- Cirdan Lunae
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Speaking in a carefree tone, the beastman scratched his head, giving a large grin as he gnawed on his golden kiseru.
He had moderately long black fur and a countenance that gave off quite the affable air. Neither did his gentle way of speaking feel like it contained any malevolence, nor did his relaxed posture seem to harbor any sense of wariness as he stood.
Never mind the fact that among these coupled dragon carriages, in a cabin where a conference between important figures from both the Kingdom and Empire was taking place, nobody among those powerful individuals included had noticed his presence.
Goz: [Halibel, you say…?]
Indeed, with shivers of fear mixed into his stern voice as he muttered thus, Goz had been the one to issue the strongest level of vigilance towards that presence as he protected both his lord and his new ally behind him.
He himself was one of the Nine Divine Generals, a military man whose name was among those of the strongest rank within this Empire riddled with warriors, that of General First-Class. That very Goz had not perceived the invisibility of the beastman who now stood before his eyes.
But, that fact alone was not the entire reason for the stiffness of his voice.
Vincent: [――The Admirer, hm? What business does the cornerstone of the City-States have here?]
Shielded by Goz’s back, staring beyond that large body and fixing his eyes on the beastman―― on Halibel, Abel inquired so.
Perhaps that which he had uttered prior to his question was the well-known alias of this dogperson. For some reason, Subaru felt like he had heard it somewhere before, and in his surprise, he fumbled around for it within his box of stirred-up memories.
Thereupon, as Subaru knit his brows, Halibel, displaying his smile, shifted his thin eyes towards him.
Halibel: [If ya hafta think ’bout it that hard, then the name ain’t too much of a big deal. Well, that’s just what they be callin’ me since I like ta give lotsa praise, and somethin’ like the “cornerstone” can be chalked up ta ‘em overestimatin’ me.]
Halibel: [Yepyep. It’s just ‘cause in Kararagi, there ain’t nobody stronger than I am.]
Halibel gave his response in a calm manner, as if he were simply discussing the weather.
Subaru gazed in wonder at those words of his; the instant his mind processed the word “Kararagi”, that which he had been stuck on just a moment ago was suddenly ignited with understanding.
The Admirer of the Kararagi City-States, the meaning of that nickname was――,
Goz: [The strongest shinobi of the Kararagi City-States! For what reason have you boarded this dragon carriage!?!?]
The next moment, stepping down on the floor of the dragon carriage with enough force to cause an explosion, Goz thrust his weapon, his mace, towards Halibel as the latter stood still.
Goz’s weapon was a mace of peculiar shape, something like a long spear with a spiked orb attached to its tip in order to strike. It was similar to the morning star Rem had once favored, but its size and weight were overwhelmingly disposed towards an item that belonged to Goz.
Anyhow, upon the sudden appearance of the City-States’s strongest, the Empire’s military man took the stance of thrusting his weapon forth.
Perhaps it may have seemed that at this rate, things would be plunged into an explosive situation.
Halibel: [I was the one who caused all this stir, so maybe it ain’t my place ta be sayin’ this, but come on now, can’t we all just sit ‘round and chat without gettin’ all fired up?]
Goz: [Ngh, guh…!]
Nimbly tilting his head as the mace was thrust towards him, Halibel began to speak. Goz’s face stiffened upon hearing Halibel’s words, and the arm into which he had funneled power trembled.
Against the edge of the golden mace wielded by Goz, Halibel held his kiseru of similar golden hue. With just that, Goz’s weapon became unable to make even the slightest of movements.
Likely, Halibel had exquisitely controlled the balance of the power he put into the kiseru, suppressing Goz’s mace from moving up, down, left, right, and of course, from thrusting forward.
No matter how Goz tried to move his weapon, the kiseru would apply pressure from the opposite side to prevent it from moving. It was not simply brute strength; rather, it was the utmost pinnacle of technique to perfectly control the flow of his strength.
Goz: [You… Hk!]
Goz’s face reddened, the sound of his grinding teeth could be heard reverberating throughout the cabin. But, even when compared to Goz’s teeth grinding, the series of deeds Halibel was carrying out was far too quiet.
At that point in time, the existence known as Halibel was wrapping up his evaluation of this place.
Vincent: [Cease this, Goz. Besides, had he the intention to harm us, he would have lopped off the heads of everyone here long before making his presence known through the likes of applause.]
