schwartz.]
Being called Schwartz, Subaru’s eyes widened in astonishment.
Subaru wondered where the man had heard that name, but Gustav was the only one who had referred to Subaru as Schwartz. That was why the tattooed man―― Weitz, remembered the name he had been called during their first meeting.
Of course, that did not really amount to anything, and he knew that last time, Weitz had been a coward as he tried to outmaneuver the rust-haired man.
He knew that, but――,
Weitz’s shout just then became his reason to rely on him and run without hesitating.
Firmly enduring his urge to scream, Subaru ran along the ground of the gladiatorial arena with all his might.
Naturally, he was slow. His childlike body had short limbs, and his internal organs, contracted by fear and tension, were in terrible pain. Even though he already often suffered from a lack of strength under normal circumstances, this body was a far-too-lacking one.
Still, he ran, desperately. He ran, and ran, and ran, until he reached the sword.
Subaru: [Uh, kuh…!]
Both of the rust-haired man’s hands still clung to the sword, and just looking at them made him want to retch. However, this was no time to throw up.
Peeling off the firm, rigid fingers one at a time, he forcibly detached the sword from the rust-haired man’s hands.
Then, while breathing heavily, Subaru lifted the sword.
Subaru: [Yes, I got it out!]
Taking a large breath, Subaru hoisted the sword he had picked up. Then he turned around and was about to throw the sword over to Weitz’s direction, when――,
Weitz’s frantic voice made all the hairs on Subaru’s entire body stand on end.
Subaru turned around, and filling his field of vision was a lion, its mouth gaping wide, barreling toward him. At that moment, he felt like a deer about to be eaten, and the lion’s movements seemed to be in slow motion.
Slowly, the scary-looking lion was drawing near.
It seemed as if he could dodge it, but since his own movements were in slow motion much like his vision, he would be unable to escape at all. Only, he continued to throw the sword that he brandished.
At the very least, he wanted to finish throwing the sword before the lion’s attack hit him.
――Hurry, hurry, hurryhurryhurryhurryhurry!!
Within the frustrating slowness, the voice in Subaru’s head cried out desperately, wishing upon his arms and fingers.
Would it reach him? The sword finally left Subaru’s hand, whirling around and spinning vertically as it flew past the dashing lion and toward Weitz.
Weitz, his hand outstretched with missing fingers, was shouting something to Subaru, who was being hunted down by the lion. However, he did not understand the true form of that shout. Even though he did not understand, it was okay.
Anyway, he just needed to put the sword that had been thrown to good use.
Subaru: [Uh, WAHHHH――!!]
Right when he thought he had completed his part, the once-slowed world returned to normal.
The howling lion dived at him, and Subaru, screaming and expecting to be torn apart by the Gladiator Beast’s claws or fangs, fell onto his butt. Tears and snot streaming down his face, Subaru accepted that he was going to make an incredibly pathetic dying face.
The lion’s attack, that which should have killed Subaru, did not reach him.
Because, the lion had stuck its front paws into the ground right in front of Subaru, dispelling its own momentum, then fired off its hind legs into Weitz directly behind it.
Having received the sword thrown by Subaru, Weitz slashed at the lion from behind. Weitz’s face, riddled with tattoos, was smashed to bits by the hooves of the lion’s hind legs.
Exactly as before, Weitz died having had everything above his neck exploded. The sword he had brandished fell out of his hand and rolled on the ground into the distance, fruitless.
Gladiator Beast: [――――AROOOO!]
Then, the lion that had just killed Weitz slowly turned its attention back to Subaru.
There was no lenience there to let him off the hook, only a ferocious intent to kill.
???: [Basu! Basu! Excuse me, but do you think you can still recover from that?]
Behind him, calling out to him from the audience in the gladiatorial arena, was the fake Cecilus, who had been watching this pitiful fight. And as he looked down at Subaru, who had fallen on his buttocks,
Cecilus: [Like some awakening of a hidden power, or the release of some sealed technique triggered by the brutal death of a fellow comrade! Is it likely? Is it unlikely?]
Subaru: […I don’t have anything like that.]
Cecilus: [Yeaaah~, seems about right. My bad, looks like I was wrong in my expectations! Do you have a message for the girl who was with you, or something? I wonder how story-like would doing something like that be!]
Unchanged from the time he had died earlier, being spoken to in such a relaxed tone, Subaru let out a “Ha”, exhaling. What was different from before was that the bones of Subaru’s body were not yet in pieces.