Emilia: [Since you didn’t do that, that means you’re not our enemy… right?]
Witnessing Goz and Halibel’s quiet offense and defense, both Abel and Emilia interjected.
Just as both had said, in reality, if Halibel had felt like it, it would not have been strange for everyone inside the carriage to have been killed before they had even become aware of his presence.
With that pointed out, Halibel’s large mouth relaxed into the shape of a smile, and,
Halibel: [Yepyep, I’m delighted that yer able ta understand. Emperor-san aside, a half-devil child bein’ so upfront, ya must be quite the good lassie. Even tho’ yer hated by others just like I am, you’ve been raised ta be honest… yer folks must’ve been quite the admirable people.]
Emilia: [Thank you. I also think that I’m quite fortunate to have been raised by Puck, Mother, and Juice.]
As Emilia placed her hand upon her chest and spoke her thanks, Halibel nodded and retracted his kiseru. That instant, Goz’s specialized weapon was released, but he did not do anything reckless such as swinging back at Halibel after.
Although he was frustrated, Goz kept firm vigilance on Halibel, and,
Goz: [If you go against those previous words, I will defeat you, even if it costs me my own life. Remember that.]
Halibel: [I ain’t gonna do such a thing, really, I ain’t. Lookie here, I’m sittin’ all nice and well-behaved after all.]
Waving his hands about, Halibel pulled up a chair next to him with his tail, and then hugged one of his knees as he sat down for a bit.
He was someone around as tall as Goz, but when he curled up his slim figure like that, his impression of being a large breed of dog became stronger. It did not seem like his statement about good behavior was sarcastic.
Roswaal: [Be that as it may, I did not expect Kararagi to intervene heeere~. Even if not to the same extent as the Kingdom and Empire, I haven’t heard that the City-States ever got along well with the Empire. Much less, when considering the matter of your officially disclosed position, in particular.]
Halibel: [Oh, do y’all know ‘bout me? Gosh, it’s embarrassin’ since it kinda feels like I’m a celebrity somehow.]
Subaru: [Roswaal, when you say that person’s “officially disclosed position”…]
Ram: [Barusu is as ignorant as he appears, so Ram will inform him. The Admirer, Halibel, is a wolfperson.]
A wolfperson; upon receiving that information from Ram, for an instant, Subaru’s heart and body trembled.
However, that was not in response to Halibel, who was in front of him; rather, the reason for his trembling was a separate matter. That which Ram had informed him of in itself did not really help Subaru to suddenly understand anything, either.
But, without paying heed to Subaru’s lack of understanding, the conversation continued as common sense would have it.
Vincent: [You ought to be aware of the Empire’s attitude regarding wolfpeople. To then cross the border and set foot in here, you truly appear to be considerably reckless.]
Halibel: [‘Course I knew that, tho’ I ain’t got all too good a feelin’ ‘bout it. But, y’all should also know the reason I ain’t hidin’ the fact I’m a wolfperson’s ‘cause nobody’s able ta kill me. From the looks of it, seems like Cecilus ain’t here either.]
Subaru: [――! Hey, do you know about Ceci?]
Halibel: [Hm? Oh, I do know him, yeah? After all, he came ta try ‘n kill me once. Tho’ for some reason, after throwin’ down for a bit, he said somethin’ like “Seems like the conclusion shall not be now!” ‘n he went back home.]
Though the topic of the conversation had deviated from the matter of wolfpeople, Halibel answered Subaru’s question without modesty.
It was an unexpected response, and an unexpected point of contact. Cecilus and Halibel had once fought in a death battle, and judging from the current conversation, it seemed like Cecilus had been the one to pick the fight, but that was also easy to believe.
Berstetz: [In the Vollachian Empire, which exemplifies its resolute stance towards wolfpeople, appears the most well-known, most powerful individual from the Kararagi City-States. In addition, he has discourteously done so inside the very cabin where His Excellency Vincent is present.]
Serena: [If I may add, he has grasped the contents of an important conference between our country and the Kingdom. Oh my, is this not a situation that warrants a decapitation, even if it means kindling the Blue Lightning?]
Roswaal: […Serena, could you not put everyone currently present in danger with your poor tastes?]
Taking advantage of Berstetz’s summary of the situation, Serena appended good humor onto her dangerous opinion. The extremity of her words was to the extent that Roswaal cast a warning true to his feelings on reflex.
With that, the initial surprise and fervor from Halibel’s sudden appearance had more or less faded, and the original question was then returned to.
Vincent: [There shan’t be a third time. On what business have you come, Admirer?]
Regardless of whether Halibel was intimidated by the armed might of those present or not, the word “flattery” would not exist in Abel’s lexicon. Witnessing the owner of a dictionary who had intentionally blotted out all words of humility and modesty, Subaru gulped as he wondered how Halibel would respond.
But, contrary to the rising tension, Halibel remained seated as he rested his chin upon his hands on the table, and,
Halibel: [There ain’t no need ta be so tense, I said what I came to do right back at the start, didn’t I? That I was just wonderin’ if it woulda been okay for me ta pop in ta give a quick howdy.]
Subaru: [By that “howdy”, do you actually mean something like ripping out all of our hearts instead of actually greeting us…?]
Halibel: [Zoinks! Ya sure think up some frightenin’ stuff kid, now don’t’cha? I wouldn’t do such a thing.]
Beatrice: [In that case, you’re saying that your objective really was to just say your greetings and make your appearance, I suppose?]
Halibel: [That’s right?]
Protesting Subaru as he fearfully tried to probe into the shinobi-style of greetings, Halibel also gave an indifferent reply to Beatrice’s question after she had continued for Subaru.
Having come this far, it truly seemed like Halibel had no intentions of engaging in violence.
Otto: [In the first place, he is someone who can kill us without needing to take roundabout means. Would it not be in bad taste to do something like taking our lives after toying with us up until here?]
Subaru: [I was also scared, but you shouldn’t pull that kind of opinion out of people… But, if that’s so…]
Emilia: [If that’s so? Did you think of something, Subaru?]
Gulping down his saliva, Subaru had imagined something frightening upon understanding Halibel’s attitude.
Having been questioned about that by Emilia, assuming his mental image of Halibel’s character was as the person himself had answered――,
Subaru: [If both Reinhardt and this person are truly upright, then that predicament with Ceci was…]
Vincent: [Cease this, Natsuki Subaru. Your cooperation may have been requested, but I have no memory of permitting you to investigate our country’s scandals.]
Berstertz: [Scandals… Personally, I would be unable to list all of the cases with General First-Class Cecilus, either.]
Regarding the matter of Cecilus’s humanity, not only Subaru and Abel, but even Berstetz, all saw eye-to-eye. Although he was not present here, Cecilus was being spoken of disparagingly; but most likely, if he was here, Subaru had confidence the same things would still be said about him.
In reality, it was very Subaru-like to have the fantasy that the strong would show appropriate behavior, so in that respect, the conduct of Reinhardt and Halibel was ideal for him.
On the other hand, he also believed that if Cecilus had not been present on the Gladiator Island, things would not have gone so well, so it was a tale of how everything has its pros and cons.
Emilia: [So? In the end, what was the objective of your greeting? This dragon carriage is going north, but the Kararagi border is still further ahead… That shouldn’t be enough to incur your caution, right?]
Halibel: [Hmm~, it’d probably be a whole lot faster if ya ask my employer ‘bout that instead of me. Things’ve gotten a lil’ complicated since I messed up by carelessly clappin’ my hands… Ah, seems like it should be any time now, tho’.]
Emilia: [Any time now…]
Halibel’s eyes had looked pleased with a hint of embarrassment; however, upon realizing something, he lifted his face, and drawn in by that, Subaru followed his gaze.
His wolfen face had turned towards the door connecting to the adjoined carriage. Exactly one beat later, someone knocked on the door from the other side.
???: [――Excuse me for interrupting the meeting. There is something I need to report.]
With that, a voice that he had heard before declared thus, and Abel silently commanded him to “Enter”. The door opened, and in came the figure of a small man with fluffy hair.
The instant that Subaru saw him, his eyes widened.
Subaru: [Zikr-san! Thank goodness, you’re alright!]
Zikr: [Indeed, there is no need to worry. It is most wonderful that you are also safe and sound, Miss Natsumi.]
Subaru: [To still refer to me like that even when I’m in this form…]
Both when they had met and when they had parted, the man had given a smile to the cross-dressing Subaru, and upon seeing the Imperial General Second-Class Zikr Osman alive and well, Subaru patted his chest in relief.
Then, Zikr’s smiling expression tightened up, and,
Zikr: [Your Excellency, there is something I must report… But, that individual over there…]
Vincent: [Ignore him for the time being. Likely, he is not unrelated to your report.]