Even though he might be ripped to pieces after this, and even though he was scared to death, he had yet to die still.
Subaru: [Ceci, just one question.]
Cecilus: [Not a message, but a question? A so-called memento for the afterlife? Whether or not my answer would fulfill Basu’s question will be a test of an actor’s blossoming brilliance――]
Subaru: [That lion, why didn’t it kill me earlier?]
Pointing to the Gladiator Beast in front of him, Subaru asked the fake Cecilus perched on the wall.
Subaru was not sure if he, the boy-who-cried-wolf that he was, would give the straight answer that he desired. He just comforted himself with the thought that it was not-so-bad for a useless struggle.
To Subaru’s question, the fake Cecilus spoke as he stroked his slender chin,
Cecilus: [That’s easy, Basu. ――Even if it’s ferocious, a beast is a beast. In that case, a beast only hunts by instinct. Instinct is the power to live.]
Subaru: […What do you mean?]
Cecilus: [If you were that beast, Basu, who’d you aim for?]
The riddle-like phrasing did not give Subaru that simple question-and-answer sequence.
Irritated, Subaru pondered the meaning of the fake Cecilus’s words. If Subaru were to be that lion, just who would he target?
If he were to aim for someone, what would be his reason――.
Suddenly, it dawned on him. So that was what the reason was, he understood.
Cecilus: [When she wakes up, I’ll tell her that Basu was brave. I suck at lying, so thank heavens you were brave!]
Hearing such an insensitive voice, he did not have any time to respond.
Having reached an understanding, Subaru widened his eyes, and the lion standing in front of him swung its paw towards him.
For the first time, Subaru truly heard the sound of his own body being crushed.
???: [If we don’t kill that thing, we’re not going to make it.]
His skull had been crushed, his shoulders had been crushed, his body had been crushed, his hips had been crushed, every part of him had been crushed.
Slowly, Subaru experienced just that, a human body being dealt a blow of such unbearable power and speed that it would be brought to ruin in that manner, as if it were from someone else’s perspective.
Of course, it really was not someone else’s problem.
If possible, he would meet the end with the least amount of suffering. With the minimum amount of pain and fear. Still, Subaru’s way of thinking was only possible due to how much experience he’d had at Chaosflame.
――Those ten seconds of hell.
Since that had happened, Subaru deeply understood the importance of a mere few seconds.
And because that understanding permeated his body――,
???: [Shit, damn it, why am I in this mess…?!]
???: [Enough with the whining! We need to do everything we can to survive! Look over――]
Right beside him, the lizardman and the rust-haired man became desperate as they accepted the situation before them.
While listening to this already familiar conversation, Subaru called out.
Subaru: [Weitz! Hold that guy down!]
The moment Subaru shouted that, the tattooed man―― Weitz, had his facial tattoo distort in confusion.
That was natural. Although he had never once mentioned it, Subaru knew his name. But even if he had been called out by his name, he had no intentions of doing as he was told by some creepy kid.
But neither the bewildered Weitz, nor the rust-haired man, nor the lizardman, startled by Subaru’s sudden loud voice, had time to stop his sudden action.
Subaru: [――Lion! Who are you aiming for!?]
Subaru’s tiny hand grabbed the sword lodged in the ground with force as he shouted.
At that moment, without waiting for Gustav’s command, the Gladiator Beast howled, kicked its feet upon the ground, and ferociously barreled forward toward Subaru――.
Cecilus: [If Basu were that beast, who would you aim for?]
The words of the fake Cecilus, like a riddle, had been painfully seared into Subaru’s brain.
Indeed, that was it. If Subaru were the lion, he would go for the “dangerous ones” first. For instance, in this place, that would be the one wielding a weapon.
Gladiator Beast: [――――AROOOO!]
Subaru gritted his molars, and faced the howling lion lunging at him. He had a visceral shudder of fear, but he would not be defeated, he would not run away, and he would not cry.
He had already been killed twice, and no matter how many more times he had to face this scary experience.
Subaru: [Don’t think that just because I’m a kid, I’m gonna cry and give up right away!!]
Cooperating with a coward, a scaredy-cat, and a fraud, with all his might, with all his power, with all his body and soul, he would fight through this Sparka to the bitter end.
――In that decisive moment, the lion’s powerful paw ferociously reaped the life of Natsuki Subaru, along with his third attempt.