Abel was unkind to Zikr’s concern about the presence of Halibel, present in the corner of the cabin. But, Zikr was accustomed to the Emperor’s suppression of words, and nodding with a “Yessir”,
Zikr: [High Countess Dracroy’s flying dragon ship has returned. With them were brought leading figures from the Fortified City of Garkla, as well as visitors from the City-States.]
Vincent: [――Visitors from the City-States.]
Abel muttered thus as he directed his sable eyes towards Halibel.
Since the destination of these coupled dragon carriages was the Fortified City of Garkla, it was natural that the relevant people there had come to this place via flying dragons. If they were accompanied by people from Kararagi at the same time, it would likely be impossible for that to be unrelated to Halibel.
In other words――,
Emilia: [Halibel-san, did you come ahead of those people?]
Halibel: [Well, I ain’t too good with heights.]
Regardless of whether his cute words were meant to be a direct answer or not, Halibel had affirmed that the information Zikr had brought was connected to himself.
Even if Subaru could understand that Halibel was bad with heights and hence had not boarded the flying dragon ship, he felt like he could not understand how Halibel was then able to arrive faster than the flying dragon ship; but there was no point in saying something like that to the superhumans of this world. Even Cecilus could run faster than something flying in the air, so it was kind of the same thing.
In any case――,
Serena: [They even took the trouble of getting on my flying dragon ship. Then, shall we be expecting some very influential people to come bringing some very important things to say?]
Zikr: [At the very least, the pretty visitor said so herself.]
Vincent: [Judging from how you speak, it is a woman?]
Zikr’s report was easy to understand, that a woman had come from the Kararagi City-States.
Subaru tilted his head in puzzlement at the matter, but for some reason, his friends reacted differently. Beatrice tightened her grip on his hand, looked over towards Emilia, and,
Beatrice: [Emilia, it’s the subject of visitors from Kararagi, in fact.]
Emilia: [Yes, indeed. Perhaps, that could be――]
Subaru: [Eh? Eh? Do you two happen to…]
Know something? It happened right as Subaru had tried to finish his question.
???: [――Somehow, even tho’ people’ve gone thro’ the hardships of hurryin’ all the way ta the Empire, aren’t’cha sayin’ some rather heartless things, Natsuki-kun?]
Unexpectedly, a voice interrupted, its elegant timbre coming from behind Zikr.
It seemed like that visitor was waiting on the coupler of the adjoined carriage, but they must have had quite the sharp ears in order to participate in this conversation. But, he was satisfied with those sharp ears.
After all, merchants were people who always had to be straining their ears for chances to make profits.
Berstetz: [Your Excellency, what shall be done?]
Upon the reality that that voice had heard the matters being discussed, Berstertz asked for Abel’s opinion. At that question, Abel glanced towards Subaru, and ascertained his expression.
Then, Abel looked towards the door from which the voice had been heard,
Vincent: [Somehow, it seems that you are not merely a boorish and presumptuous fellow. Present yourself.]
Visitor: [Then I ain’t gonna refrain from that.]
Gaining the permission of the Emperor, the owner of the voice gently responded. And, before anyone could notice, Halibel, standing upright next to the door, opened the door of the carriage with his hand, showing the visitor inside.
Seeing Halibel’s consideration, the person, now visible, smiled with a “Thanks”, and then――,
Visitor: [Been quite a while since we last came face-to-face, but I’m real glad ta see yer doin’ well.]
Visitor: [Even so, Emilia-san and the rest of y’all are quite the experts at happenin’ across troublesome situations. Looks like yer gonna need our strength yet again.]
With an informal tone and wearing a smile, and having given a merciless evaluation, with her light purple hair all tied up, and her arms through the sleeves of her kimono, it was a woman clad in a fox-scarf―― Anastasia Hoshin.
By her side followed her attendant, a young man dressed in Japanese-style clothing.
Subaru: [Anastasia-san and… Julius!?]
Two people who he had never thought he would meet here, Subaru was taken aback upon seeing them.
Upon Subaru’s upset voice, Anastasia placed her hand over her mouth and smiled, and the young man whose name had been called out―― Julius, traced the fierce scar underneath his left eye with his finger, and looked at Subaru.
Julius: [――I had wanted to say that I am glad for your safety, but why is there always something up with you?]
Subaru: [Don’t say stuff like I’m always causing trouble on the level of turning small!!]
Upon their reunion, instead of joy, it was an angry voice that had erupted.
As all strength vanished from his knees, he fell forward and collapsed onto the ravaged plain.
Lacking even the willpower to support his body, the ground mercilessly crashed into his face. He felt the pain of his nose being crushed as blood flowed out from his busted lips.
Taking that blood upon his tongue, the bone-dry interior of his mouth was ever-so-slightly moistened.
Not even the slightest bit of strength remained in any part of his body.
If he had lost all willpower, then his physical strength would not take long to vanish entirely, either. And now that both had completely run out, he would probably rot away and die upon the very spot on which he had collapsed.
Absolutely everything, absolutely anything and everything, had been in vain.
The things that he had tried to do, the things that he had been enraged that he needed to do, the things that he had continued to do purely out of habit, absolutely all of it had been in vain.
In the end, he could not possibly be anything other than himself. The thing called hell, was something that existed within him.
In that case, there was no way that he could ever escape it. There was nobody who could escape it. Nobody could escape from the hell bearing the name of oneself.
???: [God… damnit…]
Vexation leaked out in a parched voice from his lips.
At this point, not even tears would well up anymore. Neither did he have the passion, nor the qualifications for such a thing.
Everything was so damn bizarre. It was not a place that he could reach. Reaching out toward a place he could not reach, that had been the biggest mistake of his life; and yet, he had done the exact same thing again.
There had been no introspection. That was why he could do nothing but regret.
There was no chance that he would ever be able to like somebody like himself, so he could do nothing but hate who he was, until finally, he grew to utterly loathe his very being.
He was not even able to continue to love those whom he loved. Enough already; failures who were as fucking worthless as himself should just hurry up and――.
???: [――Oh? Thought I’d just strip all the possessions off a dead body, but to think ya still got some breath in ya. That deserves a bravo, bravo.]
Suddenly, above the head of the collapsed body, somebody’s voice could be heard.
His body lacked the energy to make even the slightest of movements, but the owner of that voice reached out their hand and rolled him over. Instantly, his vision was plunged into the glare of the clear blue sky, and he groaned with a “Urhhh”.
The tears that had not emerged from his disgrace and repentance, now gradually began to well up.
That was overwhelmingly frustrating.
Absolutely everything, every last inch of this body, would they really only function for the sake of himself, and nothing else?
Stranger: [Are ya frustrated about something, Mister Collapsed? Buddy, with yer whole body still alive and well, it’ll take nothing more than a blink of an eye.]
???: [To think… I’m still alive…]
Stranger: [Woah there, so it’s the type it’s gotten fed up with living? My my… as far as I’m aware, there’s only one way to fight off that kinda gloomy thoughts.]
He felt the owner of the voice give a smile, and their upside-down face cut into the clear blue sky reflected in his own vision. He had a hard time seeing the face due to the glare from behind, but he understood that the person was smiling with a broad grin on their face.
Although, that grin was not something that was ridiculing him, and therefore he was unable to comprehend the reason behind that smile.
???: [What… are we going to do?]
If he could not find the answer within himself, he would inquire about the thoughts of the person who was incomprehensible to him.
At the very least, while cursing himself for still wanting to be saved, he inquired to see if he could hear an answer that was much more respectable than he was.
Hearing that question, the person deepened their smile as if to say he had hit the nail right on the head, and then,
Stranger: [Ain’t it obvious? ――We’re off to drink tons of booze, enough that we could bathe in it.]
Right after answering, the person grabbed him by the collar, and began dragging him along through sheer force. A man, stretching out both of his legs, quickly moved across the wasteland.
Using the fact that he was unable to resist as an excuse, the man hummed and sang while he pulled him along, and,
Stranger: [I’m Rowan, the stingy ronin. What about you, buddy?]
Rowan: [Buddy, you’ve gotta at least have a name, right? It ain’t gonna get any worse even if ya tell me.]
Easygoing and over-familiar, witnessing the attitude of the man who gave his name as Rowan, he took a long breath.
He had no obligation to answer, but neither did he have any special reason not to answer. A man, while thinking that he no longer cared about what became of himself――,
???: […It’s Heinkel.]
Thus, with neither of them realizing the position of the other, Heinkel Astrea gave his name.
He could not have known. ――That coincidence and predestination were some old tricks that fate always liked to make use of.